I. The Prophet’s Rebellion (Jonah 1:1-17)


I. The Prophet’s Rebellion (1:1-17)

1:1-3 One day during the eighth century BC, God reached down into the school of the prophets—which included Jonah, Amos, and Hosea in the northern kingdom of Israel—and told Jonah to go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because of their evil (1:1-2). Instead, Jonah went to Joppa, looking for a boat to Tarshish (1:3). So, rather than buying a ticket for Nineveh, he was heading in the opposite direction. Jonah was a rebel, a man who didn’t like what God told him to do.

There are a couple of reasons why Jonah didn’t want to obey God. First, the Ninevites were a wicked, violent people who showed their enemies no mercy. They would torture you, kill you, put your corpse on display, and later paint pictures to document their atrocities. “I’m not going to Nineveh. They slaughter people there,” may have seemed the practical choice from Jonah’s perspective (see the book of Nahum). The second reason Jonah disobeyed God is made clear in 4:1-2. He didn’t want to preach to these people because he was afraid they might actually repent and be forgiven! Nineveh was a major city of the Assyrian Empire, and if its citizens were to escape God’s judgment, they could eventually conquer Israel. So Jonah preferred to let God rain fiery wrath on them. He wanted them destroyed.

Do you have any “Ninevites” in your life—someone with whom God would want you to share the gospel, but to whom you refuse to go? Is there anyone who has done you wrong so that you’d prefer to see him judged rather than forgiven? That’s how Jonah felt.

That Jonah fled from the Lord’s presence (1:3) is interesting. Clearly, Jonah was no theological fool. He was a prophet, and he knew that God is everywhere. No one can flee from his presence really. But Jonah didn’t want to submit to God’s will because he didn’t like God’s plan. Therefore, he was fleeing from God’s demands, which meant he was breaking fellowship with God.

If you’re in God’s will, he always supplies what he demands—that is, he picks up the tab and provides what’s needed. But, when Jonah ran from the will of God, he paid the fare himself (1:3). Running from God’s agenda can cost you time, money, health, peace, and joy. But make no mistake: it will cost you.

1:4 These days we hear much about “Mother Nature” but little about Father God. He’s the one who threw a great wind against Jonah. When you’re running from God and things get windy, that’s not a chance event. If you’re a Christian and rebelling against God, he’s coming after you. And one of the ways he does this is through circumstances. The negative circumstances in your life may be a storm with your name on it.

1:5 The sailors were afraid and threw the ship’s cargo into the sea to lighten the load. When Jonah disobeyed God, he not only messed up his own life but also the lives of those around him. If you think your sin only affects you, you’re wrong. When we run from God, the same storms we cause hit the people in our vicinities.

1:6 Jonah was asleep in the midst of the storm. You can get so far out of the will of God that you sleep through a storm designed to discipline you. The captain roused him from his slumber and urged him to call on his god so that they wouldn’t perish. Notice the irony: the pagan sailor was telling the preacher to pray! When Jonah wouldn’t respond to discipline, the Lord rebuked him through an unbeliever.

1:7-10 The sailors decided to cast lots (a practice like rolling dice) to see who was the cause of their problems. In God’s providence, this led them to Jonah. The prophet told them that he was a Hebrew who worshiped the Lord, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land (1:9). And when they heard that, they were terrified. It was clear to them that Jonah had made his God, the one who was apparently trying to kill them with the power of his sea, unhappy by fleeing (1:10).

1:11-17 Though they attempted to avoid Jonah’s counsel at first (1:11-13), eventually they gave in and threw him into the sea. As a result, it stopped its raging (1:15). The problem that was causing their trouble was spiritual, not merely meteorological or social. And the same is true for many of your problems. Often, solutions have to be based on a spiritual perspective.

These sailors, who earlier were praying to their false gods (1:5), suddenly called out to the Lord . . . offered a sacrifice to him, and made vows (1:14, 16). Within their actions is a reminder that God is sovereign—even when you are out of his will. Your disobedience doesn’t stop his agenda; he will accomplish his purposes. The Lord used Jonah’s disobedience to make these sinning sailors pray to him. So, even in our rebellion, God can accomplish his work. Ultimately, you don’t determine what God accomplishes; you only determine where you fit in the plan.

Jonah was still unwilling to submit to God. He was willing to choose death instead (1:12, 15). But, once again, God wouldn’t let him escape: The Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah (1:17). When you’re running from a particular aspect of your calling, God will send circumstances, and they will find you. The wind obeyed, the sea obeyed, and the fish obeyed. But there was still a problem with the preacher.