J.I. Packer & Carolyn Nystorm
SUPPOSE I ASKED, “WHAT IS THE BOOK OF JONAH ABOUT?” WHAT would you answer? A lot of people, I think, would say simply, “It’s about a man who was swallowed by a whale.” And that of course is true, assuming that the “great fish” in Jonah 1:17 was a whale (that can be doubted), but it isn’t the whole of the story. Really the whale is not the major matter in the book of Jonah at all.
This book is about a man and his God, a merciless man and his merciful God. But even to say it that way is backwards. C. S. Lewis wrote a book in the Narnia series called The Horse and His Boy, which was the right order for that story. (If you’ve read the book, you know that the horse Bree is the hero.) Similarly, the right way round to state the theme of the book of Jonah is to say that it’s a story of our merciful God and his merciless man. What we see in the book is God teaching Jonah, the merciless man, two lessons that he badly needed to learn. We may say at once that Jonah would have been lost spiritually if he hadn’t learned them.
The first lesson is one of obedience. In Jonah 1:1-3, we read:
The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD.
God had called Jonah to be a prophet: a man charged to run God’s errands and deliver God’s messages. The story begins with Jonah refusing to do that, and he has to learn the lesson of obedience. God uses the great fish to teach him that lesson. That is what the first two chapters deal with.
But then there’s a second lesson. Jonah is a hard man, stony-hearted and merciless—and he has to learn the lesson of com-passion. We watch God teaching him that lesson and using, this time, not a great fish but a little worm in order to do it. That is what the last two chapters cover.
This is a story for all of us. God doesn’t always pick the nice men and the nice women. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It is God’s way to choose and to use flawed human material. God picks sinners; God saves sinners; God calls, equips and uses sinners—and Jonah was one such sinner.
The Bible gives us life stories of many persons whom God chose and called to his service. Again and again it takes time out to tell us of the weaknesses, moral lapses and spiritual failures in their lives. God’s way with these folk is to change them as he uses them and to use them while he’s remaking them. Again and again the story is of God receiving glory through the service that is rendered, while at the same time the man (or woman) rendering it is very imperfect as yet. But God teaches them lessons about right living as he continues to use them. Sanctification and service go together. Sanctification advances while service proceeds.
Vancouver’s new airport is fully in service, though on-site construction has not ceased since it opened, and God’s reconstruction of believers’ characters is carried through in the context of their regular ministry to others. This is God’s way.
We see sanctification and service linked in the story of Jonah. We must realize that God tells us this and other such stories for our encouragement. You know as well as I do the misery that comes to a believer, one who’s truly committed to the Lord, when you say or do something unworthy, and it’s too late to change what you’ve done or to pull back the words. Your heart says, “There you go again. That’s your weakness coming out as it so often does. You are a poor specimen of a Christian. You are not fit to serve the Lord. You blow it over and over and over.” The book of Jonah tells us that our God is a God who chooses people who blow it but that he forgives them for blowing it, and he works with them and on them to reduce their liability to lapse as they formerly did. And he uses them all the same. He gives us the privilege of serving him, despite all our deficiencies. Constantly he blesses things that we say and do—even though we blot our own copy book time after time. Our God is a gracious God, and this is just one expression of his goodness. That graciousness of God gives us the wavelength to tune into as we explore the book of Jonah.
Look first at the merciless man, Jonah the uncaring prophet. He was a Jew in the Northern Kingdom in the days of Jeroboam II, whose military success in restoring Israel’s former boundaries Jonah had been privileged to predict (1 Kings 14:25). He clearly was, to put it in positive terms, a patriot whose affection was focused on his own people. To put it in negative terms, he was a racist—he had a hostile attitude toward people of nationalities other than his own, especially, as his story shows, the Assyrians. An Ulster loyalist, with his hard-shell religion political negativism toward Roman Catholics, might be something of a modern parallel.
One of the interesting things in the book of Jonah is that nearly every time God is spoken of, he is referred to by the covenant name that he had given to the Jews, the name whereby they were to invoke him, and in terms of which they were to know, love and trust him. That name used to be rendered Jehovah; scholars now pronounce it Yahweh. In our English translations it’s the LORD (in small caps). In this book of forty-eight verses the name appears twenty-six times. The Jews thought of themselves as the only people who knew their Maker as a God who loves and saves and was in covenant with them, and the Old Testament writers intend to bring this divine commitment to their readers’ minds every time they speak of God as “the LORD.” To a crew of polytheistic sailors of various nationalities, who between them worshiped a wide range of gods, Jonah declared: “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land” (Jon 1:9). The strength and exclusiveness of this Jewish identity is the starting point of the book’s story.
What now of Nineveh? The capital of Assyria, Nineveh was a large city, and Assyria was a great nation. Nineveh in Jonah’s day, which was the eighth century before Christ, was up and coming. Its size, influence and military might made it the leading imperial power of the day and a constant threat to the Jews in Israel.
If I may offer another modern parallel, mainland China gives Taiwan the feeling of being threatened by a very powerful neighbor, and that was how Israelites in Jonah’s day felt about Nineveh.
When God says to Jonah, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me” (Jon 1:2), the prophet knows what that means. It’s not God simply sending a message to Nineveh to the effect that it’s all up with you. The first verse of chapter 4 says that Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. You may wonder why. The answer is, because when he delivered God’s message to Nineveh, Nineveh repented. We are told that when “God saw what they did, and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened” (3:10). By verse 2 of chapter 4, Jonah is praying thus: “0 LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” “And that’s what you’ve done here!” we can hear Jonah complain.
In other words, says Jonah, “I knew that if I went to Nineveh and delivered your message of judgment, you might use it as you’ve used messages and threats of judgment so often before. You use such preaching to bring people to repentance, you use it to bring them to their senses, you use it to make them humble themselves before you and change their ways—and then you forgive them. And I didn’t want that to happen in Nineveh. That’s why I didn’t want to go to Nineveh and deliver your message.”
God’s grace to Nineveh seemed disgraceful to Jonah, a sort-hearted lapse from what God ought to have been doing, and Jonah’s running away to Tarshish had really been the prophet’s attempt to save God from himself.
The Jonah in Us
Jonah at least is an honest man, and here he is spelling out in his prayers exactly how he feels about the way God has acted. He hates to think of the use God has made of his own prophetic ministry, and in his disgust he tells God that in view of that he would rather be dead than alive. “Now, 0 LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jon 4:3). As we can see, Jonah is a proud man and a bitter man, and at this moment he’s an exceedingly angry man.
Let’s pause now and think. I could be writing to a Jonah: someone who is proud, stiff, who doesn’t bend, who throws his weight about, who is bitter at what he would describe as the tricks life has played on him. He is fiercely loyal to causes, some of them very good causes, but he’s got no love in him for needy people. He’s not merciful; he’s hard, even fanatical. And so he’s not a good man to appeal to when you’re in trouble and in need because he never has anything for you. It is principles, rather than people, that stir him to action. He is passionate in his patriotism, or whatever form his idealism takes, but aloof and coldhearted in personal relationships. Abstract goals get him excited; individuals in distress leave him unmoved.
Now he’s angry. There are many people these days who carry a great tankful of anger around inside them. You never know when it’s going to break out, when these people are going to lash out in fury. Often it is quite trivial things that stir up their anger. If you are the object of that anger, it may not have been anything to do with you but you are there, and they feel man and just have to let it boil over. And in their rage they say wild, irrational, irrelevant, insulting things constantly. Jonah is an angry man, angry with God, letting his anger overflow against God for what God has done. Do you recognize him? Have you met him? I think all of us are Jonah to some extent. Remember that as we look further at his story.
Going Away from God
Back now to the beginning. We know what Jonah did. God said, “Go to Nineveh,” which was due east from Jerusalem. And Jonah in both senses of the phrase (geographical and evaluative) went west—for Tarshish is a port in Spain as far away from Nineveh as you could imagine. Thus Jonah gritted his teeth and said, “Nineveh? I’m not going to go.” The NIV rendering is that he “ran away from the LORD” (Jon 1:3). The Hebrew says that he went out from God’s presence, and that gives you a thought that you can’t get from the NIV translation. The presence of the Lord is something very precious. It is not a geographical but a covenantal reality. It is, precisely, knowing that God is with you to bless you wherever you are. When Jonah ran away from the Lord in disobedience, Jonah, I think, knew that he was running away from the blessing of God. It was a sort of spiritual suicide. But I suppose he thought of it as a brave gesture. He didn’t want any chance of Nineveh repenting; he wanted Nineveh to be judged. The happiest thing for Israel, he thought, would be to see Assyria go up in flames; so he defies God by refusing to preach there. He saw himself as a hero, sacrificing himself for his people’s welfare. But it was idiocy, really. He was leaving the presence of the Lord. He was turning his back on God, and God on his throne in glory will not have his purposes thwarted by action like this. There is no future for anyone trying to be wiser than God, or to stop him from doing what he plans.
So Jonah went out, bought his ticket for the Tarshish boat and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. He went out, and by going out in this way he lost out most definitely. He lost out because, before the ship had gone very far, it was caught in a storm that, Scripture tells us, God himself raised. Verse 4 says, “The LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.”
Jonah is at this time (fairly soon after leaving port) slumbering between decks somewhere. I imagine that he lost a good deal of sleep in making his suicidal decision to disobey God. God in his kindness usually doesn’t let us sleep well after we’ve made disastrous decisions like this. But Jonah is so tired that he is able to sleep and to go on sleeping despite the storm. He’s on a pagan boat with an international crew, all the sailors are praying aloud, each one to his own god, and the captain goes down and finds Jonah asleep and says, “Get up and call on your god!” The captain assumes, as polytheists do, that the more gods that can be persuaded to involve themselves in a situation of need, the better it will be, since the amount of supernatural help will thereby be increased. Everybody therefore should call on the god whom he thinks he knows best. “We call on our gods,” he says to Jonah, “you call on your god. Let’s see if somehow we can get the help we need from somewhere by calling on all the deities there are.”
Jonah, in fact, undoubtedly can’t pray because of his refusal to obey God, and he explains this to the captain and the sailors. That is clear from the last sentence in 1:10: “They knew he was running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.” And I imagine that was what he told the captain: “I can’t pray because I’ve turned my back on my God.” To know and feel that you cannot persuade God to listen to you about anything because you have chosen to quarrel with him about something is an awful position for anyone to be in. But at least Jonah is honest in his spiritual madness, and he tells it like it is.
So now they cast lots, asking all the gods they know to show them who is responsible for their trouble. The lot falls on Jonah. They assume, rightly as it turns out, that the storm is a sign of di-vine displeasure at someone on the ship itself. The whole crew is down there, I suppose, below deck, hanging on to things as the ship rolls; they are scared and angry. They say to Jonah, “It has to be you. What have you done to bring this storm on us?”
Jonah tells them, “It’s because I’ve turned my back on my God. I’m a Hebrew. I worship the LORD, the God of heaven—only I don’t at the moment. I’ve run away from him. He gave me a commission that I wasn’t prepared to fulfill.” The sea is getting rougher so they say, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” Jonah is brave in his spiritual ruin. He says, “You’d better throw me overboard.” He’s been found out, and now he’s going to be thrown out—in the most literal sense. And they do it. Jonah flies through the air into the heaving sea, expecting to drown.
Let us learn from this how ruinous a thing it is to defy God and imagine that we can get away with refusing to do his will. God is in his heaven; God is on the throne; God is fully in charge of his world. No one can get away with defying God, and Jonah didn’t get away with it.
Being thrown overboard would have been the end of Jonah but for the mercy of God. So let us shift the focus now from the merciless man whose path downhill we’ve followed to think about the merciful God whom Jonah served and whose mercy as a caring Creator is shown over and over in this book. We begin to see this in Jonah 1:15: “They took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm.” The storm died down at once. The crew had not wanted to do what they did and had prayed to Jonah’s God (of whose reality, it seems, Jonah’s sad story had convinced them) asking that the action to which Jonah directed them would not be held against them. Now the effect of the stilling of the storm was that the crew “greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD, and made vows to him” (v. 16). This is an Old Testament way of saying they were converted through the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. They had really come to know and serve the real God. That was mercy from God to this pagan crew.
Now let’s look at Nineveh, where God showed mercy again. In chapter 3 we see how the story went. Jonah proclaimed, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jon 3:4). He didn’t say anything to them about the possibility of mercy, but God moved in their hearts just as he had moved in the hearts of the pagan crew and so we read in verse 5, “The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.” The king of Nineveh led them, issuing a proclamation (see vv. 7-9) saying that everybody must share in the fast. Man and beast must be covered with sackcloth. The royal decree said, “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.” This was the king of Nineveh himself calling the Assyrians to repentance. “Who knows,” his proclamation continues, “God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” And God did. There was a grand-scale revival, as we might call it, and Nineveh survived.
So here again is God being merciful. Jonah, wanting Assyria destroyed, was disgusted, but he should not have been, nor should we ever allow ourselves to wish destruction on others and long to see it, as he did. Whenever you feel hostile to anybody or any group of people, however badly they may have behaved toward you, stop and remember, and say to yourself: God made them, as God made me. God loves them, as God loves me. If they turn to Christ, they’ll be forgiven, as I am forgiven. It’s not my part to cherish hostility toward them because of what I see as their sins when my Savior-God has shown such wonderful redemptive love toward sinful me. This is an element in the Christian mindset that you learn in experience, by making yourself think along these lines, namely, to love your enemies as well as your friends and to desire God’s best for the one category as well as the other. Loving your neighbor includes enemies as well as friends. It’s a tremendous lesson, and it takes all of life for some of us to learn it. Some perhaps never learn it. Some perhaps are very slow to realize that they need to learn it. But we all must learn it. The story of revival in Nineveh rubs our noses in the fact that God is supremely glorified when he shows himself merciful—even to those who up to this point have acted as his enemies. The Lord Jesus on his cross was praying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” He was praying for the soldiers who at that time were nailing him to the cross (Lk 23:34). To be merciful to enemies and wrongdoers, and to desire and seek their welfare is, in truth, central to the real Christian life.
Jonah and God’s Mercy
Now look at Jonah again and see how God was merciful to him.
The Lord prepared the great fish to swallow Jonah up, but he didn’t lose consciousness straightaway. When he found himself inside the fish, spiritually he came to his senses. Thoughts went through his mind, and humble, hopeful, thankful, trustful prayer came out of his heart—which (later, one supposes) he turned into the psalm in Jonah 2:1-9. Soon we read, “The LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” You can imagine him staggering to his feet in the shallows and stumbling out of the water and then sitting down gasping and panting and realizing what had happened. It was not just that God had saved Jonah’s life; God had shown his hand; God had taught his prophet a lesson; God had opened his heart; God had forgiven him for a ruinous bit of disobedience; God had restored him to godliness and now wished to restore him to his prophetic minis-try. Awed at that moment by the marvel of God’s majestic mercy, Jonah must surely have resolved never to say no to God again.
So when “the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: `Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you,” Jonah obeyed (Jon 3:1-3). Now there’s mercy! The prophet is back in business once more. God restores Jonah to ministry, and he blesses others through his ministry. Jonah, as we have seen, is very angry at this because he wanted to see Nineveh perish. But he should have been rejoicing! It isn’t every preacher whose ministry brings revival blessing and who sees great numbers of folk turning to God as a result of the things he has proclaimed. That’s what Jonah saw. And I say it was mercy, to the preacher as well as to the people.
In chapter 4 we read how Jonah communed with God in great anger because God is, as he knows, “slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” God has acted in character in dealing with the Ninevites. The irony and the enormity of Jonah fisting up in anger with God because God has not expressed anger with the objects of Jonah’s anger needs no underlining. We shall now watch as God interrogates Jonah, dipping into both his head and his heart.
Jonah 4:4 tells us that God replied to Jonah, “Have you any right to be angry?”—angry the way you are? Jonah in his own conscience knows, or half-knows, that by this question God is rebuking him, but he won’t yet accept it. This again is something that all too often happens in our lives. We half-know that God is prodding our conscience about something. But at first we aren’t willing to face it, and so we deliberately don’t think about it. We think about something else, or we go off and do something else. Maybe for quite some time we will keep up our daily praying and reading of God’s Word, but we won’t say anything to him about this matter over which he’s making us feel uneasy. But God, the “hound of heaven” as with Francis Thompson we may call him, gets us in the end. Sooner or later we have to face the issue that he’s pressing on us. It’s mercy that God doesn’t let us finally ignore that prodding of our conscience. Here for the moment, however, Jonah is trying to ignore it—and God bides his time.
What does Jonah do? He goes outside the city and makes him-self a shelter, a sort of lean-to shack. He sits in the shade and waits and watches and hopes all the time that, despite the revival, despite the repentance, despite his fears that God is resolved to act in mercy, God will nonetheless destroy Nineveh. So he sits there and gazes toward Nineveh hour after hour, hoping to see it go up in flames. Remember, he’s a patriot; he’s a racist; he’s a proud and bitter man. Yes, he has a real faith, matured by his experience with the boat and the fish, but his character is sadly wrong, and it hasn’t changed yet. He’s learned his lesson in obedience, but he hasn’t yet learned his lesson of compassion.
Now God moves in to teach him lesson number two. Jonah 4:6 says, “The LORD God provided a vine.” Nobody quite knows what that “vine” was. Some translations say gourd, and some commentators describe it as a plant like a huge sunflower with big leaves and shade. The gourd—or vine or whatever it was—grew up quickly beside Jonah’s lean-to. It gave Jonah “shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But then at dawn the next day God produced a worm, which chewed the vine” down at its roots so that the whole thing withered. “When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, ‘It would be better for me to die than to live” (w. 6-8).
Then God’s word came to him in a way that couldn’t be denied. “God said to Jonah, ‘Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” (Jon 4:9).
“Yes, I do,” says Jonah. “I’m so angry I could die. I needed that vine, and now you’ve taken it away.”
Then God said (I expand the text of vv. 10-11), “You have been concerned about this vine although you didn’t tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But now think of Nineveh. Nineveh, in addition to its half-million and more adult inhabitants, has more than 120,000 young children and any number of cattle, and they’re all mine. And if I am concerned, as I am, about the young children and the cattle, should it surprise you or offend you that I am also concerned about Nineveh’s adult inhabitants? Don’t you expect me to be concerned about what’s mine? The vine was not really yours, but you were very concerned about it. It was more my vine, Jonah, than your vine, and yet you were angry enough when you lost it. Come now, don’t you think that I’m right to show mercy to the penitent people of Nineveh? Do you imagine that I can sympathize with your anger at my mercy, Jonah? I certainly am angry with sinners and their sins, and there’s wrath waiting for them if they don’t leave their wrongdoings. But Nineveh has left its sins. Shouldn’t I be glad of Nineveh’s repentance and happy to acknowledge it by my gift of forgiveness?”
God’s Lessons for Us
Thus God taught Jonah two key lessons: the lesson of obedience and the lesson of compassion. These are lessons our Lord wants us to learn and which everyone who serves the Lord must learn. As you and I live by being forgiven, as the Ninevites lived by being forgiven, and as Jonah himself lived by being forgiven, so let us appreciate God’s saving mercy, which both lessons presuppose. As God taught Jonah the necessity of obedience in his service, so let us allow him to sensitize our consciences to the importance of always doing what he commands. As God set himself to change Jonah into a man of compassion, so let us allow him to teach us to be men and women of compassion, neighbor lovers in the fullest sense. Thus we shall truly become people who please him by consistently obeying his word, not stopping our ears to any assignment that we don’t like. Let’s learn to please God by trusting his wisdom as he puts us through corrective discipline to teach us these lessons. It was discipline for Jonah to be swallowed by the fish; it was discipline for Jonah to have his precious vine wither and fall at his feet. Through these experiences God was teaching Jonah. You and I must be willing to be taught also and to trust God’s wisdom as he deals with us, sometimes in a chastening way, to help us learn what he wants us to know.
Finally, all this must be set and seen in a Christ-centered, Spirit-oriented Trinitarian frame. Let us learn then to love our neighbor, including our hostile and oppressive neighbors, by brooding on the way God in his love for us has acted for our salvation—yours and mine. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (Jn 3:16). Jesus, you remember, spoke of the sign of Jonah, as he looked forward to his own death for our sins and his rising again to become the Savior who bestows new life. Jonah came back to life, as it were, from being inside the fish, and ministered to the Ninevites as living proof of God’s determination to bring the word of judgment and mercy to them. So too the Son of Man came back to life in the power of his atonement to “preach peace” through the words of his servants to the world (Eph 2:17) and to become the living Mediator and Master of all who trust him. Let the impact of God, displayed in the ministry of Jesus, the one who was greater than Jonah, reshape us as the merciful, loving, outreaching people that all Christians are called to be.
Let us learn to be glad that our God, Jonah’s God, is “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jon 4:2). Not only is he a mighty God, master of the wind and waves and giant fish, as well as of plants and little worms, but he is also a merciful God, calm and restrained in teaching truth and wisdom and goodwill to fanatical, merciless oddballs like Jonah in order to get them beyond their anger with him and their hard-heartedness with everyone else. Arrogance, anger and hopelessness go together: arrogance says to God, “my will be done”; anger says, “it is outrageous that you are not doing it, but doing the opposite”; the conclusion then drawn is “now everything will go wrong”—which is pure hopelessness, in spades, and the deepest motivation of Jonah’s twice-repeated death wish (vv. 3, 8). Arrogance and anger must somehow be squeezed out of us before we can truly hope in God, practicing obedience as the good way for us and leaving global politics and history in his wise, generous and merciful hands—and this God does. In the book of Jonah we see him doing it for Jonah, and in that narrative lies the assurance that he will do it for us too. So let us Jonahs praise him and put ourselves in his hands for our remedial treatment.
0 God, our heavenly Father, we are awed at the spectacle of your wisdom and patience with a difficult man that we find presented to us in the book of Jonah. We know that like him we too are called to become messengers of your mercy to lost souls, and like him, we erect barriers in our own hearts to the fulfilling of our mission. We know that we have in the past spoiled our service to you by our negativism on some things and our rigidity and pig-headedness on others, and we have closed our eyes and ears to the real needs of real people whom you have prompted us to go and seek to help. For the sake of Jesus, your Son, our Savior and example, forgive us Jonahs these ugly failings, and teach us to love the lost as you yourself do, so that the light and love of Christ may shine out in us as we go about your business. Melt us, mold us, break us, change us, use us, and yours shall be all the glory. Amen.
1 .Read the biblical book of Jonah.
2. What actions help reveal Jonah’s character? What do you see of yourself in Jonah?
3. What examples do you see of the grace of God in Jonah’s story?
4. Study Jonah’s two descriptions of God in 1:9 and 4:2. In what ways did Jonah act on these stated beliefs? In what ways did his actions fail to live up to his beliefs?
5. Reread each of these descriptions of God with your own current circumstances in mind. What actions can you take that would live out this belief?
6. Of what value was the fish to Jonah?
7. When has a break in your own routine given you valuable insights from God?
8. In spite of Jonah’s flaws, what good did God accomplish through him?
9. Jonah needed to learn two lessons: the lesson of obedience and the lesson of compassion. What measures did God use to teach those lessons?
10. How might you put one of Jonah’s lessons to work in your own setting?
• Spend a few moments in silence, reflecting on the life of Jonah. Ask God to reveal to you what he would like you to glean from Jonah’s experience.
• Reread the section titled “God’s Mercy” (pp. 83-85). Worship God, praising him for his mercy. Then bring to mind God’s specific acts of mercy in your own life and thank him for these.
• Jonah complained in 4:2, “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” Talk to God about your own response to these aspects of his character.
• Reread the final paragraph of this chapter on pages 90-91. Use it as a basis for your own praying.
Jonah’s time inside a fish gave him opportunity to block out all distractions and get honest with God. (Most of us don’t need a near drowning to experience this.) Create your own “fish” by purposely finding a time and place to communicate privately with God. Ask him to search your heart about the current direction of your life. (Are you appropriately obedient to God? Compassionate to others—even those you don’t like?) Write out your prayer and meditation.
The above article, “Hope When I Am Angry With People And With God” was written by J.I. Packer & Carolyn Nystorm. The article was excerpted from Packer & Nystorm’s book Never Beyond Hope.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”