Go, Therefore

This study covers October 2nd and 9th

I. An Overview of important ideas in teaching Jonah

A.  The truth of the book of Jonah has been one of the most ridiculed prospects in the history of biblical interpretation, but one of the books whose historicity has the clearest attestation in the New Testament. See Matthew 12:38-41 for Jesus pointing to Jonah as the sign of his resurrection. Jesus summarized virtually the entire book in this confrontation with the Pharisees emphasizing that Jonah was “three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish” and that the Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah. In Matthew 16:4 another demand for a sign drew from Jesus a reference to Jonah. Luke 11 records the events of Matthew 12. If one cannot accept the testimony of Scripture and of Jesus that God prepared a fish to swallow Jonah, it will be infinitely more difficult to accept the central truth of Christianity that Christ, after being killed and put into a tomb, rose from the dead and appeared in his risen body to hundreds of people. 

B.  Jonah is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25 as a prophet during the reign of Jeroboam. It was a relatively prosperous time in Israel, and Jonah had served as a prophet of good news about some of the advance that Israel would make in the restoration of property through the expansion of borders. Positive prophetic message in Israel was a rarity, but Jonah had been selected to deliver it. Under Jehoahaz, Jeroboam’s (II) grandfather, Syria had begun to oppress Israel (2 Kings 13:3, 22) and had reduced the army virtually to nothing and “made them like the dust at threshing.” God had intervened to save Israel from utter destruction, had given significant victories to Jehoash [also called Joash at times] and had begun to restore their prosperity, though the constant refrain of every king of Israel is “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and followed the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat [13:2; 13:11; 14:24]. This oppression from Syria made life difficult but God would not blot them out entirely “so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam, the son of Joash.” (2 Kings 14:27).  Not only did God use wicked kings from other nations to chasten and punish his people Israel, he used wicked kings within Israel to give them times of prosperity. Jonah was well aware of the struggle with Syria, had been used to prophesy increasing prosperity [“he restored the border of Israel . . . which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher”]. As early as the time of Jehu, however, Israel had begun to offer tribute to Assyria, a country that had also embarrassed Syria in battle. Jonah would be loathe to be called on to use his prophetic gift to give any kind of revelatory message to Assyria. He knew that it would be the means for the alarm and possible repentance of the “great city” (Jonah 4:1-3). All of these historical realties make it entirely plausible that God would make use of some enormity of nature to arrest the attention of Jonah and overcome his reluctance to observe God’s determination to be merciful to sinners, even uncircumcised Assyrians.

C. The Rhythm of the Book of Jonah. The book of Jonah shows that God is a God who speaks, is the God that controls all nature, is the God of all nations, is a God of wrath, is the God of Salvation, and a God that delights in mercy. The following outline shows the rhythm of these general themes.

    1. Jonah resists the purpose of God for reasons not given till 4:1-3: note the pattern of God’s control of nature for his moral purposes.


      • The “word of the Lord came to Jonah”
      • God uses the fierce power of Nature to isolate the rebellion of Jonah (“hurled a great wind”) – 1:4.
      • Jonah explains the reason for divine wrath – 1:9, 10.
      • God saves the sailors – 1:15.


      • The Lord “appointed a great fish”
      • God uses the fierce power of nature to control Jonah (“from the stomach of the fish”) – 1:17.
      • Jonah acknowledges the just display of divine wrath – 2:1ff.
      • God saves Jonah – 2:9.


      • The Lord “commanded the fish” (2:10).
      • The fish “vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.” 
      • “The word of the Lord came to Jonah” (3:1).
      • Jonah preaches the certainty of divine wrath – 3:4
      • God saves Nineveh – 3:10

2. Jonah resists the purpose of God and complains about the patience and mercy of God – 4:1-3


      • Jonah knew God used warning in order to show mercy and thus fled from God’s command (4:2)
      • Jonah expressed his displeasure with God’s mercy toward Jonah’s enemies (4:1).
      • Jonah asked to escape by means of death (4:3).
      • God corrected Jonah with a gentle question (4:4).


      • God uses both a gentle (“appointed a plant”) and destructive and fierce aspects of nature (“appointed a worm … appointed a scorching east wind”) to arrest Jonah’s attention from his grouse against God – 4:6, 7, 8.
      • Jonah justifies his own anger and again seeks escape, again by wishing to die– 4:9.
      • God enforces the goodness of his purpose of salvation – 4:10, 11.


II. Jonah attempts to avoid God’s call 1:1-3

A. The call to Nineveh could only mean that God intended to use him to bring repentance. If he did not intend repentance, why would God send any warning to a pagan nation. Israel was under tribute to Assyria and its power was threatening to all the nations of the area. God’s sovereign favors to our enemies reveal the sinful bias and self-centeredness of our view of the world. This becomes ever clearer throughout the narrative.

B.  “Their evil has come up before me.” This does not mean that God was unaware of their evil earlier; It had reached a point that God was going to deal with Nineveh either for wrath or for restoration. He would not allow the world any longer to be polluted through the haughty and power-hungry evil of Nineveh.

C. Tarshish appears to be a city in the southwestern part of Spain. This was as clearly as opposite in direction to Nineveh as Jonah could have gone. It was a city of world-wide trade and ships would go and come with some frequency (Ezekiel 27:12, 25).

D.  “From the presence of the Lord” used two times in verse 3 and once in verse 10. Jonah’s rebellion against God’s directive had made him irrational as well as disobedient. How can one escape the presence of him who made both land and sea? He fled in order to forestall the purpose of God! (4:2)


III. The Lord arrested Jonah’s progress to Tarshish by casting a great storm on the sea – Verses 4-6

A. The storm God sent was not designed to break up the ship, but to detain it and make the sailors so desperate that they knew only divine intervention could rescue them. They all began to call on their gods as well as lighten the load of the ship (1:5). Perhaps it is an instinctual effect of our being made in God’s image that we recognize the interplay and necessary synthesis between absolute divine power and the rational use of means.

B. Jonah, through all this storm was not only trying to escape geographically but engaged the escape of sleep. The captain wakened Jonah so that he could call on his God (1:6) Which God was true, they did not know. They only knew that a power far beyond theirs was necessary to rescue them.  If we felt nearly as concerned about the imminent danger to our souls that sin caused, we would be far more solicitous to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus about the eternal welfare of ourselves and others than these sailors were about their temporal welfare.


IV. The ship’s company learn who Jonah is – 7-10

A. Now the ship’s company began to realize that this was a judgment to be placated only by the revealer of the perpetrator of evil. A god was judging the entire ship because of the displeasing actions of one person.

B. They cast lots, and by God’s determining of the lot, Jonah was pointed out (1:7). The “lot Fell on Jonah.” See in particular Proverbs 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap, but every decision is from the Lord.” From the smallness of the lot to the largeness of the great fish, God does not abandon his control over his creation, his sustaining providence, or his purpose to use these in the display of his purpose of redemption.

C. They are amazed and began to question Jonah concerning his identity. Their first question indicates that they know that the storm has a moral cause. If Jonah would not bear witness by personal volition, God would make the heathen draw from him his connection with the God of Israel.

D. When he tells them who he is and the God that he worships (“fears”), they recognize that the confidence he had in the identity of his God was much clearer, more authentic, and more in charge than any god of their perception. His God did not merely inhabit some force of nature but had made them. 


V. Jonah explains that God’s wrath will not be quieted until the offender is removed – 11-16

A. Since Jonah was so certain of the nature of his God and knew that the storm was against him, the sailors inquired about what they should do. They did not know the ways of his God so he would have to instruct them as to how God is to be placated (1:10, 11). Even so, we the forgiven know the way of the gospel; the worshipers of this world do not know it and look to the false god of this world for what they perceive as safety. Jonah knew the God of “the sea and the dry land,” the place of turmoil and death and the stable place of safety. We know of the certainty of the wrath to come and that false gods offer no refuge, and we know the Savior, Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:9, 10).

B. At this point, Jonah knew that God’s controversy was with him alone and casting him into the sea was the only solution for the sailors (1:12).

C. Jonah’s confession led to their apparent conversion and their effort to salvage Jonah’s life. They sought to avoid casting him into the furious death-threatening sea, but the storm only grew more furious (1:13). When we seek to avoid dealing with that which is the source of God’s controversy with us, we cannot hope to avoid even greater distress. Only confession and repentance will place us in the position to experience God’s mercies through Christ. It is, in fact, one of the distinguishing marks of a Christian that such dealing is the regular habit of his life. “If we are confessing our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

D. Their acceptance of God’s sovereignty –“You O Lord have done as you pleased.” Faced with the reality, even these heathen sailors, uninformed by the special revelation with which Israel was blessed, realized that this God that created the sea and the dry land could not be overcome. The sailors are delivered when the purpose of the display of divine pleasure is fulfilled. In this sense, though not to be pressed too far, Jonah becomes a type of Christ. Christ was cast into the sea of God’s wrath for our sake. When they cast him into the sea, the storm stopped. When Christ endures the storm of God’s wrath for his people, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The sailors then knew that Jonah’s God was the only true God and they made sacrifice to him and made vows before him. Even through his reluctance, God was determined to use Jonah to bring about the knowledge of Yahweh’s holy wrath and tender mercies to even the heathen. This is a forecast of the repentance of Nineveh. 


VI. A fish swallowed Jonah and he begins to pray – 1:17-2:4.

 A.  The language of “appointed” for God’s dealings with Jonah begins.: 1:17 The Lord appointed, or had appointed, a fish; 4:6, The Lord appointed a plant; 4:7 God appointed a worm; 4:8, God appointed a scorching east wind.  God was very specific in “appointing” this series of events in order to bring Jonah to a deep perception about the purpose and character of God. So too, must we see the detail with which God arranges the events for the growth and sanctification of his people in every age. “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to be revealed in us. … and we know that for those who love God all things work together for good” etc. Romans 8:18, 28. God Himself, appoints these things, the sufferings of this present time, to sanctify us that we might glorify his Son.

B. Instead of being swallowed up in the sea of divine wrath, God arranged by sovereign decree and immediate control of all his creatures and all their actions, to save Jonah from the certain death of the deep waters, and place him within the belly of a fish for three days and three nights. Here we see, by the Lord’s own testimony the justification for seeing Jonah’s experience of wrath as a type of that endured by our Lord (Matthew 12:39-41). “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.”

C.  Though the prayer is poetic, there seems to be some chronological order to its deeply spiritual exclamations. Upon being cast in the sea, Jonah cried to the God from whose presence he had been trying to escape. Now he needed him to be near and to take particular interest in him (2:1, 2).

1. Out of the belly of Sheol; This could be a metaphor for the belly of the great fish but could also refer to Jonah’s immediate concern that the sea into which he had been thrown would swallow him up in death. The sea was the place of death, the belly of the fish was the place of rescue from the belly of Sheol

2. You heard my voice: Though God had already appointed the fish to rescue Jonah, the prayer of Jonah, nevertheless, was instrumental in this so that God receives glory for his immediate response to the prayers of his people. God arranges for his people’s knowledge of dependence on him, and his response comforts them and convinces them of both his sovereign will and his tender mercy.

3. Verse three – “You cast me into the deep” Though the sailors did it, Jonah knew that this was God’s work. “into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me;” This was the immediate sensation of being hurled in the water and being sucked beneath the waves by the fury of the storm. This was the presentation to his soul and body and conscience of the holy power of the one from whom he sought to escape. He could have been swallowed up in this fierceness for the “flood surrounded” him and “your billows passed over me.”

4. In the midst of this experience of perishing, he receives confidence that he will live and worship God. When God brings a person into the deepest and darkest waters of conviction, he often shines a light at the edge of those waves, perhaps prompted by a resignation to the pure beauty of divine justice. That sense of God’s perfections, even in wrath, begins the alteration of a sinner’s mind toward God. Ann Hasseltine (Judson) noted in the deepest part of her convictions, “His justice, displayed in condemning the finally impenitent, which I had before viewed as cruel, now appeared to be an expression of hatred to sin, and regard to the good of beings in general. A view of his purity and holiness filled my soul with wonder and admiration. I felt a disposition to commit myself unreservedly into his hands, and leave it with him to save me or cast me off; for I felt I could not be unhappy, while allowed the privilege of contemplating and loving so glorious a Being.” To this Jonah had come. Driven from the sight of God, he nevertheless, cherished the prospect of standing in the presence of God in holy worship. The one that sought escape from the divine presence, now, in the grips of desperation, sees God’s presence as to be desired above all things.

5. After the knowledge that He would yet worship God alive in this life, things go from bad to worse (5, 6). From being tossed about in the “waves and billows” and smothered by them, now he is drawn by their pressure into the deep; he is entangled in sea weed and moving toward the floor of the sea, when the fish snatches him from the certain death of drowning, “Yet you brought up my life from the pit, O lord my God.”

6. As Jonah wrote this book, he remembered the profound sense of helplessness and absolute dependence on the Lord (7, 8). He recognized how different was the state of those that knew only man-made gods. Elements of Psalm 28 seem to be in Jonah’s mind: ‘I become like those who go down to the pit;” (1)  “I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.” (2); or Psalm 30:3, “You have brought up my soul from Sheol; you have restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.” And verse 12: “that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”; or Psalm 69 “Save me O God! For the waters have come up to my neck . . . I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. . . . Let me be delivered from the deep waters. . . .Let not the flood sweep over me. . . Let your salvation, O God, set me on high!” 1, 2, 14-15, 29; Psalm 115:, 4 5: “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes but do not see. … Those who make them become like them.” Jonah had recognized the wonder of divine grace in divine revelation and in intervention in the lives of sinners set on rebellion. Had God let him have his way, not only in this matter of the call to Assyria, but in his life overall, then he would be abandoned and would like the heathen “forsake their hope of steadfast love.” He now consented to do what God had told him “What I have vowed I will pay.” 

7. verse 9 c; “Salvation is from the Lord”  Our destruction is of ourselves, but our salvation is of God. God does not just make salvation available, but he operates effectually to save. “Who saved us and called us with a holy calling … according to his own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:9ff.) “He saved us, . . . according to his own mercy” (Titus 3:5); We were sinking down, and, left to our own strength and our own will and sinful inclination, perishing was the sure thing. But He saved us, for “Salvation is of the Lord.”

D. The restoration   2:10

1. The Lord commanded – How do we perceive this command? How God commanded the fish, we are not told, but that the action of the fish was the result of the providential prompting of God. 

2. And it vomited Jonah – How do we perceive this obedience? Perhaps God caused the fish to become sick with this large living thing in its belly and obeyed the impulse of nature, but according to the timing and arrangement of God.

E. The call reissued

1. The second call comes with the assurance that Jonah cannot escape:  We already know that Jonah is a true prophet, 2 Kings 14:25. 

2. The message will be given to Jonah when he gets there. “Call out against it the message that I tell you.”


VII. The Success of the means used with Nineveh

A. An Itinerant –  “Jonah began to go through the city” It appears that by the time he was one day’s journey into a city that was three days in  breadth, the message he had preached spread from house to house and section to section faster than Jonah himself could move..

B. Summary of the Message – 3:4.  It seems that the narrative purposely gives the impression that in Jonah’s terse statement, we find truth with little earnestness. Jonah preached the message of destruction. We are not led to believe that he urged any repentance. God will use his truth even at times with a half-hearted delivery. (cf. Phil 1:15-17). 

C. Effect on Nineveh – compare Jeremiah 18:11, 12.

1. The people believed the message – The text says  “The people of Nineveh believed God.” They did not cast away Jonah like Amaziah did Amos. They heard his message as if from God and responded. Compare with Paul preaching to the Thessalonians, 1 Thess. 2:13. 

2. Repentance began with the people in acts of humility – 3:5 

3. The king joins with them and proclaims actions for repentance but also a change in conduct 3:6-8.

4. He expresses this in hope;  – 3:9  This perhaps shows a knowledge of Israel’s own past and the pattern of judgment and deliverance: cf. 2 Chronicles 7:13, 14.

D. God’s response

1.God Saw– He saw their deeds, they turned from their wicked way.

2. God relented. 


III.  Jonah is Displeased  – Jonah 4:1

A. With God’s mercy on Jonah’s enemies– 2:2  This scene of repentance and forgiveness is exactly what Jonah did not want to see. He has revealed the reason for his futile flight from the presence of God. He really could not be contented with the idea that God was the God of all nations, the only God, and could also show compassion on others as he had on Jonah himself. Jonah is like a spoiled child that cannot abide the vision of a parent showing tenderness and selfless love to a sibling.

B. With God’s Sovereignty – Though Jonah knew divine sovereignty quite well both from the side of just vengeance and tender mercies, he chafed under the sovereign display of God’s sending the message of repentance to Nineveh and his bringing about the redemption of that generation. 

C. When Jesus opened his ministry in Nazareth, (Luke 4:16-30) he preached on the mercy of God to non-Jews and the sovereign prerogatives of the mercy of God. They sought to cast Jesus over the cliff for this. They did not learn the lesson of the book of Jonah.


IV. Jonah Miscalculates

A. The character of Mercy

1. Its universal necessity – Does he not really think that Jew, as well as Gentile, stands in need of mercy?

      • Publican and Pharisee – Luke 18:9-17 – Jesus said that the spirt of exclusiveness, superiority, and self-righteousness fenced one away from true justification.
      • Lord’s Prayer – Matthew 6:9-15 – Jesus taught that fundamental to an approach to God in transparent worship was a sense of the need for forgiveness and the desire to be forgivers.
      • Parable of the workers – Matthew 20:1-15 – Jesus taught that in distributing eternal life, the owner of the vineyard distributes as seems good to him and none has a right to question his prerogative.
      • Paul’s extended and intense argument concerning the gospel has these principles scattered within it: “For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. … Or is He God of the Jews only? Is He not also God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith” (Romans 3:9, 29-30 NKJV).
      • This spirit of hostility to the Gentiles supported the murderous hostility of the Jews to Paul’s clear statement of his mission to the Gentiles (Acts 22:2, 22).

2..  That the display of mercy in the end is about God and not about us.

      • Punishment is the pure display of holy wrath. 
      • Mercy and lovingkindness combine holy wrath in providing a sacrifice and a propitiation. 
      • Wisdom is the perfect contrivance of a means to both merciful and just, and sovereign choice of those that are to receive the blessings thus contrived (1 Peter 2:6-10).

B. The Infinite Superiority of Salvific blessing to those of personal comfort

1. Jonah loved the growth and laments the demise of a plant “of a night.” 

2. Covets the destruction of a large city. 

3. We show the same misplaced value when we refuse difficult assignments or places for the glory of God and the spread of the gospel.


V. Truth extracted

A. The present certainty of judgment is implicit within the Gospel and explicitly the reason for existence; The removal of threatened condemnation does not render God “changeable” but is consistent with his changelessness; (Mal. 3:6).

1. We are by nature children of wrath.

2. He that believeth not is condemned already. 

3. He ordains that faith cometh by hearing, cf. Romans 10:14-17.

B. Repentance is not a whim but, arising from both fear and remorse, detailed and cognitively organized:  Hosea 14:1-4; Malachi 3:7-12; 16

C. The repentance of one generation does not guarantee the safety of the next; see Nahum written app. 120 years later.

D. That we have received mercy should make us, not restricted in compassion or impatient with sinners, but free purveyors of the gospel and patient toward all; cf. Titus 3:1-7. 


VI.  Summary of Theological Foundations in Jonah 

A. Its typology –

1.  Luke 11:29-32; Matthew 12:39-42; 16:4 for Jonah as a type of Christ

2.  The sacrifice of Jonah for the sake of the ship and the sailors can be seen as a type of Christ. This should not be pushed very far, for Jonah was not the just for the unjust, but shows clearly that divine wrath must be propitiated.

3. Again, the belly of the fish becomes the haven of rest from the storm of God’s wrath.  Like the ark to Noah and his family, so was the great fish’s belly to Jonah.

B. Doctrine of God

1. Activities 

      • creation 1:9 
      • providence 1:7 
      • revelation 1:1 
      • miraculous intervention 1:17 
      • redemption 3

2. Attributes 

      • Natural Attributes
      • Omnipotence – 1:4, 14, 17; 4:6-8
      • Omniscience – 1:2, 7; 2:2
      • Omnipresence – 1:3, 4; 2:1
      • Moral
      • Wrathful – 1:4; 2:3; 3:4
      • Merciful – 2:6; 3:9, 10; 4:2 
      • Compassionate – 4:2, 11
      • Governs the world for moral purposes
      • Lovingkindness

3. Sovereignty 

      • God is the Creator of and the sovereign governor of Nature – 1:15 cf John 6:16-20; Mark 3:38-41; 6:51.
      • God is the Creator of and the sovereign governor of man – 2:3 salvation – 2:9.
Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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