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Saturday, 2 May 2015

Jonah Chapter 1: God's good providence

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 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 on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
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. 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. 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.”
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. Then 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?” 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.” 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.
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. 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.” 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. 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.” So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
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. ESV


Author: The book does not say who wrote it. Logic says that Jonah would not have written such an account which portrays the prophet in such bad light. But this is scripture which is inspired by God's Holy Spirit and which exalts God always. Therefore we do not apply human logic to such issues. Suffice it to say there is no real evidence that Jonah was or was not the author.

Jonah was a prophet in the land of Israel from about 800-750 BC. At this time Israel shared its northern border with Syria. When the army of Syria defeated the army of Israel in war, it took some of Israel’s land. Eventually Assyria defeated Syria in war, which very much weakened Syria. Jeroboam king of Israel 793-753 BC seized the opportunity to get his land back which God had prophesied to happen through Jonah. (2 Kings 14:25).
Israel in their arrogance expected God to be always favourable towards them and to be angry with other nations. In their eyes Israel was God’s special people whatever they did!
It was at this time that the Lord sent Jonah to the city of Nineveh the capital of Assyria. Assyria were a powerful and extremely cruel people. God instructed Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh that He was going to punish them soon for their evil ways. This was too much for Jonah who did not want God to show grace and mercy to such a people. His reaction to God at that time is recorded in chapter 4:1-4
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 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. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live. And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?” ”
The background of this prophecy is somewhat confused which makes the central theme even more powerful. In God's purposes He was making provision for a very cruel nation to hear his word and to respond in repentance and so to be blessed by Him. Israel was learning the vital lesson that even though called to be a special people, God's purposes are for all nations. These are lessons that we as the church need to continue to learn because as with Israel of old we so easily become arrogant as God's especially chosen people and forget that there are enemies of God and His people that are called to salvation and that we have the mandate to tell them of God's grace and mercy extended to repentant sinners.

God's good providence:

It has often been said that life is a rich tapestry. When we apply that to our personal experience it is truly a marvel to behold. We think back to all that has happened in our lives and discover that every event has been significant in bringing us to where we are today. We also know from scripture that it is all plotted out by God and will eventually lead each one of us to our final destiny. This is even more amazing when we consider that all events throughout the whole of human history are plotted out by God. The example of a tapestry is a good one. I am not sure how the maker of these things can create such a magnificent artwork. They work with small pieces of thread and tie knots with it in a canvas. When observed it is a messy piece of canvas covered in knots of twine of various colours. To me it is a confusing mess until it is turned over and then a magnificent picture emerges. That is what human history looks like to us; God is weaving his character and purposes into the canvas of history which one day will be revealed and then we shall see everything as it really is. Until such a time we are somewhat in the dark other than through the revelation of His word. God has declared something of His purposes for mankind and how He is calling His people to repentance and making them fit for eternity.

Often as we study this short book of Jonah our focus is on the prophet, upon his call and rebellion. Whilst that is perfectly legitimate it is possible to miss the more important lesson of the book. This small book reveals God's missionary heart and His grace and mercy that is always extended to undeserving but repentant people from any nation in the world. It also reveals the way that God sends His servants to such people with a message of judgement due to sin. Jonah is an ancient part of God's rich tapestry for all mankind and therefore is significant in so many ways. This account is Old Testament proof that the evangelism of the early church to the Gentiles was not a new concept kept for the post Christian era. God has always had a heart for the nations and He has always expected His spokesmen to go to them with the good news of God.

The whole book of Jonah is about how God provided for the King of Assyria and the people of Nineveh to come to faith in Him. It is important to see just how comprehensively God provided for this to happen and to observe that His saving grace was not only to gentile Assyria but also to a pagan ships crew who found themselves caught up in Jonah's rebellion.

A question that it is worth considering is “in what ways has God provided for you in order to bring you to where you are today?” Has He provided for your salvation? Is he still providing? In what ways is he providing for your church here in Callington? As we shall see God's provision comes in many different ways and also through good and bad experiences.

I believe that it is fair to say that Jonah was a racist who did not want the people of Nineveh to experience God's saving grace. There are of course reasons as to why he was so anti the people of Nineveh. They were extremely cruel and evil but God sent him and so Jonah is without excuse for running away. In a way it is Jonah's rebellion that is significant for the salvation of a ship's crew. These issues are hard for us to understand but they are all threads of God's perfect tapestry.

Chapter 1 is full of God's provision and is the foundation for the rest of the book. For our considerations we will merely mention the many ways that God provided and then sum up our thoughts as we go along. To do this book justice we need to study it more in depth but there is much to challenge and encourage us in the short time that we have today.

What does God provide?

  • The Word: It is by His Word that God's name and purposes are made known. Therefore He provides:
  • A prophet: A tried and tested prophet of Israel. Not a self appointed man but God's man who has a good track record. Jonah son of Amittai was a real man and not a legend, he had previously spoken to the Israelite kings Jeroboam II on God's behalf and now he was entrusted with:
  • A message: Not just any message but God's message. It is not the sort of message that any one of us would want to take to the most violent nation on earth. Jonah was having to go to the equivalent of ISIS to tell them that the God of Israel will destroy them in 40 days. We should never judge Jonah for running away if it was due to fear, but sadly it was because he did not want Nineveh to benefit from God's grace that caused him to flee.
  • Seeing eyes: God saw Nineveh's evil. What a wonderful provision that is. God sees all of the injustices and wrongdoing in the world and as we shall see God also sees all that His rebellious prophet does. So far these provisions are as we might expect, but how does God provide for his rebellious prophet? With chapter 4:1-4 in mind, Jonah has already told God of his anger, he simply did not want Nineveh to be given a chance BUT God in His mercy is going to save Nineveh and Jonah will be the preacher. Jonah foolishly believes that he can run from God and go to Tarshish (Spain) instead. This is where we learn of God's:
  • Directing provision: Jonah flees to Joppa where there just happened to be a ship heading for Tarshish. He just happened to have the fare and he was allowed on board and off he sails away from God and on his own adventure of life. There could be nothing farther from the truth. God has always been with His people and will never forsake them. Jonah could not flee from the presence of the Lord in the same way that the Psalmist speaks of in Psalm 139 which we read earlier. God directed Jonah to a ship that was on course to meet a great fish in the middle of the sea. God never stops providing for His people even when in rebellion against Him. This very example teaches us to be cautious of any thought that if all seems to be going well for us then this is evidence of God's blessing on our lives. On the other side of the coin we find Joseph where for many years nothing seemed to go well for him. Joseph's problems were God's kind provision for the children of Israel at a later date. This tapestry is certainly complex. We are encouraged by some modern thinking that unless all is rosy then we are guilty of gross sin and then ease and comfort denotes our own righteousness. Think again! Jonah was able to sleep soundly in his complacency even though God had provided a:
  • Storm of life: Frightened sailors and a storm that is so fierce that it is threatening to break up the ship. There are 2 other similar instances in the New Testament, one has the Apostle Paul aboard where the sailors throw cargo away but Paul encouraged them to stay on board because he recognised that this was God's provision for him to winter on Malta. The other of course is the Lord with His disciples. Jesus as Jonah was asleep, and similarly was the way of respite from the storm. Jesus proved His divinity by His authority used over nature by telling the storm to stop. It was very different for Jonah who was rebelling against God who was bringing him to the place of repentance. The storms of life are often God's way of providing either security as with Paul, salvation as with Jesus but also repentance as seen in this account. How are the storms of life affecting you today. What is it all about, you know and so does God;  He has provided these problems for your benefit. In all of this God has also provided:
  • Concerned people: The sailors were afraid, they prayed to their false gods and found no help. Their casting of lots due to superstition was a God given provision in that He guided Jonah to the short straw which in turn was the sailors provision for hearing the good news of God. This is so full of provision that we cannot but help to be amazed at how God is working His purposes out:
    God is working his purpose out
    as year succeeds to year:
    God is working his purpose out,
    and the time is drawing near;
    nearer and nearer draws the time,
    the time that shall surely be,
    when the earth shall be filled
    with the glory of God
    as the waters cover the sea.

    From utmost east to utmost west,
    wherever foot hath trod,
    by the mouth of many messengers
    goes forth the voice of God;
    give ear to me, ye continents,
    ye isles, give ear to me,
    that the earth may filled
    with the glory of God
    as the waters cover the sea.

    What can we do to work God's work,
    to prosper and increase
    the brotherhood of all mankind--
    the reign of the Prince of Peace?
    What can we do to hasten the time--
    the time that shall surely be,
    when the earth shall be filled
    with the glory of God
    as the waters cover the sea.

    March we forth in the strength of God,
    with the banner of Christ unfurled,
    that the light of the glorious gospel of truth
    may shine throughout the world:
    fight we the fight with sorrow and sin
    to set their captives free,
    that the earth may filled
    with the glory of God
    as the waters cover the sea.

    All we can do is nothing worth
    unless God blessed the deed;
    vainly we hope for the harvest-tide
    till God gives life to the seed;
    yet nearer and nearer draws the time,
    the time that shall surely be,
    when the earth shall be filled
    with the glory of God
    as the waters cover the sea.
    Arthur Campbell Aigner 1841-1919

Not only did God provide concerned sailors but he also provided them with:

  • Understanding: The sailors were afraid of Jonah the prophet, they understood that even though Jonah was rebellious God was with him and so fear came upon them. They also immediately understood that Jonah's running away was serious. Backslider this is a most challenging truth, God has provided you to be His servant to all that you are in contact with and even though you are being rebellious you still have a responsibility to them. God will make you useful somehow just as He did Jonah. The great thing is that you do not have to wait for the final provision in order to return:
Author: E.H. Swinstead

There's a way back to God from the dark paths of sin;
There's a door that is open and you may go in:
At Calvary's cross is where you begin,
When you come as a sinner to Jesus.

If you do not take notice of this then God may well have to provide for you a:

  • Sea of God's wrath: provided just for Jonah on this occasion. There could be no peace for the sailors unless Jonah was hurled into the sea which represented God's wrath upon Jonah. Sin and rebellion will be punished but as we see from Jonah's experience there is relief through repentance. This very incident is so full of meaning that it is impossible to mine the depths just now. It teaches Jonah the foolishness of disobedience but in an even more remarkable way it speaks of the greater provision of God fulfilled perfectly in Jesus. Jesus took this account to Himself when He was asked by skeptics for a sign. He used the great fish provided as a prophesy of His death. The sea is the place where sin is hurled in Revelation and so the whole event points to Jesus in a number of ways. Jonah's sin is dealt with by God's wrath and mercy and so is ours. God's sea of wrath is awaiting all who will not turn to Christ in repentance. The vehicle from wrath to security for Jonah was a specially prepared fish, for us it is the cross of Christ and His death, burial and resurrection. The pictures flood out of this passage and point us to Jesus. He is our hope and our stay. Do you trust in Him as God's special provision for our salvation? Will you trust in Him?

The sailors trusted in God through the experience of Jonah, the result of which was a sacrifice to God and promises of obedience made to Him.

What does God want of you?

  • To fear Him, that means to have respect and abeyance to the Saviour who has done all that is necessary for your salvation.

  • A sacrifice needs to be made to Him; not for salvation which Christ has made once for all who are being saved but in praise for salvation accomplished for us. The sacrifice which God requires is a broken and contrite heart. Your heart should be broken due to sin and then committed to Him and contrite or humbled before our Holy God who has forgiven all of our sins eternally.

He promises to never leave you nor forsake you if you are a Christian and from when you became a Christian and forever you must promise to follow Him to the end just as the Apostle Paul did and not be like Jonah!

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