Jonah A Surprised 'Silly Dove'
Jonah: A Surprised “Silly Dove”
Preached at Skillman Bible Church
July 11, 2004
<Thank worship team>
<Dismiss Children to Munchkinland>
For those who are visitors today, I am not Terry Boyle, the pastor here. For those who are regulars, there are two very distinct things that give it away completely – first the English accent and second the facial hair. No facial hair on this face today and you will just have to deal with my Midwest accent. For those who are born and raised in Texas, that’s NorthEast of the border.
My name is Rick George and I am a member and deacon here at Skillman Bible Church. My wife, Summer and I moved down to Dallas from Ohio in 2002 to attend seminary and last summer had our first baby, Caden. When we were looking for a church home, we spotted this little building on the corner, came inside and instantly fell in love with the people here at Skillman Bible and praise God for bringing us to this church.
Again, if you are a visitor, I welcome you to our family here at Skillman Bible Church and if you’re wondering why I am up here, Pastor Terry, who is attending his daughter’s Drum Corps International competition in San Antonio today, has asked me to fill in for him so I ask you to please… come back.
Jonah… poor Jonah. If you have ever read this short little book in the old testament, you feel sorry for the guy and not in a way that you wish he had better luck, but in a way that you wish he would have just trusted and followed God. I mean, God would have protected him and cared for him on his journey. He wouldn’t have allowed the Ninevites to hurt Jonah. So why did he run? Why didn’t Jonah get it?
Jonah, by the way, is literally translated as “silly dove”. A dove is symbolic of a bringer of peace. So I guess that means that Jonah brought God’s peace to the Ninevites in a silly manner. His name is very fitting for the story of a prophet who, after running away, was swallowed by a big fish before relenting to God’s will and call on his life.
But before we make too many judgments and condemnations towards Jonah, let’s look at the life and times of Israel during this period of history and maybe gain a little insight into why Jonah failed in God’s call on his life.
The Bible does not give us a whole lot of information on Jonah. The introduction to his book leaves us wondering a little bit. Verse one only states that he was the son of Amittai and verse nine gives us a little more by saying that he is a Hebrew who fears the Lord. So who is this Jonah? Let’s look at the book of 2 Kings chapter 14 verse 23 – 26. 2 Kings is right after 1 Kings in the old testament, right before 1 Chronicles. If you take your bible and divide it into thirds, it is right around the end of the first third of the Bible. Verse 23 states “In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah, Jeroboam, the son of Joash king of Israel became king in Samaria, and reigned forty-one years. He did evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel sin. He restored the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which He spoke through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was of Gath-hepher. For the Lord saw the affliction of Israel, which was very bitter; for there was neither bond nor free, nor was there any helper for Israel.”
We see here in 2 Kings that Jonah was a prophet, called by God to minister and prophesy to Jereboam who was king of Israel. Jonah ministered to a king who did not follow the ways of the Lord, but yet God blessed Israel with more land and territory, and God entrusted Jonah to give Jeroboam the message that He would give Israel more land. If God could trust Jonah with this mission, then Jonah must have been a Godly servant, a Hebrew who “worships the Lord the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
Matthew and Luke, in their gospels, record Jesus’ words on Jonah. Jesus, while teaching to the crowds gathering around Him, compared His preaching to that of Jonah’s to the Ninevites exclaiming that if the Ninevites repented at Jonah’s preaching, then shouldn’t this generation repent at the Son of Man’s words, which are greater than Jonah’s? Jonah must have been a great prophet who could speak in powerful ways for Jesus to have mentioned him by name.
Jonah was no weak prophet. He had the guts to stand up in his time to speak and minister to an evil king and be a true prophet of God. This sounds like a prophet who would never balk at God’s calling… a person of noble character and boldness who would stand out on the line even when everyone else around him deserted him. What happened to this tough guy? Why did Jonah fail and not only just fail, but failed miserably?
The time period is around the 790s BC, about 150 years after Israel split into two separate nations – Judah (the southern kingdom) and Israel (the northern kingdom). As we read earlier, Jeroboam is the king of Israel, living in the capital city of Samaria. Jonah is a prophet in this northern kingdom of Israel. Now all around to the north, east and some places to the south of Israel, Assyria is conquering nation after nation enlarging the Assyrian empire into one of the largest empires in ancient history. The Assyrians were making a circle around Israel and the Israelites felt the constant threat of the Assyrian empire on their heels.
Now the capital city of Assyria was Ninevah “that great city” where, at the time of Jonah, reigned Adad-nirari III. This king, and his predecessors, practiced brutal battle techniques that rivaled the Romans and they were proud of them. They wrote their accounts down in their history books and many drawings give us an idea of the extent of their cruelty: <pg. 28 in commentary> “Records brag of live dismemberment, often leaving one hand attached so they could shake it before the person died. They made parades of heads, requiring friends of the deceased to carry them elevated on poles. They boasted of their practice of stretching live prisoners with ropes. They commissioned pictures of their post-battle tortures. Those who survived the sack of their city were tied in long lines of enslavement and deported to Assyrian cities to labor on building projects. Tens of thousands in hundreds of cities suffered this fate over the two hundred and fifty years of the Assyrians’ reign of terror, including the cities of Israel in 722BC (70 years after the time of Jonah).
Did the Israelites have the right to be afraid… I think so.
As we hear more about Jonah’s day and the context that he lived in, we can understand a little bit more about why he ran from God’s calling. He was scared to death! He had no desire to go into Assyria, much less to the heart of their empire, Ninevah! He was surprised by God’s calling to have him go to this evil place to preach His word to them. Why in the world would God want a Hebrew, one that was supposed to be separated from the evil practices of the world, to go to such a wicked place as Ninevah, a place where not only came reports of torture and cruelty, but also immorality and sinfulness. Jonah was not only scared and surprised, he was ultimately full of hatred for the Ninevites. And he knew that he served a God of love, a God of creation, not destruction. A God who had the grace to save a wicked people from destruction and would do anything to divert it. Jonah is no average, run of the mill, prophet. He knows his stuff. Jonah knew God had enormous grace because of the stories his ancestors had passed down to him and because of the scriptures he studied and read so well of how God saved the Israelites from destruction many times, even when they turned away from God.
Yes, Jonah hated the Ninevites so much that he could not stand to do what God called him to do. He could neither stand in God’s presence nor do what God required of him, so he did the only thing he could do. He fled in protest. And fled he did. Tarshish, located in modern day Spain, was considered, in Jonah’s day, at the opposite end of the known world from Ninevah. It is also interesting as we see in chapter one Jonah’s downward spiral as he runs from God. The text records in verse three that he went “down to Joppa” and then went “down into the ship” where he slept. When the sailors figure out that it is Jonah’s fault that the storm has come upon the boat and have no other options, they throw Jonah overboard and he goes “down into the sea” and then goes “down into the belly of a fish” where finally he reaches the bottom of bottoms.
Sometimes that’s where God reaches us best, when we reach the bottom of bottoms. We become completely helpless, having no control over our own lives. We are in murky water, the stench is high and we are scared to death. All we can do is turn to the loving Creator who we have been running from and rely on His help to get us back on our feet and running again.
And God has promised us His help. Before Jesus was crucified and during the time that Jesus spent with His disciples after the resurrection and before His ascension into heaven, He told them that He would send a Helper, a Counselor, in the form of the Holy Spirit, to aid us in our journey and to convict us of our wrong doings. God has not abandoned us. If we believe in His Son and that He has the power to forgive our sins, then the promise has been given to us. The time we spend on this earth will not be alone and without God’s aid. And He has not only promised His help, but also salvation from spending an eternity outside of the presence of our Creator. God is a God of love, not destruction, but because of that love He lets us make our own decisions, but He is there to receive us when we do make the right decision.
About six years ago I had reached the bottom of bottoms emotionally and spiritually. All through my life up until this time I had struggled with relationships. I had put my faith and trust into these relationships, instead of where it really needed to be - God. I knew that He was calling me into a deeper relationship with Him, but I turned and ran. I got involved with a emotionally and spiritually destructive relationship with a girl who was not very spiritually strong. This relationship went on for months and even turned into an engagement before I had reached rock bottom spiritually. By that time, I had been through an emotional trial that left me weakened and exhausted, not able to have any kind of relationship with God. I started to doubt God existed because the faith I put in man I mistook for God. And when man failed me, I thought God had failed me. It took a few months, but God brought me out of that situation, set me on my feet and brought me into a closer relationship with him. Soon after I had given my complete trust in Him for my relational life, God brought a very stable and loving person into my life and well, that’s another story… but I praise God for my wife Summer who encourages me in my faith and walk, instead of bringing me down. The Spirit, Summer and others were the help God provided to keep me going and finish His call on my life.
So what about Jonah? What about this silly dove? What we can learn from this story is not only Jonah’s silly thinking of running away from God, but also we see God’s sovereignty in all of this. You see, God was not surprised by Jonah’s reaction. He knew Jonah would struggle with His calling on Jonah’s life. He had everything worked out - including creating a fish big enough to house a human for 3 days and 3 nights. God is ready for our silly moves. He calls us with enormous grace because He knows that we will struggle with that call. In Psalm 103:13 and 14 the Psalmist writes, in complete submission to God that “13 The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. 14 For he understands how weak we are; he knows we are only dust.”
God knows our weaknesses and frailties. He is ready for us to make mistakes and is there to help us garner the courage to trust and follow His will when we’re ready. Sometimes we go to the bottom of bottoms before we’re ready, and sometimes it takes a few days of indecisivness, but God won’t let us go. The Spirit will keep at us until we completely trust and obey.
<PICTURE OF CADEN – TRUSTING OUR FATHER>
Something else that is amazing about God’s role in our lives is that even during our failures, He is working through us to accomplish great things. He continues to fulfill His plan in spite of us. Here in verse 9 of chapter 1 we see Jonah heading towards despair, fleeing from God’s will, and when cornered by the sailors he finally exclaims what he knows is true: “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land”. Jonah just gave a testimony. It was a forced testimony, but it was a testimony about a soverign God who has control over all creation.
Immediately the sailors recognized and feared God. They recognized His sovereignty and also recognized God’s chosen prophet as one anointed by God to carry His message by asking him what they should do to stop the storm. Not wanting to take Jonah’s life, they continue to go against God’s will until they give in. Jonah is thrown overboard and instantly the waters calm and the storm goes away. The sailors have given their complete trust and obedience to God. They kneeled right there on the deck of the ship, worshipped God and made vows to continue worshipping Him. These rough and tough sailors, once completely pagan who worshipped the beasts of the sea, now humbled themselves before a sovereign Creator and became believers. In spite of Jonah running from God, God used him to bring others into a believing relationship. And He will use you and me to accomplish the same.
The apostle Paul sometimes struggled with his faith and calling, and we see this in Romans 7. “What a wretched man I am!” declares Paul. He was able to recognized that he struggled with God’s call on his life, that his flesh and the Spirit were in battle constantly. But he also recognized that God was in control, even when he did not feel it. When asking who can save him from death he states: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” He knew that even as he was at the bottom of bottoms, God was working in him and through him to reach hundreds and thousands for Christ and to start churches that would become some of the first churches of the Christian faith. In spite of Paul’s struggle, God worked through him.
God is not surprised by our failures at all and we can trust that despite our inward or outward struggles that we are experiencing with following His call on our lives, He is still at work in us and around us bringing us to the point where we will trust and obey so we can be fully ready to be used for His purposes.
There’s a story of a person’s courage who was ready to trust and obey under what seemed to be the worst of circumstances. Jim Elliot and his wife, Elizabeth, were called to be missionaries in the jungles of Ecuador along with a team of 4 other couples from North America in the mid-1950’s. Their calling: To reach those who had never heard the message of Christ. They discovered the Auca Indians, a warring tribe who were extremely hostile to visitors and had, a short time before, killed several Shell oil employees. They started to make contact with a few of them, trying their best to show them peace and goodwill. Their mission was to learn their language to a point where they could translate the new testament and present the gospel to them.
In 1956 it came time for Jim and his team to set up camp in a place where they knew they would be close to the tribe and meet more of them. In a misunderstanding between the missionary men and the tribe, the Aucas murdered the 5 men who were trying to make peaceful contact.
Although these men were courageous in trying to reach the Aucas, it was not their courage that I want to share with you today. It was the courage of Jim’s wife, Elizabeth, who was left with a choice. They had only been married less than 3 years, but God’s calling was for both of them. She could either pack up and go home to find new work, or stay in Ecuador and continue on God’s calling. During her time of grief, she came across a verse in 2 Corinthians chapter 4 verses 7 – 10 and then 16 - 18: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen in temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
What God did through Elizabeth Elliot is amazing. Despite the murder of her husband, she continued to try and reach the Auca Indians with the gospel message. With the help of a run away Auca girl, she was able to learn their language and communicate with them. Today, because of Elizabeth’s courage, the Auca Indians are now a Christian tribe and who knows how many other neighboring tribes have been reached for Christ. The Aucas completely turned from a warring tribe to a peaceful tribe. And it was all due to the courage that God gave Elizabeth Elliot to press on with His calling. Did she struggle with that calling after her husband died? I’m sure she did. Any human would. But God had other plans for her life and in the end she trusted and obeyed and He brought in the help she needed to pursue His calling.
And what is this calling I keep talking about on our lives? I believe that every one who is a Christian has been given some sort of mission in life from God. This mission may change from time to time. It may be a short term mission or a long term. It may or may not be like Elizabeth Elliot’s mission to reach a jungle tribe with the gospel. It could be as simple as God asking you to teach a children’s Sunday school class or maybe befriend someone at work or school who doesn’t know Christ. During part of college God ask me to be focused on Him instead of relationships – a short term mission, but a mission nevertheless. Don’t be surprised as Jonah was at what God may call you to do. Expect struggle. Expect challenges. But always know that God will not abandon you, that He already knows that you will struggle and that He has already provided and appointed the “big fish” to come catch you up and set you on your feet to continue His purposes in and around your life.
Likewise, Jonah was saved from certain death and despair in the belly of the fish. In chapter two we see him turning back to God and in chapter three we see God calling him a second time to go to Ninevah and giving him the courage to do so. But Jonah still struggled. He struggled with God’s amazing grace. Even after he preached to the Ninevites to repent or be destroyed, he really desired for them to be destroyed. In the last chapter of Jonah we see how he struggles with this issue – that God can save anyone from destruction – even the evil Ninevites and that He did – by the way a whole generation of Ninevites were saved because of their turning away from their sins and their turning to God. Jonah struggles with this fact even to the point of wanting to die. He could not come to grips with the fact that God’s grace is big enough to cover not only Israel, but the whole world.
Jonah’s story is the only book in the Bible that ends on a question mark. It leaves us hanging as to whether Jonah really did get it or not. Did he continue on in life a miserable, nullified prophet not being able to grasp God’s all inclusive grace, or did he eventually get it? I believe he got it. He finally understood God’s grace. How do I know this? Because Jonah wrote this story for all to read and learn from his mistakes. He wrote it as a rebuke for his own actions and to show others, particularly his own people, that God’s grace is not only intended for them, but for others to have. It was because of Jonah’s life that thousands were saved for an eternity. Jonah was not such a silly man, but a real human who struggled with God’s calling on his life and then ultimately trusted Him and did great things because of the help God gave him. Let’s pray.