The Five C’s Of Jonah

Part  3 of 3


The fifth and final ‘C’ I’ll like to draw our attention to in this book is compassion. Compassion is perhaps the most important of all the Cs of the book of Jonah. In fact, if you forget all the other Cs, you should not forget this one.

This is THE major theme of the story of Jonah. So important is it that the title of O Palmer Robertson’s excellent little study on this book is “Jonah - a study in Compassion.”

Compassion

Jonah ran away from the Lord twice. We could say that the first time, he ran away from the will of the Lord. The second time, he ran away from the compassion of the Lord. This theme of compassion is right there from the beginning of the book but it is only explicitly and clearly stated towards the end of it.

Let’s trace this theme from start to finish. The book begins with the call of God to Jonah to preach against the wickedness of Nineveh. We mustn’t fail to see God’s compassion and mercy in this for the way of God’s mercy very often begins with the preaching of the word leading to the conviction of sin.

It is a great mercy when God sends faithful preachers who preach against sin, and particularly against our sins. We don’t often think about it that way but that is true. Yes, it is not pleasant or enjoyable to hear preaching that point out our flaws and ungodly ways, but that is actually the way of God’s grace and mercy. Thank God when we are convicted of our sins through the faithful preaching of His word. That is a sure sign that God has not forsaken us. The Ninevites were going to receive God’s mercy through the preaching of Jonah. God had compassion on them and so He sent them His prophet. Unlike the many heathen cities and nations in the past who were destroyed by God without any warning from Him, Nineveh was going to have the privilege of hearing a word from God and of having the opportunity to repent before it was too late.

Then moving along in chapter 1, God had compassion on Jonah himself. Jonah was on a dangerous downward path. He had gone down to Joppa, then gone down into the ship to Tarshish, and eventually he would go down into the depths of the sea. His going down was symbolic of going further and further away from God and into the path of spiritual death. But God would not let him go any further in his spiritual flight and declension. The violent storm that arose was no less than the violence of God’s grace and mercy.

Again we don’t often see things that way. We see the fierceness and violence of the situation but we fail to see the grace and compassion of God in it. The Lord used the storm to bring Jonah back onto the path of life. But the Lord also sovereignly used the storm for the conversion of the pagan sailors on board. He had compassion on those who were on the ship with Jonah. Not only did He spare their lives but He used that whole incident for their conversion.

Jonah had no intention of evangelizing those sailors. That was the last thing in his mind. Yet in God’s amazing providence and sovereign grace, they were converted in spite of Jonah’s unwillingness and lack of concern and compassion for them.    

So everyone who boarded the ship at Joppa that day survived the storm. The sailors survived and they worshipped God on the deck of the ship. Jonah survived and he worshipped God in the belly of the fish. “Salvation is of the Lord” was Jonah’s confession and testimony. The LORD alone is able to save and He saves according to His sovereign mercy and compassion. Jonah didn’t deserve to be saved. And neither did the idol worshipping sailors nor the wicked people of Nineveh. But all of them were recipients of sovereign grace.  

That was something Jonah found difficult to accept. Even though he himself had been the object of God’s mercy and compassion, he didn’t think that other sinners, particularly the heathen Ninevites, ought to receive that same mercy. And so at the beginning of the final chapter, Jonah rebels against God’s will and runs away from God’s mercy and compassion.

He gives a wonderful confession of the gracious character of God when he prayed, “for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.” But he did not think or act consistently with that knowledge and confession. It was well for God to deliver him from certain death and to even give him a second chance to serve as a prophet, but it was not alright for God to show mercy and have compassion on Nineveh.

If God was going to let the Ninevites live, then Jonah would rather die. “O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.” But the God of all grace and mercy did not grant him his sinful request. Instead, He once again had compassion on his run away prophet. He went to him, and gently and patiently dealt with him in order to show him how unreasonable his lack of compassion was and how wrong he was to be angry with God’s compassion on the Ninevites.

Jonah had great pity on a little plant which did not even belong to him but he had no pity on a whole city of over a hundred thousand people. He was blinded by a veil of selfishness, pride and rebellion, in sharp contrast to the Lord Jesus who was selfless, meek and humble, submissive to the will of God. Indeed, Jonah may have been a man of great passion but he did not have much compassion for others.

But what about us, we who have been recipients of the Lord’s great mercy and pity? Do we have compassion on other people, even on those who may be our enemies? This is a question that we all need to ask and answer ourselves as we live in this fallen world and interact with the fallen people of the world.

Conclusion

So here again are the 5 Cs of Jonah: compliance, control, chastisement, confession and compassion.

The book of Jonah teaches us, first of all, that compliance with God’s will is very important be it in terms of obeying His commandments or submitting to His providence. O how we need to daily pray: nevertheless not my will but thy will be done.

The book of Jonah reminds us, secondly, that God is in sovereign control over all of creation and all of history, and He powerfully works all things for the good of His elect.

Thirdly, the book of Jonah shows us that God chastises those whom He loves so that they may be brought back to the right way of thinking and acting.

Fourthly, the book of Jonah reveals to us that God delights in the confession of His people, whether it is their confession of faith in Him or their confession of sins against Him.

Fifthly, the book of Jonah demonstrates to us the great compassion of our God to lost sinners and calls us to be compassionate towards others.

But allow me to conclude with yet another C, and that is Christ. In a number of different ways, the book of Jonah points us to the Lord Jesus Christ. As we read this book again and meditate upon its content, let us not fail to see how Christ is revealed throughout its chapters and verses.

First, the call of the Lord to Jonah to preach in Nineveh is but a foreshadow of Christ’s commission to the church to go into all the world and preach the gospel.

Second, the disobedience and failure of Jonah looks to the perfect obedience of the Son of God.

Third, the lack of compassion of Jonah for the Ninevites leads us to the One who was moved with compassion when He saw the multitudes as sheep without a shepherd.

Fourth, the great power that the God of Jonah exercised over creation is the same great power that the Lord Jesus possesses. Indeed, all power in heaven and earth has been given to Him.

Fifth, the fierce wrath of God against sinners and the terrible judgment of God against sin fell upon the Lamb of God and He bore it on behalf of His people.  

Sixth, the temple that Jonah looked towards as he was sinking to the bottom of the sea is ultimately Christ, the true tabernacle or dwelling of God with man.

Seventh, the glorious confession that “salvation is of the Lord” finds full fulfilment in Him for His very name ‘Jesus’ means the Lord saves. 

Finally, the three days and three nights which Jonah spent in the fish’s belly is a precious type of Christ’s burial and later His glorious resurrection from the dead.

Let us love and adore and treasure Him who is greater than Jonah. Let our thoughts be constantly fixed upon Him even as we read and mediate on the account of the lesser Jonah. And let us not be ashamed to proclaim to the world His wonderful story and the gospel of His great grace. Amen.

—Linus Chua