What is the point of Jonah?

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Searing desert heat, crashing ocean waves, meetings with murderous kings and being eaten alive. All in the life of Jonah the prophet. What is the point of Jonah? Why is the book of Jonah in the Bible and what should we draw from it.

A while ago I gave a brief run-down on the book of Jonah as well as a short bible study on the same book to a group of friends. It’s in this article that I will summarise just a few of the important lessons that can be learned from Jonah. I am in no way an expert on the bible, theology or God… but then again who is!

Study: The main points of Jonah

Point 1) Sin Endangers Others

By attempting to flee to Tarshish, Jonah inevitably put a lot of lives at risk on that ship. A “violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up”, something that all the occupants of that ship would almost certainly perish from.

Although little is known about Jonah’s character, it is unlikely that he would have willing put dozens of people in immediate danger, in fact he was even willing to sacrifice himself in order to save the sailors. This is one of the clearest pictures in the bible of how sin can endanger not only our spiritual life, but also the physical and spiritual lives of those around us (including strangers and people we’re not in direct contact with). Sin is no different today, nearly 3000 years later. Drug abuse, adulterous behaviour and slanderous words are just 3 examples that can easily be seen to risk lives, break up families and force people further from God. Sinning rarely involves just YOU. This is one of the fundamental answers to take away from the question, ‘what is the point of Jonah’.

Point 2) Bad Situations Used for Good

Jonah’s drastic attempt at escaping from God’s presence showed that he still let his own emotions get in the way of delivering God’s message. By his actions he managed to endanger dozens of men, yet God still manages to use this situation to bring those sailors to a relationship with Him;

[Jonah 1:15] 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

So by Jonah’s disobedience to God’s message, God still managed to break into the lives of those sailors and hopefully bring them to salvation. No matter what position you find yourself in, the situation isn’t out of the grasp of God, He can still control it and allow good things to happen. It’s a cliché, but there can easily be paths you didn’t even realise existed. Such as in the story of Paul in jail; he manages to share the gospel with dozens (if not hundreds) of fellow inmates even though his physical position would have seemed dire. I’m sure when he was first arrested he thought his use to God had come to an end. Had Paul not brought the gospel to his fellow prisoners, it is likely they would never have come across it before their demise.

Point 3) God’s Love Trumps Sin. Always

Similar to a parent’s love for a child who runs off to their bedroom to sulk; God’s love doesn’t change for Jonah when he runs off to the high seas.

When Jonah is brought safely back to land, God doesn’t hit him with lightning or tell him he wasted his chance. God reaffirms what He wants Jonah to do and this time Jonah listens.

[Jonah 3:1] 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.”

[3] Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh.

God could quite easily have saved Jonah yet used someone else to bring the message to Ninevah, but He didn’t. If God had discarded Jonah and the gifting he had within him, then Jonah would have been in an awful position after hearing of Nineveh’s repentance. He would have known how he’d let God down and ruined his chance to do his calling in life.

Like most of us, Jonah would have felt terrible knowing he’d let someone down.

Jonah was the right person for the job, he had the background and experience, he obviously had a way with words and people, and he had God’s authority. Yes Jonah had made a huge mistake, but if God only dealt with people who didn’t make mistakes He’d have a very lonely interaction with the world. God’s love for Jonah (and all of us) far exceeds the sin he committed.

To paraphrase Christian Bale in a recent major film; “the reason we fall down is that we learn to pick ourselves back up”.

Most of us have failed to do something the first time we’ve been asked; but the important point is that we learn from our mistake. People don’t get angry with others when innocent mistakes are made; they get angry when they are constantly lied to, stolen from or cheated upon. It is at this point where their patience and mercy has been exceeded.

So, again, just like a parent’s love for their child; God’s amount of patience, mercy and forgiveness for you can be repeatedly bashed and yet He will still love you. You can still come before Him and you can still enter Heaven. That being said it is not an excuse to remain in a life of sin… however that’s a whole new bible study right there 🙂

Point 4) Think Outwards Not Inwards

Jonah had directly disobeyed the Lord but was miraculous rescued by His intervention, naturally bringing joy to Jonah. However when God saved the Ninevites Jonah became furious again. By the time Jonah brought the message to the Ninevites, likely to have been after a few weeks of travel, he had forgotten his valuable lesson in physical salvation and God’s mercy.

After Jonah brought God’s word to the Ninevites and they repented, he fled the city and took up residence in the surrounding hills. In Jonah 4:6 we’re told that God provides shelter by bringing forth a vine to protect Jonah from the scorching sun.

When the vine is later removed Jonah says he is angry enough to die! Quite a bold statement when talking with the Creator of the universe. He was angry enough to have his life cut short yet only weeks earlier he was unwilling to attempt to save the lives of 120,000+ people.

Jonah was too busy thinking of himself, putting himself in the centre, than to think of how God was trying to use him to turn an entire population around.

We must refocus our lives with God at the centre, not ourselves. A way of life that directly conflicts with the way today’s society, and probably ancient society, tells us to. It’s not the easiest path, but then no one is promised an easy life are they?

Wrapping up…

Q) There wasn’t an actual whale was there?

The idea that a giant whale (or fish) came alongside and ate Jonah does seem a little far fetched, but we must remember this is the same God that created everything, allowed the Red Sea to be parted and knows the magical recipe for turning water into wine. So it shouldn’t be that hard for us to fathom that He can also save a man from drowning (and more importantly teach him and others a very important lesson) by bringing forth some large animal to bring him to shore. “Are there any signs of animals this size?” Well in fact I noticed this article while doing my research regarding a huge ancient sea animal, it struck me as relevant as the final picture shows a man laying comfortably between the jaws. How about a giant ‘Leviathan’ whale?

Q) Why did Jonah hate the Ninevites so much?

Nineveh was a very large city within the Assyrian empire, in fact within a few decades of Jonah bringing God’s message the city would become the capital of the empire.

The empire was known as a very evil and wicked enemy of Israel. Jonah would have grown up hearing about the atrocities that the Assyrian’s had done to the vast number of lands it had plundered.

Although Jonah doesn’t recall any specific reasons for despising the Ninevites, the book of Nahum does record some of the diabolical events occurring within its walls. Nahum 3:1-4 graphically depicts the chaotic scenes of Nineveh; with the rife use of witchcraft, prostitution, violence and cruelty within it’s borders.

[1] Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims!

[2] The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels, galloping horses and jolting chariots!

[3] Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears!

Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number,

people stumbling over the corpses –

[4] all because of the wanton lust of a prostitute, alluring, the mistress of sorceries,

who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft.

Q) Where is Tarshish?

It is not known where Tarshish actually is, with scholars disputing the location between 3 main possibilities. The majority of scholars agree that Tarshish was a large coastal town or city also known as Tartessos, now modern day Andalusia, Spain.

The actual physical location of Tarshish is predominately irrelevant. We know it was some distance away and that Jonah was attempting to flee his current circumstances (and God) to get there. So your personal Tarshish would be anywhere or anything you focus on, or strive towards, when you feel God prompting you to a difficult task.

Q) Did you quote Batman in a Bible study?!

Yes, yes I did. Batman’s cool. He’s a great fictious super hero.  He makes mistakes but he learns from them. Plus he has cool gadgets.

 

 

So there we have it, my synopsis on just a few of the points we can learn from the book of Jonah. I hope you can decipher my poor English skills and take some of the main points of Jonah away with you.

Please leave me some feedback, it’d be hugely appreciated as I’m not a natural writer (please see my other posts for confirmation of this)

 

Enjoy, God bless

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