The Compassion of God is Leading You to Repentance
Are You Coming?
My 3 year old daughter has a brutal enemy, a 3 year old boy.
Over her life, my 3 year old daughter has received 3 years of constant instruction and pleading to get her to obey me and to know and understand that I am kind and good to her. But though I have spent long hours and years of work doing wonderful things for her. I took her to ball games, gave her great food to eat, but she still does not repent and obey me.
And now, she has this 3 year old boy who hates and hits her. In order to make my daughter understand how compassionate I am, I decide to do something special for that boy. One day, my daughter and I are walking down the street and we see this poor boy, bored to tears. He cries, “Nobody loves me and I’m so bored of life!” He turns to me and asks me, “Please, sir, would you deliver me from this horrible boredom?!” So, I take him to the amusement park, just me and him, and we ride, zipping up and down the world’s fastest roller coasters together. At the end of the day, he turns to me and says, “What a miracle! I want you to be my dad!” And then I go to the courthouse and sign papers to adopt this boy, my daughter’s enemy.
My daughter looks on in jealousy…What should my daughter think?
If I repent and follow, how much more will he take me back as his daughter?
I spurned his compassion and all the wonderful things he has done for me, yet I never repented! That boy received just one day at the amusement park and he repented! My dad is compassionate!
Now all that was made up, but believe it or not, that illustrates the story of the first 2 chapters of the book of Jonah. Turn with me to the OT book of Jonah. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea…and keep going and you’ll find it.
As we’re turning, let me make this point about my illustration. My compassion works for my daughter’s enemy was meant to lead my own daughter to repentance. In the same way, God’s compassion on Israel’s enemies, the Ninevites, was meant to lead the Israelites to repentance.
And so for you too, the compassion, or goodness of God, is leading you to repentance (that phrase is taken from Ro. 2:4). The idea in Romans 2 is that God’s goodness is attempting to lead you to repentance, will you come? So, I’d like to preach to you then on the divine intent of the book of Jonah The Compassion of God is Leading You to Repentance. Are You Coming? That’s the message of the book of Jonah.
Keep in mind that Jonah represents God’s people, the Israelites. The Israelites received centuries of God’s compassion and, during Jonah’s ministry, are failing to repent and follow the Lord.
So I had compassion on the enemy of my daughter and the goal of that compassion was to lead my daughter to repentance. In the first 2 chapters of Jonah, the compassion of God is expressed toward pagan people, the sailors. This should lead Jonah, who represents God’s people, to repentance. This compassion now, forever preaches to God’s people that God has amazing, and as we’ll see next week, almost ridiculously amazing compassion upon unbelievers, which should lead God’s people to repentance. So, the compassion of God is attempting to lead you to repentance, are you coming?
Introduction to Jonah
Jonah is a book written to God’s people, the Jews, about the repentance of two sets of pagan people, the sailors in chapter 1-2 and the Ninevites in chapters 3-4. And the Lord’s compassion to them. Found within the repentance of the sailors was a message for Jonah, who represents God’s people, “I had compassion upon those pagan sailors when they repented; how much more will I have compassion upon my own people?”
I’d like to go through the story of Jonah then in order to emphasize the message of the book, which is The Compassion of God is Leading You to Repentance. Are You Coming?
Keep in mind going through Jonah, that chapters 1 and 2 parallel, chapters 3-4. We’ll attempt to get through the first 2 chapters tonight and the last 2 chapters next Wed. night.
You are all sitting in an amphitheater…
Curtain opens: Scene 1: the Tumultuous Sea
In chapter 1, God commissions Jonah the first time. The second commission occurs in ch. 3:1. The LORD tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach judgment against it. What was he to preach during this first commission? The content is actually found in Jonah 3:4 “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”
As we go through Jonah this week and next, we’ll discover that judgment carries a lot of the storyline in Jonah. The theme of God’s judgment in the book of Jonah is what creates anticipation in the story. “Oh no, is God going to judge!? Let’s see what happens!” You’ll see that when the storm comes…. “Is it going to sink the ship?” and with the Ninevites… “Is God going to destroy Nineveh!” So, anticipation is created because of God’s potential judgment, both of which never happen!
Spiritual Life Going Down
But Jonah refuses God’s commission the first time, and his spiritual life “keeps going down.” We see this with the repetition of the word “went down” in 1:3 and 5. The Lord says 1:2, “Jonah, go preach against Nineveh.” Jonah says ‘no way’ and so…
First, Jonah “went down” to Joppa, 1:3.
Second (1:3), he boards a ship and then he “went down” into that ship.
Third, 1:5, he had “gone down” (same Hebrew expression as before) into the deck of the ship.
That expression probably is symbolic of, not just his geographical movement then, but also his theological movement. His spiritual life, while running from God, has “gone down”, hitting rock bottom.
That ship was going to Tarshish in the opposite direction from Nineveh, in southern Spain, some 2,200 miles away, which is 3x times as far as Nineveh, but why would Jonah flee? We have the answer in chapter 4. In, 4:2 Jonah says it was because he knew that God is a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil (relents concerning bringing disaster).
So?! “So, Jonah, that’s why you flee from God’s call on your life, because God is good? Not just because of that, but b/c Jonah knew God would not destroy the Ninevites if he preached there. Why would Jonah want the Ninevites destroyed? Because the Ninevites were extremely cruel!
“The Assyrian army was notorious for its brutality, and the Assyrians themselves made sure their enemies knew about their reputation. Their powerful bows, battering rams, and archers on horseback were also effective; but mutilation of prisoners, resettlement of whole populations, and a general rejoicing in butchery were what their victims told others about. Assyrian kings bragged in stone about their atrocities…. Prisoners are skinned alive, stabbed, beheaded, impaled on poles, their hands or feet or tongues chopped off, and their eyes put out.” Would you want them to repent and God save them? So, Jonah flees God’s call to preach to them b/c he doesn’t want them to get saved; he wants them to be judged instead.”
First Confrontation with Pagan People
Now in this first scene, not only does God commission him the first time, Jonah also has his first confrontation with pagan peoples, this time the sailors. Jonah’s second confrontation with pagan people is the Ninevites, in the last half of the book.
So, Jonah is on his way to Tarshish, fleeing from the presence of the Lord and the Lord (1:4) threatens judgment on the one whom, ironically, was commissioned to preach judgment . The Lord does this by, notice this, 1:4 “hurling” a violent wind that threatens to sink the ship. You’ll see this word “hurl” several times (1:4, 5, 12, 15). You can hear the sea crashing against the ship and the winds howling, lightning crashing. Thus, the Lord shows his ability to control nature.
Then, the sailors respond immediately and vigorously with conviction. In their confusion and turmoil, the sailors are “afraid” and cry out to their gods 1:5 (*bah!!) and they “hurl” the cargo overboard to lighten the ship (*act like throwing cargo over). So, you can see they are responding immediately and vigorously with conviction. And their leader, the captain, participates in the response by expressing hope that God may be compassionate and change his mind in Jonah 1:6 (KJV) So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.” See the leader’s hope? “Perhaps God will consider us and save us!”
Believing that all calamity is a result of sin, which in this case it was, they cast lots (1:7) to determine who is responsible for their trouble. Another indication of their immediate and vigorous response. And the lot falls upon Jonah, which once again shows God’s ability to control, not only nature, but also He controls events. The sailors confront Jonah in v. 8, demanding to know who he is and what he has done.
Jonah responds with his nationality and his religion, v.9. He says he’s a Hebrew and that he is a Yahweh worshipper. Notice Jonah’s description of the Lord, end of v. 9, the Lord “made the sea and the dry land.” It’s as if Jonah says, “the Lord made the sea, into which I am about to be thrown and the Lord also made the dry land, afterward and upon which I am about to be vomited.”
So those two parts of creation, the sea and the dryland, signify not only the Lord’s power and control in nature, but they also signify a literary device preparing the reader for the next 2 major geographical shifts in the book when the sailors hurl Jonah into the sea and the fish spits Jonah up onto the dryland.
And the sailors are afraid, v.10, when they learned that Jonah is a worshiper of the Lord. We learn at this point about a conversation that took place earlier, possibly when Jonah entered the boat. It is if the sailors said when Jonah first got on the boat, “So, you’re on your way to Nineveh, eh…what’s ah…what’s your business there?” Jonah replies with the information we find in verse 10, “O just fleeing from the presence of the Yahweh.” Sailors at that point would just say, “Okay.” They wouldn’t have cared if someone was fleeing from a god that they didn’t worship.
But in verse 10 they do care, in fact they become exceedingly fearful, because they learn that Jonah is a worshiper of the Lord. Someone who worships a god they are attempting to flee from is not a good combination, and the sailors draw the conclusion that he’s the reason for this troublesome storm they are in.
Desiring to rid themselves of the storm, the sailors ask Jonah what they should do. Jonah says, 1:12, “Hurl [once again] me overboard and the storm will calm.” After attempting to row the boat to shore first, these more merciful-than-Jonah sailors (we’ll see how much more merciful they were than Jonah next week), instead of hurling him into the sea right away, cry out to Jonah’s God for mercy in Jonah 1:14 (KJV) 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,” affirming God’s ability to control nature and events.
The sailors then, 1:15, “hurl” Jonah overboard, judging the one who was to preach judgment, and the storm stops at once (*stopping sound). So, the LORD, in his great compassion, hears the prayers of contrite Gentile people and spares them, a theme repeated in the latter half of the book in the story of the Ninevites.
Were these sailors converts to the Lord? Well, in 1:16, 3 things seem to indicate that the sailors are true believers. Jonah 1:16 (KJV) Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly (whereas, if you look back at 1:5 they were afraid, now they fear the LORD in v. 16), and (2ndly they) lit. “Sacrificed sacrifices unto the Lord.” Thirdly, they “vowed vows.” So they sacrificed sacrifices and they vowed vows. The repetition of the verb with the noun indicates that they were earnest in their sacrifices and they were earnest when they vowed. Not only that, but they feared the Lord exceedingly. These are truly genuine worshipers of the Lord.
Then God, once again, shows his ability to control nature in 1:17, by arranging for a great fish to swallow Jonah and he’s in the belly of that great fish for 3 days.
Close Scene 1; curtain down, curtain up. Scene 2: The belly of the great fish, Jonah’s repentant yet hypocritical cry to God
From 1:17-2:10, we have Jonah’s prayer from inside the fish and it’s all about Jonah’s repentance and God’s restoring Jonah. The text begins and ends with the story concerning the fish. It begins with the fish swallowing Jonah and ends with him spitting him out. In the middle, in 2:1-9, is Jonah’s prayer, which consists of descriptions of the Lord’s deliverance in 2:2 and God’s answers to his prayers during these 3 days. Notice God’s hearing of him, 1:2 “he heard me” and “thou heardest my voice”, and so he repents, 2:4, “I will look again toward thy holy temple.”
This is followed by a description of Jonah’s distress (2:3-6), where he admits it was God who afflicted him Jonah 2:3 (KJV) For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.
Another description of the Lord’s deliverance is found in the last part of 2:6-7. The prayer concludes with Jonah hypocritically contrasting himself with pagan people and promises future service, notice Jonah 2:8 (KJV) They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.” We should take that to mean they who observe, lit. in the Hebrew, “worthlessnesses of nothingness” forfeit God’s kindness to them. So, in v.8-9, Jonah prays to God saying, “Lord, those who serve empty idols forfeit your kindness to them, but I” Jonah says piously, “I will offer you sacrifices with thanksgiving and I will pay my vows!” And just as he makes that claim, those former idol worshipping sailors are up above, on the surface of the water, rejoicing over being recipients of God’s grace! Sure, Jonah, you’ll sacrifice and make vows and the pagans don’t, but that’s exactly what the pagan sailors did do in Jonah 1:16 (KJV) Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.” Jonah…you hypocrite!
Nevertheless, Jonah did repent in that prayer and Jonah does want to serve the Lord, so the Lord, 2:10, speaks to the fish and the fish obeys the Lord, spitting him up onto the dry ground! Wow, Jonah look at that, God speaks and a fish obeys. Think you could learn anything from that Jonah, eh? “Even a dumb fish can obey the LORD, Jonah!”
And the second part of the story, instead of a fish, we have cows, so we’ll see how those help carry the story.
APP: In the story, Jonah is a type of Israel. Israel, for all these years, had the word of God. They saw and heard about all that God had done for Israel. Israel heard about miracles through Moses. Israel observed and recounted to their children the miracles of Elijah and Elisha. And yet, during Israel’s history at this point, though they had experienced all these great miraculous events from the Lord, they still did not repent and, like it says in chapter 1 verse 16, they did not earnestly and genuinely worship the Lord. And now, a small group of pagan sailors, who have no experience with Yahweh, receive one small miracle when they pray and then throw a disobedient prophet into the sea and the storm ceases. And they genuinely repent and worship the Lord. This is meant to be an somewhat of an offense to the people of Israel, for whom this book was preserved. It’s as if the Lord is saying, “I have given you all those miracles, oh my people Israel, and I have given you centuries and centuries of revelation, yet you have turned from me. You need to learn repentance from these pagan sailors and learn obedience from that dumb fish.”
May we not be like the people of Israel and allow all this revelation from God to go through our ears and fail to do with it what he wants us to do. In the Bible we have more revelation than even the people of Israel had. How much more responsible are we for listening to what it says and doing it, worshiping the Lord and being exceedingly fearful of disobeying him and marvelling over his character and person.
Scene 2 closes. Curtain down; curtain up, scene 3…next time!