The Five C’s Of Jonah

Part  1 of 3

 

Over the past nine months or so, we’ve been studying the book of Jonah and we finished the final section of the book in the last article.

Now if I were to ask you, “What is the book of Jonah about?” I think most of us would be able to give a reasonably good and accurate account of its narrative since it is quite a well-known story, especially among the children. But if I were to ask you, “What are the major themes in the book of Jonah?” What would you say?

What I’ll like to do, beginning with this article, is to briefly review the book of Jonah by presenting to us what I believe are the five major themes of this book.

Back in the 1990s, it was quite common to hear Singaporeans talk about the 5C’s, i.e., cash, car, credit card, condominium and country club. A person’s social status and success in life are often measured against these 5 C’s. The ones who have obtained all these things are considered successful, economically and socially. As Christians, we know better. We know that success, from a biblical standpoint, is not measured in these terms at all.

Allow me to present to you another 5 C’s, i.e. 5 words, each beginning with the letter C, which will hopefully help us to better remember the 5 major themes of the book of Jonah.

The first is compliance.

Compliance

To comply means to act in accordance to a wish or command or to meet specific standards. Compliance is thus another word for obedience and obedience to God’s will is a big issue in the book of Jonah. The book opens with the non-compliance or the disobedience of the prophet to the call and commission of the LORD.

The LORD instructed Jonah to arise and go to Nineveh, that great city, to preach against it because the wickedness of the people there had gone up before His face. The Ninevites were guilty of grievous sins and great evil. They were living in gross and blatant non-compliance to the moral law of God. Yes, God’s moral law is applicable to all men everywhere and He holds all men accountable to the same standard of morality.

The Ninevites did not have the law of God so clearly and fully revealed to them as it was to the Israelites, but nevertheless, they did have the works of the law written upon their hearts and consciences, and because of that innate knowledge of His will, they were without excuse.

The Lord was greatly displeased with the sin of Nineveh. Nineveh may have been a great city in the eyes of the world but in God’s eyes, it was a city of great wickedness, and that is what matters ultimately.

Here is a reminder to all of us that it doesn’t ultimately matter what other men think of you – whether they approve or disapprove of you, whether they like you or not. What really matters and what finally counts is how God sees you – whether you are pleasing in His sight or not.       

Nineveh was in deep trouble because it was offensive and abhorrent before the face of God. Jonah was thus sent to warn the people there to turn from their wickedness or to face the fierce wrath of the Almighty God. 

The problem was that Jonah did not want them to repent. He wanted them to continue in their sins and eventually be destroyed by divine judgment. He knew that if he went and preached there, they would repent and God would spare them, and eventually use them as His instruments to punish an unrepentant Israel. And he didn’t want that to happen.

So Jonah disobeyed the clear revelation of God’s will for his life. Chapter 1 verse 3 says that he fled from the presence of the LORD by going to Joppa and catching that ship going to Tarshish.

Disobedience or non-compliance with God’s will is equivalent to fleeing from the presence of the Lord. Not that we will ever be able to escape the omnipresent and omniscient God, but we will no longer be in God’s favourable and comfortable presence. Disobedience to God’s word hinders us from enjoying fellowship and communion with God.

In contrast to Jonah’s disobedience and flight from God’s presence, we see the Lord Jesus Christ who perfectly complied with and submitted to the will of His Father, and was ushered into His glorious and blessed presence after His resurrection and ascension. 

Jonah needed a second chance from the Lord before he went. But the Lord Jesus is the only man who needs no second chance. He got it right the first time and He got it right every time. But Jonah’s failure to go to Nineveh the first time was not the only episode of non-compliance with God’s will in this book.

After Jonah preached at Nineveh and the city repented and God withdrew His threat of judgment, Jonah was furious and he defied God by going out of the city and setting up his observation post at a safe distance in order to see what would become of the city.

Once again, Jonah was non-compliant with respect to God’s will. The Lord revealed His willingness to forgive the people and to have compassion on them. Jonah responded with exceeding displeasure and anger towards God’s will. He refused to submit to it. Whereas God was no longer angry with Nineveh because it had repented, Jonah became very angry just because it repented. And whereas God delighted in the repentance of sinners, Jonah refused to rejoice.

Jonah’s heart and attitude was all messed up and topsy turvy. He was angry for the wrong reason and he did not rejoice for the right one. But that’s what happens when a person fails to submit to God’s will and insists that his way is better than God’s.

Again, in contrast to Jonah, we see Christ who was never ever angry for the wrong reasons and who was always perfectly in line and at one with the Father’s will. And so Jonah’s non-compliance on two occasions in this book points us to the One who is greater than Jonah.

But Jonah’s disobedience and failure to submit to God’s will led to the elements of nature being turned against him. And this brings us to the second C of the book, namely, control.

Control

Shortly after Jonah ran away in that boat, the LORD hurled a great wind of just the right magnitude into the Mediterranean Sea to cause a mighty storm that engulf the boat. The sailors onboard were terrified. This was an act of God like no other. Never before in all their experience as seamen had they encountered such a furious storm. This led them to cry out each man to his own god for deliverance, and to lighten the ship by hurling all their cargo overboard. But neither their gods nor their lightening of the ship could save them.

Eventually, they discovered the cause of the great storm and the solution to their problem. There was one person who ought not to have been on their ship, namely, the last minute Hebrew passenger they picked up at Joppa. They needed to offload him into the sea. But they were unwilling to let him go at first. They cared for his life even though he had gotten them into this mess and they used all their strength and might to row the boat to safety but they were unable to. The God of the Hebrews, even the God of heaven, who had made the sea and the dry land, would not allow them to do so.

And so in the end, they begged of this God, even Yahweh, not to hold them accountable for this man’s life and then they hurled him overboard. The moment Jonah disappeared underwater, the storm disappeared as well and was replaced by a perfect calm. If anyone on board had any doubts that the God of the Hebrews was in absolute control of the elements, those doubts must have disappeared in a flash.

The pagan sailors learnt a couple of very important lessons that day. They learnt that Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, alone is the true and living God. All the other gods whom they cried out to were utterly impotent and powerless to save. But they also learnt that man’s power is no match for God’s power. They themselves experienced first-hand the futility of trying to fight against God’s storm and God’s wind. In the end, they had to surrender to Him. God’s sovereign power and control over creation is clearly seen in this miraculous storm.

But it is also seen in a number of other ways in this book. It is seen, first of all, in the big fish that swallowed Jonah up in the depths of the sea. At the end of chapter 1, we read, “Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah…” Then at the end of chapter 2, after three days and three nights, we read, “And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.” Not just the wind and the waves, but the fish of the sea respond in perfect obedience to the will and word of the Lord.

God’s sovereign control over nature is also seen in the three things which God prepared or appointed for Jonah at the end of the book. When Jonah’s makeshift tent failed and he was suffering under the oppressive heat of the Assyrian desert, the Lord prepared or appointed a plant to spring up miraculously in order to provide refreshing shade for His servant.

But then the next morning, the LORD appointed a worm to attack the plant so that it withered and could no longer provided any shade for Jonah. And not only that, but the LORD also appointed a scorching east wind to add to Jonah’s heat misery.

Now it is important to realise that in all these 5 instances of the Lord’s sovereign control over nature, the Lord exercised His power each time for the sake and benefit of His people.

The storm arose in order to turn Jonah back from his wilful departure from the LORD. But the storm also played a very vital role in the conversion of the pagan sailors. Through the storm experience and the testimony of Jonah, the sailors became believers and worshippers of Yahweh, the living and true God.

The fish was appointed for Jonah’s salvation from certain death, and Jonah in turn would be instrumental in the salvation of the Ninevites.

And finally, the plant, the worm and the wind were all appointed for Jonah’s sanctification and growth in grace.

In the New Testament, we see the Lord Jesus Christ exercising the same great power over nature and creation, and doing so, not for His own benefit, but for the benefit of His disciples and people, and we are reminded that He is no ordinary man but the same God as the God of Jonah.

And so another important theme in the book of Jonah is that the LORD has absolute and sovereign control over all of creation and nature, and that He exercises that power for the sake of His elect.

… to be continued in next issue

—Linus Chua