If you have your bible, please turn to book of Jonah. I won’t wait b/c it might take you awhile. - If it helps you, it’s right after the book Obadiah.
Jonah is known as one of the ‘minor prophets’ in the Bible. They’re these tiny little books about half way through. That’s one of the problem with the minor prophets in the Bible, they’re always moving around. (joke)
The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: (Jonah 1:1)
“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2)
But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD. (Jonah 1:3)
We’re looking at the prophet - Jonah.
I love it because it’s really straight forward, it’s a story that has a huge meaning, but it’s also really funny.
The genre of the book would be: jewish comedy, it’s both very jewish, and very funny.
But just because it’s funny doesn’t mean it’s not serious and conveying a very important message.
We’re going to come back to the book of Jonah in the coming weeks because it’s just so awesome. I’m planning on 6 weeks.
And maybe I can say it like this:
On the surface, it’s a funny story about a wacky prophet who has trouble showing mercy, but it’s also this really profound analogy of the life of a follower of God.
So what I want to do tonight is tell the story, just like it’s written, and talk about the real obvious implications. And then in the coming weeks, we’ll dive more into the metaphorical meanings.
‘Jesus Centered Bible’:
I don’t know how many of you have a copy of one of these things, the ‘Jesus Centered Bible’, well a pastor that I really like did the introduction of the book of Jonah.
“Tucked away in the middle of the often bleak and sometimes scathing neighborhood of the Minor Prophets we find a comedy: the book of Jonah.”
What we find in the book of Jonah is a book about God’s mercy.
A lot of people tend to think “The Old Testament is full of judgement and the New Testament is full of mercy.” And I get what they’re saying, but there’s an incredible amount of mercy in the Old Testament too.
OK, so let’s do a little background:
To understand Nineveh, you have to understand “Assyria"
Assyrians - mean. Nasty, brutish, violent, oppressive - made life miserable for Israelites. Year after year
Slaughtered Israelites by the 1000’s.
As with lots of people who are living in oppression, we hated the Assryians.
Have you ever seen the statue of the winged bull with the human head? (PIC)
Well that’s the ancient symbol of Assyria.
Nineveh - was the capital of the Assyrian empire.
For those interested, Nineveh is no longer there, but you can find the remains near Mosul in modern day Iraq.
Tarshish is what we’d call ‘Gibraltar’ - in Spain. (MAP)
And essentially, this was the end of the world as they knew it. It was as far west as you could go. They didn’t realize that you keep going west long enough, that you’d eventually end up in the east, well that was not really in their understanding at the time.
I’m thinking they just think, you go all the way west an you end up in Tarshish, and if you keep going, well, you fall off.
Don’t know hardly anything about him.
We know this happens in 8th century BC.
And we know he’s a ‘prophet’.
And from reading the book of Jonah, we learn that Jonah is likely the worst prophet to have ever existed. I feel like if Jonah were a modern day movie, the actor they would cast for Jonah would be Danny DiVito.
The story begins:
The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: (Jonah 1:1)
“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2)
Ok, so like the all of God’s Hebrew prophets, it was Jonah’s God given job to call people to repentance and occasionally pronounce judgement.
Ok, now right off the bat, if you were an ancient Israelite, you would already be interested in book. Why? B/C you lover of idea of God coming to bring judgement on your mortal enemy. And really, at least on the surface, that’s the core tension of the book. We like it when we hear a word of judgement come to our enemies. Who wouldn't? When we hear that God is going to come kill the people that I hate, well that just warms the cockles of the heart.
But for reasons that we don’t immediately understand, Jonah HATES the idea.
So instead of heading 500 miles east over land, to Nineveh, Jonah decides to go 2000 miles WEST over the sea.
The level of disobedience is comic.
It’s like if you, being in Albuquerque NM calls you to go to New York, you instead get on a boat headed for Hawaii.
Like it’s an over the top disobedience.
Youth Leader Son - Pee Pants
Growing up I had a youth leader and some of us were spending the night at his house, well he had a 10 year old son and the kids had already been put to bed and we watching a movie, and the boy came out and told the dad ‘I need to go to the bathroom’ and the dad said ‘You went to the bathroom 5 minutes ago, go to your room!’ And so the boy just looked him straight in the eye, and started to pee his pants. And all us teenagers were just wanting to amazement. This kid was OUR HERO. He was like ‘sticking to the man’!
Well this is what Jonah is doing, he’s basically peeing his pants to God. Instead of going East, to goes 2000 miles west!
If this were me and I refused to go, I think I would just pretend I didn’t hear God. “That was just the flesh!”
I can say that I’ve personally done that tons of times. God tells me something, maybe directly or often times through someone else, occasionally even a preacher, and I just say ‘Yeah…. I’m gonna act like I didn’t hear that.'
Nope, Jonah hears, doesn’t act like he doesn’t and does the exact opposite. It’s funny.
So again, he is without a doubt the dunce of the prophets, he’s like the 3 stooges all wrapped into one in the prophet world.
But one thing that’s great about him, is that he’s always honest.
He’s always honest with God, honest with himself, honest with other people.
So here he just says “Uhhh….. NOOOO….. I’m not going to Nineveh. And I don’t care what you think.”
So he goes to Joppa (modern day Jaffa) it’s still there, I’ve got a pic. (Pic)
He goes there and buys a ticket, gets on a boat headed for Tarshish, headed for Spain.
Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. (Jonah 1:4)
So this is the Mediterranean Sea. And this horrible storm happens.
Paul This is the same sea that many centuries later, Paul finds himself on and in the middle of a similar storm.
So Jewish rabbis when telling this story, they tell the story like this: “There were 70 gentile sailors aboard this ship. One from each of the 70 gentile nations.”
In other words, this ship becomes a metaphor for the entire world.
And there’s this one lone jew - one person who knows the one-true-God, and 70 others representing the rest of the world, and the rest of the worlds religions, none of whom know the one-true-God.
And so they’re in this storm, and eventually the captain comes out and yells that everyone should start praying to their respective Gods.
Plane. Now as someone who has spent a fair amount of time on planes, I just don’t think this is a good sign. Imagine you’re on a plane and the pilot comes out of the cockpit and says ‘Hi everyone, I don’t know how many of you are religious, but if you’re the praying type, it might be a good idea to start now.” I’m not gonna take that as a real good sign.
So you have there 70 pagans praying to their multitudes of Gods, and eventually they come upon Jonah, and the one guy who actually knows the one-true-God is NOT praying, he’s down in the ship with the cargo, fast asleep.
Remember the story is trying to be funny.
The pagans are all praying.
But the one guy who knows God isn't.
So they find Jonah and say ‘Dude, what the heck man?! We’re all gonna die, and you’re not praying."
Well things are continuing to get worse, and so they end up casting lots.
This was an ancient ritual that involved sticks maybe, stones maybe, but essentially rolling the dice, but sometimes it was a way of them attempting ‘divination’ like reading tarot cards to try to get divine wisdom.
So they do this and it shows that Jonah was the problem, which of course was correct!
“Who - are you?”
And so they look at Jonah, and say ‘What’s up man?! Who the heck are you?'
Jonah ‘I’m a Hebrew prophet to the one-true-God, who made the land and the sea, and I deliver his messages, stuff like that, that’s what I do’. And my God told me to go to Nineveh, and I don’t want to, so that’s why I’m on this ship, to do the exact opposite of what God told me to do.'
To which the sailors said ‘Dude, you’re gonna kill us all!'
And so Jonah says (And this might be noble, it might not):
“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 1:12)
And the men say ‘No, no no, we’re not gonna do that, let’s try to get to dry land'. But it doesn’t work. They can't.
And now something interesting happens, it says that all the pagans on the boat, begin to cry out to Yahweh, the Hebrew God, the one-true-God. And then they chuck Jonah overboard, and the sea instantly calms down, and these pagans commit their lives to God.
So Jonah has just converted the entire ship.
Which is pretty good for a guy like Jonah - who’s not even trying. In fact, he’s trying to do the wrong thing but keeps getting good results.
So it would certainly seem like Jonah would die there in the middle of the mediterean sea, but God sends a large fish. I was told whale growing up, I guess technically the world in not whale but fish, but whatever you want to say is fine with me.
And the fish swallows Jonah whole.
And Jonah lives in the belly of the whale for 3 days and 3 nights.
And now, all of a sudden, Jonah wants to pray. - Which makes perfect sense. - You ever been through that, ‘Yeah I don’t need to pray.’ Trouble comes and then all of a sudden you’re on your knees, praying to God. - Well this is where Jonah finds himself.
And now the one part of the book that doesn’t seem to have any comedy in it is his prayer.
At least that’s how it looks, upon further inspection, especially to the jewish reader, something would start to become apparent and it’s this: Not a single line of his prayer is his own words. It’s all just lines from the book of Psalms. Every single word.
Now listen, I love praying the Psalms, I think it’s one way you learn the language of prayer. But it again seems comical that this incredible man of God, played by Danny DiVitto has not a single word of his own to say to God from the belly of the whale. There’s a lot of beauty in what he prays and we’re gonna talk about it in the coming weeks, but for now, just take it as a little bit comical that all he knows how to pray is the psalms.
And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. (Jonah 2:10)
Now, I have never had the unique experience of being puked up by a fish, but I’d imagine it would have a profound effect upon your life.
Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: (Jonah 3:1)
“Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” (Jonah 3:2)
Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh… (Jonah 3:3)
Jonah says “Yeah, I guess that’s the right thing to do.”
Yeah, no duh.
So like I said, the book of Jonah is a book about God’s mercy. And you could say it like this ‘God’s mercy often comes in the form of a second chance.’
Or 3rd, or 4th, or 5th.
So Jonah makes the 500 miles trek to Nineveh,
Finally arrives in this huge city.
It’s so big it takes his 3 days to walk through it.
And finally when he arrives and preaches his sermon, and here it is:
“Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” v3:4
We don’t know if every day that he preaches it the number is one less, like 99 bottles of beer. “39 days!!” “38!!”
I’ve been preaching for all of my adult life, and I can say confidently that that’s not a good sermon.
So what are the odds of a sermon like that making a big impact of a huge city? An unknown guy yelling a single sentence in a huge city. I’d say hovering at around 0. Do you guys know the cool naked guy who walks around campus? Well he’s not quite naked, but close. I think his name is ‘Don’. Who likes short shorts? Don likes short shorts.
Well imagine he started walking around and saying ‘In 40 days Albuquerque will be destroyed.’ How likely is that to cause you to change religions? I’m gonna say not too high.
I think Jonah just does it cuz he doesn’t want to go back to the whale. You know what I mean? Ha. He’s not TRYING HARD.
The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. (Jonah 3:5)
When Jonah’s warning 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. (Jonah 3:6)
So, no thanks to Jonah, maybe ‘despite’ Jonah, the people of Nineveh respond to God’s message!
This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. (Jonah 3:7)
But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. (Jonah 3:8)
Favorite comedic element : King decrees, everyone : fast / wear sackcloth.
EVEN ANIMALS. (Sureal)
Sackcloth was what you wore when you were crying out to God, when you were acutely aware of your sins, when you were asking for God’s mercy. The king orders everybody to repent and wear sackcloth-including the animals!
(Animals repenting? Wha….? Animals repenting. I THINK I buy the idea that an animal can sin, maybe. But I don’t think they KNOW they’re sinning, and I certainly don’t think they repent.
A fairly surreal detail, to say the least. One of the many hints that the author has a larger point in mind.
And then everyone, including the animals have to turn from their evil ways.
Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 3:9)
Ok, so one of the reasons this book is a comedy is because of what we would call the ‘incongruent’ - how things don’t add up.
This is true in regular American comedy too.
Think about the movie ‘The Incredibles’ where you have a fat, out of shape, superhero. It’s doesn’t add up. And that’s one of the things that makes it comedy.
One of my favorite movies growing up was ‘3 amigos’ - the story of 3 actors who go out west to fight a real villain, all the while they think they’re shooting a movie and they aren't.
It’s funny b/c it doesn’t add up. And this is a primitive version of the same kind of thing.
Jonah preaches the worst sermon that has ever existed, and amazingly, everyone respond to his message and repents, even the cows. It’s comedy.
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:10)
There’s one thing you have to know about these Hebrew prophets, and that’s that they’re usually not successful. They preach, people ignore it, and kill the prophet. Sometimes. But here you have the most successful prophet in the history of the world up to this point and he doesn’t even want to be there.
And the city is saved.
And THAT is why Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh.
He was afraid that this very thing would happen.
You see, most preachers would be afraid the people wouldn’t respond to their message, but Jonah is afraid that they WILL.
B/C Jonah knows God.
He knows that God is merciful. Jonah’s not merciful, but he knows that God is.
And he doesn’t want the assyrians to receive mercy. These were the people who had slaughters their wives, and their children, and ripped them from their home land, and oppressed them.
But God comes and forgives them, just like Jonah was afraid he was gonna.
But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. (Jonah 4:1)
He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing 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. (Jonah 4:2)
Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:3)
So Jonah is basically saying “God, these are my enemies. I was looking forward to you smiting them. To crushing their bones into powder (like the psalmist says) but now because of my stupid half baked, half hearted sermon, they repents and now you forgave them.
And I hate that so much that I want to die. Kill them or kill me, but I will not live in the same world as those murderous, horrible, people.
He’s very dramatic like this. Reminds me of a teenager. “I would rather die than be in this city for one more millisecond.” But doesn’t kill Jonah.
And so he leaves the city, and he builds a little hut.
Maybe he’s thinking: “Who knows, maybe they’ll repent from their repenting and God will come and smoke ‘em after all.”
And so he’s just up there pouting. Essentially.
And then God prepares a leafy plant. And this plant gives Jonah shade. And it grows overnight, in super speed.
And Jonah is very happy about this. He instantly loves this little plant.
And then God prepares a worm, and the worm attacks the plant and as quick as the plant grew, the plant died.
And Jonah is devastated. He’s broken hearted. It’s funny b/c it’s a plant, and he’s known the plant for one day.
But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” “It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” (Jonah 4:9)
He’s very dramatic. He’s always saying ‘I could die!!!’
But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. (Jonah 4:10)
And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:11)
The book ends with God and Jonah is this intense argument about who God should have mercy on and who he shouldn’t have mercy on.
You would assume that a story told by Israelites about Assyrians would stick to fairly straightforward categories of good and bad, right and wrong, righteous and evil.
But GOOD GUY- runs opposite direction
Boat - Violent Storm comes.
“Pagan/heathen” sailors pray - Jonah sleeps
And then, when he finally does get to Nineveh, after he’s resisted God again and again, these horrible, mean, nasty Assyrians turn out to be open to God’s message.
And the horrible wicked sinners ask God to spare their lives, Jonah asks God to kill him.
In fact, you could say this book is self-deprecating humor. You know what that is. That’s humor where you make yourself the butt of the joke. Some people make jokes at other people’s expense, other people makes jokes at their own expense.
Well this book is the Jewish people, God’s chosen people, poking fun at themselves.
‘Get Smart’ Did you ever see that movie ‘Get Smart’ I actually think maybe it was a TV show in the 60’s. It was about a guy named ‘Maxwell Smart’ who is the worst spy of all time, but incredibly, it always ends up good for him.
Listen, THAT’S Jonah, and I hope you can in a sense, see yourself in that. I know that for me, as the person, who at least right now, will likely be the person to lead this church someday, I can REALLY stress myself out about being smart enough, and wise enough, and ‘do I have the right temperament’ and ‘Do I know how to lead people’ all that kind of stuff. Well one reason I love the book of Jonah is that I realize that all acts of God are acts of God. You know what I mean? That it’s basically, God is gonna show up in what we’re doing, or it’s not happening. But either way, it’s not ultimately about me. So I can relax every once in awhile. And that’s really good news.
Jonah is successful in spite of himself.
Jonah is not successful because he’s brilliant, Jonah is success in spite of the fact that he’s stupid.
And I think religion needs a little more of that.
If God uses us, it’s in spite of ourselves, not because of ourselves.
(LASTLY - Prepare - communion)
First: story about a man, but really about a nation
Can Jonah forgive assyrians = can Israel forgive Assyrians?
When god forgives them, jonah is mad. of course he is. it stinks when good things happen to people you hate.
Academy Awards - pretend happy
And that’s really the question that the book of Jonah is asking you. See you probably don’t have a problem with the Assyrians. Mostly because they don’t exist anymore. But I bet that for most of us, there’s PLENTY of groups of people who we want to ‘get what they deserve’.
Well the book challenges that. God would say “Should I not be concerned with the life and welfare of those people?”
Closing Statement: The book of Jonah is not a story about what lurks deep in the ocean, it’s a story about what lurks deep in our hearts. It’s not about a man swallowed by a whale, it’s about a nation swallowed with hatred for their enemies. It’s a story designed to challenge your heart. The heart of Israel is the story. Their hearts are the main characters, and the book ends with their fate still undecided. Will they choose to forgive? Or maybe for us today, the question is really: Will you choose to forgive?
Do you remember from the book of Matthew where people are wanting Jesus to show them a sign and he says ‘The only sign you’re getting is the sign of Jonah.’ - Which of course is Jesus talking about his own death, burial, and resurrection.
And so the book of Jonah points to the cross, which is for all people, no matter how far from God.
And so as they pass, just spend a minute finding your way back to seeing God and how merciful he is. I think our lives can be so busy that we can forget to do that, but this 1 hour a week, especially, can be a time for you to reconnect with him.