Practical Lessons From Jonah

In our last two feature lessons, we have concentrated on the book of Jonah, considering the prophet's actions in each chapter as an example of the four possible stages of the Christian life. A disciple of Christ is always either running away from God, running back to God, running with God, or running ahead of God. One's words and activities can always be classified in one of these four areas.

Today, while the details of the book are still relatively fresh in our minds, I'd like us to consider the book of Jonah in general, seeing what other lessons we can draw. Some of the twenty lessons we'll be elaborating upon were mentioned briefly in the prior feature lessons. However, at this time, we will consider them in more depth and offer additional Biblical support for each point.

With that being said, let us begin considering these additional lessons:

1. It is utterly impossible to escape from God.
Jonah thought he could run from God and shirk his divinely-given responsibility to preach to the Ninevites. He was wrong! Ironically, he later hoped that God would hear his plea from a fish's belly in the middle of the sea! If Jonah could hide from Jehovah anywhere, one would think it would be there, but God was aware of Jonah's location even then.

The Lord always knows where we are, what we are doing, what we are thinking, etc. Consider what the Psalmist wrote on this subject - "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, 'Surely the darkness shall fall on me,' even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You" (Psa. 139:7-12). No matter where we go or what we do, it is impossible to escape from God.

2. Satan always has a "ship" ready whenever we want to run away from our God-given responsibilities.
Jonah boarded a physical ship and traveled in the wrong direction (i.e., away from where he should have been going). No doubt Satan tempted Jonah to try to flee from the duty God had placed upon him.

The devil is busy today tempting people to focus on their own wants and desires, and to forget about what the Lord wants or expects of them. Satan tries to make it convenient to disobey God. The apostle John wrote in I John 2:15-17 - "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever." Although Satan will make it convenient for us to run away from our God-given duties, we must not give in to that urge. True lovers of God will do His will--not their own (John 14:15).

3. God can rescue us when nobody else can.
Satan was pleased to provide Jonah with a ship by which he could run away. However, once the prophet found himself overboard and soon in the belly of the fish, where was Satan then? The devil certainly wasn't willing to help Jonah at that point, but God was willing and able to rescue His disobedient child--after Jonah came to his senses!

In truth, Satan has no desire to genuinely help anyone but himself; he does not care about what is in our best interests. God, on the other hand, is always mindful of what is best for us. God rescued Jonah from a fish, and He rescues men and women today from sin when they obey the gospel. To learn the good news about Jesus Christ, believe it, and obey it (through repentance and baptism; Acts 2:38) is to allow God to rescue you from the wages of sin (i.e., eternal death; Rom. 6:23). He is the only One who can save you from sin!

4. God can bring glory to His name even through the disobedience of men.
This is a fascinating point for me. Jonah, while running away from God, was able to influence some sailors for good (only because he told the truth). Jonah was a Hebrew, and a God-fearer--although his actions on that occasion declared otherwise. Once the mariners threw Jonah overboard, the sea became calm and the men were in awe of Jehovah. They offered sacrifices to Him and made vows! God glorified His name through Jonah's disobedience, and I believe He still does such today.

5. The Lord's servant is to preach God's word and leave the results to God.
God's messenger must deliver His message and not concern himself with what results the preaching may or may not bring! Jonah didn't want to warn the Ninevites of their impending doom, evidently suspecting that they might repent and be spared. He wanted them to perish!

Paul wrote in I Corinthians 3:7 - "So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase." God's messengers today (preachers and teachers) must realize that sowing and watering the seed of God's word in the hearts of men is important, but they have no power to dictate what the results of such will be. Let us be content to preach God's word faithfully and leave the results to God--whatever they may be.

6. One should never assume how a certain person (or group of people) will react to the word of God.
It is incredible to me that the Ninevites, a people known for their wickedness, genuinely repented as they did. This is a great illustration of the fact that one never knows how others will respond to God's word until it is presented to them.

Another example of unexpected repentance is seen in the case of Saul of Tarsus. Ananias initially was reluctant to go to Saul because of Saul's prominent role as a persecutor of Christians (cf. Acts 9:13ff). Surely, Saul would never become a Christian, would he? Indeed he did! Sometimes people will surprise us with their response to the word of truth. May we never predetermine that a certain individual will never embrace the gospel and thus fail to present it to them. Let every soul be given the chance to hear the good news--no matter how unlikely we think it is that they will believe it and obey it!

7. The will of God is to be preferred over patriotism.
There is nothing wrong with being patriotic. In fact, patriotism is good to the extent that it does not conflict with divine principles. In Jonah's case, his love for his country and hatred for the enemy caused him to neglect God's command. Thus, his patriotism led him to sin. We must always be careful not to let loyalties to one's country, employer, or family supplant one's loyalty to the Lord!

8. Souls are a lot more important than any plant (or any other physical thing).
Jonah evidently did not believe this point. He loved the plant God provided more than the Ninevites. He was angry when it perished, but it seems that he would have rejoiced at Nineveh's destruction. Jonah's priorities were clearly skewed.

Many today have priorities that are likewise out of place. Whether it is plants, popularity, power, pleasure, etc., many people choose to put other things before the Lord. Such is foolish, as Jesus explained in Matthew 16:26 - "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" Any soul--whether it be your own or someone else's--is infinitely more valuable than any physical thing. Are you living as if you believe that?

9. God is sovereign and able to employ His creation in the accomplishment of His will.
In the book of Jonah we see God using the weather, sea creatures, vegetation, and insects to accomplish His will. Clearly, the Lord is in control of His creation and is able to use it to fulfill His purposes. This is certainly still true today.

10. Jehovah, not man, is in control of the destiny of the nations.
If Jonah were the judge, Nineveh would have been destroyed instead of receiving mercy. Thankfully, Jonah is not God! The Lord controls the destiny of nations and is gracious toward those who repent. Daniel 4:32 teaches - "...the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses." I am thankful that Jehovah, not men, is the ultimate ruler in the kingdoms of this world.

11. Ancient peoples who were not under the Mosaic covenant were still amenable to basic moral law.
Some have wondered about the spiritual condition of Gentiles (i.e., non-Hebrews) who lived prior to the Christian dispensation. The Old Testament teaches that these individuals were not under the Mosaic Covenant (cf. Deut. 5:1-3). However, it is implied in Jonah 1:2 that these non-Hebrew people were accountable to a basic ethical code. If they weren't, then how could God have rightfully destroyed them? As Romans 4:15 states - "...for where there is no law there is no transgression." Gentiles were expected by God to live righteous lives, as were all people who existed prior to the Mosaic Law. Today, all people are amenable to the New Testament.

12. Prophecy is often conditional.
Most of God's promises and prophecies are conditioned upon man's behavior. Deuteronomy 28 is a good example of this where God promised rich blessings upon the nation of Israel so long as they remained faithful but terrible curses upon them if they left the pathway of righteousness.

Jeremiah 18:7-10 explains the conditional nature of God's prophecies - "The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it." Thus, Nineveh was not destroyed because of the repentance of its citizens. God did not lie about destroying them; His initial message of doom was conditional.

13. God uses imperfect men to accomplish His will.
Praise the Lord for this! Jonah was far from perfect, but God was able to use him to accomplish His will. The same is true with man today. No one is perfect, but God can use us nevertheless--if we are willing to submit to Him.

14. God may instruct us to do certain things through His word that we might not like, but we should obey Him anyway!
Jonah didn't want to preach to the Ninevites because they were enemies to the nation of Israel. Of course, his personal likes and dislikes were irrelevant. God had issued a command and Jonah should have obeyed the first time.

There may be certain commands in the Bible that are difficult for you to embrace. Despite this, if you want to be a faithful servant of God you must learn to submit to Him and His will--period.

15. God desires that all men be saved.
Jonah seemingly only cared for himself and his own people. God's love is much broader, encompassing all the world (John 3:16). The Bible plainly declares that God desires all men to be saved. I Timothy 2:4 - "[God] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." II Peter 3:9 - "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." Praise be to God that His love is for all!

16. Repentance, as a work necessary for salvation, is always a plea for grace.
Jonah 3:10 states that God saw the Ninevites' "works"; that is, their works of repentance (Matt. 12:41). When a person decides to turn from the ways of wickedness, they are repenting. Such is a requirement for salvation. Luke 13:3 - "I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish." Acts 17:30 - "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent." No one can be saved without repentance, but there is much more involved in a person's salvation than this. Repentance on the part of man is truly a plea for divine grace. Let us always remember this and never falsely conclude that our repentance makes us inherently worthy or deserving of salvation.

17. Men have a tendency to think that God's grace is for them alone and that no one else is "deserving" of it.
Jonah cried out for God's grace from the belly of the fish and gladly accepted God's gift of a second chance. However, when the Lord was willing to offer a second chance to Nineveh, Jonah manifested a negative attitude. He felt as if he was worthy of God's grace but not the Assyrian people who dwelled in the city of Nineveh!

Consider what Jesus taught on this subject in Luke 18:9-14 - "Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 'Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, "God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess." And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!" I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." For more examples of this arrogant way of thinking, consider Acts 11:1-18 and Luke 9:51-56.

18. Salvation is of the Lord through the means of His word, His compassion, and the appropriate response of men.
All three components must be present for salvation to become a reality for a person or nation. Without God's word, ignorance of God's will reigns. Without God's compassion, no one could be saved. And, without the appropriate human response, no one will be saved despite God's inspired word and mercy. In Nineveh's case, the Lord had pity on the people and sent Jonah to deliver His message of doom (to motivate penitence). The people responded appropriately and God spared them. Today salvation is still activated through obedience to God's word and divine pity.

19. Salvation is always a cause for rejoicing.
Jonah didn't think that the sparing of Nineveh was something to rejoice about, but it was. Anytime a nation or individual comes to repentance, God and the angels in heaven rejoice. As Jesus taught in Luke 15:7,10 - "I say to you likewise that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance...there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." If the heavenly host rejoices over the salvation of men, shouldn't we rejoice also?

20. The book of Jonah is more than just a story about a big fish.
As we have seen, it is much more than that! This brief yet powerful book teaches that God's messenger must deliver His message and that Jehovah is longsuffering and gracious to those who repent. Also, this book undeniably affirms that Jehovah is the God of all peoples (cf. Acts 10:34,35).

Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.