This weeks lesson in Jonah reveals how the unguarded heart of a believer can become callous and uncaring. Jonah’s sin and uncaring attitude put the very lives of those around him in mortal danger. He discovers that no man is an island.
The Book of Jonah is, in many ways, a contest between Jonah and Jehovah—the stubbornness of Jonah pitted against the Omniscience and Omnipotence of Almighty God. Each of us has probably been in Jonah’s shoes at one time or another, and we feel like shouting to Jonah, “Give up, Jonah. Save yourself the trouble. God always wins!”
Like the words of the psalmist in Psalm 139, Jonah is discovering, “Where can I flee from Your presence?”(v. 7) How foolish Jonah was to get on a ship for Tarshish thinking he could outrun the Lord! We will see in this lesson that Jonah never got a single step ahead of the Lord—even on the open sea God was at work in Jonah’s life. From his experience we will learn some valuable lessons about the folly of fleeing from the Lord’s presence.
Do you have an example of a clear direction the Lord has given you that involved a person(s) that you did not want to serve? How did you handle your conflicting emotions? What did you end up doing in response to God? What did you learn from the experience? Or have you? Are there lasting impacts (wounds, scars, struggles)?
Jonah Flees the Presence of the LORD
1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.
4 But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. 6 So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”
Jonah Is Thrown into the Sea
7 And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” 9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.
11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” 13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. 14 Therefore they called out to the LORD, “O LORD, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.
A Great Fish Swallows Jonah
17 And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. – Jonah 1:1-17 ESV
The Direction of Jehovah
God’s instructions to Jonah were very clear in verse 1: Arise, go, and preach. We know that the instructions were clear to Jonah because he fled in fear. He didn’t want to arise, go, and preach to the Assyrians. Instead, he fled from the presence of the Lord. He understood the instructions all too well, but he feared the Assyrians more than he feared God. Instead of rising to new heights of obedience and blessing, Jonah descended further down with every stage of his journey. Verse 4 begins the terrifying ordeal of Jonah at sea:
the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. – Jonah 1:4 ESV
The Discipline of Jehovah
David the Psalmist said, “Before I was afflicted I went astray” (Psalm 119:67). Some of us are hardheaded, and God has to put us through the storm in order to get our attention. God’s goal in all of His actions was the restoration of His disobedient prophet to a place of fellowship and usefulness.
My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects. – Hebrews 12:5-6 MSG
To be sure, it is wrong for us to interpret all of our trouble as discipline or scourging. It may not be that at all. Sometimes it is trouble of our own doing; the consequences to our decisions and free will. We do foolish things and we get a result due a fool. But sometimes God causes the wind to blow and He stirs up the sea because we are not going in the direction He has told us to go and he has to get our attention. We need to understand that this storm in which Jonah finds himself was caused by God, it was continued by God, it was ordained by God, it was orchestrated by God. The storm was God’s doing as it sometimes is in our life.
Describe a time when you feel you were disciplined by the Lord.
How did you feel about His discipline while going through it?
What did you learn from the experience?
How will His disciplines affect your future responses to His directions for your life?
Everywhere you look in the Book of Jonah, God is personally orchestrating the events in Jonah’s life:
- Jonah 1:4: “The Lord sent out a great wind”
- Jonah 1:17: “Now the Lord had prepared a great fish”
- Jonah 2:10: “So the Lord spoke to the fish”
- Jonah 4:6: “And the Lord God prepared a plant”
- Jonah 4:7: “As morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm”
Do you see the pattern here? God prepared every step in Jonah’s path to repentance. And though the steps were hard, God’s motivation toward Jonah was love. So is His motivation toward us when our steps get hard because of His hand.
The Disruption of Jonah’s World
A significant part of the deception of disobedience is thinking that we can sin and keep our private world together. Jonah’s world was about to come apart piece by piece. “… the ship was about to be broken up. Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and 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, had lain down, and was fast asleep”(v. 5).
I frequently hear people say, “Well, it’s my decision. I can do what I please. It is my life.” I called this lesson “No Man Is an Island” on purpose. Whenever we get out of the will of God there are always implications for other people, some of which we might not even know about at the time. We cannot sin without affecting other people.
Because of Jonah’s sin, God was disrupting the lives of all around him. The mariners didn’t have any idea why they were about to perish, so they began to do what almost everyone does in a crisis—cry out to their god. You have to give these sailors credit. They didn’t know who to pray to or how to pray, but when the storm came and they thought their lives were over, they prayed. And then they started throwing the cargo overboard to lighten the ship. They were doing everything humanly and divinely possible to save themselves. Then they noticed that the only person not praying to his god was Jonah—and the captain wanted to know why.
The Concern of the Mariners
All throughout this part of the story of Jonah, there is a striking contrast between the concern, even compassion, of a group of pagan sailors and the callous attitude of a prophet of God. The sailors were not vindictive toward Jonah; they just wanted to know what was going on and why he was in trouble with his God:
“Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” – Jonah 1:8 ESV
The Confession of Jonah
I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land – Jonah 1:9 NASB
Jonah’s confession was theologically on target. His problem wasn’t his theology; it was his failure to do what he knew was God’s will. His problem was disobedience. What a terrible thing it is to know the truth and not to do it!
How important is it to admit when you are the guilty party in an offense?
What is the impact on the situation when confession is made?
What is the largest group you have had to admit you a wrong? Describe the impact on you and the group. What was the result of your confession?
The Confusion of the Mariners
10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.
11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. – Jonah 1:10-11 ESV
Remember, these sailors didn’t have any context for how God works. All they knew was this: here was a man who was a prophet of his God. And if they got the story right, Jonah was telling them that even though he knew what God wanted him to do, he disobeyed. Even these theologically unsophisticated sailors could see that didn’t make good sense—and they were suffering because of it.
The Compassion of the Mariners
The sailors rowed even harder to get the ship to the land – Jonah 1:13
Jonah had just told them he was the reason: “Throw me overboard and you’ll be OK.” And they listened to him, but they went back once more to the oars, and they did two things: they rowed and they prayed,
13they couldn’t make it. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, Jonah’s God. “O Lord,” they pleaded, “don’t make us die for this man’s sin. And don’t hold us responsible for his death. O Lord, you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons.” – Jonah 1:13-14 NLT
They had started a journey toward a faith in God! They were rowing and praying, working and praying, watching and praying. They were doing exactly what Jonah should have done on his way to Nineveh. Though scared to death, he should have been walking and watching, preaching and praying, doing his part while expecting God to do His.
Why didn’t God still the storm as soon as Jonah confessed he was the problem?
What is the longest period of consequences you have ever experienced from a sin you committed?
The Determination of Jonah’s Fate
15 So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. – Jonah 1:15-16 ESV
The storm subsided, and the men realized that Jonah had told them the truth about his God. The Bible says they reverenced the Lord “exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice” to Jonah’s God. They even took vows before God! Having done all they could, they continued on their way to Tarshish.
Before getting into the details of what happened to Jonah—and being too caught up in passing judgment on him—let’s look at the lessons that we can learn from this part of Jonah’s story. Jonah’s fate is a mixture of a number of dynamics present in his situation.
The Commitment of God
There was a man whose daughter left home at the age of 17 and became a prostitute in New York City. He kept up with her through a friend on the police force who would call him with news. That father never stopped going after his daughter. He never stopped loving her. He never stopped trying to get her to come home. He did everything in his power to restore the relationship. If an earthly father does that, can you imagine our Heavenly Father doing less? That is exactly what he did with Jonah. His love for the prodigal prophet was manifested in a commitment to see him restored.
But all the way through the book, it appears that Jonah was God’s greatest challenge. God could control the weather, heathen sailors, giant fish, pagan populations, and gourds and worms more easily than a stubborn prophet! And yet He did not give up on His commitment to Jonah. Nor does He give up on His commitment to any of those whom He loves (Hebrews 12:5–6).
The (Lack of) Compassion of Jonah
Let’s contrast the heart attitude of the (supposedly) spiritual prophet with the (supposedly) unspiritual mariners—and then see where we line up:
Which side of the table do you end up on more? What insights and motivations do you get from seeing the contrasts?
The conclusion of this comparison is that Jonah was upstaged spiritually by a group of heathens. The sailors were in the same class as the Assyrians whom Jonah refused to go preach to for fear they would get saved—and he didn’t think they deserved to be saved. He wanted God to judge them. And yet he found that the Assyrian-like sailors in the ship with him seemed to care more about God than he did. What a contrast!
The Concern of the Heathen
Generally speaking, the people of God have greater compassion than people who don’t know God. Unfortunately, however, I have also seen men and women who don’t even know God who sometimes act more righteously than we do. And I’ve also seen men and women steeped in the ritualism of cults and paganism who have greater zeal and zest for their “faith” than the people of God. Jonah’s sleep in the bottom of the ship was more than physical. He was closing his eyes to the reality of his sin and the danger he was bringing to others.
Describe a time when you observed kindness and concern manifested by an unbeliever.
Do you get any insights of this situation from the following verses of Matthew?
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! 12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. – Matthew 7:7-12
Should believers in Christ be held to a higher standard of concern and compassion? Why?
Jonah had been commissioned by God to be a spokesman for Him, yet he spent several hours on that ship and never once made reference to his God until he was interrogated by the sailors. This shows the concern of the heathen in contrast to the unconcern of Jonah.
The Complicity of Sin
No man is an island. Many suffered on a ship because of one man’s disobedience. Wherever we go, we carry our influence with us, for good or for ill.
Are you the only believer in your home? The Scriptures teach that you sanctify your home because of your faithful presence (1 Corinthians 7:14). But if you are a believer who is walking in disobedience, you take the potential for God’s chastening into your home as well. Your spouse, your children, your extended family—all stand to suffer because of your sin. The complicity of sin. There will be a day in the bottom of the ship—a day like Jonah’s—when someone will put their finger in your face and say, “What are you doing?”
Did you know?
Another missionary to the Gentiles, the Apostle Paul, was also caught in the middle of a violent storm at sea (but not because of his sin; see Acts 27). Instead of ignoring his responsibility to the pagan crew, he introduced them to his God by his leadership, faith, and encouragement. In spite of the destruction of the ship, all 276 people on board made it safely to shore. A crisis is often a perfect opportunity to witness to the power of God.
Jeremiah, D. (1998). The runaway prophet: jonah (Study guide). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Jon 1:1–17). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Heb 12:5–6). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.