On the Plains of Moab Blog
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January 28, 2013, 7:49 AM

Sermon Text - I, Jonah: "No, Sir." Sermon #1 of 7

January 27, 2013.

Text:  Jonah 1:1-3

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai…. (1:1 ESV).  Our Jonah was a prophet from the northern kingdom of Israel around 760 BC.  We know this because in 2 Kings 14:25, we find that Jonah predicted, through another word from God, that Jeroboam II’s kingdom would expand its borders greatly.  Jonah prophesied that Israel would grow.

Now, Jeroboam II was not considered a very godly king, but he was a very successful king.  Israel prospered during his reign.  They were economically and militarily strong at this time.  Of course, they didn’t always treat the poor among them very well.  They didn’t always follow God’s ways.  But, the times, they were good.

Now we read in between the lines that our Jonah was a very proud Israelite.  An ardent nationalist.  Pro-Israel.  Anti-foreigner.  He knew that the Israelites were the chosen people.  They were the ones likened to the apple of God’s eye.  The rest of the world – well, they were Gentile scum.  The rest of the world, they are sinners who don’t know, don’t want to know, indeed, can’t know God’s good ways and purposes.  Israel was God’s chosen, special nation; and Jonah was his prophet.  Go Israel!

It is to this prophet that we find God’s word arriving.  "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me." (1:2 ESV).  Nineveh?  The Assyrian empire?  Those blood-thirsty, violent, stupid, idol-worshiping, undeserving people?  Lord, they are our enemies.  You want me to go there?  Why?

You see, Jonah understood that being called to go to a city to cry out to it was a sign of grace.  Where there is a call for repentance there is the possibility of forgiveness.  No.  This can’t happen.  Not for the city of Nineveh.  Nineveh, part of the Assyrian empire, was indeed deserving of God’s judgment.  This was a brutal, oppressive nation especially to its neighbors.  No question there.

However, here’s the inconvenient truth in the book of Jonah:  God calls Nineveh a great city.  Nineveh, even Nineveh and its inhabitants are important to God.  The Hebrew word normally translated “evil” may also be rendered “troubles” so that you may also reasonably read that call from God like this, "Arise, [Jonah, and] go to Nineveh, that [important] city, and call out against it, for their [troubles have] come up before me."

Nineveh, at this time, was not doing very well.  They had some weak kings [Assur-Dan III] during this period in their history, (773-756 BC).  There were many military and diplomatic setbacks.  There were popular uprisings over weak leadership.  There was famine.  There was a devastating earthquake that hit during this time.  There was even a recorded total eclipse of the sun that, for the Assyrian mind, was an omen of disaster.  The people of Nineveh were ripe for a word from God!

So the drama here at the outset of our book is this:  God wants to show mercy to a brutal, violent, enemy nation!  This is why in the very next sentence you read this, 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. (1:3 ESV).

Tarshish is named three times in this one verse.  Jonah is going to Tarshish rather than going to Nineveh.  Let me remind you that Nineveh was to the east of Israel.  [Ancient Nineveh was located a little north of the present city of Bagdad].  Jonah went west to Joppa, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea to board a ship.  You don’t go to Nineveh via the Mediterranean!

Now, nobody knows where in the world this place called Tarshish was located.  Personally, I don’t think Tarshish was a destination city.  The Hebrew word literally means “out to sea.”  Out to sea, somewhere.  Anywhere.  Anywhere not Nineveh.  Jonah went looking for a ship to get out of town.  He didn’t care where at this point.  The point is Jonah went to sea; not Nineveh.

But Jonah rose to flee [out to sea] from the presence of the LORD.  He went down to Joppa and found a ship going [out to sea].  So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them [out to sea], away from the presence of the LORD.

Jonah said, “No, sir.”  No, sir, I won’t take your message of grace to Nineveh.  I won’t do it.  I am going to voluntarily send myself into exile.  I am going to move away from the people of God.  I’m quitting.  I’m retired.  I’m no longer in the prophet business.  Please find another more willing, worthy prophet to do that job.  I’m not your man, God.  Find some bleeding heart liberal prophet to do that one, Lord.  Your message is against all I’ve ever stood for.

Think about it here.  Many prophets experienced some personal angst when it came to God’s call.  The prophet Amos cried out “the Lord GOD has spoken; who can but prophesy?" (Amos 3:8 ESV).  Jeremiah agonized, Cursed be the day on which I was born!  The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! (Jer. 20:14 ESV); but he did it anyway.  Isaiah felt inadequate to the task, "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips!” (Isa. 6:5 ESV); but he carried through in spite of his doubts.  But, Jonah is the only prophet who says “No, sir” to God!

Now in Jonah, it is easy to get caught up in speculation about the great fish.  Sometimes preachers and teachers tend to focus on the Gentile sailors and citizens of Nineveh in encouraging world missions.  That’s all well and good.  But I think the primary point of Jonah is that we must see ourselves in Jonah.  And that picture that we see of ourselves in Jonah is not a pretty picture.

Jonah complains about the sin of the Nineveh blind to the fact that he is just as much a sinner as they are.  I think it’s interesting that both the Hebrew and the Greek word for sin basically mean to “miss the mark.”  Being off the mark of where you are supposed to be.  Of course, the mark is God’s expressed designs for our life.  Jonah not only misses the mark, he goes in the exact opposite direction!

Let me ask you a question.  Doesn’t this sound like you?  Don’t you prefer missing the mark rather than doing what God wants you to do?  Let me tell you, some of you get up in the morning and head out to Tarshish every morning!  It seems so much easier to get out of town than do what God wants us to do.  You remember a few weeks ago when we talked about what it meant to be a disciple?  It is so much easier to keep to yourself than it is to love you neighbor – especially so if that neighbor happens to be a non-Christian.  Oh, let me make that more personal:  It is so much easier, and even deliciously satisfying to bear a grudge or nurse a wound or offence than it is to forgive someone.  Besides, some people just aren’t good enough for me or God.  Some people don’t deserve God’s love…or mine.  Besides, it is far more satisfying to hate with righteous indignation than to love.  It is much easier to conform to the ways of the world; to go with the flow; than it is to aim and hit God’s perfect holiness.

My friends, as I close this first message, let me tell you, as Jonah is a mirror of our souls, this is the reason that we must be moved to sing the praises of our God in his provision of Jesus Christ.  Apart from Jesus Christ, we must recognize ourselves as no better; or no more deserving than the pagan sailors on the ship or the godless citizens of Nineveh.  Apart from Jesus Christ, we are troubled with our sin, just like Nineveh.  We have nowhere to go, and so out to sea seems as good an option as we could ever hope to find.

But, it is not.

You have heard the Word of God.  Please consider it well.   Amen.

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