by Greg Turner

What is the book of Jonah about? Is it just a simple bed-time story to tell kids to get them interested in the Bible? Maybe.  Or was it recorded so that Jesus could point to it so that His disciples would have a sign about His death and resurrection? Definitely. The book of Jonah is also a story about a man, a servant of God, who ignored a job that God had for him. This story is applicable to every Christian today. Let’s see how.

A little background research shows that Jonah the prophet was the son of Amittai of Gath Heber, a town located in the land of Zebulun (Joshua 19:13). This town was about 32 miles north of Samaria the capital of Israel. God clearly worked with Jonah on at least one other occasion as can be seen in II Kings 14:25 where God had him give a message to king Jeroboam II the son of king Joash of Israel. Notice that Jonah was a contemporary of Amos (Amos 1:1). Amos prophesied about the coming destruction of many nations around Israel including Israel. Jonah was also a contemporary of Hosea (Hosea 1:1) who also prophesied about the fall of Israel among other things. During this time period, King Uzziah ruled Judah and King Jeroboam II ruled Israel, and they enjoyed great military success against all of the other kingdoms around them, and they were able to restore the borders of Israel to the same extent, if not larger, than they were during the time of King David (see 2 Chron. 26 and II Kings 14). Since Israel and Judah controlled the “king’s highway” through Palestine, they were able to control a lot of the trade between all of the kingdoms around them, including Edom (south of the Dead Sea), Moab (east of the Dead Sea), Ammon (east of Jordan), Philistia (southwest of Israel), Aram (later called Syria which is north of Israel), Phoenicia (northeast of Israel on the coast) and the land of the Hittites (north of Syria). Various commentaries consider this time period to be the economic and military peak of the Israelite Kingdoms. Notice that Amos also speaks of the wealth in Israel at this time in Amos 3:15. It says that people had lavish houses and summer and winter homes! So the time in which Jonah lived seems comparable to our current time (at least in the western nations of the world) with respect to economic trade, jobs, houses, military might and safety. Jeroboam II reigned from about 782BC to 753BC, and apparently, it was only 32 years later that the Assyrians destroyed Samaria (the capital of Israel) in 721BC and carried Israel away into captivity. Generally, one generation in Israel was considered 40 years. So Israel was destroyed within one generation from Jonah’s time. In fact, within 10 years, Israel was already sending tribute to the Assyrians (II Kings 15:19) to keep them at bay.

So what happened to Jonah the prophet of God when God gave him a task to do (Jonah 1:1)?  It would seem that Israel had at least two other battles with Assyria that are not recorded in the Bible, but are inscribed on stone objects found at Kurkh and Nimrud, both cities in Assyria. The Kurkh stone object records a battle between Ahab (king of Israel) and Shalmaneser III which took place around 853BC, almost 100 years before Jeroboam II. The Nimrud stone object records that Shalmaneser III received tribute from Jehu son of Omri king of Israel around 841BC. Obviously, these two nations had been bitter enemies for a while. This on-going rivalry may have been the reason that Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh to tell them to repent. The people of Israel were also very self-righteous, thinking that they only were the people of God, and could not possibly think that the gentiles were worthy of repentance. We see this same attitude existing in the New Testament seven-hundred years later with the Pharisees (see Luke 18:10)! We also note that this same attitude was even among the Apostles at the beginning of their work (Acts 10:28), even though Jesus commanded them to go into all of the world (Matt. 28:19). Eventually, Jesus had to show Peter that they must go to the gentiles also (Acts 10:1-48). Regardless of Jonah’s reasons, his attitude was not right, and he actually tried to flee from God to avoid doing what God had asked him to do. He went about 60 miles south to Joppa, a city on the Mediterranean coast, to catch a ship headed to Tarshish (Jonah 1:3). He was really trying hard to escape God’s task! For Tarshish (also spelled Tartessus) was located far-away in southwestern Spain according to most ancient maps! It was a city where many metals were obtained from by ship (see Psalm 72:10, Jer. 10:9, Ezek. 27:12, 25).

So here was a man of God who had the Holy Spirit, since he was called a prophet, and prophecy is a gift of the Spirit (I Cor. 12:10). All who have the Spirit are a part of the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:12), and the gifts of the Spirit must be used to profit all (I Cor. 12:7). In other words, we are not given these gifts to go hide like Jonah was trying to do. We must face the world openly (Matt. 5:16, Phil. 2:15) and then we must do the tasks that Jesus gives us (Luke 6:46). Some will think that because Jonah was a prophet that it was a full-time job for him. Really? We don’t know that, and one does not have to work for the Lord full-time to do His tasks. Notice that Amos was a prophet and his full-time job was as a sheepherder (Amos 7:14). Yet, he got up and did the tasks that the Lord commanded of him (Amos 7:15-17), and it cost him his job and he was kicked out of his home country (Amos 7:12-13). Note also that we all are priests (I Peter 2:9) and have a ministry, just as Jonah did, and so there is no escape from the works that God will have us do (I Peter 2:12) – unless we are unprofitable servants (Matt. 25:26-30). Notice in Luke 17:6-10 that God’s commands and His tasks are different. If we just do His commands, then we are unprofitable. What are His commands? They are summed up in Matt. 22:37-39 (see also Rom. 13:8-10, Gal. 5:14). We are to love God first and then love our neighbor as ourselves. We know these. These are a given and must be done. Our tasks are generically described in Matt. 28:19 and Matt. 10:8-27 (see also James 2:8-26 for a taste of our daily works). There are many Scriptures that describe what our tasks are, but that is the focus of a different article. This article is about listening to God and then doing His will.

So what happened next with Jonah? Jonah makes it to the ship and heads out, but he can not hide from God (Jonah 1:4). God brings signs and wonders to let Jonah know that he needs to turn back and do God’s will. Did this affect Jonah? No! He was sleeping and slumbering. Sounds familiar. What state are Christians in today? Jesus said they are sleeping and slumbering (Matt. 25:5). All of them – even the five virgins with the Holy Spirit! It is interesting to note that right after Jesus said everyone is sleeping that in Matt. 25:14-29 He shows that His servants are to be doing God’s work. And that as they do His work, they will be given more, and those that don’t do the tasks that they are given will have those tasks taken away and given to those that are doing their tasks. What is God doing about those that are not doing His works? He is sending signs and wonders all around us (Matt. 24:7, Acts 2:19, Heb. 2:4) so that we will wake up and do His works.

Notice that Jonah did not even notice the signs as he was too busy sleeping. Even the gentiles recognized the sign, but they did not have a real god to help them (Jonah 1:5). A gentile had to come and wake Jonah up and ask him to call on his God. How sad. When disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, tidal waves, etc.) are happening all around us and people are calling out to their gods and wondering where God is and why He is allowing these things to happen, are we there helping them to seek the one true and real God (Rom. 3:29-30, Mark 12:29-32, I Cor. 8:4-6, Eph. 4:6, 1 Tim. 2:5)? Or are we sleeping and slumbering like Jonah?

God will not tolerate the sleeping and slumbering and the ignoring of His tasks for too long.  He cast Jonah into the belly of a whale for a few days to let Jonah know that He has work for him to do (Jonah 1:17), and it was not a pleasant time (Jonah 2). Similarly, He will spew us out if we do not start doing His works.

Rev. 3:15-22 says: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.  So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’— and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked — I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.  As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.  Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.  To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”

Are we in a dark place and does everything seem to be going wrong around us? Then chances are we are ignoring what God has called us to do and He is chastening us for it (see Heb 12:7-28 and in particular verse 7 and 25). So what are we to do? Just as Jonah did, we are to pray to God to pull us out of the dark place that we are in if we are not doing His works (Jonah 2:7). God then reminded him of His task (Jonah 3:1-2), and Jonah completed the task (Jonah 3:3-4), and over 120,000 people (the estimated number of people living in Nineveh at that time) were saved (Jonah 4:11)! Notice that when we as Christians go to God in fasting and prayer (Matt. 17:21) that we will have the faith to do the works that Christ did and more! Jesus said in John 14:12 -14, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.

God has clearly given us the power and abilities to do the tasks that He has given us, so it is time to wake up and do them or the door will be shut on us (Matt. 25:10).

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