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JONAH 1:1-16
Series:  Jonah:  Lessons in the Sovereignty of God - Part One

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
June 3, 2001

Today we’re beginning a series of messages from the Book of Jonah - which we’ve entitled “Jonah - Lessons in the Sovereignty of God.” I invite you turn with me to Jonah, chapter one.

Almost every night before our kids go to bed we try to read a Bible story with them. Right now, one of the favorite bedtime stories is “the fish.” Often - when people think Jonah - they remember that a fish swallowed Jonah and spit him out on the beach.

The Book of Jonah is much deeper. It touches the core of our relationship with God - the issue of who is in sovereign over our lives. The Book of Jonah is a four chapters long look into the heart of a strong-willed man of God struggling with obedience to God’s will. Put another way. There are times when God calls us to do for Him things which confront us with who is really in charge - God or us.

Those who know God - and are seeking to grow in our relationship with God - and are honest about our hearts before God - are very mindful that we struggle constantly to live within the will of God - to live in obedience to His command over our lives. The study of Jonah is crucial in our learning how to live with God sovereign over our lives.

Jonah 1:1: The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.”

Jonah is a real account about a real person - not a myth or legend. In 2 Kings 14:25, Jonah is identified as he is here - Jonah is the son of Amittai. 2 Kings 14 tells us that Jonah was a real man - a prophet of God who served faithfully in Israel during the reign of King Jeroboam II - from about 800 to 750 B.C. He was a contemporary of the prophets Elisha and Amos. And, during reign of this evil - idolatrous - immoral - King Jeroboam II, God used Jonah to speak His word and prophesy about events happening in Israel. Here in Jonah, chapter one, God now speaks to Jonah and tells him to go and speak God’s word to the people of Ninevah.

Verse 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.

God tells Jonah to go 500 miles east to Nineveh and preach judgment - to call the Ninevites to repentance. Jonah goes the opposite direction - rushing down to the port of Joppa - paying for his ticket - boarding a ship and heading to Tarshish. Tarshish was at the extreme western edge of the known world - a fishing village on the coast of Spain. A year-and-a-half journey away from the doing of God’s will.

There’s a very understandable reason why Jonah ran in the opposite direction. In chapter 4:2, Jonah says to God, “Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? - while I was in Israel? Therefore in order to forestall this - the repentance of the Ninevites - I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.”

Jonah knows his Scripture. What Jonah tells God is a quote from Exodus 34:6 - a passage where God is talking with Moses about His own character. What Jonah fears is that if he - Jonah - goes and preaches to the people of Nineveh - they’ll repent - and then God will forgive them and hold back His wrath.

Nineveh - in Jonah’s day - was a major world-class city - a large important metropolitan area in the Assyrian Empire. Assyria being the world power in that day. It was rich - powerful - wicked - evil - Godless. It was an empire known for its cruelty and violence - brutal - fierce - feared and dreaded by the peoples of that day. They tortured those they conquered. Inhabitants of entire towns would commit suicide rather than be captured by the Assyrians.

Assyria was a very real threat to Israel - Jonah’s people. As Assyria moved to conquer Israel Jonah may have witnessed first hand the brutality of the Assyrians. The bottom line is that Jonah hates the Ninevites. The last thing he wants to see happen is God forgiving and blessing them.

There’s a tremendous struggle of wills here. Its one thing to be a prophet to your own people - used by God to speak words of blessing - encouragement - guidance. That’s what prophets of God did in Jonah’s day. They spoke God’s word to God’s people. Jonah understood that and it was fine when God commanded him to do that.

But this last command just doesn’t make sense. “Preach salvation to my enemies? No way God. That’s just not going to happen.”

There’s a little bit of Jonah in each one of us. Doing God’s will is okay as long as it fits within what we think God should be doing. But, when we don’t understand what God is doing we resist doing His will - His sovereignty over our lives.

Doug Goins, a pastor down at Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, shares about an encounter he had with two German Christians. One man was a doctor from West Germany the other a businessman from East Germany. Doug Goins shares that this doctor from West Germany had difficulty in accepting the recently converted East German businessman as a brother in Christ. The Berlin wall had come down and the nation had been reunified and both of these men were members of the same country. The problem in accepting this East German man was that - before reunification - the businessman had served in the East German army as a Communist party official and was suspected of being a member of the Stazi - the East German secret police.

The mistrust goes deeper - farther back than current events - to the Middle Ages - going back for generations. The businessman is Pomeranian - born in the Baltic northeast of the country, and the doctor is Bavarian - from the Black Forest. Both the businessman and the doctor - even as brothers in Christ - struggled to set aside history and prejudice and accept unity in Christ.

We see this within our own people. Those from the communist days in Armenia - who worked for the KGB - now believers in Jesus Christ - mistrusted by others. Those of the unregistered - underground - church learning to minister side-by-side with those from the registered church.

In many churches today - if people do not fit within the box - the parameters of what is understandable - acceptable to us - because of culture - ethnicity - background - education - standard of living - how they look and dress - name whatever the reason - we very subtly, or in many not so subtly ways, exclude them. It is a sad reality in many of our Armenian churches that we are only interested in attracting “our” people rather than reaching our entire nation, and even those around us who are not in our nation, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Ultimately Jonah’s greatest struggle is with Jonah. Jonah’s idol is Jonah. He wants his calling his way. His relationship with God on his terms. We want our church our way. Our relationship with God on our terms. We struggle with the sovereignty of God over our lives.

Jonah gets on a ship heading for Tarshish. We can almost see him there standing at the railing as the ship pulls away from the dock. Streamers going between passengers and those remaining on the dock - something like a scene from the Love Boat. Jonah is looking forward to a long relaxing Mediterranean cruise. He’s finished with God. He’s finished with being God’s prophet. He’s leaving all that behind.

Verse 4 - God is not finished with Jonah yet. Verse 4: 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. 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.

There’s terror here - panic. This storm goes beyond anything that any of these sea-hardened sailors has ever experienced. And notice this also - as they’re running around throwing cargo overboard and crying out to their god - Jonah - the one man who could have cried out to the one true God - is no where to be found.

Verse 5: But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep. So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping? How can you sleep through a storm like this? We’re in major trouble here. Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.”

So Jonah comes up on deck in the midst of this great storm. But - despite the desperate cries of the sailors - despite the fact that the ship is coming apart - despite the ship going under - Jonah doesn’t pray.

Verse 7: 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. And 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?” Are you the one who’s offended his god?

Verse 9: He - Jonah - said to them, “I am Hebrew, and I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.”

Jonah’s response is a simple statement of fact. It’s my God who’s doing this. He made the sea that’s pulling us under and He made the land you’d like to be on. Its almost a creedal statement. Like we would recite the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed. But, without passion - without conviction - without concern that these sailors would understand who God is. He’s just answering a question.

Verse 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.

Imagine their fear. There on the deck in the midst of that storm. “Jonah - if your god is doing all this - you’re nuts to run away from him. Pray man! Pray! Get your god to stop all this!” But again Jonah - God’s man - doesn’t pray. In fact, in this whole first chapter he never prays. In his rebellion Jonah is willing to let the people of Nineveh and these sailors die, ignorant of God’s salvation.

Verse 11: 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. 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.”

Jonah is beginning to realize the power of the sovereign God moving in His life. He’s not going to Tarshish. The only solution Jonah sees is to get off the ship. Of course Jonah could have repented there and then and asked the sailors to turn the ship around. But, Jonah is still focused on Jonah and doing things Jonah’s way.

Verse 13: However, the men rowed desperately to return to land but they could not, for the sea was becoming even stormier against them. 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 You, O Lord, have done as You have pleased.”

“What’s going here is between you and Jonah. Don’t hold us accountable when we throw him overboard.”

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

There are two points of application that I’d like to highlight - lessons for us in the sovereignty of God over our lives.


There are times when God speaks to us through an audible voice or through conviction in our hearts. God speaks to us through the Godly counsel of others. God speaks to us through His word - the Bible. Jonah was given a direct - unmistakable command from God and Jonah deliberately disobeyed.

There have been times when I have heard God speaking very clearly to me. I can share with you from personal experience, whenever I have disobeyed His clear instructions it has resulted in tragedy. Whenever I have obeyed, God has done what I never thought was possible.

Second point of application: OUR DISOBEDIENCE TO GOD ALWAYS EFFECTS OTHERS. When we refuse to obey God - like Jonah - we drag others down into our whirlpool of sin.

Even the sins that we do in secret - the thoughts we hide - the actions we hope no one will notice - our secret acts of rebellion - our self-idolatry that places our will ahead of God. Disobedience blocks the flow of God’s power in our lives. Sin alters our attitudes and thoughts and so our actions. Our sin effects our children - our spouses - our witness at work and in the community - our relationship and effectiveness as the Body of Christ. Souls are lost for eternity because we’ve failed to obey God.

This morning - let me encourage you to do two things. Between you and God. Spend time this week in prayer and ask God to show you the Nineveh He has for your life - His will - His calling for you. That may be an uncomfortable - faith stretching action of trust - that will cause you to discover new truths about God.

Second - pray and ask God to show you your Tarshish. Ask Him to help you examine any patterns of escape or disobedience. What are you doing to run away from God’s clear command in your life?

May we be open to what He wills to do in us and through us even if it doesn’t fit our version of what God should do.