Us Vs Them

Jonah 1

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 down into it, 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.” 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.

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.

Have you ever experienced a moment where you felt as if you knew exactly what God was asking you to do? Maybe it was in a conversation, maybe it was a person in need, maybe it was some form of grace you could extend to another. You knew it, but rather than blindly venturing into the uncomfortable unknown of trusting God, you chose instead to suppress the voice or urge, and instead you moved on with your life, assuming that if you could just press on and ignore God’s leading, that it would ultimately subside.

Chances are, if you have been following God for sometime, an experience like that has happened more than once. Rarely does God choose what we would consider to be more opportune times to make His will known. Usually, it is the most inopportune time. And, the reason for that is not because God’s timing is bad, it is because most of us have not cultivated lives that are expectantly waiting for God to lead. We have left no margin for him. Instead, we push on with our agenda, and then we are bothered when God throws a wrench in our carefully laid plans.

This is why Jonah is such a great book. I know Jonah. I am Jonah. I know God. I often recognize His voice or his leading. And, just as often, I go, aww man…I

-Don’t want to do that

-Don’t have time for that

-Have more important things to do

And, so, I press on as if I have heard nothing. But, what if that wasn’t how we lived our lives in relation to God? What if we were ready and waiting when He called?

Jonah is fascinating though because he knows God and hears God and fully understands the details of God’s call, and yet, he foolishly thinks he can physically run away from God. 

So, this illuminates our first principle today: “Disobedience opens a rabbit hole.” Now, disobedience to God is in and of itself sin, which is foolish behavior. But, it also begets foolish behavior. And, this is what we see with Jonah. One initial foolish decision to not follow God’s will ultimately leads to a series of foolish decisions. 

But, who is this guy Jonah? Because this is the only place we read about him, right? Wrong. 

Jonah is also mentioned in the book of 2 Kings: 14 and here’s what we learn about him and the time period in which he lived. 

23 In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, began to reign in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years. 24 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. 25 He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher. 26 For the Lord saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter, for there was none left, bond or free, and there was none to help Israel. 27 But the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.

So, this actually tells us a lot. Jonah was a prophet who lived in the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II, who was the thirteenth king of Israel during the era of the Divided Kingdom. If you remember, the primary outside aggressor during the Divided Kingdom were the Assyrians, and the Assyrians had slowly been eating away at Israel’s territory. Capturing a city here and piece of land there. But, Jonah had prophesied that Jeroboam would expand the territory of Israel back to boundaries that it had had during the reign of Solomon. And, this is what happened. 25 He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher.

So, Jonah passes the Old Testament standard for a prophet in that his prophecy comes to pass. But as we will see later, Jonah is also not the only prophet who is active during this specific time period. We will also learn about Hosea and Amos, both of whom are prophets during the reign of Jeroboam II. 

The book of Jonah, though, does not tell us much of anything about this time period. And, in many ways, it is a strange book when you consider it among the other minor prophets. Jonah is sort of the graphic novel of the Old Testament. It is very short. It’s vivid. There is a lot of action and a lot of drama. And, yet, it is a very human book because I think it’s actually very easy for us to relate to Jonah. 

One word of background here. While we have a very clear understanding of when Jonah lived; we don’t have a clear sense, however, about when the book of Jonah was written. We know the reign of Jeroboam II was 782 to 753 B.C, but the best estimates put authorship of the book of Jonah sometime between the 8th century and 3rd century BC. So, that’s a 500 year span in which this book could have been written. And, that is somewhat true for many of the minor prophets. Most of the prophets were not authors. They were not writing books of prophecy, they were publicly declaring prophecy. So, more than likely, Jonah not only did not write the book that bears his name, but it probably came well after his lifetime and was the result of oral tradition concerning him that was handed down. 

Many of the prophets had a legacy that is similar to American Presidents. In that there are American presidents who might not have been super popular during their actual time in office, but later on they become more celebrated historically. This was true for many prophets. They came declaring a word of warning or curse in their generation, so the people didn’t want to listen to them. But, later on, it becomes clear they were right and so their popular favor increases. Abraham Lincoln is an example of this. He did things in office that some people hated, and he was ultimately assassinated. However, today, because of things like the Emancipation Proclamation and being on the right side of history as it relates to slavery, he is now considered one of our greatest presidents, and biographies of Lincoln are best-sellers today. So, a somewhat similar thing happened with some of the prophets. And even hundreds of later, Jesus will actually talk about Jonah, which we’ll see in future weeks, because he was a well known cultural figure. 

So, before we wrap up today. Let’s consider the overarching details of what God calls Jonah to do and what Jonah actually does. Verse 1:  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.”

So, Nineveh is the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, the great enemy of Israel. And, God says, I want you to go there and speak against it. Now, historically, while Assyria would ultimately conquer and destroy Israel, at this point in time it is a period of relative peace which is why Jeroboam has been able to extend the borders of Israel. Two big reasons for this: 1. Assyria was, at the time, engaged in other conflicts outside of Israel that were consuming their focus. 2. There was a famine in the land that made waging extended battles extremely difficult. So, even though Israel and Assyria are not friends, it is also not a season of active war between the two. 

Jonah is not interested in speaking against Assyria. However, not for the reasons you might imagine. Jonah’s issue, as we will see, doesn’t seem to be that he is afraid of what will happen to him. He is not scared that if he goes to Nineveh he will be killed. But, rather, his major problem is that God cares about Nineveh at all. His problem is that God would do something other than wipe them off the map. Jonah knows about the terrible things that they have done to Israel, so, in his judgement, they are deserving of nothing other than death. But, because he knows the power of God, he knows that God is fully capable of turning the people to repentance, and he doesn’t want any part of that. He doesn’t want them to be saved from destruction. 

One writer says that the story of Jonah is all about God’s “boundless compassion not just for “us” (Jonah and the Israelites) but also for “them” (the pagan sailors and Ninevites).” Even though it is clear from our text that the Assyrians are “evil,” so are the Israelites. What did we read in 2 Kings about Jeroboam: 24 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. This means that Jeroboam continued the worship of pagan Gods in the land of Israel that had been started by the first Jeroboam. The story is not that God chose an obedient prophet from among the righteous people of Israel to go to the unrighteous, evil people of Nineveh. No, the story is that everyone is unrighteous and disobedient and deserving of punishment, even, and perhaps especially, the one guy who actually knows the Lord. 

Friends, we live in an age of us and them, where every polarized camp is trying to paint themselves as the good guys and the other folks as the bad guys. And much of this polarization has to do with the rapid pace of technological innovation and cultural shift that we’re experiencing. It’s truly disorienting. Things that were inconceivable even twenty years ago are now standard facets of life. Social media is an example of this. But, also, and especially, things like gender reassignment surgery (GRS), which can now be engaged easily by everyday people. This volume of rapid cultural shift tends to push people to the extremes of liberalism or conservatism. Because, if I can align with a particular camp, the camp will make all my decisions for me, and life will be easier. Then I don’t have to wrestle with the hard questions of life and cultural change, and I can just look to the other camp as the bad guys while thinking of myself and my people as the good guys. 

But the reality of Jonah is still true. We are all evil, and we all fall short of God’s glory. We are all desperately in need of his grace. So, here is our second principle. The notion that we would ever look at any other group of people, no matter what they think or do or look like, and see them as people that God shouldn’t care about is to completely miss the fact that God shouldn’t care about us. It is only because he has shown us grace through Christ that we have any hope. 

And, yet, God cares about everyone here. He cares about Jonah. He cares about Israel. He cares about Nineveh. He even cares about the pagan sailors that Jonah finds himself with. They are really the main character here in this chapter. If you think about it…the irony here is the pagan sailors seem to be the only ones who truly fear God in this account. God’s not after them even though they have cried out to false gods. The storm isn’t about them. They’re just doing what pagans do. No, it’s for the one who should know better. And, this is so similar to Jesus. We don’t really see Jesus being angry with pagans for being pagans. He’s angry with the religious people who claim to follow God but who don’t love people with God’s love. 

The scene ends with the men hurling Jonah into the sea at his request. He would rather die than do what God has told him to do. This calms the storm, and we find the sailors making sacrifices and taking vows to the Lord. They are the first in the story to, in a sense, be converted. All while the one who knows God is slowly sinking to the bottom of the ocean. And, at first glance, it seems that the lesson might be, if you disobey the Lord, you will be sorry. But, then, this line: 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.

We’ll pick up there next week. 

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