Jonah was more than a reluctant prophet. He was a rebellious one. He was given a ministry he did not want to a people he did not like, and his response was far from spiritual. You know, even spiritual people can act in very unspiritual ways when their free will is put to the test. Let’s read about how Jonah’s life got derailed and how some things in his life, including himself, went overboard.
Jonah 1:1-17 1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai:
2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD.4 Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep.
6 The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish.” 7 Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” 9 He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” 10 This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.)
11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” 12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” 13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before.
14 Then they cried to the LORD, “O LORD, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O LORD, have done as you pleased.” 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him. 17 But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.
Jonah is the kind of prophet I like to read about because quite frankly he makes me feel better about my own strong will and shortcomings. So many of the Bible characters we read about, at least the judges and lots of the other prophets were so amazing and did so many miracles and stood so courageously and tall in perilous times. But Jonah, not so much! He followed God . . . eventually, reluctantly, and half-heartedly. Do you know anyone who eventually followed God, kicking and screaming, but when they did, some amazing things happened?
Jonah didn’t get it right the first time or even the second time really. He had a bad attitude about what God asked of him. He had a bad attitude towards the people God wanted him to reach. He took an “over my dead body” kind of approach. Jonah would rather disobey God than see a Ninevite repent and get saved. He hated the Ninevites. It wasn’t just that Jonah’s heart wasn’t in the assignment God gave him, but his heart needed some major work in the process, and God knew it. Jonah’s name actually means, “Dove,” but he wasn’t keen on the idea of being an ambassador of peace to the wicked city of Nineveh which was the capital of Assyria. He was determined NOT to go. Verse 3 tells us he ran away from the LORD.
Now folks, not only was Jonah stubborn and strong willed, but I don’t think he was the brightest light bulb in the pack. I’m just sayin’. Trying to run from God is like trying to thumb wrestle without thumbs. It’s impossible!
There is nowhere we can go where God cannot be found (Psalm 139). Running from Him is futile. He is everywhere present, everywhere engaged, and everywhere supreme. His plans will be accomplished, with or without our cooperation. Did Jonah really believe God NEEDED him to go to Ninevah? No. It was Jonah who NEEDED to go through the process of going to Ninevah because Jonah needed a heart change.
Notice something about the direction in which Jonah headed. As he ran away from the LORD and headed to a city called Tarshish verse 3 says he went DOWN to Joppa. Interesting that the writer (whom scholars think was probably Jonah himself) gave us the detail that he was headed in a downward direction. Hold on to that thought.
So Jonah went down to Joppa and bought a ticket in order to get on a boat headed in the opposite direction from the direction God told him to go. Here is a classic picture of rebellion. Nineveh was only 500 miles from where Jonah was when God told him to go there. Tarshish, however, is believed to have been 2000 miles in the other direction from where Jonah was. One scholar said it was the furthest western point known at that time. Not only was Jonah going in the opposite direction, but he was choosing to go four times further out of his way to disobey God. Can you see the flawed logic that continued to drive Jonah’s thought process? Do you know anyone like that who will go out of their way to defy God just to try to stay in control? When you adopt an “I’ll show you, God” attitude you will never win.
Jonah may have had a sense of self-satisfaction. He may have had a false sense of security and pride about his ability to “get away from God.” I have known people who were clearly operating outside the will of God who have used seemingly positive circumstances to prove to themselves they were doing the right thing. They talk about how what they are doing feels right or appears to be working out even though what they are doing is a clear violation of Scripture.
Jonah could have thought, “Well, this is surely the right decision. After all, there is a ship already headed in the direction I want to go. If this wasn’t the right thing to do there wouldn’t have been a seat left on the ship. This must be a sign!” He could have concluded he was doing a smart thing because after all, he did have the money for the fair.
I have heard many people even say God must be approving of their decisions because of the “open doors” or signs of confirmation they have received even though what they are doing is clearly outside of the will of God as recorded in Scripture. Just because things go well for a person for a minute or even a few years doesn’t mean they are inside of God’s will. Let me be straight up. Satan will make it easy for you to disobey God! Often, obeying God is harder than disobeying Him. You can’t always trust your instincts and decisions
So Jonah took another spiral downward when he separated himself from the other passengers on the ship. Verse 5 tells us he had gone below deck. Even his physical location, now in the belly of a ship, revealed the downward trend his life had taken. He had gone as far down as he could and had isolated himself as much as he could in order to NOT do what God wanted him to do, but hey, he was in control, right? He was showing God who was boss. He was large and in charge, and he was calling the shots! Really, Jonah?
Well, down in the hull of this ship, Jonah fell asleep. Do you know anyone who has dug a hole for themselves, and everyone else around them could see it, but they were oblivious to what was going on? That was Jonah, but only for a minute.
Well, God dealt with Jonah’s rebellion. He caused a terrible storm to rise up. The sailors all hit the deck, and they hit their knees. They cried out to their pagan gods and they threw cargo into the sea to try to lighten the ship. Jonah’s decision to rebel against God was now impacting other people in a negative way.
That’s one major consequence of sin that a lot of people don’t consider. Many people think exercising their free will and disobeying God only impacts themselves, but sin has tentacles that reach far beyond our own domain. Jonah’s poor decisions had put those sailors in danger. Sin will always negatively impact more than just you, always.
The ship’s captain woke Jonah up, rebuked him and told him to start praying. The pagan captain was willing to try anything, even prayer to a God he didn’t know, in order to save his men. How did the captain even know Jonah knew God or could pray? Verse ten tells us Jonah had told the crew he was running away from God. “Oh, good, Jonah. Nice. Not only are you rebelling, but you are telling everyone about your defiance.” The sailors were pointing fingers at each other, trying to figure out which one of them had angered the sea god, and when they cast lots to find out who the culprit was it was determined to be Jonah.
Seeing no way out of the situation, Jonah decided to end it all. He asked the sailors to throw him overboard. What a tragic conclusion Jonah had come to. He saw no way out. Exercising his free will had led him on a downward spiral to a dead end or so he thought.
However, long before his body went overboard, Jonah had tossed some things overboard and out of his life. We know he tossed obedience to God in favor of doing things his way overboard, and that one huge decision led to him bailing on all kinds of things. Let’s look at three things in this passage that Jonah tossed overboard as a result of his disobedience.
When Jonah needed to talk to God the most his prayer life had already gone overboard. He was in crisis, his life was at stake, and other people’s lives had been critically impacted. Even the pagans were praying to their gods, but Jonah couldn’t pray at all.
Have you ever run so far from God you didn’t even think you could pray? What should have been Jonah’s first instinct never even crossed his mind. If you determine to disconnect from God’s will for your life, you will find the last person you want to talk to is God. Jonah didn’t want to hear what God had to say, and Jonah didn’t want to admit he had messed up. He didn’t want to acknowledge his sin. Psalm 66:18 tells us sin keeps our prayers from being heard.
The second thing I would note is that Jonah’s compassion had gone overboard. He was a prophet of God, but he didn’t even seem to be concerned for the crew on the ship. The text gives us the impression that Jonah had just quit caring. He was asleep in the belly of the ship as the storm raged and the crew bailed water. It was almost as if he had a “whatever happens, happens” mentality.
People who live apart from God’s will, won’t have a sense of purpose and destiny. They will abandon the idea that God could use them to make a difference in people’s lives and in the landscape of the circumstances around them. They will resort to just “taking life as it happens” rather than seek to be a game changer or have any impact. They will accept hardship without a fight and without the expression of their faith, and will be oblivious to the trouble in other people’s lives around them.
You see, disobeying God causes us to become selfish and self-absorbed. When we are bent on doing our thing, our way, we become desensitized to the needs of those around us and we can eventually quit caring about anything.
The third thing I see is that Jonah’s testimony had gone overboard. He openly confessed he was running from God, refusing to do what God had asked. He destroyed his testimony, discrediting himself as a prophet of God. When we take the name “Christian” we have a huge responsibility to try to live up to the name. It takes a lifetime to convince some people of our allegiance to Christ, but it only takes a minute, it just takes one encounter to destroy our witness and credibility with them forever. How many people will say the reason they aren’t in church today is because of the hypocritical nature of many believers?
You can just read between the lines of verse 10 as the sailors started giving Jonah a piece of their mind. “You call yourself a Christian? Look what you have done! Why should we pay for your stupidity and rebellion?”
What we say and do matters. What we post on social media matters. How we tip servers in restaurants matters. How we dress matters. Where we hang out matters. How we treat people matters. How we respond to frustration and inconveniences and crises matters. How we share our opinion matters. How compassionate and kind we are matters.
If you are a Christian you are a living testimony whether a good one or a bad one that Christ is alive, in you, and that He is making a difference or that He is not making a difference in your life.
Colossians 3:17 “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Philippians 2:14-15 “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.”
As a Christian it isn’t your reputation that is really on the line. It is God’s. When we blow it with God, we will blow our testimony with others.
Rather than turn to God in repentance, Jonah just wanted to end his life. He had the sailors throw him overboard. Verse 17: “But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.” When Jonah had rebelled, when Jonah wouldn’t talk to God, when Jonah didn’t care about anyone or anything, when Jonah had tarnished his witness, God, in His mercy, love, and grace swooped in to give Jonah a second chance. God is good like that. In fact, the Bible is a book that simply could be titled “Second Chances” because on its pages are story after story after story of people who messed up, then fessed up, got up and stepped up to the plate to do what God asked them to do. All the heavy hitters in the Bible needed second chances. So do we, and aren’t you glad God is willing to give them? And aren’t you glad that “second chance” with God doesn’t mean 2?
You don’t get any lower than being in the belly of a huge in the bottom of the sea. I mean, really! Jonah had finally hit rock bottom. He stayed there for three days and three nights. Listen, nothing has potential to restore a person’s prayer life quicker than hitting rock bottom. Jonah hit his knees quickly in the belly of the fish.
Listen to chapter 2:1-9 1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. 2 He said: “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. 3 You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. 4 I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ 5 The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. 6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God. 7 “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. 8 “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. 9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.”
Inside the belly of that foul, stinking fish, Jonah was able to come face to face how rotten, vile, and disgusting our sin is to God. A change of heart was taking place here. It wasn’t too late for Jonah. Verses 4 and 7 talk about Jonah “looking towards God’s holy temple,” suggesting a re-connect with the presence of God. It seems in verse 7 he knows how close he came to losing his life. He sensed it ebbing away. Verse 9 seems to suggest he was back to being “all in” with God. He was ready to praise God and sacrifice to Him. It wasn’t too late for Joseph to get right with God, and if you are breathing this morning it isn’t too late for you.
Something else we might note is in verse 3. Jonah acknowledged that God was in control of the things that had happened to him. He said, “You hurled me into the sea. Your waves swept over me.” Verse 4: “You have banished me.” Verse 6b “You brought my life up from the pit.” He was saying, “Ok, God, you had me all along. I was running, alright, but with your permission. You were the One who let me go, and though I abandoned You, You didn’t abandon me.”
One of the most encouraging realities of following God is that even though we fail, God allows fresh starts! Notice too that God didn’t change Jonah’s assignment when Jonah reconnected with God. For when Jonah reconnected with God he was reconnecting with God’s purpose for his life which meant he was now going to head back in the opposite direction in order to go to Ninevah.
Maybe this morning you aren’t consciously aware that you have made a decision to rebel against God. But maybe you can’t remember the last time you really prayed. A lack of prayer is a sign that the connection with God isn’t what it should be. Don’t throw prayer overboard. You need to talk with God. You need to hear his voice.
Maybe you have just because self-absorbed, and you haven’t been conscious of the needs of those around you. Don’t throw compassion overboard. Make sure you carry it with you as you move through life each day. Someone needs to know you care. If Christ’s people won’t care, who will?
Maybe your testimony has been compromised. Maybe you really do love God, but the way you swear and throw language around has gotten people wondering how sincere you are. Maybe people have seen you walking into some movies that have perverted, ungodly story lines and scenes, and it makes them wonder if God is ok with that. Perhaps when you went off on that co-worker or started to gossip about someone at school or work who had gotten under your skin, you left someone thinking to themselves, “But I thought he was a Christian? I thought she was a Christian.” Are people seeing Christ when they look at you, or have you thrown your testimony overboard?
Maybe like Jonah, you don’t see how your life can have a happy ending, and you are ready to quit altogether. You can’t run too far. You can’t sin too much that God won’t love and redeem you if you turn to Him. Hear the voice of the Holy Spirit this morning saying, “It’s a lie. Don’t believe it. Just return to Me, and I will repurpose you for my purposes.” In fact, the very fact that you are here this morning to hear this message is God reminding you He won’t give up. He is coming after you.
Do you need a second chance? Do you need to stop moving in the direction in which you are going in order to faithfully embrace God’s plans for your life? Maybe you have never submitted to God. Maybe Jesus isn’t your Lord. Maybe you are a lifelong runner, and you have been running away from a relationship with God for a long time. How is that working for you? Are you tired yet? Out of breathe yet? Are you thirsty enough to try some Living Water? I can tell you from experience that if you will get Jesus on board, get prayer on board, re-enlist compassion and a desire to help others, and recommit to use opportunities to witness for Christ, you will experience meaning, purpose and contentment unlike you have ever known. If some things have fallen overboard and out of your life it is time to get them back into your boat.