The lessons that the Christian can learn from the book of Jonah are priceless. God’s love, care, sovereignty, and discipline shine forth in a remarkable display of God’s glory. Jonah was by no means a perfect prophet. He had flaws like the rest of God’s chosen vessels in the Bible.
But not only Jonah can be seen amid his story. Yet again, the reader can catch a glimpse of Christ and His tremendous sacrifice. So while the illustration is not perfect, let us look upon the life of Jonah as told in Jonah 1:11-16 and see beyond the wreckage.
When the book of Jonah begins, we see God telling Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh. Then Jonah runs from God rather than submitting to the will of God. Finally, Jonah gets on a boat to flee to Tarshish. After Jonah boards the ship, a great storm comes upon the waters. The ship’s crew cast lots to find out who is causing the storm. The lot falls on Jonah, and the people begin to question him.
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Then in Jonah 1:11, we read the final question. Scripture says, “Then they said unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us?…” (Jon. 1:11). So here was the question that Jonah had to answer. He had already received several questions and answered most of them, but there was no more important question than this one.
What could the crew do to stop the storm? Inevitably there were two answers. The first would have been a noble response. Jonah could have said, “To stop the storm, I need to turn around and go in the opposite direction.” Here we see an illustration of repentance. If Jonah had repented from his sin and turned the other way, fulfilling his initial calling to go to Nineveh, the storm would have ceased.
Nevertheless, another response was an option for stopping the storm, and it was this later response that Jonah offered.
The response of Jonah
Jonah did not respond with repentance. Instead, the Bible tells us, “And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you” (Jon. 1:12). Rather than repentance Jonah desired death. Instead of the will of God, Jonah sought the grave.
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Jonah’s heart had grown cold and hard towards God. The more Jonah ran, the harder his heart grew. Internally, Jonah raged against the will of God, much like the sea raged against Jonah. The words of Scripture are perfect, but one must look beyond the mere retelling of events in wisdom to see the heart of Jonah.
In Jonah’s attempt to run from God, sin choked out the love of God from Jonah’s heart. When sin is given an inch, it takes a mile. When someone lets sin into his life, it will affect every part of his life and turn his heart against God. Jonah would have rather of died than turn from his sin.
As the story continues, we encounter the crew members yet again. Jonah told the crew members what they must do for the wrath of God to be satisfied. Inevitably Jonah told them to kill him, and God would withdraw His wrath.
But what was the response of the men? The Bible tells us, “Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them” (Jon. 1:13). Jonah told the men to throw him overboard, and not surprisingly enough, the crew members did not like that idea. However, within this little section, we can see that man’s effort will never satisfy the wrath of God.
The men sought to overpower God in their rowing. But, as the seas raged, they did so by the wrath of God. The anger and the outpouring of God’s wrath were heavy upon the ship. No matter how much the men tried, they could not overpower God when God’s wrath was set upon them. No matter how vigorously they rowed, their efforts were not enough.
The picture that we are given is telling. Men strive against God and think their efforts will be enough. Men strive to enter heaven while the wrath of God burns hot against them. There has to be another way.
Jonah and Christ
The only way to be made right with God is through Jesus Christ. Jonah does not give us a perfect picture of Jesus. Neither does anyone else in Scripture, for that matter. However, even Christ told the story of Jonan when Jonah was in the belly of the whale to illustrate His resurrection.
When the crew members realized they could not outrun God, they were left with the choice, “Go down with the ship or throw Jonah overboard?” The Bible tells us, “Wherefore they cried unto the Lord, and said, We beseech thee, O Lord, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased thee. So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging” (Jon. 1:14-15). In one sense of the word, the men realized that they were throwing an innocent man into the sea. Simply put, the men were not in a position to kill Jonah. Therefore, they prayed to the Lord and asked that Jonah’s blood would not be upon their hands. Then the men threw Jonah overboard.
But do you see what happened when Jonah was thrown into the sea? The sea stopped when Jonah was cast forth and given over to God’s wrath, and the men onboard the ship were sparred. Likewise, when Jesus hung on the cross, He was given over to the wrath of God, and for the Christian, the storm of God’s wrath has ceased.
The response of man
But how did the crew members respond? The Bible tells us, “Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the Lord, and made vows” (Jon. 1:16). So here we see God ordained the men on board the ship to be saved through Jonah’s sinful choices.
The sin of man cannot thwart the plan of God. God does not make people sin; however, He does allow people to sin while also having the power to stop sin. Therefore, it must be seen that sin is part of God’s sovereign will. This does not make sin good, but it does mean that God is greater than sin and what the enemy intended for evil, “…God meant it unto good” (Gen. 50:20).
When one considers man’s sin and the sovereignty of God, the most remarkable place to look is the cross. Scripture tells us, “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:22-23). Jesus died as the predetermined plan of God, while at the same time, Jesus’ death came from sinful men.
When the crew members on board the ship noticed God’s mighty workings, they turned to God in worship. The day presented to us in Jonah 1:11-16 would have been their day of salvation. They had not known the Lord before this moment. They were heathen sailors who would have likely heard about Jonah’s God but did not know Jonah’s God personally. But when they saw God’s wrath, beheld God’s power in the storm, and became aware of God’s response to Jonah being thrown overboard, they turned from their sin to God in faith.
Look upon God’s judgment for sin and turn to Jesus with the eyes of faith as the only hope of salvation. Jesus has calmed the storms of God’s wrath for those who trust Him.
Father, I thank You for Jesus Christ. I thank You that while I have come short of Your commands, You have made a way for me to be forgiven in Christ. In Jesus’ name, Amen.