Grace for Sinners
Should I not be even more concerned about Nineveh? (God to Jonah, 4:11)
The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promise Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)
The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11).
Jonah was the prophet of Israel’s last chance. After the ministry of Elisha, God gave the northern kingdom one more opportunity to repent, seeing whether prosperity would accomplish what affliction had not (2 Kings 14:23-29). God blessed the reign of Jeraboam II with prosperity and peace. During these years Assyria was in a period of mild decline. God tested the faith of Israel and her prophet during this period of plenty. Both failed the test. Jonah rebelled against his assignment of mercy, and the nation failed to heed the warning from Jonah’s experience. Amos and Hosea will soon prophesy the doom of Israel. Failing to share the blessings of God, their self-centered ways harden their hearts beyond repentance.
The Book of Jonah confronts God’s people with His concern for all creatures, even cattle (4:11). It reminds those who already belong to God of His love for all nations and His desire to deliver them from their sin. Jonah is honest if nothing else. “He hopes all along that somehow God won’t be consistent with His own well-known character (4:2). But God is consistent throughout, in contrast to Jonah’s hypocritical inconsistency. What happens to Nineveh and to Jonah happens precisely because of what God is like. The audience of the book is thus invited implicitly to revise their understanding of what God is like, if they indeed share Jonah’s selfish view.” (Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, p 434)
“The overriding theme of the book is the sovereign God’s grace toward sinners, illustrated in His decision to withhold His judgment from the guilty but repentant Ninevites.” (Robert B. Chisholm Jr., A Theology of the Minor Prophets,” in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, p. 432) Jonah reminds us that God is always pursuing those who are not yet His people with His mercy and grace:
Jonah: Don’t begrudge God’s grace!
Jonah is an unusual book because of its message and its messenger. Like Obadiah and Nahum, it revolves around a gentile nation. God is concerned for the Gentiles as well as for His covenant people Israel. The message, however, is for God’s people. This is obvious in the emphasis on the lessons to the prophet rather than to the recipients of the prophecy. The lesson for God’s people is clear: Recipients of God’s mercy should not begrudge God’s mercy to others.
I. THE DISOBEDIENCE OF THE PROPHET: Jonah tries to run from God, but God runs him down. (1-2)
A. JONAH REBELS AND RUNS: The call of Jonah, the disobedience of Jonah, and the judgment on Jonah are recorded in the first chapter. Jonah does not want to see God spare the notoriously cruel Assyrians. Instead of going five hundred miles northeast to Nineveh, Jonah attempts to go two thousand miles west to Tarshish (Spain). But the Lord runs him down with a great storm and a great fish. (1)
B. JONAH REPENTS: While inside the fish, Jonah utters a psalm of thanksgiving from memory of several praise psalms. When he is finally willing to obey and be used by God, he declares that “salvation is of the Lord” (2:9). After he is cast up on the shore, Jonah has a long time to reflect on his experiences during his eastward trek of five hundred miles to Nineveh. (2)
II. THE OBEDIENCE OF THE PROPHET: Jonah now learns a lesson in compassion and obedience. (3-4)
A. NINEVEH REPENTS: Jonah obeys his second commission to go to Nineveh. His skin bleached out from his stay in the fish, Jonah becomes a walking object lesson from God (Luke 11:30). His one-sentence sermon brings incredible results! Because of His great mercy, God “relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them.” (3)
B. JONAH POUTS: In the final chapter, God’s love and grace are contrasted with Jonah’s anger and lack of compassion. He is unhappy with the good results of his message because he knows God will now spare Nineveh. God uses a plant, a worm, and a wind to teach Jonah a lesson in compassion. In the end, Jonah is forced to see that he has more concern for a plant than for hundreds of thousands of people. Note: To “not know their right hand from their left” is idiomatic. It’s speaking of people who have no moral compass, are mentally and morally unaware of God and therefore ready to respond to God’s exposure of their sin and their need to turn to Him. (4)
Messiah: Jonah is the only prophet Jesus likened to Himself. Jonah’s experience is a type of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Matthew12:39-41). The Hebrew idiom, “three days and three nights” only requires a portion of the first and third days.)
JONAH AND YOU: Grudging God’s mercy is an affront to His character and leads to disobedience. When we gather in holy huddles and view non-Christians as the enemy, deserving of God’s wrath, we become modern-day Jonah’s.
1. Jonah connected God’s love for all nations with the blessing of His people. He prospered Israel so that they would love others in His name. How do you view the prosperity of America—as your birthright or as your blessing to use for the glory of Christ?
2. How would you complete this sentence? The person/people I feel are most undeserving of God’s mercy is/are . What do you think Jesus wants you to do with that attitude?
3. What are some ways you as a part of our faith community could help us demonstrate our concern for those who are outside of the grace and mercy of God?