LET’S TALK ABOUT – THE LOVE OF GOD
How far is the love that God has for his people extended? Is HIS love just for the Jews? Is it just for Israel or Judah? Is it just for kings or prophets? Who is beyond the reach of God’s love? A study of the Old Testament book of Jonah sheds light on the topic. By reaching out to an unpopular, improbable people, Jonah shows how God’s love reaches beyond prejudice and man’s limited perceptions, and is found in unexpected places.
I. THE PROPHET AND THE PROPHET’S CALL
The prophet Jonah son, of Amittai, wrote the book of Jonah. This is the same Jonah, which God used to speak the word to expand Israel’s boundaries under Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:25). Jonah was probably written around 780 to 760 B.C. (Geisler 253), to his fellow countrymen of the northern kingdom. Jonah’s name means “dove”, and it is not to be taken lightly that this book would point out the necessity to accept God’s grace to whoever HE extends it to. In so doing, Jonah is encouraging peace between the various people whom God loves.
As established earlier, Jonah was a prophet of God. He was one of God’s messengers to God’s people. And while he successfully delivered the word to expand Israel’s borders, he rejected God’s call to deliver a message of impending doom and judgment, to those in Nineveh. Instead, Jonah headed in the opposite direction and sailed for Tarshish. On first hearing that God’s messenger will not deliver the message, one wonders why. Is it because of fear? Is Jonah afraid to; “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it (Jonah 1:2)”? Isn’t this what a prophet was born for? The answer lies with Jonah himself.
In chapter four, Jonah reveals his reasoning. He knows that God is compassionate. He knows if the evil Ninehvites respond and repent, at the message that he was to deliver, they would be saved. But, Jonah did not want these evil gentiles saved. He wanted them to be destroyed. His nationalist pride did not allow him to consider these people to be anything except the object of God’s wrath. He never considered that the Most High God might have fearfully and wondrously made these people.
II. RUNNING FROM THE LORD
Jonah, as mentioned before, decides to head for Tarshish. He decides to flee from the presence of the LORD. Jonah attempts the impossible. He tries to hide from an all-seeing GOD. He tries to leave the presence of an omnipresent God. God’s arm will not be too short to accomplish His purpose. This fact is something that Jonah quickly finds out about.
Jonah endangers himself and his fellow shipmates by operating outside of God’s will. Notice that Jonah’s disobedience affects everyone around him. A great storm arises and threatens to destroy everyone on board. After exhausting all their other options, the men on the ship finally approach Jonah who is sleeping down below deck. They ask him who he is and to appeal to his God in light of the fact that their gods had no answer.
Jonah immediately knew that he, and his disobedience, was at the root of the problem. He informed his shipmates that they would have to throw him overboard if they expected to survive. Please notice that he did not offer to jump off the ship on his own. And furthermore, the men were now aware of the awesome power of the God that Jonah was running from and were reluctant to do harm to God’s servant. But after trying even more desperate measures they finally conceded to throw Jonah off the ship.
“Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and made a sacrifice to the LORD, and made vows.” (Jonah 1:16) Even in Jonah’s run from the Lord, the lord is glorified. Jonah’s shipmates now fear and make sacrifices to the one true God of the universe. These pagans seem to have been converted by a real encounter with God. At this point, everyone seems to be on a better path. The men are on a path out of the storm and to closer relationship with God. Jonah, on the other hand, is much wetter, but at least he is not headed in the wrong direction anymore.
III. ALTERNATE TRANSPORTATION
Where does running from the LORD get you? It gets you, stranded in the middle of the ocean, in the middle of a storm. The bible tells us that it rains on the just and the unjust, but Jonah brought this rain on himself. He deliberately went against the will of God. Which, by the way, is the same type of crime, which made him hope for the destruction of the Ninehvites. But, God is merciful. God is the God of second chances. So, God provided Jonah with alternate transportation.
The word says, “Now the Lord had prepared and appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.” (Jonah 2:17 AMP). Jonah was now riding in a dark, wet, fish gut filled environment. The feel and smell could have been overwhelming, but by getting worse, Jonah’s situation may have just gotten better.
IV. FISH BELLY REPENTENCE
There is no place like the belly of a fish to consider if your life is headed in the right direction. When Jesus says, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the son of man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40 NIV), he is comparing the fish belly experience to the grave. At this point Jonah is as good as dead. At the point of facing death Jonah reconsiders his situation. And what a near death experience it is.
In this bleak situation Jonah begins to cry out to the LORD. Jonah says, “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry.” (Jonah 2:2 NIV) Jonah colludes this prayer by saying, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed, I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.” Salvation comes from the LORD is at the foundation of faith. Salvation is God’s possession. It is God’s gift to give to whom he will. Jonah embraces this in his alternate transportation. Jonah offers a song of praise as a sacrifice, acknowledges God’s sovereignty and then God commands the fish to vomit Jonah out onto dry land.
V. THE SECOND CALL AND THE FIRST RESPONSE
With Jonah back on dry land, God calls to Jonah for the second time, but the mission has remained unchanged. God still wants HIS word spoken to the Ninehvites. Jonah finally complies and enters the city saying, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” (Jonah 3:4 NIV). The Ninehvites believed God, declared a fast and mourned their sin in sackcloth. The word of God preached through Jonah had produced repentance. “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.” (Jonah 3:10) Nineveh is saved and everyone is happy, right? Wrong! Jonah is furious.
VI. DOES MAN WANT WHAT GOD WANTS?
Amazingly Jonah reveals the reason that he did not want to preach to the great city. It is not that he believes that the message would not be received; it is that he knew if the sinful hear the word of God and repent that God will forgive sins. Jonah doesn’t want the Ninehvites saved, he wants them destroyed. He doesn’t want repentance, he wants rebellion and punishment to those who would ignore God. But, that is not what God wants. “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our savior; Who will have all men saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)
Sometimes, as hard as it is to accept, God’s people do not always want what God wants. Jonah finds a spot outside the city in the searing heat to wait on the demise of the city. But to his dismay, no calamity comes to Nineveh. As the prophet sits sulking God raises up a shade plant for Jonah to give him relief from the intense heat. Just as quickly as God raised the plant, HE destroys it. Jonah is sorrowful and mourns for the plant. God uses this illustration to reveal HIS heart to HIS prophet by saying,
You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about this great city? (Jonah 4:10-11)
In conclusion, God wants all men saved. We know that not all men will be saved, but, if we are to really ready to take up the mission of God and of HIS Christ we would attempt to reach the lost wherever they may be. Jonah wrote this story to show his proud and patriotic fellow-countrymen that their national pride should not blind them to the love that God has for all people. There is room in God’s house for everyone. There is room in God’s love for everyone he made. And God made everyone.
Dale Anthony DeGroat – President
Shirley Murdock – CEO
P. O. Box 26249 Trotwood, Ohio 45426