A Broken and A Contrite Heart, O God, You Will Not Despise — Exegesis of Jonah 3:6-10

“When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes.” Jonah 3:6

If you read my two part introduction to Jonah you might remember a section I covered regarding Ashur-dan III who was the king of Nineveh. At the time of Jonah’s coming there were two plagues that that ravaged the land. One plague happened in 765 B.C. and the other in 759 B.C. There were multiple rebellions that were breaking out in the kingdom from nations that would not be subject to their brutal overlords. Ashdur-dan III had generals and other high ranking officials within Assyria challenging him for power. These adversities were in fact softening the hearts of the people for the message that Jonah was about to bring, even as high as the king.

The word of Jonah’s preaching reached the king (Ashur-dan III). The Hebrew word used for “reached” was “naga”. Properly, it means “to touch” with the implication of “to reach”. The message of repentance spread throughout Nineveh and even touched the king and his court. Even though Jonah did not cover every square inch of Nineveh, the word spread like a raging forest fire. The king heard the message and was “touched” by it to the point of belief, and the belief immediately manifested into action as the king humbled himself. Now, the king laid aside his royal robe and put on sackcloth and laid in ashes. As I read this, I was reminded of Christ who humbled Himself and stepped down from His throne and took on the form of lowly man, yet was the sinless King of kings. The king of Nineveh humbled himself, recognizing his sinful state as he covered himself in sackcloth and ash. I believe the king took personal responsibility for the immoral state of Nineveh.

Sackcloth and ashes were a practice by the ancients for repentance as well as showing great distress, but the context of this passage is repentance. Sackcloth was made of goat hair which was very uncomfortable to wear. The goat skin represented putting aside all earthly comforts, and I couldn’t help but think that Christ put aside the comforts of heaven for His Father’s work on Earth. The ashes were meant to show ruin. As you know ashes are the faint remains of something physical that once existed and was completely destroyed by fire. It can never be made whole again. The leader of the Ninevites realized the sin that ruined he and his people before an all holy God and showed his desolation metaphorically.

“He issued a proclamation and it said, in Nineveh by decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.” Jonah 3:7-9

So, the king, whom I believe to be Ashur-dan III is now taking the lead over this revival of Nineveh by making a “decree” (taam). The word used is not really a Hebrew word, but Akkadian, which was of the Babylonian and Assyrian dialects. This word is used in Daniel 3:10, 29; and Daniel 4:6, which were all decrees by Nebuchadnezzar. The most ominous was Daniel 3:10 where every person who did not bow down to the golden statue of Jonah would be thrown into the furnace of blazing fire (Daniel 3:6). Jonah may have used this word to show the authenticity of the decree to the reader by using this term. These decrees were law and usually carried with them consequences for noncompliance. The text doesn’t say that there were consequences as clearly stated in Daniel 3:10, 29, but when a decree is made it is final and enforceable. That said, it may have been assumed that the consequence for noncompliance would assure the destruction of the city. After all, Ashur-dan III said in verse 9, “Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.” It is assumed that the city would be destroyed in 40 days. With all the rebellions happening in the kingdom this was a very real threat, so compliance to this decree might have been easier knowing that this may be their only shot for mercy. Keep in mind that the nobles were behind Ashurdan (Jonah 3:7), this would include Ashur-dan’s brother Ashur-nirari V who would be his successor. I chronicle why I think Ashur-nirari was redeemed in Nineveh in the second part of my introduction to Jonah.

What I do want to make clear is that this decree cannot save the lives of the people from destruction. That is like saying strict adherence to the Law will save a sinner from God’s wrath. It is not the Law that redeems, but Christ. He is the one that convicts man of their sin and brings them to faith and repentance. “For it is by grace we are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9. Salvation is not works based. The great theologian Jonathan Edwards said, “You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.” Nothing we do can appease God’s wrath against us for our sinful rebellion except for His intervention where He plucks us off the path to Hell. He gives us the faith to believe in Him and turn away from our sins, while imputing to us Christ’s righteousness. We can do nothing to earn salvation with God. We are helpless, hopeless, and all deserving of the fires of Hell for eternity because of our depravity. This is what makes God so rich in grace and mercy, in that, man was separated from God, but Christ paid the penalty for sin, paving a way of salvation back to God for those who believe and repent (turn away from) of their sin. It is staggering to think that God imputed my wickedness on Christ, chastising Him for my sin, and then imputed Christ’s righteousness to me, rewarding me for Christ’s sacrifice. This is unfathomable grace. It was not Ashur-dan’s decree that saved Nineveh, but the regenerating hand of God that breeds contrite hearts that turn away from their sin.

There is one thing about the king of Assyria that most people do not know. They played the role of king and high priest. The Assyrian king was seen as a mediator between the people and the deities. The King was the high priest of Ashur who was the patron god of the city of Assur, and was the head of the Assyrian godhead. What I would like to point out if you haven’t figured it out already is that the Assyrians derived their name from their god Ashur just as Christians derive our name from Christ who is part of the Holy Trinity. Now, I would like to point out that each Assyrian city had a patron god. For Nineveh it was Dagon. The king of Assyria was the human agent of their god (Ashur) and exalted over all other men. Even King Sennacherib recorded that he pursued a military campaign not by his will, but by Ashur’s will. He said, “In my second campaign, Ashur my Lord impelled me.”[1] I find it simply amazing how the pagan nations try to mimic Christ who is both king and high priest. It becomes clear that Ashur-dan III had immense power as a king and high priest of Ashur, but now his roles would change.

Before I go any further, I am aware that Jonah was in the belly of a fish for parts of 3 days, not 3 full 24 hour days. While he was in despair in the stomach of the fish the acid began to break down his skin. The pigment in his skin would start to discolor as the stomach acid eroded its color. He would also have a stench that would more than likely emanate from his body for many days. Many commentators will bring this up for one main reason. The chief god of Nineveh was the fish god Dagon. He was half man and half fish. Jonah’s story of being in the fish, along with the evidence of the bleached skin, and possibly the smell would send chills up the spine of the Ninevites. You see, this would show Elohiym as being stronger than Dagon because Elohiym’s servant was freed from the judgment of the fish. This could in many ways give Jonah credibility when he preached. I do think there is merit to this, yet only in a manner supportive of Jonah’s provocative final cry for repentance.

Now, Ashur-dan as you remember was formerly the king and priest of Ashur who was now redeemed. The king removed his royal robe, dressed himself in the highly uncomfortable goat hair sackcloth, and then sat in ashes. Ashes were symbolic of ruin and desolation. The king saw his sinful ruin like a city burned to the ground before almighty God. He also recognized his people’s desolation as well. In his contrition he makes a decree with the full support of his nobles that every person and animal was to abstain from eating or drinking anything. The people were so overwhelmed with grief that they fasted from two necessities of life. Furthermore, he decrees that all citizens and their animals were to dress in the goat skin sackcloth as a further act of submission to God. After doing this he implores his people to examine their lives and turn away from their evil ways. For Ashur-dan to understand their evil ways meant that he had truly repented and recognized good from evil. The King of Nineveh must have understood God’s mercy and grace. Which brings me to some other points…Their humbling themselves before God showed that they also accepted the consequences for their sin.

“Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish (Jonah 3:9).”

First, Ashur-dan appeared to accept the consequences as he said, “Who knows”. He expected Nineveh to be destroyed acknowledging God would be right to do so, yet he and the city still humbled themselves before God and waited for His will to be revealed.

Secondly, the king appeared to understand that God is merciful. Repentance appeals to God’s mercy, not His justice. This is a pagan nation that knew nothing of mercy, which showed in how they brutalized the other nations around them. It certainly could be that in their penitent state that they finally understood the need for mercy. They may have even questioned why they had been allowed to live in their evil state for so long and realized the long suffering of almighty God against the nations. This may have indeed given the king hope that in their sincere repentant state that, God, if He so chooses, may show them mercy. In addition, there is a probability that Jonah told the Ninevites of his rebellion and how God chastised him with the storm and put him into the belly of a fish. The physical evidence was there (his discolored flesh). Yet, God rich in His mercy removed His heavy hand from upon Jonah and restored him to his position. It might be that Jonah conveyed his story of repentance and God’s mercy, which gave them a glimmer of hope that God may too remove His judgment from upon them.

Thirdly, they went from polytheism to monotheism. They suddenly realized that there was only one God of creation. All the gods that they had worshipped were both created and inspired by the wiles of man.

Fourthly, the king realized the sovereignty of God. “Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.” That is a man who understands that God is sovereign over all of creation. This very sentence acknowledges the complete sovereignty of God, especially as Judge. Only He is just, and only He has the right to hand out judgments or mercy to the wicked.

“When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.” Jonah 3:10

Let me start by saying that God did not relent because of their deeds. The deeds revealed a heart that was penitent for their sins against Him. God, as Judge, was within His rights to turn them over to the earthly consequences of their sin from their murderous oppression of the nations. The Ninevites would still have a place in heaven if He did turn them over to the consequences. However, God in His mercy did not give them what they deserved. Many times, we believers do not escape the consequences of sin in this life even though we are destined for Heaven. I remember harboring bitterness to two individuals in my life. I was unwilling to repent of my unforgiving heart, so God turned me over to my sin and chronic health issues ensued. I eventually repented, but I have a permanent health issue for the rest of my life as a consequence of my sin. Despite this, His grace is sufficient for me to continue on in the race. If a man commits murder and is set up for execution or life imprisonment, he may come to know Christ as His Lord and Savior and repent of his wickedness, including this murder, but the earthly consequences remain. God spared the Ninevites in His great mercy of their earthly consequences as a nation for their sin. It just means that they wouldn’t be destroyed as a nation. This does not mean that they didn’t suffer personal consequences for their sin. Personal sin always has consequences. The longer we allow a sin to continue in our lives the stronger the consequences will become. Look at David and all his wives and concubines and how that led him into sin with Bathsheba. He repented, but still shouldered the consequences with the death of his child, his daughter being raped, his kingship being usurped, his son murdered, etc… How about Sarai giving Abram the okay to sleep with Hagar and conceive a son that would be a thorn in the side of their offspring for generations? Sin has painful consequences that we will have to endure on earth. Believers in general are hardly ever spared of any of the consequences of their personal sin. Why is that? Because it is the consequences of our sin that keep us from repeating it.

Note, “that they turned” in verse 10 in the Hebrew is “shuwb” which means “to turn about”. The Greek word is ἀποστρέφω (apostrepho) from “apo” (away from) which intensifies “strepho” (to turn). Properly, “turn away from”. It implies the personal aspect involved in rejecting something. The Ninevites realized their evil and they chose to turn away which would signify that they had been redeemed by God. Conversely, Judas Iscariot recognized his evil, but he never chose to turn away from it. He had remorse which was a deep guilt for his betrayal, but that remorse did not lead to repentance. When faced with their sin, the Ninevites not only had sorrow for their sin, but turned away from doing it any longer. I can imagine that during the Ninevite fast that the brothels were empty, idols were melted down, murders ceased, merchants did not use dishonest scales, and soldiers who had flayed men or impaled them on poles cried out for forgiveness.

Some people might say, “God said he was going to destroy the city in 40 days. Did He lie?” No. In fact, God’s word says, “At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it.” Jeremiah 18:7-8. God is saying that if he speaks to the destruction of a nation that he will “relent” if they turn from its evil. The same word for “relent” (nacham) in Jeremiah 18:8 is used in Jonah 3:9 and 3:10. The Greek translation of “nacham’ (relent) is     μετανοέω (metanoeo) in the LXX. Meta means, “After with” and implies a change afterward. Better stated it is the after-effect. Combined with “noeo” which means “to think/ponder”. It is translated often as “repent”, but within the context of Jonah it speaks to “a change of mind”. Repentance requires pondering and then a change of direction. In the context, it is God pondering on their change of heart and so changes His actions of immediate judgment. This does not mean that the city escaped judgment. God judged Nineveh in 612 B.C. and completely destroyed them a little less than 150 years later. If you read my introduction you would see that the revival in Nineveh lasted about 13 years. Tigleth Pileser usurped Ashur-nirari’s throne by killing him and became the new king of Assyria, leading them back into their brutal ways. What you must understand is that God does not change His mind as we understand the changing of one’s mind. He is omniscient, meaning that He is all knowing, and we are not. He knew that Nineveh would repent because He predestined the redemption of the people. One theologian named John Brown stated regarding God changing His mind as, “It is more of a fulfillment of His ultimate desire for Nineveh than a change of mind.” If a man changes his mind it is because he is not omniscient. Man in incapable in our design to be all knowing, not only because of sin but because we are a creation, and as such grow in wisdom progressively. If a man changes his mind it shows that he was in error. God is never in error because He knows all, so He never changes His mind like a man.  His plans always succeed and His will is never thwarted. Praise God for Nineveh’s repentance. Our God is truly a merciful and gracious God.

[1] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Middle-Eastern-religion/Middle-Eastern-worldviews-and-basic-religious-thought#ref559768

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Preaching to an Unholy Land — Exegesis of Jonah 3:1-5

“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you..’”

I am reminded of the character “Pliable” in John Bunyan’s excellent biblical allegory “Pilgrim’s Progress.” In it the stories protagonist “Christian” has left his hometown, the “City of Destruction” (the world) for the “Celestial City” (heaven). Pliable was a neighbor of Christian’s who accompanies him to the Celestial City. Christian tells of the great things of the Celestial City and the Pliable is excited to journey with him until he encounters the Slough of Despond (Swamp of Despair). The Slough of Despond was a bog of fears, doubts, and despair in which Christian sinks, weighed down by his burden (sin) on his back that is causing him great guilt. Here is the short scene after they enter the bog:

Pliable: “Ah, neighbor Christian, where are you now?”

Christian: “To be sure, I do not know.”

Pliable: (Offended and angry) “Is this the happiness you have told me about as we have traveled? If we have such a halting disaster at this early stage, then what may we expect from now on til the end of our journey? If I escape out of this with my life, you shall possess the brave country alone for me.”

“Hence Pliable, making several toilsome attempts, eventually struggled out of the mire on that side of the Slough which was closest to his own house. So he went back and Christian saw him no more.”

I like how Bunyan Ministries interprets this passage regarding Pliable’s apostasy:

“Because he (Pliable) is a man governed by feelings and impressions rather than truth, he is quick to defect at the first appearance of distasteful circumstances. His religious pursuit is sensual, not soulish; his ego, which seeks comfort and carnal improvement, is offended and repulsed at the thought of grieving over sin.”

Pliable wanted a Christianity that had no struggle, no conviction of sin, and no change of heart. This is the ethos of many in Christianity today who are wooed in by attractions to the church. They want an easy Christianity of “asking Jesus into your heart”, “signing a card”, or “raising a hand” type of salvation, not a conviction over sin. What this in fact breeds are men and women who are unregenerate joining churches thinking that they are heading to the Celestial City. The problem is that the first time they are confronted with any type of adversity, they run and never return. You see, they want the benefits of heaven without the suffering and without having to pursue holiness. If they can’t get that, then they want absolutely nothing to do with Christ and His cross. The cost is too high for them because as Luke 9:23-24 says, “And He was saying to them, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.’” The price of following Christ is total and complete submission. You must be willing to lose everything to follow Him, and these “Pliable” Christians in the church today will not do that. The fires of God’s crucible always reveal and perfect authentic faith, but never destroys it. In fact, if God’s crucible did destroy authentic faith then it would have to destroy Him who gave you His perfect faith to believe in the first place. This is a preposterous thought. God did not destroy the faith of those who walk away from Him in a trial, rather it reveals that they never had it in the first place.

How does this apply to our study of Jonah? Jonah’s sin weighed him down and took him to the bottom of the ocean and into the belly of a giant fish. It was in this fish’s belly that Jonah was forced to confront the guilt of his sin. He was in God’s crucible and it led him to repentance and perseverance. Pliable fled at the first sign of adversity while Jonah tried to kill himself by drowning. Pliable did not want to confront his sin and instead returned to the City of Destruction. Jonah and Pliable did not want to confront their sin. I want to show you that a disobedient believer can very much look like an apostate. The trial of Pliable confronting his own sin revealed his apostasy and he quickly forsook Christ. Jonah on the other hand when challenged by God over his sin turned back to Him. The difference is that God made Jonah turn back to Him because he was a believer, but Pliable was not. God chastens those He loves and seeks after them as a loving Father (See Hebrews 12:5-6). Both men professed to be servants of God, both men ran from God to avoid confronting their sin, but only one man confronted his sin and surrendered and that was because God pursued Jonah and led him to repent. As we go in to Jonah 3:1 we find the prophet restored to his position by God. (May I add as an aside that God is the one who restores pastors and other leaders in the church to their positions, not vice versa. This is a prime example.) Jonah is being given a second chance to go to Nineveh and give them a last chance to repent. God is commanding Jonah for a second time to obey, and he does. I can’t help but think how often we readily know a command of God and willingly disobey it, whether it is repaying an offender with evil or lying to co-workers and even those we love. We often disobey God’s commands the first time, a second time, a third time, a fourth time, etc… He is so merciful to us in our insolence. God would have every right to snuff our lives out from existence, yet He long suffers us on a daily basis just as He did Jonah. He gives us opportunities to serve Him that we don’t deserve like Jonah, and yet, He will reward us if we serve Him faithfully.

In verse 2, Jonah is called to “proclaim to it (Nineveh) a proclamation which I will give you”. The Greek word from the LXX that translates both “proclaim” and “proclamation” is κηρύσσω (kerusso). It literally means, “to herald/to preach/to announce”. This is a public message spoken with conviction and with the intent of persuading people to believe your argument. Pastors who preach God’s word in spirit and truth endeavor to persuade you to submit to the truths found in God’s word each Sunday. This word is used in Matthew 3:1 for John the Baptist “preaching in the wilderness” and Matthew 4:23 of Christ “proclaiming the gospel” in synagogues. Jonah was called by God to herald a message of repentance to the Ninevites, just as John the Baptist and Christ did. You see, Jonah is going to share God’s message, but God is the one who is responsible for persuading the hearer to believe. God is the sower of seeds, the cultivator of hearts, and the harvester of souls. If Nineveh is going to believe Jonah’s proclamation it is solely because God allowed them to. Our sinful hearts are rotten to the core and man cannot turn to God apart from His intervening and saving the unbeliever first so that they can believe. Before redemption we had no good in us, we never sought after God, but rather ran as fast as we could to Hell. If there is no good in us and no one seeks after Him (Romans 3:10-18) how great is the darkness in us? How great is our helplessness before an all holy and perfect God in whom there is no sin?

On a side note, God told Jonah what he was to say. There are many charlatans in the church today that say they are prophets, or they prophecy events, or they say, “God told me” and many times they add, “God told me to tell you…” Some of you may have had someone tell you this or maybe you listen to these false teachers. What I want to make clear is that they are putting words into God’s mouth and there is no more dangerous a place to be then to put words into the Creator of Universe’s mouth. This is blasphemous to God and He will not suffer it forever. You have the Holy Spirit in you which allows you direct communication to God through prayer. You have His word which reveals His will and directs us through life. To prophecy or say “God told me…” is adding to Scripture because it would be considered direct revelation from God. My friends, the canon of Scripture is closed and the sign gifts that were given to the apostles ended when John (the last apostle) died around 100 A.D. There is no more direct revelation to the believer. We have all we need in the Bible and that is even more than our feeble minds can handle.

“So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days walk. Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, ‘Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.’” Jonah 3:3-4

“So Jonah arose”, the now resolved Jonah was ready to carry out God’s will without question or disobedience. Knowing this, did you notice the author/narrator says, “now Nineveh” which appears to be in the past tense. The LXX uses the word “de” (δέ – Now) in its translation as well. The writer, whom I believe to be Jonah, speaks as if he is writing this well after the actual revival of Nineveh has taken place. He is recalling the city. What is also interesting to note is that “exceedingly” in the Hebrew is “Elohiym” which means “God”. Elohiym does not mean “exceedingly”. It means God. The LXX translates “Elohiym” as “Theo” (God). “Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city” in the LXX is:

δὲ (now) Νινευη (Nineveh) ἦν (was) πόλις (city)  μεγάλη (great) τῷ (to) θεῷ (God). Properly, “Now Nineveh was a city great to God”.

If Jonah 3:3b is literally, “Now Nineveh was a city great to God,” this means that God is not talking about its splendor or immensity, rather he is speaking to its greatness to Him. This would mean that God is concerned about this city because He is going to redeem it. He has predestined it before time to be redeemed and this lines up with context in Chapter 3 and especially chapter 4. Jonah knew God was going to redeem the city in Jonah 4:2.

Logically speaking, this would mean that a literal interpretation of Nineveh being a three days walk is more of a figure of speech. So much so, that the LXX renders “a three days walk” as, “ὡσεὶ (about) πορείας (a journey) ὁδοῦ (way) ἡμερῶν (days) τριῶν” (three).  You can render it “about 3 days walk”. This means that the time Jonah walked around the city is around 3 days, but it doesn’t define the actual size of the city. The size is indeterminate. It is an estimation of what Jonah walked, not a literal interpretation of 3 days walk being the size. Herodotus records that a day’s walk would be 18-24 miles. Another secular historian Diodorus Siculus estimates a day’s walk as 20 miles. Again, this is a city great to God, not meaning that God was impressed with its grandeur, but rather that God in His judgment reckoned it as great… He reckoned the city as great because of His redemptive purpose, not by any merit on the Ninevites behalf. I firmly believe that scholars estimating the size of the city based on 3 days of travel have misunderstood what Jonah did. Could Jonah preach 20 square miles a day when he more than likely was stopped in the streets and asked questions? No. He would be surrounded by people in the streets and be unable to pass with ease as they listen intently and ask questions. Jonah obviously preached more than just one sentence throughout all Nineveh. To cover an average of 20 miles a day means that he would have to walk at a pace that would allow for hardly any interruptions. Knowing that the author (Jonah) is writing this after the event and knowing that the city was precious to God, I believe that the three days was more of a figure of speech. Also note in Jonah 3:6 that Jonah never made it to the palace in Nineveh. The King heard of it through word of mouth from the people.

I think Jonah led with what God told him to say, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” Because it would immediately grab everyone’s attention. The immediate questions from the citizens would be, “What? Who is coming to sack Nineveh? Why are we going to be destroyed?” When I was an undergrad at East Carolina University we had “street preachers” that would come onto the Mall on central campus and say inflammatory things. One example I remember was, “If you listen to Van Halen you are going to Hell!” This would immediately garner huge crowds of students seeking to understand the man’s message and also those who would challenge him. This man would then present his case, though he was a heretical Pelegian saying that you can attain sinless perfection on earth. Jonah obviously had to speak to the Ninevites about the Lord God and how their evil acts are going to bring judgment on the city unless they repent. In order for one to be saved they have to realize how wicked they are before an all holy God who hates sin. Without an understanding of sin first there is no understanding of the Gospel of Christ and no way to repent before God or to stand in awe of His mercy and grace. I understand that I am presuming Jonah explained these truths necessary for repentance on the streets of Nineveh, yet how can one know the depth of their sin from, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” and discern what they must repent from? Jonah’s statement would be provocative. In fact, “cried out” is “qara” in the Hebrew, which means, “to proclaim”. Again the LXX uses the word kerusso (κηρύσσω) which in context means to herald and preach a message with conviction to the Ninevites.

“Then the people of Nineveh believed in the God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them.” Jonah 3:5

The first thing that I want to point out here is that the repentance of the city began at the grassroots. It began with the people and ascended to the king of Nineveh (Ashur-dan III) through word of mouth. I don’t know that anything quite like this has happened throughout history. King Hezekiah got rid of a lot of the idols in Judah (not all), but it was King Josiah that ripped down every false idol in the kingdom, even unearthing the bodies of the buried priests of Baal and burning them until they were ash. King Jehoshaphat had three enemy nations marching to destroy the kingdom of Judah. They did not have the numbers to thwart this massive assault, so Jehoshaphat humbled himself and called for all of Judah to fast (See 2 Chronicles 2:20). Under the king’s authority all of the kingdom of Judah fasted. Typically, the king was the one who set the example for the people, but in Jonah’s case the people set the tone, not the king. This is so unprecedented in history. The king actually follows the people’s lead and fasts and puts on sackcloth. He does make a decree that goes out to the entire city that is even more extensive than what the people initially did, but he did not lead the call for repentance, thought he fully supported it.

Secondly, we know that the New Testament is replete with the only way one can go to heaven…Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and repent of your sin. The first thing the people did was to believe what Jonah preached because “the people of Nineveh believed in God.” After they believed they immediately repented as “they called a fast and put on sackcloth”. You see, the actions of the Ninevites backed up their belief in God because they repented of their sin. Repent means “to turn away from”, and the Ninevites fully humbled themselves before the Lord to show their change of heart from their barbaric ways. What everyone must understand is that these people were the most barbaric people at the time on the planet. They were a Satanically inspired people living in a city founded by a Satanically inspired man (Nimrod). The glory of Nineveh was in their shame and they were not looking for God. For a miracle like this to happen God had to have chosen to redeem these people before time. He predestined them to salvation and would give them ears to hear and believe in Him and turn away from their evil. All Jonah did was preach, and in fact, the people even preached for Jonah. He could not get in ear shot of every person in the city, but the people upon believing would take the truth of the message to those that didn’t hear. King Ashurdan III in Jonah 3:6 never heard a word of Jonah’s preaching because it was in fact the people that took the message to him, and he believed. This is exactly how the Gospel of Christ spread after Pentecost. The people God redeemed believed and went to spread God’s message of salvation throughout Israel. As believers we need to emulate the Ninevites and take the message throughout our cities and the world so that those who God has called will believe and repent of their sin. Who would have thought that the most depraved people in history would be giving modern day Christians a lesson in sharing the gospel with an unbelieving world? Those who have been forgiven much will love their Father in heaven much. A believer grateful for being saved from an eternal punishment in Hell will have a desire to tell others about the saving grace of our most loving Father in heaven. We understand that we deserve Hell, but that God in his grace and mercy saved us and gave us a new heart and gave us His Holy Spirit to enable us to walk in righteousness.

The Ninevites, unlike Pliable, confronted their sin and turned away from it. We will indeed see them in the Celestial City (Heaven) and celebrate God’s goodness together for eternity.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Freedom in Submission to God – Exegesis of Jonah 2:6c-10

“But You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God. While I was fainting away I remembered the Lord, And my prayer came to You, into Your holy temple.” Jonah 26c-7

Jonah, having sunk to the ocean floor and swallowed by a large fish is finally broken and at a point of repentance. His words are prophetic and full of hope. Hope being that which is certain, not the worldly hope of uncertainty (i.e. I hope I get the job). The pit (shachath) can be translated as a pit which ensnares animals, or destruction/grave. The Greek word used in the LXX for “pit” is φθορά (Phthora) which means “to waste away”. It denotes deterioration and is translated at times as “destruction”. I don’t believe that it is used here as destruction, but more so Jonah submitting to do God’s will. He is wasting away in the fish as his flesh is slowly being digested by the creature’s stomach. He knows his time of deteriorating in the fish’s belly is going to come to an end. He is resolved to now do the Lord’s will. It is sad that he had to sink so low to finally submit to the Lord, but I think this is also a testimony of God’s faithfulness to His elect. He will not let us be ravaged by sin. He will go to any lengths necessary to put an end to it, and He will always win.

“While was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to You, into Your holy temple.” Jonah 2:7

The Hebrew word used for “fainting away” literally translates in the Hebrew as “was covered, within me” (ataph). This is a languishing spirit. I like how Albert Barnes enlightens us with his understanding of this word within the context. He interprets “ataph” as “dizzied/overwhelmed”. He explains, “This word is used for actual faintness from heat – Jonah 4:8. Thirst – Amos 8:13. Exhaustion – Isaiah 51:20. When a film comes over the eyes, and the brain is, as it were, mantled over. The soul of the pious never is so full of God, as when all things else fade from him.”

Jonah was overwhelmed by his imprisoned state. He had sunk as low as he could go (no pun intended) and began to languish over his circumstances. He was utterly and completely exhausted physically from not eating, drinking, or sleeping over a span of three days (Not a 72 hour total). He was exhausted and more than likely one step away from deaths door. It was at this point that his soul no longer contested God. He had finally surrendered. How do we know this? The word for “remembered” is “zakar” denoting, “to recollect/to call back to memory”. I am not an expert at Hebrew, so I went to the LXX and found the Greek translation of “remembered”. It was ἐμνήσθην (emnesthen) whose root word is derived from “mimnesko” meaning to actively or intentionally “recall/recollect”. This recall implies that his recollection was not by accident or off handed. This would infer that Jonah finally surrendered, but when? The “emnesthen” is in the aorist tense. For those of you unfamiliar with the aorist tense it comes from “a” (which is a negative meaning without/not) and “horizo” meaning, “boundary/limit”. Properly, it can be rendered, “Indeterminate/without boundaries”. Thus, “remembered” in the aorist tense would signify an indeterminate time for the moment Jonah remembered the Lord and repented. We don’t know if it happened 20 minutes after he entered the fish’s stomach or 36 hours later.

Jonah remembers God and prays. What I believe that many people misunderstand about prayer is its purpose. Pastor Derek Melton shared a meme on Twitter on July 29th, quoting Kris Vallotton of the infamous Bethel Church in Redding, CA, and showed the utter heresy of the statement. Vallotton said, “Prayer is an act of leadership as it authorizes God to do His will on our planet.” This statement could not be further from the truth. As you may know, Bethel Redding is into the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel, though they also are full force into signs and wonders and personal meetings with Jesus and God the Father. It is a cemetery, not a church. Yet, many in the church today look at God as more of a cosmic genie that you call upon when you need something. God essentially exists to do your will. Prayer is actually about submission to God. The purpose of prayer is to find the will of God not “authorize God to do His will on earth.” God does not need your permission or leadership to do anything. This is a blasphemous statement. If what Vallotton says is true, then when Christ prayed in Luke 22:42, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”… was a failure by Christ our Lord to “authorize God to do His will on our planet”. Christ asked not to die, so why did God not honor His Son? Prosperity teachers put an emphasis on unanswered prayer as not having enough faith in your life. In other words, you are not believing God hard enough if He doesn’t give you what you want. What Christ demonstrates to us here with “if you are willing” was that He fully understood and accepted the will of God in this and every matter. Christ prayed knowing His fate, showing us that prayer matters even when the outcome is certain. Christ’s prayer was a submission to the will of God. Likewise, Jonah’s prayer was an act of finally submitting to God. He was ready to obey God’s command to go to Nineveh. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” Isaiah 59:2 corroborates this truth saying, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” In other words, if you cherish sin in your heart (disobedience to God) He will not hear your prayers. Why? Because your prayers will be self-centered, not God-centered. Jonah’s prayer was heard by God, and the Lord obliged to release him from the fish because Jonah’s will was now lined up with God’s will.

“Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness.” Jonah 2:8

“Those who regard in the Hebrew is “shamar”. It means, “to guard/to keep”. The Greek word used to translate “shamar” into the LXX is “phulassomenoi”. It is a combination of “phulasso” and “meno”. Phulasso derives from “phulaks” which is literally a “military guard”. “Meno” means “to abide in/remain in” with the implication being perseverance. Properly, phulassomenoi means, “to remain in a constant state of watch.” An implication of this is vigilance. So, what is being vigilantly watched? Vain idols.

Idols in the Hebrew is “hebel” and is typically used to denote breathing or a breath from the mouth. Metaphorically it speaks to that which is “frail” or “evanescent” which is why it can be translated as “vain” or “empty”. The things of this world like fame, fortune, sex outside of marriage, and material possession are empty. They will fade away as quickly as a breath exits the lungs, yet man’s depraved heart posts a vigilant watch on these things. The Greek word in the LXX used to translate “hebel” is “mataios”. It denotes that which is aimless or without purpose. Nineveh worshipped a host of gods, many of which were created at the Tower of Babel as the peoples of the earth began worshipping the sun, moon, and stars, and eventually the fish god Dagon. You see, they worshipped the creation rather than the Creator. All of these things will fade away, yet their very existence points to the one true God who doesn’t fade. The Northern Kingdom joined in with Assyria with its debauchery as they too worshipped false gods which would forsake them. Israel was to be a light in this evil world, but instead they became just like the world which opened them up to God’s chastisement rather than blessing. In many ways, the church in general is inviting the world in. There are churches that teach self-help rather than dependence upon God. There are churches that worship the earth and creation in hopes of “saving the planet”. This is no different than the creation worship of the Assyrians. There are churches that worship money which is called the prosperity gospel. There are churches that worship entertainment which attracts those who desire to be amused. There are churches that worship their ethnicity. There are churches that worship the government and political figures. There are churches that allow in every type of immoral sexual practice. All of these are worship of the creation over the Creator and they will fail these people and lead them to destruction.

Those believers who regard these vain idols end up forsaking the kindness of God. “Faithfulness” in the Hebrew is “checed”, meaning, “a merciful kindness”. Some of you might have “checed” translated as “mercy” or “grace”. The Hebrew word for forsake was “Atab” which meant “to loosen bands/let go from bonds. It implied that you would no longer restrain something. I looked at the Greek translation in the LXX of “forsake their faithfulness” which was, “ἔλεος” (mercy) “αὐτῶν” (their) “ἐγκατέλιπον” (to forsake/left in a condition of lack). “Egkatelipon” is translated in 2 Timothy 4:16 as “deserted”. Paul was speaking of his loneliness after being deserted by apostates and brethren alike. This word speaks to being abandoned primarily. What Jonah is saying is that those who cling to these worthless vain idols abandon the mercy of God. It is the mercy of God that restrains the hearts of wicked men not allowing them to carry out the evil that they would like to do or could do. The more that you cling to these worthless idols the more that you forsake the mercies of God that restrain you and bring you joy. When the believer pursues sinful desires and exalt them above God, they will loosen themselves from His restraining mercy and go deeper into sin and chastisement. Jonah did exactly this. He ran away from God and chose to forsake His mercy and grace. So much so, that he wanted to die, but God would not let him. He suffered greatly for his rebellion as a chastisement which strangely enough is a mercy of God that restrains us from totally destroying ourselves. Make no mistake, if you are a believer who is abandoning God for pornography, adultery, homosexuality, money, popularity, gossip, lying, unforgiveness, etc… then the joy of your salvation will depart and the rod of correction will not be spared on you.

“But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the Lord.” Jonah 2:9

Jonah starts out in verse 9 with “but”. When Jonah uses this word I believe that he is pointing to himself specifically in verse 8 and others generally. He is not point out how humble he is compared to other peoples. He is admitting that he has forsaken the mercies of God, and the “but” signifies a change of heart. Jonah is submitting to the will of God and is thanking God in the midst of his storm.

Now, “that which I have vowed I will pay.” signifies that he is now willing to carry out God’s command to go to Nineveh. He is acknowledging that salvation is from the Lord and He will give it to whomever He pleases. If God desires to give His gift of salvation to Nineveh, then Jonah is now willing to oblige Him. If sharing the gospel was left up to us we would only share it with people we knew or liked, not our enemies or strangers. God is impartial, and we have no decision in whom He saves, yet He will use us to proclaim His truth of salvation to the world while He redeems His elect.

“Then the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.” Jonah 2:10

Again, the fish obeyed God immediately and perfectly as it has no sin nature. It shows the sovereignty that God has over everything in His creation and how it obeys Him without fail. Not one fish would be caught in the ocean by man unless it had the approval of God first. The Greek word used here for “vomited” is ἐκβάλλω (Ekballo). “Ek” means “out” and intensifies “ballo” which means “to throw” or “to cast”. Properly, “to cast out” (with force). This implication here is that Jonah didn’t come out in a pool of vomit in front of the fish, rather he was shot out of the mouth with a great force. It was such a great force that he made it to land. Keep in mind that a fish that large could not swim up to the beach where the water was 4-5 feet deep and spit him out. I get the impression that Jonah was shot with force out of the fish’s mouth like projectile vomit and he landed in shallow water by the shore. When Jonah submitted he was freed,  which illustrates that there is freedom in submission to God even when the storm you are in is at its crescendo.

 

The next post will be on chapter 3. Soli Deo Gloria!

Jonah’s Imprisonment – Jonah 2:1-6b

“Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish, and he said,” Jonah 2:1

Often times when the believer strays into deep sin God will go to extraordinary measures to correct them. For Jonah’s pride and hatred for his enemies he had to go into the digestive system of a mega fish for three days. God knows exactly what it will take to break the will of the believer. Every chastisement is not a perfect fit for every person, rather they are all carefully weighed and measured by our loving Father who exerts only what is necessary to turn us back to Him.

I have had divine chastisement in my life that has brought me to my knees for my insolence. He brought severe (now permanent) health issues to me until I would repent of my bitterness and hatred towards those whom had offended me. As I look back, I thank God for it because my soul had been poisoned by sin and as a loving Father, He siphoned it out. Joy soon returned when I repented in the midst of the storm. Sometimes it takes us hitting rock bottom before we will sit down and truly pray to God and repent of our sin. Jonah could sink no lower apart from death and God was not going to give it to him. In his despair he cries out to God from the stomach of the fish:

“I called out of my distress to the Lord, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol. You heard my voice.” Jonah 2:2

There was no other place Jonah could turn so he called out to God. Why did he call out to God? Verse 2 says, “out of my distress”. God put so much stress on Jonah that he finally could not take it anymore and instead of running away from God, he ran to Him in his despair. What I found so interesting is that the Hebrew word for “distress/trouble” was “tsarah”. It means exactly what it says, yet its primary meaning speaks to a “Female rival” or a “vexer” and it is used in 1 Samuel 1:6 as “rival”. As you may know Elkanah had two wives, one was Penninah and the other was Hannah. Hannah was barren so her rival Penninah would torment her bitterly by this fact. In fact, the word used for “distress” in the LXX is “thlipsis” which is a noun that translates as “A pressing/pressure”. I find it interesting that “thlipsis” was used and not “stenochoria”. Thlipsis speaks to an internal pressure while stenochoria speaks to external pressure exerted by circumstances. Jonah was in a submerged dungeon in the sea and it was not the physical circumstances that vexed him, but the internal pressure that God was putting on him. The Lord had gotten him alone to where the only person that he could converse with was God Himself. Sometimes God will indeed isolate you to turn you back to Him.

I remember a time when God isolated me shortly before my 25th birthday. I was struggling with arrogant narcissistic pride and as such I started viewing pornography. In the blink of an eye God laid me off from my job and to make matters worse I still went out with my friends drinking at the bars. I fell into credit card debt and could no longer go out with them. My roommate who was my best friend didn’t want to live with me anymore because of all my issues so he upped and left. I was left all alone in my apartment unwilling to take a lesser job to earn money and my parents unwilling to support me. No girl would date me, not to mention that my friends disappeared. I was not a strong Christian at the time, but I remember after the reality of God stripping me of everything I got up and went into my bedroom and opened my Bible to the Psalms. I read Psalm 51 for the first time and began weeping as I read it. I began to pray it as all the sins I had committed came to memory. God had finally broken me. I repented right there of my sin and I turned back to the Lord who will suffer no rivals (sin) in place of Him. Often times God will use isolation to break us of sin so that there is no distraction and nowhere else to run for comfort, but to Him.

With Jonah now at rock bottom he “cried for help”. The Hebrew word “shava” means “to implore for help”. It denotes a deep passionate plea, which is why the Greek word “Krauge” is used in the LXX to translate the Hebrew. Krauge is a shrieking or crying out that comes from a person in deep emotional pain. It is considered an unearthly sound emitted from the depths of the soul. For context purposes, Jonah has finally broken down in the fish and with nowhere else to go he lets out his unearthly sounding emotional prayer. Imagine being in pure darkness where you could not discern day from night and you lived in a small confined space where you could not make much movement. Add to that the fleshly stomach in which he resided was full of acid and rotting meat or vegetation. Imagine being in this prison cell and whatever the fish ate daily coming down his giant esophagus and hitting you as you slowly digest in the stomach. Imagine the rancid stench in the belly of the fish. I don’t think people understand the magnitude of disgust in which Jonah experienced. All of his senses which he once used to enjoy the things of life were now tormenting him. His sense of smell could only sense that which is rotting and dead. There would be no aroma of fresh cooked lamb or any food. His eyes could see nothing as light did not permeate into this creature who existed in the darkest depths of the sea. He would reside in pitch black darkness longing for the sun’s return. He would have thirst and hunger with no ability to quench it. His ears would no longer hear the sounds of beautiful music, nor would he have any company to talk with and commiserate together in their suffering. He would hear only the splash of food entering the stomach and the jostling of acid and the contents of the stomach as the fish swam. Lastly, as for touch, his hands would have pruned from being in this acidic bath. The squishy flesh of the fish’s stomach would provide no solid place for which he could even rest his head. It would be a revolting place to be which is why he compares it to Sheol, the holding cell for those who would face judgment. This is the closest to Hell that in my opinion one could get. Why? All of his senses which he used to enjoy life would now be denied every pleasure just like those who will reside in Hell. It mimics Hell in many ways, but it is not Hell. It would be better to reside in the stomach of this fish for the rest of your life then to suffer an eternity in Hell where worm (torment) will not die and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:48). In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus the Rich man is in Hades suffering and he begs for a drop of water which he does not get. This shows that in Hell all the senses will be active and denied any satisfaction or pleasure. Their senses will only receive pain and torment for eternity for their sin.

“For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, And the current engulfed me. All your breakers and billows passed over me. So I say, ‘I have been expelled form Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward your holy temple.’ Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, Weeds were wrapped around my head. I descended to the roots of mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever, but You have brought up my life from the pit.” Jonah 2:3-6

This is where I believe Jonah gives us a glimpse into his true motives. He was more intent on drowning than he was doing the will of God. We understand that the moment Jonah’s body hit the water that the storm came to a complete halt. It ceased miraculously and sea became perfectly still with no residual effects (churning waves) in the water. This miracle from God had many reasons, but only a few that we could probably discern. I think that one of the reasons was to prevent Jonah from drowning. If God had allowed the residual effects of the storm to continue Jonah indeed would have been swept under water assisting him in his attempt to drown. God made the waters absolutely still so that no harm would befall Jonah. It was not only a show of power by the Lord, but a gracious and merciful act to the sailors and to Jonah. Even in Jonah’s rebellion God was so gracious to him. We sin against Him every single day and He still allows us to live. He would be right to end our lives upon our first transgression, but He doesn’t. Instead, Jonah tries to drown himself rather than accept God’s mercy and grace.

As we look at verse 3 we see “you cast me into the deep” proving that it was God’s will for him to be tossed into the water. He acknowledges that this was God’s judgment for him. He understands that the Lord has even expelled him temporarily as a punishment from the temple (v4). So, in verse 3 we also see that the current engulfed him and the breakers and billows passed over him denoting that he had gone under water and he was not near the surface. In verse 5, water encompassed him and the great deep engulfed him. The great “deep” (tehowm – meaning gulf/abyss) he is talking about is “Abussos” in the Greek translation of the Hebrew text (Septuagint-LXX). It is where we get our English word “abyss”. Jonah is using this term metaphorically to denote that he had sunk a great depth, not gone into a bottomless pit. We know this because verse 5 also shows us that he had seaweed and vegetation wrapped around him revealing that he had hit the bottom of the sea. I am not a diving expert, but I have read that for every 10 meters a person descends in water the smaller the volume of air in our bodies. As the volume of air decreases in us we become less buoyant due to the water pressure. It becomes easier to sink. At just 10 meters (32 feet) we have 50% less volume of air in our bodies. Scripture doesn’t tell us the depth, but for Jonah to say that he had hit the bottom, that he, “descended to the roots of mountains”, would make me estimate that he was further down than 10 meters. Especially because he uses the term “tehown/abussos”.

Knowing this, my first question was how did Jonah get down there? The water was calm. He probably only went down several feet at the most when he was thrown overboard. So, why did he not surface? I believe that he didn’t surface because he would have rather killed himself than obeyed God and preached repentance to the Ninevites. I believe he made no effort to come back to the surface, rather he was content to die in the ocean. He was obviously conscious at the bottom of the sea despite the pressure on his body because he mentions these things in his prayer. I see a man who made no effort to preserve his life in the midst of his torment. He was ready to die, but God wasn’t ready. No one will die before the appointed time God gives.

I do want to make one more observation here. Jonah was not a trained diver. He was a prophet who probably spent most of his days serving the Lord on dry land. I don’t think he spent a lot of time practicing holding his breath under water, yet he was able to hit the bottom of the sea and he was still conscious which means that he held his breath for quite sometime. I believe that God was miraculously preserving him until the fish came to his rescue. He had to have sunk down well over 30 feet and yet from what we can tell from Scripture there didn’t appear from what we can see on the pages to be any damage to his eyes, ear drums, or nose from the water pressure. In chapters 3 and 4 he is able to speak and proclaim the message to Nineveh, and even walk around the city for 3 days to do it. In my opinion his senses didn’t appear to be damaged from his sinking to the bottom of the sea. I do realize this is speculation. Nonetheless, I believe that God was gracious to him.

I am going to stop here and pick up from Jonah 2:6c on my next post.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Grace in the midst of the Storm — Jonah 1:8-17

When we finished last time in Jonah 1:7 the crew in fear cast lots to see why this storm was brought upon them and the lot fell on Jonah. The prophet from the Northern Kingdom had brought these men into his storm with God, just as some of us do when we disobey His commands. I can’t help but see God prodding Jonah into submission to His will. I am reminded of Psalm 119 where in almost every instance where “teach” is used is the Hebrew word “lamad”. Lamad means, “to strike with an ox goad”. A goad was a pole with a sharpened end or with a sharp metal tip on the end that you struck a beast of burden with to go in the direction you desired. Farmers would typically use oxen to plow lines in the fields so that seeds could be planted. They would strike the oxen with a goad if they got off track in order to get them back in line. David says in Psalm 119:68:

“You are good and do good; Teach me your statutes.”

David is admitting that God is the authority on all things, and as such, all His ways are good. When he uses “lamad” (teach) the implication is that he understands that he is as stubborn as an ox because of his sin nature. He will not easily seek to do the will of God. In fact, he will not naturally seek to do the will of God. So, what does David ask God to do? He asks Him to strike him with His divine ox goad to correct his steps so that he will come back into line with God’s will. We feeble humans learn from pain, don’t we? When a child touches the hot stove after you had warned them countless times, they will learn from that one instance of pain to not deviate from your warnings. In the same way, God uses pain to instruct His children when they are disobedient. He desires us to get back on track and to heed His word. We don’t like it when He prods us to keep His commandments because it hurts. God corrects those He loves (See Hebrews 12:5-6). David loves God deeply and wants to obey His commandments, so much so, that he wants to suffer when He goes astray. He does not want to grieve God in any way. He desires to please Him.

With David in mind, we see that God is using a storm to prod Jonah back into obedience. God sees a rebellious side to Jonah that has manifested from an unforgiving heart. A heart that wants the destruction of his enemies rather than their redemption.

Just thinking aloud, I wonder how much the culture of the Northern Kingdom rubbed off on Jonah, rather than he influencing the people of Israel? When the culture all around you is wicked to its core and is under God’s judgment, can it not influence you negatively? I wonder if that played a part in his rebellion too?

In verse 8 the sailors now knowing this storm is Jonah’s fault begin to question him. Jonah does not mince words in verse 9: “He said to them, ‘I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.’”

Jonah distinguishes himself from the sailors who were more than likely Phoenician and worshipped Ba’al. His use of “Lord God” (Yehovah Elohiym) was meant to distinguish himself from Ba’al which means “lord”. The Lord God makes it clear that Yehovah Elohiym ranks over any of these false deities. Jonah then adds that God made both the sea and dry land to further separate God from Ba’al. Ba’al was the god of the sky, which happens to be the very god named after Nimrod and worshipped at the Tower of Babel.

In my opinion there are two other reasons why I think Jonah pointed to God as the creator of sea and dry land. One reason would be prophetic unbeknownst to Jonah, and the other a further separation from a pagan god. The Phoenicians and Assyrians also worshipped Dagon who was the god of fish. He was a merman (half-man and half fish). The implication that Jonah is unaware of is that he would shortly be swallowed by a fish, live it in for three days, and then be vomited up onto the shore. This more than likely would have a significant impact on the Assyrians when word spreads that Jonah escaped the mouth of a fish showing that his God is greater than the Assyrian god Dagon.

Lastly, I believe Jonah was aware of the Phoenician/Canaanite god-head, so he would be aware of Yamm, who was the god of the sea. These were the gods that the pagan nations around Israel worshipped. I believe Jonah did mention Yehovah Elohiym intentionally so that they understood that this storm was not from Yamm, but from the Lord God. Jonah’s answer had amazing clarity in a time of great peril. The sailors who he spoke to were under great duress and as such their ears would cling to every word Jonah said. They would remember these words and they would penetrate the hearts of these sailors.

“Then the men became extremely frightened and they said to him, ‘How could you do this?’ For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.” Jonah 1:10

After Jonah’s transparent answer to the sailors they all begin to panic. “What have you done?” Jonah’s answer shows these pagan sailors the power of the one and only true God, and they realize it fully. “How could you do this?” In fact, the LXX translates the Hebrew word “yare” (frightened) as “phobos”. “Megas” (great) amplifies phobos to speak to the sailors state as being “terrified”. These men were in complete panic knowing that they had assisted a man in his escape from God and they thought that they were going to die for helping the prophet disobey God. They were not blameless as some might think because Jonah tells us in verse 10, “For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.” This reality of their culpability in Jonah’s escape made them recognize that they were indeed accomplices. They were not without guilt.

“So they said to him, ‘What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?’ – for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy. He said to them, ‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you.” Jonah 1:11-12

The longer that Jonah remained in the boat seemed to increase the intensity of the storm. It reminded me that the longer the believer remains in their sin the more severe God’s chastisement will become. Something had to be done, so the sailors in their anxious state asked Jonah what would appease God so that He would refrain from His great wrath. Jonah admits that this storm is his fault and he instructs them to throw him into the sea and God’s wrath will subside as the storm will calm. Did the sailors listen? No.

“However, the men rowed desperately to return to land but they could not, for the sea was becoming even stormier against them. Then they called on the Lord and said, ‘We earnestly pray, O Lord, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood on us; for You, O Lord, have done as You have pleased.” Jonah 1:13-14

The sailors knew this was a man of God (and his importance) and they thought that if they threw him in the water that it would kill Jonah, and the blood would be on their hands. So, imagine their dismay as the storm got even worse when they didn’t throw him overboard. Instead of obeying God they continued to try to protect Jonah. How could they be so hard headed? The answer as what to do was so simple, but their fear, though well intentioned for the life of Jonah had clouded their judgment. Sin tends to have that effect on people. These men were told what they needed to do and yet refused to do it, thus making them an accomplice in Jonah’s rebellion.

Finally, after seeing the futility in their rebellion against God they complied and tossed Jonah overboard.

“So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. Then the men feared the Lord greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.” Jonah 1:15-17

After Jonah went overboard and went into the sea the water completely stopped. The Hebrew word for “stop” is “amad”. It literally means “to stand still” with the implication of something stopping/halting immediately. This same word is used in Joshua 10:13 for when the sun stopped. It didn’t gradually stop, it halted immediately. You see, the command from God went out when Jonah went into the water and He commanded the storm to cease along with the raging waters. Any of you that have been on the ocean in a boat or some large body of water when a storm comes through, or even standing on the beach will notice that after the storm passes there is a residual effect as the water continues to churn for some hours after it has passed. This was a miracle for the water to become completely still after it was raging and is reminiscent of Mark 4:35-41 when Jesus calmed the storm and the raging waters and winds and waves ceased immediately with no residual effects. It ceased just as miraculously as it came showing God’s dominion over all of creation.

When the sea stopped its raging, the sailors witnessed the power and mercy of God, and the truth in Jonah’s words. In reverence of the Lord they offered a sacrifice and made vows. Sacrifice in Hebrew is “zebach” and literally means “a slaughter” or “a slaying” denoting the killing of an animal. The implication of verse 16 is that they had an animal(s) on board the ship and made the sacrifice immediately after the storm on the vessel. What I find astounding is that they understood the need to make a sin offering to God which was a representation of the coming Christ. These men were indeed redeemed by the Lord, yet, was it the Holy Spirit alone that impressed upon them to sacrifice an animal for their sin? The sin offering was a sacrifice made to God for a sin committed in ignorance or an unintentional sin which was later recognized after the fact. Men in their position (non-priestly) could sacrifice a female goat or lamb, or if they were poor then the requirement was two turtledoves or pigeons (See Leviticus 4, 5:7 & Numbers 15). As I look back through chapter one, these pagan men dismissed what Jonah said to them in verse 10 about running away from the Lord before they were redeemed. These men had sinned in ignorance. Only after that fact did they realize their sin and repent of it with their sacrifice. Scripture is silent on the animals used but it could have been any of the above. I just find it so intriguing that they were either prompted solely by the Holy Spirit, or maybe Jonah had mentioned something to them about it and it came to mind by the Holy Spirit right after the storm. Either way it was Holy Spirit led and these men showed their penitent hearts for their sins. As you can see, God saved the sailors on His own, though I believe He used Jonah’s words in verse 9 to penetrate their hearts during the tempest and deliverance from it.

David Guzik pulled 4 points from a sermon that Charles Spurgeon did on the actions of the crew. I think they are definitely worth sharing.

  • Sinners, when tossed upon the sea of conviction make desperate efforts to save themselves.
  • The fleshly efforts of awakened sinners must inevitably fail.
  • The soul’s sorrow will continue to increase as long as it relies on its own efforts.
  • The way of safety for sinners is to be found in the sacrifice of another on their behalf. (obviously Christ).

When I go into chapter two I am going to show you why I think Jonah was trying to commit suicide and was not swept into the depths by the storm which ceased immediately. It is important to note that God appointed a fish to swallow Jonah. The Hebrew word used for fish is “dag” (where Dagon is derived), not whale. It was a giant fish. This fish was appointed by God to carry out His will. As I thought about this I marveled how everything in creation will obey the command of God immediately except for the human race. The giant fish was more obedient than Jonah was. It obeyed God’s every command, but man in our sin nature will fight to carry out our own desires. The fish doesn’t have a conscience and thus does not sin by disobeying God. It is affected by sin’s effects on the world, but it cannot sin because it was not created in the image of God. Those who posit evolutionary creationism seem to miss this important fact. If we evolved over billions of years would not animals of whom we evolved from have a conscience to recognize sin as well? Not to mention that evolution requires death for things to evolve, but death didn’t enter the scene until Adam and Eve sinned. Do you see the nonsense here? I won’t digress further, but evolutionary creationism is blasphemous to God’s word and to His character, majesty, and power. God controls everything in creation. God controls every atom in His creation. There is nothing that deviates from his control. He used this fish to rescue Jonah from his own hands. We will look more into that in the next post.

Jonah is a type of Christ, a representation if you will. Joseph would be another example. So, how do we know this?

Christ said, “for just as Jonah was 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of a sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Matthew 12:40

Christ is comparing His death to Jonah who was in the stomach of a large fish for three days. In Jonah 2:2 he says, “I cried for help from the depth of Sheol”. He is in utter darkness in the depths of the earth like Christ was when he died and was put in the tomb. Jonah arose from the depths of the earth when the fish vomited him up, just as Christ rose from the grave defeating evil.

I will finish with this quote from John MacArthur regarding the significance of the 3 days in Matthew 12:40:

“’Three days and three nights’ was an emphatic way of saying ‘three days,’ and by Jewish reckoning this would be an apt way of expressing a period of time that includes parts of 3 days.  Thus if Christ were crucified on Friday, and His resurrection occurred on the first day of the week, by Hebrew reckoning this would qualify as 3 days and 3 nights.”

 

Soli Deo Gloria!

God’s Divine Chastisement — An Exegesis of Jonah 1:3c-7

“The hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up.” Jonah 1:4

There is one point that I would like to pick up on from Jonah 1:3 before we begin. He fled from “the presence of the Lord.” God is omnipresent, meaning that He is everywhere. He cannot be contained to one place at a time like a man or his enemy Satan. He is everywhere at all times watching His creation and fulfilling His will. Jonah could not flee from the presence of the Lord, and he knew that. He probably knew Psalm 139:7-10. “If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there your hand will lead me, And your right hand will lay hold of me.”

I believe that Jonah knew he could not out run God. He knew Scripture. I wonder if Psalm 139: 8 popped into his mind in the belly of the fish “If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, you are there” because he says in Jonah 2:2, “I called out of my distress to the Lord, And He answered me. I cried for help from the depths of Sheol; You heard my voice.” I really do believe that one of the primary duties of a Christian is to memorize the word of God because it will be a very present help for us in a day of trouble (See Psalm 46:1). God is a very present help in times of trouble and so is every word of His holy Scripture. It reminds us of God’s truths and we need reminding because we are a forgetful people. We won’t always have access to a Bible, especially as the world becomes darker, we can expect Scripture to be banned. I recall an account I read through Voice of the Martyrs where a believer imprisoned in Southeast Asia (maybe Vietnam or Cambodia) was thrown in jail for his faith. He went through great lengths to procure a Bible and he was found out and it was taken from him. He was beaten and persecuted more in prison. As I recall the story (not perfectly), he was begging God for His word and could not understand why it was being denied him. One of the lead soldiers that persecuted him the most made him come in to clean up the bathrooms if I recall correctly. This brother went in to clean up the bathrooms and found paper where the man had wiped his butt from his bowel movements. The man looked at one of the pieces of paper and saw a verse from Romans on it. Apparently, the soldier had taken the Bible he confiscated and used it as toilet paper. This man cleaned off the papers he gathered each day and thanked God for how He provided His word to him. He cherished God’s word and it was an encouragement to him. The problem for Jonah is that he cherished His desires above God’s commands, but He remembered God’s truth when he sat in the belly of the fish.

Getting back to the text, Jonah knew he couldn’t flee from God’s omnipresence, but he could flee from the Temple where God manifested His presence. I have found that when a believer is living in sin the very sight of something that reminds you of God places a heavy burden on you. It convicts you of your evil. It could take shape as a Bible or a church or a faithful believer. In Jonah’s case the Temple was a place where God’s presence dwelled, and he was going to flee as far away from God as possible.

Now the Lord created a deadly storm to stop Jonah from disobeying any further. When you see “hurled” or “cast” (tuwl) a great wind, the implication of the Hebrew verb is a suddenness. This means that the weather was good that day, there was not a storm around. In fact, the Greek word for “tuwl” in the LXX is “exegeiro”. It combines, “ek” (up) which intensifies “egeiro” (to rouse/to incite). Properly, “To stir up/to raise up”. “Ek” intensifies it to denote immediacy. So, the weather was clear that day and within the blink of an eye a raging storm forms and begins pounding Jonah’s ship.

“Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep.” Jonah 1:5

Sailors typically are not scared by a bad storm. Those who have sailed many years, especially on the Mediterranean which was known for perilous storms (See Paul’s trip to Rome) did not easily scare in the face of a storm. The Hebrew word “yare” means “to frighten/fear” in this context and if I am discerning its usage correctly it would even go as far as implying a fear that was causing them to tremble. This is a storm that in all of their years of sailing they would have never seen before. A storm that miraculously started in the matter of a seconds and had such ferocity that these men would immediately fear for their lives showed Its magnitude.

In terror, each man cried out to his god. These sailors were more than likely Phoenicians, but could have certainly been a collection of men from different nations. Phoenicians were a sea faring people and they worshipped many gods. What is interesting is that the Phoenicians existed as city states, not a uniform state. Each city state had its own patron god/goddess and pantheon of gods that they worshipped.[1] This could very conceivably mean that these sailors were indeed Phoenician but that they were just from different cities. This is why I think that these sailors are Phoenicians. One of the chief gods of Phoenicia would be Ba’al, from Bel, meaning “lord”. If you follow ancient history Ba’al and Marduk are one in the same god. If you remember, Marduk was the god erected in honor of Nimrod.

So, as you can see, the first things these pagan sailors do is run to their gods for help. Scripture says that they “cried out” (zaaq) to their own god. “Zaaq” means “to cry out/to exclaim”. I thought for sure that “krauge” the Greek word for “clamor/crying out” in anger would be used here in the LXX translation, but it wasn’t. What is interesting is that the LXX translates this word as “anaboao”. It means, “to raise a cry/to cry out” with the implication that you are shouting. These sailors are shouting to their gods and begging for their mercy and for their help. Knowing man, their consciences have come to life in this turmoil and they are probably asking forgiveness for some evil act that they did believing that they are responsible in some way for this peril. I think that they think their gods might be angry with one of them, which is why they resort to casting lots in Jonah 1:7 to see who the culprit of this storm is. It is indeed a fact that the sailors knew this storm was supernatural from how quickly and powerfully it formed. Little did these men know that God was using this trial to soften their hearts as they would eventually be redeemed.

Nonetheless, the ship was weighed down with its cargo and wares, so to lighten it they threw it overboard. What you have to keep in mind though that is that this may not have been the cargo. The Hebrew and Greek word refers to wares. Ellicott’s commentary on this verse says, “The Hebrew word is of general import for furniture of any kind, and so including all the movables in the ship. The cargo would probably, as in the case of St. Paul’s shipwreck, be reserved till the last extremity.” Acts 27:19 shows that the crew of the vessel Paul was aboard threw what wasn’t nailed down over, and then in Acts 27:38 is when we see the cargo cast overboard. Typically, the sailors would wait until the last possible moment to jettison their cargo overboard because this was their livelihood. If they threw it overboard they would not be paid, and they and their families would be affected adversely by this. In this case, I am thinking both the wares and cargo went overboard because of the magnitude and quickness of the storm revealing its divine nature, the enormous fear in the sailors, and their desire to row back to shore in v13 reveals to me men that have exhausted every option to combat the storm.

Now, through all of this somehow Jonah managed to stay asleep. Perhaps it was a sleep from his travels to escape the Lord. His conscience was seared at this point making it easy for him to sleep and stay asleep. If he had a heavy conscience for his rebellion he would not have been able to sleep so well. Contrast this to Christ who was exhausted on a boat that the storm never woke Him (See Mark 4:35-41). His conscience was clear from his faithful work for the Father, while Jonah’s was seared by his resolve to sin.

“So the captain approached him and said, ‘How is it that your are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.’”

In v6, the sailors have given up on their gods opening the door for the one true God to bring deliverance. So, God moves this unbelieving captain to go down to Jonah and ask him to call on his god. An unbeliever is coming to a believer and asking him for prayer. I don’t believe this to be a compliment. This captain is God’s prod to force Jonah to get up and face what he has done. The captain knew that if something wasn’t done soon that they would perish. Isn’t it amazing that God would both bring the storm and keep the ship together? It is true that in the storms of the believer’s life God brings the tempest and yet simultaneously holds us together to endure it.

“Each man said to his mate, ‘Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.’ So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.” Jonah 1:7

The first verse to pop in my mind is Proverbs 16:33 when I read this. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Casting lots was a way to find the will of God in the OT. We don’t do this anymore because we have the word of God to direct our paths though the Holy Spirit. So, they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. Everyone on the ship now knew that this storm was a result of the passenger that they chose to carry. Now, these sailors were not without guilt because in verse 10 Jonah had told them that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord. They knew this and helped him. That shows you how much they believed in the God of all creation. Had he said that he was running from Ba’al the sailors might not have let him on the ship.

One observation I see here regarding Jonah is that when a believer runs away from God he brings other people into his storm. Jonah brought these sailors into his storm and it had cost them their cargo and everything not affixed to the ship. There are some believer’s out there that have turned away from God’s commands like Jonah and you are bringing your parents, your spouse, your children, your friends, and even your co-workers to some degree into your storm with God. You are miserable, you are bringing everyone else into your divine chastisement, some willingly, but many ignorantly or unwillingly. If this is you, it is time to stop running from God, repent of your sin and obey what He has commanded you. Hebrews 12:5-6 says that God punishes/chastises those He loves like a good Father. It shows that you are indeed His when He doesn’t allow you to continue in sin. The storm that he scourges you with may be to stop living a sexually immoral lifestyle, turning completely from it. If you are an unforgiving person which is contrary to the Gospel, then God is probably chastising you for your unforgiveness (See Matt 18:33-34). Until you forgive your offender who is unrepentant for their offenses against you, you will be ravaged by God until you confess your sin to God first and then forgive your offender. I know this one from personal experience as God chastised me with a series health condition until I surrendered to Him and repented of my unforgiveness.

We will pick up in verse 8 on my next post.

Soli Deo Gloria!

[1] https://www.ancient.eu/Phoenician_Religion/

The Calm Before the Storm – Exegesis of Jonah 1:1-3

If you read my two-part introduction to Jonah, then you will be familiar with the four reasons why Jonah hated the Ninevites. If you haven’t read the introduction, then I would encourage you to do so. Here are the four reasons as a recap:

  1. Nineveh was founded by Nimrod who conquered the peoples of the earth and united them in rebellion to God. He was a tyrant and a barbaric warmonger whose influence spread into the peoples that made up the Assyrian and Babylonian empires.
  2. The Assyrians were the most barbaric people group in history from flaying the skin off the bodies of the people they killed to building pyramids out of decapitated heads of conquered cities, to hanging people alive on poles that they inserted in their anus as the blunted post slowly pushed up crushing the organs of the victims, killing them over a period of 1-3 days from asphyxiation.
  3. God had ordained that the pagan nation of Assyria would be the nation that would destroy the Northern Kingdom where Jonah served as a prophet. It would almost be comparable to God ordaining the US to be conquered by ISIS if you can remember their barbarism in the Middle East.
  4. Jonah knew that God was going to redeem Assyria. He hated Assyria so much that he wanted God to destroy them, which is why he ran. The term “racist” is a misnomer because we all descended from Adam and Eve making us one race, the human race. In our day Jonah would be considered a “racist” or more accurately stated an “ethnocentrist”. He wanted Assyria to be repaid for their evil against Israel and the nations, not to mention stop them from destroying Israel. He wanted them to be shown no mercy and no grace. In his unforgiveness he had forgotten the mercy and grace that God had shown him.

“The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” Jonah 1:1-2

One of my first initial observations from this passage is that Jonah is being sent to a foreign land to tell them to repent. This gives credence to Romans 10:17, “For faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” There can never be repentance apart from speaking God’s truth about redemption. God is the one who will make the words you speak penetrate the hard hearts of man and give them the faith to believe what is being said so that they repent. You will find “Christians” who will say, “I have always known God” or “I knew since I was young that God had a plan for me.” What I have found most often is that these people were told about God, but were never told about their sin nature and need for redemption. They are theists just like the Ninevites were theists, though they may not be as barbaric and pagan as the Assyrians, they all are in the same boat.

My second observation is that Jonah was the first prophet to actually go outside of Israel and preach repentance to a foreign nation. This is unprecedented in Scripture because all of the prophets preached repentance to those within the kingdom of Judah or Israel. Jonah is actually a foreign missionary, showing God’s redemptive plan for both Gentiles and Jews. Jonah’s mission went from calling Israel to repent to calling the most pagan of nations to repent. God’s redemptive plan is always at work. Every tribe, tongue, and nation will be represented in heaven, even from the most wicked people groups. This would most certainly be outside of Jonah’s comfort zone primarily because of who he was told to preach repentance to, but secondarily, he was going to do it outside of his nation’s borders and preach to a people that knew nothing of Yahweh.

Jonah was told to go to, “Nineveh the great city”. Many historians estimate that Nineveh had roughly a population of 600,000 people at the time making it the largest city in the world. I believe that God is referring to the size of the city when He uses the word “great”. Jonah uses the exact same Hebrew word (gadowl-great) in chapter 4 verse 11 which says, “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals.” The implication is that God is not talking about the breadth or the reverence of the city, rather he is speaking to the large population. These 120,000 people who do not know their right hand from their left hand is not a reference to sin, rather it is a reference to children who have yet to understand what their right hand is and what their left hand is. This would imply that there were 120,000 children in Nineveh at the time that were more than likely all under 5 years old. This would support the historical estimates of a population around 600,000 people.

God tells Jonah to “cry out against it (Nineveh).” The Hebrew word “qara” means “to cry out”. The Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew text) translates this word as “krauge”. This word is used both in positive and negative contexts. In this case, I believe it to be positive. It is a deep emotional pain from the depths of the soul that comes out in an unearthly sound like a scream. It is a type of anger birthed from distress. Think of a mother seeing her young son hit by a car and killed. Imagine the unearthly shriek that would come from the depths of her soul in reaction. This is what God is commanding Jonah to do. Their deeds were so evil that they didn’t need a gentle talking to, they needed a man to cry out on the Lord’s behalf from the depths of his soul, “Repent of your evil deeds or God will destroy you!” These were a people who could not be reasoned with and whose conscience was completely seared. They needed something that would pierce their calloused hearts. God’s long suffering had run out on Nineveh. The stench of their evil resonated before the throne of God and He would tolerate it no more. He would give them one last warning and then judgment.

Think of all the bodies that had been flayed by Assyria and the skin hung from the walls of the cities they conquered. Think about all the people crucified alive with a post rammed into their anus and planted into the ground where they would slowly and painfully hang as their internal organs were crushed from the weight of their own body on the pole until they died 1-3 days later. Think of all the feet, hands, and decapitated heads (the heads would be piled into pyramids). God could tolerate their Satanic malevolence no longer, yet because He is merciful in nature He would extend His hand of peace one more time.

“But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” Jonah 3

“But Jonah” — “But” is a conjunction which introduces a contrasting clause to something that has already been stated. “But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish” was the opposite of God’s command to go to Nineveh and “cry out against it”. You see, it is the commands of God that expose the sin in our hearts. Jonah was commanded to go to Nineveh by God and that commandment of God exposed something in his heart…hatred. Jonah hated the Ninevites for their wickedness. He wanted to see them dead and that would bring his proud heart some sort of wicked satisfaction. Hatred always comes from an unforgiving heart. In fact, malice would be a more appropriate word. In Ephesians 4:31 “malice” (Kakia) is “a wicked disposition” with the implication of taking satisfaction in suffering of of ones offenders. On 9/11/2001 when the World Trade Center was destroyed by Al Qaeda terrorists many of those in Muslim countries began to celebrate the tragedy of so many innocent people dying. That is malice. On the opposite side I have heard Americans celebrate the deaths of innocent Muslims killed in air strikes. When you hear, “The world is better without them” or “Serves them right” it shows you a heart that takes satisfaction in the tragedy of their enemies/perceived enemies. That is malice, and this very sin was in Jonah. God saw the same sin in Jonah that he saw in the Assyrians and He was going to deal with both of them. This is more than likely why He chose Jonah and not Amos to go to Nineveh.

Every believer is to study God’s word daily. When we neglect studying Scripture we are opening ourselves up to moral decay. Every time a believer violates the word of God we are emulating, “But Jonah”. When you repay evil for evil in violation of Romans 12:17, you, knowing the word of God are revealing the sin in your heart. With Romans 12:17 in mind, imagine a believer named Steve being cursed out by a co-worker. God says, ’Steve, never repay evil for evil to anyone.’ “But Steve struck his co-worker in the face.” Insert your name in any place where the bible speaks of sin. “But Leslie” committed adultery. “But John” looked upon a woman lustfully. “But Ethan” went out to a bar and got drunk. Anytime we disobey a command from God it reveals an area of our lives not submitted to Him. God’s precepts expose the evil desires of our hearts and we as fallen people don’t like it very much.

At that moment when the command was given to Jonah by God to preach to Nineveh, he was forced to love his enemies. God had work to do in Jonah because His command immediately revealed the sins of hatred and unforgiveness in his heart. Beloved, Scripture is filled with God’s commands and precepts which injure us every day because they are holy, and we are not. It is God’s commands that expose our folly.

I want to harp on one biblical command that is applicable to Jonah and many of us as it pertains to unforgiveness which always leads to hatred. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:43-44

The Pharisees had misinterpreted the Mosaic Law to mean that you should love those neighbors who are good to you and hate those neighbors who are bad to you. This is why the Jews had such disdain for their Roman overlords. They were their enemy and they were allowed to hate them rather than show them mercy and grace. Similarly, there are those who believe in conditional forgiveness. They will not forgive an offender or pardon them of their offense until their offender repents. There are even some that I know that say they have to believe that the apology is sincere before they grant forgiveness. So, if their offender doesn’t ask for forgiveness, what happens? The memory of that person’s offense sticks in their mind and they begin to seethe over it as their flesh takes hold of them. Every time they see that person they are only reminded of their offense.

There are two important points to make about Matthew 5:43-44. First, when you love your enemies you are showing them the grace and mercy of God. Your enemies know how to wound you, and many enjoy doing it. There were many Christians who were murdered and brutally tortured by ISIS. Do you think that those members of ISIS that tortured those Christians are going to come back and repent of their sins to those who lived that they beat daily? No. Not unless God redeems them. When you show love to those who constantly wound you, you will in fact be showing them the mercy and grace of God as He empowers you to endure and absorb these offenses. You will actually come to a point of pity for your enemy rather than disdain when you forgive them because you see them trapped and mastered by their sin.

Secondly, if you cannot forgive your offenders then how can you possibly honor Christ’s command to love your enemies? It is impossible to forgive conditionally and still love your enemies. Why? Because as I said above, your enemies know how to hurt you and even revel in it. Your enemies will not apologize for their offenses against you making it impossible for you to forgive them which opens the door to hatred.

I love 1 Corinthians 13:5c “(Love) does not take into account a wrong suffered.” The Greek is “οὐ λογίζεται τὸ κακόν (ou logezetai to kakon). “Ou” (not/no) is a negative that denies something absolutely and completely. “logezetai” is in the present tense and is an accounting term that means “to reckon/to compute/take into account”. “Kakon” denotes “evil” with the implication that it is a moral wrong breaking the law and as such is translated “crime/wrong”. Paul is saying “You must never put a wrong suffered into your debt ledger.” In fact, you could render this clause “to not reckon in the ledger/to strike from the ledger.” If you keep a ledger of other people’s offenses, you have become a debt collector. As a debt collector you are in fact taking the opposite position of Christ, who has forgiven your many debts, most of which you have never confessed. We must forgive our offenders unconditionally so that we do not fall into sin like Jonah. Forgiveness of an unrepentant offender releases them from their debt to you and puts the justice in the hands of God whose standard is above ours.  His judgments are just and untainted, while ours lack impartiality. This is why Paul writes in Romans 12:19, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” His judgment is impartial, and His ways are much higher than our ways. He is the only one who is worthy to avenge injustice and use whatever measure He deems necessary. When we refuse to forgive someone unconditionally we are opening ourselves up for His divine chastisement (See Matthew 18:33-34).

I see unforgiveness so prevalent in the church today, primarily what is called the woke church. This is the most prominent example that comes to mind. I have read everything where they are demanding reparations for slavery, apologies for the sins of white ancestors who have been dead many years, accusing all white people of being complicit in MLK Junior’s assassination, etc… Some horrible things have been done in our nations past and thankfully God has ended those institutions. That said, our brothers and sisters who subscribe to Woke Theology/Social Justice are debt collectors. They are angry over hurts that others have suffered, and that they may themselves have suffered. They are unwilling to show grace and mercy to those who offended ancestors or to those who directly offended them. Nothing will satisfy their appetite for past injustices because they want vengeance. The whole reason God instituted “an eye for an eye” was because man in his depravity would take more than his offender took from him. This is a slap in the face of the Gospel of grace. How can we not forgive our enemies and offenders when we constantly offend God 10,000x more daily than our offenders injure us? This grieves me to no end because Satan has taken unforgiveness (wrapped in the package of conditional forgiveness) which refuses to release a debtor from their offense and uses it to split the church. If Christ doesn’t keep a ledger of my debts to Him because He redeemed me, neither should I, nor you.

With this said, Jonah flees to Tarshish which was the furthest point west one could go. Herodotus speaks of this merchant city calling it Tartessus which was located on the southern coast of Spain. Add to this, in all of Scripture this is the only recorded instance of a prophet disobeying God. For those that want to point to Balaam… he was not a prophet. He was a “prophet” for hire and he levied his blessings and curses on people by conversing with other gods (demons) to help him so he could get paid. He tried to do this with Yahweh in Numbers 22:9-13. He cared nothing for God and was in fact not called by God into ministry like real prophets. God’s prophets didn’t just tell the future, they also called the nations of Israel and Judah to holiness. Balaam did none of these as he was apostate. Knowing this, Jonah was the only one to directly and defiantly disobey a command of God. Again, God knew Jonah’s heart, which is why I believe He sent Jonah specifically.

Now, Jonah was able to find a cargo ship in Joppa headed to Tarshish. The context clearly reveals that this was indeed a cargo ship because it was headed to a merchant city, and in Jonah 1:5 they were throwing the cargo overboard to lighten the ship. A ship traveling as far as they were going would be fully loaded and probably not able to fit any additional travelers or crew on board. Yet, Jonah was able to secure a spot on the ship and even had enough money to pay the fare. Circumstances must never be our guide for they are false markers. Sometimes believers who are running away from God think that because everything is working out for them in their disobedience that this must be the will of God. Wrong! I remember there was a girl I really liked in college and she dug me as well. We both moved to Raleigh not long after graduation. She was a beautiful woman, but was an unbeliever and I was immature in my faith. I remember living in Cary, NC at the time and I opened a phone book specifically looking for her name. I was excited about the potential when I found it. Surely this had to be God’s providence. I called her up and it indeed was the right woman. I was excited and so was she. So much so, that we met at a bar in Raleigh and had a few drinks. She was in another league type of beautiful. As we conversed she only spoke about fleshly things, like her wealth, power, and sexually immoral things. It made me a bit uncomfortable at first, but the longer I stayed the more my ears were tickled and my fleshly desires kicked in so that I looked past her unbelief thinking maybe I could win her to Christ. We were there a couple of hours, but during that time she kept running into men and was spending a large amount of time with them talking and hanging all over them. When she was ready to leave she wanted me to go out dancing with her at a club. We had some good times dancing together back in college and she remembered that. That was where I had to say no. I didn’t enjoy that scene anymore nor the potential of me falling into sexual sin. It was not God ordained. He didn’t ordain me to pursue an unbeliever to date, that was my flesh. Everything seemed to work out perfectly at first and then I was hit with the hard reality of the reckless sinful decision I had made. For Jonah, things seemed to work out for him initially, but it won’t be long before He realizes the sinful decision he had made.

In the next post we will focus on the storm God sent to stop Jonah from continuing in his sin.