God's Call -- Jonah's Disobedience

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God’s Call – Jonah’s Disobedience – Jonah 1:1-3

Review: Last week we talked about the significance of the very first phrase in v.1:  

“The word of the Lord came” =  Notice that the message J. received was from God.  Had the message come from some mere man, it would not carry much weight.  Because this is a word from God, it is very important and urgent – J. had better listen.

We also noted that in v. 2 that the instructions were very specific.  There was no way J. could misunderstand what God wanted him to do.  The instructions are:

-          J. is to get up immediately and make whatever travel plans are necessary in order to travel from wherever he was in Israel to the city of Nineveh.  Practically speaking he was to prepare for about a 500 mile journey. 

-          When he arrived, God intended for J. to raise his voice and cry out against the wickedness of that city.  Practically speaking, that meant he would simply stand out in public where people could hear him and loudly preach a message of God’s judgment.  This is the only recorded instance of an OT prophet being sent to a gentile city to proclaim the word of the Lord.

I’m pretty sure that J. clearly understood the instructions.  There was nothing vague or hidden about what God wanted him to do.  Sometimes our excuse for not obeying God is that we didn’t know exactly what He wanted us to do.  Many times we do find ourselves in a position where the word of the Lord is not completely clear to us.  But that is not the case here – J. couldn’t say that God didn’t make the instructions clear enough.  His problem is not that he had a hard time understanding the instructions – his problem is that he had a hard time being willing to carry them out. 

We are a lot like Jonah in that, most of the time we know exactly what God wants us to do – we struggle with simple obedience to what He has instructed us to do. 


“Ninevah the great city” = In that day, Ninevah was indeed a “great city” – it was the capital of the Assyrian empire – situated on the Tigris River – one of the most important cities of that day.  In v.2 God gives the reason why Jonah is to preach against this city:

“Their wickedness has come up before me” = this v. makes it clear that God has always been aware of the wickedness in this world.  Some people have the idea that somehow God does not notice the sinfulness which is present in the world today (both individually & nationally).  However, there is no nation on earth which can hide its wickedness from God. 

Our politicians would like us to think that a good economy is the most important thing for our national survival.  I’m pretty sure that God cares more about the spiritual and moral health of a nation than its financial security.  When God looked at Ninevah, He didn’t take notice of whether their economy was flourishing or failing.  He wasn’t that concerned about whether their stock market was going up or down. When God looked at Ninevah He saw a long record of wickedness and rebellion against the God of Heaven.  N. was a “great” city in more than one way.  It was great in its size and power.  But it was also GREAT IN ITS SIN.   In fact, God had observed the wickedness of Ninevah for a long time.  Acc. to Gen. 10:11-12, this city had been established way back in Nimrod’s time.  God had allowed this city to grow in its wickedness for a long time – Finally God says “I’ve had enough! – I cannot allow this city to continue to exist.” 

In pondering the wickedness of Ninevah and God decision to destroy the city, one of the questions that weighed heavy on my mind this week was this:  At what point does God decide that He has put up with the wickedness of any nation long enough?  At what point does He decide to bring His judgment down upon a nation?  Of course, my first thoughts were for this nation we live in.  I don’t think that I have to work very hard to convince you that we live in a nation that deserves the judgment of God.  God has not been blind to the rising tide of evil in our land.  We live in a nation that was founded, in part, on a spiritual heritage.  Yet, for the most part, we have become an almost totally secular nation.  In spite the words on our money that say “in God we trust” – we are not a nation that trusts in God any more.  I’m pretty sure that when God looks at America He sees that…

·         The conscience of this nation has been dulled by 35 years of the legalized murder of our unborn children.

·         The moral fiber of this nation has been weakened by a flood of immorality and pornography.

·         The foundation stones of our society are being pulled out by a redefining of what marriage and family are.

·         The whole attitude of our people and our politicians is focused on self-gratification and self-fulfillment.  I get the feeling that most people want a good economy just so they can freely go on in their sinful and selfish ways. 

But God is still the same as He was in Jonah’s day.  Today Ninevah is history because of its wickedness.  We can’t assume that God will allow our nation to continue in its sinful ways without feeling the righteous judgment of God.


V.3…  Jonah’s response to God’s command is to run away.   Now, what do you suppose a prophet should do when he receives a command from God?  Do you suppose he should stand around and say “I wonder what the will of God is for me?”  Of course not!  He should get busy doing what God told him to do.

So, we would expect J. to pack his bags and head NE toward the city of Nineveh – either walking or by camel or horseback.  Instead he does a very strange thing.  He goes down to Joppa and buys a ticked to the first ship heading west!  (show Joppa, Nineveh, and Tarshish on map…  Joppa pic. from Israel tour…  it is interesting that Joppa is the very same place where, years later, God give Peter a vision that sends him out to preach the gospel to the gentile world – Acts 10) 

I think we can learn from this that the OT prophets were not mere puppets in God’s hand – they were not mindless robots with no will of their own – they could choose to resist God’s will.  We also have the ability to resist and disobey what God calls us to do.

Any time we get entangled deeply in some life-dominating sin we can be sure it didn’t happen without warning, or without opportunities to stop before that sin completely entangles you and controls you.  In Jonah we have a vivid warning to watch out for that first step of disobedience.  What I mean is, watch out for that first time you step over the line – where you knowingly act against God’s will.  You tell yourself, “I know this is sin, but I’m not going to let myself get in too deep – I’m just going to enjoy a little taste of it and then I’ll get back out.”  Let me tell you:  That first step of disobedience may see innocent and harmless,  but it is often the crucial step that makes it easier to take the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, steps…  Before you know it, you are deeply entangled in the kind of sin that carries severe consequences.   This is what happens to Jonah.  He takes the first step of spiritual rebellion in v.3:  “But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish”  (“I think I’ll go see if there is a ship going west – maybe I’ll buy a ticket and take a cruise – maybe I can put a little distance between God and myself – maybe God won’t notice that I’m gone and I can get out of the job He has for me”)   Jonah’s 1st step leads to 2nd, 3rd, 4th steps – notice the progression:

·         1:3  “down to Joppa”

·         1:5  “J. had gone below into the hold of the ship” (again, he is pictured as going down…)

·         2:6  “I descended…”  down into the depths of the sea.

J. took that first downward step of disobedience and didn’t stop until he hit bottom.  And that is exactly what it takes for some people when they allow themselves to be controlled by some life dominating sin – they often ignore the pleas and warnings of others – they keep taking increasingly destructive steps until they hit rock bottom. 

·         LA:  What should you do if you are entangled in some life dominating sin?  You might say, what do you mean by a “life dominating sin”?  I’m speaking of the kind of sins that the secular world likes to call “addictions” – Things like:  being controlled by alcohol, being controlled by various forms of sexual immorality,  -- this category of “life dominating sins” also includes things like – being controlled by anger, a gossiping tongue, ungratefulness to God, etc. 

·          So, what should you do if you are entangled by some life dominating sin?  Well, the overall answer is that you need to take some drastic steps to re-structure your life for Biblical change.  The first step in that process is to go back and honestly IDENTIFY THE FIRST STEPS you took that led you into this sin…  with God’s help and with accountability to other Christians, you need to map out a strategy that helps you stop and repent at the very first step of disobedience…  to stop rationalizing that the 1st step is not so bad..    This process is also described in James 1:13-15…

James 1:13-15 13Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.  14But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  15Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. 

·         You need to understand that there is much more I could say at this point about how the we go about restructuring our life for Biblical change – (that is a process better explained “one on one” or in a small group mentoring format)  -  for now, I just want to use Jonah’s experience to show you how critical that first downward step is – The Bible tells us that we are to put to death the deeds of the flesh – the most satisfying way to do that is to abort sin at the very moment of conception.     And, I am using the word “abort” because it is such an awful and repulsive action when we talk  about a pre-born baby being aborted.  I strongly oppose the Abortion of children.  But there is one kind of abortion that I am in favor of – that is, aborting sin at the moment of its conception.  This is exactly the picture we just read in James 1:15: “when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin.”   Killing sin at the moment of conception is much easier and much more satisfying than letting that sin give birth and grow into something that dominates and controls our life.

Well, let’s get back to the story of Jonah…  Apparently J. did not have any trouble finding a ship going to Tarshish.  I can imagine J. boarding the ship thinking:  “everything is going so well, maybe God doesn’t really mind if I don’t go to Nineveh.”  When someone wants to run away from God, they will usually find a way to do it.  I remember hearing this saying:  “When a person decides to run away from the Lord, Satan usually provides the transportation facilities.”


Note carefully this phrase in v.3 that is repeated 2 times:  “from the presence of the Lord”   The idea is that J. was seeking to escape to a place where God’s presence was absent.  Maybe he thought that by running from the place where God spoke to him he could flee from his conscience.  Jonah was acting irrationally if he thought he could really escape from God’s presence.  In the same way, we start acting irrationally when we resist God’s will – down deep we know better, but we are so eager to get away from what God is telling us that we do some pretty stupid things.

Surely, being a prophet of God, Jonah knew that God was omnipresent and omnipotent.  It is impossible to flee from the presence of God:

Psalms 139:7-10   Where can I go from Your Spirit?

    Or where can I flee from Your presence?

 If I ascend to heaven, You are there;

    If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.

 If I take the wings of the dawn,

    If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,

 Even there Your hand will lead me,

    And Your right hand will lay hold of me.

Jeremiah 23:23-24  “Am I a God who is near,” declares the LORD,

    “And not a God far off?   Can a man hide himself in hiding places

    So I do not see him?” declares the LORD. 

“Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the LORD.

To be sure, by disobeying Jonah lost the joy of God’s presence, but God was still with him, convicting him of his disobedience. 

Why did Jonah flee?

·         He hated the Ninevites.  And he had some good reasons to hate them.  Jonah lived during the reign of Jeroboam II (c.794-753BC) the king of Israel.  This was a time when the nation was prospering and the ancient borders had been restored as far north as Damascus.  During this era the northern kingdom had been repeatedly attacked by Syria and Assyria.  The Assyrians were especially hated and feared – the Assyrian empire was gaining strength and threatening the national security of Israel.  It is right in the middle of this national tension that God sends Jonah to Nineveh, the capitol of Assyria.  If you want to understand Jonah’s reluctance,  imagine what it would be like if God called a Jewish prophet from the city of Jerusalem today and told him to go to Tehran, the capitol city of Iran and publically preach a message of judgment against the current Iranian government.  How receptive do you suppose President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be?    Assyria was one of the cruelest nations in the ancient world. Everyone feared them.  They were known for using very cruel methods of torturing their enemies (a mild example:  bury an man in sand up to his neck – put a leather thong through this tongue and leave him to die as the hot sun beat on his head).  Their normal practice in attacking a city was to kill all the men and children and take the women captive.

·         Jonah did not want these people to be saved.  Jonah himself tells us his reason for running away.  Let’s take a sneak preview of 4:1-2…  Jonah knew his theology – he had a good understanding of the attributes of God.  Even though he was to preach judgment, he knew there was a chance that God would show mercy to the people of Nineveh if they repented.  That was the last thing in the world that he wanted.

·         Is it possible that we would act the same way in a similar situation?  Our natural tendency is to want to see the person we don’t like judged. It is easy to get locked into a mindset that says “they deserve every bit of judgment that God could possibly pour out on them!”  We have to be very careful that we don’t ever come to the point of hating those who are spiritually lost, rather than loving them.  We might despise the actions of Islamic Terrorists in the world today, but we are not at liberty to hate the Muslim peoples for whom Christ died.  The Assyrians were the terrorists of Jonah’s day – he didn’t want to see them saved.  We look back in time and clearly see his error of thinking.  Let’s not repeat the same error in relation to those who are enemies of the gospel today. 

o   I just receive the most recent issue of “Mission Frontiers” magazine – it contains some incredible stories about how God is moving among the Muslim people groups.  We need to make sure that political threats don’t blind us to God’s love for all the peoples of the world.   Let me say something that is politically incorrect, and would not get me elected President by either political party:  I firmly believe that the threat of Islamic Terrorism cannot be ultimately solved by human governments.  The deepest need for every person on this earth is to hear the gospel and to receive the salvation that God offers through Jesus Christ.  For example, for many years’ people looked at the great nation of China as a communist stronghold so powerful that it could never be penetrated by the gospel.  But now we are learning that there has been such a movement of God among the Chinese people groups that millions are turning to faith in Christ – it is a movement that the human government of China is absolutely powerless to stop.  There is a movement of God among the Chinese church today that is called “back to Jerusalem” – it is a missionary movement whereas Chinese Christians are offering their lives to take the gospel through the Muslim world all the way back to Jerusalem! 

o   Let’s take a lesson from what God is doing in China and apply it to the Muslim world.  I believe that we have the privilege to be praying boldly for the same kind of movement of God among the Muslim peoples.  The world is so focused on rising political tensions that they miss the untold story of the movement of God among Muslim nations – it is happening – the Kingdom of God is advancing in these nations – many times it is through the blood of martyrs – but God will not be denied – He has told us that “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come’ Matthew 24:14.

We need to conclude our study at this point today.  So far we have seen God’s Call and Jonah’s Disobedience.  We have used Jonah’s story to help us think about God’s call in our lives… and to think about the danger of taking that first step away from God’s will for us… 

We’ve also thought about Jonah’s reasons for running from God’s call and tried to see if we might be using the same kind of reasons as an excuse to hate people for whom Christ died….

Don’t think that Jonah is going to get away with his disobedience.  Next time we will explore how God deals with His reluctant missionary.

Let’s remember that God’s Word comes to us clearly each day.  As we expose our life to God’s Word we receive clear instructions.  Are we obeying?

Sometimes we don’t want to obey those instructions – and we might even think we have good reasons for not obeying.  However, let’s not run away from God – it won’t work

Maybe you are here today and have to yet experienced God’s forgiveness for your sins.  You know clearly that God wants you to submit your life to him – yet you’ve been trying to run from God for a long time – maybe years.  Come to God today through Jesus Christ – His is willing to forgive your sins – He want to use your life for the glory of His kingdom! 

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