Jonah 1:1–6 (ESV)
1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. 4 But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. 6 So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”
What a sad sight! A man commissioned by God to deliver a message of grace to wicked sinners disobeys the Word of the LORD. Jonah’s disobedience and rebellion had three results.
- Jonah’s disobedience leads to rejecting the LORD. The LORD commanded that Jonah arise, go, and call out against the Ninevites. Simple right? Well, regardless of how simple the directions were Jonah chose to disobey. Instead of obeying God’s command, Jonah arose, went, and attempted to flee from the presence of the LORD. Twice in verse 3, it says that Jonah intended to flee from the LORD’s presence!
Jonah wasn’t just fleeing to avoid going to Nineveh to preach God’s message. He fled to avoid God altogether! T. Desmond Alexander wrote in his commentary on Jonah, “By fleeing the Lord’s presence Jonah announces emphatically his unwillingness to serve God. His action is nothing less than open rebellion against God’s sovereignty.” Jonah openly chose to reject God and his message. His hope was to flee to Tarshish, which coincidently was known by the Israelites as a land that had not yet experienced the presence or Word of God. Clearly, Jonah has made a choice to reject God and his message of grace in his act of disobedience.
2. Jonah’s disobedience summons the wrath of the Almighty. The result of Jonah’s disobedience was that God’s wrath came upon him. Verse 4 says that the LORD caused a major storm to break out on the sea. This storm had to have been great because it caused the experienced sailors to be afraid! Surely this wasn’t a coincidental storm that the ship runs into. It can only be the consequence of Jonah’s rebellion against God.
Why does God respond so severely? Why is he prepared to break the ship apart, kill Jonah, and drown the mariners on the ship all because Jonah ran away? Answer: Rebellion (disobedience) is serious. God hates sin. Jonah’s rebellion offends God’s holiness. He cannot allow Jonah’s sin to go unpunished.
Note also that Jonah was an Israelite, a part of the covenantal people of God! Yet, God saw fit to discipline him, to punish Jonah for his disobedience. Not even a believer can be safe from God’s discipline when it comes to sin (Hebrews 12:6). When we rebel against God and his will, he can bring terrible tempests into our lives.
3. Jonah’s disobedience and rebellion deny the sailors the hope of God. While all the sailors are praying for the storm to pass (v. 5) Jonah is sound asleep below deck.
Spurgeon in his sermon on Jonah said this, “Of all the men in the ship, Jonah was the person who ought most to have been awake; but nevertheless, he was not only asleep, but fast asleep; all the creaking of the cordage, the dashing of the waves, the howling of the winds, the straining of the timbers, and the shouting of the mariners, did not arouse him; he was fast locked in the arms of sleep. See here, in Jonah’s heavy slumber, the effect of sin. No noxious drug can give such deadly sleep as sin.”
Spurgeon, C. H. (1862). What Meanest Thou, O Sleeper? In The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons (Vol. 8, p. 505). London: Passmore & Alabaster.
These sailors didn’t know the LORD. They were calling out each to their own gods and attempting to appease them by hurling cargo into the stormy sea, which ironically was caused by the true God hurling a strong wind upon the sea. They could not appease the wrath of God! They prayed, no result. They offered sacrifices to the sea, no calming of the sea. With Jonah asleep, the only one on the ship who knew the LORD who caused the storm, Jonah was ensuring that these sailors would perish. In verse 3, Jonah had no desire to share a gracious message with Nineveh. Now, he is fast asleep on a doomed ship and has no desire to extend God’s grace to the pagan sailors! What a terrible man of God….
All around Jonah are people who need a solution to escape death. Yet, Jonah all along had been attempting to flee from the presence of the Solution (Eric C. Redmond). He was the most qualified man on the boat to offer hope to perishing men, but instead, he was content in his sin. He only cared about himself.
You and I struggle with the same type of rebellion that Jonah practiced. He essentially rejected God because he didn’t think Nineveh deserved grace. Jonah invites the wrath of God because he sinned. He didn’t even care for the perishing souls on that breaking ship.
We too find ourselves often rejecting the Word of God. We have been given a commission by our Lord and Savior to go and spread the gospel. Yet, when we fail to tell our coworkers or friends about the hope we have in Christ we are no better than Jonah.
When we sin we too invite God’s wrath. Sure we know that he will never cast us away into hell, but he most surely will punish those who know the truth and failed to live according to it! We have no excuse to rebel against God’s truth as believers. It will be far worse for us if we, having known the right thing to do, fail to do the right thing.
We, like Jonah, have perishing souls all around us on this sinking ship. How foolish would it be for us who have been told that the ship is sinking to then go about our normal routine without offering our fellow man a life-jacket?
Share with people the hope that is within you, dear Christian reader. Jesus Christ, for the joy set before him, went to the cross, became a propitiation for our sins, became sin for you and for me, bore our sins upon the tree, died for our sins according to the Word of God, he was buried, and three days later rose again from the dead. It should be a small thing to share such great news with someone else about how Jesus Christ can save them too.