Jonah and a Compassionate God | Deanna Crist
Jonah and a Compassionate God
by Deanna Crist
The story of Jonah is familiar to many, however, we’re often so engulfed by the tale of the fish that we miss the truths of our great God. My goal in writing on the book of Jonah is to share God’s words and dispel any misconceptions about the book.
Before continuing on, I recommend reading all four chapters of Jonah. Once you’ve read about this unusual prophet, his adventure, and God’s compassion on a sinful nation, let’s continue our journey.
In 2 Kings 14:25, we’re introduced to the prophet, Jonah. We know Jonah as a minor prophet because there is little known of him. However, in this short verse, we learn a few things about this prophet. I’ve inserted a few notes into the verse for the sake of understanding its context:
“He [King Jeroboam] restored the border of Israel [God’s chosen nation] from the entrance of Hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the Word of the Lord, the God of Israel [Holy, Just, Righteous One], which He [God] spoke through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet [God’s appointed messenger], who was of Gath-hepher [Jonah’s hometown bordering Israel].”
In this single verse, we learn the prophet’s name, family name, hometown, occupation, and object of worship. As we begin our exposition in Jonah chapter one, consider the following questions:
What does this passage teach us about God?
How does each of the characters respond to God: Jonah? The Captain? The Sailors?
1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, 2 “Arise, go to Ninevah the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” 3 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 with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.
In the first few words, we hear God speaking to Jonah: “Arise and go.” God was commanding Jonah to deliver a specific message to the Ninevites, a wicked group of people with a reputation for sinning greatly against the Lord. After clearly hearing and understanding God’s instructions, Jonah ran to the nearest seaport, found a ship bound for Tarshish, paid the fee, and jumped aboard. In case you aren't familiar with the geographical locations, Nineveh was 500 miles to the east while Tarshish was 2,000 miles to the west. Jonah’s response was deliberate disobedience. He’s the only prophet recorded in the bible as running from God and his appointed mission.
Before this may tempt us to cast any stones towards Jonah, it’s time to pause for self-examination. We must ask ourselves, How have I responded to God’s calling to “arise and go?”
In Acts 1:8, Jesus commands his followers to arise and go. After he was crucified and miraculously resurrected, he’s promised to empower his followers with the Holy Spirit so they may serve as witnesses in Jerusalem [our hometown], in Judea [surrounding areas], in Samaria [places of hatred and disgust], and even to the remotest part of the earth [everywhere else]. Arise and go, he says. To capture the full meaning of being a witness for Christ, it’s helpful to understand the original Greek word is better translated as a martyr. Neither witnesses nor martyrs are to be silent. We have a powerful, lifesaving message that God calls us to share: we find salvation only in Jesus Christ.
Just like Jonah and the disciples, Jesus tells us, “Arise and go.”
4 The Lord hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up. 5 Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep. 6 So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.”
Praise be to God for his relentless and merciful pursuit of sinners. Jonah’s response to flee showed his lack of compassion towards the people of Nineveh. As a Hebrew, Jonah would have known firsthand how God had embraced Israel in its wicked and ungodly state. Many times, Israel had forsaken the one true God in pursuit of their worthless idols. Time and time again, God faithfully rose up a prophet, judge, or king to deliver Israel from its enemies and its own cyclical depravity.
In verse one, the word of the Lord came to Jonah. And although Jonah sought to flee from his presence, as if he could ever escape God’s presence, “the Lord hurled a great wind on the sea.” The God of Heaven is also God of the Sea. There is no place that can hide us from his presence or his knowledge. The first created man, Adam, tried to hide from God (Genesis 3:8-10) after disobeying God's command. Because of our sinful desires, our natural reaction is to hide from God. Jonah was told to arise and go, but Jonah fled. The Lord hurled a great wind on the sea, but Jonah slept.
How gracious and merciful is the pursuit of God toward sinners to send his own Son, Jesus Christ. His earthly mission was the same as Jonah’s: “to seek and save the lost.” The Ninevites needed the gospel message. Whether we realize it, we are all in desperate need of God’s pursuit. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
The “great wind” was the Lord’s graciousness towards Jonah, offering him a second opportunity to obey. While the great wind tossed them back and forth on the sea, its intent was to cause Jonah to physically and spiritually wake up.
Even the pagan Captain and his sailors knew there was One who was responsible for the storm. All people have an innate knowledge of God, His eternal power and divine nature (Romans 1:18-23). Although they were wrongly calling out to their own false gods, their response was correct—call out, pray, and avoid perishing. How sad that God’s chosen messenger needed to be reminded by pagans to pray and call out to Him for deliverance.
7 Each man said to his mate, “Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.” So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, “Tell us now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” 9 He said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and dry land.” 10 Then the men became extremely frightened and they said to him, “How could you do this?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.
Oh, the irony in these verses. The sailors increase in their fear of a God unknown to them, while Jonah, who knew God’s power and knowledge intimately, is found sleeping below deck. It’s likely the sailors feared their current circumstances, and Jonah’s ‘fear’ was a reverence for God. Proverbs 1:7 declares, “fear is the beginning of knowledge.” We cannot truly follow God until we begin to understand him, to know him, and we are transformed into his likeness. Knowledge alone is not enough to know God; we must also submit to his will. Obedience to God proves there is evidence of love for him and a trust in him. What is your understanding of God’s love towards sinners? How do your actions reflect your love and trust in him?
11 So they said to him, “What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?—for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you.” 13 However, the men rowed desperately to return to land but they could not, for the sea was becoming even stormier against them. 14 Then they called on the Lord and said, “We earnestly pray, O Lord, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood on us; for You, O Lord, have done as You have pleased. 15 So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
Even in Jonah’s mess, he is still being used in God’s plans. Through his own short testimony, the sailors cried out to God, offering sacrifice and vows. God’s gospel message will go forth—with or without us. How great it is to be used by God in his eternal plans. He has invited each of us to partner with him in ministry. Are you obeying as Christ has submitted to the Father? Is it an honor and joy to be called and equipped on holy assignment?
Pause for a moment and consider which of these characters do you most identify with. Jonah? Do you flee from ministry opportunities, viewing them as a burden or an inconvenience? While the Christian life is rarely a smooth-sailing ride, God offers sinners an opportunity to make a significant impact for the Kingdom. Seize the opportunities to be utilized in God’s eternal plans.
The Captain? Do you need to call on God for salvation? Only grace through faith in Christ alone will grant us deliverance from sin and death. We are to call upon his name to be saved.
The Sailors? Do you need to make new vows and sacrifices to the Lord? Jesus has already made a sacrifice on our behalf. God’s wrath has been satisfied through the sacrificial death of his Son. His sacrifice was made so that we may live and bear witness of the one true God. Paul reminds us that we are to “present (our) bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is (our) spiritual act of worship.” The Old Testament followers spent day after day, year after year, sacrificing animals to the Lord. Jesus Christ was the final sacrifice—holy, worthy, and precious, acceptable to the Lord. We are to serve him as “living sacrifices,” voluntarily living each day as a denial to our own fleshly desires, and following Christ and his perfect example.
Do not make a vow to God you are not prepared to keep. He has pursued you with his Son, his Word, and His Spirit. Will you pursue him and obey his calling in your life? Your life has great purpose. How will you respond to God’s word today?
Deanna Crist lives outside Birmingham, Ala. She is happily married to Tim Crist, an ordained minister who serves full-time in Christian orphan care ministry. They have two sons, ages 26 and 19, and an adopted daughter, age 9. She is passionate about orphan care ministry and teaching truth. Deanna has spent 25 years in corporate and non-profit accounting.
As an adult, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Christian Leadership and is currently a second-year seminary student pursuing a master’s in Biblical Theology. In 2017, the Lord called her to use her business and ministry skills to begin Nexus Bookkeeping. As a business owner, she and her staff are blessed to serve small business owners with kingdom-minded principles. email: email@example.com website: www.nexusbookkeepingllc.com