This verse-by-verse study of Jonah (chapters 1-2) was given by pastor Barry Forder at Calvary Chapel Portsmouth on 16th January 2022.
We are all familiar with account of Jonah; this man who tries to run away from God and gets swallowed by a big fish! The story itself grabs our intention, but so often the focus is on the fish and we miss some of the profound truths found in this book.
In around 850 B.C. Assyria were rising to be the next big world empire, crushing everything in their way. Israel, on the other hand were in decline. 150 years before this time, Israel had been a great nation, feared and respected by their neighbours; even the Queen of Sheba (modern day Saudi Arabia) had made the journey to see king Solomon to see if the stories she had heard about his wealth and power were true. She was not disappointed with what she found! (1 Kings 10). But now it was very different.
Jonah was born to a man named Amitti, in a town called Gath-Hepher, situated between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean, in northern Israel. The kingdom was now divided and Jeroboam II was now ruling the Northern kingdom of Israel, acutely aware of the threat Assyria posed to his fragile kingdom.
Jonah was brought up to love and fear the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and his name, which means ‘Dove’, hints at the life God had foreordained for this man as a messenger of peace.
But this prophet’s life was turned upside down one day when he heard God’s voice, just as the likes of Samuel had done in times past. But the message he received from the LORD was not to go and lead his nation to victory over their enemies, quite the reverse, it was to go to Israel’s enemies and proclaim that God wanted them to repent so they could be spared!
It is hard to imagine the turmoil in Jonah’s heart! There was the thrill of hearing directly from God, and the horror at proclaiming a message of peace to the very enemies he feared would crush his – God’s – people.
Maybe God had got it wrong? Maybe Jonah had misheard? Once thing was for certain, his love for his people Israel was strong enough to drive him in the opposite direction in the hope that God’s wrath, rather than His forgiveness, would fall on Assyria.
Down at the sea port of Joppa (modern day Jaffa), he managed to get on board a boat heading for Tarshish. That was about as far away from Israel, and Assyria, as Jonah could think of.
Jonah knew in his heart he couldn’t hide from God, but nevertheless he went down into the bottom the ship and found a quiet place to rest.
That is so often what we seek; a place, away from it all, where we can turn off the constant demands of life, where we can hide from responsibility and expectation. But scripture is clear, our peace and safety is to be found, can only be found, in God. Even amidst all the noise of life, we can find peace in God. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3). “He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still” (Psalm 107:29). The irony of the situation was that, in trying to run away from the perceived storm, Jonah ran into an actual one! It is the same with us. So often we try to second guess God, thinking that maybe He doesn’t understand our circumstances or situation. We go along the path that seems to make sense to us, only to find it leads into depths we could never have imagined. In contrast, the life of faith that goes out ‘not knowing whither’ (Hebrews 11:8), though it might seem to the natural mind foolishness, is actually the epitome of wisdom from God’s standpoint.
Ask yourself, who knows best? You or God? Jesus sent His disciples out into a storm on the Sea of Galilee, yet it was in the storm they saw Jesus (Mark 6:45-51). Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael ended up in a fiery furnace – can you imagine a situation more full of anxiety than that? Yet, in was in the worst place imaginable that they knew, like never before, the presence of God Himself, and a peace greater than they had ever experienced.
Yet, one lesson we do learn clearly from the book of Jonah, is that God is gracious and chooses to work ‘all things together for good’ (Romans 8:28) – often working as much through our failures as through our obedience. But how much easier would it be if we obeyed from the start?!
Because of God’s grace, in Jonah’s case, the ship’s crew were introduced to the One true God and, by Jonah being thrown overboard, it set up the perfect model of the death and resurrection of the Messiah who was ‘three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’ (Matthew 12:40). From the language and context, a number of commentators believe that Jonah actually died (so the questions about whether or not someone could survive being swallowed by a big fish are largely irrelevant!). Jesus Himself specifically points to this prophetic model when the Pharisees ask for a sign (see also Matthew 16:4). Jesus came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24), yet the gospel ends up going to the gentiles – the very gentiles who would one day turn upon His people.
Through they repented at the preaching of Jonah, Assyria would eventually be judged (the prophet Nahum foretells this), just as this gentile world will one day be judged. But God is longsuffering, not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). God’s call to repentance has gone out to the world, to this country, to our families. God always warns before bringing His judgment, so that the ‘whosoever’ might be saved.
As chapter two ends, we are reminded that ‘Salvation is of the LORD‘. ‘He who has ears, let him hear!’
“Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
May you be blessed and encouraged by this study.