The Five C’s Of Jonah

Part  2 of 3


The book of Jonah has at least five major themes. In the previous article, we considered the first two, namely, compliance and control. In this article, we will look at the third and fourth.

Chastisement

Jonah’s attempted flight to Tarshish was a blatant act of non-compliance or disobedience, and for that, the Lord chastised him severely by sending that fierce storm and causing him to make public confession before the sailors and eventually being thrown overboard and almost drowning in the sea.

But that was not all. Jonah had to spend what must have been three rather uncomfortable days and nights in the belly of the fish, and at the end of it, he was vomited out onto dry land. None of these things were pleasant experiences from Jonah’s perspective. Nevertheless, they were needful for his sanctification.

And they also served as God’s warning to all His prophets to be faithful to their calling and not run away from their God-given assignments. Jonah was one of the first if not THE first of the writing prophets, and what happened to him became an example to the rest of the prophets who came after him.

Jonah no doubt grew in his sanctification after those dramatic and even traumatic few days out at sea. The Lord chastises His people not to punish them for what they did wrong in the past but to make them more holy in the future. In other words, chastisement looks forward rather than back. This is one of the big differences between the Lord’s chastisement of His people and the Lord’s punishment of the wicked. When the Lord punishes the wicked, He punishes them for their past sins and they are indeed making payment to Him. But when the Lord chastises His people, He is not making them pay for their past sins for that payment has already been made in Christ. Rather, He is chastising them for their future good so that they may grow in grace.

And Jonah did grow in grace. Notice how when he was fleeing from God on the boat, Jonah did not pray. That was the last thing on his mind. But when Jonah was in the belly of the fish, he prayed a wonderful prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord for the salvation that he had experienced. The words of that prayer are very similar, both in form and content, to the words that we find in the Psalms so much so that commentators have described chapter 2 as the psalm of Jonah.

Jonah must have been very familiar with the words of the Psalms, having learnt them from his youth, so that now, when he came to express his heartfelt thanks to the Lord, he naturally employed the language of the Psalms. That ought to be our experience too, isn’t it? We ought to hide the word of God and especially the Psalms in our hearts so that when we come to pray and cry to the Lord, the language of scripture comes naturally to our minds and lips.

But coming back to Jonah, at the beginning of chapter 3, the call of the Lord comes a second time to him to go to the same place and to preach the same message with the same urgency. And this time, Jonah went. He was no longer the same person. Jonah had grown in grace through the chastising hand of the Lord.

But Jonah was still far from sinless perfection. In chapter 4, we see him running away from the Lord again in defiance of His will. And again, the Lord chastised Jonah with another near death experience. He caused the worm to destroy Jonah’s shelter leaving him exposed to the burning sun and then He caused the scorching east wind to blow upon him. Jonah felt his life ebbing away due to heat exhaustion and he requested to be put out of his misery. But the Lord sustained his life and used that experience to teach him an important lesson.

Now, although the final response of Jonah to the Lord’s lesson is not recorded, we have good reason to believe that Jonah did indeed accept God’s point of view, and that he repented of his sin and turned to the Lord again. If Jonah didn’t eventually repent of his sinful anger, it is very unlikely that he would have written the book of Jonah. The fact that the book is included in the Bible is an indication that he was a changed man after that heat stroke experience.

So the third main theme in this book is that the Lord chastises His people when they go astray for their spiritual good and growth in grace.

Let’s move on to the fourth C, namely, Confession.

Confession

One of the effects of chastisement is confession and repentance. The first confession we find in the book is in chapter 1 while Jonah was still on the boat. At first, after Jonah was awoken from his deep sleep by the captain of the ship, he must have realized immediately that this unusual storm that had engulfed them has arisen because of his disobedience.

But Jonah chose to keep quiet. He neither called upon His God for deliverance, as the captain instructed him to, nor confessed to the pagan sailors what he had done and why this storm was upon them. But Jonah’s silence did last very long. The Lord forced a confession from the mouth of his prophet by sovereignly causing the lot, which the sailors cast, to fall upon Jonah. 

All eyes were fixed on Jonah. “Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; what is thine occupation? And whence comest thou? What is thy country? And of what people art thou?”

Jonah was put on trial right there and then. He had no choice but to speak, and for the first time in the book, the unwilling prophet opens his mouth. “I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.”

When the sailors heard that confession, they became exceedingly afraid. Remember that these men were season travellers having travelled far and wide, and they must have heard many different stories, including stories about the God of the Hebrews. He was the One who delivered His people from the hand of the mighty Egyptians by performing great miracles including parting the Red Sea. He was the One who defeated the powerful Canaanite armies and even caused the sun to stand still for a day, and so on.

The mere mention of the God of the Hebrews, the God of Heaven and maker of the sea and dry land struck fear into their hearts. They knew that this great God is not to be trifled with and that there is none that can deliver from His hand. All their gods are utterly powerless against this Almighty God.

God sovereignly forced a confession from the lips of his prophet and He glorified Himself in the midst of those pagan sailors. In fact, the sailors themselves would confess the God of Jonah to be their God. Chapter 1 ends with them worshipping Him with sacrifice and vows. We must not be ashamed to confess our faith before others for that brings glory to God.

But besides confession of faith, the Lord is also pleased when we make confession of sin. Jonah essentially confessed his sin to the pagan sailors when it says in chapter 1 verse 10, “For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.” In other words, Jonah told them that he had sinned against the Lord and brought this calamity upon them.

But we especially see the importance of making confession of sin in chapter three when the people of Nineveh, in response to Jonah’s preaching, confessed their sins and repented of their evil against the Lord. Everyone from the king down to the least person in the city believed in God and repented in sackcloth and ashes. They recognized their sin for what it was and they had a godly sorrow and hatred for it. They cried mightily to God and resolved to turn from all their wicked ways. And finally, they threw themselves upon the free mercy of God. “Who can tell,” said the king of Nineveh, “if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?”

The last verse of chapter 3 reads, “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.” The Lord saw that their confession and repentance was sincere and genuine, and it pleased Him to turn away His fierce wrath from them and to withdraw His judgment which He had threatened to bring upon them.   

Yes, the Lord is pleased and glorified when we confess our faith before man and when we truly confess and repent of all our sins against Him.

Remember the words of Joshua to Achan in Joshua 7:19, “My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me.” Confession of sins glorifies God.

Thus far, we have considered compliance to God’s will, control over all of creation for the good of His people, chastisement leading to sanctification, and confession of both faith and of sin. Next time, we will look at the fifth and final C.

… to be continued in next issue

—Linus Chua