The Depth of Wickedness in Man

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Last week, we reaffirmed that we are privileged to play a part in God’s plan for humanity. Whatever that role may be, we’re part of getting accomplished what God wants to accomplish. Our motives should be pure and holy as we seek to fulfill the purpose He has for our lives. Do right in all facets of life because it’s the right thing to do. Be obedient to His leading, but line His leading up with Scripture. We quickly covered a number of principles for daily living that we’ve seen before in Proverbs. We finished last week talking about a contentious woman. If the woman in your life is contentious, show her the unconditional love of Christ. If you’re the contentious woman, allow the power of God to transform your life. This morning, we’ll see the depth of depravity that’s present in the wicked.

Take a look at what Solomon says in Pro. 21:10-19. Where does wickedness come from? I think that’s a good place to start. We need to understand the foundation for wickedness that is present in man. People born into this world don’t need to make a conscious effort to do wrong – it comes naturally. We’re born with the sin nature that is passed from father to son from generation to generation. We saw this a couple of weeks ago when we looked at Rom. 5:19a that told us, “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners.” Remember, “There is none righteous, not even one.” (Rom. 3:10) Sin is the lost person’s master and you have to do what the master says.

Wicked people do wicked things because they have no power to do otherwise. Of course, they can do things that society would call good, but goodness evaluated by a morally bankrupt culture is not the standard. I know that sounds harsh, but we’ve got share the truth of Scripture so people are aware of where they are. Eternity’s too long not to tell the truth. The wickedness is formed in the soul at conception because of Adam’s disobedience. That’s why, “The soul of the wicked desires evil.” Desire can also be translated crave. Evil dominates the thoughts and plans of the wicked. Remember what led to the flood: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5) Remember the second greatest commandment Jesus referred to in Matt. 22:36-40? He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The wicked have no favor for their neighbor.

Let’s do some quick review. V. 11 says, “When the scoffer is punished, the naive becomes wise; but when the wise is instructed, he receives knowledge.” It’s the same principle we saw in 19:25. When people see that others are held accountable for their actions, it will deter bad decisions. That’s one of the reasons the news reports sentencing for high profile crimes. Wise people make themselves available to learn and are willing to receive instruction. This leads into the next verse, “The righteous one considers the house of the wicked, turning the wicked to ruin.” Even though there may be short term gain for wickedness, the righteous wants to avoid the pain and suffering that comes with it. The righteous remember Pro. 12:7 where Solomon said, “The wicked are overthrown and are no more, but the house of the righteous will stand.” No amount of prosperity or comfort in this world will turn the righteous from following God. I’m sure this next verse has been used to justify all sorts of pseudo outreach programs. “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered.” This is a verse that speaks to mercy, but it can’t stop there. It’s great to feed people who are hungry and clothe people that are naked, but if that’s where you stop, it’s just a good thing to do. The Gospel must be intentionally woven into that work for it to be a work of God. Our primary goal as a church is to make disciples, but if all we do is feed hungry people, we’ve missed the goal established for us by Jesus Himself. This verse speaks to the cry of the poor being ignored. If we ignore the plight of those in poverty, then our cries will not be heard. Remember Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matt. 5:7)

The next verse is not an endorsement to bribery. A gift in secret subdues anger, and a bribe in the bosom, strong wrath.” Gifts are often appropriate, especially when given in private. If you make a big show of giving someone a gift, then the emphasis is on the giver instead of the receiver. If a bribe is offered to subvert justice, that is clearly unbiblical and must be avoided. “The exercise of justice is joy for the righteous, but is terror to the workers of iniquity.” This make sense, right? If you are righteous, and the only way to be righteous is through the blood of Christ, you want to see justice done. This is the justice dispensed by our government: you want to see right things accomplished and wrong things squashed. So, the next obvious question is, right according to who? We must stick to the unchanging standard of God’s Word. There may be amendments to the U.S. Constitution, but there are none to the Bible.

“A man who wanders from the way of understanding will rest in the assembly of the dead.” The path of righteousness is a straight and narrow path. Last October, Kari and I were in the mountains of NC and we went hiking. What’s nice about hiking off the Blue Ridge Parkway is the hiking trails are marked. If you get off the marked path, chances are good you’ll get lost. If you stay on the path, you won’t get lost. This is the metaphor Solomon is using. If you get off the path of understanding, you’ll end up with the dead because you will be dead. In Matt. 7:13 Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” There are no alternate paths to righteousness. It is only God’s way through Jesus.

“He who loves pleasure will become a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not become rich.” I could spend a whole lot of time here because this is sure a verse for today. The pursuit of pleasure drives many people – even in the church. Solomon is not just talking about pursuing pleasure, but coveting pleasure. Now there’s nothing wrong with having a good time, but if that’s your focus, something’s wrong. If you’re looking for the next fun thing, the next thing to entertain you, the next thing to wow you, Solomon says that you will become poor. Solomon also says, “He who loves wine and oil will not become rich.” At the risk of being labeled old fashioned, I think this loving wine thing is an epidemic in the church. I know I spent a lot of time on 20:1, but Solomon addresses the topic again. Do you look as forward to getting into God’s Word as you do having that glass of wine? The oil in this verse refers to olive oil. This seems a strange addition to the wine. Wine and oil were common at banquets. Overall Solomon is saying if you pursue pleasure and luxury, you’re going to be poor. Turn over to 2 Tim. 3 and we’ll tie up this thought nicely with Paul’s warning to Timothy. Look at vs. 1-5. Avoid here means keep away from. That’s a pretty stern warning.

“The wicked is a ransom for the righteous, and the treacherous is in the place of the upright.” This is a pretty challenging verse that has to do with justice. The same idea occurs in Pro. 11:8 where it says, “The righteous is delivered from trouble, but the wicked takes his place.” The wicked are atonement or payment for the righteous, but don’t confuse that with the atonement of Christ that brings redemption to those that believe. In Exodus 12, the Israelites were told to put blood from a sacrificial lamb on the doorposts and lentils of their houses. The Lord said He was coming and when he saw the blood, He would pass over the house and go to the next. The Jews followed the instructions and were spared at the expense of the Egyptians. In that manner, the Egyptians became a ransom, or payment for the righteous. Righteous and upright don’t mean perfect here, but an overall desire to follow after God.

In Joshua 6, God told Joshua to lead Israel into battle against Jericho where the walls came tumbling down. Israel was instructed to take nothing as spoils from the battle: no gold or silver, bronze or iron – those are holy to the Lord. Following the victory at Jericho, Josh. 7:1 tells us, “The sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban, for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, took some of the things under the ban, therefore the anger of the Lord burned against the sons of Israel.” Achan’s sin affected the entire nation of Israel. Their next battle occurred against the much weaker Ai where they were soundly defeated causing Joshua to tear his clothes and go into mourning. God told him to get up and told him what had happened to cause Israel to be defeated. God declared that, “Israel has sinned,” and because of that, “Israel cannot stand before their enemies.” (Josh. 7:11ff) God instructs Joshua to cast lots to find the guilty party and the lot eventually falls to Achan. Joshua confronts Achan who says, “When I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them; and behold, they are concealed in the earth inside my tent with the silver underneath it.” (Josh. 7:21) Joshua sends people to Achan’s tent and they find the spoils exactly where Achan said it would be. Achan the wicked, was used as a ransom for Israel, the righteous. Achan was stoned to death and then burned. Everyone else in Israel followed God’s instructions – they had a desire to follow after God. I know that was a somewhat lengthy explanation, but sometimes, you really have to work at understanding the meaning of Scripture.

Let’s get one last one in for today. “It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and vexing woman.” This is similar to 21:9 that we looked at last week and Solomon adds vexing here. Vexing means intending to harass and full of disorder or stress. Now, that’s a lovely woman. First, the man is alone on a roof top and now he’s alone in the desert or wilderness. The commonality between the two verses is that it’s better to be alone than deal with an argumentative and unruly wife. I don’t know if that woman from 21:9 found her way to the roof and now the guy has to get away even more or not. It’s better to be exposed to the harshness of the wilderness – the wind, the weather, and the sand than it is to be with that harsh and vexing woman. And before you allow the thought to enter your mind, this is not an endorsement to leave a woman that is constantly arguing and causing stress in your life. The best way to handle a contentious wife is to love her as Christ loved the church.

Another message that covered a lot of ground. We saw where wickedness starts and that’s in the soul of humanity as we are born into sin through one man’s disobedience. Wicked people do wicked things because they don’t know any other way. Righteous people look at pleasing God rather than any short-term gain from wickedness. Don’t shut your ear to the cry of the poor, but make the Gospel an intentional aspect of any acts of mercy you engage in. We looked briefly at gift giving, exercising justice, and staying on the path of righteousness. Don’t love pleasure so much that you forsake God. We looked at the results of Achan’s sin and finished looking at the vexing woman and hopefully we now have a better understanding of the depth of wickedness in man.

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Jonah’s Disorder

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Last week we learned that Jonah was not overjoyed at the repentance of a whole city which led to God relenting of the calamity He had planned. Yet Jonah was thrilled that God provided a plant to shade him from the hot Assyrian sun. God has a lesson for Jonah to learn. Let’s see what it is.

Jonah 4:7-8 says, “But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered. When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, ‘Death is better to me than life.’”

God is always working and isn’t always this fast. Today, Jonah would probably be defined a bipolar. His moods change quickly. God tells him to go to Nineveh, he runs away. A storm of epic proportions comes up on the Med and he wants to die. He’s swallowed by a fish and begs to be delivered. He’s given another opportunity and he reluctantly submits. Everything in the city happens just as he believed would happen and he falls into a pit of despair. What should cause joy causes sorrow. Lives are saved and he’s disgusted. A plant grows and he is beside himself with joy. Jonah has serious issues. Sometimes God seems to move with glacier like slowness. When you look directly at a glacier, it doesn’t seem to be moving at all. But if you plot the course of a glacier over days, weeks, and months, you can see the progress it makes. The speed that God moves in this book of Jonah seems incredibly fast. Jonah is sitting in his little shelter with the plant God provided enjoying some shade.

The first word in our passage today sets us up for a contrast. The word “but” in Scripture always prepares us to see that. “But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered.” God first appointed a fish, then a plant, now a worm. God used each to teach Jonah a lesson and He’s still in control of nature. Jonah’s happiness over the plant is short lived as the worm destroys the plant removing the relief Jonah enjoyed from it. Destruction is a common theme throughout this book. The ship and the sailors faced it on the sea. Jonah faced it in the sea. Nineveh faced it as a result of wickedness. What’s curious is that even with the potential for destruction in this book, the only thing that actually is destroyed is the plant. Destruction came upon something that brought Jonah great joy.

And Jonah’s mood changes again. It’s unlikely that Jonah noticed the worm that God appointed. He was too busy convincing himself that he was right to want Nineveh destroyed. We can probably identify with Jonah when we consider the atrocities done against us from organizations like Al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah operating in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, but I would hope that the life changing results of Jesus Christ residing in our hearts would change our hatred to love just as Jesus commanded. We have no excuse not to demonstrate the love to others that was demonstrated to us on Calvary. Jonah was not justified in wanting Nineveh destroyed and we’re not justified in wanting the annihilation of what we consider our enemies. No I haven’t gone soft, I believe we have a right to defend our nation and hold people responsible that inflict terror on the United States, but I also recognize that they need someone to preach the truth that is found in Christ to them. That was Jonah’s problem. He didn’t think Nineveh deserved the grace or mercy that was shown to him looking ahead to Jesus. Even as Nineveh repented, his heart didn’t change.

The plant withers as the day began and v. 8 says, When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.” Jonah was deliriously happy yesterday and now the plant withers and he wants to die. Here again God uses His control over nature to appoint a scorching wind. It’s the fourth time God demonstrates His power over nature. For Jonah, it goes from bad to worse. The loss of the plant was significant. The plant provided shade and now that the sun is fully up, it is blisteringly hot. Then the wind comes. It’s not just any wind. This one comes from the east. When the east wind blows, the temperature goes up significantly and the humidity drops. The wind carries fine bits of sand. The sun is beating down on his head and he’s being sand blasted by the wind. One commentator on Jonah said this: “Constant hot air [is] so full of positive ions that it affects the levels of serotonin and other brain neurotransmitters, causing exhaustion, depression, feelings of unreality, and occasionally, bizarre behavior.” I think that describes Jonah. As a result of the sun and the wind, Jonah once again concludes that he was better off dead. To his bi-polar disorder, add drama queen. I have no doubt that he was miserable and the heat and the wind took an incredible toll on his mental faculties, but let’s face it, God is doing all He can to get Jonah’s attention and Jonah continues to ignore it. “Became faint” is nearly identical to how Jonah was feeling back in 2:7 in the belly of the fish.

Jonah was at the end of his rope, ready, and willing to die. Is this the end for Jonah? Will God answer his prayers for death? How desperate do you have to be to give up hope? Jonah, “Begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.” Exhaustion can do strange things to your brain. Add to that exhaustion heat, dehydration, and probably hunger and you get a sense of how bad it must have been for Jonah. Jonah pleaded with God to let him die. In Rev. 1:18, Jesus said that He has, “The keys of death and of Hades.” Heb. 9:27 says, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” You can’t die unless God approves it. It’s not time for Jonah. God has not finished His lesson; God’s not through teaching. Jonah felt that he was at his wit’s end. We see from this entire account of his mission, that he is not a proactive prayer. He is a reactive prayer, praying only when he is in crisis. We’re no different. When all else fails, when there is nothing left to do, when we can no longer control our circumstances we turn to God. Prayer must be something that we regularly engage in. No one is too busy to pray. 1 Thes. 5:17 tells us to, “Pray without ceasing.” If this was our practice, we would be able to face life’s issues from a godly perspective. Too often we only pray when we feel it necessary. Someone asks us to pray for them. We’re asked to take on some duty or responsibility and we need to pray about it. We spend days or weeks praying about something. Truth be told, I think many times we say that just because we don’t want to make a decision. Or maybe God is telling us to do what we have just been asked and we simply don’t want to do it. Yes, we should pray out of necessity, but we should pray out of love. As Christians we say we love God and we love Jesus yet we do little to cultivate that relationship except coming to church. When you think of the relationships you have with your spouse or your friends, or your family; the common denominator of why that relationship flourishes or dies is based on the time you spend communicating. You’ll never have the relationship God wants with you if you don’t spend any time with Him. When you consider what you spend the majority of your time on, you find out what’s important to you. Jonah didn’t pray for his attitude to change, he prayed to die. He didn’t thank God for the privilege to be a part of eternity’s plan. He didn’t thank God for preparing the way for him. Jonah was focused completely on himself. We can sit here and pass judgment on Jonah. It’s easy to armchair quarterback what he did, his attitude, and his obvious lack of willingness to conform to God’s plan. Why is it so easy to clearly see other’s shortcomings and be blind to our own? Jonah was in total despair and needed an attitude adjustment.

If you are at the point of despair, there is hope. If you’re tired, there is rest. If you’re discouraged, there is encouragement. If you’re focused more on yourself than you are on God, it’s easy to fall into the same trap Jonah fell into. Let’s focus on God, do what He has instructed us to do in His Word, do what He has called us to do, and leave the results to Him.

The Response

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Last week as Jonah prayed to God from the belly of that fish, he realized what he must do. He was undone by his circumstances, at the end of his rope and cried out to God and God heard his cries. Jonah determined to look to the temple even though he believed he had been expelled from God’s sight. It’s never too late to turn from sin to God, but that doesn’t mean you’ll escape the consequences. Jonah realized this and knew that, “Salvation is from the Lord.” It wasn’t too late for Jonah. Let’s see why.

Jonah 2:10-3:2 says, “Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land. Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.”

Maybe Jonah thought all was lost, but God’s not finished. God is still in control of the fish and gives it one final instruction. Three days and three nights Jonah was inside that smelly, disgusting prison of his own making. It took a miraculous intervention from God to save Jonah and to get his attention. What will it take for you or for me to follow God? Have you ever prayed for a second chance? You find yourself in a place of hopelessness because you didn’t pray and now you wonder: will God give me a second chance if I pray? When that second chance is given, what will you do with it? For three days and nights Jonah wallowed around in the stomach of the fish praying, likely praying as he never had before. After Jonah prays and acknowledges that God is the author of salvation and that he needs to be obedient, the God of the universe that controls all things speaks to the fish, And it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.” The fish being fully obedient, responds the only way he can. The fish vomits. That’s an unusual word. It means eject matter from the stomach through the mouth. In Hebrew it’s used only to arouse disgust. The fish is probably happy to get rid of Jonah. Remember in 1:13 the Bible tells us that the sailors, “Rowed desperately to return to land” so it is likely they were fairly close. There is so much that is not said in these verses. How far did Jonah fly when the fish projectile vomited him? Did he kiss the sand? Was he grateful to God for His salvation? From the fish? From hell?

And so God speaks . . . again. “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time.” A second time. Don’t think casually about this. Second chances are not always given. We don’t know the time frame between hitting the sand and the word coming to Jonah again. Did he kick himself for not obeying the first time? Isn’t that what we do a lot of the time? We beat ourselves up because of sin, we lament over our inadequacies, we convince ourselves that God doesn’t want us, that He can’t use us. Jonah was in the belly of a fish because of disobedience, rebellion, and faithlessness. Jonah thought in terms of “I” and not of God. But the good news is that God forgave and re-commissioned Jonah. We’ll be quick to jump on Jonah and say he didn’t deserve a second chance, but guess what? He didn’t deserve his first chance either. None of us are deserving of what God chooses to do in us, through us, or for us. We don’t deserve to be part of His plan, to be part of His eternity. Not everyone gets a second chance. Adam didn’t get one. Neither did Cain. Or the lying prophet in 1 Kings 13. Or Ananias and Sapphira. Or Judas. The reality is that sometimes God does give us a second or third or fourth or however many chances He chooses. Our hearts should be filled with thanksgiving and awe when we do get a second chance. But it’s always best to listen the first time.

God calls out, “Jonah!” I wonder if Jonah was relieved? Sometimes when I mess up or I’m disobedient, I wonder if God’s grace is still going to be poured out on me. I wonder if God gets tired of forgiving me. That’s the marvel of God’s grace. I don’t deserve it. God chooses to lavishly pour His grace on me. Was Jonah sickened over his disobedience? I know when God chooses to use me after I fail in some way, I’m relieved.

God is very clear the second time just as He was very clear the first time. Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.” The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. Jonah got the message, “Go to Nineveh.” This time he would listen. This time he would follow God’s command. Jonah’s way didn’t work. Notice there is no condemnation for Jonah’s actions. I think Jonah understood what was going on. The word that came to Jonah was a familiar sound in Jonah’s ears. The second time God spoke though, is just a bit different than the first time. The first time God spoke to Jonah, he was told to cry out against Nineveh. This second time Jonah is told to, proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.It looks like Jonah forfeited the privilege to speak from his heart. That’s still not a bad deal. These orders were specific, but there’s something here that Jonah was guaranteed. He would receive directly from God the message that should be proclaimed. God’s revelation would continue and that’s a big burden lifted off of Jonah’s shoulders.

Even though he hated the Assyrians, he was a prophet. That may sound contrary, but Jonah was having a hard time getting passed his past. This is great encouragement to us. No matter your past or your present, God can and wants to use you. No matter what you have done, no matter your attitude, when you approach God in humility having agreed with Him regarding your sin and ask for forgiveness, you have the confidence that your sins are forgiven. The slate is washed clean. But it’s not enough just to be sorry. Matt. 3:8 says, “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” For many people today, we’re sorry but there are no corresponding acts of service to the Lord. Don’t misunderstand; forgiveness is not dependent upon doing something. Service results from a repentant heart. For Jonah it meant responding to God’s second call to go to Nineveh.

What will you do with God’s second chance? Jonah had a good twenty-day walk ahead of him to get to Nineveh. Go and preach. It’s the same message that was given to the disciples. Our instructions are the same. Brother Andrew reminds us, “You cannot spell Gospel or God without first spelling Go.” So go. Go to your family, your friends, your neighbors and proclaim the same message that God gave to Jonah. Jesus loves you. Jesus died for you so you could live for Him.

Jonah: Introduction and Setting

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This morning we move to the Old Testament for our next study. I want you to forget everything you think you know about Jonah. I want to approach his story with an open mind, with a fresh perspective free from our preconceived ideas about this prophet. Jonah was a runner. Most people know he ran from God, but do we know why? We would never run from anything God told us to do would we? This is much more than a fish story.

I hope you’ll take your Bible and read Jonah 1:1-3.

Does God really speak to us like He did to Jonah? This short book starts off in an exciting way. “The word of the Lord came to Jonah.” We don’t know a great deal about Jonah. We know he was a man because he was the, “Son of Amittai.” 2 Ki. 14:25 tells us that Jonah was from Gath-hepher which means he was of the tribe of Zebulun. All we know about Jonah’s father is found in this verse and in Jonah 1:1. Very limited information. This we do know: Jonah was a prophet because the word of the Lord came to him and that was the system back then. The Lord spoke in dreams, in visions, in the Urim and Thummin, and audibly to His prophets and they were able to speak with the authority of God. Today though, we have the written Word of God. There were people back in the prophet’s day that refused to listen to the Word of the Lord just as there are today that refuse to listen to what the Lord says. That doesn’t change the truth of what God says. The Word of God is as accurate as if the Lord were speaking audibly to us right now.

So, “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.” This was a clear command. There was no misinterpreting what God told Jonah to do. It was crystal clear. We spend a lot of time searching for God’s will. We wonder is this thing really from God. We spend days searching our souls, searching Scripture, getting counsel from our friends, we post our questions on Facebook, we solicit input from our Twitter followers. We do all this to find out if God really is speaking to us. The Lord told Jonah what to do. We don’t know exactly how the word came to Jonah. The word of the Lord had previously come to Jonah. He prophesied to Jeroboam II that God would restore the borders of Israel. So that puts Jonah in the time frame of 784-772 B.C. For Jonah, this prophet gig was pretty sweet. All we have prior to this book of Jonah was good news. Life was good for Jonah, but not so much for other prophets. Speaking the Word of God can bring persecution, suffering, pain, sorrow, and sometimes death. In Lu. 11:47 Jesus told the people that their fathers had killed prophets. The only recorded prophesy we have for Jonah was good news and now the Lord speaks again. I wonder if Jonah was eager to hear from God.

I wonder if he had been sitting around waiting for the Lord to speak or was he just going about life as if God didn’t exist? But he was a prophet. When God spoke, he listened. That was his job and there wasn’t anybody else. In the northern kingdom of Israel it had been at least 12 years since Elisha; Amos doesn’t come on the scene until five years after Jonah. In the southern kingdom of Judah, there is a silence of about 71 years between the prophets Joel and Isaiah. So the word of the Lord coming to Jonah is a pretty big deal. God was able to speak to Jonah because Jonah had a relationship with God. If we have a relationship with God through Jesus, He speaks to us too. Can you hear Him? When there is noise all around us, how can we hear God? What are the potential consequences of missing what God has told us?

The word came to Jonah and it was a three part command. Arise, go, cry. Get up and get moving. Jonah was to go to Nineveh. It was a great city, but great here doesn’t refer to anything more than its size. Nineveh was located on the eastern shore of the Tigris River in what is now modern Iraq near the city of Mosul. According to Gen. 10:11, it was built by the great hunter Nimrod. During the reign of Sennacherib, the city was fortified and became the capital of Assyria. God tells Jonah, when you get to Nineveh, cry against it. The phrase means to give an appeal for, or an announcement of the Lord’s judgment against someone or something. Jonah was to proclaim the message of God, the judgment of God. We don’t know the specifics of the message Jonah was to give. But we do know that prophets declare the truth of God. Why Nineveh? Why not some other city like Kish, or Ur, or Sidon, or Tarsus? God is very clear as to why Jonah is to go. God tells Jonah it’s because Nineveh’s, “Wickedness has come up before Me.” Other times God has passed judgment on cities – Sodom and Gomorrah for example. What about Nineveh is so bad? They were well known in the ancient world for their cruelty and inhumanity. The grandson of Sennacherib was known to rip the lips and hands off of his victims. The king of Assyria was known to strip the skin off of people while they were still alive. He’d make giant piles of their skulls. Nineveh was ruled by the most evil people in the world and was likely the worst place on earth and God knew it. So He sends Jonah to tell the people of the Messiah so they could repent and turn from the wicked ways. There are people that think God created the world, set it in motion, then stepped away. This account clearly tells us that God is involved in the daily activities of the world, that He cares, that He hates sin, and that He still wants to do something about it.

The parallel for us is quite clear. Is there a group of people who we despise, that we would run from God’s call to tell them about Jesus who is the Christ? The people God told Jonah to go and preach to are now found in cities like: Bagdad, Mosul, Fallujah, Kandahar, Kabul. These people are Muslims worshiping a false god. Before you get all judgmental on Jonah, think about receiving a command from God to preach the message of salvation to a people you despise.

So how does Jonah responds? Even with the crystal clear command from God, Jonah does something we would never do, right? The opening phrase of v. 3 literally reads, “So Jonah rose.” And that’s good. When God told Abraham to go to a place He would tell him, he went. When God told Elijah to go to Sidon, he went. When God told David’s seer to go, he went. We’re accustomed to prophets doing what God tells them to do. Verse 3 says, “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.” This seems incomprehensible. Jonah was told exactly what to do by God Himself and Jonah chooses to be openly disobedient. At this point we have absolutely no clue as to why Jonah did what he did. Did he think about the consequences for his actions? Did he wonder, “If I don’t do what God told me to do, Nineveh is doomed.” Jonah fled, “from the presence of the Lord.” We see that phrase repeated twice in this verse. Does this reveal Jonah’s ignorance of God’s omnipresence? Jer. 23:25 tells us that God fills the heavens and the earth. Pro. 15:3 says the eyes of the Lord are everywhere. There’s a great passage in Ps. 139:7-10 that says, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me.” So you can’t hide from God so what is Jonah trying to do? From the presence of the Lord is the same phrase used in Gen. 4:16 to describe Cain’s broken relationship with God. It’s safe to say that Jonah and God weren’t seeing eye to eye.

Jonah goes to Joppa and buys a ticket to the farthest place from Nineveh he can. Joppa is now called Jaffa, part of modern Tel-Aviv. Tarshish is the farthest west he can go – about 2000 miles. Nineveh is about 500 miles away from where Jonah is. It’s not about the destination, it’s about the direction. Tarshish is in the opposite direction of Nineveh. Jonah buys a ticket on a boat. The level of Jonah’s disobedience is starting to get pretty clear. He pays money for a ticket – on a boat. Some experts suggest he hired the entire ship. Either way, because of the distance, this was not a cheap ticket. What’s really interesting is that Hebrew people were known as a people of the land, so willingly getting on a boat would be considered crazy back in that day. This was a merchant ship, and Jonah chose to place his life in the hands of the sailors.

So we have begun our journey and we’re going to leave Jonah on the boat until next time. Most of the time we focus on Jonah in these beginning verses – his disobedience. But what do these three verses say about God? First, God calls people into service. Jonah is called to preach to Nineveh. Second, God cares enough about people, no matter how good or bad they seem to be, to send people He calls to tell them about the hope, love, grace, and forgiveness available to them through Jesus Christ. Finally, although less obvious (it will become very clear later) no one can run from God.