The Book of Jonah: Examining Our Heart

Today, I want to unpack the book of Jonah for you as the Lord has recently revealed it to me. It’s a story I’m sure many of you know well. It’s one of the main stories told at Sunday school and found in every children’s Bible. It’s a story that every child remembers, because when else do we see the Lord send a big fish to save someone? I’ve read the book of Jonah many times and I have even done a Bible study on it, but this last week the Lord revealed some pretty profound revelation to me as I read through it. The books of the prophets each speak on impending destruction and punishment on God’s people if they do not turn from their evil ways. This is made clear in the first verse of Jonah, however, what the Lord revealed to me about Jonah, which is unique to any of the other prophets, is that the Lord was more concerned about Jonah’s heart than He was the people of Nineveh. So, let’s dig in to the book of Jonah!

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai:  “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. Jonah 1:1-5

Right from the very first few verse, we can see Jonah’s heart attitude. He hears from the Lord and without hesitation or thought goes in the opposite direction. He “ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.” He was trying to get as far away from where the Lord was leading him. He even thought he could escape the Lord’s will. Jonah didn’t claim ignorance, saying, “Oh, I didn’t know it was the Lord.” No, in verse 3 it clearly states, “he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.” This was intentional and direct disobedience to the Lord. As we read in verse 9, Jonah states to the sailors, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”Jonah knows with his head that the Lord is God, but his actions and choices show little relationship or fear of the Lord. He lives as if his actions will have no repercussions. He does not hold the Lord in reverence as Creator of the sea and dry land. A God who can speak all of creation into being is worthy to be revered. Jonah honestly believed he could simply disobey God and get off the hook. But God had bigger plans for Jonah.

God’s instruction for Jonah to go to the pagan city of Nineveh and warn the people to turn from their wickedness was not what Jonah had in mind. But through Jonah’s disobedience, which results in a whole bunch of missteps and misfortunes, we see God’s greatness. Here’s a key point for all of us. No matter how much we mess up, the Lord can and will still use us for His goodness and glory. Let’s read on to see how this plays out.

Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” Jonah 1:14

The ship Jonah boarded was full of pagan sailors. When the storm began to toss them around, they each cried out to their own god, but nothing happened; nothing calmed the storm. They turned to Jonah and asked him to call out to his god. When Jonah takes responsibility for his actions and acknowledges that the Lord sent this storm for him, the sailors were terrified (vs. 10). They knew from what they saw and experienced that Jonah’s god was God and worthy of reverence and fear. In verse 16, it says, “At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.” God doesn’t need our obedience for His will to come to completion. He will work in and through every situation and circumstance. He used Jonah where he was to make Himself known to this crew of pagan sailors. Take a moment and examine your own life. Is there something the Lord has called you to, but you have chosen a different path? How has this path turned out? Can you see the Lord working in and through this situation? Reflect on your situation and create a list of all the things the Lord is doing right now.

Now, let’s look at the final verse in this chapter.  It can easily be overlooked and dismissed, since it is the pinnacle of the story of Jonah, but there is a key word that we must heed.

Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Did you spot the word? If you highlighted the word provided, then you’re right. This is a key character trait of God. He is our provider. We see that throughout the Bible from the very first book of Genesis where He provides for Adam and Eve everything they would ever need to the end of the Bible in Revelations where He provides a place for us with Him in heaven for eternity. He provided for the Israelites as they wandered the desert for 40 years and He provided for Joseph as he was sold into slavery and falsely imprisoned. He provided for Ruth and Naomi  as they returned home to Bethlehem as poor widows, and we see how He provides healing to the orphans, widows, sick and outcasts as He walked the earth. Remember even in your disobedience the Lord is with you; He never leaves you. Even before Jonah ever has the opportunity to call out to the Lord for help, the Lord intervenes and sends the big fish.

We must also note that sometimes the Lord’s provision doesn’t always look like a provision at the time. It is not until we are through our situation that we can see the Lord’s provision for what it truly is. I doubt Jonah thought being in the belly of a big fish was much help. He probably wished he had drowned over being swallowed whole. After a couple days, I’m sure he was feeling pretty helpless. However, what he saw as helpless was the Lord’s mighty hand providing provision.

So, let’s delve into chapter 2 of Jonah. It’s only going to get better!

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. Jonah 2:1-2

There’s a few things we need to examine in these two verses. First, we do not know how long it took Jonah to pray to the Lord. We know he was in the belly of the fish three days, but we do not know if he turned to prayer right away, or if he was hard hearted and took a while to pray. Either way, he did pray and this is important because no matter our faults, the Lord is always waiting and eager to forgive a repentant heart. Prayer is our primary method to maintaining an intimate relationship with the Lord. It should be our default setting, our go-to response, no matter what situation we find ourselves in.

Second, we see a change of posture in Jonah’s character. He humbles himself before the Lord and takes ownership for his disobedience. The Lord uses this trial to chisel away at Jonah’s rough edges. In the beginning of chapter 1 when Jonah is disobedient and proud, we now see a humbled heart turned back to God. In verse 7, Jonah cries out, “As my life was slipping away, I remembered the Lord. And my earnest prayer went out to you in your holy temple.” There’s a humility to this prayer that we didn’t see in Jonah originally.

The third point highlights how God is with us through all of our messes. When Jonah called out to the Lord, he answered and he listened. God didn’t abandon him in his greatest time of need. He didn’t leave him alone in the darkness. He responded to Jonah immediately, without hesitation or conditions. I don’t know if you are treading through some difficult situation right now, but I want to encourage you to call out to the Lord and He will throw out a life preserver.

As Jonah cries out to the Lord in his great distress, the Lord again saves Jonah by ordering the fish to spit him out onto the beach (vs. 10). Now, I’m sure Jonah felt quite relieved when he was spat out onto the beach. He probably had no idea how the Lord was going to save him from that situation. But, once he got his feet planted in the sand and gained some perspective as to where he was, I’m sure he was feeling a tad bit confused because he was back where he originally started. It was as if the Lord pressed a reset button and gave Jonah a second chance to re-chart his course. And Jonah successfully rises to the occasion as we read in the following verses.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Jonah 3:1-3

Now I want to point out that God didn’t change His mind or His instruction for Jonah. His instruction was still the same as the first time He spoke to Jonah. Jonah could have saved himself a whole lot of hardship if he had just obeyed from the start. Is there a situation in your life where this has played out to be true? What we see here and throughout Scripture is that the Lord’s plans for us may not always be easy but they are not meant to harm us. We bring unnecessary harm upon ourselves when we choose to go things our own way.

Let’s read on further into chapter 3 and see how God’s plan pans out.

Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. Jonah 3:3-6

It’s interesting to point out Jonah’s method in which he proclaims the Lord’s warning, “he shouted to the crowds.”  There was nothing spectacular about Jonah’s deliverance. There was nothing unique about Jonah that made this proclamation a success. Clearly, this is all the work of God, because it goes on to say, “all of them, from the greatest to the least.” believed. How often do we disobey God’s calling in our lives because we feel inadequate for the job? I know I have definitely had these reservations. But what we are seeing here from the book of Jonah and throughout Scripture to be exact is that God uses the lowliest people to do the greatest things. Jonah was not called because he had something special to offer God. God used him because God had something special to offer Jonah- an opportunity to know Him and be in relationship with Him. How else do we know that this was all God and not Jonah, well the text tells us: “The Ninevites believed God.” This message was so powerful it compelled the entire city of Nineveh to repent and turn their hearts to God. So much so that even the king removed himself from his throne- a position of vulnerability and humility- and repented of his ways.

The final chapter of Jonah challenges us to look inwards at our own heart towards God.

But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah 4:1-3

We see a new side of Jonah in the start of this chapter. He reveals the anger that resided in his heart. He gets angry at God for changing the plans. In Jonah’s mind God should have punished the Ninevites. Ultimately, he was frustrated that the situation did not turn out how he had pictured. Have you felt this way before? Did you picture things turning out differently than what God had in mind? I’m always reminded of Isaiah 55:9, “For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” We mustn’t forget who God is and His positioning. He is overseer of all Creation, Alpha and Omega.

Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die,and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” Jonah 4:5-8

In verse 6, we see the Lord’s mighty hand at work. He makes a plant grow from the ground so large that it covers Jonah from the hot sun. Jonah is grateful for the Lord’s provision, but when the Lord provides a worm to chew the plant and sends a scorching east wind, Jonah immediately turns from gratitude to resentment. Jonah’s relationship with the Lord is conditional upon what the Lord can do for him. His faith is wavering like a ship tossed around by the waves. Jonah is steadfast in his belief and is willing to die for it. It appears Jonah needs a new perspective or a new set of lenses in which to see this situation. It took approximately 120,000 Ninevites listening to a screaming man that they had just encountered in their streets to willingly choose to turn their hearts to the Lord, yet Jonah who is personally encountering the Lord in more ways than one still will not repent and give his heart over to the Lord. I believe the book of Jonah is a book for me and a book for you. It is intended for us to evaluate our own hearts. The Lord is more concerned with saving Jonah’s heart than the people of Nineveh. The Lord could have used anyone to speak His message to the Ninevites, yet He specifically chose Jonah so that He could test and refine him. I’m reminded of Luke 15:4, “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” The Lord models this to us through Jonah. As much as the Lord sought after Jonah, He equally seeks after each one of us. He is willing to go to the ends of the earth and the depths of the seas to seek us and return us to Himself.


Many Blessings!

SHARE: How has the Lord spoken to you through the book of Jonah? How can you see this hold true in your life?

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