Lessons From An Ancient Prophet

Please Read:   Jonah 3:1-10


I- The historical background of our lesson: Jonah was from Galilee, city of Gathhēphĕr.  (2 Kings 14:25)   which was about four miles north of Nazareth  and he lived during the reign of Jeroboam II 793-753 BC,  king of Israel  who was northern Israel’s most powerful king, it was during his reign the borders of the nation were expanded to their greatest extent since the time of David and Solomon.


Assyria, however, some five hundred miles to the east, was a constant threat. In fact, due to Israel’s progressive rebellion, the prophets Hosea and Amos, contemporaries of Jonah, had declared that God would use Assyria as an instrument of punishment against His people. Hosea 11:5; Amos 5:27


The city of Nineveh was one of the oldest and greatest cities of the Mesopotamia,  and was the capital of Assyria during the days of Sennacherib (705BC to it fall 612BC)   We read in Genesis 10:11 that Nimrod was it’s founder.  The city was large enough that it took the prophet at least 3 days to march through it. Nineveh was the most powerful city in the world. Nonetheless, its end was but decades away. In 612 BC,  the city fell to the combined forces of the Babylonians and the Medes.  God commanded Jonah to travel to the great city of Ninevah  and preach against it. Jonah 1:2

2“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.


The message he was to preach as stated in Chapter 3:4

 Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”.  Jonah had received a divine appointment …… the word of the Lord came to him.  Any patriotic Israelite would have longed for Assyria’s destruction! We can only imagine the bewilderment that must have filled Jonah’s heart when he received the Lord’s word instructing him to proceed to Nineveh the capital city of Assyria, with a divine message.


Although the prophet’s brief declaration to Nineveh was one of judgement, nonetheless, Jonah was aware that Jehovah is a “gracious and merciful God,,   Jonah 4:2.

“2So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Oh, 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 loving-kindness, One who relents from doing harm. “


Hence, it was certain that if the inhabitants of that great city were responsive to his message, God would certainly spare them. And Jonah did not want that.   Accordingly, Jonah went to Joppa where he boarded a ship bound for Tarshish, the express design of his trip was to flee from the presence of Jehovah Jonah 1:3.


But, as every Bible student knows, his plans were soon thwarted. Where men propose, God can dispose!  When a great storm arose, and the inmates of the vessel feared for their very lives, Jonah confessed that he, as a refugee from the Lord, was the cause of the calamity. Though the prophet’s sailing companions did not like the idea, they ultimately were forced to accept Jonah's suggestion that he be thrown overboard.   Down he went into the dark depths of the Mediterranean, seaweed swirling about his head  Jonah describes this in Chapter  2:5.   He says ¾

5The waters surrounded me, even to my soul;  The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head. 6I went down to the moorings of the mountains;  The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; 


Presently, Jonah was devoured by a great creature of the deep. We might almost say that the Lord sent Jonah to school for three days, and the classroom was the belly of a great sea-monster. The prophet graduated with a diploma in “mission responsibility!”  Thus making his way to Nineveh, provided ample time for sober reflection.  And thus, Jonah entered the great city with his blunt message (consisting of only five words in the Hebrew text): “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Amazingly, there was mass repentance, from the king to the common people.


But Jonah was quite distraught at this turn of events, he despaired, even to the point of wanting to die. He perches himself on a hilltop nearby, eagerly watching the city in hopes  the Lord would yet destroy it.   As he sat in the scorching sun, God caused a shady vine to grow up for his refreshment and the prophet was glad. On the following day, however, God sent a worm to smite Jonah’s vine, and as the blistering sun beat upon his head, he again lapsed into a state of abject depression.


Then came Heaven’s stinging rebuke. “Jonah, why is it that you are so concerned with this vine— a mere plant which is temporal, and for which you did not labor; and yet, you evidence utterly no concern for the hapless inhabitants of Nineveh?”  The penetrating inquiry threw a divine floodlight upon the pathetic values of the prophet from Galilee.


The Book of Jonah is filled with valuable and timeless lessons. We reflect upon a few of these matters.  First, we could note that this narrative has suffered from  critics  for a long time. Because of the incident of Jonah being swallowed by the great fish.  Many modern scholars contend that the document is pure fiction.  


Jesus Christ, however, did not  view it so. He appealed to the narrative as genuine history  on one occasion when the Jews asked for a sign   ¾  "Teacher, we want to see a sign from You."     Matthew 12:39-41

39But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given it but the sign of Jonah the prophet: 40for as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41The men of Nineveh shall stand up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, a greater than Jonah is here...


And so  Jesus  settles the issue for all who have any regard for His Words. I like the words of Marshall Keeble, may God give us more men with this kind of faith.


2nd- The book demonstrates the sovereignty of God, as He employs creation to accomplish His divine plan. The LORD controlled the elements of weather in  Jonah 1:4 we read ¾

4But the LORD sent out a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken...”    Verses 11-15 show also the sea also was used by  God in this matter. God prepared a great sea-creature, a vine, a worm to do his bidding. Jesus often demonstrated ability to control the elements of nature during His earthly ministry.

Notice with me an account  Matthew 8:23-27

23And when he was entered into a boat, his disciples followed him. 24And behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the boat was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. 25And they came to him, and awoke him, saying, Save, Lord; we perish. 26And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. 27And the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?


3rd- This book reveals the  interest of God in the nations , even in the Mosaic era. Though Jehovah was working primarily through the Hebrew nation as an instrument for the sending of the promised Seed Genesis 22:18  nevertheless, His compassion for all the people of the earth was abundantly manifested.  And the sending of Jonah, to these Gentile Ninevites was a clear demonstration of this.     We read in Acts 10:34    34And Peter opened his mouth and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons   And again in 2 Peter 3:9   9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.


4th- This narrative illustrates a truth so frequently suggested in the Old Testament, namely:   That God, not man, is in control of the destiny of nations.  God rules in the kingdoms of men and disposes of them according to His Divine Will.:  Daniel 2:20-21

20Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, For wisdom and might are His. 21And He changes the times and the seasons;  He removes kings and raises up kings;   (and again Daniel 4:17) “….that the living may know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the lowest of men.”


Proverbs 14:34 teaches: “34Righteousness exalts a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people”.


Those who think that nations stand or fall because of a “strong national defense” are woefully ignorant of the Sovereignty of God the Creator and Sustainer.  Nineveh was given forty days to repent; as a result, the nation was spared destruction. Later, however, when Assyria degenerated again, she was destroyed and the prophet, Nahum, addresses this very matter. Nineveh fell to the Babylonians in 612 B.C.


5th- The book of Jonah demonstrates that ancient peoples who were outside the Mosaic covenant were nonetheless accountable to Heaven’s for what they knew and had been taught. Jehovah looked down upon Nineveh and observed the wickedness of this people Jonah 1:2.    Since sin is the transgression of divine law 1 John 3:4; “15where no law is, there is no transgression”  Romans 4:15,   the Ninevites were obviously subject to God's law


This powerful truth is in direct conflict with the modern theory which contends that those who are “outside of the church” are not subject to the marriage law of God (the design of which is to regulate human morality)  The whole purpose of this novel concept, of course, is to justify adulterous relationships within the Church!


6th- This account reveals the power inherent within the word of God when it comes into contact with honest and good hearts  Luke 8:11-15.

11Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God ¾ 15“But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience..


Though Jonah’s message was very brief, it produced the desired effect.  Again, some critics have faulted the divine account at this point, claiming that so trifling a sermon could hardly have produced the results described.  But Christ's testimony is thus ¾  the men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah Matthew 12:41.

Someway the citizens of Nineveh had learned of the prophet’s “resurrection” from the belly of the “fish,” for, as Jesus noted, Jonah was a “sign” to that generation even as the resurrected Lord would be to His .   Note: Luke 11:29-30.

29And when the multitudes were gathering together unto him, he began to say, This generation is an evil generation: it seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it but the sign of Jonah. 30For even as Jonah became a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation.


The gospel is God power (Romans 1:16-27)  How do we know when it will penetrate and convert some soul ?  Listen to Inspiration's testimony concerning the word of God. Psalm 19:7  ff.

7The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;  The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; 8The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether..


A most potentate passage revealing the power of God's word to change the lives of men is found in    1 Cor. 6:9-11

9Or know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with men, 10nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11And such were some of you: but ye were washed, but ye were sanctified, but ye were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.


Through the power of the gospel, these had been able to cast aside their garments of filth, and become  "the church of the Living God"  1 Corinthians 1:1 the body of Christ, 1 Corinthians. 12:13 the "temple" the beautiful temple of God, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20…     We read in Romans 1:16-17 of the marvelous power inherent in God’s gospel 16For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. 17For therein is revealed a righteousness of God from faith unto faith: as it is written, But the righteous shall live by faith.


7th- This instructive account, with the inspired New Testament commentary which discusses it, underscores an important dimension to repentance.   Jesus declared that “the men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah Matthew 12:41,

While the book of Jonah itself informs us that God “saw their [the people of Nineveh] works, that they turned from their evil way   Jonah 3:10.  Thus, repentance is not, as some allege, a mere sorrow for sin; rather, it requires a turning away from evil conduct. Moreover, this passage reveals that repentance is a work, and since repentance is essential to salvation  Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 17:30, It conclusively follows as well  that salvation is not exclusive of all types of works!


8th- The book of Jonah presents a beautiful type of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Though some modernists argue that the concept of a bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead was unknown in Old Testament times, Jesus demonstrated otherwise.    He declared:

 40“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  Matthew 12:40.


 Clearly, the Lord viewed Jonah’s three-day entombment as a foreshadowing of His resurrection from the grave, by which, of course, Christ was declared to by the Son of God with power Romans 1:4.


9th-This narrative reveals God' s message never changes.  Such an important message for men today ¾  Jonah 3:1

1Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it   (denoting urgency and fervor ) the message that I tell you.


Preaching is urgent as well….   1 Peter 4:11

11if any man speaketh, speaking as it were oracles of God; if any man ministereth, ministering as of the strength which God supplieth: that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, whose is the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen


10th- And last the book reveals the love of God for humanity ¾  God sends Jonah to Nineveh,   Recall the parables of our Lord, concerning going out and seeking for that which is lost.  But notice the chapter 4:10-11 

10But 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 much livestock?”


One has to be amazed at the love and mercy God shows to a fallen and recreant people  in the scriptures.   God's nature?

9The 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. 10But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. 11Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?


3-  Two beloved passages ¾ John 3:16   

16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.  …. Romans 5:8 8But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.



Conclusion In his epistle to the Romans, Paul quotes the Psalms  Then states:  Romans 15:4

4For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.


If it is not your custom to study the Old Testament along with the New Testament, I recommend it to you. Surely the foregoing points of truth, as gleaned from the delightful book of Jonah, are illustrative of the truth of this rich passage. Why not take some time and refresh yourself with a review of the edifying material in the book of Jonah?



Ron Cope Minister churches of Christ

email:  RonCope@chestnutmtchurchofchrist.com

phone:  (678)617-9658