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Shattered Stereotypes (Jonah 1)

Introduction

A few years ago, my wife and I had what we considered a rare opportunity to be invited to a home where a Christian leader we greatly respected was going to be, along with his wife. We were so delighted to have a chance to get to know them and to see what they were like. I already had a stereotyped impression of what his wife would be like. I envisioned her as a quiet, passive, very meek person, who idolized her husband and was greatly impressed by his knowledge and stature in the Christian community.

The topic of conversation was not spiritual—we were discussing the Dallas Cowboys—but that did not in any way change my expectations. The husband made a comment about the Cowboys, one I expected the wife to agree with, perhaps with a nod of approval. Instead, she blurted out, “Now just one second, buster.…” I nearly fell off of my chair. My stereotype of the Christian leader’s wife was suddenly shattered.

We all have stereotypes, and many of these should probably be shattered as well. Jonah is a prophet who does not fit into the stereotypical mold of our thinking when it comes to a prophet of God. He is decidedly different from the other prophets which we find in the Scriptures.1 The Book of Jonah is written to shatter the stereotype which we have of prophets, especially the prophet Jonah.

Jonah is unique in several ways. First, Jonah is a prophet more by what he is and does than by what he says. Given the biblical content of Jonah’s words as recorded in Scripture, we would have difficulty making a paragraph out of his prophetic messages. (His protests would add more words, but they are not direct words of prophecy. They are more pathetic than prophetic.) Jonah was a man of very few words, but his works, his deeds, were highly prophetic.

The Book of Hosea portrayed Gomer as a picture of Israel, and Hosea, her husband, as a reflection of God. Joel used the plague of locusts to prophesy of the coming of the armies of Israel’s enemies, who would swarm into the land in judgment. So, too, Jonah was a graphic representation of the nation Israel. Just as Jonah received a clear command from God and disobeyed, so Israel was characterized by her disobedience to the commandments which God had given through Moses.

Prophecy is much more than verbal proclamation; it is often dramatization. The Book of Jonah dramatizes the sad spiritual state of Israel, a condition which was reflected in her disobedience to God’s commands and to her divine calling, a condition which would require divine discipline.

Second, Jonah was the only prophet who is recorded as having run away from God. Jonah is not known for his piety, but for his prodigality. Jonah, in his rebellion and disobedience, in his hardness of heart, was a man who typified the rebellion of the nation Israel. As the Lord said to Moses, centuries earlier, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people” (Exod. 32:9).

Third, Jonah is a prophet who is unique not only by his waywardness, but also because the book never portrays him as having repented and as having been restored to the “joy of his salvation.” We see the failures of many men in the Old Testament, but usually these men come to the point of repentance and restoration. David sinned greatly, but he repented. Abraham, Jacob, and Elijah, all had their times of failure, but they grew to maturity, to faith and obedience. Such is not the case with Jonah. Other than the likely possibility that Jonah was the author of this prophecy, we would have little basis for assuming that Jonah ever repented.

It is at this point that I must inform you that I do not see any repentance in Jonah in this short book. Our predisposition to the “pious bias,” that tendency to assume that Old Testament saints must have been doing the right thing for the right reasons—a great fallacy—is very evident in the Book of Jonah. Most all of the commentaries want to see Jonah repenting somewhere in the book, some as early as chapter 1. Frankly, I do not see any repentance, which I think is one of the significant lessons of the book. Beware of making excuses for Jonah. The book is intended to cause the reader to feel more empathy for the pagan (the sailors in chapter 1, the Ninevites in chapters 3 and 4 than for this prodigal prophet.

I believe that Jonah, at virtually every point in this brief book, typifies Israel’s hardness of heart and unrepentant spirit. The book is not written to leave us with a warm, fuzzy, good feeling, but rather to leave us very discomforted, for just as the Book of Jonah closes with no solution to Jonah’s sin, so the Old Testament closes with no solution for Israel’s sin. Only the coming of Christ gives us the sense of relief, repentance, and restoration which God wants us to experience.

About the Prophet Jonah

Very little is said of the prophet Jonah outside of the Book of Jonah itself. In 2 Kings 14:25, Jonah is said to have prophesied that the southern kingdom of Israel would expand its borders during the reign of Jeroboam, a wicked king. It does seem safe to conclude that this “Jonah” is the same person as the “Jonah” who is the subject of the Book of Jonah, especially since both are identified as “the son of Amittai”2 (cp. 2 Kings 14:25; Jonah 1:1). The prophecy of Jonah to Jeroboam conveys some important background material to enhance our understanding of this book. We are told,

In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel became king in Samaria, and reigned forty-one years. And he did evil in the sight of the LORD; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel sin. He restored the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which He spoke through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was of Gath-hepher. For the LORD saw the affliction of Israel, which was very bitter; for there was neither bond nor free, nor was there any helper for Israel. And the LORD did not say that He would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, but He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash (2 Kings 14:23-27, emphasis mine).

Jonah was therefore a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel, whose predecessors were Elijah and Elisha. Hosea and Amos would likely have been Jonah’s contemporaries. Assyria, whose capital city was Nineveh, had already begun to exercise her dominance in the near East, but for a time her control would wane, allowing Israel, under Jeroboam’s leadership, to expand her borders. In the text cited above, it is stated clearly that Israel’s prosperity during this period was solely due to the grace of God and to His compassion on His people, who were greatly afflicted. It was not godliness on the part of the nation, or its leadership, which could be viewed as the basis for God’s blessings. Thus, just as Jonah’s ministry in Nineveh would result in an outpouring of God’s grace, so his ministry in Israel would result in God’s grace - with one exception, that is; Israel did not repent of her evil deeds, and God blessed the nation anyway, while the Ninevites sincerely repented of their sins. In this sense God’s grace was even greater to the Israelites than it was to the Ninevites, for God had promised to forgive those who repent (cf. Jer. 18:7-8).

Israel’s prosperity would not last long. Amos, Jonah’s contemporary, warned of God’s coming day of judgment on Israel. He condemned Israel for her oppression of the poor and her perversion of justice (5:11-13). All the while, the people of Israel continued to practice the ceremonial rituals of worship, but God said,

“I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24).

Because of her sin, God promised judgment:

“Therefore, I will make you go into exile beyond Damascus,” says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts (Amos 5:27).

While the warning of Amos is general in nature, speaking only of Israel’s future exile, Hosea specifically indicated that Israel’s captor would be Assyria:

They will not return to the land of Egypt; But Assyria—he will be their king, Because they refused to return to Me. And the sword will whirl against their cities, And will demolish their gate bars And consume them because of their counsels (Hosea 11:5-7).

Some scholars find it more difficult to “swallow” the miraculous accounts of this little book than the fish found it to swallow the prophet. I am not going to spend much time or effort to prove the miracles, since these are ultimately a matter of faith. The God who is the Creator of the universe would have no difficulty in accomplishing the miracles described in this book. From our study of this book, it will become evident that the most difficult miracle is that of softening the hardened heart of the prophet. All that is necessary to observe is that our Lord understood the account of the Book of Jonah to be literal (Matt. 12:39-41), and so we need only follow in His steps and do likewise.

Overview of the Book of Jonah

The Book of Jonah is divided into four chapters in the English translations. The chapters may be summarized as follows:

Chapter 1 Jonah and the Sailors
Chapter 2 Jonah and his Psalm
Chapter 3 Jonah and the City
Chapter 4 Jonah and the Shade

Jonah Goes AWOL
(1:1-3)

1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” 3 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, the prophet of God, was given a divine commission: “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” The command of God is clear. Jonah was to go to Nineveh, which had been founded by Nimrod (Gen. 10:11). Nineveh was called a “great city,” which no doubt refers to its size and its influence. Those of us who live in the city of Dallas, Texas can identify with the meaning of the term “great.” Its sins were “great,” too.3 Jonah was commanded to denounce the sins of this city, for they were so great they were said to have “gone up” before God, and the time for judgment was near.

Instead, Jonah went AWOL, catching a ship heading in the opposite direction:

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 (vs. 3).

Nineveh was located on the Tigris River, over 500 miles to the northeast of Israel, but Jonah went west. His destination was Tarshish, which seems to have been a city located on the western coast of Spain.4 We are told that Jonah fled “from the presence of the LORD,” an expression twice repeated in verse 3. I do not understand this to mean that Jonah thought he could get away from God, but rather as a technical expression, referring to his attempted “resignation” as a prophet.5 He was turning in his mantle. No more prophetic ministry for him! While the omnipresent God would be in Nineveh, Jonah would not, and so he could hardly carry out his task from this location.

The Ship, the Sailors, the Storm, and the Sinner
(1:4-9)

4 And the LORD 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. 5 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. 6 So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.” 7 And 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. 8 Then they said to him, “Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” 9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.”

God hurled a storm in Jonah’s path, a storm so great that it terrified veteran sailors (literally “salts”) and was in the process of breaking up the ship. The sailors began casting the cargo overboard, in an effort to save the ship and their own lives. At the same time, each sailor was praying to his gods for deliverance. No doubt these sailors would have worshipped gods which were thought to have influence over the seas on which they traveled.

The “cargo” which would have to be thrown overboard to save the ship was below. While the sailors frantically worked and prayed to save the ship, Jonah was below deck, deep in sleep.6 The pagan ship’s captain was obviously irritated to find Jonah sleeping, while the rest of the crew desperately besought their gods. Jonah was not asked to help cast the cargo overboard, but he was commanded to pray.7 Imagine this. A heathen sea captain, commanding a prophet of the one true God to pray. Notice that we are never told that Jonah did pray, either. No wonder; if you were Jonah and stubbornly refused to repent, what would you have to say to God?

The seamen saw the storm as a religious matter. They first petitioned their gods for deliverance. When this did not happen, they sought to enlist Jonah and his God. Then, when their prayers were not answered, they seemed to conclude that the reason why their prayers were not answered was due to some unidentified sin, which offended one of the gods: “And 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” (vs. 7).

The great wonder is that these sailors did not cast Jonah into the sea the moment the lot fell on him. Remember that the ship was in the process of breaking up and the storm was intensifying in force. In spite of the imminent danger, the sailors took time to interrogate Jonah. “Then they said to him, ‘Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” (vs. 8).

I am inclined to view all of the sailors standing about Jonah, each asking one of these questions at the same time. Jonah is swamped with questions. Notice that as the story is narrated in chapter 1, the sailors do most of the talking and Jonah says very little. He gives but a bare minimum response. He is tight-lipped. He is like a child, caught red-handed by his parents, peppered with questions and giving only cryptic responses. There are some who talk incessantly when guilty, but many, like Jonah, say as little as possible, especially if they are intent on persisting in their evil.

Jonah’s terse response (at least as recorded) was, “I am a Hebrew,8 and I fear the LORD God of heaven9 who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9).

With this statement, everything suddenly came into focus for the sailors: Jonah was a Hebrew prophet who had fled from God. It was Jonah who caused the storm. Jonah’s sin had endangered the entire ship’s crew.

Jonah Goes Overboard
(1:10-15)

10 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. 11 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. 12 And 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.” 13 However, the men rowed desperately to return to land but they could not, for the sea was becoming even stormier against them. 14 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 Thou, O LORD, hast done as Thou hast pleased.” 15 So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging.

The response of the sailors is incredible. They could hardly believe the boldness with which Jonah had disobeyed God. Their response, “How could you do this?” is reminiscent of Abimelech’s rebuke of Abraham, when he passed Sarah off as his sister (Gen. 20:9). Here is a prophet who is so willful, even the pagans are shocked (cf. 1 Cor. 5:1). There was more to the story Jonah revealed than what is written,10 but what the sailors knew was enough to petrify them. Remember, the storm is still raging and the ship is threatening to come apart (cf. vs. 4).

The sea continued to become more and more tempestuous. Time was running out. Just as Abimelech required the prayers of Abraham, a somewhat prodigal prophet of God (Gen. 20:7), the sailors could only ask Jonah what to do to appease the wrath of his God. After all, he was a prophet. “So they said to him, ‘What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?’” (Jonah 1:11).

Jonah told the sailors to pick him up and throw him overboard, into the sea, and then the sea would become calm for them (vs. 12). Why did Jonah not just jump into the sea? It seems as though the sailors had to act in obedience to God’s directive through Jonah. Casting him into the sea would surely have meant death to Jonah. Just as the Israelites had to be the instruments of the death of a sinner against God (cf. Lev. 24:10-16), so the sailors had to lay hands on Jonah and cast him overboard. In this way, they were dissociating themselves from his rebellion and sin.

Some of the commentators want to see repentance on Jonah’s part here. Thus we read,

He replies at last to a question put to him by the sailors earlier. Yes, he admits his responsibility for the storm. The piety of the seamen has evidently banished his nonchalant indifference and touched his conscience. By now he has realized how terrible is the sin that has provoked this terrible storm. The only way to appease the tempest of Yahweh’s wrath is to abandon himself to it as just deserts for his sin. His willingness to die is an indication that he realizes his guilt before God.

Jonah shows that his repentance is sincere. No longer shall these men suffer for his disobedience. He offers himself as the victim to be sacrificed in order that they might be saved (vs. 12).

No longer does he flee from the Lord! He commits himself, body and soul, to the will of His Lord. Here he shows heroic faith! He is still God’s confiding child, even though he has sinned grievously.11

I see absolutely no repentance here at all.12 I do not see any repentance in the entire book, and certainly not in chapter 2. Why, then, should we see it here? After all, we know that Jonah wanted to die. If he could not frustrate God’s command by flight, surely he could do so by death. Furthermore, the sailors expressed fear of shedding “innocent blood” (vs. 14). If Jonah had truly confessed his sin and repented, how could they possibly think of him as innocent. Repentance would acknowledge guilt, but the sailors fear killing an innocent man. No, there is no confession here. The “pious bias” is once again raising its head.

One would think that in such a desperate situation, when the storm grew steadily worse and danger to all increased, that the sailors would have quickly responded to Jonah’s instructions. Instead, they made one final effort to save Jonah’s life. They sought to row to shore, where they would let him off (vs. 13). This was a very risky effort, for the rocky shores, with their hidden reefs, would have been the worst place to be in the midst of the storm. The safest place in a storm is away from shore.13

Having made their best efforts to save Jonah, the sailors conclude that his solution is their only alternative. Before casting him into the sea, the sailors pray—again: “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 Thou, O LORD, hast done as Thou hast pleased” (Jonah 1:14).

How far these pagans have come. They have forsaken their “gods” for the one true God. They pray to Him before taking the final step with Jonah. And they acknowledge His sovereignty over all. Having thus prayed, they picked up the prophet and cast him into the sea.

The Sea Is Silenced, but Not the Sailors14
(1:15-16)

15 So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. 16 Then the men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.

As the sailors watch Jonah sink beneath the waves, they note that the winds cease and the sea calms. They immediately grasp that all they had surmised was true. Jonah’s God was the only true God. He had brought the storm on account of Jonah’s running away. And, just as Jonah had spoken, casting him into the sea did still the storm. Thus, the chapter concludes with a report of the sailors’ worship. “Then the men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows” (Jonah 1:16). The pagans have become saints, while the prophet is still a prodigal. In trying to avoid preaching to the Ninevites, Jonah has unwillingly preached to the sailors, and thus they have come to faith in his God.

Conclusion

There are many important lessons to be learned from this first chapter of the Book of Jonah. Let me highlight a few of these lessons and suggest their application to our lives.

Our stereotypes of prophets and of pagans do not fit the account of Jonah. One commentator put it this way:

Some stereotyped conventions of the Hebrew religious ideology have been thrown overboard with Jonah. The listeners have been induced to turn completely against an Israelite prophet and to view Gentile dogs with increasing admiration and respect. These attitudes are seeds the narrator has sown to harvest later.15

Let’s face it, don’t you find that our text has reversed the heroes and the villains? Going into the chapter, we would have expected Jonah to be the hero, while the heathen sailors would certainly have been expected to be the villains. This was certainly the perspective of Jonah, and of the Israelites, whom he typified. Yet in our text it is the sailors who pray, while Jonah does not. The sailors sought to deal with sin on the ship, not Jonah. The sailors end up worshipping God, not Jonah. The sailors have compassion on Jonah, while he seems to have little concern for the danger in which he has put them. Clearly this chapter turns our expectations inside-out.

My emotional response to this chapter is somewhat similar to what I experienced in the Book of Genesis, related to Jacob and his brother Esau. Esau may have been a godless man, but I find that I like him more than I do Jacob, who is a swindler and a con artist. If I had to choose a next-door neighbor between Jacob and Esau, I’d take Esau every time. So, too, with the sailors and Jonah. I would much prefer to have these men as my neighbors than to have Jonah living next door. Only in this case, the sailors are believers in God, unlike Esau.

Notice the many points of contrast between Jonah and the sailors in the first chapter of Jonah:

Sailors

Jonah

Prayed

Did not appear to pray

Active to save ship, selves

Deep in sleep

Compassion on Jonah

Indifferent to sailors, their plight

Tried to save Jonah

No great concern to save sailors

Wanted to live

Wanted to die

Wanted to find “sin”

Wanted to persist in sin

Obedient to what they knew

Disobedient though he knew much

Worshipped God

No worship

Shuddered at Jonah’s sin

Seemingly untouched by his sin

Growing fear of God

No evidence of fear

There seems to be one thing on which Jonah and the sailors agreed, and about which both were wrong. Both seemed to think stereotypically and compartmentally. Both were sectarian in their thinking. The questions which the sailors asked reveal their thought process. Their questions, as reported in verse 8, concerned Jonah’s: (1) occupation (“What is your occupation?”); and (2) racial and ethnic origin (“and where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”).

Is it not true that the Israelites became so proud of their ancestry (“We are the seed of Abraham”) and of their priestly status as a nation that they felt more pious than other peoples? And isn’t it Jonah’s nationality and occupation in which he takes pride?

This chapter informs us that these are not the ultimate issues. There are really two principle issues which are crucial to God. The first issue is “loving God,” the second, “loving man.” Jonah would have shown his love for God by obeying him. Jonah did not obey, and showed himself to lack the love for God which the law required. Secondly, Jonah did not love men, as is reflected by his lack of compassion for the sailors.

In the New Testament, our Lord reiterates these two priorities—loving God and loving men—as the essence of the Old Testament law, and of the New Covenant as well (cf. Matt. 22:34-40). Jesus told His disciples that if they loved Him, they would keep His commands and they would love one another (cf. John 13:34; 14:15; 15:9-13).

It should not come as a surprise to us that in the gospels the religious leaders of Israel, like Jonah the prophet, were the “bad guys” rather than the “good guys.” Jonah prophetically prototypes the wickedness of Israel’s leaders in the days of our Lord. While we would have expected them to welcome Jesus, they rejected Him, and instigated His death. These were those who “devoured widows’ houses,” and were thus the objects of His most severe rebuke (cf. Matt. 23).

Jonah 1 reminds us that God is not concerned about our race, our origins, or our occupation, but with what we are doing with what He has commanded us to do. As the Apostle Paul tells us, God is not as interested in whether or not we possess the law (as the Jews) as He is with whether or not we practice it.

11 For there is no partiality with God. 12 For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law; and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; 13 for not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.

17 But if you bear the name “Jew,” and rely upon the Law, and boast in God, 18 and know His will, and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, 19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, 21 you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one should not steal, do you steal? (Rom 2:11-21)

Paul’s point is simply that possessing the Law and preaching it, as the Jews did, is not enough. Men must obey the law. Jonah, like the Israelites of his day, prided himself in the possession of the Law, but did not practice it. Thus, the heathen sailors are the heroes of our story because they practiced all that they knew to be God’s will, while Jonah disobeyed God’s command given to him.

The sailors were saved (both physically and spiritually, I believe) because they obeyed what they knew to be God’s will, and thus the “gospel” for them. They had learned that their “gods” were no-gods, that they could not answer their prayers nor could they control the sea. They knew that sin brought divine judgment. They learned that the God of Israel was the Creator of heaven and earth. And they were told that they would be saved by the “death” of Jonah, a Jew.

The gospel for men and women today is the same, in principle, but more specific. Jesus Christ is truly God, the Creator and Sustainer of all creation (cf. Col. 1:16-17). It is through faith in Christ, in His death, burial, and resurrection, that we are saved. We, like the sailors on board that ship, are in danger of divine judgment. We, like them, are saved by the death of another, a Jew. Jesus Christ bore the wrath of God so that we might be saved. Jonah, like Jesus, died and thus others were saved. Unlike Jonah, Jesus was sinless, and He voluntarily gave up His life on the cross of Calvary to save all who would believe in Him.

Let the faith of these sailors serve as a lesson to us that hypocrisy is no excuse for unbelief. Jonah was a hypocrite, and I believe that the sailors learned this. Nevertheless, Jonah’s hypocrisy did not keep these sailors from trusting in God and obeying His word. Jonah’s failure to abide by God’s word did not keep the Gentile sailors from doing so. Do not attempt to excuse your disobedience to God by pointing to the disobedience of one of God’s children. We all are accountable only for obeying what God has commanded us to do.

Sin endangers others and thus must be removed. Jonah was life-threatening to the sailors. His sin prompted the wrath of God and all who were on board that ship with him were in great danger. It was only by casting Jonah overboard that the sailors were saved.

What a beautiful illustration of church discipline we have in this story. Just as Jonah’s sin endangered the entire ship, so the sin of a saint endangers and corrupts the entire church. As Paul put it, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6). Thus, for the church to fail to deal with the sins of one of its members is to endanger the whole church. Just as Jonah had to be thrown overboard, so the willful, wayward saint must be “put out” (cf. 1 Cor. 5:5, 9-13).

It is not our position nor our profession, but our practice that proves us to be the children of God. Those who held the highest positions were often those who were most disobedient to their calling. To whom much is given, much is required. May we be unlike Jonah, who disobeyed what he knew, and rather be like the sailors, who obeyed all that they knew to be the will of God.

“Having peace” is not always proof of being in the will of God. Jonah rested peacefully in the hold of the ship, but no one was ever more clearly disobedient to the will of God. While it is true that “having peace” may be an evidence of being in the will of God, it is not always so. Jonah’s peace was the result of a hardened heart and a seared conscience. Those in such a spiritual state feel secure in times of greatest danger.

The sins of which we have been speaking have symptoms, which should be noted by all saints. The following are some of the symptoms of Jonah’s sins of which we should take note:

    1. Lack of prayer

    2. Absence of joy and praise

    3. Lack of appreciation for life / death looks good

    4. Lack of sensitivity to sin in one’s life

    5. Lack of sensitivity to consequences of one’s sin for others

    6. Lack of compassion for others

    7. Disobedience to the clear commands of God

May these symptoms not be present in our lives, and if they are present, may we deal with them seriously.


1 “Generally the prophetic stories in the OT seek to glorify the man of God in the sense that he is revealed as a noble mediator of God’s own power and glory. But Jonah is no hero: he is deliberately portrayed in a very poor light. The concern of a number of OT prophetic narratives is to trace the process whereby a divine oracle was fulfilled. This book, on the contrary, breaks the pattern surprisingly by showing how and why a divine oracle, concerning the destruction of Nineveh, was not fulfilled.” Leslie C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976), p. 175.

2 The name “Jonah” means “dove,” although we would probably be inclined to think of this prophet as a “hawk.” “Amittai” means “[My] true one.”

3 “Nineveh’s wickedness comprised, besides her idolatry, her inordinate pride (cp. Is. 10:5-19; 36:18-20), and her cruel oppression of the conquered nations in deporting the entire populace to distant lands (2 Kings 15:29; 17:6; Is. 36:16, 17), her inhuman warfare.” Theodore Laetsch, The Minor Prophets (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1956), p. 221.

4 “His intention to flee to Tarshish, an ancient Phoenician colony on the southwest coast of Spain, the farthest city to the west known at that time, ‘out of the world.’” Ibid., p. 221.

5 “He fled ‘from the presence of the LORD.’ To stand in the presence of someone is often used in the sense of acting as one’s official minister. (Cp. Gen. 41:46; Deut. 1:38; 10:8; 1 Sam. 16:21f.; 1 Kings 17:1; 18:15; 2 Kings 3:14, etc.) To flee from His presence = to refuse to serve Him in this office.” Ibid., p. 222.

6 “‘Fast asleep,’ used only in Niphal, denotes lying in deep, stupor-like sleep (Jonah 1:5, 6; Ps. 76:7, A.V., 6), ‘dead sleep’ (Judg. 4:21; Dan. 8:18; 10:9); the noun occurs in Gen. 2:21; 15:12; Prov. 19:15, etc.” Ibid., p. 223.

7 “Get up and call … —Jonah must have thought he was having a nightmare: these were the very words with which God had disturbed his pleasant life a few days before.” Allen, pp. 207-208.

8 “‘I am a Hebrew,’ the usual term by which Israelites were known to foreigners (Gen. 14:13; 39:14, 17; 1 Sam. 29:3; Acts 6:1).” Laetsch, p. 225.

9 “The epithet God of heaven which Jonah appends to the divine name, although an ancient one (Gen. 24:3, 7), sprang into popularity in the Persian period after the exile. It identified Yahweh as the supreme deity, the ultimate source of all power and authority. Jews used it especially in contacts with Gentiles, who it was assumed possessed a knowledge of Yahweh’s universal sovereignty as distinct from the Jews’ insight into the purposes of Yahweh as ‘God of our fathers.’ By this title Yahweh is presented as no mere local deity, but one to whom all peoples may look for help. This universalistic note is reinforced by the claim that Yahweh is maker of land and sea.” Allen, pp. 209-210.

10 Ibid., pp. 210-211. Allen seems to modify this somewhat in his footnote, not making Jonah much of a hero, for he is the villain, but I see Jonah as simply wanting out of his duty by death, as he tried to escape by flight. His suicidal plea later on in chapter 4 adds weight to this possibility.

11 Laetsch, p. 227.

12 For an example of genuine repentance, cf. 2 Sam. 24:17; 1 Chron. 21:17.

13 Why didn’t God save Jonah through the efforts of the seamen? Allen (p. 211) rightly, I think, suggests that it is because He wants Jonah to know that He has saved him by a miraculous act of pure grace. Jonah needs a “salvation” that will parallel that which the Ninevites will receive. Jonah will delight in his deliverance, but not in that of the Ninevites.

14 I have to smile at the title which Allen (p. 205) gives in his heading of vv. 4-16, “Jonah’s Punishment: Heathen Homage.”

15 Allen, p. 212.

Related Topics: Character Study