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The Big Book–Cover to Cover: Jonah

Michael teaches an overview of the book of Jonah. Well known and widely regarded as a children’s story or a “whale’s tale,” this is a text many of us ought to look at with fresh eyes. It is the living word of God.

Show Notes

Jonah is widely known as a children’s story, “a whale’s tale.” It’s also ridiculed by scholars because they cannot abide a man being swallowed by a large fish and survive.

Scholars have worked overtime to dismiss and re-interpret or allegorize the account entirely.

G. Campbell Morgan: Men have been looking so hard at the great fish that they have failed to see the great God. (1.)

This is a good reminder for how we want to read the Scripture: As God’s living word.

Nineveh was a famous literal city. God sent His prophet Jonah to warn of impending doom; Jonah tries to escape his duty and the story unfolds.

I. We cannot escape God’s presence

Jonah 1:1-3

Jonah begins with a clear and precise call:

  1. Arise, go, cry against.
  2. Repent or wrath will come.

Jonah disobeys his commission

  1. Prophets had an unenviable job. Most felt unsuited for the task while some were less than willing.
  2. Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, et. al. shrank from their commission, but Jonah flatly disobeys.
  3. In fact, Jonah’s outright disobedience to God’s prophetic call is unique in all of Scripture.

Notice the movement in the language:

  1. Called to arise, but Jonah goes “down” to Joppa.
  2. Called to go, but he flees.
  3. Went down into the ship to flee from the presence of the Lord
  4. 3 times we’re told Jonah is trying to get away from the presence of the Lord. (twice in Jonah 1:3, again in Jonah 1:10).

You nor I have been given prophetic instructions, but if we love Him we are to obey Him.

When you and I know the right thing to do and we don’t do it, we call it sin. Western Christianity has gotten good at making light of this.

When you run away from the Lord you never get to where you are going, and you always pay your own fare.But when you go the Lord’s way you always get to where you are going, and He pays the fare. –Donald Grey Barnhouse

Do we run to obedience, or do we run away?

Do we think that we can escape the presence of the Lord? How long can we delay obedience?

Somehow we must get clear of wrong thinking, of the world’s theology, of bad counsel from well-meaning people––and we must cement ourselves on His word.

We need to run to obey rather than run to escape.

Running to obedience is a whole lot more joyful for everybody. Why do we resist?

Psalm 139:7 – We cannot escape God’s presence

II. We cannot thwart God’s sovereignty

A. Jonah 1:4-17

  1. Jonah’s goal to flee proves futile
  2. The Lord sends a great storm, all while Jonah is asleep.
  3. The captain is desperate – Jonah 1:6. Was God concerned about them? Was He concerned about Jonah? Is He concerned about you?

The sovereign is at work even in the midst of a fallen, broken, sinful context.

The sailors are more concerned about Jonah than Jonah is for himself. Sailors expend all their human resources and then, in desperation, pray.

Jonah 1:16 – Consider

Nothing and no one can thwart God’s will for your life.

We can muck things up. We can choose to live in sin and we can injure ourselves and others around us, but it’s not going to derail God’s plan.

Even our disobedience, negligence, and rebellion cannot thwart God’s plan.

Are there consequences for sin? Yes. Can we affect other people and even hurt them? Yes. But God’s plan wont be shaken.

Sin cannot thwart God’s sovereign plan.

III. We can learn much – even after we sin and are forgiven.

Jonah Chapter 2 is where many readers and scholars dismiss the story.

How do we organize this? Do we explain it away as science: this could happen! Or do we explain it as miracle?

I believe the same God who created the universe, overcame death, and forgives sin is the same God who could easily dispatch a fish to swallow a man and spit him out three days later.

Studying Jonah chapter 2, circle the first and second pronouns: I/me, You/Your. It’s helpful.

Jonah’s psalm is first and foremost a lament. Only in Jonah 2:1 and Jonah 4:1 do we find the word prayer – otherwise, all mentions of of conversation with God are that they “called” on the Lord.

Jonah calls out to God twice and both times, he laments.

Isn’t that the case with us? When things aren’t working, we call out to God.

Jonah 2:2-6. Ultimately, it’s a self-centered psalm but I love it because it allows us to be authentic with God.

Observe how the sailors responded compared to Jonah’s responses:

What do you and I learn after we sin?

While Jonah is thankful for God’s deliverance, we see no sign of repentance.

Is your or my Christian life all about me? I live here, too. My Christian life can be all about “I, me my.” But we’ve got to grow up.

Obvious lesson: We can learn much even after we sin and are forgiven.

He died not merely to make us happy, but to make us holy.

He died to free us from sin in so we can live our lives as a thank you back to Him.

IV. We can be used by God to accomplish His will.

Jonah 3:1
Jonah is given a second chance.

In 1 Kings 13 a disobedient prophet was killed by a lion. In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira are immediately struck dead when they lie to the apostles––yet––Abraham lied about his sister/wife, Moses murdered an Egyptian guard, David committed adultery and murder, Peter denied Jesus…

Are we that different?

When we disobey, are we unusable by God? I’d argue in our disobedience we aren’t that helpful, but a repentant person is ready to be used by God. Sin only and always frustrates the process.

Jonah 3:2-4 – Arise, Go, Proclaim

Jonah 3:4-9 – Nineveh’s response:

  1. They believed in God. The text does not say they believed Jonah – they believed God.
  2. Faith is trusting God at His word. To believe in God involves believing Him at His word.
  3. Though cliche, it’s valid – do you trust God at His word?

Believing in God motivated them to demonstrate their faith.

The people cover themselves in sackcloth and fast. The king covers himself with sackcloth and sits in ashes (Jonah 3:6). The imagery reminds one of grief – as if the people are so grieved by their sin, they are as good as dead. To cover in sackcloth likely has a double meaning: to conceal or hide, and to be covered or forgiven.

The king’s throne and royal robes are exchanged for sackcloth and ashes. (2.)

He trades the palace for the dirt. The leader of the Ninevites humbles himself and so begins a national repentance.

A national repentance has got to be motivated by the spirit of God in individuals, not by great sermons and preaching. It’s other-worldly.

A reluctant prophet begrudgingly delivers his message and the whole nation repents. This is a work of God in these peoples’ lives.

The remarkable part of this is that God can use you and me.

You have a sphere of influence that no one else has. How do you use that to show others that Christ is important to you?

Obedience may end in blessing. Not always, but obedience puts us in a posture for blessing.

It’s striking that everything in this story obeys God except Jonah: the sea, fish, lot, plant, worm, and scorching east wind obey God. But Jonah resists, and in the end, is miserable.

We don’t like to own our sins but ignoring them does not help, and God cannot ignore our sins. It is better that we repent and eagerly obey.

V. We need constant reminders of God’s grace.

Jonah 4:1 is hard to render in English. Literally: But it was evil to Jonah with great evil.

As Jonah began, he ends: the grumbling prophet. Jonah is mad at God for His grace toward Nineveh.

Jonah is angry because he knew God’s character. Jonah 4:2. Contrast Jonah 2:2 when Jonah praises God for His mercy toward himself.

How do we show God’s grace to those we would say don’t deserve it?

The one and only time Jonah is happy is sitting in the shade: Jonah 4:6.

God is gracious to give us shade even when we’re angry.

Remember: Christ came not to make bad men good, but to make dead men alive.



  1. Leslie C. Allen, “The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah & Micah,” The NICOT, gen. ed. R. K. Harrison (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1976, Reprint 1983), p. 192.
  2. Leslie C. Allen, “The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah,” NICOT, gen. ed. R. K. Harrison (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1976, Reprint 1983),p. 224.
Michael Easley

About Michael Easley

Michael is husband to one, dad to four, and host of Michael Easley inContext.

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