Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. (Jonah 3:4-5a)
We don’t know if Jonah preached a lengthier sermon to the Ninevites and this is a summary of his prophecy, or if this is indeed all he said. Either way, it’s interesting when you look at verse 5a.
The Ninevites “believed God.”
Here was a prophet from Israel come to Nineveh, the “great city”. (Jonah 1:2; 3:1). Normally the prophets preached from Jerusalem. Nahum later preached to the Gentiles as a follow up from Jonah, but to my knowledge this is the first time God sent a prophet to go to them. The pagan Ninevites didn’t know Jonah from Adam, as they say. Nor did they know God. Continue reading “Jonah goes to the Ninevites and…”→
Rainer Schimpf, 51, has worked as a dive tour operator in South Africa for over 15 years. But in February, he experienced something very rare – the inside of a whale’s mouth. In perfect sea conditions, Rainer and his team set off to document a sardine run – a natural event where gannets, penguins, seals, dolphins, whales and sharks work together to gather the fish into bait balls. Rainer and his colleagues film the expedition for educational and environmental purposes.Split into two groups, Rainer led his team into the ocean, about 25 nautical miles from shore.But it was when the sea suddenly churned up that the team knew something strange was happening.
The whale apparently accidentally gathered Ranier into his mouth while scooping up fish and suddenly the photographer was inside the whale. As the Bryde’s whale closed his mouth he began to dive, but then the photographer felt the whale turning. Soon Ranier was popped out of the whale’s mouth again safely back onto the surface of the sea.
Ranier finished his description of the event by saying “I now have some knowledge of the inside of a whale that no one else has.”
I’m glad that the event turned out harmless for the man, the whale and the onlookers and other photographers. Ranier and the crew attribute the event to a total accident, with no malice on the whale’s part and none of the animals were apparently harmed.
However, lol, I could not let the concluding statement by the animal photographer go unreplied to.
I am a Christian who believes the Bible is inerrant. I believe that all the things that happened in the Bible’s recordings happened as they are presented. That means I believe that God who is three-in-one, created the heavens and the earth in 6 literal days. That decomposing Lazarus was resurrected from the dead after 4 days in the tomb. I believe that the minuscule amount of oil lasted 8 days, enough for the prophet’s wife to pay her creditors. I believe that the blind were healed and the lame walked. All of it.
So when I read Jonah and the great fish in Jonah 1-2, I believe Jonah was swallowed by a whale. Moreover, I believe Jonah dwelled inside the whale for 3 days, was conscious and in his right mind, prayed to the Lord, and was popped out of the great fish’s mouth onto dry land alive.
Wildlife photographer Ranier Schimpf may have had the surprise ride of his lifetime, but there was one before him who has knowledge of the inside of a great fish, Jonah.
And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17)
And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. (Jonah 2:10)
The Lord God is great, holy is He in His habitation and sovereign over all that happens in the universe!
God relented from the disaster He’d promised upon the Ninevites.
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. (Jonah 4:1).
Then God gave Jonah some shade.
Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. (Jonah 4:6)
As our pastor preached on Sunday, “This seems kind of backward!” What are your priorities? What are mine?
Sometimes we can detect our own heart condition by what makes us exceedingly glad and what makes us exceedingly angry.
My pastor is preaching slowly through Jonah. I love Jonah. What’s not to be intrigued by? The book has everything. A disobedient prophet, action, sovereignty of God, grace, patience, repentance, revival, and miracles- ten of them! (Jonah 1:4, 1:7, 1:15, 1:17, 1:17, 2:10, 3:10, 4:6, 4:7, 4:8).
I think it is amazing that the Spirit inspired Jonah to write his deeds down – all of them, from the petulant, to the racist, to the rebellious, to the glorious. The Bible doesn’t hide our foibles, sins, and rebellions. The Bible is not a sanitized record of perfect human behavior. Far from it. It’s an honest record of our relationship with God.
Anyway, there’s danger, action, and supernatural miracles, ten of them, in just four short chapters. So naturally I bought the book Moby Dick at Amazon and started reading it. LOL, of course I’m following the pastor and reading the actual Bible. I also listen to other sermons on the topic, as well as give a repeat listen to his sermon later in the week, thanks to podcasts.
But it’s summer, and I’m tired of reading badly written modern books, and the trusty classics never fail me. I had never read Moby Dick, though I’ve read some of author Herman Melville’s short stories. I started reading it and I’m in love with the story.
I got to chapter 9 and Father Mapple’s sermon. It’s a good one, and it’s on Jonah, of course. In the book, Mapple is preaching to New Bedford seamen, including whalers. They’d click with the topic. In Moby Dick, Mapple illustrated the supposed scene as Jonah was ushered to his bunk in the bowels of the ship,
The air is close, and Jonah gasps. Then, in that contracted hole, sunk, too, beneath the ship’s water-line, Jonah feels the heralding presentiment of that stifling hour, when the whale shall hold him in the smallest of his bowels’ wards.
I read that stifling hour as “that sifting hour.”
I like “that sifting hour” better. Not to re-write Melville. But the phrase stuck in my mind. It brought me to Peter. The Lord told Peter,
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. (Luke 22:31-32).
This one verse clues us in to so many things. The spiritual war. Satan’s activity. Satan’s targets. God’s sovereignty that satan needed to ask permission. Our cluelessness about whom satan has asked to sift like wheat today. The fact that Jesus prayed for Peter.
It wasn’t more than a few hours that Peter encountered his sifting hour when he denied Jesus three times.
Thoughts of ‘the sifting hour’ brought me to Job.
And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (Job 1:8).
Satan’s answer certainly reveals that satan had considered Job, more than once.
Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.” (Job 1:9-10).
Satan had in fact been carefully watching Job for a long time. He’d noted the hedge, the increase of possessions, the blessings (plural) and all the sides of Job’s life that satan had tried to access, unsuccessfully thus far. Yes indeed. Satan had considered Job.
The sifting hour did come to Job soon after. Absolutely everything was taken away from Job. Except his wife, who told him he should die.
Our own sifting hour might come soon enough. Satan does have a lot of power in this world, being the god of it. (2 Corinthians 4:4. Ephesians 2:2). He messes with God’s people, he has power to bring winds/tornadoes, to draw fire from heaven, to incite armies to raid your home, and to attack your health. Those are just a few of the things satan did to Job. Satan has much power, and is allowed to operate within that power fully as long as it is within God’s will and permission.
Our trials do not always come from satan. Sometimes God Himself brings about chastisement and we endure a sifting hour. He appointed the storm in Jonah’s case, appointed a big fish to swallow him, appointed the hot wind to scour Jonah, and appointed the worm to eat the shade sheltering him. All to bring about obedience and repentance so God’s will and plan would proceed.
Your and my sifting hour might be coming tomorrow or today or next week. Either because we are devout, like Job, or because we are rebellious, like Jonah, or somewhere in the middle like Peter to strengthen our faith. If we stand for Jesus in this world we will have troubles. (John 16:33). When we rebel and are not repentant, we can expect discipline. (Hebrews 12:6, Proverbs 3:12). Trials strengthen us, James says.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4).
The sifting hour is something I dread emotionally but spiritually I know that it will be good for me in the best possible way- my faith will be strengthened and Jesus’ glory will be gotten.
Let’s go back to Peter’s sifting hour and focus on the wonderful part of the scripture. Satan has asked to sift you like wheat and Jesus said,
but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.
Our Mediator and interceder prays for us! John 17:20-23 shows once again that He prays for His sheep. Has ‘the sifting hour’ come upon you? Rest assured that Jesus ordained it, appointed it, and is praying for you and is interceding for you and intends the best for you. And when it happens to me, I’ll repeat those comforts to my own mind and heart as well. Jesus said in His high priestly prayer, this is-
-so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:23b)
What is sifted out of the chaff is love and glory. And this is the best of all.
Our pastor began a new series Sunday on Jonah. He is taking it slow and luxuriating in our verse-by-verse exposition, which means I am too.
I want to say how delighted that he opened the sermon by explaining that the Book of Jonah, with all its supernatural wonders, and especially the great fish swallowing the prophet, was history and really happened as the Bible says. As the wrongly attributed George Orwell quote goes, “In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
Don’t take for granted both the real and spiritual slings and arrows that are flung against your pastor for being brave in preaching the unvarnished truth to a skeptical world. Be sure to pray for him for his spiritual, physical, and emotional health and well being.
Here is the sermon if you’d like to listen. It was delivered at North Avenue Church and its upload is dated June 7, 2017.
I love the prophets and I love the book of Jonah. So on the Monday after our pastor delivered the sermon I listened to four sermons on Jonah, and on Tuesday I listened to one more. There are multiple layers in Jonah, lots of deep, rich aspects one could go in the journey through this wonderful book. I know our pastor will bring out many truths as we sit under his preaching throughout the summer.
But being practical and being logical, and having been a mariner in my younger days, there was one question that bugged me. I could not find an answer to it in any sermon, commentary, or study Bible note. Until it hit me. It hit me like a thought-comet the Holy Spirit flung at my mind.
Here is the scene:
The LORD hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up. 5Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep. (Jonah 1:4-5).
The storm was rough. The word ‘hurled’ in describing the Lord’s hurling of a storm is the same word that was used to describe King Saul’s hurling of the spear to David. This was not an ordinary storm, and the sailors knew it. Mariners don’t exaggerate. If anything, they understate the height of the waves or the intensity of the storm. Later, with a cup of grog in hand, they might say, “Aye, the boat bounced a bit.” Or “The waves were stirring all right.” Sailors are tough.
So it’s notable that the sailors were afraid. The word in Hebrew is terrified, also reverent. They knew it was some god that was doing this and they were religiously afraid. They prayed to whichever god they followed to appease him or her.
Before throwing over the cargo, the sailors would have been shortening sail. Billowing sails in a storm blow out and become tatters. So they’d reef the main and take in the jib. When that doesn’t work they take in the main sail completely and go under bare poles. They would throw the attached anchor overboard to help stabilize the boat. They would shift ballast in the hold. They would cut the dinghy away if they had one. Then they would throw over the cargo. Last, they pray, because foxholes are filled with praying people. Activity on a boat during a storm is at a pitched and chaotic level.
Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours? Gordon Lightfoot, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
It is also loud. In winds that high, the waves roar, and even the spray is loud. The spray and foam mix with the air and it’s hard to breathe, you’re breathing water half the time. The high winds whistle and beat against the mast and buffet the sailors. The waves slam and beat against the boat, which in turn creaks and makes all manner of tortured sounds. Mariners have to scream to be heard when they give directions, and when the wind becomes too loud, they just use hand gestures. Sometimes that doesn’t even work because darkness and spray obscure all sight. Anything on deck or below deck not in place or lashed down moves, skids, flings around like crazed maniacal ping pong balls.
Though the above activities are not mentioned, that is what they would have been doing. When the usual marine protocols failed, the sailors resorted to a last resort: throwing the cargo overboard. This lightens the boat and makes it bob in the water higher, so the tall waves have less chance to over-swamp the boat and capsize it or break it apart. Sailing with cargo is a money-making enterprise, and you do not want to anger the ship’s owner by having thrown over what amounts to his money. So when we read that the sailors threw over the cargo, this is very last resort.
If you’re down below, sailors have to tie themselves in or raise the bunk boards, so they aren’t flung across the cabin like a rag doll.
Against this backdrop, Jonah was asleep. Depending on the translation, scripture says not only that Jonah was sleeping, but he was fast asleep, sound asleep, in a heavy sleep, a deep sleep. How, how could Jonah sleep through all this?
It bugged me. It was not normally possible to sleep that way during a storm as severe as described. I pondered this over and over again. It seemed an important juxtaposition, the sleeping prophet as the boat is almost sinking.
Then it hit me. Jonah wanted to die.
The book of Jonah is clear about this fact. It’s stated several times that Jonah wanted to die. He would rather die than obey God in evangelizing the Ninevites. At the least, when Jonah ran away disobeying God it was a usually a death warrant. Jonah would have been aware of the cost for disobedience in the Holy of Holies, and also Uzzah’s penalty for disobeying when he touched the ark.
Jonah wanted to die as seen in Jonah 1:12 when he could have repented on deck and asked God’s forgiveness, but he chose instead to be thrown into the sea, to be tossed around like a peanut then drown alone.
In Jonah 4:3 he explicitly said he wanted to die, rather than live. He said it again in Jonah 4:8. So four times we see Jonah acting in ways that showed or stated he was serious about dying.
Elijah wanted to die because people were so bad. Jonah wanted to die because God was so good.
People who are intent on death often suddenly display an eerie calm. As the sailors were above fighting the storm, what they were really fighting for was their lives. Not Jonah. He was not fighting for life, he was resigned to death. He fell asleep. Deeply.
However potentially even more worrying is a sudden calmness, and many individuals who are contemplating suicide have a sense of resignation that can result in them acting very calm and even peaceful in the days leading up to their attempt. If they have gone from appearing excessively sad and exhibiting mood swings, to suddenly acting calm and peaceful then this can be a very dangerous sign and it’s important to look out for other signs that the calmness may not be all it seems.
Jonah was serious about dying. He wasn’t exaggerating. It wasn’t hyperbole. It wasn’t an idiom. He really preferred death to obedience, death to being an instrument of God’s compassion and love toward the pagan and evil Ninevites.
Elijah the prophet wanted to die, too. After the showdown against the Prophets of Baal and Queen Jezebel, we read,
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” 5And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. (1 Kings 19:4-5a).
Elijah’s sleep was a regular sleep, a completely different Hebrew word than Jonah’s deep sleep. Another difference is that Elijah wanted to die because people were so bad. Jonah wanted to die because God was so good. (Jonah 4:2-3).
I wonder if Jonah spent three days in the belly of the fish rather than one day, or one minute, because he hoped to die again. Maybe as the fish swallowed him, he was thinking, “OK, this is convenient, no one lives in a fish, now I can die!” But when it didn’t happen and didn’t happen, and on a third day it didn’t happen, then Jonah prayed his prayer. I wonder if it was his stubbornness kept him inside a foul, airless, acidic, sewage, rotting belly of a fish for all those days, only praying when he realized the Lord was going to keep him alive no matter what. Sigh. So realizing the Lord was going to supernaturally keep him alive anyway, he prayed his famous prayer in Chapter 2 and was released. Because in chapter 4 he said two more times he still wanted to die.
So that’s the story of the death-seeking Jonah. It tells us a lot about him on that boat, that he wanted to die rather than see thousands come to Christ. That he could sleep amid a hurricane. God dealt graciously and kindly toward Jonah.
Which is good, because He deals with us graciously too. When we complain, run from Him, exhibit racist tendencies, or are just knowingly but stubbornly resist His will, He is patient. The Book of Jonah ends with a question that once again displays God’s love:
“Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”
Should we not have compassion on the lost, as God seeks their salvation and is slow to anger, that all would repent? We were rebellious, once, too. The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. (Psalm 145:8).
“It was a God-thing!” “The sign couldn’t have been more clear!” “It surely wasn’t a coincidence, it must have been from God!”
Have you ever heard anyone say any of these things? Or said them yourself?
Even after salvation we are sinful creatures. It would be so much easier to interpret circumstances rather than interpret the Word. We see what is happening in our lives and immediately interpret that these circumstances are in fact signs from God, omens, and ‘Godly coincidences’ that are directly and presently speaking to us. We go ahead and make decisions based on them.
But should we? Let’s look at two examples of interpreting circumstances, from the Word of God. Thanks goes to my wonderful and brilliant pastor for preaching this yesterday. Here, I summarize part:
We all know the story of Jonah. He was a Prophet of God, who prophesied to Israel. (2 Kings 14:21-25). He prophesied good things to Israel. It was during the reign of Jeroboam II King of Israel, when God was bestowing unmerited grace upon the people even though the King did evil in God’s eyes. The nation’s boundaries were being set and prosperity was growing. Therefore, likely Jonah was popular as a Prophet.
Then one day the word of the LORD came to Jonah. Jonah was told to travel to the city of Nineveh in order to prophesy to them. Nineveh was evil, they were an enemy, and Jonah was aghast. He refused. Effectively resigning his mantle, Jonah ran to Joppa instead, a seaside city where Jonah intended to grab a ship to Tarshish. This was the opposite direction of where God had told Jonah to go.
When Jonah got to Joppa (now Jaffa), he saw that there was a ship at harbor. Jonah paid the fare and flung himself into the bowels of the vessel, tired beyond bearing, and went to sleep. Though this next scene is a little beyond the time frame of my focus today, I can’t resist the glorious language from Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick:
All dressed and dusty as he is, Jonah throws himself into his berth, and finds the little state-room ceiling almost resting on his forehead. The air is close, and Jonah gasps. then, in that contracted hole, sunk, too, beneath the ship’s water-line, Jonah feels the heralding presentiment of that stifling hour, when the whale shall hold him in the smallest of his bowel’s wards.
Did Jonah feel vindicated when he saw a ship at sail, ready to voyage with the next tide? Did Jonah say, “See? It is providential! This must be what God wanted, since a ship appears before me at the ready!”
Interpreting circumstances is a dangerous thing.
Let’s look at David. He was fleeing from King Saul, who was seeking David’s life. David and his men huddled in a cave in the wilderness of Engedi, hiding from the fire-breathing king. Saul suddenly appeared in that exact cave. There are hundreds of caves at Engedi. Hundreds. Yet Saul entered the exact cave in which David hid.
Pixabay, free to use. Hundreds of caves dot the En-gedi desert.
David’s men interpreted circumstances, saying, ‘Look, here is the king! It must be the hand of God delivering the king to your sword!’
After stealthily snipping a bit of Saul’s robe David felt convicted. He said to his men,
“Behold, this day your eyes have seen that the LORD had given you today into my hand in the cave, and some said to kill you, but my eye had pity on you; and I said, ‘I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the LORD’S anointed.’” (1 Samuel 24:10-11).
The word of the LORD had not come to David. David knew that the LORD’s anointed were protected by God, raised up by Him to perform His will and plan. David knew that the LORD Himself had placed Saul into kingship and it was the LORD’s business to remove Him if He so wanted. It was not up to David. (1 Samuel 26:10)
“If we detach ourselves from the Word, we will never interpret circumstances correctly.” ~Mark McAndrew, Jonah 1:1-3, June 4, 2017
What Pastor Mark meant here is not that we interpret signs and omens, but that when things happen and we want to know what to do or how to think about it, we refer back to the Word. David knew God’s word and David knew His character. David acted according to this knowledge, not according to subjective impressions of the circumstances.
Romans 8:14 says “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” So we know that the Spirit leads because He promised to lead us. But the Spirit doesn’t speak to us except through His word. And when you start thinking that God is giving you special revelation outside of His word, you have diminished the singular authority of scripture.
We don’t know whether our interpretation of the circumstance is “a heavy conscience, a strong personal desire, or emotion-driven enthusiasm” as Jeremiah Johnson wrote at the link above. If David had decided to kill King Saul because Saul had showed up in the cave at that moment and had slain Saul, it would have been grievous sin for David. If Jonah had deduced that because the ship was ready to sail in the direction he wanted to go, it must be providential, it would have been a sin for Jonah. There are always ships ready to sail to Tarshish! Jonah would be simply rationalizing his own personal desire and back-hoeing the Spirit into his sin, which is blasphemy. Johnson wrote,
We ought to look for the Holy Spirit’s leadership, but we must be cautious about assigning to Him responsibility for our words and actions. Our feelings are not necessarily a trustworthy source of information, nor are they an accurate indication that God has a special message to deliver to us or through us.
God’s people need to be circumspect when it comes to His leadership, particularly through subjective impressions and inclinations. Moreover, we need to be wary of those who hijack the prophetic seat and presume to speak for God. Source
Some throw out a fleece for guidance, some look for open doors or windows. Satan can create circumstances too. Remember Job. Satan brought about the many different circumstances that plagued Job. Stay away from interpreting signs and circumstances and just interpret life through God’s word.