Jonah 1-4 - The Bible from 30,000 Feet - Skip Heitzig - Flight JON01
The Bible from 30,000 feet, soaring through the scripture from Genesis to Revelation.
Our flight tonight goes from Joppa to Nineveh. If it was in modern terminology, we would say the flight takes off in Tel Aviv-- that's where the airport is in Israel right by Joppa. We're going from Tel Aviv to Mosul. You've heard of that word. It's in the news. It's where ISIS had its headquarters, the caliphate for a long time, and they're still around that area.
So it's interesting to me that the story of Jonah is not an outdated story. If you were to tell a Jewish person, go to Mosul, he would have second thoughts, and this Jewish prophet, Jonah, is told to go to Mosul to go to Nineveh. Now, some of the prophets we have noticed are called major prophets. We have noted that. Some are called minor prophets. Jonah could be called the missing prophet.
He's missing in action. He's gone AWOL. Some prophets are even designated as pre-exilic prophets, that is prophet who writes before the exile, pre-exilic. Some are called post-exilic prophets. So you have pre-exilic and post-exilic. I would put Jonah in just the pathetic category. What kind of a prophet is a guy who says no to God when God gives him a mission?
Another way to look at it is some of the prophets were called by God to go down south, the southern kingdom and preach, Judah. Others were sent up north to the northern kingdom called Israel. God called Jonah to go east, but he decided to go west. I mean, we have every direction represented here. Some people will do just about anything to get out of a task, to evade their responsibility or to avoid their calling. It's always good to ask what God has gifted you for and called you to and where your wheelhouse is, where your sweet spot in life operates by the grace of God, and say yes to that. Say yes to the opportunities before you.
But for Jonah, the call of God, he hears it, but it's like I'll do anything except go to Nineveh. It reminds me of a couple guys. There were two guys who-- this is a couple of days before Christmas Eve-- decided to go sailing while their wives went shopping. They got out on the boat. Wives are shopping. They're sailing. They're out in the ocean. Storm comes up. It gets windy. It gets nasty.
The wind is beating against them, the waves beating against them. Then they get stuck on a sandbar, and so they're lodged in the mud. They hop out of the boat. They're sweating. They're trying to push the boat out. And it's just grueling and hard, and one turns to the other with a big smile, says, this sure beats Christmas shopping, doesn't it? And actually, it does, in my opinion.
The book of Jonah is short. If you have read it, you know that. Hopefully you read it before tonight. The book of Jonah has four chapters, but altogether 48 verses. 48 verses is the whole book, 1,328 words in the entire book. But it's significant enough to take it as one unit. So we're flying simply from Joppa to Nineveh. We're going to just cover in the book of Jonah and no other minor prophets.
The question comes, what kind of story are we dealing with? Is it to be taken literally, or is it, as some say, an ancient myth on the level of a Greek mythological rendering of something? Or even a Jewish fable, a Jewish tale? Something that you would tell your kids, it didn't really happen. In fact, perhaps some would say, it's a story of a man who was on a boat and had a dream, and this is the rendering of the dream that this guy named Jonah had. None of it really happened.
Others will call it an allegory, not literal, not mythological, but simply an allegory. That is, one thing is emblematic of something else. So Jonah is a symbol of the Jews. The whale is a symbol of Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, who swept Israel away in a storm and swallowed them up, a military storm, and brought them into captivity. And the reason people have problems with the book of Jonah is, well, have you read the book of Jonah?
I mean, it's like really? You're saying this really happened? This literally happened? I mean, I don't know if I can swallow this story. It's just-- it's just too deep for me. So you need to hear this. Without giving you a whole bunch of evidence of why it could be-- and I want to give you a little bit. But let's just cut to the chase here.
This is what Jesus said in the New Testament book-- I'm reading out of Matthew chapter 12. He said, "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise in judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah and, indeed, a greater than Jonah is here."
If the story of Jonah is mythological or allegorical, if it is not literal, then Jesus Christ is a liar. The veracity of the words of Jesus are at stake when we are dealing with the story of Jonah and Nineveh. According to Jesus' words, he correlated an historical figure named Jonah, a real place in antiquity named in Nineveh, acknowledged a massive revival-- by the way, we're dealing with the biggest revival known to man in history.
Jesus acknowledged that and state the veracity of Jonah and the fish story with his own death and bodily resurrection. If Jonah didn't happen, then we shouldn't believe the death and resurrection happened, because he correlated both of them. So that just sort of cuts to the chase. That's why I believe it's literal.
Also, it is written in simple narrative form like many other historical documents, without sensation. Just statements are made. So again, we've said this quite often. But if you think about it, it will really help you. The big roadblock is not Jonah chapter 1 or chapter 2 or chapter 3 with the revival. The big roadblock is Genesis 1:1. If you can get over that, the rest is easy. If we're dealing with a God who can speak worlds into existence, universe into existence, galaxies into existence, if God, in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth, my goodness, this is a walk in the park, right? This is chump change. This is easy.
So you get past that, and the rest of the Bible can fall into place for you. So it's written in just normal historic narrative. Number two, there was an historian in antiquity named Josephus, Flavius Josephus, very detailed. He wrote several volumes, the wars of the Jews, the history of the Jewish people, telling about battles and about movements in great detail, and he wrote about the book of Jonah as an historical story that happened. So that is one source, other Hebrew sources, the fact that it's written in plain, straightforward narrative form, but also the fact that Jesus said it happened, and he correlated that to his death and resurrection. So there's four chapters.
I've outlined the book, according to each chapter and with the analogy of running, OK? So chapter one is called Running from God. Chapter two, you could call it running to God. Chapter three, you could name Running with God and chapter four, A Run-In with God. So you're running to, from, with, and then you're fighting what God is doing. You're having a run-in with God.
So we begin with running from God, chapter 1 verse 1. "Now, the word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son of Amittai, saying--" Now, we don't know much about Jonah, but we do know what town he's from. Doesn't say so here. But Second Kings chapter 14 mentions Jonah, a prophet, Jonah the prophet being from a town called Gafheffer. Gafheffer was a town in the Galilee region. It is a town today identified by the Arabic term el Meshed. And el Meshed or Gafheffer, his hometown, is just four miles northeast of the town of Nazareth. So next time you're in Israel, go check out el Meshed, Gafheffer. That's where he is from. That's where Jonah was from.
I'm am pointing this out because there is an occasion in the Gospel of John when Jesus is having a run-in with the Pharisees, the Pharisees dispatch some officers to arrest Jesus. They don't do it. They come back empty handed. The Pharisees and the chief priest, say, well, why didn't you bring him? And all they could do is say nobody spoke like that guy. That guy can give sermons, man. He's good. Wow, it was awesome. They came up empty handed. They just were amazed at what they heard.
And even Nicodemus spoke up and said, you know, you can't condemn a man unless you've tried him, and they rebuke him. They rebuked Nicodemus, and they say, are you taken in by this guy? And then they said this, "Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee." Do you remember that? No prophet has arisen-- they said that oh so emphatically.
I guess they need-- none of them had quiet time that morning in Second Kings 14. If they had or if they knew the existence of that text, they wouldn't have said what they said, for indeed a prophet did arise out of Galilee before Jesus of Nazareth, and that was Jonah, of Gafheffer, and by the way, Elijah the Tishbite. That's also up in the Galilee region, but to the east.
Anyway, the name Jonah means dove, which is emblematic-- typically, a dove is emblematic of somebody who's very peaceful, pacifistic, docile, even obedient. Does not fit Jonah at all. This guy had a good name, but he didn't live up to his name. He lived the opposite of his name. You know, there's some people that they don't fit their name.
Imagine a legalistic church lady by the name of Grace. All right, it's like, boy I wish you could get some. You need some. You've got a great name. But you don't live up to it. But then there are people who do live up to their name. I had a dentist who was just hard, harsh, seemed mean, didn't believe in much anesthesia, didn't believe in much Novocaine, kind of said, buck up, get over it, kid, I remember one occasion. And he was appropriately named Dr. Steele, as in nerves of.
Jonah, dove, doesn't quite fit, because verse 2, the Lord said to him, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it, for their wickedness has come up before me." Nineveh was the capital of the ancient Assyrian empire. Nineveh began when it was built by a guy by the name in Genesis of Nimrod, the great grandson of Noah. He built the city. It became an ancient superpower, and the capital of it was Nineveh, one of the most powerful cities in the Middle East on the Tigris River, and it was located 220 miles north, northwest of the ancient city of Babylon. So it is in Iraq, like Babylon.
Jonah had a mission, a preaching mission. Go out and cry against it. Their wickedness has come up before me. Now, the message God will tell him to preach is a message he, you would think, as a Jewish prophet, who was an enemy of the Assyrians, it was a message he should have loved. The message that he gives, the message God gave him to preach in chapter 3 verse 4 is this. In 40 days, Nineveh is going to be destroyed. It's going to be overturned, it's going to be overrun he should have liked that. He should have loved that.
But verse 3, but Jonah, but Jonah, but mister dove man "arose to flee to Tarshis from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa," found a ship going to Tarshis. Tarshis is out in Gibraltar, Spain, 2,500 miles west. Nineveh's 500 miles east. God says, go east. He goes, I'm going to go west like times four.
So he paid the fare, went down into it to go with them to Tarshis to flee from the presence of the Lord. To me, it's mind boggling that any prophet, let alone-- just any follower of God, but especially a prophet could imagine that you could escape the presence of the Lord. Like, is that possible? Can you go anywhere? When Jonah was doing his thing, there was already the book of Psalms. We know that because in chapter 2, he quotes from them.
One of the great psalms as Psalm 139, where the psalmist says, "Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend into heaven, you're there. If I make my bed in hell, behold you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea--" you know, I've always wondered what the name of the boat was called that Jonah got on. I don't know what it was called. It doesn't say. But wouldn't it be fine if the name of the boat was Wings of the Morning? Just a fun thought. "If I take wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me and your right hand shall lay hold of me."
And that is exactly what happens to Jonah in this story. When it says he left to the presence of the Lord, it means he's resigning. He's fleeing pleasing the Lord. He's leaving standing in God's presence as a servant of the Lord. That's the idea behind it. He is handing in his resignation, saying, I quit the ministry. I don't want to be a prophet. I want to be a non-prophet organization. I quit. I'm turning it in.
Now, this is markedly different from other people that we know about in the Bible who tried to quit, but they eventually did it. Moses tried to quit. Moses said, I can't speak. I'm not going to stand before Pharaoh. I quit. But he went anyway, eventually. Jeremiah was so fed up. He said, I'm not going to preach anymore. I'm not going to make mention of the name of the Lord. I quit. But he ended up speaking. He said, the word of the Lord was in me like a fire. I couldn't contain it. It was so powerful within me, I couldn't hold it back any longer.
But Jonah actually got on a boat and left. Why? Why would a prophet whose whole job description is to A, hear from God, B, do what God says, C, follow through-- if you're a prophet, you're waiting for a mission. When God gives you a mission, you're going wow, finally. I get it. So it's like this. You're an astronaut. You train for outer space. But very few people get sent on the astronaut teams to go into outer space, let alone to go like to the moon.
So you've trained, you've worked hard. You've been conditioned for outer space. And then your supervisor comes to you one day and says, you have been selected for the next manned mission to the moon. What would your response be? Yeah, you say, oh yeah. Oh yeah, I'm good. You wouldn't say nah, you know, if I went I'd miss the next episode of Dancing with the Stars. I'm really into that show. Are you kidding?
But Jonah does that. He says, I don't want to go. Verse 4, "But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea. And there was a mighty tempest on the sea so that the ship was about to be broken up." Now notice a contrast verse 3. "But Jonah," it begins, verse 4 begins, "but the Lord." But Jonah, but the Lord, but Jonah, but the Lord. So it's like God's saying, I see your but Jonah, and I raise you one but the Lord, which is higher stakes.
You know, there are some people that simply hear God's voice and comply. They're the best kind. They read the scripture, and they go, I'm going to do that. They heard God giving them a commission, and they go, yes, sir. Right away, sir. Little young Samuel, the prophet "Speak, Lord. Your servant hears." They're the best kind.
But then there are people that have harder heads. Saul of Tarsus was one. Saul of Tarsus persecuted the church. Saul of Tarsus tried to stamp out Christianity. So what got his attention is getting knocked off his high horse, literally, hitting the ground, seeing a light from heaven, being blinded, until he finally goes uncle, I give up. I'll do it your way.
Some people need greater means for God to get their attention. So Proverbs 15:10 says, "Harsh correction is for him who for snakes the way." Mark that verse, my friend, if you're hardening your heart against God. "Harsh correction is for him who forsakes the way."
If God's still, small voice is not enough for you, if God's word in the scripture is not enough for you, you may want to buy storm insurance, because something might be coming. God, just like in the song, will pursue you because he loves you. He knows what's best for you. And you running to Tarshis is not best for you, Jonah.
Verse 5. "Then the mariners were afraid, and every man cried out to his God, threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship and laid down and was fast asleep." What a contrast. You've got praying pagans versus a pouting prophet who's sleeping it off. So the captain came to him and said, "What do you mean, sleeper?" I love it when unbelievers rebuke believers. "What do you mean, sleeper? Arise. Call on your God. Perhaps your God will consider us so that we may not perish." And they said to one another, "Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us."
So they cast lots. Now that's just superstition. But God was behind the lot, like the proverb says. "The lot is cast into the lap, but every decision is from the Lord." They cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. The issue here was between two persons and two persons only, God and Jonah. Those were the two individuals at odds, just between God and Jonah.
But once Jonah got on their boat, it's now their problem, too. Once you get around other people and attach yourself to other people when you're disobedient, you will affect other people, just between God and Jonah until they got on their boat. Once he got on their boat, it became part their problem. Your disobedience affects other people.
Remember Joshua chapter 7, a guy named Achan, who saw a Babylonian garment, 200 shekels of silver, a wedge of gold, stole it, hid it in his tent, buried it in the ground. The children of Israel were defeated at the town of Ai, A-I, it's called. Some pronounce it A-I. It's really Ai. Doesn't matter what it's pronounced. I don't know why I'm going on about this. They were defeated because he did that.
His disobedience caused the death of several people in the camp of Israel. Or David, who at the end of one of the New Testament books, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 2 Samuel, the last chapter, 2 Samuel, the last couple of chapters, decided to count the people in the army to see how many fighting men were a part of his nation. He numbered the people. It caused the life of 70,000 people from the top of Israel down to the bottom of Israel, Beersheba. 70 died because of one man's disobedience.
When you drag others into your disobedience, it's problematic. Then they said, verse 8, "Please tell us for whose cause is this trouble upon us, what is your occupation?" Ooh. He's getting nailed. It reminds me of this true story when I was pulled over for speeding in my youth. I was in my 20s, maybe around, maybe 30s, maybe 30s. It was in another state. Pulled over, and the policeman was so angry. I was on a motorcycle. The wind was-- it was beautiful. But I get pulled over for speeding.
And so the police officer was very, very insistent, and he said to me, what do you do for a living? And I said, I'm a teacher. Which is true. Sort of. And he said, oh really, where do you teach? Now I had to say, at a church. I'm a pastor of a church. You are? So sleeping prophet, what is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you? So they said to him-- he said to them, "I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord."
Yeah, right. I fear Yahweh. That's the covenant name. It's capitalized. See it. That's the covenant name, Yahweh. "I fear Yahweh, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land." So he's sort of witnessing to them very poorly. Verse 10, "Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and they said to him, 'Why have you done this?' For the men knew that he fled from the presence of Yahweh because he had told them."
Notice something in verse 5. It says, the Mariners were afraid, in verse 5. They're afraid of the circumstances. In verse 10, the men were exceedingly afraid. Now they're afraid not of the circumstances, but they're afraid of the consequences. They're saying, in effect, you ticked off that God, Yahweh? We've heard about Yahweh. We've heard about the Red Sea. We've heard about Jericho. We heard about Canaan. He has a reputation. That's why they became exceedingly afraid.
In other words, you bummed him out. And now you're on our boat. That's the implication. I remember when I was on an airplane, I was finding my seat. I sat down. And a couple of ladies walked by me. This was years ago as well. And they said, they said, oh Pastor Skip, so glad to see you aboard this plane. This one lady said, she demured, she goes, I'm just so afraid of flying. I don't like it. I get unnerved by it. But then I saw you on the plane. And now I know everything's going to be OK.
And I didn't tell her what I was thinking. I said, oh thank you. But I was thinking, boy, you know, if I was like rebelling against God, this is the last plane you want to be on. Right? Think of this scenario. Think of somebody saying, oh Jonah, I'm afraid of sailing, but when I saw you on his boat, I knew everything was going to be OK. No, get off the boat.
Then verse 11. "They said to him, 'What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?' For now the sea was growing more tempestuous. And he said to them. 'Pick me up and throw me into the sea. And then the sea will become calm for you for I know that this great tempest is because of me.' Nevertheless, the men rode hard to return to land but they could not, for the sea continue to grow more tempestuous against them. Therefore they cried out to Yahweh and said, 'We pray, oh, Yahweh.'" Now they're praying to God. Jonah should have been doing that.
"'Please do not let us perish for this man's life and do not charge us with his innocent blood for you, oh, Yahweh,"" you, oh, Lord, "'have done as it pleased you.' So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Notice this. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly and offered a sacrifice to Yahweh and took vows."
It's the third time it mentions they're afraid, but this is for a very different reason. This is a fear of the Lord. This is a healthy reverential awe and respect for the Lord to whom they now offer a sacrifice. And you could even say, were maybe converted, because of the circumstances and knowing what Jonah had done. So again, notice the contrast.
They're praying. He's sleeping. They rebuke him. He maintains his disobedience. They soften their hearts. He hardens his heart. You know, they say dude, what should we do to you? He should have said, you don't need to do anything. I need to repent right now. God, Yahweh, forgive me. He goes, throw me overboard. Really? Really, you don't want to do what God wants you to do so badly, you'd rather drown. Exactly. I'd rather die than go preach.
You're going to find out why, because that's really-- that's the heart of the story. Why is the prophet doing this? Why doesn't he want to preach a message of judgment to Nineveh? Verse 17. "Now the Lord prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights," like Jesus affirmed. When it says prepared a great fish, the Hebrew word could be translated appointed a great fish.
And what's amazing is that the sailors are compliant. The great fish is compliant. Jonah is the one guy not compliant. So the reason God prepare to fish is to save Jonah from drowning. It's to preserve his life. That's one of the sub things I want you to notice. He throws him overboard not for a freak show. He would die in the sea. Throw me overboard. He's thinking, this is it, I'm going to die. God prepared or appointed a fish to keep Jonah alive because God wants to use that knucklehead.
When a man catches a fish, not a big deal. But when a fish catches a man, that's newsworthy. And you say, this is outlandish, this is preposterous, this sounds fishy. I can't swallow this whole story. On a scale of 1 to 10, this is off the charts. Sorry, sorry, sorry. No, I'm not. I'm really not.
Now, let me wax quickly scientific. Some have sought explanations for what kind of species this could be that could pull this off. Several suggestions have made your guess is as good as mine. One of the suggestions is this is a white shark, a species known as a white shark, the scientific name rhinodon typicus. It is up to 70 feet long. It has been shown and noted to have swallowed men who have lived through the ordeal. That's one. The other guess is called the finoclon shark that has swallowed those giant sea cows that can weigh 1,000 pounds without breaking a single bone. Others have said it could be a whale that is following-- they follow the ships often for garbage, and it says back in verse 5, they were throwing cargo over the ship. That would include food stuffs. So that could be a possibility.
To me the only candidate that fits the story is what is called a mysticete, and that category, the mysticete whale, or the sperm whale, called the catodon macrocephalus. Their teeth are not for chewing, but for securing prey, and they have swallowed creatures alive, like seals alive, penguins alive. They swallow them whole. They don't chew them up. And they been known to swallow unusually large objects, like even 15 foot sharks.
But putting that aside-- I'll get back to that in a second. Chapter 2 verse 1, "Then Jonah prayed." It's a whole sermon right there. They're praying to Yahweh. He's not praying. Throw me over board, throw me over board. I'm not going to talk to God at all. Then Jonah prayed. Finally. Thank you, Jonah. When? In a fish gut. I ain't praying. OK, I'll pray.
"Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish's belly." After three days of whale time, now he's ready. The prayer is noteworthy. I've done studies on it before in depth, but there are nuances in this prayer of nine different psalms, one quote from the book of Lamentations and one quote from the book of Job, all which were extant or readily available at the time of Jonah.
These are not exact quotations. They are free renderings. But of course, he's not pulling out something and reading it. He's just free wheeling it right. He's in a fish gut. Verse 2. And he said-- here's his prayer. "I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, and he answered me out of the belly of Sheol, I cried, and you heard my voice." There's a nuance here of Psalm 120 and Lamentations chapter three, out of the belly of Sheol. And I'm in hell here, you know, down in this fish belly.
"For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas. The floods surrounded me. All your billows and waves passed over me." If you're familiar with Psalm 42, that rings a bell. It's almost a direct quote. What he's saying in this poetic prayer language is I messed up, and now I'm paying for it. Verse 4, "Then I said, I have been cast out of your sight. Yet I will look again toward your holy temple."
Now, some people in hearing this, they get very suspicious. And they say, oh, come on, this sounds like a prepared prayer. This is almost too good of a prayer. When you're in a crisis, and you pray spontaneously, you don't pray like that. Yes and no. Only if you know-- if you have this is your background, if you have this in your heart, you know how they say your life flashes before you? The recall that you have in a crisis is what you really do know.
This is what makes the prayer all that noteworthy. It shows that Jonah, the prophet's mind was saturated with truth, saturated with the word of God, filled with scripture, which is why Jonah's life is a warning. Here's the warning. Exposure to scriptural truth doesn't guarantee a godly life.
Bible students, those of us who are exposed to the word of God a lot. Exposure to biblical truth doesn't guarantee a godly life. He continues. "The water surrounded me, even to my soul. The deep closed around me. Weeds were wrapped around my head." That's seaweed. Now, I don't know what a whale or a fish is like or a mysticete, or a catodon macrocephalus. I've never been in one. But I have been caught in seaweed beds, where you're on your surfboard, and you're kind of stuck, and you can't move in, and you feel wrapped up by it, and it's a daunting kind of a feeling. You can only cry, kelp, kelp!
I walked you right into that one. It's an old surf joke that I couldn't resist. "I went down," verse 6, "into the moorings of the mountains." But you're having fun, right? OK. OK, very funny. Thank you. Thank you. "I went down into the moorings of the mountains, the earth with its bars closed behind me forever. Yet you have brought me my life up from the pit, oh Lord my God. When my soul fainted within me, I remembered Yahweh. My prayer went up to you and your holy temple. Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own mercy."
You need to underline that verse if you're so inclined to doing so, or mark it in your Bible. This becomes the lesson of the book. This is what Jonah learned. "Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own mercy." Loosely translated, those who run from God tie their own noose and end up as whale puke. That's a little PS on the lesson.
You know what an idol is? Anything's an idol. Anything that you let take the place of God as being supreme in your life is an idol. Jonah had an idol. His name was Jonah. Jonah wanted his will above God's will. Jonah worshipped Jonah. It was all about Jonah. "Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own mercy."
Verse 9. "But I will sacrifice to you with the voice of thanksgiving. I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord." What kind of a sacrifice do you make in a fish gut? Here's what he's saying. If I ever get out, I give up. I sacrifice me, the rest of my life. If I ever get out, I give up.
"So the Lord spoke to the fish, and the fish vomited Jonah onto dry land." Again, the fish complied when God spoke. You see the contrast all through the book. God spoke to Jonah. No way. God spoke to the fish. OK. So the whale worked, man. Whales work. That's a bumper sticker. Whales work. That's what Jonah had on his chariot after that.
True story, I read it in a newspaper. A man in Seattle decided to go to a camper, a motorhome and siphon gas out of it. Don't you hate when that happens? And what he didn't know is the owner of the motor home happened to be in the motor home at the time. So he heard the noise. He ran outside to catch the thief. The thief was on the ground vomiting, puking. And he discovered what the problem was. The problem was instead of siphoning gas putting it into the gas spout, the gas hole, he put it into the wrong hole in the motor home, the sewage tank, and so when the police came, the owner decided no need to press charges. The natural consequences are enough.
So he didn't get charged. No need. He learned his lesson. He learned his lesson after the whale. He's done. Now comes the biggest miracle in the book. Everybody's so concerned about what's going on in the fish. We should be concerned about what's going on in Jonah. Because what went on and Jonah, chapter 2, is what comes out of Jonah in chapter 3 in the term of obedience.
Now we come to the greatest miracle in the book, a revival of a city, an ancient city of Nineveh, greater than the Great Reformation, greater than the Great Awakening. Even Billy Graham, whenever he would preach large scale Crusades-- and the biggest one he ever preached in history was in South Korea, where at one sitting, he had over a million people sitting and standing, in and around this arena, one million people. At best, Graham saw about a 5% yield, that is, of the crowd, 5% came and made decisions for Christ. A really great crusade is 10%. Jonah broke the record, 100%.
Jesus also affirmed that. Chapter 3 verse 1. "The word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time saying those were gracious words." In other words, dude, I'm giving you a second chance. "Arise. Go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you."
I love the God of second chances, don't you? You know, Peter knew about that. Peter denied Jesus, and Jesus came to him after the Resurrection and said, Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep. He commissioned him. He loved him. He let him be used again. So "Jonah arose, went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three day journey in extent."
Actually, it was a complex of four cities that had been independent, that emerged into one on the Tigris River. It calls it an exceedingly great city. The walls of Nineveh were hundreds feet tall. There were 15 gates on the walls of ingress and egress. There were watchtowers that jutted up, some of them 100 feet above the wall, these massive ziggurat towers. So some of them were 200 feet tall, massive. Great, great city.
The population of Nineveh, if we base it on the number given to us in chapter 4 of Jonah, verse 11, where we numbered 120,000 people living-- 120,000 children living in the city, we can conservatively estimate that Nineveh had about 600,000 people, big, big town.
Verse 4, "Jonah began to enter the city on the first day's walk." So he's just walking through. Here come Jonah. "Then he cried out and said," here's this message of love, here's this gospel message. Here's this sweet words of comfort and consolation. "Yet 40 days, and Nineveh will be overthrown." That's it. That's his whole sermon. He doesn't have three points and a poem. He didn't have an introduction, no stories to tell. Just a sentence. That's easy. That's an easy job, you'd think.
"Yet 40 days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown." Remember chapter 1 verse 2? "Its wickedness has come up before me." I don't have the time, but it was a very, very wicked city known for piling up skulls, limbs of its captives, and letting them rot in the sun, and it was just-- they were very brutal. I won't get into it. I don't have the time. I think enough is enough.
So he began to enter the city. And then so verse 5, in a very understated fashion. So you think the people of none of Nineveh looked at this nincompoop and said, go away? "The people of Nineveh believed God." This is the miracle. "The people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. Then the word came to the king of Nineveh." The king of Nineveh was probably Shalmaneser III. He can be identified as the king from that time, either that or a guy named Asharnurari. I don't know which. Have fun. Take your pick.
Word of the Lord came to one of those two dudes, king of Nineveh. "He arose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with burlap, sack cloth, and sat in ashes." Now again, some of you are going, come on. Come on. You mean the whole metro Nineveh repented? How is that possible?
Well, let me just offer you a suggestion. And I have done in-depth studies on this, and I refer those to you to give you more of an explanation, a scientific explanation. But Jesus did use the terminology, the sign of the prophet Jonah. In other words, Jonah himself was a sign. The sign of the prophet Jonah. It could be that Jonah walking into the city of Nineveh was such a dramatic sign to them.
Let me explain. In 1891, a guy by the name of James Bartley was aboard a ship. He was an unbeliever. He discounted the book of Jonah. He became a believer through the ordeal. He became saved. He was on a whaling ship called the Star of the East. They were whaling off of the coast of the Falkland Islands. One of the tales of one of those whales they were chasing, hit the boat, knocked men off, one man drowned, was killed. Bartley was missing, assumed dead. They caught a whale, and if you know anything about whaling how they would kill them, and then they would haul them up on these huge whaling vessels, and they would strip the creature for its oily flesh, used for oil for lamps, et cetera, for a number of things.
And as they opened up the whale's belly, they found James Bartley. They found him doubled up in a fetal position, in a coma, still alive. It took him two weeks to recover. They took him to the captain's cabin. He was attended to by the captain's physician. The acid of the gastric juices of the creature bleached his face, his neck, and his hands, those that were exposed, like as white as wool, white as paper.
In fact, it was so curled up, it had the look and feel of old parchment. The gastric juices had done that to his skin. And this was written up in the Princeton Theological Review, I think issue number 25, after it happened, as a documented piece of evidence. So imagine a guy looking like that, right, like recycled Michael Jackson. Comes walking through Nineveh, parchment, you know. Hey.
And there is some evidence that they could have heard about this ordeal of what happened out at sea and Jonah before he came into the city. But again, don't have time to get into that. You can check out other studies. Nonetheless, verse 10. "God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way, saw the fruit of repentance. And God relented from the disaster that he said he would bring upon them. He did not do it."
Now chapter 4. We've seen the three sections, running from God, running to God, and running with God. Now we get to an interesting kind of an appendix, and that is a run-in with God. Verse 4. It's interesting that it begins with the word but instead of and. It says, "But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry." Now it just said that God relented and turned from the evil he said he was going to do and he was going to destroy them. That was the message. Wasn't a happy message, you're going down, you're all dying. They turn around, and you think that Jonah would walk away going, and it pleased Jonah very much that they repented, because he didn't like him anyway, and now they believe in his God. That's what a prophet would do.
"But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became very angry." Wow. Contrast the God who is slow to anger with the prophet who is quick to anger. The God who is pleased that they repent and the prophet who's displeased that they repent. He is such a bigot. He is so prejudiced. He doesn't want God to show a favored event. He doesn't want God to not judge them. He wants a God to wipe them out.
But he knows that God likes mercy. He was merciful to him. And he knew it. He felt it. He experienced it. He knows that God probably would do it to them. It's the people group he hates. So the prophet of God, the representative is mad at God's mercy. God's merciful. He's mafioso.
I've been told that the healthiest place-- if you're looking for the healthiest place to live in the world, it's not Albuquerque. It's the South Pole. The South Pole's the healthiest place because germs can't live there. Microbes don't have a chance. It's 100 below zero. That's the point. It's so cold, germs don't live there, there's really no dust and toxins, but people aren't like booking a flight to go to the South Pole for vacation. It's not like building up a huge clientele, even as a summer home. There's not people live in there. Why? Because it's so stinking cold.
It's clean, but it's cold. There are some people that are so antiseptic, they're so clean, they're so legalistic, they're so truth-oriented, but no grace, they're cold hearted, hard to be around them, hard to live with them. Enter Jonah. So he prayed. OK, so he's mad. And so he prays. He's praying again now. But he's mad. He prayed to the Lord. He said, "Oh Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore--" Now you want to know why he ran from God. He tells. "I fled previously to Tarshis for I know that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, abundant and loving kindness, one who relents from doing harm. Therefore, now oh Lord, please take my life from me. For its better for me to die than to live."
If I'd been there, I'd have said amen, I agree with that. Kill him. If we're still wondering, though, how this guy could be such a bigot, maybe this will help you frame it a little bit. Imagine it's World War II. Every Jew in New York City hears about Adolf Hitler and the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Dachau and Birkenau and all those other ones. They hear about six million of their brethren being burned to death.
And the word of the Lord comes to a New York Jewish businessman, arise go to Germany and speak to Adolf Hitler. And if he repents, I'm going to forgive him. You would read, he went down to the docks at Manhattan, got aboard a ship to flee to Hawaii from the presence of the Lord. When we understand the brutality and the hatred toward the Jewish people at the time, it helps us understand a little bit.
But, verse 4, the Lord asks him a question. "Is it right for you to be angry?" There's going to be a few questions God is asking to stimulate Jonah's mind. In other words, here I am pleased. You're displeased. Which one of us, Jonah, has the right perspective? You're mad that I blessed them. You know, there's some people that they resent God blessing somebody else. Why isn't God blessing me? Somebody says, hey, Lord just blessed me this week. I got a brand new car. Oh hallelujah.
Or you've been single, and you've been trying to find a mate and one of your friends goes, I just got engaged. Hallelujah. The Bible says, "Weep with those who weep and rejoice with those that rejoice." Easy to weep with people who are weeping. Hard to rejoice with those who are rejoicing. "So Jonah went out of the city sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat in its shade--" so pathetic, "that he might see what would become of the city." He's thinking maybe God is just going to just torch them anyway.
"And the Lord God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant." Oh great, first time we ever hear of Jonah happy about anything, it's a stupid little plant. In chapter 1, was he happy about his commission to go to Nineveh? No. When God sent him a fish to protect his life, was he happy about that? No. When he was recommissioned to go to Nineveh, was he happy about that? No. When the city repents, was he happy? No. A stupid little plant comes up, probably a fast growing-- it's called a castor plant with broad leaves, grows very, very rapidly.
Jonah's happy because of a weed. OK, I want you to understand. That gets him happy. So God has a few more questions to help him understand his own bad heart. "But as morning dawned the next day, God prepared a worm so it damaged the plant that it whithered, and it happened when the sun rose, God prepared a vehement east wind. The sun beat on Jonah's head, so he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself." Gosh, this guy's dramatic. And he said, "It's better for me to die than to live." Again, amen.
"Then God said to Jonah, 'Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?' And he said, 'It is right for me to be angry even to death.'" So pathetic. "But the Lord said to him, 'You've had pity on a plan for which you have not labored nor made it grow, which came up in the night and perished in the night, and should I not pity Nineveh that great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who can't discern between their right hand and their left,'" that is children, "'and much livestock?'" Notice the book ends hanging on a question mark.
Jonah, you're more worried about a soul-less plant, and you're not concerned about souls, human souls, in a city. You know, this is conflicted value system, right? Ain't much different than conflicted value systems now. People are-- animal rights, my pet, but killing babies in a womb. More concerned about the embryo of an eagle, protect that little egg, than protecting human life. That is a warped value system.
And Jonah displays that here. I guess the question to ask ourselves as we close is, is your own little plant and shelter are more important to you than souls around you? Are we more concerned about personal comfort than eternal comfort? And think of it this way. Around you are thousands of conversations waiting to happen. You can engage with living souls who might hear the gospel.
Well, we're done with the book. We finished the book of Jonah. Easy, easy to do, 48 verse. Congratulations for doing it, coming with me on this trip. We took off from Tel Aviv, landed in Mosul. By the way, a couple of years ago, I had an opportunity to be in Iraq, speak at a church in Erbil, where all of the displaced people from Nineveh, the plains of Nineveh, city of Mosul, Christians had been displaced by ISIS, and they came and gathered in the church on a Wednesday night. It was packed. People were standing around the periphery.
And I spoke to them out of the book of Jonah. I just thought it was only fitting to sort of frame their plight, their circumstances, hopefully to bring comfort, but also to challenge them by the grace of God. God could even change the hearts of ISIS, and that's what we should pray for, that God would change them and save them.
Father, we want to thank you for the book of Jonah. We're dealing with an ancient Assyrian community that in the New Testament time were among the very first recipients of the Christian gospel. The ancient Assyrian Christian church dates and predates most churches around the world, except perhaps in Antioch and Jerusalem. And so we do feel that we need to pray for brothers and sisters who are from that region, from that area, from that city, who have been displaced and are suffering even to this day because of what has happened in recent history.
We do pray, Father, for a turn of heart for those who are their persecutors, those who are meaning evil against them. And we pray, Lord, that in our generation, in our country, in our culture, we would not ever see an opportunity as a difficulty or an inconvenience, but we would say yes, when you give us a directive. In Jesus' name we pray, amen. Let's all stand, and let's sing together.
We hope you enjoyed this message from Skip Heitzig of Calvary Church. For more resources, visit calvarynm.church. Thank you for joining us for this teaching from the Bible from 30,000 Feet.