Jonah Disobedience to God

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Jonah’s Disobedience to God.

(This is not a story about a big fish.)

Often we cannot fully understand scripture without some background of the people and circumstances of the people in scripture... What did the “scripture” mean to them?

Jonah was written for the Jewish nation After the Exile. The Babylonians destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II in 586 BC. After the overthrow of Babylonia by the Persian Empire, in 538 BC the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great gave the Jews permission to return to their native land.

Nineveh was the heart of the Babylonian and Assyrians empires which caused death and destruction to Israel. Nineveh was the “most hated” city of the Israelistes. And this “most hated” was to be the city of God’s Love, Mercy, and Grace!

It is very hard for us to truly,

43"You have heard that it was said,
'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
But I tell you: Love your enemies
(bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you)
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:42-48

So the Ninevites were the enemies of the Jewish nation; the last people that they would have God bestow His Grace upon. In the years after the Exile the Jewish people were bitter and vengeful toward people of neighboring countries. If anything the Jewish people prayed to God for the Destruction of Nineveh and their Enemies!

But God’s Plan was for Israel to be a “Light” to the world – even to the gentiles – even to Israel’s enemies!

... I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth."

Isaiah 49:6b

How was Israel to reclaim God’s redemptive plan for the world? Israel was blinded by bitterness of the past, prejudice of other peoples, and hate.

How was Israel to be reminded of God’s plan? The Book of Jonah is a wakeup call to the Israelites, a reminder that God’s Salvation, Love, Mercy, and Grace are for the all nations - all peoples and NOT just for Israel.

"I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles....

Isaiah 42:6

This is what the Sovereign LORD says:
"See, I will beckon to the Gentiles,
I will lift up my banner to the peoples;
they will bring your sons in their arms
and carry your daughters on their shoulders.

Isaiah 49:22

The problem of the prophet in such a time was how to reawaken the nation as sense of missionary destiny to which, as God’s people, it had been called. No better weapon for this task than the parable.
- The Interpreter’s Bible 1952

Jonah was written over two thousand years ago and still today we have the same problems the Jewish people had with dealing with their enemies. This is not unlike when the World Trade Center towers were destroyed by terrorist in New York City. After 9/11/2001 we as a nation became (this is a generalization) bitter and vengeful of other countries. We became suspicious of people who did not look like us. We felt threatened and vulnerable; we wanted the destruction of our enemies. We were not much in the mood to turn the other cheek! This is how the Israelites felt about their neighbors. Not much has changed over two thousand years; many Israelites and Arabs to this day pray to God for the other’s destruction.

Special Note:
God wants us to destroy all unbelievers NOT by killing them,
but by LOVING THEM, winning them over by our LOVE,
bringing them to Jesus Christ!

Jonah 1
Jonah Flees From the LORD

1 The word of the LORD (God’s Calling) came to Jonah son of Amittai:
2"Go to the great city of Nineveh Ninevites were the enemies of the Jewish nation; Nineveh was center of the Ninevites; the last city on earth that the Jewish people would have God bestow His Grace upon. and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me."

3 But Jonah ran away from the LORD Opposition to God is sin! and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD. How foolish this is of Jonah! How can we possibly flee and hide from God? Heaven and earth and everything in it belong to God; where can you hide? God knows the number of hairs on your head; God knows where you are going before you do! Hiding from God is an illusion!

"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory."

Isaiah 6:3

How often do we run away from God? How often do we ignore God’s calling. How often does God call to us and we run into the opposite direction? Turning from God is turning toward sin. Turning toward God is turning toward the Light. Turning toward sin is turning toward darkness; and there are no gray areas! Turning away from God is “opposition” to God and “opposition” to God is sin!

Jonah was not afraid of the Ninevites in Nineveh. Jonah was not afraid of the hardships that he would have to endure. Jonah was not a coward; later in Jonah 1:12 he would suggest that they throw him overboard so they could save themselves.

Jonah let bitterness, revenge, prejudice, and hate enter into his heart. God was willing to bestow Love, Mercy, and Grace to Nineveh; but Jonah was NOT willing to bestow any Grace toward the Ninevites. Jonah wanted the Ninevites destruction! God loves all of His people… even the people we hate! Jonah did not want to bring God’s message of repentance because Jonah knew the Nature of God – Jonah knew that if the people of Nineveh repented that God would forgive Nineveh and not cause its’ destruction.

How often are we NOT willing to extend God’s Grace to others? How often do we want people to PAY for the hurt and damages they have done to us? We often do not think of ourselves as vengeful, hateful, or filled with prejudice but when we condemn other people; when we want willingly deny other people the Grace that God wants to bestow upon them – WE ARE IN OPPOSITION TO GOD – JUST LIKE JONAH!!!

4 Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm Whenever we run from God we should expect turbulent “storms” in our lives. We are like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. arose that the ship threatened to break up.

5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. All of the sailors were afraid! And when we are afraid, in distress, overwhelmed by problems, we should always pray to God. “Own god” these sailors were gentiles; pagans to Jonah. They prayed to their own gods, but GOD heard their prayers!

And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, (before the storm) where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, "How can you sleep? Here the sailors are frantically fighting to save their lives and Jonah is fast asleep! Jonah is peacefully asleep but God is soon to give Jonah a rude awakening! God has a change of plans for Jonah! Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish."

7 Then the sailors said to each other, "Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity." The persistent storm convinced the sailor that someone on board and offended their god and that this god was responsible for the raging storm. They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. The casting of Lots was often used in Biblical times: When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. – Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:24, John 19:24; Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles. – Acts 1:26 when lots were cast to find a replacement for Judas.

8 So they asked him, "Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?"

9 He answered, "I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land." This is a big inconsistency! Jonah states that he is a Hebrew and that he worshiped the LORD. This is an affirmation of faith. This is an affirmation that Jonah was a true believer – And yet Jonah knows that he is in opposition to God – running away from God’s calling, running away literally in the opposite direction!

This is also a real statement about us! How often are we in opposition to God and yet we consider ourselves to be true believers and good Christians? This didn’t just happen to Jonah; it also happens to us!

the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land." This is another big inconsistency! Jonah affirms that God is the God of heaven and earth – And yet Jonah has the misguided notion that he can run, hide, and escape from God!

10 This terrified them and they asked, "What have you done?" (They knew he was running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.)

11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, "What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?" These heathen – gentile sailors showed much restraint and compassion for Jonah – They could have immediately thrown Jonah overboard to save themselves!

This is also a major paradox: The sailors have compassion for Jonah and yet Jonah had NO compassion for the gentile sailor’s nations which he desired their destruction.

12 "Pick me up and throw me into the sea," he replied, "and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you." Jonah was not afraid. Jonah knew that he was the cause of the storm. Jonah offered to sacrifice himself to save the gentile sailors – BUT Jonah did NOT want God to offer Mercy and Grace to the multitudes of people that were no different than the gentile sailors aboard the ship!

13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Again the gentile sailors showed compassion for Jonah. They did not take up Jonah’s quick fix to throw Jonah overboard to save their own lives.

14 Then they cried to the LORD, "O LORD, These heathen gentile sailors now pray to Jonah’s God – The God of Israel. please do not let us die for taking this man's life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, the gentile sailors believed that throwing Jonah overboard is throwing Jonah into certain death; these sailor do not want to be responsible for the life of an innocent man. This is in contrast to Jonah who was willing for God to take many innocent lives in Nineveh. for you, O LORD, have done as you pleased." The sailors recognized God’s Hand in events: God pursued Jonah on the waters, the lot fell upon Jonah, it was God’s will they thought to destroy Jonah – not theirs; God had determined Jonah’s fate – not the sailors – and so the sailors should not be held accountable for the death of a man who had done them no harm.

15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him. The seas became calm. The sailors were relieved and thankful to Jonah’s God, the God of Israel. The sailors recognized the power and strength of Jonah’s God. This is an example of how heathens – gentiles responded to God and could be brought to God.

17 But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.

When we are in opposition to God we are engulfed by turbulent storms and tossed by seas.
When we are in opposition to God we are tossed overboard and thrown into darkness.
When we are in opposition to God we are swallowed by darkness and fears; the belly of a big fish.

Jonah 2
Jonah's Prayer

1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. 2 He said:
"In my distress I called to the LORD,
and he answered me.
From the depths of the grave I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.

Very similair to Psalm 18:4-6

{4 The cords of death entangled me;
the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.

5 The cords of the grave The Belly of Hell (Hebrew Sheol). coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.

6 In my distress I called to the LORD; I call on the LORD in my distress, and he answers me. - Psalm 120:1
I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
my cry came before him, into his ears.
Psalm 18:4-6}

3 You hurled me into the deep,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.

4 I said, 'I have been banished Jonah is cutoff from God’s Presence; Jonah is in the “dark” in the belly of a big fish. from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.'

5 The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.

6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you brought my life up from the pit,
O LORD my God.

7 "When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, LORD,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple. This is an important new understanding after the exile that there was no separation from God because of the physical destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians.

8 "Those who cling to worthless idols
forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
Salvation comes from the LORD."
It is to God alone that man should look for deliverance.
– The Interpreters Bible 1952

10 And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. Jonah was so vile, so distasteful that even the big fish vomited Jonah out!

Special Note: There are many examples of the Destruction of the Temple, of the Exile, and of the Return from Exile that are beyond this lay person’s ability to convey the essence of these meanings.

For example there are many examples: Being “Swallowed by a big fish” symbolizes Israel being swallowed up by the Babylonian empire and that Israel was “vomited out” in the Exile.

My point is that to the readers of Jonah, there was much symbolism that they would readily recognize which is difficult for us to recognize, see, find, and understand.

Jonah 3
Jonah Goes to Nineveh

1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: 2 "Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you." God is a God of many second chances! God repeats His original command to Jonah (Jonah 1:1 – the first time). Jonah show no signs of remorse or repentance.

3 Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. This time after his near death experience of being thrown overboard into raging waters and spending three days and three nights inside the belly of a big fish; Jonah reluctantly obeys God and goes to Nineveh.

Now Nineveh was a very important city—a visit required three days. A days journey walking would be between 20 – 25 miles per day. This would make Nineveh approximately 60 – 75 miles across. This is a big exaggeration! Los Angeles in only 44 miles across. No city in the ancient world or modern world is this wide across. Modern Archeological evidence shows that Nineveh to be only about one and a half miles across.

4 On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned." Finally Jonah begins to deliver the message that God wanted proclaimed to Nineveh.

5 The Ninevites believed God. The Ninevites “Believed,” and “Repented of their sins, and responded to God’s grace. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. ”Sackcloth” was a symbol of sincere repentance. There is a great contrast between the sincere repentance of the Ninevites and the lack of repentance or remorse from Jonah. The Ninevites pagans repent at the first early words of Jonah’s proclamation and Jonah has been disobeying God from the very beginning of this story. This is a judgment against Israel’s pride that they alone and not the gentile pagans were the object of God’s love, mercy, and grace.

6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:
"By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Again sincere humble repentance, and a willingness to turn from sin and worship the God of Israel.

9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish." The Ninevites humble prayer is that God may forgive them of their evil ways and spare Nineveh of God’s wrath and destruction.

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. What we do – our deeds make a difference. When we respond to God with humble, sincere, repentance and ask for forgiveness GOD will respond. GOD can change His mind – But be clear - GOD does NOT change His Nature.

Jonah 4
Jonah's Anger at the Lord 's Compassion

1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. Jonah’s anger (turning away from God) is just as disobedient as when Jonah fled from God and sailed in the opposite direction. Jonah is still in direct opposition to God – Sin!

2 He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. In Jonah’s own words this is what Jonah is rejecting: God’s Grace, God’s Compassion, Slow to Anger, who “relents from sending calamity” – God’s Forgiveness and God’s Pardon.

Jonah could not bear that the Ninevites were the object of God’s love, mercy, and grace. Jonah wanted Nineveh’s destruction; not Nineveh’s redemption.

3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live." All of the other Prophets would have been rejoicing for the success of obeying and completing the task that God had given them. Here is Jonah wishing he were dead rather than to see thousands of people Saved from destruction.

This is an “Big Warning” for us today! Jonah is self-righteous – Jonah believes wrongly that he is a faithful believer. Jonah is “Blind” to his rebellion against God! Jonah does not recognize in himself (Jonah sees himself wrongly as pious) his rejection of God’s Word, of Jonah’s defiance, and rebellion against God. Jonah is blinded by Hate, Bitterness, and Discrimination. Jonah is still just as “in the dark” as he was in the belly of the big fish (the belly of hell).

Jonah was disobeying God:

· Jonah wanted to implement his plan; not the Plan’s of God.
Jonah wanted his will to prevail; not the Will of God.

· Jonah wanted to use God as his tool of destruction against Nineveh.

· Jonah wanted punishment for the Ninevites who had earnestly repented on their sins;
· God wanted to Pardon the Ninevites who had earnestly repented of their sins.

There is an amazing contrast between the nature of man and the Nature of God.

There is an amazing contrast between man’s justice and the Redemptive Justice of God.

4 But the LORD replied, "Have you any right to be angry?" God is asking this question not angrily, but with compassion as a parent may speak to a sulking child – (paraphrase from The Interpreter’s Bible 1952)

5 Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Did Jonah still hold out hope that the city of Nineveh would still be destroyed?

6 Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up (an act of God) over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine.

7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, (also provided by God) which chewed the vine so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun (also provided by God blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, "It would be better for me to die than to live." IMPORTANT: Jonah does NOT realize that God’s judgement is on himself and Not on Nineveh!!! The heathen rejoice in their salvation while the prophet of God is crushed under the hand of God. - The Interpreter’s Bible 1952

9 But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?"
"I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die."

Great Contrast (Think about it!): Jonah wanted to die because so many people had repented at his words! Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-4) wanted to die because so few people would listen to his word of God’s judgement.

10 But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. Jonah is more concerned with the death of a vine than the death of thousands of men, women, and children. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, ”left hand from their right – These Ninevites were like children who do not know their left from their right hands. The Ninevites these “children” are not held responsible for the sins of Nineveh by God... and many cattle as well. ... and as such the cattle could not be held accountable for the sins of Nineveh by God. Should I not be concerned about that great city?" ... Jonah was angry about the death of a plant, but not concerned for the death of120,000 people! Jonah’s sense of justice is proven to be INJUSTICE... Jonah’s sense of justice is proven to be extremely out of balance, unreasonable, and Un-God-Like! Here Jonah can be merciful but Jonah is unwilling to allow God to be merciful!!!

Again the story of Jonah is not about a big fish. The story of Jonah is about disobedience to God – for Israel (and Speaks to US Today!) How often do we pray for God’s Grace for ourselves and how often do we fail to bestow that same loving God’s grace to others? How often do we feel (wrongly) that we are pious, self-righteous “true believers” and at the same time our actions deny ourselves; we are in opposition to God?

“Do not be confident of your own righteousness
and look down on other people.”

Luke 18:9

If we claim to be without sin,
we deceive ourselves
and the truth is not in us.

1 John 1:8-9

“Do not judge or you too will be judged.
For in the same way you judge others,
you will be judged,
and with the measure you use,
it will be measured to you.
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye
and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

Matthew 7:1-3 NIV

We are all Imperfect Christians

Now here two important questions?

What are YOU going to do now after studying this Jonah Lesson?

How can you let the Story of Jonah enter into and influence your life?

It is easier to talk about the improbability and impossibility of a “big fish” swallowing Jonah. It is far more difficult to reach inside ourselves, to look and see if we are in opposition to God, and to be an instrument God’s love and grace, and to extend this love and grace to others.

We need to look hard at our inner-selves... we do not want to be left in the dark, in the belly of a big fish, in the belly of hell.


Come Holy Spirit,
Kindle in me the Fire of your Love.
Give me the strength and will
To be an instrument of your Love and Peace.



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