Category Archives: Encounters with God

Faith in the Fire: God’s Still in Control #6 When They Call for the Lions – Daniel 6


   I think we are well aware of the thousands of ‘believers’ in this world who have been murdered in recent years…all because they do not believe in a radical Islamic doctrine that is being taught.  Amnesty International reports cases of Christian women hung by their thumbs from wires and beaten with heavy rods, denied food and water and shocked with electric probes.

Elsewhere in the world, Christians face other tortures and persecutions. In Egypt and Pakistan Christians have been imprisoned and tortured merely for preaching their faith. Pakistan recently passed a blasphemy law that forbids speaking or acting against the prophet Mohammed. The punishment for violators is death.

A 12-year-old Christian child was recently sentenced to death under this law and was freed from Pakistan only by international pressure. He is now hiding in a Western country with a bounty on his head similar to that which keeps Salman Rushdie on the run.

Sudan is perhaps the worst violator. Its Islamic government has engaged in a policy of forcible conversion. Many of the black Sudanese in the southern part of the country (the north is Arab) have resisted conversion, in many cases because of adherence to Christianity (a criminal act under Sudanese law). As punishment, the Sudanese government has denied food and medicine to Christians in famine areas and has sold thousands of Christian children–some as young as 6–into slavery.”

Here in the U.S., of course, when we talk about persecution, our idea is having people call us names or City Hall refusing to let us put up religious symbols in the park, or hand out Bibles in the public schools.

What do you think would happen to churches in America if it became illegal to be a Christian as it is in Iran and other Moslem countries? How do you think your own faith would fare under such circumstances?

In one sense, there is really no way to know until you’re there, and “there” is a place where most of us, top-10-persecuted-dark-595x399myself included, don’t want to have to go to find out. Is there anything a person can do to prepare in the event something like that might happen here? None of us would want to lose our faith under such circumstances.

In the earliest days of Christianity, when enemies of Christ wanted to put a stop to the testimony of someone who refused to compromise his faith, they would call for the lions. Christian men, women, and children were put into the arenas with hungry lions when they refused to recant their faith.

In much the same way, as we come into the sixth chapter of Daniel this morning in the last message of our series called “Faith in the Fire: God is in Control” that is what has happened. Daniel has refused to violate the basic tenants of his faith, so they’ve “called for the lions.”

What can we learn from Daniel that might help us in the event it ever comes about that someone should “call for the lions” in the good old USA? Said a little more plainly, what can we do to prepare in the event that the ultimate sacrifice was called for in our lives? How could we remain faithful under that kind of pressure?

Before we read Daniel six, let me inform you of a couple of things that will help you understand what is happening here.

First, Daniel was 80-90 years old when they called for the lions. Don’t picture a young man as we read this chapter.

Second, the lion’s den was the primary form of capital punishment to the Medes and Persians just as the furnace of fire was to the Babylonians, stoning was to the Jews, and crucifixion was to the Romans. It was a means of certain, violent death.

Daniel 6:1-2 (ESV)  It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom 120 satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom; 2  and over them three high officials, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should give account, so that the king might suffer no loss.

Apparently Darius used some of the men from the cabinet of Belshazzar, the king he conquered.

Daniel 6:3-4 (ESV) Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4  Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him.

We see here a simple case of jealousy with these men. Daniel was appointed over them and they didn’t like it, so they set about to get him out of their way. When they could find nothing immoral or shady in his public service, they decided to frame him in the one area where he might be vulnerable.

  1. Keep on Being What You’ve Been. There is a consistency revealed about Daniel that shows what kind of person he was.

He was one who “distinguished himself” among the others, according to verse 3. Daniel wasn’t a slacker. He had worked hard in the courts of two kings already. Now he was doing the same in the third.

Verse 4 tells us that his opponents could find “no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption” in him. He was morally consistent. The set up a “sting” operation. They went through his files and his trashcans. They hid in the bushes and watched him at home. But they could find no hidden dirt.

The next phrase says “he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him.”

Daniel didn’t suddenly realize he was under surveillance and scramble to cover his tracks like we’ve seen many governing officials do in our day. There was no “Watergate,” “Whitewater,” “Travel Gate,” “Nanny Gate,” or any other kind of Gate in his life!

He was free from corruption in the present because he had been free from corruption in the past. He was already faithful. We’ve seen these things in his life since we began this series. When they called for the lions, he had merely to continue being what he had been.

Occasionally, when watching an interview with athletes before an important game, you’ll hear a reporter ask, “Well, how do you intend to handle this biggest game of your career?” Looking for a story, he’s hoping the athlete will reveal some bright, new, never-heard-of strategy. To that the athlete will say something like, “I’m just going to go out and do what I’ve been doing every day in practice since the beginning of the season.” Nothing new to him. He’s been doing it all along.

You don’t wait until the day of the race to start getting into shape. You don’t wait until the day of the game to start learning to pass the football. You don’t wait for the day you’re investigated to start living a life free from corruption.

What do you do when they call for the lions? You don’t change a thing! You keep on being what you have been. If you’ve been faithful, you’ll continue to be faithful.

Of course, the assumption behind that is that you have been working on being what you ought to be when the pressure isn’t on so that when they call for the lions, you don’t have to change anything.

Daniel 6:5-9 (ESV)  Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.” 6  Then these high officials and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! 7  All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. 8  Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” 9  Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction.

Darius fell for their scheme.

Daniel 6:10-15 (ESV) When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. 11  Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and plea before his God. 12  Then they came near and said before the king, concerning the injunction, “O king! Did you not sign an injunction, that anyone who makes petition to any god or man within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?” The king answered and said, “The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.” 13  Then they answered and said before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or the injunction you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.” 14  Then the king, when he heard these words, was much distressed and set his mind to deliver Daniel. And he labored till the sun went down to rescue him. 15  Then these men came by agreement to the king and said to the king, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.”

Instantly the king realizes he’s been had. I can imagine him calling in his lawyers trying to find some way around this frame-up. But they could find nothing.

  1. Keep on Doing What You’ve Done. Daniel 6:10: When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.

Prayer and thanksgiving were nothing new to Daniel. His windows were already open. (The Jews of the captivity always faced Jerusalem when they prayed.) Daniel’s habit was to pray three times a day and he always gave thanks when he prayed.

Upon hearing the news of the edict, he didn’t panic, run upstairs to his room, get out the crowbar because the window on the east side of the house was painted shut or stuck. It was already open because he used it three times a day! The keywords in that sentence are “as he had been doing previously.”

What do you do when they call for the lions? Keep on doing what you’ve been doing – provided you’ve been doing what’s right.

Being ultimately able to face the lions is a lot like cruise control. You set the speed where it ought to be, then keep it there, consistently. You don’t start and stop. That gets you the best mileage and gets you there the quickest.

But it isn’t like an autopilot. You can’t just tell it where you want to go and take a nap. You still have to pay attention!

Making a big trip consists of covering a lot of little miles. Preparation for facing the big trials of life consists of a whole lot of facing the little ones. If you are listening to this message hoping to find some profound secret about the faith, there isn’t one, unless it is profound in its obvious simplicity. Keep on doing what you’ve done.

Daniel 6:16-23 (ESV) Then the king commanded, and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions. The king declared to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!” 17  And a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. 18  Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no diversions were brought to him, and sleep fled from him. 19  Then, at break of day, the king arose and went in haste to the den of lions. 20  As he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish. The king declared to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” 21  Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! 22  My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.” 23  Then the king was exceedingly glad, and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

  1. Keep on Trusting Whom You’ve Trusted.
    Daniel 6:16: Then the king commanded, and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions. The king declared to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!”

Daniel’s unabashed trust in God is obvious here. Even the king knew about it. And the king was even wishing for a rescue!

19  Then, at break of day, the king arose and went in haste to the den of lions. 20  As he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish. The king declared to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” 21  Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! 22  My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.” 23  Then the king was exceedingly glad, and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

Was this level of trusting something new in Daniel’s life? Hardly. Remember chapter one and the issue of the king’s food? Remember chapter two and the confidence Daniel had that God could interpret the king’s dream? Remember chapter four where Daniel had the confidence in God to tell the king the truth? Remember chapter five when Daniel trusted God enough to turn down honor and prestige?

Whenever someone fails to trust God in the clutch, it is probably because he hasn’t trusted God in the days when the pressure was lighter.

Daniel is safe. Now the king turns to the guys who framed him.

Daniel 6:24 (ESV)  And the king commanded, and those men who had maliciously accused Daniel were brought and cast into the den of lions—they, their children, and their wives. And before they reached the bottom of the den, the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces.

At the king’s command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.”

Those lions were even hungrier because they hadn’t eaten all night!

Daniel 6:25-28 (ESV) Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: “Peace be multiplied to you. 26  I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. 27  He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.” 28  So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

O.K. We’ve seen what Daniel did when they called for the lions. Let’s look more closely and consider what we should do under similar circumstances.

When the army of Saul was cowering in fear of the Philistine giant, Goliath, and David stepped forward and volunteered to fight him, do you remember what he cited as his confidence? It’s in 1 Samuel 17:36-371 Samuel 17:36-37 (ESV) Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37  And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you!”

David fought the biggest battle of his life successfully because he had learned to trust God in the smaller battles of his life. He simply kept trusting Whom he had been trusting.

Polycarp, was believed to be a first century disciple of the Apostle John. He was one of the early Christian martyrs. Just before his execution, he was asked if he had anything more to say. He said “Eighty and six years I have served Christ and He has done me nothing but good; how then could I curse Him now, my Lord and Savior?” He was burned alive.

Do you want to be strong when they call for the lions? How are you doing trusting God in the lesser things?


A Nashville newspaper carried a story a few years back about Mrs. Lila Craig who hasn’t missed attending church in 1,040 Sundays, though she was in her eighties at the time of the article. The editor commented, “It makes one wonder, what’s the matter with Mrs. Craig? Doesn’t she ever have unexpected company?

How is it that she never goes anywhere on Saturday night so that she’s too tired to attend morning worship service the next day? Doesn’t she ever ‘beg off’ to attend picnics or family reunions, or have headaches, colds, nervous spells, or tired feelings? Doesn’t she ever oversleep or need time to read her Sunday newspaper?

Hasn’t she ever become angry at the minister or had her feelings hurt by someone and felt justified in staying home to hear a good sermon on the radio or TV? What’s the matter with Mrs. Craig anyway?”

I suggest to you that Mrs. Craig was doing the same thing Daniel was doing when they called for the lions:
Being what she’d always been

Doing what she’d always done

Trusting Whom she’d always trusted

How about it? If you were investigated right now for integrity, what would be found? If you kept on being what you are right now, would it get you through the ultimate test?

Are the prayer windows in your life open or shut? If you kept on doing what you’re doing right now, would it carry you through?

How about this issue of trust? Consider the last two or three crises in your life. When it was all said and done, did you trust God?

If you said “no” to any of these, you need to get to work! If you said “yes,” then don’t change a thing!



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Posted by on August 4, 2022 in Encounters with God


Faith in the Fire: God’s Still in Control #5: When They Call for Your Honor – Daniel 5

faith under fireHave you ever seen a tragedy coming and could do nothing to stop it? One evening as Terry and I left a Florida Marlins baseball game in South Florida (we’re Cubs fans and they were in town), a car passed us at a high speed and eventually lost control as it sped by.

Careening out of control, the car bounced along the center concrete median. Sparks flew as the underside of the car scraped the concrete curb. It stopped quickly and several other cars bounced around slightly—it was scary and tense and very, very quick in happening. No one was hurt, as it turned out, except for damage to cars.

Reading Daniel 5 gives me that same feeling of helplessness and distress. From our distance in time, our knowledge of history, and the account of Daniel, we know the king, and likely those dining with him at his royal banquet, are destined for destruction. Yet we can do nothing to prevent it. Helplessly, we look on as judgment day comes for king Belshazzar.

Announcement of the king’s coming judgment begins by a mysterious hand writing on the wall of the banquet hall. Crying aloud, the king summons the wise men of Babylon. Their inability to fulfill his instructions only adds to his frustration. When his ability to interpret such matters is made known to the king, Daniel enters the scene.

It was in chapter 2 of the Book of Daniel that king Nebuchadnezzar had a distressing dream, which he demanded that his wise men reveal and interpret; they could not do so. Daniel revealed the dream and its meaning to king Nebuchadnezzar, and in so doing spared the lives of the wise men. In chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar had yet another dream. Once again, the king first sought the meaning from the other wise men of Babylon. When all others failed to explain the king’s dream, Daniel revealed its meaning and called on the king to repent, so that the threatened outcome might be delayed or prevented.

Another king now sits on the throne in Babylon. His name is Belshazzar.

Nearly 25 years have passed since the events of chapter 4 and over 70 years since chapter 1. Now advanced in years, Daniel is a senior statesman in Babylon. He has outlasted a number of kings and in his time Belshazzar, the last of the Chaldean kings of Babylon, will be killed and Babylon will pass from Chaldean rule to rule by Darius the Mede.

In chapters 1-4, we have an account of the life of Nebuchadnezzar, the first Babylonian king to rule over the captive Jews. The account looks at several events in the life of this great king, which eventually bring him to his knees in worship and praise of the God of Israel. Daniel then passes over several kings, giving us this brief account of the last day in the reign of Belshazzar, the last of the Chaldean kings.

The death of Belshazzar at the hand of Darius is a partial fulfillment of the prophecy revealed to king Nebuchadnezzar by his dream in chapter 2. There, Daniel informed Nebuchadnezzar that his kingdom was the first of four kingdoms to precede the coming of Messiah. His was the kingdom of gold, to be followed by a lesser kingdom of silver (Daniel 2:39). The kingdom of silver is introduced in Daniel 5, when Darius captures Babylon, and Belshazzar is put to death. The Medo-Persian kingdom is born, fulfilling the first part of the prophecy revealed through Daniel.

Belshazzar’s Feast (Daniel 5:1-5)

The great feast of Belshazzar takes place about 25 years after the events of chapter 4. Nebuchadnezzar is long gone and the Persians have surrounded the city of Babylon hoping to conquer it.

The great feast probably happened on October 12, 539 – The night that Babylon fell. Greek historians wrote that a great banquet was in progress that night. These types of feasts were displays of wealth and power.

Understanding how things went from bad to worse in these verses is not difficult. Such seems to have been the scene at Belshazzar’s banquet.[1] One thousand of the king’s nobles were invited, along with their wives or other women. The king was responsible for what happened, and too much wine seems to have contributed to his poor judgment. A false sense of pride and self-sufficiency seems to have dominated the dinner party. The king remembered the expensive vessels which Nebuchadnezzar, his father,[2] had taken when he defeated and captured Jerusalem. How much more impressive the evening would be if they drank their wine from the gold and silver vessels from the temple in Jerusalem.[3]

And so the vessels were brought in. The wine continued to flow freely, and toasts began to be offered. That these pagans were engaged in a kind of drinking bout with the sacred temple vessels was bad enough, but the ultimate blasphemy was toasting the gods of gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, and stone.

God has a limit to how far He will allow men to go in their sin. In His longsuffering and mercy, God may allow men to continue in their sin for a time. But there is a time for judgment.  The king and his Babylonian dinner guests crossed the line that fateful night in the banquet hall of Babylon. Judgment day had come, and the writing on the wall announced its arrival.

The Handwriting of Doom (Daniel 5:6-16)

Against the whitewashed walls of the palace the writing of the “hand” must have been amazing. The words written were in Aramaic, yet the astrologers and magicians could not decipher them. Their ignorance  in the face of a true mystery is a familiar theme ion the book.

Daniel’s refusal of the King’s gifts may indicate the confidence and focus of a man of 90 years of age. His rebuke of Belshazzar contains the telling phrase “though you knew all of this…” The king had not acted in ignorance.

Verses 7 through 9 relate the promise of the king to give rich rewards to anyone able to interpret the writing, but all the wise men failed.

Knowing the power of the Babylonian kings, Belshazzar must have seen many men stand in fear and trembling before him. One might have thought the king was having a heart attack. Barely able to stand, his face was ashen and seized with terror. The raucous laughter turned to deafening silence with all eyes on the king. The king’s eyes were fixed upon the hand as it wrote. As a sense of foreboding and panic fell on the crowd, all eyes turned to the mysterious writing on the wall. The king’s actions alarmed all who were present.

Crying aloud in fear, his speech probably slurred, the king immediately summoned his wise men to the banquet hall. What did these words on the wall mean? He must know. A tempting reward was offered to anyone who could interpret the meaning of the handwriting on the wall.

The queen has great confidence in Daniel’s ability based upon his track record in the history of Babylonian affairs. Her summary of Daniel’s accomplishments in verse 12 suggests that Daniel performed other amazing tasks throughout the lifetime of king Nebuchadnezzar. Those recorded in the Book of Daniel are but a sampling of Daniel’s ministry to the king.

Her confidence does seem to produce a calming effect on the king and his guests. The king summons Daniel to appear before the king and his guests that very night.

The king offered the same reward to Daniel that he had previously offered to anyone who would interpret the handwriting on the wall. It is interesting that he fulfilled his promise to Daniel at the conclusion of this revelation, even though the reward was short-lived.

The Meaning Revealed (Daniel 5:17-30)

1) The inscription is three simple Aramaic words:

Mene, Mene                        Numbered, Numbered

Tekel                                      Weighed

Peres                                      Divided

Having admonished the king, Daniel next proceeded to interpret the writing: Now this is the inscription that was written out: “MENE¯, MENE¯, TEKE¯L, UPHARSIN.” This is the interpretation of the message: “MENE¯”—God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it. “TEKE¯L”—you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient. “PERE¯S”—your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians (vv. 25–28). [4]

Each word stands for a short sentence. The Babylonians were renowned for their expertise with numbers, and God speaks to Belshazzar in those terms. In the interpretation Daniel dealt with “MENE¯” only once. Many ancient manuscripts do not repeat “MENE¯” in verse 25, thus corresponding exactly with Daniel’s interpretation. “MENE¯,” literally means “numeration” or “evaluation.” “TEKE¯L” literally means “weighing,” and “PERE¯S,” division. Fortunately, we are not left to try to determine the meaning of such a message, for Daniel gave the interpretation.

Though Daniel accepts the gifts, they did not effect the outcome of the prophecy. Further, being elevated to third highest ruler in Babylon was not much of a prize.

Daniel begins by turning down Belshazzar’s reward. Let the king keep his gifts or give them to someone else. Why would he decline Belshazzar’s offer? Daniel knows that the king’s gifts are virtually useless. What good would it do Daniel to be given the third highest office in the administration of Belshazzar when his reign would end that very night? Daniel was God’s servant, divinely gifted to interpret dreams. He would not prostitute his gift by using it for his own gain. Daniel was not “for hire.” As God’s prophet, Daniel spoke to men for God.

Verses 18-24 are fascinating. In these verses Daniel explains the guilt of king Belshazzar. Unfortunately, Belshazzar had not learned the lesson from Nebuchadnezzar’s mistakes (v. 22). Thus the hand was sent from God (v. 24). The writing on the wall, explained in verses 25-28, speak of the imminent judgment of God which will fall upon Belshazzar and his kingdom, due to sin. Daniel spends more time on the king’s guilt than on his punishment, as he devotes more time to explaining the reason for the writing than the meaning of the writing.

The events of Daniel 4 are now repeated, as a lesson which not only Nebuchadnezzar learned but which Belshazzar his son should have learned as well. God sovereignly granted Nebuchadnezzar power, glory, and majesty, and he exercised that power and authority over mankind. But his heart became proud, and he acted arrogantly. God temporarily took away his power and his kingdom, and he became like the beasts of the field, eating grass and living in the elements without shelter. All this happened so that he might recognize God as the ruler over mankind and recognize that all human authority is delegated to men by God, from whom all authority is derived.

Verse 29 indicates that Belshazzar kept his promise to Daniel. He “gave orders, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a necklace of gold around his neck, and issued a proclamation concerning him that he now had authority as the third ruler in the kingdom.”


“That same night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain” and the kingdom was conquered (v. 30). Thus ended the Babylonian Empire.

The “head of gold” of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision (chapter 2) was now replaced by a breast and arms of silver—the Medes and Persians. 

Lessons for today

Remember The Real Issue.
It’s so easy, in a situation like this, to get your eyes on the wrong thing and forget what those clamoring to honor you are really asking you to do. Flattery can be a heady thing. You can lose sight of what is really going on.

   Of course this issue isn’t always so cute. It must have been flattering for Daniel, probably forgotten and on “inactive duty” since the death of Nebuchadnezzar, to be called once again into the palace for advice. Then for a former captive of a defeated nation to be offered third ruler in the kingdom!
   The promise of honor and acclaim can be a heady thing. It can cause you to lose sight of your ideals.
   The thing Daniel needed to remember in the midst of this incredible offer of honor and acclaim was that this same king had just been hosting a dinner in which the keynote issue was mocking God!
   Sure, the honor might be nice, but will you line up with pagans to get it? Will you participate in their blasphemy? Will you mock and dishonor your Maker in order to be honored yourself? Is it worth that much?
   “Well, when you put it that way, no. But it isn’t always so clear cut. Sometimes it’s in the gray area.” Yeah, I know. The greater the promise of honor and prestige, the grayer it gets! Yet we must discern.
   Someone has aptly written, “Flattery looks like friendship – just like a wolf looks like a dog!”
   What I’m saying is this: Remember the real issue! Get your eyes off the glory and get them back on your God! Discern the issues! Know what is really going on. Don’t let the flattery blind you to the facts.
   Don’t Change the Message.
No one else in the room recognized that Aramaic writing on the wall. He could have said it meant anything he wanted and no one would ever have known the difference. No one, that is, but God.

   Oh that men feared God and feared changing His message more than they craved the attention of men!
   The New Testament warns us about changing the message for the sake of personal desires. After an exhortation to “preach the word,” Paul told Timothy in II Timothy 4:3: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.”
   Listen to what God said to His prophet, Ezekiel: Ezekiel 3:17-19: “Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the
house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die’; and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet if you have warned the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself.”
   Fear God’s Judgment.
Perhaps you have, at times, used the phrase, “The handwriting is on the wall,” meaning that what is going to happen is very evident and there is no stopping it. That phrase originated from the story in this passage.

    BIBLE KNOWLEDGE COMMENTARY says this about what happened: “Belshazzar had a false sense of security, because the Persian army… was outside Babylon’s city walls. Their army was divided; part was stationed where the river entered the city at the north and the other part was positioned where the river exited from the city at the south. The army diverted the water north of the city by digging a canal from the river to a nearby lake. With the water diverted, its level receded and the soldiers were able to enter the city by going under the sluice gate. Since the walls were unguarded the Persians, once inside the city, were able to conquer it without a fight.”
   You only get so much warning and then “the handwriting is on the wall.” God will warn of impending judgment only so long, then the ax falls.
   It also should be a warning to cause us to fear God when we’re tempted to put acclaim ahead of principle.

[1] For similar events, recorded in the Bible, see Esther 1 and Mark 6:14-29.

[2] It is generally understood and accepted that the term “father” was used more loosely in the Old Testament of one’s forefather, who may have been a grandfather or even a more distant “father.”

[3] See Daniel 1:2; 2 Kings 24:13; 25:15; Ezra 1:7, 11.

[4] Truth For Today, Life of Daniel series by David Rechtin & Neal Pryor (much of this material is a result of the two issues put out by these two fine writers and this publication, from Searcy, Arkansas

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Posted by on August 1, 2022 in Encounters with God


Faith in the Fire: God’s in Control #4 – When They Call For Truth – Daniel 4

truth-3I spend a great deal of time daily pondering the requirement as a teacher to tell the truth about important spiritual matters…even when it isn’t popular. That is something that’s expected of teachers/ministers, but not always appreciated.

Think of a circumstance when an individual would suddenly grab his side in pain, double over and fall to the floor. Paramedics were called and he was rushed to the hospital. After a battery of tests and X-rays they found he had a cancerous tumor the size of a small football in his stomach. The doctors give radiation treatment and 3 months later they
operated to remove the tumor, now shrunken to the size of a golf ball.  

Many people say sin is a negative subject. So is cancer. If you have a cancerous tumor in your stomach the size of a football and they rush you to the hospital, you don’t need the doctor to tell you, ‘It’s just a stomach ache. Take some Mylanta and you’ll be OK.’ You need to know the truth.

How would you like to be the doctor who has to deliver such bad news? It probably wouldn’t be on anyone’s list of favorite things they like to do.

What is true of physical life and the threat of cancer it also true in the case of spiritual life and the reality of sin. Before people can understand and accept the good news of God’s forgiveness and salvation, they need to hear from us the bad news of their condition before God in their sins.

Because telling the truth about sin is quite similar to the doctor who must break the news about cancer, many people shy away from it. They prefer either to say nothing, or to water down the truth so as to somehow soften the blow.

Sadly, preachers and other Christians can become pretty good at watering down or disguising the truth so that it no longer appears to be bad news. Perhaps it is the reason why so many sense no joy in their salvation – they’ve no idea how bad their condition was so they don’t appreciate their deliverance from it.

Delivering good news is a joy. Delivering bad news is unpleasant. Yet it can get even more complicated than that. Imagine delivering bad news to a superior with a penchant for temper tantrums and the power to kill you. Surely the temptation in such a situation would be to tell a little less than the truth, or perhaps some version of “what they want to hear.”

That is the situation for Daniel in the fourth chapter of the book we’ve been studying. Daniel is the “doctor.” The “patient” is Nebuchadnezzar and he has a deadly sin in his life called arrogance. God has decreed his judgment and it is about to come upon him unless he changes his ways. Daniel must deliver the bad news.

This is sermon number four in our series from Daniel called, “Faith in the Fire: God’s in Control.” We’re looking at dealing with calls from the world. This message is titled, “When They Call for Truth.”

Daniel 4:1-37 (ESV)
1   King Nebuchadnezzar to all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you!

Notice that this chapter differs from the previous three in that it is written by Nebuchadnezzar himself in the first person. It describes what brought him to become a believer in the God of heaven. It involved some bad news. Penned after the fact, this was either a decree he sent out across his kingdom after the events described, or something he wrote in his memoirs for posterity. Note his high praise for God in the next two verses.

2  It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me.
3  How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.

It wasn’t always that way. Listen as he describes what happened”
4   I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and prospering in my palace.
5  I saw a dream that made me afraid. As I lay in bed the fancies and the visions of my head alarmed me.
6  So I made a decree that all the wise men of Babylon should be brought before me, that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream.
7  Then the magicians, the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers came in, and I told them the dream, but they could not make known to me its interpretation.
8  At last Daniel came in before me—he who was named Belteshazzar after the name of my god, and in whom is the spirit of the holy gods—and I told him the dream, saying,
9  “O Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you and that no mystery is too difficult for you, tell me the visions of my dream that I saw and their interpretation.
10  The visions of my head as I lay in bed were these: I saw, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great.
11  The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth.
12  Its leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the heavens lived in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it.
13  “I saw in the visions of my head as I lay in bed, and behold, a watcher, a holy one, came down from heaven.
14  He proclaimed aloud and said thus: ‘Chop down the tree and lop off its branches, strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the beasts flee from under it and the birds from its branches.
15  But leave the stump of its roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, amid the tender grass of the field. Let him be wet with the dew of heaven. Let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth.
16  Let his mind be changed from a man’s, and let a beast’s mind be given to him; and let seven periods of time pass over him.
17  The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.’
18  This dream I, King Nebuchadnezzar, saw. And you, O Belteshazzar, tell me the interpretation, because all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known to me the interpretation, but you are able, for the spirit of the holy gods is in you.”


What a story!

Recall now what we are looking for in this passage. We’re looking to see how we should deal with a situation where someone from the world asks one of us for the truth. A careful look reveals four necessary things for the truth-teller to get his message across. The first is…

1. Credibility
Notice back in verses 7 and 8 that Daniel was one of Nebuchadnezzar’s leading advisors. By this time, Daniel had established a track record in the palace, not only of telling the truth, but also knowing it. I have no idea why the king chose to call Daniel in last, after he had consulted the others, unless he wanted to evaluate his advisory team the way he did back in chapter two.

Look at his description of Daniel: “in whom is a spirit of the holy gods.” Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t a believer yet, but he recognized Daniel had something the rest didn’t. From his previous encounters with Daniel, he must also have known that Daniel wouldn’t back away from telling him the truth.

When the world calls on one of us for truth, it will likely be because their observations of our actions have built credibility in them. We have become authentic. Usually unknown to us, the unbeliever has been watching and evaluating us in other circumstances. They’ve noted it when we had the courage to tell the truth and they’ve also noted it when they saw us
hedge. That is why it is so necessary to be truthful in all areas of life, big and little.

Who do you suppose if watching you right now, evaluation your truthfulness? It might surprise you to know who and how many!
If we expect the world to listen to the truth when we tell it, we don’t get there by waiting until they ask before beginning to tell the truth. We tell it now, in the little things that we face every day, knowing that the world is watching. We also don’t go to the world’s shifting standard of truth to learn how to do it (like the Indians learning to make smoke
signals from the movies.) We must be in God’s eternal source of truth, the Bible.

If you were called upon by the world to tell the truth today, would your message be heard or ignored? A lot depends upon your credibility.

  1. Concern
    Though it has been repeated to the point of being trite, it is still true that “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
    We see here in the example of Daniel a genuine concern for Nebuchadnezzar.

    19 Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was dismayed for a while, and his thoughts alarmed him. The king answered and said, “Belteshazzar, let not the dream or the interpretation alarm you.” Belteshazzar answered and said, “My lord, may the dream be for those who hate you and its interpretation for your enemies!

    Daniel could have said, “Well, it’s about time God dealt with you, you Pagan, for what you did to my people and my family back in Jerusalem!”

    We must tell the truth, but we must tell it with compassion. We should preach and teach “as dying men to dying men.”

    Our message isn’t delivered from a place of condescension! Without God’s offer of grace to us, given while we were still in our sins, we are no better off than this pagan king! We must never forget it.

    3. Candor
    Candor is forthright honesty. It’s what you want from your doctor. It’s what you should want from those who teach you. It is what the unbeliever who comes to you seeking truth, needs desperately from you.

    When you arrive at the absolute truth about a matter, things that contradict it cannot be right! That makes them wrong in case anyone needs some help figuring it out.

    When we speak of telling the truth with candor, we mean telling it like it is, not like we want it to be or we wish it were or our favorite version of it!

    From time to time there are people who are with us in the church for a while, then they leave. Often it is because they run aground on this very issue. They get upset because the leadership of this church will not go against the clear commands of scripture to accommodate their situation.

Those of you sitting here this morning don’t always know the issue behind some folks leaving, but you may hear them as they go mumbling things like how “unfair” the shepherds/minister are. My experience has been the “unfair” they are talking about is that these shepherds, who will account to God one day for their stewardship in this place, would not change the absolute truth of the situation to make it convenient for them to disobey God.

In those statements, I said you don’t always know the issue. The reason is that we don’t usually parade people’s personal lives before the church. If you have a question about something said about the elders, though, the best approach is to ask. They are open to questions and not above accountability for their actions. It is just that I can say with certainly that they (and I) are more afraid of some twisting the word of God than they are of someone’s threats to leave.

Candor – forthright honesty – is what is needed when the world calls for truth. We dare not let them down. To do so is fatal.

Though he risked the king’s wrath, Daniel told the truth with candor.
20  The tree you saw, which grew and became strong, so that its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth,
21  whose leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in which was food for all, under which beasts of the field found shade, and in whose branches the birds of the heavens lived—
22  it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong. Your greatness has grown and reaches to heaven, and your dominion to the ends of the earth.
23  And because the king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Chop down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump of its roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, in the tender grass of the field, and let him be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts of the field, till seven periods of time pass over him,’
24  this is the interpretation, O king: It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king,
25  that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.
26  And as it was commanded to leave the stump of the roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be confirmed for you from the time that you know that Heaven rules.

To the person in the church, we need to tell the truth about the need to obey God. To the outsider, we need to tell the truth about their sin and the coming effects of it.

Those of you who have used “Sin-Savior-Salvation” lessons to teach someone else the gospel: that is why the lesson on “Sin” comes before the one on “Salvation.” People need to know the truth that, because of their sin, they are lost and could be bound for Hell. Only then will they be interested in Jesus as a Savior and not just a nice man.

It is also true of those of us who have been baptized for remission of sins…our refusal to ‘walk in the light’ and to confess the willful sin in our life…puts our eternal condition in peril.

Credibility, Concern, Candor. These are all things we need when the world calls for truth. It is not the time to back away.

  1. Correction
    The call from correction is a call to fix what is wrong. It is the instruction to make straight what is crooked.
    Here it is from Daniel. 27 Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”

    That is our ultimate goal when the world calls for truth. Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will all, likewise, perish.”

    Sin separates and alienates people from God. If it isn’t forgiven, they will go to hell. That is the truth. Repentance is the first step back toward God. It is the point where they change direction. They quit living for themselves and make up their mind they will start living for God.

    Repentance is the hardest part of the message because it means a person must stop doing things only to please himself and start doing what pleases his Maker.

    For the king it involved abandoning his arrogance and helping other people. It involved getting off the throne of his own life and putting God in His rightful place.

    To those seeking truth it is no different. When we tell a person the bad news, that is, his sin has him bound for a fully conscious eternity in hell and that he cannot save himself, we show him God’s answer to his problem. Christ has died to take away his/her sin.

    But he must turn from his sinning and accept Christ. He must be baptized to have his sins washed away. He must strive from then on to put God first in his life. In these things we cannot afford to be unclear or try to slip it by.

    Daniel 4:28-37 (ESV)
    28 All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30  and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” 31  While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, 32  and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” 33  Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.

34  At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; 35  all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” 36  At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. 37  Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

What Preaching is All About? By Wes McAdams

Preaching is the proclamation and explanation of God’s word. Both the Old and New Testaments are full of men who stood before God’s people and explained, “This is what God says, this is what it means, and this is how it applies to us today.”

The church needs to hear the proclamation and explanation of God’s word. We need to hear what it says, what it means, and how it applies to our lives today. When God’s word is proclaimed and explained:

  • it brings glory to God.
  • it unites God’s people of the present with His people of the past.
  • it makes us into a knowledgeable and disciplined community, by encouraging us to stretch our attention spans and develop an ability to hear the word of the Lord.

How We Turn Preaching Into a Competitive Performance

With singing, we often misplace our focus. We focus on the tune and the tempo, when the focus should be on the words of praise. With preaching, we focus on the preacher’s style and delivery, when the focus should be on accurately proclaiming and explaining the word of God.

But think about it, when we sit in the pew and make the sermon about the preacher’s performance – rather than our own walk with Jesus – it takes the pressure off us and puts it on the preacher.

When we have the luxury of sitting and measuring the length and style of the sermon, comparing it with other sermons we’ve heard, our job in the pew is easy. It’s much more difficult for us to accept our God-given responsibility to look beyond the flaws, shortcomings, and human limitations of the preacher in order to discern and apply God’s holy word to our lives.

Pride, Ego, and Self-Esteem

It’s easy to see the harm we do to those we criticize. It’s easy to see how it hurts a preacher’s feelings when we criticize his style; but we might actually be doing more harm to those on whom we constantly brag. When we constantly brag on a preacher’s style and performance, we might very well be stroking his ego.


How To Encourage a Preacher

So how can we show appreciation to our preachers, without being stumbling blocks? Here are a few of my favorite kinds of encouragement:

  • “That message really made me think. I’m going to have to go home and study some more.”
  • “I’m convicted. I’m going to make some big changes in my life.”
  • “God’s word is so powerful.”
  • “Thank you for telling us the truth.”

Some years ago a terrible railroad accident occurred, killing many people. A commuter train had stalled on the tracks just a few minutes before a fast freight was due to arrive. A conductor was quickly sent to flag down the approaching train. Assured that all was well, the passengers relaxed. Suddenly, however, the speeding freight came bearing down upon them. The crash left a ghastly scene of horror.

The engineer of the second train, who escaped death by jumping from the cab, was called into court to explain why he hadn’t stopped. “I saw a man waving a warning flag,” he said, “but it was yellow, so I thought he just wanted me to slow down.” When the flag was examined, the mystery was explained. It had been red, but because of long exposure to the sun and weather it had become a dirty yellow.

When the world calls for truth, our message must be clearly red, not yellow. It must be held up with confidence, waved with concern and candor, accompanied with a message of correction.


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Posted by on July 28, 2022 in Encounters with God


Faith in the Fire: God’s In Control #3 – When They Call For Open-Mindedness

in-the-fireWe live in strange times. Everybody wants a piece of the action when it comes to making everyone else recognize and accept their way of doing things. Years ago, when an immigrant stepped off the boat at Elis Island, his first concern was learning American English and American culture. Today his greatest concern is learning to manipulate the political system to his own ends.

And our response to all of this? We’re supposed to welcome it. You’ve all heard of it. It’s described by words like “tolerance,” “broadmindedness,” “open-mindedness,” and the latest social retread: “multiculturalism.”

The idea seems appealing on the surface. We must be tolerant of others and their belief systems. After all, anything less is bigotry and who wants to be a bigot?

The Bible does teach us to be tolerant of others. “And just as you want people to treat you, treat them in the same way.” It also indicates we should be open to learning new truth. “Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger…”

The blindness brought on by arrogance and a closed mind can prevent one from seeing God’s truth. But this new “tolerance” and “open-mindedness” goes beyond that.

(Please listen to this statement.) It not only demands that we be tolerant of the rights of others to believe what they want, it teaches that the ways of each culture must be recognized as equally valid and right.  It’s a mindset that says that no culture is better than any other, no matter what strange or destructive ideas it holds. If you say anything different, you’re a bigot.

Of course, the highway doesn’t go both ways.
· Have you noticed lately that some of the gurus of tolerance and multiculturalism seem just a bit intolerant of your Christian belief structures?
· Have you noticed that in today’s social climate, you can say and do almost anything you want as long as you don’t express your view that someone else’s belief or behavior is wrong?
· Why is it that those who scream “tolerance” so loudly today are so intolerant of the moral base on which this country was built and the people who represent it?
· Everything is tolerated, it seems, except the good old “Judeo-Christian ethic.”

Have you thought very long about what is happening? In first century Rome, people were allowed to believe and worship whatever they chose, much the same as we are today, as long as they first burned a pinch of incense in the name of Caesar and pronounced the words, “Caesar is Lord.”

It seems to me that we may be coming around full-circle. Many people today believe that all religions are true. “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere,” they say. It doesn’t even matter if the teachings conflict with one another.

No, the “Caesar is Lord” idea probably wouldn’t work. We’re too critical of our public leaders and know their faults too well. It isn’t likely we’ll be unified by consenting to view our president as a god.

But what about a unifying idea? What about an idea we enthrone like a god called “multiculturalism.” As long as you recognize that all cultures and religions are equally right, you are free to worship any way you choose. Note what I did not say. I did not say “as long as you recognize that all religions have a right to exist and compete for attention.” I said, “as long as you recognize that all religions are right.”
When the early Christians faced this issue, their belief in one God made them realize they couldn’t bow down to Caesar or say that all other religions were equally right. This put them on a collision course with their government.

If you’ve heard of the lions and arenas of that era, you know the results. I wonder how it will be if we end up facing the same choices? If the “god” of multiculturalism continues to be held up for admiration and worship until it is so socially acceptable that nothing else is tolerated, will Christians bow down and concede that every religion and lifestyle is true and their faith in one God who calls some behavior “sin” is the only remaining falsehood?

I cannot see the future. Whether such a thing as I have implied will happen in our day remains unknown. I believe, though, that we must be ready for it. We must clearly understand that we cannot bow down to the God of heaven and the god of multiculturalism, too.

So how does a Christian stand in the face of a world that is lining up against absolute truth? How does he/she resist being overrun?  There are answers in the third chapter of Daniel that I want to consider with you this morning. There we find three very brave young men who worshiped the God of heaven. Their names were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Through God’s providence, they were members of a Babylonian king’s advisory cabinet. They lived in a culture that recognized many gods. One day the king set up a god for all his subjects to worship. He gathered them all together at a place called the plain of Dura, struck up the band, and told them all to bow down. The three young men refused. The king threw them into a furnace, then something very remarkable happened.

We’re continuing our series called “Faith in the Fire” from the first six chapters of Daniel. This is the third message. I’m calling it “When They Call For Open-Mindedness.”

Daniel 3:1-30 (ESV)
1  King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits. He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.
2  Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent to gather the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
3  Then the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. And they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
4  And the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages,
5  that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.
6  And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.”
7  Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
8  Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews.
9  They declared to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever!
10  You, O king, have made a decree, that every man who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, shall fall down and worship the golden image.
11  And whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into a burning fiery furnace.
12  There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
13  Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king.
14  Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?
15  Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”
16  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.
17  If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.
18  But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
19  Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated.
20  And he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace.
21  Then these men were bound in their cloaks, their tunics, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the burning fiery furnace.
22  Because the king’s order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
23  And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace.
24  Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.”
25  He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”
26  Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace; he declared, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire.
27  And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them.
28  Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.
29  Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.”
30  Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

What can we learn from the experience of these three men that might be helpful to us in sorting out the confusion of multiculturalism today? I’d like to point out five qualities they had that we should develop. The first is:

1. Clarity.
These men knew what they believed. When the king announced the requirement of bowing down to the image, they knew immediately that they could not do it.

One of the reasons so many Christians are so gullible and identify with the ideas behind multiculturalism is that they are not clear on what they themselves believe. They don’t realize that such a proposition is contrary to the faith they espouse. No wonder they’re confused!

Though I have been reading this chapter in Daniel off and on for nearly 33 years, it was only this past week that it occurred to me what must have really happened there on the plain of Dura. I had always assumed that when all these musicians got together, they all played the same thing, perhaps “Hail to the Chief” of something similar. But look back at
Daniel’s description of the music that was played before the people bowed down to the image.

7  Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

It is probable they weren’t all playing the same song or at least they weren’t playing it the same way!

What a striking illustration of multiculturalism! That is what it sounds like when everyone’s philosophy and belief is viewed as being equal and you’re not allowed to sort it out in the competitive free marketplace of ideas!

We need to know what we believe and why we believe it. Further, we need to know with razor sharp clarity what are the absolutes and what are not.

Have you noticed that in today’s political-religious climate, people who see anything clearly as an issue of ‘right or wrong’ are ridiculed and looked upon as backward?

“There are no absolutes,” we are told. “Everything is relative. We live in a gray world. Everything is fuzzy and unclear. It doesn’t matter who is right, because there really isn’t a right and wrong. That’s the trouble with you Christians. You see everything as black and white.”

Abraham Lincoln seems to have been one who loved wit and wisdom. I’m told that one of his favorite brain-teasers used to make a point with his constituents was to ask, “How many legs would a sheep have if you called his tail a leg?” Naturally, they would respond, “Five.” “Wrong!” Lincoln would reply. “The sheep would still have just four legs. Calling
something a leg doesn’t make it so.”

“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! Front and center. How many gods are there in the world?” “Only one God.” “Well, we want you to bow down to a different god than that One.” “We can’t do that.” “Well, then you’re gonna burn ’cause we don’t like you saying we’re wrong!”

These young men knew what truth was and knew how to describe it. We should know the same.

2. Constancy
This was not the first time these young men had resisted giving in to demands that would compromise their faith. We saw them back in the first chapter when the issue was eating the king’s choice food. Remember?

Too many Christians today lack constancy. They’re on-again, off-again. They’re hot, then they’re cold. They’re up, then they’re down. They’re in, then they’re out.  Oh, how we need that today!

  1. Conviction
    AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY says of the word “conviction,” “a fixed or strong belief.”
    We sometimes say of a person, “He has a strong moral conviction.” What we mean is that his belief is deep enough to have become rooted and firmly established. It isn’t a passing thing. Then the dictionary gives another definition that suggests the way a person gets to that fixed or strong belief. It says, “the act or process of convincing.” When you or I hold a conviction about something, what it means is that we have weighed it and measured it to the point that we have become convinced that it is true beyond a reasonable doubt and that anything that goes against it is false. It is no longer something we hold in the realm of possibility. We have found it to be truth worth defending.
    With that in mind, let me ask you, what religious convictions do you hold? I’m not asking you which convictions you’ll allow me to stand up here and promote. That is quite another thing. I’m not asking you about my convictions. I’m asking about yours. What principles are so settled in your mind that they have become facts that cannot be denied and must be defended?

    One of the reasons a philosophy like multiculturalism can be so widely embraced today is that it takes no conviction to hold it. You don’t need to know anything. It’s a brainless, gutless choice.

    You don’t have to stand up and defend it. You don’t have to consider the fact that it is illogical and doesn’t add up. It’s popular, so you can even congratulate yourself for being in such a broad stream of prominent people.
    · Multiculturalism is the lord of the lazy.
    · It is the deity of those who don’t think.
    · It is the supreme being of those with no sense, who put their feelings ahead facts.
    · Their common sense is on standby.
    · It’s the adoration of the apathetic.

    Jesus said, “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.”

    4. Confidence
    {17} If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. {18} But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

    These young men believed that God could rescue them if He chose to do so, even from a blast furnace so hot it burned bystanders. But even if God didn’t deliver them, they weren’t going to bow down. They were convinced that He would deal with them fairly even if they ended up dying for their faith.

    To stand against the idol of multiculturalism that is being erected today, we too need confidence. We need to know that we are on God’s side. The only way we can have that assurance is to get on God’s side. Don’t expect God to come to your side. Get on His side! The only way you can do that is to get in His Book and learn what God’s side is!

    5. Courage
    Saying you believe something or have a conviction about it is one thing – standing by it is another. Do you suppose these young men were scared? I cannot imagine it any other way.

    During World War II, a military governor met with General George Patton in Sicily. When he praised Patton highly for his courage and bravery, the general replied, “Sir, I am not a brave man — the truth is, I am an utter craven coward. I have never been within the sound of gunshot or in sight of battle in my whole life that I wasn’t so scared that I had sweat
    in the palms of my hands.” Years later, when Patton’s autobiography was published, it contained this significant statement by the general: “I learned very early in my life never to take counsel of my fears.”

    Jesus said this on the subject: “And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Do you want to master the fear of men? Work until you have a greater fear of God.

    Let me challenge you with a pledge I found by an anonymous disciple of Jesus. It is called “The Fellowship of the Unashamed.” Perhaps you can find yourself in his words.

    “I am part of the “Fellowship of the Unashamed.” I have Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I’ve stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of His. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals! I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by presence, learn by faith, love by patience, live by prayer, and labor by power.

    “My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity. I won’t give up, shut up, let go, or slow up until I’ve preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ.   “I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till He comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till He stops. And when He comes to get His own, He’ll have no problems recognizing me. My colors will be clear.”

    Be sure your colors are clear.

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Posted by on July 25, 2022 in Encounters with God


Faith in the Fire: God’s In Control #2 – When They Call For Help

faith under fireWhen They Call For Help

“…everybody has something that isn’t working in their life somewhere.”

Most of us in difficult conditions turn to our tried and true solutions first – you know, those little shortcuts and dodges that have bailed us out of trouble before. When these don’t work, we may confide our problem to a trusted friend or two. That failing, we may become desperate. We begin to entertain a willingness to open ourselves to things we haven’t considered

In that condition, some of us are, perhaps for the first time, willing to listen to what God might have to say. If, at that point, there is a Christian near us whom we trust and who is ready to help us understand, we find ourselves listening with a new level of attentiveness. For some this can result in becoming lifelong disciple of Jesus.

This process of a crisis bringing the unbeliever to the believer for help has been repeated over and over. It seems to be a prime method God uses to call men and women to Himself.

In the Bible narrative we’re going to consider this morning, we have one of those “turn-to-God-in-time-of-crisis” stories.
This message is the second in a series based on the first six chapters of Daniel. We’re considering how God’s people should respond to the different calls of the world. The first message, based on chapter one, was called “When They Call For Compromise.” In it, we saw that we must resist the world’s attempts to homogenize us into its system.

This lesson: “When They Call For Help.” How should we respond when someone who doesn’t know God comes to the end of his/her rope and reaches out to us for help?

As we’ve noted already, often an unbeliever’s first serious consideration of his Maker comes in a time of crisis. In this case the unbeliever is the king of Babylon 600 years before Christ – a man named Nebuchadnezzar. The crisis is a dream he had (to him more like a nightmare.) We begin then, with the crisis of:

I. A Rattled King.
Daniel 2:1: “In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep.”

Because they possessed almost unlimited power and authority, Oriental leaders were notoriously temperamental and unpredictable, and here Nebuchadnezzar reveals this side of his character.


The Lord gave Nebuchadnezzar a vivid dream that he couldn’t understand, and it distressed him. That the Lord God Almighty would communicate truth to a pagan Gentile king is evidence of the grace of God.
That word “troubled” in this verse in the original language means “to be beaten, compelled, or pushed.” It was the kind of dream that causes one to sit up suddenly in bed, heart pounding, eyes wide, utterly terrified. It was so troubling that the King couldn’t go back to sleep. The plural “dreams” suggests that perhaps this same dream persisted night after night.

The King did what all people do when they hit a situation they cannot control. He turned to his familiar, tried and true solutions first.

Daniel 2:2-4: “So the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed. When they came in and stood before the king, {3} he said to them, “I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means.” {4} Then the astrologers answered the king in Aramaic, “O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.””

Now get ready. The king is about to put these men to a test that will expose the limits of their power.

Daniel 2:5: “The king replied to the astrologers, “This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble.”

The king wants not only the interpretation of the dream, he wants them to describe to him the dream itself! Without some sort of supernatural power, that is going to be impossible for them. As you can probably imagine, it didn’t take long for these Chaldeans to realize they were in deep trouble!
This in itself set the stage for Daniel to exalt the true and living God of Israel who alone can predict the future. By issuing this impossible challenge, the king was unconsciously following the plan of God and opening the way for Daniel to do what the counselors could not do.


Daniel 2:6-10: “But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.” {7} Once more they replied, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will interpret it.” {8} Then the king answered, “I am certain that you are trying to gain time, because you realize that this is what I have firmly decided: {9} If you do not tell me the dream, there is just one penalty for you. You have conspired to
tell me misleading and wicked things, hoping the situation will change. So then, tell me the dream, and I will know that you can interpret it for me.” {10} The astrologers answered the king, “There is not a man on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer.”

What a revealing statement of the limits of human resources in the face of some crises! “There is no earthly solution to a problem like that, O king!” That was the best their most advanced wisdom of their day could produce.

Daniel 2:11: “What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among men.””

“Your predicament, O king, is outside the realm of man’s abilities.”

There is nothing surprising about such a declaration from our perspective. Most of us here have realized that there comes a point when man’s solutions run out. You have to wonder, though, what these guys had been claiming to the king about their powers and abilities prior to this that would provoke such a violent threat.

What we’re talking about here is this: all people, sooner or later, sense the limitations of human resources. The Chaldeans state it well: “It would take a god to do what you are asking!”

There comes a time in the life of every person when you realize you can no longer dodge the bullet. You can no longer get off easy. You can no longer sidestep or ignore the problem or dig yourself out of your predicament. You’re in trouble and unless there is something beyond the power of man, you won’t escape. At that point, sometimes for the first time, the possibility of a Supernatural Being who transcends human ability becomes relevant. You think, “perhaps there is a God.”

Zig Ziggler quips that there are three things that are hard to do. One is to climb a fence leaning toward you. Another is to kiss a girl who is leaning away from you. The third is to help someone who doesn’t really want to be helped. That is how it is most of the time we deal with unbelievers. They don’t want to be helped. But in time of crisis in the unbeliever’s life, that changes.

Those of you who have turned to God because of a crisis in your life, think back to the time you first changed your attitude toward the possibility of God in your life. How then do we respond to the world’s call for help? We must first:

1. Realize that unbelievers will come to us in time of crisis.  To borrow from a recent popular advertising slogan, “If you build it, they will come.” If you build an authentic, consistent Christian witness, unbelievers in the time of their crisis, will come to you. God will see to it, just like He did here.

As one poet reminds us: “If each man’s care were written on his brow, how of them who have our praise would have our pity now!”

You never really know what is going on in the life of that unbeliever next to you until a crisis brings it out into the open. Realize that unbelievers will come to you in time of crisis.

2. A Ready Witness.
With the things we’ve said so far in mind, it seems rather obvious, doesn’t it, that God, who is seeking lost mankind, would step in to provide a witness to help such a person? In that day it was Daniel. Today it just might be you or me.

That God would provide a witness is no surprise. What is always surprising to me is how He goes about it sometimes. That is what we see next.
Daniel 2:12: “This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon.”

If you’ve ever heard or made the statement, “God works in mysterious ways,” you’ll recognize the truth of it here. Those words “destroy all the wise men of Babylon” would include Daniel and his three Hebrew friends who proved so faithful to God in chapter one. The King’s edict amounted to a death warrant for them. What is God up to? Mysterious ways indeed!

Daniel 2:13: “So the decree was issued to put the wise men to death, and men were sent to look for Daniel and his friends to put them to death.”

The Evil One is willing to sacrifice all his false prophets in the city of Babylon if he can destroy four of God’s faithful servants. Satan’s servants are expendable, but the Lord cares for His people.


Doesn’t it seem a bit strange to you that God would use a death warrant and the fear it would provoke in the minds of Daniel and his friends to bring the seeker and the witness together? Yet that is the way God did it.

Don’t ever think that the difficult circumstances in your life are without purpose in God’s scheme of things. We’ll see here that God can even turn a threat to your physical life into a blessing and an opportunity.

So Daniel got word of the edict. When the king and his soldiers knocked on his door, he was ready: Daniel 2:14-16: “When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, had gone out to put to death the wise men of Babylon, Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact. {15} He asked the king’s officer, “Why did the king issue such a harsh decree?” Arioch then explained the matter to Daniel. {16} At this, Daniel went in to the king and asked for time, so that he
might interpret the dream for him.”

Those words in verse 16, “asked for time” are translated: “requested that he would appoint a time for him.” We saw back in verse 8 that the king had already denied the Chaldeans additional time to collaborate. What Daniel is discretely and wisely asking for here is an appointment with the king. Rather than just sit there like a dumb ox at the slaughter,
oblivious to what is going on around him, Daniel did the second thing we need to do when an unbeliever is in crisis: take the initiative with discretion and discernment.

Before I elaborate on that point, will you recognize what I didn’t say? I didn’t say, “call the preacher and turn the unbeliever over to him.” Of course, in some cases that might be appropriate, but I need to say a couple of things here. First, the unbeliever likely doesn’t know your preacher. He knows you. If your witness was authentic enough that he was
attracted to you he needs to hear what you have to say!

“What on earth could I say?”

You could tell him how God has made a difference in your life. You could promise to pray for him. If he sees the need for salvation you could have a few verses handy and show him what he needs to do. You could enlist a few other Christians to help you hold him up before God in prayer. You could spend time with him and encourage him to hang in there and not give up.

God has given evangelists and pastors and teachers to equip you for service, not to do your service for you! What am I saying here? I’m talking about taking the initiative with discretion and discernment.

When we recognize that God does things this way, that is, He brings crises into the lives of unbelievers so they will seek Him, and that He uses believers like you and me to deliver His message, we can move forward with enthusiasm knowing that God is with us. He can even help you in your ineptness!

What has always amazed me in reading Daniel’s response to all this is the degree of confidence he had in God – not in himself. “Before you kill us, Arioch, can you get me an appointment with the king?” He didn’t know what God was going to do! He hadn’t read the book of Daniel like we’re doing. He just knew that the king’s life was spinning out of control and that God was more powerful than any man or circumstance.

AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY says of discretion: “showing prudence and wise self-restraint in speech and behavior.”

When an unbeliever is calling for help, it’s not the time to go out and club him with you trusty Bible or hit him and shoot him with your ever-ready ax and two thirty-eights. Yes, Scripture will ultimately be important, but remember, the situation calls for discretion and discernment. These twin qualities are some of the most important characteristics of an effective witness for Christ.

Of course, we should never face a situation like this alone. Intercession from the rest of the body to invoke God’s help is important. That is how Daniel saw it.

Daniel 2:18-19: “He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. {19} During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven”

3. Solicit support from God’s people.
In this case we’re talking about prayer support of others which led ultimately to answered prayer from God.

If God is instrumental in bringing crisis to the life of the unbeliever and brings the unbeliever into contact with the ready witness, we must recognize that this whole procedure is primarily His, not ours. We are simply His tools. It is only reasonable that we should go to God and seek his help and guidance through it.

We need strength to do it right. Someone has written, “In relation to his people, God works only in answer to their prayer. In prayer we exchange our natural strength for the supernatural strength of God.” I like that because at times like we are discussion, we need that supernatural strength!

Solicit support from other believers and God.  O.K. An unbeliever has hit a spot where he has realized his need for God. You or I, realizing this, take the initiative with wisdom and discernment. We are confident God can help them, indeed, He has probably allowed the circumstance for this very reason. Then, God steps in and delivers them with a mighty hand! What now? I’ve called this next section,

3. A Revered God.
Let’s look again to see what Daniel did.

Daniel 2:19-28 (ESV)
19  Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven.
20  Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might.
21  He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding;
22  he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.
23  To you, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for you have given me wisdom and might, and have now made known to me what we asked of you, for you have made known to us the king’s matter.”
24  Therefore Daniel went in to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon. He went and said thus to him: “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon; bring me in before the king, and I will show the king the interpretation.”
25  Then Arioch brought in Daniel before the king in haste and said thus to him: “I have found among the exiles from Judah a man who will make known to the king the interpretation.”
26  The king declared to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, “Are you able to make known to me the dream that I have seen and its interpretation?”
27  Daniel answered the king and said, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked,
28  but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream and the visions of your head as you lay in bed are these:


  • Daniel 2:29-45 (ESV)
    29 To you, O king, as you lay in bed came thoughts of what would be after this, and he who reveals mysteries made known to you what is to be.  30  But as for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because of any wisdom that I have more than all the living, but in order that the interpretation may be made known to the king, and that you may know the thoughts of your mind.
    31  “You saw, O king, and behold, a great image. This image, mighty and of exceeding brightness, stood before you, and its appearance was frightening.  32  The head of this image was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, 33  its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.
    34  As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces.
    35  Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
    36  “This was the dream. Now we will tell the king its interpretation. 37  You, O king, the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, 38  and into whose hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens, making you rule over them all—you are the head of gold.

39  Another kingdom inferior to you shall arise after you, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. 40  And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron, because iron breaks to pieces and shatters all things. And like iron that crushes, it shall break and crush all these.
41  And as you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom, but some of the firmness of iron shall be in it, just as you saw iron mixed with the soft clay.
42  And as the toes of the feet were partly iron and partly clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle.
43  As you saw the iron mixed with soft clay, so they will mix with one another in marriage, but they will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay.
44  And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, 45  just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure.”


To sum up what the large image represented: four Gentile kingdoms:

  • The breast and arms of silver—The Medo-Persian kingdom (539-330 B.C.). Darius the Mede conquered Babylon ( 5:30-31).
  • The belly and thighs of bronze—The Grecian kingdom (330-63 B.C.). Alexander the Great established what was probably the largest empire in ancient times. He died in 323 B.C.
  • The legs of iron and feet of iron and clay—The Roman Empire (63 B.C.-ca. A.D. 475). Iron represents strength but clay represents weakness. Rome was strong in law, organization, and military might; but the empire included so many different peoples that this created weakness.
  • The destruction of the image—The coming of Jesus Christ, the Stone, to judge His enemies and establish His universal kingdom.


Nebuchadnezzar saw that his own kingdom would fall one day and be replaced by the Medes and Persians. This happened in 538 B.C. (Dan. 5:30-31).

When we consider these truths, our response ought to be one of joyful confidence, knowing that the Lord has everything under control. While God’s people should do everything they can to alleviate suffering and make this a safer and happier world, our hope is not in laws; political alliances, or moral crusades. Our hope is in the Lord.
What started out as possible tragedy—the slaughter of four godly men—was turned into great triumph; and the God of Daniel received great glory. Daniel gave the glory to God!

  1. Pass on the praise.
    It is a heady experience when God uses you to make a difference in the life of an unbeliever. It gets even headier if that unbeliever has fame or celebrity status like the king here. What do you think the temptation is at that point?
    Yeah, the temptation is to take the glory for yourself. This would have made an excellent opportunity for advancement in the king’s court for Daniel. Had he simply claimed to have power and special abilities himself, from human perspective, look at what he would have gained.

    Ah, but Daniel realized that his purpose was to glorify God, not himself. In so doing, ultimately, God would honor him.

    Daniel 2:46-48: “Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. {47} The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.” {48} Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men.”

    Have you come to the place in your Christian maturity where you are willing to pass on the praise for anything you might accomplish to God and leave your advancement in the ranks of life to Him? That is really what this is all about. It is to call attention to God, not us! It is His power the unbeliever needs to see, not ours.

    Do it that way and God will promote you. Do it any other way and you fail to accomplish the purpose of God.

    Everyone has something that doesn’t work someplace… Everyone faces the reality of a crisis in their life sometime. …Everyone has a need somewhere, regardless of how together they seem to be.

    It’s true of people right in the sphere of your influence. People who have been watching your life and listening to you for weeks, months, or even years. When the crisis comes, you need to be ready. Because we build a credible witness of Christ in your life, they will come.

    Perhaps there is someone here among us this morning who is in a crisis but doesn’t know Christ. You’re the person who is listening to talk about God for the first time. I don’t want you to leave this building this morning without an opportunity to get help.

    If you would like to talk to one of our ministers or elders, please take one of the attendance cards from the rack in front of you and write your name, phone number, and anything pertinent to your situation and hand it to one of these men. One of us will call you privately and discreetly this week. We want to help you.


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Posted by on July 21, 2022 in Encounters with God


Faith in the Fire: God’s In Control #1 – When They Call For Compromise

faith under fireWe would need to go to the grocery store to find the opening illustration for the sermon series I want to begin today. Rummaging through the items there, you would found the analogy on the side of a half-gallon carton of milk. The words: “Grade A, Pasteurized, Homogenized Milk.”

Pasteurization has to do with heating the milk to a certain temperature and holding it there until certain harmful bacteria are killed. Before the days of pasteurization, people would occasionally die from drinking a glass of milk. Homogenization is the process of mixing up the milk until it has a uniform consistency. We might say it is fully blended. You can always recognize non-homogenized milk because the cream separates and comes to the top.

It occurred to me this past week that homogenization is exactly what the world wants to do with Christians. The world wants to shake us up and blend us so effectively that there is no longer any difference between us and them. The cream no longer comes to the top. It is no longer a separate substance.

Once you’ve been a Christian for awhile, of course, you realize that, while that is what the world around you wants, it isn’t what God wants. He doesn’t want the cream so mixed up with the rest of the milk that there is no difference. He wants us to resist becoming “homogenized” with the world. Yet, staying with our analogy, He hasn’t called us to leave the bottle of milk either. (I believe somewhere I’ve heard the phrase, “In the world but not of the world” used among Christians.) In our day, that is no small assignment. But then again, it never has been.

So how do you pull something like that off? How do you maintain a dynamic, no compromise faith in a deluded world that wants to homogenize you?

This morning we begin a new six part sermons that I’m going to call “Dynamic Faith in a Deluded World.” The idea behind it is this issue of not becoming homogenized with the world. In the process of the world shaking the Christian up, God wants the cream to come to the top, and not to be reduced and dispersed so it is no longer seen.

We’ll turn then, to the first message, which I’ve called “When They Call For Compromise.” Compromise is the most common and straight forward means used by the world to homogenize Christians.

AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY gives as the third definition under the word Compromise, “A concession to something detrimental…”

If you can be made to abandon key aspects of your faith by compromising what you believe, homogenization will be simple and complete. Watch for the call to compromise as we read the story in Daniel, chapter one.

It begins with the military defeat of what remained of the once powerful nation of Israel and the deportation of certain young men who survived the siege of Jerusalem. The time was 606 B.C.

A. A new home (vv. 1-2)
Daniel 1:1-2: “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. {2} And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god

No longer were they surrounded by the things of God in Jerusalem, and no longer would they have the influence of their godly parents and teachers.

B. New knowledge (vv. 3-4)

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility–{4} young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.”

Imagine four Hebrew boys, teenagers, being snatched from their lovely homes in Jerusalem and moved to faraway Babylon. Since all of them were princes, belonging to the royal family, they were probably not accustomed to this kind of treatment.

It is too bad when the youth of the land must suffer because of the sins of the parents. The Jews had refused to repent and obey the Lord, so (as Jeremiah had warned) the Babylonian army came in 606-586 B.C. and conquered the land.

The policy of taking the youngest and strongest among the survivors of a defeated nation was common in that day. It insured a good flow of slaves for the conquering king to employ in his service and also made it certain that the defeated nation could not rise again against its conquerors.

The old Jewish wisdom had to go; from now on it would be the wisdom of the world, the wisdom of Babylon. They had to learn the wisdom and the language of their captors. The king hoped that this “brainwashing” would make better servants out of them.

In v. 3 we see what fine specimens these four lads were: they were physically strong and handsome, socially experienced and well-liked by others, mentally keen and well-educated, and spiritually devoted to the Lord.

Conservative scholars have placed Daniel and his friends who were among these captives somewhere in the age range of early teens. The next verses describe the plan for re-socialization. It was a clear, out-in-the-open effort to homogenize believers.

But a difficult trial lay ahead of them: the king wanted to force them to conform to the ways of Babylon. He was not interested in putting good Jews to work; he wanted these Jews to be Babylonians!

Christians today face the same trial: Satan wants us to become “conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:1-2). Sad to say, too many Christians give in to the world and lose their power, their joy, and their testimony. Note the changes that these young men experienced:

C. New diets (v. 5)
“The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.

For the next three years, the four youths were supposed to eat the king’s diet, which, of course, was contrary to the dietary laws of the Jews. No doubt the food was also offered to the idols of the land, and for the Hebrew youths to eat it would be blasphemy.

D. New names (vv. 6-7)
Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. {7} The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.” The world does not like to recognize the name of God, yet each of the four boys had God’s name in his own name:

Daniel (“God is my judge”) was changed to Belteshazzar (“Bel protect his life”). Bel was the name of a Babylonian god.
Hananiah (“Jehovah is gracious”) became Shadrach (“the command of the moon god”)

Mishael (“Who is like God?”) became Meshach (“who is like Aku,” one of the heathen gods);
Azariah (“Jehovah is my helper”) became Abednego (“the servant of Nego,” another heathen god).

The Babylonians hoped that these new names would help the youths forget their God and gradually become more like the heathen people with whom they were living and studying.

The Babylonians could change Daniel’s home, textbooks, menu, and name, but they could not change his heart. He and his friends purposed in their hearts that they would obey God’s Word; they refused to become conformed to the world. Of course, they could have made excuses and “gone along with” the crowd. They might have said,  “Everybody’s doing it!” or “We had better obey the king!” or “We’ll obey on the outside but keep our faith privately.” But they did not compromise.

They dared to believe God’s Word and trust God for victory. They had surrendered their bodies and minds to the Lord, as Rom. 12:1-2 instructs, and they were willing to let God do the rest.

Daniel 1:8-16 (ESV)
8  But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.
9  And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs,
10  and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.”
11  Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah,
12  “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink.
13  Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.”
14  So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days.
15  At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food.
16  So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.

Daniel asked for a ten-day test, which was not very long considering that they had three years of training ahead of them; the head servant agreed with their plan.

The servant was afraid to change the king’s orders, lest anything happen to the youths and to himself, so Daniel’s proposed test was a good solution to the problem. Of course, God honored their faith. The boys were fed vegetables and water for ten days, thus avoiding the defiled food of the Babylonians. At the end of the test, the four lads were healthier and more handsome than the other students who ate from the king’s table.

“When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Prov. 16:7).

Daniel 1:17: “To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.”

A test for ten days is one thing, but what about the three-year course at the University of Babylon? The answer is in v. 17: “God gave them . . . ” all that they needed! He enabled them to learn their lessons better than the other students, and He added to this knowledge His own spiritual wisdom.

Daniel 1:18-21 (ESV)
18  At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar.
19  And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king.
20  And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.
21  And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.

The “magicians and astrologers” in v. 20 were the men of the kingdom who studied the stars and sought to determine what decisions the king should make. They also claimed to interpret dreams.

Certainly Daniel and his friends did not believe the foolish religion and practices of the Babylonians, but they studied just the same, just as a Christian student must do when he attends a university today and is told to learn “facts” that he knows are contrary to God’s Word.

The king himself had to admit that the four Hebrew lads were ten times smarter than his best advisers. Of course, this kind of reputation made the astrologers envious, and it is no wonder they tried to do away with the Jews in later years.
What we have, then, in this passage is clearly a call from the world to compromise and it is no different in principle than the world’s call for God’s people to compromise in any other age, including our own. Yes, the circumstances are usually different, but the issue is always the same.

Someone has written, “Compromise is always wrong when it means sacrificing principle.”

Not all compromise is wrong. There are times when compromise is permissible or even desirable. Remember the dictionary definition of compromise? “A concession to something detrimental.” Note that Daniel and his friends didn’t object to the classes they were assigned to take or the new names then were given. Though they probably didn’t like being given pagan names in place of the ones their parents had given them, they were willing to concede these things. But eating the King’s choice food
was a clear violation of God’s law. That concession could not be made.

When the world calls on us to compromise then, we need to:
1. Be Reasonable. Know the difference between wrongful compromise and allowable concession. Every call for compromise need not be met by strong opposition by God’s person. A Christian should pick his battles carefully. It is only when God’s principles are at stake that we can refuse to be conformed.

When we are called to compromise, we need to know the difference between wrongful compromise and permissible concession. We see it illustrated here in Daniel. These men didn’t object to all that was put upon them. Only the thing that caused them to violate the law of God.

2. Be Resolute.
Look back at verse 8: The words to note there are those translated “made up his mind” or “resolved.” The Hebrew word behind that phrase was one often used to describe the making of a rope. Individual strands or fibers are gathered up and placed side by side, then twisted into a rope. Their combined strength makes a strand that is difficult to break.

The time does come to make up your mind and take your stand. When that time comes, stand!

After Daniel determined that this was an issue for which there could be no compromise, he gathered up every strand of his resolve and made a decision.

A big reason why many compromise, even when they don’t want to, is that they never come to this kind of decision. They know something is wrong, but they beat around the bush, hoping the unpleasant decision will somehow go away. Or, perhaps they try to somehow accommodate the best of both worlds.

It reminds me of the guy Paul Harvey described one time. His words were, “Remember the uncertain soldier in our Civil War who, figuring to play it safe, dressed himself in a blue coat and gray pants and tip-toed out onto the field of battle. He got shot from both directions.”

We need to be resolute. We need to make up our minds. If we don’t, we’ll soon be homogenized. We’ll be no different than the world.

3. Be Respectful.
1:8: “…so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself.”

I suppose that Daniel could have gone on some hunger strike or something, but he didn’t. He could have protested loudly. Instead, he sought out the commander and respectflly told him his dilemma.

Remember that unbelievers around us need to see a good example so they, too, can be saved. A resolute stand doesn’t mean you should be mean-spirited and disrespectful. This is precisely where many Christians lose the battle and become just like the world.

I’m told that between two farms near Valleyview, Alberta, you can find two parallel fences, only two feet apart, running for about a half mile. Why are there two fences when only one would do? It seems two farmers, Paul and Oscar, had a disagreement that erupted into a feud. Paul wanted to build a fence between their land and split the cost (a reasonable thing to do) but Oscar was unwilling to contribute. Since he wanted to keep the cattle on his land, Paul went ahead and built the fence anyway.

After it was completed, Oscar said to Paul, “I see we have a fence.”  “What do you mean, ‘we'” replied Paul. “I got the property line surveyed and built the fence two feet into my land. That means some of my land is outside the fence. If any of your cows set foot on my land, I’ll shoot them.”

Oscar knew Paul wasn’t joking, so when he eventually decided to use the land adjoining Paul’s pasture, he was forced to build another fence, two feet away. Oscar and Paul are both dead now, but their double fence stands as a monument to their stubbornness and uncalled for disrespect. Being right and doing right does not give us a license to be disrespectful of others. There really is no place for a cantankerous saint of God.

Daniel first sought permission from the commander of the officials to be excused from eating the king’s food. Does that mean if the commander had said “no” he would have gone ahead and defiled himself with the food? No! But it does indicate that, whenever something can be done respectfully, it should be.

Romans 12:18: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

4. Be Resourceful.
Don’t you think that proposal reflects some careful deliberation and wise, resourceful consideration? I think it is reasonable to believe that, after Daniel made up his mind he would not defile himself with the king’s food, he spent some time considering how to approach the overseer.

Even when intentions are good and God is please with a decision, we must be wise in our approach to the world. You might remember Jesus’ words  were “wise as serpents and cautious [innocent] as doves.” (4)

Being on God’s side doesn’t excuse us from seeking a wise approach to dealing with the world. We must not be reckless in this area. Such seeking of wisdom is based at least partly, on human effort and concern for what is wise.

Two New Testament verses come to mind that are directed to Christians today on the subject of giving a wise response to the world when we have the opportunity:
Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person.”

1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”

You don’t avoid the world’s homogenization by being a willful dim-wit to wisdom.

I don’t believe God hands a person wisdom like Daniel and his friends exhibited here without their human effort being involved. Do you seek wisdom to know how you should respond when the world calls for compromise?

An interesting thing to watch for from the window of an airplane is the winding path of the rivers below. No two waterways are alike, but they all have one thing in common: they are all crooked. They get that way because they conform to what stands in their way. Another way to look at it is that they follow the path of least resistance. Yes, rivers are crooked because they take the “easy way.”

We, too, can become crooked if we always take the easy way. The things that have been suggested here today from Daniel 1 are not the easy way. They take courage, conviction, and commitment. But if we practice them, they will yield a life that is straight as God intended – and we won’t be homogenized.


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Posted by on July 18, 2022 in Encounters with God


Encounters With God: Jonah, The Prodigal Prophet – Running Away From God – Jonah 4

Jonah swallowed by a whale | Manchester Ink Link

Encounter with Jeffrey Dahmer changed minister’s life

PORTAGE, Wis. — It was an average-sized room that resembled a doctor’s office. Nothing on the walls. Sterile. Roy Ratcliff sat alone at a table in the center of the room.

He noticed sweat trickling from his forehead, and he could hear his heart pounding in the silence.

Ratcliff, minister for the church in Madison, Wisc., was to meet with a prisoner who wanted to be baptized. He had never met with a prisoner before.The inmate was a murderer, and everyone would surely question his sincerity. Perhaps it was a stunt.

The door opened, breaking the silence. A 6-foot man with blond hair, blue eyes and glasses entered the room. Ratcliff stood up to greet him. The man shook his hand and said, “It’s good to meet you.”

The guard did not enter the room. The door closed behind Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer, leaving Ratcliff alone with him.

Although Ratcliff was a little frightened to meet the serial killer from Milwaukee, Dahmer was the more nervous of the two in that room at the Columbia Correctional Institution April 18, 1994. “He was worried that his crimes would be the dominant theme (of the conversation),” Ratcliff said. He didn’t want to hear that from a minister.

Between 1978 and 1991 Dahmer killed 17 young men and boys. Police arrested him in 1991 and found victims’ decaying bodies in Dahmer’s apartment. Accusations soon surfaced that Dahmer practiced necrophilia and cannibalism.

“Do you have any religious background at all?” Ratcliff asked. He was surprised to learn that Dahmer attended a church of Christ until age 5.

Dahmer had started Bible study in prison through courses he received by mail after a “Dateline NBC” interview. A church member in Virginia, Mary Mott, and a prison minister in Crescent, Okla., Curtis Booth, sent him material. He studied on his own, and then inquired about being baptized. A minister in Milwaukee contacted Ratcliff.

Ratcliff realized that Dahmer was serious about his decision. They arranged to use a whirlpool at the prison. Dahmer climbed in and got into the fetal position to fit underneath the water. On May 10, 1994, three weeks after they had met, Ratcliff baptized one of the world’s most notorious serial killers.

After the baptism, Ratcliff insisted that he meet with Dahmer each week for Bible study to continue to bring God into his life.

Ratcliff knew little about the man he baptized, so he started to read books about Dahmer’s crimes. The monster he read about and the person he knew didn’t seem like the same man.

Dahmer mentioned his crimes on occasion, and showed a sense of sorrow for what he had done, Ratcliff said. But at no time in their conversations did Dahmer say why he committed the crimes. That was something Ratcliff — and the rest of the nation — could only guess.

A jury rejected Dahmer’s insanity plea in 1992, and based on his conversations with the inmate, Ratcliff agreed with the decision. “He knew it was wrong and tried to cover it up,” Ratcliff said.

On one occasion, Dahmer said he should be put to death for what he did. Ratcliff said he agreed. But Wisconsin has no death penalty, and Ratcliff told him suicide is a selfish act. He should strive to be a good prisoner and live to serve God.

“Most people struggle with the idea of Jeffrey Dahmer repenting,” Ratcliff said. “All they can remember is the heinousness of the crimes.”

On his answering machine at the church, Ratcliff received one profanity-laced message that said he was foolish to believe Dahmer was a candidate for baptism. However, to his face, Ratcliff received praise. “Can an evil person turn to God? I have to believe that,” Ratcliff said. “What part of the blood of Christ can’t save him, but can save you?”

Over the months, Ratcliff saw a gradual change in Dahmer. He went from a man with a death wish to a man who wanted to help other inmates with Bible study. Dahmer’s father, Lionel, noticed a change in his son as well, Ratcliff said.

But there was a part of Dahmer that remained immature, Ratcliff said, and he believed Dahmer had trouble distinguishing good from bad.

“(At age 34) he was still kind of a little boy yet,” Ratcliff said.

On July 3, 1994, a prisoner from Cuba taped a razor blade to his toothbrush and attacked Dahmer from behind during worship service. Dahmer survived with three cuts. Prison officials assured Ratcliff that great steps would be taken to make sure Dahmer was safe.

But as Dahmer and Jesse Anderson, another convicted murderer from Milwaukee, were doing janitorial duties Nov. 28, 1994, inmate Christopher Scarver used a steel bar from weightlifting gear to bludgeon both men to death, according to the Associated Press. Ratcliff acknowledged that he felt a sense of betrayal.

The Wednesday before his death, Dahmer had given Ratcliff a Thanksgiving Day card thanking him for his friendship. It said he was looking forward to seeing him the next week.

“I didn’t get an inkling he was in danger,” Ratcliff said. “I thought we would be two old men (someday) studying the Bible together. I wasn’t going to give up on him.”

Ratcliff led a memorial service with Dahmer’s family at the Madison church after the murder. A sister of one of Dahmer’s victims attended the service to support Lionel.

Afterward, Ratcliff said, she came up to Lionel and said she thought she could forgive Jeff now.

A decade after Dahmer’s death, Ratcliff still preaches, and now visits seven inmates in four state prisons.

“Because of him I have been involved in more prison work. There’s more of a compassion from me for people in prison settings,” Ratcliff said. “A part of my heart goes out to them.”

Ratcliff doesn’t believe Dahmer realized the impact of his actions and the black mark he left on Wisconsin.

It was Dahmer’s stepmother, Shari, Ratcliff said, who may have captured what Jeff wanted all along. At the memorial service she said, “he wanted to sink into oblivion and to be forgotten forever.”

Craig Spychalla reports for Capital Newspapers. This story is excerpted with permission from the Nov. 28, 1994, issue of the Portage (Wis.) Daily Register.


If in chapter 1, Jonah is like the Prodigal Son, insisting on doing his own thing and going his own way (Luke 15:11-32); then in chapter 4, he’s like the Prodigal’s Elder Brother—critical, selfish, sullen, angry, and unhappy with what was going on. It isn’t enough for God’s servants simply to do their Master’s will; they must do “the will of God from the heart” (Eph. 6:6). The heart of every problem is the problem in the heart, and that’s where Jonah’s problems were to be found. “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry” (Jonah 4:1).

The remarkable thing is that God tenderly dealt with His sulking servant and sought to bring him back to the place of joy and fellowship.

Had Jonah been any other prophet in the history of Israel, he would have been overjoyed with the results of his ministry, the repentance of the great city of Nineveh. Throughout Israel’s history, her prophets had failed to turn the nation to God, and were rejected and even killed by the people. As Stephen put the matter, “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?” (Acts 7:52a).

In spite of joy at the repentance and salvation of so many, something for which his colleagues would have been overjoyed, Jonah was angry with God: “But it greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry” (4:1). Why would Jonah have been so angry with God? Jonah is not hesitant to explain, and so he prays this prayer of protest:

“Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore, in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that Thou art a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life” (Jon. 4:2‑3).

God listened to Jonah (Jonah 4:1-4).

For the second time in this account, Jonah prays, but his second prayer was much different in content and intent. He prayed his best prayer in the worst place, the fish’s belly, and he prayed his worst prayer in the best place, at Nineveh where God was working. His first prayer came from a broken heart, but his second prayer came from an angry heart. In his first prayer, he asked God to save him, but in his second prayer, he asked God to take his life! Once again, Jonah would rather die than not have his own way.

This petulant prayer lets us in on the secret of why Jonah tried to run away in the first place. Being a good theologian, Jonah knew the attributes of God, that He was “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (v. 2, niv). Knowing this, Jonah was sure that if he announced judgment to the Ninevites and they repented, God would forgive them and not send His judgment, and then Jonah would be branded as a false prophet! Remember, Jonah’s message merely announced the impending judgment; it didn’t offer conditions for salvation.

Jonah was concerned about his reputation, not only before the Ninevites, but also before the Jews back home. His Jewish friends would want to see all of the Assyrians destroyed, not just the people of Nineveh. When Jonah’s friends found out that he had been the means of saving Nineveh from God’s wrath, they could have considered him a traitor to official Jewish foreign policy. Jonah was a narrow-minded patriot who saw Assyria only as a dangerous enemy to destroy, not as a company of repentant sinners to be brought to the Lord.

When reputation is more important than character, and pleasing ourselves and our friends is more important than pleasing God, then we’re in danger of becoming like Jonah and living to defend our prejudices instead of fulfilling our spiritual responsibilities.2-4 Jonah certainly had good theology, but it stayed in his head and never got to his heart; and he was so distraught that he wanted to die!2-5 God’s tender response was to ask Jonah to examine his heart and see why he really was angry.

Jonah’s anger is incredible. Let us take note of what his anger was all about.

(1) Jonah was angry with God. In the final analysis Jonah was not angry with himself, or with men, but with the holy, righteous, perfect God. Jonah’s anger was so intense that he would rather die than live. Having prayed in chapter two that he might live, Jonah prays now that he might die (4:3).

(2) Jonah was angry with God because He acted consistently with His character, and for doing exactly what Jonah expected Him to do.

(3) Jonah was angry with God, protesting those very attributes of God for which the psalmists praised Him. The psalmists of the book of Psalms praise Him for His lovingkindness, His grace, and His mercy (cf. Ps. 86:5, 15), but for Jonah this is grounds for protest rather than praise.

(4) Jonah was angry with God because He showed grace toward the Ninevites. God’s question to Jonah should have served to instruct this prodigal prophet. It should have called Jonah’s attention to the utter sinfulness of being angry with God in the first place. Who can sustain a holy anger against a holy and perfect God? Furthermore, the gentleness of God’s rebuke should have reminded Jonah that He was not only gracious to the Ninevites, but also to Jonah. Indeed, more so, for while the Ninevites had repented, Jonah had not. Jonah persisted in his rebellion.

The Plant and the Prodigal

Because of Jonah’s persistence in maintaining his anger toward God, God presses on with yet another experience for Jonah which will serve to expose the root problem of the prodigal prophet. This is accomplished by means of the giving and the taking away of a plant, which gave Jonah pleasure.

It would seem that the forty days have passed, yet the judgment of God does not fall upon the city of Nineveh. This is no surprise to the reader, but it was a great disappointment to Jonah. Jonah went outside the city, where he made himself a mini‑grandstand, a shady booth from which he could enjoy the spectacle of the destruction of Nineveh, perhaps in a hail of fire and brimstone like that which overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. Here was Jonah, a spectator waiting for disaster to strike, so that he could watch, like the Romans who later would gather at the coliseum to watch the Christians eaten by the lions.

God caused a plant to grow, the shade of which gave Jonah great comfort (4:6). For the first time, Jonah is described as being happy, extremely happy in fact, over the presence of this plant. His happiness was short‑lived, however, for on the following day a divinely appointed worm came to do its work, which resulted in the destruction of the plant. When you stop to think about it, Jonah should have found it easier to identify with the worm than with the plant. He, like the worm, seemed to find greater fulfillment in the destruction of God’s creations than in bringing pleasure, as the plant brought shade and enjoyment to Jonah.

Along with the worm, which brought the demise of the plant, God sent a scorching wind, which caused Jonah great discomfort. While Jonah wanted the Ninevites to be “torched,” he himself was “scorched” by the heat of the wind (4:8). Jonah did not need to be here, and thus did not need to suffer, but he was determined to stay put. He once again begged God to die.

Jonah is angry with God again, now in regard to the plant and the worm. For the second time, God challenged Jonah to consider his anger: “Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” (4:9). In no uncertain terms, Jonah reiterated his right to be angry with his God: “I have good reason to be angry, even to death” (4:9).

God comforted Jonah (Jonah 4:9-11).

For the second time in this book, Jonah abandoned his place of ministry, left the city, and sat down in a place east of the city where he could see what would happen. Like the Elder Brother in the parable, he wouldn’t go in and enjoy the feast (Luke 15:28). He could have taught the Ninevites so much about the true God of Israel, but he preferred to have his own way. What a tragedy it is when God’s servants are a means of blessing to others but miss the blessing themselves!

God knew that Jonah was very uncomfortable sitting in that booth, so He graciously caused a vine (gourd) to grow whose large leaves would protect Jonah from the hot sun. This made Jonah happy, but the next morning, when God prepared a worm to kill the vine, Jonah was unhappy. The combination of the hot sun and the smothering desert wind made him want to die even more. As He had done in the depths of the sea, God was reminding Jonah of what it was like to be lost: helpless, hopeless, miserable. Jonah was experiencing a taste of hell as he sat and watched the city.

A simple test of character is to ask, “What makes me happy? What makes me angry? What makes me want to give up?” Jonah was “a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8, nkjv). One minute he’s preaching God’s Word, but the next minute he’s disobeying it and fleeing his post of duty. While inside the great fish, he prayed to be delivered; but now he asks the Lord to kill him. He called the city to repentance, but he wouldn’t repent himself! He was more concerned about creature comforts than he was about winning the lost. The Ninevites, the vine, the worm, and the wind have all obeyed God; but Jonah still refuses to obey, and he has the most to gain.

God instructed Jonah (Jonah 4:9-11).

God is still speaking to Jonah and Jonah is still listening and answering, even though he’s not giving the right answers. Unrighteous anger feeds the ego and produces the poison of selfishness in the heart. Jonah still had a problem with the will of God. In chapter 1, his mind understood God’s will, but he refused to obey it and took his body in the opposite direction. In chapter 2, he cried out for help, God rescued him, and he gave his body back to the Lord. In chapter 3, he yielded his will to the Lord and went to Nineveh to preach, but his heart was not yet surrendered to the Lord. Jonah did the will of God, but not from his heart.

Jonah had one more lesson to learn, perhaps the most important one of all. In chapter 1, he learned the lesson of God’s providence and patience, that you can’t run away from God. In chapter 2, he learned the lesson of God’s pardon, that God forgives those who call upon Him. In chapter 3, he learned the lesson of God’s power as he saw a whole city humble itself before the Lord. Now he had to learn the lesson of God’s pity, that God has compassion for lost sinners like the Ninevites; and His servants must also have compassion.2-6 It seems incredible, but Jonah brought a whole city to faith in the Lord and yet he didn’t love the people he was preaching to!

The people who could not “discern between their right hand and their left hand” (4:11) were immature little children (Deut 1:39), and if there were 120,000 of them in Nineveh and its suburbs, the population was not small. God certainly has a special concern for the children (Mark 10:13-16); but whether children or adults, the Assyrians all needed to know the Lord. Jonah had pity on the vine that perished, but he didn’t have compassion for the people who would perish and live eternally apart from God.

Jeremiah and Jesus looked on the city of Jerusalem and wept over it (Jer. 9:1, 10; 23:9; Luke 19:41), and Paul beheld the city of Athens and “was greatly distressed” (Acts 17:16, niv), but Jonah looked on the city of Nineveh and seethed with anger. He needed to learn the lesson of God’s pity and have a heart of compassion for lost souls.

God has the final word in the book of Jonah. His last words press to the heart of the matter:

“You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work, and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. And should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” (4:10‑11).

By means of the provision of the plant there is at last some common ground between Jonah and God. Jonah had compassion on the plant; God had compassion on the people. Jonah’s “compassion,” like his “psalm,” are inferior. God now presses His point, to show the self‑centered nature of Jonah’s “compassion,” especially when contrasted with His compassion of the people of Nineveh. Consider the following points of contrast between the “compassion” of Jonah for the plant and the compassion of God for people.

(1) Jonah had compassion on a plant; God had compassion on people. Jonah was willing for the entire city to perish in great pain, even though there would be many innocent victims, including 120,000 people and many cattle. Cattle and people suffer pain. There is no evidence that plants do. Jonah had compassion on the plant, but not on people or their cattle.

(2) Jonah had compassion on a plant, in which he had no investment; God had compassion in people, whom He had created, and for whom He had prepared and promised blessing. Jonah had no real relationship with the plant. He had not made it, nor had he contributed to its growth. God created man, and He is the Creator of every creature. God cared for that which He had made, so much so that He purposed to bless men through the offspring of Abraham, so much so that He would send His Son to die for men. Jonah cared for something that cost him nothing.

(3) Jonah had compassion with respect to the demise of a plant; God had compassion with respect to the eternal damnation of people. Jonah had compassion for a plant which existed for a day. Granted, the plant might have lived for a year, perhaps longer. But the judgment of men is for eternity. The “passing” of a plant has no real significance; the death of the people of Nineveh was the outpouring of divine wrath. The eternal judgment and damnation of people is vastly more important than the withering of a plant.

(4) God had compassion on the innocent; Jonah did not. He would have enjoyed watching the destruction of the innocent, along with the guilty. (Remember, it would be the descendants of this generation of Ninevites which would take Israel captive.) It was one thing to want the wicked to suffer for their sins, but totally another to want the innocent to suffer along with the wicked.

(5) Jonah had compassion on himself; God had compassion for others. Jonah’s “compassion” is not really centered on the plant, but rather on what that plant did for him . The plant made him very happy. Had the plant not pleased Jonah, he would have had no compassion toward it at all. Jonah’s compassion was really self‑centered. He cared for himself, but not for others. On the other hand, God cared for people, people who had greatly sinned and who had offended Him.

The Plant and the Point

For a long time, I thought that Jonah’s root problem was selfishness, that he wanted God’s grace for himself and for his people Israel, but not for anyone else, especially the Ninevites. It is my strong conviction now, however, that Jonah’s selfishness was only symptomatic. Jonah’s major grievance with God was His grace. The very nature of grace made it repulsive to Jonah. Let us pause to consider the characteristics of the grace of God which made it offensive to the prodigal prophet.

(1) The Nature and the Origin of Grace. The nature or the essence of grace is unmerited favor—a blessing which is not deserved. The origin or source of the grace Jonah disdained is God. Jonah did not like grace because it was not something which one could earn. One could never feel any sense of accomplishment or ownership, because it is given without cause. To put the matter in plain words, Jonah did not like grace because it was charity.

(2) The Recipients of Grace. The recipients of grace, those to whom grace is bestowed, are those who are undeserving and unworthy. Jonah did not wish to view himself as unworthy. Essentially, Jonah suffered from a large dose of racial pride. He felt that as an Israelite, God was somehow obliged to bless him and his people. The Ninevites, Jonah would gladly concede, were unworthy, which is exactly why Jonah protested against God’s grace shown to them.

(3) The Distribution of Grace. Grace, because it is unmerited, and is bestowed upon those who are unworthy, has no one who can claim it. That is, no one can legitimately feel that he or she has a claim on God’s grace, that there is something they have done or can do which obligates Him to respond with some gift of grace. Since grace is not given out on the basis of merit, it is sovereignly distributed, “just as He wills.” As God put it, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion” (Exod. 33:19).

(4) The Goal of Grace. The goal of grace, the purpose for which it is given, is holiness, not happiness. The plant which God gave to Jonah made him “extremely happy,” we are told (4:6), but it did nothing to make him holy. Thus, God took the plant away. Grace is not given to make us happy, to make us feel good, to give us pleasure, but to bring us into fellowship with Himself.

(5) The Means of Grace. If the goal of grace is to make us holy, then the means of grace include not only those things which are pleasant and comfortable, but also those painful experiences which cause us to turn from our sin and to trust in Him. If we are honest with ourselves and with God, and if we read our Bibles carefully, we must acknowledge that most of us grow spiritually more in painful experiences than in pleasurable ones.

Think about Jonah, for example. God did answer Jonah’s prayer that He would save him from drowning, but not with the most plush and pleasurable means possible. God saved Jonah by means of a great fish, and Jonah got to soak for three days in the stomach juices of that creature. Being vomited onto dry land was not exactly flattering to Jonah’s ego, either, but it was what was best for him. So, too, the shade of the plant was not furthering Jonah’s walk with God, and thus the destruction of the plant and the sweltering sun was given to him instead. God is not committed to our pleasure, but to our piety. Thus, He often uses painful means to bring us to holiness. These painful experiences, just as much as the pleasurable ones, are a gift of God’s grace. Grace is often experienced in the midst of the most unpleasant of experiences.

This explains all that God has done, as well as why Jonah disliked it. God could bestow the grace of salvation on the unworthy Ninevites because grace cannot be merited. Likewise, because grace is sovereignly bestowed, God can provide a plant for Jonah, and then take it away.

Because of these two characteristics of grace, Jonah wanted no part of it, and no part of life. GRACE, TO JONAH, WAS OFFENSIVE AND UNWANTED. It is easy to see why Jonah would resent the fact that God would be gracious to the Ninevites, but how can it be said that Jonah disdained grace, even when shown to him? BECAUSE GRACE IS REQUIRED ONLY BY THE UNDERSERVING, AND JONAH WAS UNWILLING TO ADMIT THAT HE WAS UNDESERVING OF GOD’S BLESSINGS.

How can a prophet protest the gift of forgiveness to the Ninevites? Only by believing that God’s blessing must be merited. How can the prophet protest when God takes away the gracious provision of the plant? Only by supposing that he deserved the plant, by thinking that God owed him the comfort of the plant.

Here, then, is the key to the entire book of Jonah, and to the sin of the nation Israel, which caused God’s people to assume that God owed them blessing and their enemies judgment. Jonah had rejected the principle of grace, exchanging it for a doctrine of works. THE ROOT PROBLEM OF THE PRODIGAL PROPHET WAS SELF‑RIGHTEOUSNESS. The only person who despises grace is the one who thinks that he is righteous. To the self‑righteous, grace is charity, which is demeaning to the recipient.

What Jonah had forgotten was that God’s choice of Israel and His blessing of Israel was due solely to His grace, and not to Israel’s righteousness.

6 “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; 10 but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face” (Deut 7:6-10, emphasis mine).


Take careful note of the term “lovingkindness” which is found in verse 9 above, for this is the basis for God’s kindness to Israel, just as it was the basis for God’s kindness to the Ninevites (Jon. 4:2).

God warned the Israelites that when they entered the land of Canaan and began to experience His material blessings, the blessings of His grace, that they would be tempted to take credit for their prosperity:

11 “Beware lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; 12 lest, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, 13 and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, 14 then your heart becomes proud, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. … 17 Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’ 18 But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14, 17-18, emphasis mine).

If this were not ample enough warning, God further warns Israel about taking any credit for their success or for their blessings, which He has given as a gift of His grace:

“Do not say in your heart when the LORD your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you. It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people” (Deut. 9:4‑6, emphasis mine).

Jonah, and his people, the Israelites, had forgotten that God’s blessings were the product of God’s grace, not the result of Israel’s righteousness or superiority over the Gentiles. They had also forgotten that God had promised to bless all nations through Israel: “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3b).

Jonah’s prophecy to the nation Israel, as recorded in 2 Kings, was the promise of prosperity, in spite of the nation’s sins. God promised to prosper Israel, not because of its piety, but in spite of its sin.

Look with me once again at this prophecy.

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. And 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. And the LORD did not say that He would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, but He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash (2 Kings 14:23‑27, emphasis mine).

Israel’s king was evil, as were the people. The prosperity which Jonah promised was not due to Israel’s spirituality, but in spite of her sin. The blessings he promised were thus the blessings of divine grace.

Jonah was also the recipient of the grace of God, and yet it is for being gracious that Jonah protests against Him, even to the point of preferring death to life. Jonah’s deliverance by means of the great fish, and his exodus from the fish were all provisions of divine grace. So, too, was the gift of the plant, which afforded him shade and comfort. Perhaps the greatest evidence of the grace of God to Jonah, however, is the way in which God responds to his rebellion and his protests. How easy it would be for us to have read that God burned Jonah to a crisp with a sudden blast of lightening!

Jonah typified Israel in that he no longer viewed God’s blessings as a manifestation of God’s grace to an undeserving people, but rather as the blessings which He was obligated to give a righteous people. No wonder Jonah despised the grace of God. He knew that only the undeserving received grace, and he and his people were not in need of divine handouts. The pride and the self‑righteousness of Jonah and of his people are now glaringly apparent. The reason for the sacking of Israel by the Assyrians is now obvious.

  1. The marvel of an unanswered question (Jonah 4:11)

Jonah and Nahum are the only books in the Bible that end with questions, and both books have to do with the city of Nineveh. Nahum ends with a question about God’s punishment of Nineveh (Nahum 3:19), while Jonah ends with a question about God’s pity for Nineveh.

This is a strange way to end such a dramatic book as the Book of Jonah. God has the first word (Jonah 1:1-2) and God has the last word (4:11), and that’s as it should be, but we aren’t told how Jonah answered God’s final question. It’s like the ending of Frank Stockton’s famous short story “The Lady or the Tiger?” When the handsome youth opened the door, what came out: the beautiful princess or the man-eating tiger?

We sincerely hope that Jonah yielded to God’s loving entreaty and followed the example of the Ninevites by repenting and seeking the face of God. The famous Scottish preacher Alexander Whyte believed that Jonah did experience a change of heart. He wrote, “But Jonah came to himself again during those five-and-twenty days or so, from the east gate of Nineveh back to Gathhepher, his father’s house.”2-7 Spurgeon said, “Let us hope that, during the rest of his life, he so lived as to rejoice in the sparing mercy of God.”2-8 Alter all, hadn’t Jonah himself been spared because of God’s mercy?

God was willing to spare Nineveh but in order to do that, He could not spare His own Son. Somebody had to die for their sins or they would die in their sins. “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). Jesus used Jonah’s ministry to Nineveh to show the Jews how guilty they were in rejecting His witness. “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here” (Matt 12:41).

How is Jesus greater than Jonah? Certainly Jesus is greater than Jonah in His person, for though both were Jews and both were prophets, Jesus is the very Son of God. He is greater in His message, for Jonah preached a message of judgment, but Jesus preached a message of grace and salvation (John 3:16-17). Jonah almost died for his own sins, but Jesus willingly died for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2).

Jonah’s ministry was to but one city, but Jesus is “the Savior of the world” (John 4:42; 1 John 4:14). Jonah’s obedience was not from the heart, but Jesus always did whatever pleased His Father (John 8:29). Jonah didn’t love the people he came to save, but Jesus had compassion for sinners and proved His love by dying for them on the cross (Rom. 5:6-8). On the cross, outside the city, Jesus asked God to forgive those who killed Him (Luke 23:34), but Jonah waited outside the city to see if God would kill those he would not forgive.

Yes, Jesus is greater than Jonah, and because He is, we must give greater heed to what He says to us. Those who reject Him will face greater judgment because the greater the light, the greater the responsibility.

The book of Jonah does not end nicely and neatly, with a “happily ever after” feeling. Far from it. We are left somewhat suspended by the final words of God to Jonah, words of rebuke. We are never told that Jonah repented. The reason is simple, I believe. It is because there was no final solution to the sin of self‑righteousness and to the waywardness of the nation Israel apart from the new covenant and the coming of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus Christ. The conclusion of the book of Jonah is fitting, for it portrays the stalemate between Israel and her God which persisted till the time of Christ and indeed to the present moment. The last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi, is a record of Israel’s belligerent argumentation with God, who is accusing the nation of sin:

The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi. “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have You loved us?” “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob” (Mal. 1:1‑2, emphasis mine).

In the final analysis, this hardness of heart will persist until the Great Tribulation and the return of Messiah breaks the stubborn pride and will of His chosen people, who will be finally saved, not because of their righteousness, but by His grace.

Jonah’s Self-Righteousness and the Israelites of Jesus’ Day

Not only did Jonah typify the spiritual state of Israel in his own day, he also prototyped the self‑righteousness of many Israelites, especially the religious leaders, at the time of the first coming of Christ. When our Lord was born, it was not to the religious elite that His birth was made known, but to the humble and the meek (cf. Luke 2). This was indicated in the magnificat of Mary (Luke 1:46‑55). The coming of the Christ was for the Gentiles (Luke 2:31‑32), as well as for the Jews, and so the magi were informed of His birth and came to worship Him (Matt. 2:1ff.). Our Lord’s introduction of His ministry in Luke chapter 4 (esp. vv. 16‑21) indicated this same emphasis on Christ’s coming to the poor and the oppressed. The Sermon on the Mount gives similar testimony to the recipients of God’s grace.

When Jesus commenced His ministry, much of His time and energy was devoted to “sinners,” which brought an immediate reaction from the religious elite of Israel, the scribes and Pharisees:

And when the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax-gatherers, they began saying to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax-gatherers and sinners?” (Mark 2:16).

Why would the scribes and Pharisees be offended by the fact that Jesus spent more time with “sinners” than with them? For the same reason that Jonah was angry with God. The religious leaders felt that they were worthy of Jesus’ time and presence, and that the “sinners” deserved nothing but the wrath of God (cp. John 8:2‑11). They despised the Gentiles and even the masses of Israelites (cf. John 7:49).

Why did the scribes and Pharisees react so vehemently to the teaching of Jesus? Because He exposed them as sinners, and they were not willing to admit this. They were self‑righteous. Thus, they rejected God’s Messiah and instigated His death on that Roman cross.

Even the disciples of our Lord seemed, like Jonah, to be eager to have the “heathen” perish at the hand of God:

52 … And they went, and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make arrangements for Him. 53 And they did not receive Him, because He was journeying with His face toward Jerusalem. 54 And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:52b-54).

Later, after our Lord’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, it was the Jews who opposed the proclamation of the gospel (cf. Acts 22:19‑23). Even Christian Jews drug their feet in the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 10‑11, esp. 11:19). Because some Jewish Christians felt superior to Gentile believers, they either segregated themselves or they sought to force the Gentiles to conform to their Jewish practices (e.g. Acts 15:1; Gal. 2:11ff.). Truly Jonah’s self‑righteousness typified a tendency among Israelites which has continued on throughout the centuries.


The book of Jonah has much to say to 21th century Christians, as well as to Israelites of all ages. Let me conclude by pointing out a number of points of application to our lives today.

(1) God’s dealings with men have always been on the basis of His grace, and not on the basis of man’s works. Dispensationalists (among whom I would include myself) must be very careful to avoid giving the impression that God deals with men today by means of grace, and dealt with people in the Old Testament by some other means. The distinction of this “age” as “the age of grace” tends to imply that God dealt with men according to some other principle in the Old Testament. Jonah was wrong because he forgot or had forsaken the principle of grace. God has always dealt with men according to the principle of grace. The New Testament and the new covenant simply enable God to bestow His grace more freely and fully. Let us never view God’s past dealings with men as anything less than gracious.

(2) Resisting and rejecting the grace of God are just as great and just as common a sin today as they were in Jonah’s time. Christians become angry with God today, and for the same wrong reasons as Jonah. We are just not as open and honest as Jonah to admit it. When do Christians get angry with God?

  • Whenever we think we deserve something from God and we find Him guilty for not giving it to us.
  • Whenever we think someone else to be unworthy, and we are angry with God for giving them blessings they don’t deserve.
  • Whenever God takes away some blessing from us, which we think He has no right to remove.
  • Whenever we are self‑righteous.

I believe that self‑righteousness had deeply penetrated the Christian community in America. Americans are very inclined to take credit for our prosperity. We believe that we have been “blessed” due to our intelligence, our ingenuity, our hard work, and our devotion to God. Conversely, we excuse ourselves from sharing our wealth and prosperity with others by convincing ourselves that other nations suffer poverty because they lack the righteousness which we have. Thus, while the nation India lavishes in poverty and starvation, we assure ourselves that their poverty is the result of their worship of cows. Simple, isn’t it? But in the final analysis, it is self‑righteous.

Some Christians today view divine healing as a result of one’s righteousness than as a gift of God’s grace. I do not wish to argue whether there is a gift of healing today; I am willing to grant that God does heal. What I wish to vehemently reject is the contention that God must heal, if we but have the faith to claim it. Is divine healing a gift of God’s grace? If it is, then it is undeserved, not earned, even by “having faith.” Is healing a gift of grace? Then God is free to give it to whomever He chooses, to a believer or an unbeliever, and He is also free to withhold it from one who asks for it, or claims it in faith. We don’t demand grace, nor do we dare to protest when we don’t receive what makes us happy (remember Jonah’s plant).

Let us remember, too, that God’s grace does not always come in the form which we might choose or prefer. God was gracious to Jonah, saving him by means of the great fish. Had Jonah been able to choose which form the grace of God would have taken, it wouldn’t have been in the form of a fish’s stomach. God is gracious to His children by chastising them, by bringing pain and adversity into their lives, just as He was going to do in the history of Israel. Adversity is just as much a gift of grace as is affluence. Remember the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount!

Job understood that God was both good and gracious, whether He gave prosperity or took it away, whether He gave pleasure or pain. Thus, when he received word of the loss of his family he responded, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

Failure, suffering, and adversity are often the result of God’s grace, for when these things come into the life of the Christian they are for the purpose of displaying the grace of God, to us, to others, and even to the heavenly host.

The principle of grace, by which we are saved, is the governing principle of God’s dealing in all of our lives, whether He shows Himself to be gracious in bestowing wealth or health, or whether He shows Himself to be gracious in our hour of trial, by sustaining us and drawing us to a deeper trust and intimacy with Him.

The principle of grace is also to govern our relationship with others. Just as God is gracious to us, so we must be gracious to others, especially to the undeserving: the cruel and those who are our enemies, who would persecute and despitefully use us. Only by showing grace to others do we reflect God’s grace to us.

(3) The book of Jonah has much to teach us about evangelism and revival, which we desperately need in America. I believe that the book of Jonah informs that the following elements are required for revival. These are not the only elements necessary for revival, but they are essential:

Revival requires those who will go and who will warn the lost of the impending wrath of God on sinners. A deep conviction of sin and the motivation to be saved is rooted in the proclamation of the fact that men are sinners, destined to face the wrath of God.

Revival requires genuine repentance. There was revival in the city of Nineveh because men turned from their wicked ways. They not only confessed their sin, they turned from it. Revival requires repentance, and repentance requires change.

Furthermore, the book of Jonah confronts us with what is perhaps the foremost enemy of evangelism and revival—a smug self‑righteousness which detests the grace of God, and which expects and demands God’s blessings for us, but not for others. It was Israel’s self‑righteousness, pride, and selfishness which kept God’s people from sharing the blessings of God with the Gentiles. Likewise, I believe that it is our self‑righteousness, pride, and selfishness which hinders us from telling the lost of the salvation which God offers all who repent and who believe on His Son for salvation.

Imagine, for example, that God called you to devote your life to finding a cure for AIDS, or to give your life in ministry to the victims of AIDS. ‘But they deserve to die,’ you protest. The fact is that many suffer from AIDS apart from any willful act of sin on their part—an immoral spouse, a contaminated blood transfusion, an infant whose parent was infected.…

Many of us are just like Jonah.  We are eager to condemn those suffering from AIDS as a whole, even though there are many innocent victims among them. Jonah was willing, indeed eager, to see the entire city of Nineveh perish, even though there were 120,000 innocent children among them, and animals as well. Jonah was not just seeking divine judgment for guilty sinners; he was condemning the innocent along with the wicked. (To Jonah, their “real sin” was that of being Gentiles. And by this standard, all Ninevites should perish, according to the prodigal prophet.)  The fact is that the wicked repented of their sin when the prophet proclaimed God’s Word to that city.  God was not only eager to save the innocent, but to save the guilty as well.  Not so with Jonah.

All sinners deserve to die (the wages of sin is death), which includes every one of us. Isn’t it amazing that the sin of sexual immorality is (or at least was) readily condemned by Christians, but pride and self-righteousness are often tolerated, and sometimes even praised (a “good self-image”).  We must remember that our Lord came to seek and to save the lost—those whom the self-righteous religious leaders disdained and avoided. Apart from his saving grace, we are all sinners, who deserve God’s wrath and should be cast out of the presence of a holy and righteous God.  Surely those who have become the recipients of God’s grace should be the first to seek to show and to share that grace to others.

(4) God’s grace has come to men in Jesus Christ. The grace of God has been revealed to men in the person of Jesus Christ, who promises all who will believe the gracious gift of eternal life. All you need to do is to acknowledge that you need it, that you are a sinner who can never merit God’s blessings, and to receive God’s gift of grace in Jesus Christ. It is by faith in Jesus Christ that our sins are forgiven and we are declared righteous in God’s sight. It is by faith in Christ that we receive the gracious gift of eternal life.

There is no word that better sums up the goodness of God to men than the word “grace.” Jesus Christ is God’s grace personified, sent to men (cf. John 1:14, 17; 2 Tim. 1:9; 2:1; Titus 2:11). Salvation is God’s grace to sinful men, the forgiveness of sins and the provision of eternal life (cf. Acts 14:13; 20:24, 32; Romans 1:5; 3:24; Ephesians 2:8; Colossians 1:6; Titus 3:7; 1 Peter 5:12). We grow in and by means of God’s grace (2 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 13:9). We are eternally secure in the grace of God (Romans 5:12). When we pray we approach the “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16). When we serve, we serve by grace (Eph. 4:7ff.; 1 Peter 4:10), and we live by the standards of grace (Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 4:6).

But the real issue isn’t how Jonah answered God’s question; the real issue is how you and l today are answering God’s question. Do we agree with God that people without Christ are lost? Like God, do we have compassion for those who are lost? How do we show this compassion? Do we have a concern for those in our great cities where there is so much sin and so little witness? Do we pray that the Gospel will go to people in every part of the world, and are we helping to send it there? Do we rejoice when sinners repent and trust the Savior?

All of those questions and more are wrapped up in what God asked Jonah.

We can’t answer for him, but we can answer for ourselves. Let’s give God the right answer.

May the grace of God be precious to you, the basis for your praise of God, not your protest, as it was with Jonah.


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Posted by on June 16, 2022 in Encounters with God


Encounters With God: Jonah, The Prodigal Prophet: Running to/with God – Jonah 2-3

The Book of Jonah — God's Character and Human response. | by Chesvic  Lordgape | Medium

Sometimes the prophets of the Lord tried to challenge His wisdom in calling them for divine service (see Moses in Ex. 4; Jeremiah in Jer. 1). However, Jonah is the only case in the record of Scripture where a true prophet of the Lord (see 2 Kin. 14:25) tried hard to thwart the will of God by fleeing from the task that God had given him (1:3).

There is something humorous in this account. How could a prophet of God hide from the Creator of the universe? The location of Tarshish may have been the southeast coast of Spain. In any case it represents the farthest place known to the people of ancient Israel. It is similar to going “to the ends of the earth.”

From an experience of rebellion and discipline, Jonah turns to an experience of repentance and dedication, and God graciously gives him a new beginning. Jonah no doubt expected to die in the waters of the sea,1-10 but when he woke up inside the fish, he realized that God had graciously spared him. As with the Prodigal Son, whom Jonah in his rebellion greatly resembles (Luke 15:11-24), it was the goodness of God that brought him to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Notice the stages in Jonah’s spiritual experience as described in his prayer.

He prayed for God’s help (Jonah 2:1-2).

 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. {2} He said: “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry.

It may be asked, “How could Jonah either pray or breathe in the stomach of the fish?” Very easily, if God so willed it. And let the reader keep this constantly in view; the whole is a miracle, from Jonah’s being swallowed by the fish till he was cast ashore by the same animal. It was God that had prepared the great fish. It was the Lord that spake to the fish, and caused it to vomit Jonah upon the dry land. All is miracle.

His prayer was born out of affliction, not affection. He cried out to God because he was in danger, not because he delighted in the Lord. But better that he should pray compelled by any motive than not to pray at all. It’s doubtful whether any believer always prays with pure and holy motives, for our desires and God’s directions sometimes conflict.

God heard Jonah’s cries for help. Prayer is one of the constant miracles of the Christian life. To think that our God is so great He can hear the cries of millions of people at the same time and deal with their needs personally! A parent with two or three children often finds it impossible to meet all their needs all the time, but God is able to provide for all His children, no matter where they are or what their needs may be.

He accepted God’s discipline (Jonah 2:3).

{3} You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me.

It wasn’t the sailors who cast Jonah into the stormy sea: it was God. “You hurled me into the deep . . . all Your waves and breakers swept over me” (v. 3, niv, italics mine). When Jonah said those words, he was acknowledging that God was disciplining him and that he deserved it.

Jonah’s use of the pronouns You and Your in this verse are not accusations, but acknowledgments of the Lord’s sovereign control of his life (see Ps. 88:6–18).

How we respond to discipline determines how much benefit we receive from it According to Hebrews 12:5-11, we have several options: we can despise God’s discipline and fight (v. 5); we can be discouraged and faint (v. 5); we can resist discipline and invite stronger discipline, possibly even death (v. 9)1-11; or we can submit to the Father and mature in faith and love (v. 7).

Discipline is to the believer what exercise and training are to the athlete (v. 11); it enables us to run the race with endurance and reach the assigned goal (vv. 1-2).

The fact that God chastened His servant is proof that Jonah was truly a child of God, for God disciplines only His own children.

He trusted God’s promise (Jonah 2:4-7).

{4} I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ {5} The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. {6} To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God. {7} “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.

I will look again toward Your holy temple: The man who had run from God’s presence (1:3) was alone, yet he clung to the hope that God would not abandon him. The temple, the sanctuary in Jerusalem was the symbol of God’s presence.

Jonah was going in one direction only—down. In fact, he had been going in that direction since the hour he rebelled against God’s plan for his life. He went “down to Joppa” and “down into the sides of the ship” (1:3, 5). Now he was going “down to the bottoms of the mountains” (2:6); and at some point, the great fish met him, and he went down into the fish’s belly (1:17). When you turn your back on God, the only direction you can go is down.

What saved Jonah? His faith in God’s promise. Which promise? The promise that involves “looking toward God’s holy temple” (2:4, 7

By faith, he looked toward God’s temple (the only way to look was up!) and asked God to deliver him; and God kept His promise and answered his call. “I remembered [the] Lord” (Jonah 2:7) means, “I acted on the basis of His commitment to me.” Jonah knew God’s covenant promises and he claimed them.

I remembered: Jonah reaffirms his faith in the Lord and renews his commitment to Him (see Ps. 22:27; 63:6; 106:7).

He yielded to God’s will (Jonah 2:8-9).

{8} “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. {9} But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.”

Now Jonah admits that there were idols in his life that robbed him of the blessing of God. An idol is anything that takes away from God the affection and obedience that rightfully belong only to Him.

Jonah closes his prayer by uttering some solemn vows to the Lord, vows that he really intended to keep. Jonah promised to worship God in the temple with sacrifices and songs of thanksgiving. He doesn’t tell us what other promises he made to the Lord, but one of them surely was,” I will go to Nineveh and declare Your message if You give me another chance.”

  1. Redemption (Jonah 2:10)

(Jonah 2:10)  And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

The focus in the story of Jonah is on the Lord’s sovereign control over creation to bring about His purpose.

The sign (Matt. 12:39; 16:4; Luke 11:29).

The “sign of Jonah” is seen in his experience of “death,” burial, and resurrection on the third day, and it was the only sign Jesus gave to the nation of Israel. At Pentecost, Peter preached the Resurrection (Acts 2:22-26) and so did Paul when he preached to the Jews in other nations (13:26-37). In fact, the emphasis in the Book of Acts is on the resurrection of Jesus Christ; for the apostles were “witnesses of the Resurrection” (2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39).

Some students are troubled by the phrase “three days and three nights,” especially since both Scripture and tradition indicate that Jesus was crucified on Friday.

To the Jews, a part of a day was treated as a whole day; and we need not interpret “three days and three nights” to mean seventy-two hours to the very second. For that matter, we can’t prove that Jonah was in the fish exactly seventy-two hours. The important things is that centuries after the event, Jonah became a “sign” to the Jewish people and pointed them to Jesus Christ.

Running With God – Jonah 3

  1. The marvel of an undeserved commission (Jonah 3:1-2)

God met Jonah.

We don’t know where the great fish deposited Jonah, but we do know that wherever Jonah was, the Lord was there. Remember, God is more concerned about His workers than He is about their work, for if the workers are what they ought to be, the work will be what it ought to be.

Throughout Jonah’s time of rebellion, God was displeased with His servant, but He never once deserted him. It was God who controlled the storm, prepared the great fish, and rescued Jonah from the deep.

God Spoke to Jonah.

After the way Jonah had stubbornly refused to obey God’s voice, it’s a marvel that the Lord spoke to him at all. Jonah had turned his back on God’s word, so the Lord had been forced to speak to him through thunder and rain and a stormy sea. But now that Jonah had confessed his sins and turned back to the Lord, God could once again speak to him through His word.

God commissioned Jonah.

“The victorious Christian life,” said George H. Morrison, “is a series of new beginnings.” When we fall, the enemy wants us to believe that our ministry is ended and there’s no hope for recovery, but our God is the God of the second chance. “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time” (Jonah 3:1).

God challenged Jonah.

Four times in this book, Nineveh is called a “great city” (1:2; 3:2-3; 4:11),2-2 and archeologists tell us that the adjective is well-deserved. It was great in history, having been founded in ancient times by Noah’s great-grandson Nimrod (Gen. 10:8-10).2-3 It was also great in size. The circumference of the city and its suburbs was sixty miles, and from the Lord’s statement in Jonah 4:11, we could infer that there were probably over 600,000 people living there. One wall of the city had a circumference of eight miles and boasted 1,500 towers.

The city was great in splendor and influence, being one of the leading cities of the powerful Assyrian Empire.

Nineveh was great in sin, for the Assyrians were known far and wide for their violence, showing no mercy to their enemies. They impaled live victims on sharp poles, leaving them to roast to death in the desert sun; they beheaded people by the thousands and stacked their skulls up in piles by the city gates; and they even skinned people alive. They respected neither age nor sex and followed a policy of killing babies and young children so they wouldn’t have to care for them (Nahum 3:10).

The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God can’t keep you and the power of God can’t use you.

Jonah’s Preaching and Nineveh’s Repentance (3:1‑9)

For the second time, the “word of the Lord” came to Jonah: “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you” (vs. 2). It is not a new command that Jonah is given, but almost a repetition of the command given to him in chapter 1. This time Jonah obeyed, not joyfully or with a proper attitude, as we shall soon see, but at least Jonah went to Nineveh.

The population of the city of Nineveh, perhaps including its “suburbs,” was exceedingly large (cf. 1:2; 3:2; 4:11). We also know that the city was great in size. The city was described as being a “three days’ walk” (3:3).

Jonah’s message was simple, to the point, and frightening: “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (3:4).[1]

  1. The marvel of an unparalleled awakening (Jonah 3:3-10)

From a human perspective, this entire enterprise appears ridiculous. How could one man, claiming to be God’s prophet, confront thousands of people with his strange message, especially a message of judgment? How could a Jew, who worshiped the true God, ever get these idolatrous Gentiles to believe what he had to say? For all he knew, Jonah might end up impaled on a pole or skinned alive! But, in obedience to the Lord, Jonah went to Nineveh.

Jonah’s message to Nineveh (Jonah 3:3-4).

“Three days’ journey” means either that it would take three days to get through the city and its suburbs or three days to go around them. The niv translation of verse 3 suggests that it would take three days to visit all of the area. According to Genesis 10:11-12, four cities were involved in the “Nineveh metroplex”: Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, and Resen (niv). However you interpret the “three days,” one thing is dear: Nineveh was no insignificant place.

When Jonah was one day into the city, he began to declare his message: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be over-thrown.”

At this point, we must confess that we wish we knew more about Jonah’s ministry to Nineveh. Was this the only message he proclaimed? Surely he spent time telling the people about the true and living God, for we’re told, “The people of Nineveh believed God” (Jonah 3:5).

They would have to know something about this God of Israel in order to exercise sincere faith. Did Jonah expose the folly of their idolatry? Did he recount his own personal history to show them that his God was powerful and sovereign? We simply don’t know. The important thing is that Jonah obeyed God, went to Nineveh, and declared the message God gave him. God did the rest.

Nineveh’s message to God (Jonah 3:5-9).

In the Hebrew text, there are only five words in Jonah’s message; yet God used those five words to stir the entire population, from the king on the throne to the lowest peasant in the field.

God gave the people forty days of grace, but they didn’t need that long. We get the impression that from the very first time they saw Jonah and heard his warning, they paid attention to his message. Word spread quickly throughout the entire district and the people humbled themselves by fasting and wearing sackcloth.

When the message got to the king, he too put on sackcloth and sat in the dust. He also made the fast official by issuing an edict and ordering the people to humble themselves, cry out to God, and turn from their evil ways. The people were to cry “mightily” (“urgently,” niv) to God, for this was a matter of life and death.

Like the sailors in the storm, the Ninevites didn’t want to perish (Jonah 3:9; 1:6, 14). That’s what witnessing is all about, “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, nkjv).

Their fasting and praying, and their humbling of themselves before God, sent a message to heaven, but the people of Nineveh had no assurance that they would be saved. They hoped that God’s great compassion would move Him to change His plan and spare the city. Once again, how did they know that the God of the Hebrews was a merciful and compassionate God? No doubt Jonah told them, for this was a doctrine he himself believed (Jonah 4:2).

He began by personally repenting (3:6). The king then made a proclamation which required all of Nineveh to fast, and to abstain from drinking water (3:7). Both men and animals were to be covered with sackcloth, and all the people were to call upon God and to abstain from their wicked ways and their violence (3:8).

If the Ninevites had but 40 days left, why would they cease sinning? One would think that they might be inclined to act in accordance with the expression, “Eat, drink, and make merry, for tomorrow (or 40 days) we may die.” Nineveh’s motivation for putting off the wickedness of the city is described in verse 9: “Who knows, God may turn and relent, and withdraw His burning anger so that we shall not perish?” (3:9).

God’s message to Nineveh (Jonah 3:10).

At some point, God spoke to Jonah and told Him that He had accepted the people’s repentance and would not destroy the city. The phrase “God repented” might better be translated “God relented,” that is, changed His plan.

From the human point of view, it looked like repentance, but from the divine perspective, it was simply God’s response to man’s change of heart God is utterly consistent with Himself; it only appears that He is changing His mind. The Bible uses human analogies to reveal the divine character of God (Jer. 18:1-10).

How deep was the spiritual experience of the people of Nineveh? If repentance and faith are the basic conditions of sal

God took note of Nineveh’s repentance, something which involved more than mere words or token gestures. Verse 10 does not tell us that God heeded the words of the Ninevites, or even that He regarded their sackcloth and ashes, but that He took note that their deeds had changed, that they had “turned from their wicked way.” Here is genuine repentance. No mere words of regret, no trite, “I’m sorry,” but a change of conduct signaling a genuine change of heart. Nineveh had truly repented of her evil ways, and God therefore relented of the calamity which He had threatened.

[1] The word “overthrown” had strong connotations for Jonah. This term was used in connection with the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:21, 25, 29). It was also used in the poetic description of the overthrow of the Egyptians at the exodus (Ex. 15:7). It was also used in Deuteronomy 29:23 in connection with God’s warning of judgment on His people Israel, if they disregard His law. Cf. also 2 Sam. 10:3; 1 Chron. 19:3.

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Posted by on June 13, 2022 in Encounters with God


Encounters With God: Jonah, The Prodigal Prophet, An Introduction — Jonah 1

Jonah in His Time

Those who consider the Book of Jonah an allegory or a parable should note that 2 Kings 14:25 identifies Jonah as a real person, a Jewish prophet from Gath Hepher in Zebulun who ministered in the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C.). They should also note that our Lord considered Jonah a historic person and pointed to him as a type of His own death, burial, and resurrection. (Matt. 12:42; Luke 11:32).

The reign of Jeroboam II was a time of great prosperity in Israel; the nation regained lost territory and expanded both its boundaries and influence. But it was a time of moral and spiritual decay as the nation rapidly moved away from God and into idolatry. Jonah’s contemporaries Hosea and Amos both courageously denounced the wickedness of the rulers, priests, and people. It’s worth noting that Hosea and Amos also showed God’s concern for other nations, which is one of the major themes of Jonah.

While Jonah had a ministry to Nineveh, a leading city in Assyria, he also had a ministry to Israel through this little book. He discovered God’s compassion for those outside Israel, even those who were their enemies. God had called His people to be a blessing to the Gentiles (Gen. 12:1-3), but, like Jonah, the Jews refused to obey. And, like Jonah, they had to be disciplined; for Assyria would conquer Israel and Babylon would take Judah into captivity. Jonah’s book magnifies the sovereignty of God as well as the love and mercy of God. Jehovah is the “God of the second chance,” even for rebellious prophets.

Psa. 139:7-11 (NIV) Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”

Most people are so familiar with the story of Jonah that nothing in it surprises them anymore, including the fact that it begins with the word “and.” If I opened one of my books with the word “and,” the editor would probably wonder if something had been lost, including my ability to use the English language.

Jonah is one of fourteen Old Testament books that open with the little word “and.” These books remind us of God’scontinued storyof grace and mercy. Though it’s comprised of sixty-six different books, the Bible tells only one story; and God keeps communicating that message to us, even though we don’t always listen too attentively. How long-suffering He is toward us!

What is the Book of Jonah about? Well, it’s not simply about a great fish (mentioned only four times…3 verses out of a total of 84!), or a great city (named nine times), or even a disobedient prophet (mentioned eighteen times.) It’s about God! God is mentioned 38 times in these four short chapters, and if you eliminated Him from the book, the story wouldn’t make sense. The Book of Jonah is about the will of God and how we respond to it. It’s also about the love of God and how we share it with others.

The narrative of Jonah seduces the reader into thinking of it as a simple fable, with the account of the great fish as the dramatic, if implausible, high point. Careful readers, however, find it to be an ingenious and artfully crafted work of literature. Its four chapters recount two incidents. In chapters 1 and 2 Jonah is given a command from God but fails to obey it; and in chapters 3 and 4 he is given the command again and this time carries it out. The two accounts are laid out in almost completely parallel patterns.


SCENE 1 Jonah, the pagans, and the sea

SCENE 2 Jonah, the pagans, and the city


1:1 God’s Word comes to Jonah          3:1 God’s Word comes to Jonah

1:2 The message to be conveyed         3:2 The message to be conveyed

1:3 The response of Jonah                   3:3 The response of Jonah


1:4 The word of warning              3:4 The word of warning

1:5 The response of the pagans     3:5 The response of the pagans

1:6 The response of the pagan leader    3:6 The response of the pagan leader

1:7ff How the pagans’ response was ultimately better than Jonah’s

3:7ff How the pagans’ response was ultimately better than Jonah’s



2:1–10 How God taught grace to Jonah through the fish

4:1–10 How God taught grace to Jonah through the plant

Despite the literary sophistication of the text, many modern readers still dismiss the work because the text tells us that Jonah was saved from the storm when swallowed by a “great fish” (Jonah 1:17). How you respond to this will depend on how you read the rest of the Bible. If you accept the existence of God and the resurrection of Christ (a far greater miracle), then there is nothing particularly difficult about reading Jonah literally. Certainly many people today believe all miracles are impossible, but that skepticism is just that—a belief that itself cannot be proven.  Not only that, but the text does not show evidence of the author having made up the miracle account. A fiction writer ordinarily adds supernatural elements in order to create excitement or spectacle and to capture reader attention, but this writer doesn’t capitalize on the event at all in that way. The fish is mentioned only in two brief verses and there are no descriptive details. It is reported more as a simple fact of what happened. So let’s not get distracted by the fish.

The careful structure of the book reveals nuances of the author’s message. Both episodes show how Jonah, a staunch religious believer, regards and relates to people who are racially and religiously different from him. The book of Jonah yields many insights about God’s love for societies and people beyond the community of believers; about his opposition to toxic nationalism and disdain for other races; and about how to be “in mission” in the world despite the subtle and unavoidable power of idolatry in our own lives and hearts. Grasping these insights can make us bridge builders, peacemakers, and agents of reconciliation in the world. Such people are the need of the hour.

Yet to understand all of these lessons for our social relationships, we have to see that the book’s main teaching is not sociological but theological. Jonah wants a God of his own making, a God who simply smites the bad people, for instance, the wicked Ninevites and blesses the good people, for instance, Jonah and his countrymen. When the real God —not Jonah’s counterfeit—keeps showing up, Jonah is thrown into fury or despair. Jonah finds the real God to be an enigma because he cannot reconcile the mercy of God with his justice. How, Jonah asks, can God be merciful and forgiving to people who have done such violence and evil? How can God be both merciful and just?

That question is not answered in the book of Jonah. As part of the entire Bible, however, the book of Jonah is like a chapter that drives the Scripture’s overall plotline forward. It teaches us to look ahead to how God saved the world through the one who called himself the ultimate Jonah (Matthew 12:41) so that he could be both just and the justifier of those who believe (Romans 3:26). Only when we readers fully grasp this gospel will we be neither cruel exploiters like the Ninevites nor Pharisaical believers like Jonah, but rather Spirit-changed, Christ-like women and men.

Many students of the book have noticed that in the first half Jonah plays the “prodigal son” of Jesus’s famous parable (Luke 15:11–24), who ran from his father. In the second half of the book, however, Jonah is like the “older brother” (Luke 15:25–32), who obeys his father but berates him for his graciousness to repentant sinners. The parable ends with a question from the father to the Pharisaical son, just as the book of Jonah ends with a question to the Pharisaical prophet.


Why should we study the book of Jonah?

  1. Because it is God’s inspired word. All scripture is worthy of serious study because of its origin – it comes directly from God!

(2 Tim 3:16-17)  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, {17} so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

This study will enable us to become completely furnished for every good work. It will enlighten us concerning instruction which is in righteousness. It will be profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training.

The Old Testament scriptures are a valuable source of study for modern believers:

(Rom 15:4)  For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

  1. Because it is relevant to our modern needs. Have you ever been angry with God? Have you ever allowed your personal feelings to become a wall between you and another? Have you ever become so disgusted that you just wished you would die? Have you ever sunk to the depths of self-pity? How often have you relied upon your directions instead of God’s directions for your life? Jonah was a man who experienced anger, resentment, prejudice, inflated trust in self-direction, discouragement, self-pity, joy, faith in God and a host of other emotions.
  2. It presents us not only a true picture of ourselves, but also a clear picture of our great and glorious God in heaven. Jonah thought he had a good idea of who God was and what He was like, but as we read the book we see that Jonah conceived of God only what he wanted and not as God really was (again a problem which we all share in common if we are honest):
  • God is the great Creator of the world
  • He’s in control of everything, even using the natural elements to achieve His ultimate will
  • He’s pictured as One who delivers the penitent, no matter who they are
  • He cares for all His creatures…pagan seamen and inhabitants of Nineveh just as much as He does Jonah
  • He is pictured as a God of goodness…refuting modern thinking that “God of Old Testament is bad and God of New Testament good”
  • God’s heart is large enough to care for all; His hand is adept at providing for all needs

(Acts 10:34-35)  Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism {35} but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.

(Rom 3:29)  Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too,

We all have stereotypes, and many of these should probably be shattered as well. Jonah is a prophet who does not fit into the stereotypical mold of our thinking when it comes to a prophet of God. He is decidedly different from the other prophets which we find in the Scriptures.[1] The Book of Jonah is written to shatter the stereotype which we have of prophets, especially the prophet Jonah.

Jonah is unique in several ways. First, Jonah is a prophet more by what he is and does than by what he says. Given the biblical content of Jonah’s words as recorded in Scripture, we would have difficulty making a paragraph out of his prophetic messages. (His protests would add more words, but they are not direct words of prophecy. They are more pathetic than prophetic.) Jonah was a man of very few words, but his works, his deeds, were highly prophetic.

The Book of Hosea portrayed Gomer as a picture of Israel, and Hosea, her husband, as a reflection of God. Joel used the plague of locusts to prophesy of the coming of the armies of Israel’s enemies, who would swarm into the land in judgment. So, too, Jonah was a graphic representation of the nation Israel. Just as Jonah received a clear command from God and disobeyed, so Israel was characterized by her disobedience to the commandments which God had given through Moses.

Prophecy is much more than verbal proclamation; it is often dramatization. The Book of Jonah dramatizes the sad spiritual state of Israel, a condition which was reflected in her disobedience to God’s commands and to her divine calling, a condition which would require divine discipline.

Second, Jonah was the only prophet who is recorded as having run away from God. Jonah is not known for his piety, but for his prodigality. Jonah, in his rebellion and disobedience, in his hardness of heart, was a man who typified the rebellion of the nation Israel. As the Lord said to Moses, centuries earlier, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people” (Exod. 32:9).

Third, Jonah is a prophet who is unique not only by his waywardness, but also because the book never portrays him as having repented and as having been restored to the “joy of his salvation.” We see the failures of many men in the Old Testament, but usually these men come to the point of repentance and restoration. David sinned greatly, but he repented. Abraham, Jacob, and Elijah, all had their times of failure, but they grew to maturity, to faith and obedience. Such is not the case with Jonah. Other than the likely possibility that Jonah was the author of this prophecy, we would have little basis for assuming that Jonah ever repented.

It is at this point that I must inform you that I do not see any repentance in Jonah in this short book. Our predisposition to the “pious bias,” that tendency to assume that Old Testament saints must have been doing the right thing for the right reasons—a great fallacy—is very evident in the Book of Jonah. Most all of the commentaries want to see Jonah repenting somewhere in the book, some as early as chapter 1. Frankly, I do not see any repentance, which I think is one of the significant lessons of the book. Beware of making excuses for Jonah. The book is intended to cause the reader to feel more empathy for the pagan (the sailors in chapter 1, the Ninevites in chapters 3 and 4 than for this prodigal prophet.

I believe that Jonah, at virtually every point in this brief book, typifies Israel’s hardness of heart and unrepentant spirit. The book is not written to leave us with a warm, fuzzy, good feeling, but rather to leave us very discomforted, for just as the Book of Jonah closes with no solution to Jonah’s sin, so the Old Testament closes with no solution for Israel’s sin. Only the coming of Christ gives us the sense of relief, repentance, and restoration which God wants us to experience.

About the Prophet Jonah

Those who consider the Book of Jonah an allegory or a parable should note that 2 Kings 14:25 identifies Jonah as a real person, a Jewish prophet from Gath Hepher in Zebulun who ministered in the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 b.c.). They should also note that our Lord considered Jonah a historic person and pointed to him as a type of His own death, burial, and resurrection (Matt. 12:41; Luke 11:32).

The reign of Jeroboam II was a time of great prosperity in Israel; the nation regained lost territory and expanded both its boundaries and influence. But it was a time of moral and spiritual decay as the nation rapidly moved away from God and into idolatry. Jonah’s contemporaries Hosea and Amos both courageously denounced the wickedness of the rulers, priests, and people. It’s worth noting that Hosea and Amos also showed God’s concern for other nations, which is one of the major themes of Jonah.

While Jonah had a ministry to Nineveh, a leading city in Assyria, he also had a ministry to Israel through this little book. He discovered God’s compassion for those outside Israel, even those who were their enemies. God had called His people to be a blessing to the Gentiles (Gen. 12:1-3), but, like Jonah, the Jews refused to obey. And, like Jonah, they had to be disciplined; for Assyria would conquer Israel and Babylon would take Judah into captivity. Jonah’s book magnifies the sovereignty of God as well as the love and mercy of God. Jehovah is the “God of the second chance,” even for rebellious prophets!

Very little is said of the prophet Jonah outside of the Book of Jonah itself. In 2 Kings 14:25, Jonah is said to have prophesied that the southern kingdom of Israel would expand its borders during the reign of Jeroboam, a wicked king. It does seem safe to conclude that this “Jonah” is the same person as the “Jonah” who is the subject of the Book of Jonah, especially since both are identified as “the son of Amittai”[2] (cp. 2 Kings 14:25; Jonah 1:1). The prophecy of Jonah to Jeroboam conveys some important background material to enhance our understanding of this book.

We are told, 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 fortyone years. And 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 Gathhepher-. 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. And the LORD did not say that He would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, but He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash (2 Kings 14:2327, emphasis mine).-

Jonah was therefore a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel, whose predecessors were Elijah and Elisha. Hosea and Amos would likely have been Jonah’s contemporaries. Assyria, whose capital city was Nineveh, had already begun to exercise her dominance in the near East, but for a time her control would wane, allowing Israel, under Jeroboam’s leadership, to expand her borders. In the text cited above, it is stated clearly that Israel’s prosperity during this period was solely due to the grace of God and to His compassion on His people, who were greatly afflicted. It was not godliness on the part of the nation, or its leadership, which could be viewed as the basis for God’s blessings. Thus, just as Jonah’s ministry in Nineveh would result in an outpouring of God’s grace, so his ministry in Israel would result in God’s grace – with one exception, that is; Israel did not repent of her evil deeds, and God blessed the nation anyway, while the Ninevites sincerely repented of their sins. In this sense God’s grace was even greater to the Israelites than it was to the Ninevites, for God had promised to forgive those who repent (cf. Jer. 18:78). –

Israel’s prosperity would not last long. Amos, Jonah’s contemporary, warned of God’s coming day of judgment on Israel. He condemned Israel for her oppression of the poor and her perversion of justice (5:1113). All the while, the people of Israel continued to practice the ceremonial rituals of worship, but God said,-

“I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an everflowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24). –

Because of her sin, God promised judgment:

“Therefore, I will make you go into exile beyond Damascus,” says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts (Amos 5:27).

While the warning of Amos is general in nature, speaking only of Israel’s future exile, Hosea specifically indicated that Israel’s captor would be Assyria:

They will not return to the land of Egypt; But Assyria—he will be their king, Because they refused to return to Me. And the sword will whirl against their cities, And will demolish their gate bars And consume them because of their counsels (Hosea 11:57).-

Some scholars find it more difficult to “swallow” the miraculous accounts of this little book than the fish found it to swallow the prophet. I am not going to spend much time or effort to prove the miracles, since these are ultimately a matter of faith. The God who is the Creator of the universe would have no difficulty in accomplishing the miracles described in this book. From our study of this book, it will become evident that the most difficult miracle is that of softening the hardened heart of the prophet. All that is necessary to observe is that our Lord understood the account of the Book of Jonah to be literal (Matt. 12:3941), and so we need only follow in His steps and do likewise.-

[1]1 “Generally the prophetic stories in the OT seek to glorify the man of God in the sense that he is revealed as a noble mediator of God’s own power and glory. But Jonah is no hero: he is deliberately portrayed in a very poor light. The concern of a number of OT prophetic narratives is to trace the process whereby a divine oracle was fulfilled. This book, on the contrary, breaks the pattern surprisingly by showing how and why a divine oracle, concerning the destruction of Nineveh, was not fulfilled.” Leslie C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976), p. 175.

[2] The name “Jonah” means “dove,” although we would probably be inclined to think of this prophet as a “hawk.” “Amittai” means “[My] true one.”

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Posted by on June 9, 2022 in Encounters with God


Encounters With God: Jonah, The Prodigal Prophet, Running Away From God – Jonah 1

Jonah (2013) — The Movie Database (TMDB)The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” 3 But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

The Unlikely Emissary

Our story begins when “the Word of the Lord came” to Jonah. This is the usual way to begin an account about one of the biblical prophets.

God used them to convey his words and messages to Israel, especially in times of crisis. But already by verse 2 the original readers would have realized that this was a prophetic account unlike any that they had heard before. God called Jonah to go “to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim . . .” This was stunning on several levels.

There is no sacred record of just how God spoke to Jonah, the great fact revealed being that God indeed spoke to him and that Jonah recognized the validity of God’s message. “God having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, etc.” (Heb. 1:1) gives the only clue we have as to how God spoke to the prophets. Nevertheless,

“The basis of the prophet’s life is the confidence that God is able to communicate with man, making known to him his will. Without a revelation of God there can be no prophet.” Strangely enough, this is the primary evidence of the supernatural in the whole book, but it seems to be curiously inoffensive even to some who vehemently reject the miracles of the same book. Granted that the infinite God is the one who spoke to Jonah and dealt with him as revealed in this history, there can actually be no problem whatever with the miraculous element in the record.

It was shocking first because it was a call for a Hebrew prophet to leave Israel and go out to a Gentile city. Up until then prophets had been sent only to God’s people. While Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Amos all pronounced a few prophetic oracles addressed to pagan countries, they are brief, and none of those other men was actually sent out to the nations in order to preach. Jonah’s mission was unprecedented.

It was even more shocking that the God of Israel would want to warn Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire, of impending doom. As Myers noted, “This command points to the prophetic conception of the Lord as the Ruler and Controller of all history, who had power over Nineveh just as he had over Jerusalem.”

This verse also shows that God is angry with wickedness. The present day conception of God as a mild, indulgent father-image of one who loves everybody no matter what they do, and as one who will never actually punish anyone, is a gross perversion of the truth. Every sin is an affront to God, who is “angry with the wicked every day” and who will by no means accommodate himself finally to human sin and unrighteousness. Abel’s blood still cries to God from the ground (Gen. 4:10); Sodom and Gomorrah; Tyre and Sidon; the whole antediluvian world; and many other wicked civilizations were wiped off the face of the earth by divine judgments against their wickedness; and it is no contradiction of the love and justice of God who will surely spare the penitent, that he will also ultimately overthrow and destroy the wicked.

Assyria was one of the cruelest and most violent empires of ancient times. Assyrian kings often recorded the results of their military victories, gloating of whole plains littered with corpses and of cities burned completely to the ground. The emperor Shalmaneser III is well known for depicting torture, dismembering, and decapitations of enemies in grisly detail on large stone relief panels. Assyrian history is “as gory and bloodcurdling a history as we know.”  After capturing enemies, the Assyrians would typically cut off their legs and one arm, leaving the other arm and hand so they could shake the victim’s hand in mockery as he was dying. They forced friends and family members to parade with the decapitated heads of their loved ones elevated on poles. They pulled out prisoners’ tongues and stretched their bodies with ropes so they could be flayed alive and their skins displayed on city walls. They burned adolescents alive. Those who survived the destruction of their cities were fated to endure cruel and violent forms of slavery. The Assyrians have been called a “terrorist state.

The empire had begun exacting heavy tribute from Israel during the reign of King Jehu (842–815 BC) and continued to threaten the Jewish northern kingdom throughout the lifetime of Jonah. In 722 BC it finally invaded and destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and its capital, Samaria.

Yet it was this nation that was the object of God’s missionary outreach. Though God told Jonah to “proclaim against” the city for its wickedness, there would have been no reason to send a warning unless there was a chance of judgment being averted, as Jonah knew very well (4:1–2). But how could a good God give a nation like that even the merest chance to experience his mercy? Why on earth would God be helping the enemies of his people?

Nothing about this mission made any sense. Indeed, it seemed almost to be an evil plot. If any Israelite had come up with this idea, he would have been at least shunned and at worst executed. How could God have asked anyone to betray his country’s interests like this?

Jonah, the prophet of God, was given a divine commission: “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” The command of God is clear. Jonah was to go to Nineveh, which had been founded by Nimrod (Gen. 10:11). Nineveh was called a “great city,” which no doubt refers to its size and its influence. Those who have lived in big cities like Dallas or Fort Lauderdale can identify with the meaning of the term “great.” Its sins were “great,” too.[1] Jonah was commanded to denounce the sins of this city, for they were so great they were said to have “gone up” before God, and the time for judgment was near.

Instead, Jonah went AWOL, catching a ship heading in the opposite direction:

But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD (vs. 3).

Nineveh was located on the Tigris River, over 500 miles to the northeast of Israel, but Jonah went west. His destination was Tarshish, which seems to have been a city located on the western coast of Spain.[2] We are told that Jonah fled “from the presence of the LORD,” an expression twice repeated in verse 3. I do not understand this to mean that Jonah thought he could get away from God, but rather as a technical expression, referring to his attempted “resignation” as a prophet.[3] He was turning in his mantle. No more prophetic ministry for him! While the omnipresent God would be in Nineveh, Jonah would not, and so he could hardly carry out his task from this location.

Refusing God

It is a mistake to suppose that Jonah did not know that God was in Tarshish as well as in Jerusalem; for it is impossible to associate such an ignorance as that with a true prophet of God. His conduct in this was exactly the same as that of Adam and Eve who, after their sin, hid themselves from the presence of God. Today, it is the same. When men renounce their sacred duty to the church, they flee as far away from it as possible, knowing full well that they cannot escape God’s presence no matter what they do. Fleeing from the scene of one’s duty is the reflexive action of a soul in a state of rebellion and disobedience to the Lord. And it is called in this passage, “fleeing from the presence of the Lord.” Banks gave as plausible an explanation of this as any we have observed:

“Jonah knew that the Lord was unlike pagan deities whose power was believed not to extend beyond the boundaries of a given area; but he thought running away to a distant place would make it physically impossible for him to discharge his commission.”

Many have inquired as to why Jonah did not wish to obey the word of Jehovah regarding the commission to cry against Nineveh. Certainly, some of the reasons which might have influenced him may be surmised.

(1) Jonah doubtless knew of the sadistic cruelty of the hated Assyrians, and he could not have failed to confront an element of physical fear of what might befall him in a place like Nineveh, especially in the act of delivering a message which he supposed would be most unwelcome to all of them. Yet, the great physical courage exhibited by the prophet in this very chapter is an effective refutation of the notion that this was what caused him to run away.

(2) National prejudice certainly entered into it, because no true Israelite could imagine such a thing as preaching to Gentiles, notwithstanding the fact that God, from the beginning, had intended for Israel to be a light to all nations, a function which they had signally failed to honor.

(3) The reason given by Jonah himself (Jonah 4:3) was that he feared that Nineveh might repent and that God, after his usual gracious manner, would spare them and refrain from destroying their city. As to why such an eventuality was so distasteful to Jonah, there are two conjectures: (a) The prophet was mightily concerned with his own loss of face, including the prospect of his becoming widely known as a prophet whose words did not come to pass. (b) Keil thought that Jonah’s real objection to Nineveh’s conversion sprang out of the deep love he had for his own nation, “fearing lest the conversion of the Gentiles should infringe upon the privileges of Israel, and put an end to its election as the nation of God.” This latter observation strikes us as a genuine discernment of the truth. As a matter of fact, the conversion of Gentiles did typify the ultimate rejection of Israel as “the chosen people” and the receiving of Gentiles all over the earth in a “new Israel” which would include both Jews and Gentiles. Jonah seems to have sensed this; and out of the fierce love of his own country, he was loath to see Nineveh converted. Whatever the reasons that motivated him, he was wrong; and God would overrule his disobedience to accomplish his will despite the prophet’s unwillingness to obey.

In a deliberate parody of God’s call to “arise, go to Nineveh,” Jonah “arose” to go in the opposite direction (verse 3). Tarshish, it is believed, lay on the outermost western rim of the world known to Israelites of the time.  In short, Jonah did the exact opposite of what God told him to do. Called to go east, he went west. Directed to travel overland, he went to sea. Sent to the big city, he bought a one-way ticket to the end of the world.

Why did he refuse? A full accounting of Jonah’s reasoning and motives must wait for Jonah’s own words later in the book. But at this point, the text invites us to make some guesses. We can certainly imagine that Jonah thought the mission made neither practical nor theological sense.

God describes Nineveh both here and later as that “great” city, and indeed it was. It was both a military and a cultural powerhouse. Why would the populace listen to someone like Jonah? How long, for example, would a Jewish rabbi have lasted in 1941 if he had stood on the streets of Berlin and called on Nazi Germany to repent? At the most practical level, the prospects of success were none, and the chances of death were high.

Jonah would not have been able to see any theological justification for this mission either. The prophet Nahum had some years before prophesied that God would destroy Nineveh for its evil. Jonah and Israel would have accepted Nahum’s prediction as making perfect sense. Wasn’t Israel God’s chosen, loved people through whom he was fulfilling his purposes in the world? Wasn’t Nineveh an evil society on a collision course with the Lord? Wasn’t Assyria unusually violent and oppressive, even for its time? Of course God would destroy it—that was obvious and (Jonah would have thought) settled. Why, then, this call to Jonah? Wouldn’t a successful mission to Nineveh only destroy God’s own promises to Israel and prove Nahum a false prophet? What possible justification, then, could there be for this assignment?

Mistrusting God

So Jonah had a problem with the job he was given. But he had a bigger problem with the One who gave it to him. Jonah concluded that because he could not see any good reasons for God’s command, there couldn’t be any. Jonah doubted the goodness, wisdom, and justice of God.

We have all had that experience. We sit in the doctor’s office stunned by the biopsy report. We despair of ever finding decent employment after the last lead has dried up. We wonder why the seemingly perfect romantic relationship—the one we always wanted and never thought was possible—has crashed and burned. If there is a God, we think, he doesn’t know what he is doing! Even when we turn from the circumstances of our lives to the teaching of the Bible itself, it seems, to modern people especially, to be filled with claims that don’t make much sense.

When this happens we have to decide—does God know what’s best, or do we? And the default mode of the unaided human heart is to always decide that we do. We doubt that God is good, or that he is committed to our happiness, and therefore if we can’t see any good reasons for something God says or does, we assume that there aren’t any.

That’s what Adam and Eve did in the Garden. The first divine command was: “And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die’” (Genesis 2:16–17). There was the fruit, and it looked very “good . . . pleasing . . . and desirable” (Genesis 3:6), yet God had given no reason as to why it would be wrong to eat. Adam and Eve, like Jonah many years later, decided that if they couldn’t think of a good reason for a command of God, there couldn’t be one. God could not be trusted to have their best interests in mind. And so they ate.

Two Ways of Running from God

Jonah runs away from God. But if we for a moment stand back and look at the entirety of the book, Jonah will teach us that there are two different strategies for escaping from God. Paul outlines these in Romans 1–3.

First Paul speaks of those who simply reject God overtly and “have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity” (Romans 1:29). In chapter 2, however, he talks of those who seek to follow the Bible. “You rely on the law and boast . . . in God. . . . You know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law” (Romans 2:17–18). Then, after looking at both pagan, immoral Gentiles and Bible-believing, moral Jews, he concludes in a remarkable summation “that there is no one righteous, not even one. . . . All have turned away” (Romans 3:10–12). One group is trying diligently to follow God’s law and the other ignores it, and yet Paul says both have “turned away.” They are both, in different ways, running from God. We all know that we can run from God by becoming immoral and irreligious. But Paul is saying it is also possible to avoid God by becoming very religious and moral.

The classic example in the gospels of these two ways to run from God is in Luke 15, the parable of the two sons. The younger brother tried to escape his father’s control by taking his inheritance, leaving home, rejecting all his father’s moral values, and living as he wished. The older brother stayed home and obeyed the father completely, but when his father did something with the remaining wealth that the older son disliked, he exploded in anger at his father. At that point it became obvious that he, also, did not love his father.

The elder brother was not obeying out of love but only as a way, he thought, of putting his father in his debt, getting control over him so he had to do as his older son asked. Neither son trusted his father’s love. Both were trying to find ways of escaping his control. One did it by obeying all the father’s rules, the other by disobeying them all.

Flannery O’Connor describes one of her fictional characters, Hazel Motes, as knowing that “the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin.” We think that if we are religiously observant, virtuous, and good, then we’ve paid our dues, as it were. Now God can’t just ask anything of us—he owes us. He is obligated to answer our prayers and bless us. This is not moving toward him in grateful joy, glad surrender, and love, but is instead a way of controlling God and, as a result, keeping him at arm’s length.

Both of these two ways of escaping God assume the lie that we cannot trust God’s commitment to our good. We think we have to force God to give us what we need. Even if we are outwardly obeying God, we are doing it not for his sake but for ours. If, as we seek to comply with his rules, God does not appear to be treating us as we feel we deserve, then the veneer of morality and righteousness can collapse overnight. The inward distancing from God that had been going on for a long time becomes an outward, obvious rejection. We become furious with God and just walk away.

The classic Old Testament example of these two ways to run from God is right here in the book of Jonah. Jonah takes turns acting as both the “younger brother” and the “older brother.” In the first two chapters of the book, Jonah disobeys and runs away from the Lord and yet ultimately repents and asks for God’s grace, just as the younger brother leaves home but returns repentant.

In the last two chapters, however, Jonah obeys God’s command to go and preach to Nineveh. In both cases, however, he’s trying to get control of the agenda. When God accepts the repentance of the Ninevites, just like the older brother in Luke 15, Jonah bristles with self-righteous anger at God’s graciousness and mercy to sinners.

And that is the problem facing Jonah, namely, the mystery of God’s mercy. It is a theological problem, but it is at the same time a heart problem. Unless Jonah can see his own sin, and see himself as living wholly by the mercy of God, he will never understand how God can be merciful to evil people and still be just and faithful. The story of Jonah, with all its twists and turns, is about how God takes Jonah, sometimes by the hand, other times by the scruff of the neck, to show him these things.

Jonah runs and runs. But even though he uses multiple strategies, the Lord is always a step ahead. God varies his strategies too, and continually extends mercy to us in new ways, even though we neither understand nor deserve it.

A teacher was explaining to her class the phrase concerning God’s angels which reads “…ministers of His who do His pleasure and asked: “How do the angels carry out God’s will?” Many of the children offered an answer:

  • They do it directly
  • They do it with all of their heart
  • They do it well
  • They do it without asking any questions

It is that last response I want us to discuss for a few moments.  This is the lesson that must be understood or the rest of this marvelous book will prove unnecessary.

We often read a command of God and respond with WHY should I obey this? These opening two verses tell us why we should obey God unquestionably.

  1. Because it is the command of God. We’re not told in what manner that command came but we know God worked in the past differently than He does today.

(Heb 1:1-2)  In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, {2} but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.

God’s word  has been made known to us just as it was to Jonah. What will we do about it?

  • Do we pick and choose what we want to believe?
  • Do we allow this communications with God to be interrupted?

(Luke 10:41-42)  “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, {42} but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

  1. Because YOU are needed by others. The population of this great city is estimated at over 600,000 if the 120,000 in 4:11 is taken to refer to children (which I think it is). This city was known for its cruelty, immorality and wickedness.

Gerasene demoniac who was cleaned by Christ

(Mark 5:10-19)  And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. {11} A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. {12} The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” {13} He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. {14} Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. {15} When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. {16} Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man–and told about the pigs as well. {17} Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. {18} As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. {19} Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

  1. Because God’s message is the only message with promise.
  2. Because of the urgency of the command. (John 9:4)  As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.
  3. Because wickedness prospers.

Jonah the prophet disobeyed God’s call (Jonah 1:1-3).

Jonah got into trouble because his attitudes were wrong. To begin with, he had a wrong attitude toward the will of God. Obeying the will of God is as important to God’s servant as it is to the people His servants minister to. It’s in obeying the will of God that we find our spiritual nourishment (John 4:34), enlightenment (7:17), and enablement (Heb. 13:21). To Jesus, the will of God was food that satisfied Him; to Jonah, the will of God was medicine that choked him.

Jonah’s wrong attitude toward God’s will stemmed from a feeling that the Lord was asking him to do an impossible thing. God commanded the prophet to go to Israel’s enemy, Assyria, and give the city of Nineveh opportunity to repent, and Jonah would much rather see the city destroyed. The Assyrians were a cruel people who had often abused Israel and Jonah’s narrow patriotism took precedence over his theology.1-2 Jonah forgot that the will of God is the expression of the love of God (Ps. 33:11), and that God called him to Nineveh because He loved both Jonah and the Ninevites.

Jonah also had a wrong attitude toward The Word of God. When the Word of the Lord came to him, Jonah thought he could “take it or leave it” However, when God’s Word commands us, we must listen and obey. Disobedience isn’t an option. “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46, nkjv)

Jonah forgot that it was a great privilege to be a prophet, to hear God’s Word, and know God’s will. That’s why he resigned his prophetic office and fled in the opposite direction from Nineveh.1-3 Jonah knew that he couldn’t run away from God’s presence (Ps. 139:7-12), but he felt he had the right to turn in his resignation. He forgot that “God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29, niv). At one time or another during their ministries, Moses, Elijah, and Jeremiah felt like giving up, but God wouldn’t let them. Jonah needed Nineveh as much as Nineveh needed Jonah. It’s in doing the will of God that we grow in grace and become more like Christ.

Jonah had a wrong attitude toward circumstances; he thought they were working for him when they were really working against him. He fled to Joppa1-4 and found just the right ship waiting for him! He had enough money to pay the fare for his long trip, and he was even able to go down into the ship and fall into a sleep so deep that the storm didn’t wake him up. It’s possible to be out of the will of God and still have circumstances appear to be working on your behalf. You can be rebelling against God and still have a false sense of security that includes a good night’s sleep. God in His providence was preparing Jonah for a great fall.

Finally, Jonah had a wrong attitude toward the Gentiles. Instead of wanting to help them find the true and living God, he wanted to abandon them to their darkness and spiritual death. He not only hated their sins—and the Assyrians were ruthless enemies—but he hated the sinners who committed the sins. Better that Nineveh should be destroyed than that the Assyrians live and attack Israel.

The World’s Storm (1:4)

4 And the LORD hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up.

God hurled a storm in Jonah’s path, a storm so great that it terrified veteran sailors (literally “salts”) and was in the process of breaking up the ship. The sailors began casting the cargo overboard, in an effort to save the ship and their own lives. At the same time, each sailor was praying to his gods for deliverance. No doubt these sailors would have worshipped gods which were thought to have influence over the seas on which they traveled.

Jonah runs but God won’t let him go. The Lord “hurled a great wind upon the sea” (verse 4). The word “hurled” is often used for throwing a weapon such as a spear (1 Samuel 18:11). It is a vivid picture of God launching a mighty tempest onto the sea around Jonah’s boat. It was a “great” (gedola) wind—the same word used to describe Nineveh. If Jonah refuses to go into a great city, he will go into a great storm. From this we learn both dismaying and comforting news.

Storms Attached to Sin

The dismaying news is that every act of disobedience to God has a storm attached to it. This is one of the great themes of the Old Testament wisdom literature, especially the book of Proverbs. We must be careful here. This is not to say that every difficult thing that comes into our lives is the punishment for some particular sin. The entire book of Job contradicts the common belief that good people will have lives that go well, and that if your life is going badly, it must be your fault. The Bible does not say that every difficulty is the result of sin—but it does teach that every sin will bring you into difficulty.

We cannot treat our bodies indifferently and still expect to have good health. We cannot treat people indifferently and expect to maintain their friendship. We cannot all put our own selfish interests ahead of the common good and still have a functioning society. If we violate the design and purpose of things—if we sin against our bodies, our relationships, or society—they strike back. There are consequences. If we violate the laws of God, we are violating our own design, since God built us to know, serve, and love him. The Bible speaks sometimes about God punishing sin (“The Lord detests all the proud of heart. . . . They will not go unpunished,” Proverbs 16:5) but some other times of the sin itself punishing us (“The violence of the wicked will drag them away, for they refuse to do what is right,” Proverbs 21:7). Both are true at once. All sin has a storm attached to it.

Old Testament scholar Derek Kidner writes: “Sin . . . sets up strains in the structure of life which can only end in breakdown.” Generally speaking, liars are lied to, attackers are attacked, and he who lives by the sword dies by the sword. God created us to live for him more than for anything else, so there is a spiritual “givenness” to our lives. If we build our lives and meaning on anything more than God, we are acting against the grain of the universe and of our own design and therefore of our own being.

Here the results of Jonah’s disobedience are immediate and dramatic. There is a mighty storm directed right at Jonah. Its suddenness and fury are something even the pagan sailors can discern as being of supernatural origin. That is not the norm, however. The results of sin are often more like the physical response you have to a debilitating dose of radiation. You don’t suddenly feel pain the moment you are exposed. It isn’t like a bullet or sword tearing into you. You feel quite normal. Only later do you experience symptoms, but by then it is too late.

Sin is a suicidal action of the will upon itself. It is like taking an addicting drug. At first it may feel wonderful, but every time it gets harder to not do it again. Here’s just one example. When you indulge yourself in bitter thoughts, it feels so satisfying to fantasize about payback. But slowly and surely it will enlarge your capacity for self-pity, erode your ability to trust and enjoy relationships, and generally drain the happiness out of your daily life. Sin always hardens the conscience, locks you in the prison of your own defensiveness and rationalizations, and eats you up slowly from the inside.

All sin has a mighty storm attached to it. The image is powerful because even in our technologically advanced society, we cannot control the weather. You cannot bribe a storm or baffle it with logic and rhetoric. “You will be sinning against the Lord, and you may be sure that your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).

Storms Attached to Sinners

The dismaying news is that sin always has a storm attached to it, but there is comforting news too. For Jonah the storm was the consequence of his sin, yet the sailors were caught in it too. Most often the storms of life come upon us not as the consequence of a particular sin but as the unavoidable consequence of living in a fallen, troubled world. It has been said that “man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7), and therefore the world is filled with destructive storms. Yet as we will see, this storm leads the sailors to genuine faith in the true God even though it was not their fault. Jonah himself begins his journey to understand the grace of God in a new way.

When storms come into our lives, whether as a consequence of our wrongdoing or not, Christians have the promise that God will use them for their good (Romans 8:28). When God wanted to make Abraham into a man of faith who could be the father of all the faithful on earth, he put him through years of wandering with apparently unfulfilled promises. When God wanted to turn Joseph from an arrogant, deeply spoiled teenager into a man of character, he put him through years of rough handling. He had to experience slavery and imprisonment before he could save his people. Moses had to become a fugitive and spend forty years in the lonely wilderness before he could lead.

The Bible does not say that every difficulty is the result of our sin—but it does teach that, for Christians, every difficulty can help reduce the power of sin over our hearts. Storms can wake us up to truths we would otherwise never see. Storms can develop faith, hope, love, patience, humility, and self-control in us that nothing else can. And innumerable people have testified that they found faith in Christ and eternal life only because some great storm drove them toward God.

Again, we must tread carefully. The first chapters of Genesis teach that God did not create the world and the human race for suffering, disease, natural disasters, aging, and death. Evil entered the world when we turned away from him. God has tied his heart to us such that when he sees the sin and suffering in the world his heart is filled with pain (Genesis 6:6) and “in all [our] affliction he too [is] afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9).  God is not like a chess player casually moving us pawns around on a board. Nor is it usually clear until years later, if ever in this life, what good God was accomplishing in the difficulties we suffered.

How God Works Through Storms

Nevertheless, as hard as it is to discern God’s loving and wise purposes behind many of our trials and difficulties, it would be even more hopeless to imagine that he has no control over them or that our sufferings are random and meaningless.

Jonah could not see that deep within the terror of the storm God’s mercy was at work, drawing him back to change his heart. It’s not surprising that Jonah missed this initially. He did not know how God would come into the world to save us. We, however, living on this side of the cross, know that God can save through weakness, suffering, and apparent defeat. Those who watched Jesus dying saw nothing but loss and tragedy. Yet at the heart of that darkness the divine mercy was powerfully at work, bringing about pardon and forgiveness for us. God’s salvation came into the world through suffering, so his saving grace and power can work in our lives more and more as we go through difficulty and sorrow. There’s mercy deep inside our storm

Who is my neighbor? Jonah the Jew becomes a curse instead of a blessing (Jonah 1:5-6).

5 Then the sailors became afraid, and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down, and fallen sound asleep. 6 So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.”

The word for “mariners” here means “salts,” that is sailors of the salt seas; they are usually thought to have been Phoenicians engaged in the corn trade with western Mediterranean ports, or the iron trade with Sardinia. The variety of “gods” mentioned indicates that they were, not all of a single nationality, but of mixed heathen origin, some worshipping one god, some another. Their concern for the safety of the vessel, their diligent efforts to lighten its burden, and their frantic prayers “every man unto his god” contrasts vividly with the amazing indifference of the prophet Jonah fast asleep in the hold of the vessel

We think Butler is right in rejecting the usual comments about Jonah’s conscience being seared, blaming his deep sleep upon his spiritual condition.

“It is hardly justifiable to attribute his deep sleep through the storm to a perverse, stupefied, seared conscience. He was probably so exhausted from the long trip from Gath-hepher to Joppa (60-70 miles) and from the psychological wrestling with his soul (which causes physical exhaustion) that he fell into a deep sleep.”

The book of Jonah is divided into two symmetrical halves—the records of Jonah’s flight from God and then of his mission to Nineveh. Each part has three sections—God’s word to Jonah, then his encounter with the Gentile pagans, and finally Jonah talking to God. Twice, then, Jonah finds himself in a close encounter with people who are racially and religiously different. In both cases his behavior is dismissive and unhelpful, while the pagans uniformly act more admirably than he does. This is one of the main messages of the book, namely, that God cares how we believers relate to and treat people who are deeply different from us.

Preachers and teachers of the book usually overlook these sections, except perhaps to observe that we should be willing to take the gospel to foreign lands. That is certainly true, but it misses the fuller meaning of Jonah’s interactions with the pagans. God wants us to treat people of different races and faiths in a way that is respectful, loving, generous, and just.

Jonah and the Sailors

Jonah had rejected God’s call to preach to Nineveh. He did not want to talk to pagans about God or to lead them toward faith. So he fled—only to find himself talking about God to the exact sort of people he was fleeing!

When the fierce storm began, “the mariners were terrified” (verse 5). These were experienced sailors who took bad weather in stride, so this must have been a uniquely terrifying tempest. Yet Jonah is deep in the hold of the ship, sleeping soundly. The nineteenth-century Scottish minister Hugh Martin says Jonah was sleeping “the sleep of sorrow.” Many of us know exactly what that is—the desire to escape reality through sleep, even for a little while. He was profoundly spent and exhausted, drained by powerful emotions of anger, guilt, anxiety, and grief.

This is one of several carefully laid out contrasts between the despised pagan sailors and the morally respectable prophet of Israel. While Jonah is out of touch with his peril, the sailors are extremely alert. While Jonah is thoroughly absorbed by his own problems, they are seeking the common good of everyone in the boat. They pray each to their own god, but Jonah does not pray to his. They are also spiritually aware enough to sense that this is not just a random storm but of peculiar intensity. Perhaps it appeared with suddenness not attributable to natural forces. They are astute enough to conclude that the tempest is of divine origin, possibly a response to someone’s grave sin. Finally, they are not narrow and bigoted. They are open to calling on Jonah’s God. In fact, they are more ready to do this than he is.

When the captain finds the sleeping prophet he says, “Arise, call . . . !” (Hebrew qum lek, verse 6), the same words God used when calling Jonah to arise, go, and call Nineveh to repentance.  But as Jonah rubs his eyes there is a Gentile mariner with God’s very words in his mouth. What is this? God sent his prophet to point the pagans toward himself. Yet now it is the pagans pointing the prophet toward God.

The sailors continue to act in commendable ways. Discerning that there is human sin and a divine hand behind the storm, they cast lots. Casting lots in order to discern the divine will was quite common in ancient times. It is possible that each man’s name was put on a stick, and the one that was chosen was Jonah’s.  

A few commentators wish to make a miracle of this; but since it has to be true that the lot had to fall upon someone, and since it certainly could have fallen upon Jonah “by chance,” we shall not construe this as any kind of miracle comparable to the others in this book. Besides that, the sailors themselves did not rely entirely upon the lot, even though it fell upon Jonah, basing their subsequent actions upon Jonah’s confession, rather than upon the uncertainty of the lot. Yes, the Scriptures reveal that even the apostles f relied upon the casting of lots in their selection of Matthias to succeed Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:26); but in that case, the lots were cast after the apostles had earnestly prayed unto God to show by that manner who was chosen. No such prayer to the true God occurred in this instance. Of course, today, there is no need for the casting of lots on the part of them who have the Word of God, after “that which is perfect has come.”

This verse apparently presupposes that Jonah had indeed prayed unto “his God,” but that his prayer had not been answered any more than the prayers of the heathen, hence their concern with casting lots to expose the guilty party.

There is in the verse a strong example of the almost universal conviction that sin is connected with all human disasters. The citizens of Malta thought that Paul must have been a murderer because he was bitten by a poisonous serpent (Acts 28:4); and even the apostles supposed that the man born blind had experienced such a tragedy due either to his own sin, or that of his parents (John 9:2). Although in specific instances, such conclusions may be absolutely inaccurate, the principle, nevertheless is profoundly true; and that terrible storm which threatened the destruction of Jonah’s vessel is a prime example of such a thing.

God uses the lot casting, in this case, to point the finger at Jonah. Yet even now, when they seem to have divine guidance, the sailors do not panic and immediately lay angry hands on him. They don’t assume that they now have a mandate to kill him. Instead they carefully take his evidence and testimony in order to make the right decision. They show him and his God the greatest of respect. Even when Jonah proposes that they throw him overboard, they do everything possible to avoid doing it. At every point they outshine Jonah.

There is much here in this part of the story that its author wants us to see. What should Jonah have been learning—and what should we?

Seeking the Common Good

First, we learn that people outside the community of faith have a right to evaluate the church on its commitment to the good of all.

The sailors are in peril. They have used what technology and religious resources they have, but these are not enough. They sense that they cannot be saved without help from Jonah, but he is doing nothing to help. And so we have this memorable picture of the heathen captain reprimanding God’s holy prophet. Hugh Martin preached a sermon on this text entitled “The World Rebuking the Church”  and concluded that Jonah deserved it and, to a great extent, the church today deserves it too.

What is the captain rebuking Jonah for? It is because he has no interest in their common good. The captain is saying: “Can’t you see we’re about to die? How can you be so oblivious to our need? I understand you are a man of faith. Why aren’t you using your faith for the public good?” Jacques Ellul writes: These Joppa sailors . . . are pagans, or, in modern terms, non-Christians. But . . . the lot of non-Christians and Christians is . . . linked; they are in the same boat. The safety of all depends on what each does. . . . They are in the same storm, subject to the same peril, and they want the same outcome . . . and this ship typifies our situation

We are all—believers and nonbelievers—“in the same boat.” (Never was that old saying truer than it was for Jonah!) If crime plagues a community, or poor health, or a water shortage, or the loss of jobs, if an economy and social order is broken, we are all in the same boat. For a moment, Jonah lives in the same “neighborhood” with these sailors, and the storm that threatens one person threatens the entire community. Jonah fled because he did not want to work for the good of the pagans—he wanted to serve exclusively the interests of believers. But God shows him here that he is the God of all people and Jonah needs to see himself as being part of the whole human community, not only a member of a faith community.

This is not a merely pragmatic argument: “Believers had better help nonbelievers or things will not go well with them.” The Bible tells us we are co-humans with all people— made in God’s image and therefore infinitely precious to him (Genesis 9:6; James 3:9).

The captain urges Jonah to do what he can for them all. Of course, the captain has no accurate ideas about Jonah’s God. He is probably hoping only for a prayer to some powerful supernatural being. Yet, as Hugh Martin argues, the criticism is still true. Jonah is not bringing the resources of his faith to bear on the suffering of his fellow citizens. He is not telling them how to get a relationship with the God of the universe. Nor is he, relying on his own spiritual resources in God, simply loving and serving the practical needs of his neighbors. God commands all believers to do both things, but he is doing neither. His private faith is of no public good.

Someone might object that the world has no right to rebuke the church, but there is biblical warrant for doing exactly that. In Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount he said that the world would see the good deeds of believers and glorify God (Matthew 5:16). The world will not see who our Lord is if we do not live as we ought. In the words of one book we are “The Church Before the Watching World.” We deserve the critique of the world if the church does not exhibit visible love in practical deeds. The captain had every right to rebuke a believer who was oblivious to the problems of the people around him and doing nothing for them.

Recognizing Common Grace

We also learn that believers are to respect and learn from the wisdom God gives to those who don’t believe. The pagan sailors provide a graphic portrayal of what theologians have called “common grace.”

In [this] episode, hope, justice, and integrity reside not with Jonah . . . but with the captain and the sailors. . . . Though blameless victims, the sailors never cry injustice. Finding themselves in a dangerous situation not of their making, they seek to solve it for the good of all. Never do they wallow in self-pity, berate an angry god . . . condemn an arbitrary world, target the culprit Jonah for vengeance, or promote violence as an answer.

The doctrine of common grace is the teaching that God bestows gifts of wisdom, moral insight, goodness, and beauty across humanity, regardless of race or religious belief. James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” That is, God is ultimately enabling every act of goodness, wisdom, justice, and beauty—no matter who does it. Isaiah 45:1 speaks of Cyrus, a pagan king, whom God anoints and uses for world leadership. Isaiah 28:23–29 tells us that when a farmer is fruitful, it is God who has been teaching him to be so.

That means that all good and great artistic expressions, skillful farming, effective governments, and scientific advances are God’s gifts to the human race. They are undeserved, gifts of God’s mercy and grace. They are also “common.” That is, they are distributed to any and all. There is no indication that the monarch or the farmer mentioned in Isaiah embraced God by faith. Common grace does not regenerate the heart, save the soul, or create a personal, covenant relationship with God. Yet without it the world would be an intolerable place to live. It is wonderful expression of God’s love to all people (Psalm 145:14–16).

Certainly common grace was staring Jonah right in the face. Jonah himself was a recipient of what has been called “special grace.” He had received the Word of God, a revelation of his will not available to human reason or wisdom, however great. Jonah was a follower of the Lord, the true God. So how was it possible that the pagans were outshining Jonah? Common grace means that nonbelievers often act more righteously than believers despite their lack of faith; whereas believers, filled with remaining sin, often act far worse than their right belief in God would lead us to expect. All this means Christians should be humble and respectful toward those who do not share their faith. They should be appreciative of the work of all people, knowing that nonbelievers have many things to teach them. Jonah is learning this the hard way.

Who Is My Neighbor? Both of these insights about the importance of common grace and the common good are taught in Jesus’s famous parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37). Jesus takes the seemingly pedestrian exhortation “love thy neighbor” and gives it the most radical possible definition. He tells us that all in need, including those of other races and beliefs, are our neighbors. We are also shown that the way to “love” neighbors is not merely through sentiment but through costly, sacrificial, practical action to meet material and economic needs.

The text indicates that Jonah resisted doing anything or even talking to the pagan sailors. The bad prophet, Jonah, is the very opposite of the Good Samaritan. He has no concern for the “common good,” no respect for the nonbelievers around him. In the New Testament book of James, the author argues that if you say you have a relationship with God based on his grace, and you see someone “without clothes and daily food” (James 2:15) and do nothing about it, you only prove that your faith is “dead”—unreal (verse 17).

That is why James can say, “Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful” (verse 13). The lack of mercy in Jonah’s attitude and actions toward others reveals that he was a stranger in his heart to the saving mercy and grace of God. The “cargo” which would have to be thrown overboard to save the ship was below. While the sailors frantically worked and prayed to save the ship, Jonah was below deck, deep in sleep.[4] The pagan ship’s captain was obviously irritated to find Jonah sleeping, while the rest of the crew desperately besought their gods. Jonah was not asked to help cast the cargo overboard, but he was commanded to pray.[5] Imagine this. A heathen sea captain, commanding a prophet of the one true God to pray. Notice that we are never told that Jonah did pray, either. No wonder; if you were Jonah and stubbornly refused to repent, what would you have to say to God?


Embracing the Other (Jonah 1:7-10)

7 And each man said to his mate, “Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.” So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, “Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” 9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men became extremely frightened and they said to him, “How could you do this?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.

Who Are You?

The seamen saw the storm as a religious matter. The sailors conclude that the storm was a punishment for sin, and they cast lots to discover whose wrongdoing it might be. When the lots indicate Jonah, they begin to pepper him with questions. Essentially they were asking three things—his purpose (what is your mission?), his place (from where do you come? what is your country?), and his race (who are your people?).

These are identity questions. Every person’s identity has multiple aspects. “Who are your people?” probes the social aspect. We define ourselves not only as individuals but also by the community (family, racial group, political party) with which we identify most closely. “Where do you come from?” points to the physical place and space in which we are most at home, where we feel we belong. “What is your mission?” gets at our meaning in life. All people do many things—work, rest, marry, travel, create—but what are we doing it all for? All of these provide an identity, a sense of significance and security.

Using questions about mission, place, and people, it was possible to see how there had been an identity shift between the generations. Everyone’s identity consists of layers. These questions of the sailors show a good understanding of how we constitute our identity. To ask about purpose, place, and people is an insightful way of asking, “Who are you?”

Whose Are You?

The sailors, however, are not asking these questions simply to let Jonah express himself, as we do in modern Western culture. Their urgent goal is to understand the God who has been angered so they can determine what they should do. In ancient times, every racial group, every place, and even every profession had its own god or gods. To find out which deity Jonah had offended, they did not need to ask, “What is your god’s name?” All they had to ask was who he was. In their minds, human identity factors were inextricably linked to what you worshipped. Who you were and what you worshipped were just two sides of the same coin. It was the most foundational layer of your identity.

Today we may be tempted to say something like “People no longer believe in the gods and often don’t believe in any god at all. So this superstitious view—that your identity is rooted in what you worship—is irrelevant today.” To say this is to commit a fundamental error.

Certainly Christians would agree that there are not multiple, personal, conscious, supernatural beings attached to every profession, place, and race. There is no actual Roman god named Mercury, the god of commerce, to whom we should burn animal sacrifices. Yet no one doubts that financial profit can become a god, an unquestioned ultimate goal for either an individual life or a whole society, to which persons and moral standards and relationships and communities are sacrificed. And while there is no Venus, goddess of beauty, nevertheless untold numbers of men and women are obsessed with body image or enslaved to an unrealizable idea of sexual fulfillment.

Therefore, the sailors are not wrong in their analysis. Everyone gets an identity from something. Everyone must say to himself or herself, “I’m significant because of This” and “I’m acceptable because I’m welcomed by Them.” But then whatever This is and whoever They are, these things become virtual gods to us, and the deepest truths about who we are. They become things we must have under any circumstances. I recently spoke to a man who had been in meetings in which a financial institution decided to invest in a new technology. Privately, the individuals in the room admitted to him that they had real reservations about the effect of the technology on society. They thought it would eliminate many jobs for every one new job it produced, and that it might be bad for the youth who would primarily use it. But to walk away from the deal would have meant leaving billions of dollars on the table. And no one could imagine doing that. When financial success commands allegiance that is unconditional and that cannot be questioned, it functions as a religious object, a god, even a “salvation.”

The Bible explains why this is the case. We were made in “the image of God” (Genesis 1:26–27). There can be no image without an original of which the image is a reflection. “To be in the image” means that human beings were not created to stand alone. We must get our significance and security from something of ultimate value outside us. To be created in God’s image means we must live for the true God or we will have to make something else God and orbit our lives around that.

The sailors knew that identity is always rooted in the things we look toward to save us, the things to which we give ultimate allegiance. To ask, “Who are you?” is to ask, “Whose are you?” To know who you are is to know what you have given yourself to, what controls you, what you most fundamentally trust.

Spiritually Shallow Identity

They first petitioned their gods for deliverance. When this did not happen, they sought to enlist Jonah and his God. Then, when their prayers were not answered, they seemed to conclude that the reason why their prayers were not answered was due to some unidentified sin, which offended one of the gods: “And each man said to his mate, ‘Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.’ So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah” (vs. 7).

The great wonder is that these sailors did not cast Jonah into the sea the moment the lot fell on him. Remember that the ship was in the process of breaking up and the storm was intensifying in force. In spite of the imminent danger, the sailors took time to interrogate Jonah. “Then they said to him, ‘Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” (vs. 8).

I am inclined to view all of the sailors standing about Jonah, each asking one of these questions at the same time. Jonah is swamped with questions. Notice that as the story is narrated in chapter 1, the sailors do most of the talking and Jonah says very little. He gives but a bare minimum response. He is tight-lipped. He is like a child, caught redhanded by his parents, peppered with questions and giving only cryptic responses. There are some who talk incessantly when guilty, but many, like Jonah, say as little as possible, especially if they are intent on persisting in their evil.-

Jonah’s terse response (at least as recorded) was, “I am a Hebrew,[6] and I fear the LORD God of heaven[7] who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9).

With this statement, everything suddenly came into focus for the sailors: Jonah was a Hebrew prophet who had fled from God. It was Jonah who caused the storm. Jonah’s sin had endangered the entire ship’s crew.

God called the Jews to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth (Gen. 12:1-3), but whenever the Jews were out of the will of God, they brought trouble instead of blessing.1-5 Twice Abraham brought trouble to people because he lied (vv. 10-20; 20:1-18); Achan brought trouble to Israel’s army because he robbed God (Josh. 7); and Jonah brought trouble to a boatload of pagan sailors because he fled. Consider all that Jonah lost because he wasn’t a blessing to others.

First of all, he lost the voice of God (Jonah 1:4). We don’t read that “the word of the Lord came to Jonah,” but that a great storm broke loose over the waters. God was no longer speaking to Jonah through His word; He was speaking to him through His works: the sea, the wind, the rain, the thunder, and even the great fish. Everything in nature obeyed God except His servant! God even spoke to Jonah through the heathen sailors (vv. 6, 8, 10) who didn’t know Jehovah. It’s a sad thing when a servant of God is rebuked by pagans.

Jonah also lost his spiritual energy (v. 5b). He went to sleep during a fierce storm and was totally unconcerned about the safety of others. The sailors were throwing the ship’s wares and cargo overboard, and Jonah was about to lose everything, but still he slept on. “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man” (Prov. 24:33, niv).

He lost his power in prayer (Jonah 1:5a, 6). The heathen sailors were calling on their gods for help while Jonah slept through the prayer meeting, the one man on board who knew the true God and could pray to Him. Of course, Jonah would first have had to confess his sins and determine to obey God, something he wasn’t willing to do. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ps. 66:18).1-6 If Jonah did pray, his prayer wasn’t answered. Loss of power in prayer is one of the first indications that we’re far from the Lord and need to get right with Him.

Sad to say, Jonah lost his testimony (Jonah 1:7-10). He certainly wasn’t living up to his name,1-7 for Jonah means “dove,” and the dove is a symbol of peace. Jonah’s father’s name was Ammitai, which means “faithful, truthful,” something that Jonah was not. We’ve already seen that he wasn’t living up to his high calling as a Jew, for he had brought everybody trouble instead of blessing, nor was he living up to his calling as a prophet, for he had no message for them from God. When the lot pointed to Jonah as the culprit, he could no longer avoid making a decision.

Jonah had already told the crew that he was running away from God, but now he told them he was God’s prophet, the God who created the heaven, the earth, and the sea. This announcement made the sailors even more frightened. The God who created the sea was punishing His servant and that’s why they were in danger!

Jonah finally begins to speak. In the boat he has stayed as withdrawn from the unclean pagans as he could. When the captain urges him to pray to his God, Jonah responds with silence. Only when the lot is cast and the entire ship confronts Jonah do we finally get a response from the reluctant prophet.

Though the question about race comes last in the list, Jonah answers it first. “I am a Hebrew,” he says before anything else. In a text so sparing with words, it is significant that he reverses the order and puts his race out front as the most significant part of his identity. As we have seen, an identity has several aspects or layers, some of which are more fundamental to the person than others. As one scholar put it, “Since Jonah identifies himself first ethnically, then religiously, we may infer that his ethnicity is foremost in his self-identity.”4

While Jonah had faith in God, it appears not to have been as deep and fundamental to his identity as his race and nationality. Many people in the world tack on their religion, as it were, to their ethnic identity, which is more foundational for them. Someone might say, for example, “Why, of course I’m Lutheran—I’m Norwegian!” even though she never attends church at all.

If his race was more foundational to his self-image than his faith, it begins to explain why Jonah was so opposed to calling Nineveh to repentance. The prospect of calling people of other nations to faith in God would not be appealing under any circumstances to someone with this spiritually shallow identity. Jonah’s relationship with God was not as basic to his significance as his race. That is why, when loyalty to his people and loyalty to the Word of God seemed to be in conflict, he chose to support his nation over taking God’s love and message to a new society.

Unfortunately, many Christians today exhibit the same attitudes. This is not merely the

result of poor education or cultural narrowness. Rather, their relationship with God through Christ has not gone deep enough into their heart. Just as in Jonah’s life, God and his love is not their identity’s most fundamental layer. Of course, race is not the only

thing that can block the development of a Christian self-understanding. For example, you may sincerely believe that Jesus died for your sins, and yet your significance and security can be far more grounded in your career and financial worth than in the love of God through Christ. Shallow Christian identities explain why professing Christians can be racists and greedy materialists, addicted to beauty and pleasure, or filled with anxiety and prone to overwork. All this comes because it is not Christ’s love but the world’s power, approval, comfort, and control that are the real roots of our self-identity.

A Self-Blinding Identity

A shallow identity is also one that prevents us from truly seeing ourselves. Here is Jonah, a prophet of God with a privileged position in the covenant community, who is at every turn obtuse, self-absorbed, bigoted, and foolish. Yet he doesn’t seem aware of it at all. Indeed, he seems more blind to his flaws than anyone around him. How can this be?

Jonah reminds us of another biblical figure—Peter. He also had a position of privilege in the faith community. He was one of the intimate friends of Jesus himself, and he was quite proud of the fact. Before Jesus’s arrest, Peter swore that, if persecution came, though the other disciples might abandon Jesus, he would not do so (John 13:37; Matthew 26:35). He said, in effect, “My love and devotion for you is stronger than any of the other disciples’. I’ll be braver than everyone else, no matter what happens.” But he turned out to be a greater coward than the rest, denying Jesus publicly three times. How could Peter have been so blind to who he was?

The answer is that Peter’s most fundamental identity was not rooted as much in Jesus’s gracious love for him as it was in his commitment and love to Jesus. His self-regard was rooted in the level of commitment to Christ that he thought he had achieved. He was confident before God and humanity because, he thought, he was a fully devoted follower of Christ. There are two results of such an identity.

The first is blindness to one’s real self. If you get your sense of worth from how courageous you are, it will be traumatic to admit to any cowardice at all. If your very self is based on your valor, any failure of nerve would mean there would be no “you” left. You would feel you had no worth at all. Indeed, if you base your identity on any kind of

achievement, goodness, or virtue, you will have to live in denial of the depth of your faults and shortcomings. You won’t have an identity secure enough to admit your sins, weaknesses, and flaws.

The second result is hostility, rather than respect, for people who are different. When they came to arrest Jesus, even though Jesus had told them numerous times that this had to happen, Peter pulled out a sword and cut off the ear of one of the soldiers. Any identity based on your own achievement and performance is an insecure one. You are never sure you have done enough. That means, on the one hand, that you cannot be honest with yourself about your own flaws. But it also means that you always need to reinforce it by contrasting yourself with—and being hostile to—those who are different.

Peter and Jonah were proud of their religious devotion and based their self-image on their spiritual achievements. As a result they were both blind to their flaws and sins and hostile to those who were different. Jonah shows no concern for the spiritual plight of the Ninevites, nor any interest in working together with the pagan sailors for the good of all. He treats the pagans not just as different but as “other”—and he is engaging in several kinds of exclusion.

An Excluding Identity

What Jonah is doing is what some have called othering. To categorize people as the Other is to focus on the ways they are different from oneself, to focus on their strangeness and to reduce them to these characteristics until they are dehumanized. We then can say,

“You know how they are,” so we don’t need to engage with them. This makes it possible to exclude them in various ways—by simply ignoring them, or by forcing them to conform to our beliefs and practices, or by requiring them to live in certain poor neighborhoods, or by just driving them out.

We readers are by now beginning to see that Jonah is in desperate need of the very mercy of God that he finds so troubling. Under the power of God’s grace his identity will have to change, as will ours.

The Pattern of Love: Jonah Goes Overboard (1:1115)-

So they said to him, “What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?”— for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy. 12 And he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you.” 13 However, the men rowed desperately to return to land but they could not, for the sea was becoming even stormier against them. 14 Then they called on the LORD and said, “We earnestly pray, O LORD, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood on us; for Thou, O LORD, hast done as Thou hast pleased.” 15 So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging.

“Hurl Me into the Sea”

Once the sailors learn that Jonah is the cause of the storm, they reason that he is also the key to quieting it. They ask him if there is something that should be done with him, in order to calm the storm. Jonah replies that they should hurl him into the sea. Why does he say this? Is he repenting, and simply saying something like “I deserve death for my sin against God—kill me”? Or are his motives the very opposite? Is he saying something like “I would rather die than obey God and go to Nineveh—kill me”? Is he submitting to God or rebelling against God?

The answer is likely somewhere in the middle. There is no reason to think that Jonah’s motives and intentions would be any more orderly and coherent than ours would be in such a moment of peril and crisis. He does not use the language of repentance, nor would it ake sense to think that he could turn from rebellion toward submission to God so quickly. As the rest of the book will show, Jonah’s journey away from self-righteous pride will be a slow one. On the other hand, if he simply wanted to die rather than go to Assyria, he could have killed himself without going on a voyage. The clue to understanding his outlook at this point is embedded in his answer to their question. Notice that he says nothing about God. His concern is elsewhere. He says that if they throw him into the water, “the sea will become quiet for you, for I declare it is on my account that this great storm has come upon you.” Jonah starts to take responsibility for the situation not because he’s looking at God but because he’s looking at them. And this is significant.

As we will see, Jonah refused God’s mission largely because he did not want to extend mercy to pagans. Yet now he views these terrified men before him. They have been calling on their own gods while he has not spoken to his. They have questioned him respectfully, asking him what they should do, rather than simply killing him. They have done nothing wrong at all. As Leslie Allen writes, the character “of the seaman has evidently banished his nonchalant indifference and touched his conscience.”

Jonah may have been moved by nothing higher than pity, but that was far better than contempt. Often the first step in coming to one’s senses spiritually is when we finally start thinking of somebody—anybody—other than ourselves. So he is saying something like this: “You are dying for me, but I should be dying for you. I’m the one with whom God is angry. Throw me in.”

The sailors continue to act admirably when, despite Jonah’s offer, they try to row to shore. Only after they realize that there is no other way to be saved, and only after they acknowledge the gravity of what they are about to do, do they cast Jonah over the side, in fear and trembling and prayer to God.

A number of the most important considerations appear in this verse. Jonah here designated the terrible tempest as an act of God directed against himself on account of his disobedience. He unselfishly offers up his own life to save the lives of the mariners, an action of such nobility as to enroll his name forever among the children of God. In this sacrificial act, he stands as one of the noblest types of our Lord Jesus Christ, this being only one of a great number of particulars in which that relationship appears. Moreover, Jonah here discharges his prophetic office effectually by his promise that as soon as he is cast overboard the sea will be calm to the distressed sailors. Such nobility was not lost upon the anxious sailors, for they tried with all their strength to avoid executing the sentence which Jonah, through inspiration, had passed upon himself.

This is the very heart of one of the most wonderful events that ever took place. Until that hour, Jonah had hated “foreigners”; but in the agony of that great storm, they found their common humanity, and Jonah’s heart went out to them; and his soul was touched because of their unfortunate plight, a situation to which he himself had so effectively contributed. Indeed, he had brought it all upon them. “All that he had fled to avoid happens before his eyes; and through his own mediation, he sees the heathen turn to the fear of the Lord.” Nothing any more wonderful than this ever happened to one of God’s servants!

This very remarkable prayer on the part of the sailors attributes to Jonah an innocence which, at first, surprises us; but this, no doubt, was due to the divine plan. Jonah is a type both of Israel and of the Lord Jesus Christ; and when the Jews insisted upon the crucifixion of our Lord, the Gentiles in the person of Pontius Pilate proclaimed his innocence, even washing his hands and saying, “I am free from the blood of this innocent man.”

Jonah’s experience in being cast overboard is a type of Israel’s casting the Saviour “overboard” by crucifying him on Calvary; and the proclamation on the part of the sailors that Jonah was innocent and that they did not wish God to lay his blood upon them, prefigures the protest of the Gentiles in the person of Pilate when Christ suffered on Calvary. Jonah enacted the part of both types here, insisting upon his being cast overboard, just as Israel insisted upon the death of Christ, but standing also innocent in the eyes of the Gentiles. Of course, Jonah was actually guilty; and Christ was “made sin” upon our behalf.

The Pattern of Substitution

Jonah’s pity arouses in him one of the most primordial of human intuitions, namely, that the truest pattern of love is substitutionary. Jonah is saying, “I’ll fully take the wrath of the waves so you won’t have to.” True love meets the needs of the loved one no matter the cost to oneself. All life-changing love is some kind of substitutionary sacrifice.

For a moment think about parenting. Children need you to read, read, and read more to them—and talk, talk, and talk more to them—if they are going to develop the ability to understand and use language. Their intellectual and social skills, and their emotional well-being, are massively shaped by how much time we spend with our children. This entails sacrifice on the part of the parent. We must disrupt our lives for years. Yet if we don’t do it, they will grow up with all sorts of problems. It’s them or us. We must lose much of our freedom now, or they will not become free, self-sufficient adults later.

There are an infinite number of other examples. Whenever we keep a promise or a vow to someone despite the cost, whenever we forgive someone whom we could pay back, whenever we stay close to a suffering person whose troubles are draining to her and all those around her, we are loving according to the pattern of substitutionary sacrifice. Our loss, whether of money, time, or energy, is their gain. We decrease that they may increase.

Yet in such love we are not diminished, but we become stronger, wiser, happier, and deeper. That’s the pattern of true love, not a so-called love that uses others to meet our needs for self-realization.

We should not be surprised, then, that when God came into the world in Jesus Christ, he loved us like this. Indeed, we can imagine that the reason that this pattern of love is so transformative in human life is because we are created in God’s image, and this is how he loves. The example of Jonah points to this.

The Greater Than Jonah

When Jesus speaks of “the sign of Jonah” and calls himself “greater than Jonah” (Matthew 12:41), he means that, as Jonah was sacrificed to save the sailors, so he would die to save us. Of course, the differences between Jonah and Jesus are many and profound. Jonah was cast out for his own sins, but that was not true of Jesus (Hebrews 4:15). Jonah only came near to death and went under the water, while Jesus actually died and came under the weight of our sin and punishment. Yet the similarity is there too. Jacques Ellul writes about the casting of Jonah into the deep: At this point Jonah takes up the role of the scapegoat. The sacrifice he makes saves them. The sea calms down. He saves them humanly and materially. . . . Jonah is an example, e.g. of the Christian way. . . . What counts is that this story is in reality the precise intimation of an infinitely vaster story and one which concerns us directly. What Jonah could not do, but his attitude announces, is done by Jesus Christ. He it is who accepts total condemnation. . . .

Jonah is not Jesus Christ . . . but he is one of the long line of types of Jesus, each representing an aspect of what the Son of God will be in totality . . . [and] if it is true that the sacrifice of a man who takes his condemnation can save others around him, then this is far more true when the one sacrificed is the Son of God himself. . . . It is solely because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that the sacrifice of Jonah avails and saves.

Jesus summarizes his mission in Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (cf. 1 Timothy 1:15, 2:5–6). The word translated “for” in “a ransom for many” is a “preposition of substitution,” and so the verse means Jesus died on our behalf.  As the hymn says, “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood.” When Jesus Christ first came into this world, bearing our humanity, and later went to the cross, bearing our sin, he became the greatest example and fulfillment of the pattern of true love— substitutionary sacrifice.

“The Sea Ceased from Its Raging”

The moment Jonah went under the water, the storm switched off as suddenly as a light being turned off. We are told that the sea “ceased from its raging” (verse 15). Some might see this as poetic personification, a mere rhetorical flourish, but is that all it is? The “anger” of the storm was a real expression of the anger of God toward his rebellious prophet, which was turned aside when Jonah was cast into the waves. In the same way, Jesus’s sacrifice is called a “propitiation” (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2, 4:10), an old word that means Christ dealt with the wrath of God on sin and evil by standing in our place and bearing the punishment we deserve.

Many today find the idea of an angry God to be distasteful, even though modern people agree widely that to be passionate for justice does entail rightful anger. To deny God’s wrath upon sin not only robs us of a full view of God’s holiness and justice but also can diminish our wonder, love, and praise at what it was that Jesus bore for us. Unlike Jonah, who was being punished only for his own disobedience, Jesus takes the full divine condemnation so there is none left for those who believe (Romans 8:1). He drains the cup of divine justice so there is not a drop left for us (Matthew 26:39,41).

If we read the book of Jonah as a stand-alone text, we could get the impression by this point that the biblical God was ill-tempered and vengeful. But even within the horizon of the entire story, we see that God refrains from giving Jonah all he deserves. Since Jesus is not merely a man but God come to earth, then far from depicting a vindictive deity, the whole Bible shows us a God who comes and bears his own penalty, so great is his mercy.

As we saw previously, Jonah’s whole problem was the same as ours: a conviction that if we fully surrender our will to God, he will not be committed to our good and joy. But here is the ultimate proof that this deeply rooted belief is a lie. A God who substitutes himself for us and suffers so that we may go free is a God you can trust.

Jonah mistrusted the goodness of God, but he didn’t know about the cross. What is our excuse? The impact of all this on the pagan sailors is great. When the sea grows perfectly calm, they are “seized” by a greater “fear” than when they thought they would drown. But this is a qualitatively new kind of fear. It is the fear of “the Lord” (verse 16). The sailors use the covenant name “Yahweh,” the Hebrew personal name that denotes a personal, saving relationship with him. The fear of the Lord is the essence of all saving knowledge and wisdom (e.g., Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10). The sailors immediately begin to offer oaths and sacrifices to the Lord. They thought of him just as Jonah’s tribal deity, but now the deliverance of Jonah helps them see the greatness of who God really is.

Most commentators believe that this means they were converted. Foxhole conversions are notorious. People under duress often make vows to God and offer obeisance when there is impending doom, but after the danger passes, the religious observances and prayers fade away. These men were different. They made their vows after the danger passed. That indicates that they were not seeking God for what he could do for them, but simply for the greatness of who he is in himself. That is the beginning of true faith.

All of this is ironic. Jonah was fleeing God because he did not want to go and show God’s truth to wicked pagans, but that is exactly what he ends up doing. Daniel C. Timmer writes: “Jonah’s anti-missionary activity has ironically resulted in the conversion of non- Israelites.” Another commentator adds: “This carries us farther in the lessons of this book about God’s sovereignty. What God is going to do, he will do.”

As soon as Jonah hits the water, the God whom he did not trust miraculously saves him. This mysterious divine mercy that Jonah finds so inexplicable and offensive turns out to be his only hope. He does not drown. He is swallowed by a great fish. In that prison, Jonah gets his first insights into the meaning and the wonder of God’s grace.


The response of the sailors is incredible. They could hardly believe the boldness with which Jonah had disobeyed God. Their response, “How could you do this?” is reminiscent of Abimelech’s rebuke of Abraham, when he passed Sarah off as his sister (Gen. 20:9). Here is a prophet who is so willful, even the pagans are shocked (cf. 1 Cor. 5:1). There was more to the story Jonah revealed than what is written,[8] but what the sailors knew was enough to petrify them. Remember, the storm is still raging and the ship is threatening to come apart (cf. vs. 4).

The sea continued to become more and more tempestuous. Time was running out. Just as Abimelech required the prayers of Abraham, a somewhat prodigal prophet of God (Gen. 20:7), the sailors could only ask Jonah what to do to appease the wrath of his God. After all, he was a prophet. “So they said to him, ‘What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?’” (Jonah 1:11).

Jonah told the sailors to pick him up and throw him overboard, into the sea, and then the sea would become calm for them (vs. 12). Why did Jonah not just jump into the sea? It seems as though the sailors had to act in obedience to God’s directive through Jonah. Casting him into the sea would surely have meant death to Jonah. Just as the Israelites had to be the instruments of the death of a sinner against God (cf. Lev. 24:1016), so the sailors had to lay hands on Jonah and cast him overboard. In this way, they were dissociating themselves from his rebellion and sin.-

Some of the commentators want to see repentance on Jonah’s part here. Thus we read, He replies at last to a question put to him by the sailors earlier. Yes, he admits his responsibility for the storm. The piety of the seamen has evidently banished his nonchalant indifference and touched his conscience. By now he has realized how terrible is the sin that has provoked this terrible storm. The only way to appease the tempest of Yahweh’s wrath is to abandon himself to it as just deserts for his sin. His willingness to die is an indication that he realizes his guilt before God.

Jonah shows that his repentance is sincere. No longer shall these men suffer for his disobedience. He offers himself as the victim to be sacrificed in order that they might be saved (vs. 12).

No longer does he flee from the Lord! He commits himself, body and soul, to the will of His Lord. Here he shows heroic faith! He is still God’s confiding child, even though he has sinned grievously.[9]

One would think that in such a desperate situation, when the storm grew steadily worse and danger to all increased, that the sailors would have quickly responded to Jonah’s instructions. Instead, they made one final effort to save Jonah’s life. They sought to row to shore, where they would let him off (vs. 13). This was a very risky effort, for the rocky shores, with their hidden reefs, would have been the worst place to be in the midst of the storm. The safest place in a storm is away from shore.[10]

Having made their best efforts to save Jonah, the sailors conclude that his solution is their only alternative. Before casting him into the sea, the sailors pray—again: “We earnestly pray, O LORD, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood on us; for Thou, O LORD, hast done as Thou hast pleased” (Jonah 1:14).

How far these pagans have come. They have forsaken their “gods” for the one true God. They pray to Him before taking the final step with Jonah. And they acknowledge His sovereignty over all. Having thus prayed, they picked up the prophet and cast him into the sea.

Jonah the rebel suffers for his sins (Jonah 1:11-17).

Charles Spurgeon said that God never allows His children to sin successfully, and Jonah is proof of the truth of that statement. “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb. 12:6, nkjv).

We must not make the mistake of calling Jonah a martyr, for the title would be undeserved. Martyrs die for the glory of God, but Jonah offered to die because selfishly he would rather die than obey the will of God!1-8 He shouldn’t be classified with people like Moses (Ex. 32:30-35), Esther (Es. 4:13-17), and Paul (Rom. 9:1-3) who were willing to give their lives to God in order to rescue others. Jonah is to be commended for telling the truth but not for taking his life in his own hands. He should have surrendered his life to the Lord and let Him give the orders. Had he fallen to his knees and confessed his sins to God, Jonah might have seen the storm cease and the door open to a great opportunity for witness on the ship.

It’s significant that the heathen sailors at first rejected Jonah’s offer and began to work harder to save the ship. They did more for Jonah than Jonah had been willing to do for them. When they saw that the cause was hopeless, they asked Jonah’s God for His forgiveness for throwing Jonah into the stormy sea. Sometimes unsaved people put believers to shame by their honesty, sympathy, and sacrifice.

However, these pagan sailors knew some basic theology: the existence of Jonah’s God, His judgment of sin, their own guilt before Him, and His sovereignty over creation. They confessed, “For You, O Lord, have done as You pleased” (Jonah 1:14, niv). However, there’s no evidence that they abandoned their old gods; they merely added Jehovah to their “god shelf.” They threw themselves on God’s mercy and then threw Jonah into the raging sea, and God stopped the storm.

When the storm ceased, the men feared God even more and made vows to Him. How they could offer an animal sacrifice to God on board ship is a puzzle to us, especially since the cargo had been jettisoned; but then we don’t know what the sacrifice was or how it was offered. Perhaps the sense of verse 16 is that they offered the animal to Jehovah and vowed to sacrifice it to Him once they were safe on shore.

The seventeenth century English preacher Jeremy Taylor said, “God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.” He was referring, of course, to being happy with God’s will for our lives. For us to rebel against God’s will, as Jonah did, is to invite the chastening hand of God. That’s why the Westminster Catechism states that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” We glorify God by enjoying His will and doing it from our hearts (Eph. 6:6), and that’s where Jonah failed.

Jonah could say with the psalmist, “The Lord has chastened me severely, but He has not given me over to death” (Ps. 118:18, nkjv). God prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah and protect his life for three days and three nights.1-9 We’ll consider the significance of this later in this study.

The Sea Is Silenced, but Not the Sailors[11] (1:1516)-

15 So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. 16 Then the men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.

As the sailors watch Jonah sink beneath the waves, they note that the winds cease and the sea calms. They immediately grasp that all they had surmised was true. Jonah’s God was the only true God. He had brought the storm on account of Jonah’s running away. And, just as Jonah had spoken, casting him into the sea did still the storm. Thus, the chapter concludes with a report of the sailors’ worship. “Then the men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows” (Jonah 1:16). The pagans have become saints, while the prophet is still a prodigal. In trying to avoid preaching to the Ninevites, Jonah has unwillingly preached to the sailors, and thus they have come to faith in his God.

Three Miracles in This Chapter

There are no less than three miracles in this first chapter: (1) the great tempest which God sent out into the sea, (2) the immediate calm which ensued when Jonah was cast overboard, and (3) the great fish appointed at the right instant to appear and swallow up Jonah. Strangely enough, one finds little objection to the first two of these wonders. Why is that? The same applies to the other miracles that appear subsequently in the narrative, such as (4) the worm, (5) the gourd vine, and (6) the scorching east wind.

DeHaan explained the complacency with which the lesser wonders are received as follows: “The one incident in the Book of Jonah upon which almost all the attacks are leveled is the story of Jonah’s sojourn in the belly of the fish. We hear little objection to the worm, or the supernatural gourd, or the stilling of the storm. The reason for this becomes immediately evident in the fact that Jonah’s experience was a picture of the gospel of the death and the resurrection of Christ! That is why the enemies of Christ can swallow the storm, and the calm, and even the worm and the gourd vine, etc; but the fish, the fish (!) – that is just too big a mouthful for them.”

We conclude the study of this chapter with Deane’s comment regarding the wonders related in it: “The historical nature of these occurrences is substantiated by Christ’s reference to them as a type of his own burial and resurrection. The antitype confirms the truth of the type. It is not credible that Christ would use a mere legendary tale, with no historical basis, to confirm his most solemn statement concerning the momentous fact of his resurrection.”

Before leaving this chapter, it should be noted that Jonah here appeared as a remarkable type of Israel. Christ of course is the “new Israel,” Jonah being also a vivid and instructive type of the Lord Jesus Christ; but it also follows that his life in certain particulars is also typical of the old Israel.

Jonah, a Type of Secular Israel

Both Jonah and Israel were satisfied in Jerusalem, or Samaria.

Both Jonah and Israel despised the Gentiles.

Both Jonah and Israel were unwilling to preach to Gentiles.

For Jonah’s failure, he was “cast overboard”; and for Israel’s failure, they were rejected as “the chosen people.”

Jonah was overruled by God who required him to preach the word to Gentiles; and Israel too in the person of the apostles was required to preach the truth to the Gentiles.

Jonah’s preaching converted many Gentiles; and Israel’s witness to the Gentiles (by the Jewish apostles and Paul) also converted a host of Gentiles.

Jonah was sorely displeased by the Gentiles’ conversion; and secular Israel also stubbornly rejected all allegations that Gentiles should be saved by the gospel.


There are many important lessons to be learned from this first chapter of the Book of Jonah. Let me highlight a few of these lessons and suggest their application to our lives. Our stereotypes of prophets and of pagans do not fit the account of Jonah. One commentator put it this way:

Some stereotyped conventions of the Hebrew religious ideology have been thrown overboard with Jonah. The listeners have been induced to turn completely against an Israelite prophet and to view Gentile dogs with increasing admiration and respect. These attitudes are seeds the narrator has sown to harvest later.[12]

Let’s face it, don’t you find that our text has reversed the heroes and the villains? Going into the chapter, we would have expected Jonah to be the hero, while the heathen sailors would certainly have been expected to be the villains. This was certainly the perspective of Jonah, and of the Israelites, whom he typified. Yet in our text it is the sailors who pray, while Jonah does not. The sailors sought to deal with sin on the ship, not Jonah. The sailors end up worshipping God, not Jonah. The sailors have compassion on Jonah, while he seems to have little concern for the danger in which he has put them. Clearly this chapter turns our expectations insideout.-

My emotional response to this chapter is somewhat similar to what I experienced in the Book of Genesis, related to Jacob and his brother Esau. Esau may have been a godless man, but I find that I like him more than I do Jacob, who is a swindler and a con artist. If I had to choose a nextdoor neighbor between Jacob and Esau, I’d take Esau every time. So, too, with the sailors and Jonah. I would much prefer to have these men as my neighbors than to have Jonah living next door. Only in this case, the sailors are believers in God, unlike Esau.-

Notice the many points of contrast between Jonah and the sailors in the first chapter of Jonah:

Sailors Jonah
Prayed Did not appear to pray
Active to save ship, selves Deep in sleep
Compassion on Jonah Indifferent to sailors, their plight
Tried to save Jonah No great concern to save sailors
Wanted to live Wanted to die
Wanted to find “sin” Wanted to persist in sin
Obedient to what they knew Disobedient though he knew much
Worshipped God No worship
Shuddered at Jonah’s sin Seemingly untouched by his sin
Growing fear of God No evidence of fear

There seems to be one thing on which Jonah and the sailors agreed, and about which both were wrong. Both seemed to think stereotypically and compartmentally. Both were sectarian in their thinking. The questions which the sailors asked reveal their thought process. Their questions, as reported in verse 8, concerned Jonah’s: (1) occupation (“What is your occupation?”); and (2) racial and ethnic origin (“and where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”).

Is it not true that the Israelites became so proud of their ancestry (“We are the seed of Abraham”) and of their priestly status as a nation that they felt more pious than other peoples? And isn’t it Jonah’s nationality and occupation in which he takes pride?

This chapter informs us that these are not the ultimate issues. There are really two principle issues which are crucial to God. The first issue is “loving God,” the second, “loving man.” Jonah would have shown his love for God by obeying him. Jonah did not obey, and showed himself to lack the love for God which the law required. Secondly, Jonah did not love men, as is reflected by his lack of compassion for the sailors.

In the New Testament, our Lord reiterates these two priorities—loving God and loving men—as the essence of the Old Testament law, and of the New Covenant as well (cf. Matt. 22:3440). Jesus told His disciples that if they loved Him, they would keep His commands and they would love one another (cf. John 13:34; 14:15; 15:9-13).-

It should not come as a surprise to us that in the gospels the religious leaders of Israel, like Jonah the prophet, were the “bad guys” rather than the “good guys.” Jonah prophetically prototypes the wickedness of Israel’s leaders in the days of our Lord. While we would have expected them to welcome Jesus, they rejected Him, and instigated His death. These were those who “devoured widows’ houses,” and were thus the objects of His most severe rebuke (cf. Matt. 23).

Jonah 1 reminds us that God is not concerned about our race, our origins, or our occupation, but with what we are doing with what He has commanded us to do. As the Apostle Paul tells us, God is not as interested in whether or not we possess the law (as the Jews) as He is with whether or not we practice it.

11 For there is no partiality with God. 12 For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law; and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; 13 for not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.

17 But if you bear the name “Jew,” and rely upon the Law, and boast in God, 18 and know His will, and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, 19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, 21 you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one should not steal, do you steal? (Rom 2:11-21)

Paul’s point is simply that possessing the Law and preaching it, as the Jews did, is not enough. Men must obey the law. Jonah, like the Israelites of his day, prided himself in the possession of the Law, but did not practice it. Thus, the heathen sailors are the heroes of our story because they practiced all that they knew to be God’s will, while Jonah disobeyed God’s command given to him.

The sailors were saved (both physically and spiritually, I believe) because they obeyed what they knew to be God’s will, and thus the “gospel” for them. They had learned that their “gods” were nogods, that they could not answer their prayers nor could they control the sea. They knew that sin brought divine judgment. They learned that the God of Israel was the Creator of heaven and earth. And they were told that they would be saved by the “death” of Jonah, a Jew.-

The gospel for men and women today is the same, in principle, but more specific. Jesus Christ is truly God, the Creator and Sustainer of all creation (cf. Col. 1:1617). It is through faith in Christ, in His death, burial, and resurrection, that we are saved. We, like the sailors on board that ship, are in danger of divine judgment. We, like them, are saved by the death of another, a Jew. Jesus Christ bore the wrath of God so that we might be saved. Jonah, like Jesus, died and thus others were saved. Unlike Jonah, Jesus was sinless, and He voluntarily gave up His life on the cross of Calvary to save all who would believe in Him.-

Let the faith of these sailors serve as a lesson to us that hypocrisy is no excuse for unbelief. Jonah was a hypocrite, and I believe that the sailors learned this. Nevertheless, Jonah’s hypocrisy did not keep these sailors from trusting in God and obeying His word. Jonah’s failure to abide by God’s word did not keep the Gentile sailors from doing so. Do not attempt to excuse your disobedience to God by pointing to the disobedience of one of God’s children. We all are accountable only for obeying what God has commanded us to do.

Sin endangers others and thus must be removed. Jonah was lifethreatening to the sailors. His sin prompted the wrath of God and all who were on board that ship with him were in great danger. It was only by casting Jonah overboard that the sailors were saved.-

What a beautiful illustration of church discipline we have in this story. Just as Jonah’s sin endangered the entire ship, so the sin of a saint endangers and corrupts the entire church. As Paul put it, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6). Thus, for the church to fail to deal with the sins of one of its members is to endanger the whole church. Just as Jonah had to be thrown overboard, so the willful, wayward saint must be “put out” (cf. 1 Cor. 5:5, 913).-

It is not our position nor our profession, but our practice that proves us to be the children of God. Those who held the highest positions were often those who were most disobedient to their calling. To whom much is given, much is required. May we be unlike Jonah, who disobeyed what he knew, and rather be like the sailors, who obeyed all that they knew to be the will of God.

 “Having peace” is not always proof of being in the will of God. Jonah rested peacefully in the hold of the ship, but no one was ever more clearly disobedient to the will of God. While it is true that “having peace” may be an evidence of being in the will of God, it is not always so. Jonah’s peace was the result of a hardened heart and a seared conscience. Those in such a spiritual state feel secure in times of greatest danger.

The sins of which we have been speaking have symptoms, which should be noted by all saints. The following are some of the symptoms of Jonah’s sins of which we should take note:

  1. Lack of prayer
  2. Absence of joy and praise
  3. Lack of appreciation for life / death looks good
  4. Lack of sensitivity to sin in one’s life
  5. Lack of sensitivity to consequences of one’s sin for others
  6. Lack of compassion for others
  7. Disobedience to the clear commands of God


May these symptoms not be present in our lives, and if they are present, may we deal with them seriously.

[1] “Nineveh’s wickedness comprised, besides her idolatry, her inordinate pride (cp. Is. 10:5-19; 36:18-20), and her cruel oppression of the conquered nations in deporting the entire populace to distant lands (2 Kings 15:29; 17:6; Is. 36:16, 17), her inhuman warfare.” Theodore Laetsch, The Minor Prophets (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1956), p. 221.

[2] “His intention to flee to Tarshish, an ancient Phoenician colony on the southwest coast of Spain, the farthest city to the west known at that time, ‘out of the world.’” Ibid., p. 221.

[3] “He fled ‘from the presence of the LORD.’ To stand in the presence of someone is often used in the sense of acting as one’s official minister. (Cp. Gen. 41:46; Deut. 1:38; 10:8; 1 Sam. 16:21f.; 1 Kings 17:1; 18:15; 2 Kings 3:14, etc.) To flee from His presence = to refuse to serve Him in this office.” Ibid., p. 222.

[4] “‘Fast asleep,’ used only in Niphal, denotes lying in deep, stupor-like sleep (Jonah 1:5, 6; Ps. 76:7, A.V., 6), ‘dead sleep’ (Judg. 4:21; Dan. 8:18; 10:9); the noun occurs in Gen. 2:21; 15:12; Prov. 19:15, etc.” Ibid., p. 223.

[5] “Get up and call … —Jonah must have thought he was having a nightmare: these were the very words with which God had disturbed his pleasant life a few days before.” Allen, pp. 207-208.

[6] “‘I am a Hebrew,’ the usual term by which Israelites were known to foreigners (Gen. 14:13; 39:14, 17; 1 Sam. 29:3; Acts 6:1).” Laetsch, p. 225.

[7] “The epithet God of heaven which Jonah appends to the divine name, although an ancient one (Gen. 24:3, 7), sprang into popularity in the Persian period after the exile. It identified Yahweh as the supreme deity, the ultimate source of all power and authority. Jews used it especially in contacts with Gentiles, who it was assumed possessed a knowledge of Yahweh’s universal sovereignty as distinct from the Jews’ insight into the purposes of Yahweh as ‘God of our fathers.’ By this title Yahweh is presented as no mere local deity, but one to whom all peoples may look for help. This universalistic note is reinforced by the claim that Yahweh is maker of land and sea.” Allen, pp. 209-210.

[8] Ibid., pp. 210-211. Allen seems to modify this somewhat in his footnote, not making Jonah much of a hero, for he is the villain, but I see Jonah as simply wanting out of his duty by death, as he tried to escape by flight. His suicidal plea later on in chapter 4 adds weight to this possibility.

[9] Laetsch, p. 227.

[10] Why didn’t God save Jonah through the efforts of the seamen? Allen (p. 211) rightly, I think, suggests that it is because He wants Jonah to know that He has saved him by a miraculous act of pure grace. Jonah needs a “salvation” that will parallel that which the Ninevites will receive. Jonah will delight in his deliverance, but not in that of the Ninevites.

[11] I have to smile at the title which Allen (p. 205) gives in his heading of vv. 4-16, “Jonah’s Punishment: Heathen Homage.”

[12] Allen, p. 212.

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Posted by on April 28, 2022 in Encounters with God

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