This Thing Called Repentance – Part 1 – (Jonah Chapters 1 and 2)

We are all generally familiar with the story of Jonah the Prophet, who was called of God to go to Nineveh and preach God’s truth there. Instead, he went in the opposite direction toward Tarshish (Spain) and ended up creating a bellyache for the whale. Eventually, he got to the correct destination and completed his assignment, though with more than a wee bit of a grudging attitude. 

The book of Jonah is filled with the concept of “repentance.” And we asked in the sermon yesterday, “What does it mean to repent?”  While certainly a biblical word, repentance often concurs up in our modern minds some wide-eyed, hair-disheveled, twang-tongued, sweating, Bible-pounding evangelist yelling “REPENT, or burn in hell!”  Is it about fear? Is it about emotion?

When disciplining children, we want to get them to a point where they turn away from whatever attitude of rebellion that led to an altercation needing correction; and we want to see them genuinely break and understand what they did wrong, and therefore desire to not do that deed again and now behave in a proper way. And that is essentially what it means to repent. More on that in a moment (actually tomorrow), but let’s go to the story of Jonah.

Jonah was one of the earlier prophets, being a contemporary of Amos and Hosea – whom we have recently studied. Though these two were prophetic voices to the nation of Israel, Jonah was called by God to speak to the big, bad boys on the block in the ancient world at that time – the Assyrians. These were bad, bad people. They were brutal to captured foes in particular – known to impale people on a pole – making a human popsicle of them. The Assyrians were the enemy of Israel, and though they would later be used by God to punish Israel, their power to do so had not yet reached sufficient strength.

It was not as if Israel had her own act together as a nation – recall the messages of Hosea and Amos. Though this was the peak of their territorial expansion and material success under the reign of Jereboam II, there was nothing that really set them much apart from the heathen nations around them in terms of the true worship of God rather than idols and materialism.

So for Jonah to be called of God to go preach to these people seemed extraordinarily odd to him. Who would want to go to the center of such a place and tell them they were in trouble with God? If they did not like the message, they could make a popsicle out of Jonah. And if they repented, that would not be good for Israel. To Jonah, the whole thing looked like a lose/lose.

Over the years, I’ve used this slick little outline of Jonah to help remember the big idea of each of the four chapters of this short little Old Testament book…

Chapter 1 – Jonah makes the sea sick.

Chapter 2 – Jonah makes the whale sick.

Chapter 3 – Jonah makes the Ninevites sick.

Chapter 4 – Jonah makes God sick!

Jonah Flees From the Lord

1:1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

Nineveh was a huge city by ancient standards. It was seven times larger than the old city of Jerusalem for example. From Israel it was about 500 miles to the northeast – in modern Iraq near the border with Turkey … in fact, it is the modern city of Mosul, which we heard much about in the Iraq War.

Jonah essentially went in the opposite direction – catching presumably a Phoenician boat sailing to the coast of Spain to Tarshish – about 3,000 miles in the wrong direction!

4 Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”

7 Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”

9 He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

10 This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)

11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”

12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”

13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.

It is interesting to see that these pagan, idolatrous men had more compassion for Jonah than God’s prophet had for them or the Ninevites. This whole story is filled with counter-intuitive elements. But Jonah’s sin had caused the sea to get sick, so reluctantly they tossed him overboard.

Jonah’s Prayer

1:17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

2:1  From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. 2 He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.

So Jonah has a personal revival in the belly of the whale (or whatever large fish it was). There have been accounts of whalers who have been swallowed by whales and survived the ordeal, but without doubt, this was a God-ordained intervention, as are many other elements of the story. We don’t need to have natural explanations.

Jonah continues with his prayer of repentance …

3 You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me.

4 I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’

5 The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.

6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit.

7 “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.

8 “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.

9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”

10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

So, chapter 2, Jonah made the whale sick, but the fish did his job, presumably depositing Jonah again on the eastern Mediterranean coast where he could resume his trip to Nineveh, now in obedience to God, even if grudgingly done.

Let me share some application thoughts from these first two chapters …

1.  Obeying and serving God may often go against our natural sensibilities and desires… and we may foolishly just go the other way.

We may not personally like the paths that God chooses for us. We may resent his calling and want to do what we would rather do. There is no shortage of people who can testify from their lives how for so long they resisted what God wanted them to do, until finally finding peace and satisfaction by doing what he directed and desired.

2.  We may often find ourselves in denial or justification of our desires over obeying God’s call… and just sleep through reality.

Again, there is no shortage of stories of people who knew God wanted them to do something, but they fought it and denied it and went their own way. Is there something – large or small – that you know God has put in your heart to do … but you are fighting this thought / idea / feeling / open door out of fear or resistance?

3.  You can know all the right answers, but still not be in obedience to God.

This is a real warning for those of us who like the academic side of things … believing that all is right because we are thinking the correct things theologically… Jonah knew all the right answers for the seaman who questioned him.

4.  God may chose to bring an unpleasant experience into our lives to get us back on track with following him.

Unpleasant experiences are not always God getting our attention. Bad things happen because we simply live in an imperfect world. But there are times when in light of God’s work in your life and what the Spirit is telling you through the Word, that God intervenes to get you turned to a new and proper direction.

Check back tomorrow to finish Jonah and to gain some final, additional thoughts on repentance.

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This entry was posted in Uncharted and tagged , , by Randy Buchman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed 3-4 hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and am the editor of a Baltimore/Maryland sports blog called "The Baltimore Wire." My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with a Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

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