Wednesday, February 15, 2012


There is one window that was prepared for the sanctuary at Chapel by the Sea that is not here today. Do you know that story?

The artist made a window of a whale, and the Reverend Don Javfert refused to let the church pay for it because there are no whales in our local waters. The artist told Don, “I’ve already made it. What should I do with it.” Don said he didn’t care, because it belonged to the artist, not the church.”

So the artist gave the window to Don, and Don put it in his house here at Fr Myers Beach, where I assume it still is.

That is the one thing everyone knows about Jonah, he was shallowed by the whale.

Though it is often called a whale today, the Hebrew, as throughout scripture, refers to no species in particular, simply sufficing with "great fish" or "big fish" (whales are today classified as mammals and not fish, but no such distinction was made in antiquity).

While some Bible scholars suggest the size and habits of the great white shark seem better fit for Jonah’s story of being swallowed, normally an adult human is too large to be swallowed whole.

Other scholars instead argue that the fish might instead be a reference to the basking shark.

In Jonah 2:1 (1:17 in English translation), the original Hebrew text reads dag gadol (דג גדול), which literally means "big fish." When the Old Testament was translated in Greek, it was rendered as ketos megas (κητος μεγας). The term ketos alone means "huge fish." When Jerome translated the book into Latin, he used the Greek translation of Jonah and translated ketos as cetus, which over time became a word that specifically means whale.


This is one of the Bible stories most ridiculed by nonChristians. Skeptics say that no whale could swallow a man in the first place, and, even if he did, the man would certainly never survive three days and three nights in his belly, as the Bible claims.

There are different approaches:

1. It is only an allegory. It was never meant to be understood as actual history. However, whenever the Bible writers used allegories or parables or other symbolic stories, they always either said so or else made it evident in the context. The book of Jonah is certainly written as though it were actual history. Jonah was a real prophet. He is mentioned also in II Kings 14:25. None of the ancient Jews or early Christians ever doubted the authenticity and historicity of the book of Jonah and its story.

2. It is a miracle. To deny miracles is to deny God’s power.


1. NATURAL. In the first place, it has been well established that the phrase "three days and three nights" in ancient Hebrew usage was an idiomatic expression meaning simply “three days,” and was applicable even if the beginning and ending days of the period were only partial days. Thus it could refer to a period as short as about 38 hours. There is always some air in the whale's stomach, and, as long as the animal it has swallowed is still alive, digestive activity will not begin. Thus, Jonah's experience could possibly have happened entirely with the framework of natural law.

2. MIRACLE. It is much more likely, however, that the event involved a divine miracle, as the Scripture strongly implies. The “great fish” was prepared and sent by God, as was the intense storm that threatened the ship on which Jonah was traveling. The storm ceased as soon as Jonah was cast overboard (Jonah 1:4, 15). In like manner, it was quite probable that God preserved Jonah's life miraculously all through the horrifying experience.

3. RESURRECTION. A third possibility is that Jonah actually suffocated and died in the great fish and then God later brought him back from the dead. There are at least eight other such “resurrections” recorded in the Bible, as well as the glorious bodily resurrection of Christ—of which Jonah's experience in particular was said by Christ to be a prophetic sign.

Let's take a look at this book. Turn to Jonah 1:1-3

Jonah 1:1-3

1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai:

2 "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me."

3 But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD.


We are usually pretty hard on old Jonah. But let's remember what he waws being asked to do. He was asked to go tell off Ninevah in the name of God.

Ninevah was not your average city. It was the capital of Assyria.

And Assyria was not your average empire.

Let me read read an average report from one of their military leaders, Assurnasirpal...

"At Kinabu, 600 of their warriors I put to the sword. 3,000 captives I burned with fire. I did not leave one among them alive as a hostage. Their corpses I formed into pillars. Their young men and maidens I burned in the fire. Their governor (I caqptured alive and removed his skin and placed his skin on the city wall). "From some I cut off their hands and their fingers. From others I cut off their noses, their ears, and from many I put out their eyes (WTB Prophets 34)

This is not an EXTREME example of Assyrian cruelty. It was typical. I could easily give more graphic, more grusesome descriptions of what the Assyrians were like.

Now do you think that you would have appreciated it if GOD had told YOU to go and tell a message of judgment to THESE kind of people? Jonah could feel his nose coming off already!

Let’s try to imagine this in more modern terms.

Imagine a Jew whose family has been captured by the Nazis and sent to one of the concentration camps.

Now imagine that God tells this one Jew, “I want you to go to Berlin and tell Hitler that I’m sending judgment for his wickedness.”

Jonah was not stupid. In fact, he acted like any sane person would have. Ninevah is to the East, he takes the next bus to the West.

Not only does he NOT go to Ninevah, he goes in the complete opposite direction.

He takes a boat ride, and while what follows is familiar even to our children. He wants to seek out the familiar and the comfortable, but instead he encounters distress and trouble, and this moves us into the second part of our outline, the Distress of Jonah. Let's read what happens next.

Someone read Jonah 1:4-10

Jonah 1:4-17

4 Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.

5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep.

6 The captain went to him and said, "How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish."

7 Then the sailors said to each other, "Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity." They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.

8 So they asked him, "Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?"

9 He answered, "I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land."

10 This terrified them and they asked, "What have you done?" (They knew he was running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.)

Jonah tried to hide from God, but one cannot hide from God, for there is no place where God does not exist.

Let’s take a look at Psalm 139…

7 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.

Let's continue our look at Jonah, with chapter 1:11-17

11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, "What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?"

12 "Pick me up and throw me into the sea," he replied, "and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you."

13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before.

14 Then they cried to the LORD, "O LORD, please do not let us die for taking this man's life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O LORD, have done as you pleased."

15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm.

16 At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him.

Think about the faith of these people.

Jonah is the theologian. He knows ABOUT God, but he does not talk TO God in this part of the book.

The sailors know nothing about God, they worship their own gods and idols, but they instinctively know there is a God and they talk with God.

The narrative is more complementary to the faith of the sailors than the faith of the prophet.

17 But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.


1 [a]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 deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.
3 You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.
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,[b]
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, LORD my God,
brought my life up from the pit.

7 “When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, LORD,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.

8 “Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD.’”

There is a pattern here –

1. Distress

“In my distress I called to the LORD,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.

2. Deliverance

6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, LORD my God,
brought my life up from the pit.

3. Declaration of praise.

9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD.’”

Jonah is in the fish, and repents.

The next part is not something you want to see filmed in any graphic sense.

Read Jonah 2:10

10 And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.


Again, this fish was under the authority of God.

Jonah is free again.

Let's pick up with verse 1 of chapter 3 and continue through verse 3.

1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time:

2 "Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you."

3 Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city-- a visit required three days.

Now we move to the third part of our outline, the Declaration of Jonah...

4 On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned."

Imagine going to Hitler in Nazi Germany. Or to a modern dictator today.

You could guess what would happen. You'd be laughed at, at best. Killed or mutilated very possibly. But Ninevah does a strange, strange thing. Something very few preachers expect their congregation to do. They listen to the sermon!

Read, verses 5-10

5 The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust.

7 Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh: "By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink.

8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.

9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish."

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.


That makes a great book right there.

God tells Jonah to go and preach, but Jonah is disobedient.

God puts Jonah in distress until he repents and agrees to go to Nineveh.

Jonah makes his declaration to Ninevah and Ninevah repents and is saved.

Perfect ending to a good, short story.

But Jonah's book continues, moving us into the fourth and final section of the outline, the displeasure of Jonah.

How did Jonah respond to the fact that he, as a preacher, preached a word that was listened to? How did Jonah respond to the fact that as a man of God, people turned back to God?

Jonah was unhappy and angry.

Read verses 4:1-3

1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.

2 He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.

3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."

Why did Jonah flee from God to begin with?

At first, our impression is that he doesn't want to go to Ninevah.

That may or may not have been accurate.

Jonah says, long after the fact when he may or may not have revised his personal memory of the event, that he did it because he was afraid Ninevah would repent.

Jonah did not want Ninevah to repent.

Jonah was a racist and a bigot.

Just like many people wanted Germany destroyed after World War I and World War II, Jonah wants the enemies of his nation destroyed.

What would happen if all of Al Quadda repented tomorrow and professed Christ? Many Americans, including Christians, would still want revenge for 9-11

But instead of being destroyed, the people of Ninevah have repented. And God has had mercy on them.

Read verse 4

4 But the LORD replied, "Have you any right to be angry?"

Jonah does not answer God, because he knows there is no answer. He knows he has no right to be angry. So this is what he does.

5 Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.

6 Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine.

7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered.

8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, "It would be better for me to die than to live."

9 But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?" "I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die."

10 But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight.

11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?"

Jonah could be concerned about a vine that died. God explained he could certainly be concerned about a city that included 120,000 repentant, thus innocent people.

Then the book ends.

It ends abruptly. God asks Jonah a question and there is no hint of an answer. Because it is not so important as to how Jonah responded, as it is how God responded.

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