Greetings! Welcome to Lechem Panim! We continue today our study on Jonah. You will remember that he has been commanded by God to go and preach to Nineveh (the persecutors of his people) so that they might repent and saved. But Jonah instead boards a ship going the opposite direction in order to flee; but (as you remember) a storm comes upon them; and the captain orders them to pray to their gods. And they cast lots to find out who is to blame and it is revealed that it is him. And he tells them that he has been running from God.
Was Jonah’s request to be thrown into the sea really noble?— And [At a loss to know what to do, the sailors asked Jonah for his advice (v. 11). He told them to throw him into the sea (v. 12). At first this seems like a noble response, but a closer examination reveals otherwise. The proper response would have been for Jonah to repent on the spot and to agree to go to Nineveh. But despite the captain’s exhortation (see v. 6), Jonah never does pray in this scene, at least as far as we can tell. His instructions to the sailors betray his obstinate refusal to obey the Lord. It is as if Jonah is saying: “Okay, if he won’t let me go to Tarshish, then I’ll just die in the sea! But I’m not going to Nineveh!”] And so instead of telling the captain to turn around and take him back, which would have allowed God to stop the storm, he tells them instead to help him commit assisted suicide. And the captain and crew are reluctant to at first, but they eventually consent after they try everything else. They throw him in the sea; but to his dismay, he doesn’t drown, but is instead swallowed by an enormous fish!!! And what is crazy is that this fish not only foils Jonah’s attempted suicide, but also acts as his submarine to carry him back to the shores he originally came from; actually (I and many others believe) shores that were actually closer to Nineveh.
The Fish god and The Fish-- Now it is so ironic that God chooses to use a fish to carry Jonah closer to Nineveh because [The name Nineveh is thought to derive from “ninus,” i.e., Nimrod, and means the residence of Nimrod or “nunu” (Akkadian for “fish”). The people worshipped the fish goddess Nanshe (the daughter of Ea, the goddess of fresh water) and Dagon the fish god who was represented as half man and half fish.] So while Jonah says I’m going to abandon Nineveh to its religious perversion; I’m not going to have anything to do with redeeming them from all that fish-god nonsense, God places him right in the belly of what was at the heart of what the Ninevites worshipped. They were enslaved to the fish god; Jonah doesn’t care; and so God puts Jonah in the belly of a fish; right in the middle of their spiritual problem.
Time to Reflect-- And Jonah, needless to say, is probably feeling a little down in the mouth at this point. But he has some time to reflect. And on his way back, he’s praying. God needed to do something in him; He needed to change him. But what part of Jonah did God want to change?
Heartbeat Prayer-- One way I like to go through the scriptures and have been doing so recently is by listening to it being read, which is how so many people throughout history have received the Word of God. And my favorite reading is the Word of Prosmise Audio Bible. Although it is pretty much a word for word reading of the NKJV, it incorporates a variety of actors and sound effects to make you feel like you are there. And not long ago I listened to the book of Jonah. And you hear the wind and the waves; the froth of the ocean beating against that ship. And then Jonah being picked up and heaved into the sea. And as he’s splashing about you hear air being released form the blowhole of the whale (or fish) (LONG PAUSE) and then everything goes silent. And moments later you begin to hear Jonah praying; but that’s not all you hear. In the background you hear a horrifying sound; the massive heartbeat of the whale. All throughout his prayer is the steady (thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump). And I thought to myself; what a haunting thing to have going on in the background of your prayers. That probably gave his prayers a little bit of focus, don’t you think?
But I began pondering what effect that may have had on Jonah. Or even more; what was God trying to say to Jonah through that whale’s heartbeat? God, why do I find it so difficult to love those who are different from me? (thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump). God, what part of my life has caused me to run from you? (thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump). God, what part of me do want to change? (thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump). I wonder how many times Jonah had to hear that heartbeat before he began to hear God’s message to him.
Was Jonah’s prayer truly repentant?— Actually, I’m not sure he got that message; at least not yet. Now I love his prayer; it is an absolutely beautiful piece of composition. One author writes how: [The prayer takes the form of a thanksgiving song.… Jonah recalled his time of desperate need, his prayer for deliverance, and the Lord’s saving intervention (vv. 2—7). Contrasting himself with pagan idolaters (v.8), he then promised to thank the Lord publicly and to fulfill the vows he had made when he sought the Lord’s help (v.9). He concluded the song with the declaration, “Salvation comes from the Lord.” Jonah’s prayer is surprising. We expect a penitential psalm in which the prophet confesses his sins, but, much to our surprise, he did not acknowledge his disobedience. He simply celebrates his deliverance, boasted of his superiority to pagans, and made promises.] I mean it’s absolutely astounding to me. He didn’t repent on the ship in the midst of the storm; and he can’t even bring himself to truly repent in the belly of the fish.
Obedience not Enough-- He commits to obey God (out of fear, no doubt), but as we will see, that is not enough. God doesn’t want to just make Jonah obey Him. God wants Jonah to have the love and compassion for the people of Nineveh that He Himself has. But Jonah has not reached that point yet. He has committed to obey; but he does not yet love these lost Ninevites. For the moment, however, obedience is enough. So the text says “10 And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.”
The Call Re-given-- Then we have again in 3:1 the repetition of that same phrase used when God first called Jonah: 1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”
Jonah’s Run-- Now he didn’t listen to God the first time. But now he says, “Well ok then!” And Jonah gets up and runs. Now how do we know he ran? If you look at a map, you will see that Nineveh was a 3-day journey from the coast of the Mediterranean all the way to the heart of the Assyrian empire. Jonah made it in a single day. He runs into Nineveh, smelling like fish; his flesh no doubt bleached white from digestive juices of the fish and begins to proclaim the Word of the Lord. And, to his dismay, all the people (beginning with the KING) do exactly what he himself didn’t do. They OBEY!!!! They humble themselves and repent in sackcloth and ashes. Just imagine that; the king of Nineveh, in the midst of his people, puts on sackcloth and ashes and leads the entire pagan city of Nineveh into true repentance. And Jonah can’t believe it.
Jonah 4 (ESV)— 1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly,[a] and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
5 Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. 6 Now the Lord God appointed a plant[b] and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort.[c] So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 10 And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
We don’t know their circumstances-- You know, one thing we must remember is that anger or hatred towards another person is always ignorant of that person’s personal circumstances. And that is because selfish anger is focused on how that person has offended me; not why they have offended me. We only see the effect; what their circumstances have driven them to: offending us. But what brought them there? If they are truly horrible, what did it take to bring them there? What circumstances shaped them into who they are today? And I have often wondered if I could observe the entirety of someone’s life; if I could see those circumstances; if my frustration towards them would not instead be replaced with compassion and understanding. I may look at that person and say, “Wow, if somebody had just taken time with them; if someone had just reached out to them, then maybe they would be a better person today. And you know that is exactly God’s point. Jonah is stewing over his frustration that God has forgiven these wretched people that have injured him and his people and God is saying, “Jonah, who did they have?” “They had nobody.” Just like this vine. See how it died? Why did it die, Jonah? Because nobody took the time to love and care for it; to cultivate it. Nineveh has 120,000 people in it who have never heard of me or been discipled. How can you judge; how can you be angry?
Our Response of Forgiveness and Recognition of Their Own Hurt-- God’s point is that we have no right to harbor unforgiveness and anger towards those who have offended us. Not only because we have also been forgiven for much (just as Jonah had been forgiven for his disobedience) but also because we don’t know their circumstances; what brought them to that point. “Hurt people hurt people.” If they are hurting you, chances are that they themselves are hurting. And as Christians, we are called to forgive the offense and reach out to them in love; to offer Christ to them; because only HE can deal with their hurt. And once their hurt is dealt with, then their lives begin to change. Hatred does nothing; anger does nothing; compassion and love changes everything. And I think what God is calling us to do is to recognize that they are people who have probably never been cultivated and who need you to play the part God has for you to play in making them disciples. Let’s be faithful to that call. Let’s be faithful to love even when it hurts, as Christ did for us. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Ury graduated from Asbury University in 2007 with a B.A. in Bible and Theology. From there he continued his studies at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. It was there that he met his wife Tanya, who graduated from WBS with her M.A. and M.Div. degrees. Cameron and Tanya got married in 2009. Cameron then graduated with his M.Div. degree with a pastoral concentration in 2011.
After shepherding churches in both Mississippi and Ohio, they joined the ministry team at Renton Park Chapel in January of 2018, where Cameron serves as Senior Pastor and Teacher.
Cameron is also the founder and host of Lechem Panim, a weekly radio show that airs on KGNW 820AM "The Word Seattle". The ministry of Lechem Panim is centered around leading people into the life-giving presence of God in and through Bible study, prayer, and active discipleship with the aim of ministering to a world that is in desperate need of the healing touch of Jesus Christ.