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Jonah 1-4
Skip Heitzig

Jonah 1 (NKJV™)
1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
2 "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me."
3 But Jonah arose 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 from the presence of the LORD.
4 But the LORD sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.
5 Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.
6 So the captain came to him, and said to him, "What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish."
7 And they said to one another, "Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us." So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.
8 Then they said to him, "Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?"
9 So 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, "Why have you done this?" For the men knew that he fled 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 be calm for us?"--for the sea was growing more tempestuous.
12 And he said to them, "Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me."
13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them.
14 Therefore they cried out to the LORD and said, "We pray, O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man's life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O LORD, have done as it pleased You."
15 So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.
16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took vows.
17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Jonah 2 (NKJV™)
1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish's belly.
2 And he said: "I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, And He answered me. "Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice.
3 For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.
4 Then I said, 'I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.'
5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head.
6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God.
7 "When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple.
8 "Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy.
9 But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD."
10 So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
Jonah 3 (NKJV™)
1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying,
2 "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you."
3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent.
4 And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day's walk. Then he cried out and said, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"
5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.
6 Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.
7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water.
8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.
9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?
10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
Jonah 4 (NKJV™)
1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.
2 So he prayed to the LORD, and said, "Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.
3 "Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!"
4 Then the LORD said, "Is it right for you to be angry?"
5 So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city.
6 And the LORD God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant.
7 But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered.
8 And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah's head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, "It is better for me to die than to live."
9 Then God said to Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?" And he said, "It is right for me to be angry, even to death!"
10 But the LORD said, "You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night.
11 "And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left--and also much livestock?"

New King James Version®, Copyright © 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved.

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32 Jonah - 2005

In this study of Jonah, Skip Heitzig shows how one of the most well-known stories of the Old Testament still has implications for us today: God's love and mercy is relentless, and He can use even the most reluctant of people to do incredible things.

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Transcript

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And so here we are tonight. We're looking at the book of Jonah as we continue our journey through the Bible. So if you want to turn now to Jonah, we will begin the study this evening.

It seems that some people will do anything to get out of a task. There were a couple of guys, neighbors, and these men decided that they would go sailing three days before Christmas while their wives went out Christmas shopping. Well, they went out to sea, and a storm arose, tossed that boat. They lost control, they didn't really know where they were going.

They decided, we better head back toward shore if we can as quickly as possible. But they struck a sandbar, and so they were stuck out in the middle of the sea somewhere on the sandbar. They hopped overboard, and with all their might they were pushing that boat to get in deeper water. And while one guy's hair was blowing all over the place, and they were pushing and sweating, and the wind was tossing one against the side of the boat, he turned to his friend and says, this sure beats Christmas shopping, don't it?

[LAUGHTER]

And I thought of Jonah when I heard that, because it would seem that though he faces the storm of a lifetime, he would say, this beats going to Nineveh any day, doesn't it? An interesting story. An interesting character.

The book of Jonah, you can see, is a very short book. There's only 48 verses in the entire narrative. 1328 works in this version. And it's a short book, but it has a powerful message.

It's sort of unfortunate that these books have been dubbed minor prophets, because they have a major message. They pack a wallop. And Jonah is no exception.

What's interesting about Jonah is that he is the first foreign missionary in the Bible. God sends him not to the northern kingdom of Israel, not to the southern kingdom of Judah, but outside of his comfort zone, definitely, outside of his own borders, to speak to a pagan capital in Nineveh miles away from home. And the results are incredible. The greatest revival in history is recorded in this book.

But before that happens, God has to deal with, well, let's call him the prodigal prophet. He runs from God. It's unfortunate that the book of Jonah has been seen by some as pure mythology. They don't regard it as literal. They just think it was made up sort of like Greek myth, and that it became a Jewish fable that parents used to tuck their children in at night and just tell them a nice fanciful tale that has no historical bearing whatsoever.

Others believe that the book of Jonah was a dream that a man named Jonah had while he was aboard a boat and he was in a storm. And he dreamed the whole thing up and wrote it down. Other people see the book of Jonah allegorically. They say that the whale, the great fish, represents Babylon, Jonah represents the Jewish nation, and just as Babylon would come in and swallow them up, so to speak, so this allegory depicts the Babylonians coming in to the Jews.

All of those are wrong. The book of Jonah is a real story. It's a literal story. First of all, it's written in a very simple, straightforward, historical narrative style. There's no reason to suppose it's anything but what it says.

Second, the Jewish historian, Josephus, who wrote quite technically and in a detailed fashion about many historical periods of Jewish history, speaks about it as an actual story, as do many other Jewish historians. But all of that aside, the reason we know it's a literal historical story is because of the Lord Jesus Christ, who referred to Jonah as a prophet, as a literal historical figure. And said, as Jonah was in the belly of the whale, or the great fish three days and three nights, so the son of man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. So if you have a hard time believing the book of Jonah, you're going to have a hard time following Jesus Christ, because the Jesus you say you follow believed that Jonah was real and historical.

So we can approach it exactly like it is written. Now, the word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son of Amittai, saying-- we know a little bit about Jonah. We know from II King 14 where he came from. He was from the little village of Gath-hepher, a village about four miles from Nazareth in the Galilee region. It's a village today the Arabs call el-Meshhed.

And because it's in the Galilee region, it's very interesting to us. Because you remember on one occasion, the Pharisees were having a conversation with the Lord Jesus. And they said, search and see no prophet comes out of Galilee. Trying to say there's no historical precedent for this Jesus being who he said he was. No prophet even comes out of Galilee. In that they were wrong, because the prophet Jonah came from Galilee, this little village of Gath-hepher.

The name Jonah to me is very interesting. It means dove. And when you think of a dove, you usually think of something that is gentle and that complies. Jesus said, be wise as serpents, and be gentle or harmless as a dove.

It's interesting that that's his name, because that doesn't turn out to be his character. He's not as gentle as the dove, because we're going to see before this study is over he wants to see fried Ninevite. And he's upset that God would be so gloriously gracious to forgive such a wicked nation.

Sometimes you meet people, and their name fits them perfectly. At other times you meet someone, you think, they need a new name. I met a girl who was a very legalistic gal, and her name was Grace. And I thought, she needs a new name, or better yet, she needs a new attitude to fit the name.

But when I grew up, up in the high desert up in Apple Valley, I had a dentist and his name fit him perfectly. This dentist did not believe in using Novocaine. And his name was Dr. Steele.

[LAUGHTER]

Perfect. But Jonah for this prophet, dove, it just doesn't quite fit. Arise, says the Lord, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it, for their wickedness has come up before me.

Now, you're going to remember that Nineveh was built by Nimrod. It's mentioned in Genesis chapter 10. It became the capital of that great Assyrian empire. A very important city. It would be, in modern terms, located about 200, 220 miles to the northwest of modern-day Baghdad. And Nineveh was the capital of that great empire.

You'll notice that the mission that God gives to Jonah was a very direct mission of judgment, a message of judgment. Which, when you come to find out about this guy Jonah, you'd think that Jonah would have loved the mission. Because the Lord says, go and cry out against it. And the message that he will preach in chapter 3 once God gets him there is yet 40 days and Nineveh will be overthrown. Eight words is his message. And it's a message of judgment.

And you'd think Jonah would say, yep, sign me up. I want that task. I want to preach against it. But that's not the case.

It says in verse 3 but Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. You never want to see the negative contraction but beginning a sentence after God gives a command. You always want to read and or therefore. It would have been much better if we read and Jonah got up and did exactly what the Lord had said.

But it says but Jonah arose to go to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and he found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare, and he went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.

Now, any prophet ought to know it's impossible to flee from the presence of the Lord. Can't be done. Jonah would have been aware of Psalm 139, because so many of the Psalms are quoted in his prayer in chapter 2.

And he should have thought what David said where can I flee from your spirit, where can I go from your presence. If I ascended into heaven, you're there. If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and go to the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand will lead me.

What this means is he is resigning from being a prophet. He is fleeing from standing before God as his servant. You might say Jonah wants to be a nonprofit organization.

[LAUGHTER]

He doesn't want to serve the Lord in this capacity any longer. He quit. I resign.

He's not the first to try this. Moses tried this. He had all sorts of excuses why he couldn't go to Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel out. I don't know your name, what am I going to tell them, who will I say set me, what if they don't believe me. And God answered all of those objections until finally Moses just said send somebody else.

Jeremiah tried to quit the ministry. After all, he had preached long and hard and saw no results whatsoever. And so he said, I'm not going to mention God's name any more.

It didn't last long. For we read, the word of the Lord was burning in his heart. He had to speak. The Lord had called him. He had to give the Lord's utterances.

So God tells him to go to Nineveh, which is 500 miles toward the east. He takes a boat to go, though he doesn't make it, 2000 miles due west. There's a little dispute as to where Tarshish is, but we think the best guess that it's beyond Gibraltar in modern-day Spain. So it's like he would take a compass and say OK, God wants me to go that way, which means I'm going that way, four times as far in exactly the opposite direction. I had a dog like this once.

[LAUGHTER]

His name was Toby. He was a little Springer Spaniel, cutest thing. And I was going to say dumbest thing, but I think he knew what he was doing. Every time I would say, Toby, come, he would do an about face and go in the opposite direction.

Now, that's dangerous if there are cars in the vicinity. And one day, in my little front yard, we were playing and a car rounded the corner. I saw trouble, and so I didn't think. I said Toby, come.

And he turned around and ran directly toward the car. The driver had the presence of mind to squeal on the brakes and came to a halt. However, my dog kept running. And it's the only time I've ever seen with my own two eyes a dog run into a car. He said-- he was fine, but he hit the car, bounced off.

[LAUGHTER]

And I looked at that, and I probably at that moment should have renamed him Jonah.

[LAUGHTER]

He did the exact opposite. Question. Why would a prophet, whose whole task in life is to hear from God, and to speak for God as his representative, not take this task? Now, we're going to find out in chapters 3 and 4. We'll find out.

It's odd though, because the whole job description of a prophet is to be a representative for the Lord. If you were a struggling evangelist, your heart was to preach the gospel to as many people as you could, but you were just getting started, and your venues were 30, 40, 50 100 people. And one day, you get a call from Billy Graham. And he says, I'd like you to preach at my next crusade.

[LAUGHTER]

Now, you wouldn't say, oh no, there's something really good on television that night. You'd say, awesome, amazing. What an open door. So you would think that Jonah, whose whole purpose in life is to hear from God, and speak for God, would say yes. But he's going in the opposite direction.

But the Lord-- now I like that, because verse 3 says but Jonah. It's like God says OK, I see your negative contraction, and I up you one. But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea. And there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.

There are some people that just comply with God. God speaks to them, and they're ready to do it. Other people are a little hard-headed. Young Samuel said, speak Lord, your servant hears. Joan is not like that. He's hard-headed, he's hard-hearted, and we'll find out he is bitter toward the Ninevites.

Proverbs 15:10 declares harsh correction is for him who forsakes the way. This is how it works. God will give you a choice. And if you choose the wrong way, don't be surprised if God makes it very difficult for you in that way, because he loves you.

You say, but I always thought God-- God loved me the way I am. He does, but he loves you too much to leave you the way you are. So he'll persuade you. It might be a still, small voice, it might be through other people who are giving you accountability. But if you decide no I'm going to go my way, you might want to buy some storm insurance. Jonah should have.

Then the Mariners were afraid, verse 5, and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, and lain down, and was fast asleep. This is probably the most eclectic worship service on record. Every man in the same area crying out to his own God, just whatever works, whoever is up there listen to us. They were at the end of their rope, but Jonah is fast asleep.

So the captain came to him and said to him, what do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your god. Perhaps your god will consider us so that we may not perish. It only makes sense from this captain's perspective. Everybody's praying, except the prophet of God.

Now, he doesn't know who he is yet. So he just said, look, we're all praying. We're in a hard place. You ought to join us.

And they said to one another, come, let us cast lots that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. The captain and his crew, these Mariners, were minding their own business.

This was a cargo ship that took passengers. That's how it worked in those days. They didn't have cruise ships. He wasn't taking a Princess cruise vacation line over to Tarshish. It was a cargo boat. But there was always several spaces that they would rent out or sell tickets for passengers who wanted to join.

So they're minding their own business, and this is an issue between God and the prophet, no one else. Until Jonah gets on their boat. And when the prophet, the prodigal prophet, gets on their boat, now they're involved. And there's a point to be made here. A runaway Christian is a menace to other people around. A disobedient Christian doesn't just hurt himself or herself, but that disobedience can affect a lot of other people.

You think of Achan in the Old Testament, when they got into the promised land after the taking over of Jericho. And the second battle was the Battle of Ai, or Ai, as it is sometimes called. They were defeated, because Achan stole that garment, and the spoils of war that were to be dedicated to God, and kept them for himself. Not only did he die, but his whole family was affected by that one man's disobedience.

Or the time David decided, out of pride and insecurity, he's going to number the nation. And 70,000 people fell in the plague that was sent by God. They said to him, since the lot fell on him, please tell us for whose cause is this trouble upon us. What is your occupation?

Boy, that's a hard question when you're a disobedient Christian. I got to tell you, since we're coming honest here with Jonah, I'll never forget the time I was speeding through Arizona. I knew I was speeding, but no one was out there. It just felt really good.

[LAUGHTER]

And I'm not even going to tell you how fast I was going.

[LAUGHTER]

Because I want you to still love me after tonight, but I was going fast. And when I was pulled over by the police officer, he asked me, what do you do for a living?

[LAUGHTER]

So I said, I'm a teacher.

[LAUGHTER]

I thought that would get me off the hook, until he said, where do you teach?

[LAUGHTER]

So I knew the Lord was just busting me at that point. And he's about to bust Jonah. What is your occupation?

Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you? So he said to them, I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord. Really?

[LAUGHTER]

The God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land. Now, that phrase, the God of heaven, is an ancient delineation for God. It's used in ancient times for the God to distinguish God from Baal or Astra, the god of the sky, or the different gods and goddesses were being followed. It's to make a distinction. This is the sovereign Lord. This is Yahweh.

Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, why have you done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. Now, you'll notice something. In verse 5, it says that these Mariners were afraid. And we know what they were afraid of. They were afraid of the circumstances, the storm, the wind, the waves, the possibility of death, drowning.

But here in verse 10, it says they were exceedingly afraid. Now they're afraid not of the circumstances, they're afraid of the consequences. Because they're putting two and two together. They've heard of Yahweh. They've heard of the Red Sea opening up. They've heard of the plagues on the Egyptians.

This Yahweh has had quite a reputation in that part of the world. And they realize this is one of his men, his prophets. And this is as if to say, you bummed him out, and you're on our boat?

[LAUGHTER]

He's busted. Sometimes, people are superstitious. A lot of people would think, boy, it's great to have a prophet aboard this boat, isn't it? I know we're going to get from point a to point b no problem, unless it's a runaway profit.

I'll never forget that evening I sat on an airplane, buckled my seat belt. People were still boarding, and a lady from our church stopped and she said, Pastor Skip, I'm so glad to see you. And I said, well, nice to meet you. Why are you so glad?

She goes, because I have a morbid fear of flying. And I always think I'm going to get on the plane that crashes. And I had that fear, and I'm walking down the aisle with that fear until I saw you, and then I realized, pastor Skip's here. We're sure to arrive safely at our destination.

Now, I was thinking this, but I didn't say this. Well, you better hope that I'm obedient to God, or this could be the worst flight of your life. And I was thinking of Jonah.

And then they said to him, what shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us? For the sea was growing more tempestuous. See, they were from Phoenicia. They were most likely most of them Baal worshippers. That was the chief God of the Phoenicians.

So though each man cried to his own god, a bulk of them were praying to Baal. They didn't have a lot of experience with Yahweh. But they're enough knowledge-- knowledgeable enough to be afraid and ask the question. OK, you work for him. What do we need to do to you so it's going to be calm for us, since you brought this upon us?

And he said to them, this is the wrong answer by the way, pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me. Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them.

Therefore, they cried out to the Lord. Wow. The very God that Jonah introduced, even though he's disobedient, Yahweh, they cried out to the Lord and said, we pray, oh Yahweh, please do not let us perish for this man's life. And do not charge us with innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.

Amazing. Truly amazing. So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to Yahweh, and took vows.

Now, that's the third time we have read that they feared in this story. The first time, it was the fear of circumstances. The second time, it was the fear of consequences. But this is a different kind of fear. This is the Hebrew term [SPEAKING HEBREW], which means a reverential awe, a submission, a surrender.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. That's this kind of fear of the Lord. They feared the Lord exceedingly and offered up a sacrifice.

Now, have you noticed several contrasts so far between the sailors aboard this boat and the prodigal prophet? Well, there are several. First of all, they're praying, he's sleeping. Number two, they soften their hearts over time until they finally fear the Lord. Jonah hardens his heart as time goes on.

He says, pick me up, throw me overboard. You know what he could have said? He could have said, yeah, you want this storm to stop? Turn around and take me back to Joppa.

I've got to go to Nineveh. And that's a land trip. I need to be on foot for this, boys. So just turn this boat around.

And it would have ceased. The storm would have stopped, but he didn't do it. He could have said, turn it around. And let me tell you, I've been a disobedient guy, and I want to repent right here, right now. And then he could have used the bulk of the time on the way back to Joppa to witness to these sailors, to talk about God, and to introduce what it's like to follow, what God has done in their history, et cetera.

But he's a hard-headed, hard-hearted guy. I also find it interesting that though he is willing to sacrifice his life for the safety of the sailors, pick me up, throw me overboard, the storm will be calm for you, he's not willing to go to the Ninevites. That their whole city might be spared, he'd rather die than preach to them.

Verse 17. Now, the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. The word prepared, and I love it, is literally appointed. This is all God's sovereignty. He said, ah, you'll do. I need you to go get that guy.

It was all prepared and appointed by the Lord. And you know what? This is God's mercy. The Lord is protecting Jonah, who would have drowned at sea unless that great fish would have swallowed him and protected him.

So people say, how could a God of love send a whale? Because he is a God of love. And he's protecting this guy from drowning. He'd have been killed out there.

So the Lord prepared this great fish to swallow Jonah. Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Whenever a man catches a fish, that's not big news. But when a fish catches a man, that's big news.

People read this story. However, they read that verse in particular, and they say outlandish, preposterous, impossible. I won't swallow this story. There's no way. They have trouble with it.

Well, there are several suggestions as to what happened historically and literally. And you can take your choice. People have offered several explanations.

One is the white shark. It's the rhinodon typicus that has been able to swallow up to-- swallowed certain human beings who have lived. All of has documentation. They're about 70 feet long. And they have swallowed human beings who have, after a period of time, I don't know exactly how long, how many hours or days, have survived.

The other possibility is the [INAUDIBLE] shark, which has swallowed up, and it's on record, sea cows, these huge seals and walruses, up to 1,000 pounds whole without breaking any of their bones. And then the other possibility is a whale. And of all the whales that exist, probably the only one that fits the description is called the Mysticete whale, or the humpback whale, that doesn't have teeth that grind or chew. It's got a series of plates that bring their prey in and they swallow it whole. And that's on record too of people who have survived that, but we don't need to really delve into that.

It just says the Lord prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. I have no problem with that. And here's how my problem, if I ever had one, was solved. The day I got past Genesis 1:1, the rest was easy. If God can create the heavens and the earth, and he can and he did, everything else in the Bible is a snap. I have no problem with it.

And I sort of love the way this one Christian girl, witnessing on a college campus, handled the story. She was preaching Christ publicly, open-air kind of a setting. And a skeptical professor walked by and said, oh, I'm going to just have her for my intellectual lunch. Started posing all sorts of questions that she couldn't answer, and came to the book of Jonah and said, do you mean to tell me you really believe that Jonah was literally swallowed by some massive sea creature and then after three days and three nights was still alive?

She said, yes sir, I believe that. I have no problem with that. He said, how is that possible? How could she or how could he have survived the gastric juices, the lack of oxygen? And he listed several things that would make it impossible.

She said, sir, I don't know the answers to your questions. But when I get to heaven, I'll ask Jonah. And he snarled, and said, well, what if Jonah isn't in heaven? She said, no problem, you can ask him.

[LAUGHTER]

No problem. The Lord prepared the great fish to swallow Jonah. Then Jonah prayed to the Lord. Notice that. He didn't pray before when they said, hey, you ought to get up here and pray with us. But after three days of whale time, he's ready to pray.

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish's belly. He's in a dark, tight hot, moist, smelly place. And then he prayed.

His prayer is pretty wonderful. It's soaked, bathed in scriptural texts. There's the nuances of nine psalms that are found in this prayer. One quote from the book of Lamentations, and a quote from the book of Job. They're not exact quotes, they're more free renderings, but keep in mind where he is as he offers this to the Lord.

It shows that he is familiar with scripture, and that's important. He said, I cried to the Lord because of my affliction, and he answered me. Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me. All your billows and your waves passed over me.

In other words, Lord, I really messed up, and I realize I am paying for it right now. Then I said, I have been cast out of your sight. I will look again toward your holy temple.

Jonah realized he had run from the presence of the Lord. And now he says, I realize God has actually cast me out of his presence. That's what it felt like. The water surrounded me, even up to my soul.

Now we read this prayer, and frankly, some people have read through it and they say, well, I am-- I'm suspicious, because people don't pray like this in a time of crisis. They just pray these spontaneous kind of prayers, it's just whatever is there comes out. And I think that's the point. All of that was there when he prayed it. That was in his heart.

He did have a knowledge of scripture. Maybe like a person's life flashes before their eyes when they're in this kind of a crisis, all of those scripture verses that his mother taught him in Gath-hepher or that Amittai, his dad, spoke to him along the way, as the Bible says he ought to. Maybe they all came to bear at that moment.

But it's an important point to notice that he had a familiarity with the scripture, which goes to show you, you can know a lot about the Bible and still be a disobedient person. Don't be hearers of the word, be doers. Otherwise, James said we deceive ourselves. He knew it. He quotes it. He's just not living it.

The water surrounded me, even to my soul. The deep closed around me. Weeds were wrapped around my head. Can you picture all the seaweed around him?

If you're a surfer, you know what it's like when you get caught in a kelp bed. You're caught. There's seaweed. You can only cry kelp.

[LAUGHTER]

I went down to the moorings of the mountains. The earth with its bars closed behind-- closed behind me forever. Yet you have brought up my life from the pit, oh Lord my God. When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer went up to you, and to your holy temple. Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own mercy.

Yes, now he's learning the lesson. These are good words. Those who regard worthless idols, or these vain idols, vain things, vanities, forsake their own mercy.

I'll give that a loose paraphrase. Those who run from God tie their own noose. Or you might even say those who disobey God end up as whale vomit. Because he is that right now, and he's about to be vomited up on land and given a second chance.

Those who regard worthless idols. An idol is simply anything, or for that matter anyone, who takes precedence in your life over God. Anything that would put God in second place in your life is a worthless idol. And to regard those idols that cannot do what God can do for you is to forsake your own mercy.

You say, well, I don't have any idols. You can drive an idol. You can live in an idol. You can date an idol. Anyone or anything that takes number one slot in your life over God can become an idol. So those who regard worthless idols forsake their own mercy.

Jonah had an idol. It was Jonah. Jonah was all about his will, his thing, his life, his plans, not about God. Until now, he realizes you know what? I've been so filled with myself. And there's an old Jewish proverb that says there is no room for God in the life of one who is full of himself.

And now Jonah realizes there's been no room for God. I've been full of Jonah. I've forsaken my own mercy. But I will sacrifice to you.

You say, what kind of a sacrifice can you make in the gut of a great fish? Well, notice I will sacrifice to you with the voice of thanks giving. You say, Thanks giving in that dark, tight hot, moist smelly place?

Yes. He's so thankful that he's alive, that God hears them, that God is there, and that he's going to get a second chance. At least, he's thankful right now. He'll change as we go on.

I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord. This is the restoration of Jonah. This is his repentance in the midst of that situation.

I remember years ago there was a Rolaids commercial. You may remember it. How do you spell relief? R-O-L-A-I-D-S. Rolaids.

Well, for Jonah, how do you spell relief? R-E-P-E-N-T. Repent, or repentance. And he does it.

And the rest of the story, at least in the near, is beautiful. So the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. Again, this is fascinating to me. God, it says, spoke to the fish. And the first time God spoke to the fish, the fish obeyed.

Now, the first time God spoke to the prophet, he ran the other direction. Of all of God's creation, he has the most problems with those that he has given volition to, freedom of choice. And he has seen through history all of the poor choices man has made, and the consequences for it. It's the only creature really out of order to the degree that it is.

But the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. So we would say the whale worked. The seaweed was successful. The whale was really a blessing, because now he's ready to do what God wants him to do. A horrible experience, really, in that situation, that feeling, what he saw, what he felt, what he smelled.

I was reading a newspaper article about a would-be thief up in Seattle, Washington. He went in at night to a motor home area, and wanted to siphon gas out of the motor home. So he stuck his hose in the tank, he thought, sucked as hard as he could to get the gas going to put it in the can.

Dennis Quigley was the owner of that motor home. He heard something outside, and he was inside when it happened. So he ran outside to find a 14-year-old boy doubled up, holding his stomach, on the ground. That 14-year-old boy, instead of putting the hose in the gas tank, put it in the sewage tank.

When the police arrived, and they saw what had happened, they thought, this poor kid has probably learned his lesson, and we don't need to prosecute. Because the consequences themselves would be enough. And so the consequences for Jonah are enough. God got his attention. This has worked. And now he's ready to go.

We come to chapter 3, which is a glorious chapter. If we were to title chapter 1, running from God, if we were to then title chapter 2, running to God, we would then title chapter 3 running with God. As it says, now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time saying.

Now, you're about to read the biggest miracle in the book of Jonah. Everybody gets so hung up about that whale, or that great fish, and how is that possible. And they neglect the biggest miracle. An entire population of Nineveh repented and came to the Lord. This is bigger than any Billy Graham crusade, and he's preached to more people on the face of the earth than any person who's ever lived.

And if at a crusade you can say 5% or 10% came forward tonight, that's good. But 100%? Staggering.

So the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you. What gracious words to recommission Jonah and say, you've got a second chance, buddy boy. This is the gospel of the second chance right here.

It's wonderful that God extended enough mercy just to forgive him, let alone say, I've got plans for you. I think if I were the Lord, I would say Jonah, there's no way I'm going to use you now. Clean up, go home. We might be tempted to do that. Not God.

God didn't say, Hosea, or Jeremiah, or other prophets, the ones at least that were his contemporaries, I'm going to send one of them. They listen to what I have to say. No, God is into restoring people.

Peter would understand that. He denied the Lord, and yet Jesus came to him in that glorious time after the resurrection. Peter, do you love me? Then feed my sheep.

And I'm sure Peter thought, really? You want me to feed your sheep? You want me to attend your lambs? You mean I get to do this again, after what I've done?

Jonah gets that second chance. So Jonah arose, and he went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord. Now, Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days' journey in extent. Try to imagine right now what it would be like for you to be Jonah walking into the city of Nineveh.

First of all, you would encounter walls from the ground up that were 100 feet high. There were towers that extended above those walls, I am told, another 100 feet. So it's staggering to think of 200-foot stone towers that dotted that wall. 15 gates, each named after and dedicated to one of the gods in their pantheon that they worshipped. It would be an intimidating place to walk into.

And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day's walk. By the way, it says here in verse 3 that it was a three days' journey in extent. C. F. Kyle is an Old Testament scholar, an archaeologist who has done research on Nineveh, and tells us that the city of Nineveh was not a single city, but it was a metroplex.

It was a combination of four separate walled cities together that made it what we would call the greater Nineveh metro area. It was huge. 19 miles in diameter. But to go around it, it was a 60-mile circumference. And if the ancient reckoning is about 20 miles per day on foot, then it would take three days to walk the circumference of the walls. It was huge.

Jonah began to enter the city on the first day's walk. Then he cried out. Now listen to his sermon, it's pretty easy. No introduction, no illustration, no points, no conclusion, just eight words.

Yet 40 days, and Nineveh will be overthrown. He's done. That's his mission. That's his message to come and preach to them.

Now, the Lord did say cry out against it, back in chapter 1, for their wickedness has come up before me. History tells us that that city of Nineveh was indeed known for its wickedness. And when we get to the little book of Nahum, Nahum will describe the downfall of Nineveh and call it a wicked, bloody, city known for its bloodshed.

There were a couple of kings that were despotic in their rule. They ruled Nineveh. One was Ashurbanipal. And when Ashurbanipal Paul would overtake people and bring them to Nineveh, he would have their hands cut off, and their lips torn off their face, and let them survive as long as they could in that condition, maimed.

There was another emperor in Nineveh, Tiglath-Pileser. And when he would take people captive, he would flay them alive on a hot iron. And once they were dead, he would decapitate them. The flesh would rot off their skulls, and he would pile up skulls on either side of the gates of the city.

Well, you might think, well, now I understand why Jonah fled in the other direction. He doesn't want to add his head to the pile of skulls. He's afraid of-- that's a hard-- no, that's not the reason. We'll discover the reason just a few verses.

So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. And the word came to the King of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and ashes. You say, now come on. This is hard to believe. One guy goes through with this message, and everybody goes OK, we're repenting.

Jesus said something interesting about Jonah. He called Jonah himself a sign. He's called it the sign of the prophet Jonah. Jonah didn't come in with this sign, but Jonah himself was a sign to the Ninevites.

And here's how. What Jonah must have looked like coming into that city. And probably his fame had preceded him. Maybe the sailors got the word out, and news traveled from city to city, from the gate of one city to the gate of another.

Back in the 1800s, there was a guy by the name of James Bartlett who was a-- who was an unbeliever, didn't believe in Jonah, didn't believe in the Bible. But in 1891, he committed himself to the Lord. Here's his story.

He was a sailor upon on a British whaling ship called the Star of the East. They were out whaling in the Falkland Islands. The fin of one of these great whales they were chasing tipped, hit the boat, one man went overboard, and was killed. Bartlett was cast overboard. And they thought he drowned. They'd never seen him after that.

They chased the whale, killed it, and brought it toward their ship. And the next day, as they were stripping it of its oily flesh as whalers do, they hoisted this huge stomach on board the ship. There was spasming, moving. And when they cut it open, they found him inside still alive. They took him to the captain's quarters for two weeks.

He survived. He was in a coma, but he got out of the coma. When he woke up, his skin was so white, like parchment, like a dead white, like a recycled Michael Jackson kind of a look.

[LAUGHTER]

Just trying to give you a modern visual. But he survived. And this is written in the Princeton Theological Journal, I think number 25 if I'm not mistaken. It's documented. And because he survived, and under the conditions, he became a believer.

How Jonah must have looked, because the gastric juices that would have bleached the epidermal layers of skin just white and hideous, parchment-looking, maybe spitting out a piece of seaweed here and there.

[LAUGHTER]

When people heard about him, they thought-- and by the way, one of the chief gods they worshiped in Nineveh was Dagon the fish god. So it's as if you survived the wrath of Dagon, they would have thought that and their theology, and then he said yet 40 days and Nineveh will be overthrown. You think this is bad, wait until you see what happens to you. He was a sign.

And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles saying, let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock taste anything. Do not let them eat or drink water. The king is obviously touched, deeply touched by this, serious about it.

Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth and cry mightily to God. Yes, let every one of you turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from his fierce anger so that we may not perish?

That's his State of the Union message. And it's a message of repentance, and oh, how we love that. This ruler humbles himself and becomes an example to all of those who are under his care.

And it might seem odd to us to read the term man and beast. We can understand that men would turn and repent and be covered in sackcloth, but he commands men and beast. All the way back from the time of the Persian Empire, animals were used in mourning. They would drape them.

And even in our culture, at the funeral, I believe, of John F. Kennedy, there was a riderless horse draped in black. It was a statement. So it was the same kind of a statement back then.

Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way, and God relented from the disaster that he said he would bring upon them, and he did not do that. And God's mercy extended not only to this episode, but 100 years further into their future they were spared from destruction. Now, they did get destroyed. Finally, Nahum, as I mentioned, will prophesy that. But for 100 years, they were able to stave off the destruction because of this repentance.

But, now again, that's not a good word. After a revival has taken place, it's been 100% successful, but it displeased Jonah exceedingly. And he became angry. Now you have the fundamental difference between God and Jonah.

God is not willing that any should perish. Jonah, we find out, is willing that they all perish. God isn't angry, he's willing to forgive. Jonah is angry. God is slow to anger, Jonah's mafia here.

So he prayed to the Lord, and he said ah, Lord God, was this not what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore, now we find the real reason why he fled. He'll state it.

Therefore, I fled previously to Tarshish, for I know that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, abundant in loving kindness. This is not a praise song he's singing. He's angry about the fact that God is all of these things.

One who relents from doing harm, I knew it. You love the kind of people I hate. You're willing to forgive the people that I have grudges against. I don't like that about you. What a bitter guy. It's amazing that he knew this much Bible, but he acted like this.

You know where they say is the healthiest place in the world to live? The South Pole. Pretty obvious why, germs can't survive. It's too cold. There's nothing for them to feed on. And besides that, the winds start at the South Pole and move northward.

But though it's the healthiest place in the world, do you find people flocking there to live? Thinking, I'm going to move to the South Pole, I hear it's healthy. It'd be a great life. Let's go, honey.

Because the temperatures get to well over 100 degrees below zero, heating bills would be crazy. There are some people who are so-- they're like germ killers. They know so much Bible, they know every cult, every ism, everything wrong, but they're so cold nothing can survive around them. No grace, no latitude, no love, just cold, hard, truth.

Jonah knew so much, and was so unlike the Lord in his character. Therefore, look at verse 3, now, oh Lord, please take my life from me for it's better for me to die than to live. And the Lord said, and I love the Lord's approach, he didn't say you creep. He asked him a question.

The Lord said, is it right for you to be angry? In fact, there's a series of questions that sort of stimulate, get his mind going, to think about his position here. Is it right for you to be angry? That's a good question.

Jonah, I'm pleased that these people turned, and that I was able to relent, so to speak, and give them my forgiveness, which I wanted to do all along. And you knew it. I was pleased that they turned. But Jonah, you're displeased, you're angry.

Which one do you think is right here, me or you? Is it right for you to be angry? Which position is accurate? What's the right position to take, Jonah?

So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city, and he made himself a shelter. And he sat under it in the shade until he might see what would become of the city. He just goes out in a huff, doesn't even answer God's question. Just kind of turns around, goes outside, just sits there.

Can you picture him? Arms folded. Let's see what happens. I said 40 days, city would be overthrown. I'm going to watch. Angry.

There is a principle that emerges from this. There are several, but one that strikes me is that it is human nature, I believe, that makes it hard for us to see other people around us blessed by God when we're not as blessed as we think we ought to be. Paul did say rejoice with those that rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

Have you discovered it's a lot easier to weep with them that weep than it is to rejoice with those that rejoice? See, if somebody is weeping because something bad has happened to them, and it hasn't happened to you, oh, let me pray for you. No problem. You're suffering, I'm not. I can at least enter in to a prayer.

But when somebody else is blessed beyond what your expectation was-- example. Your car is barely running. It's an old jalopy. You've got a gazillion miles on it. You prayed for a new one, you still got the old one.

Somebody comes to church Sunday morning, second service, and says, you wouldn't believe it. God gave me a brand-new car. What's your attitude? Oh, praise God.

[LAUGHTER]

Hallelujah. You wish you could say God gave you a new car. The Lord blessed the Ninevites, the people that Jonah thought are undeserving. Well, what about me, God? And the Lord God, verse 6, prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah that it might be a shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant.

Now, this is the first time we read in the book that Jonah is pleased about something. In chapter 1, was he pleased when God told him to go to Nineveh? No. In chapter 2 when the whale swallowed him, was he pleased? Oh no.

When God gave him a commission the third time, and all the people repented, was he pleased? Uh-uh. He's happy over a weed.

[LAUGHTER]

This prophet needs some help. More questions are given by the Lord to expose Jonah. He had forgotten God's concern. When morning dawned the next day, God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. And it happened when the sun arose that God prepared a vehement east wind, and the sun beat on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, it is better for me to die than to live.

God said to Jonah, is it right for you to be angry about the plant? And he said, it is right for me to be angry, even to death. But the Lord said, you have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left, and much livestock?

That refers to about 120,000 young children, which would place, conservatively, the population base of greater Nineveh at over 600,000 people. Jonah, come on. You had such compassion and pity over a soulless plant, a little weed, and you have no compassion on all of the people that I have granted forgiveness to because of their repentance.

It is a little bit warped when you see some people caring for pets, and even plants in some cases, with such care as if they're a human, but have no care at all for human life itself. Animal rights. Well, got to preserve those owls, man, and those precious fish, and those creatures.

What about human life that we're killing every year in the womb? The same question could be applied here. And then I think it's probably good to close by making it personal.

Is your own plant, and your own shelter, and your own comfort more important than the souls that are around us that God would love to extend forgiveness and everlasting life to? Oh, but it's such an inconvenience. I'm busy. I've got a lot of stuff going.

Millions of Americans are just conversions waiting to happen. They're waiting to happen. God could get a hold of his church just in the natural course of life and share the Lord, what might come.

But how we thank God for his mercy. His mercy to a whole great city, the Assyrian capital, Nineveh. And how thankful I am when I read the story of a prodigal prophet and realized that God's own servants, God has mercy on, and would send even a whale, a big fish to get his attention.

There was a father that had three children, all hard-hearted, bitter men, never attended church, wanted nothing to do with God. Until one day, one of the boys got bitten by a rattlesnake. The emergency room doctor said, I don't know if he's going to survive, better call the pastor in.

They never wanted to see the pastor ever in their lives. Pastor came in. The son, Sam, had been bitten. They said, well, would you pray for this young man? The family asked him to, and this was the prayer of the pastor. Oh wise, righteous Father, we thank thee that in thy wisdom thou did send this rattlesnake to bite Sam.

[LAUGHTER]

He has never been inside the church, and it's doubtful that he has in all of this time even prayed or ever acknowledged thine existence. And now we trust this experience will be a valuable lesson to him, and will lead to his genuine repentance. And now Father, will you send another rattlesnake to bite Jim, and another to bite John, and another really big one to bite the old man?

[LAUGHTER]

For years, we have done everything we know to get them to turn to thee, but all in vain. It seems, therefore, that what all of our combined efforts could not do, this rattlesnake has done. We thus conclude that the only thing that will do this family any real good is a rattlesnake. So Lord, send us bigger and better rattlesnakes. Amen.

[LAUGHTER]

That's a great prayer. The Lord sent a real big fish to get Jonah's attention. That's God's mercy. I wonder what he told Mrs. Jonah, the one that got away. But Jonah didn't get away. God is still dealing with him.

Let's pray. Heavenly Father, a marvelous story that you have put here in your word, included for us, for our learning, for our admonition, for our instruction. How thankful we are for your great love, willing to forgive anyone who turns to you.

And how willing you are to recommission even the disobedient who have fallen, who have failed, who have run the other direction. You're so interested in restoring and using, and for that I am so grateful. We all are. We marvel at your grace and mercy in Jesus' name, amen.

Let's stand. Are you a Jonah? Have you been trying to run from God? Has God arrested you, got your attention, and you realize that it's foolish to try to hide from the call of God?

The pastors are down here to pray for you. Not only for that, but for any cause, any problem, any issue for which you need prayer tonight. We're so grateful that God is working, and God does answer prayer. And you can experience that work of God in your life this evening.

So as soon as we're dismissed, if you have a need, we just encourage you, come on down, let these men pray for you that you might experience a work of God in your life. I pray that he won't have to send a rattlesnake to get your attention.

[LAUGHTER]

I cast all my cares upon you. I lay all of my burdens down at your feet. And any time I don't know what to do, I just cast all my cares upon you. I cast all my cares upon you. I lay all of my burdens down at your feet. And any time I don't know what to do I just cast all my cares upon--
 
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