Daniel Agee

Jonah 1: Beginning look at the ‘sign of Yonah’

Daniel AgeeThe book of Jonah is the Haftarah reading during the Day of Atonement/Yom Kippur. The main theme of Jonah is how God deals with different kinds of sinners and brings them into His fold: repentance and sacrifice. We have been taught this idea that all sinners are equal and because all sinners are equal, all sinners require the same remedy, but it’s not that simple. As Yonah sets out to run away from God’s mission, we discover that the more we know, the more God requires. Although God saved both the mariners and the people of Nineveh from His wrath, He did not use the same method to do so.

The book of Jonah is too complex to cover in a single session, so we’ll look at just Jonah 1 today. Yonah (Jonah) is introduced to us as prophet during the time of King Jeroboam II of Israel. King Jeroboam II began his reign just after Elisha’s death. Yonah prophesied that the northern nation of Israel would have a time of prosperity during Jeroboam II’s reign. 

God has another job for Yonah, he has more work for Yonah to do. He will not live in Israel to observe Israel’s prosperity. 

What is the city of Nineveh? The modern city of Mosul, Iraq is on the other side of the Tigris from the ancient city of Nineveh. 

Nineveh was not built by Nimrod, son of Ham, but by Asshur, the son of Shem. Nineveh is not the only city in the area at the time of Yonah. The towns of Rehoboth-ir,  Calah, and Resen are attached to Nineveh, as shown in Gen. 10:12. This is why Nineveh is referred to in Yonah as “a great city.” 

“Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.”(Jonah 1:2 NASB)

What wickedness is coming to God? It isn’t the idolatry, it’s Nineveh’s violence. This phrase has come up in Scripture only once before. This isn’t the first city whose wickedness has “come up before God.”

“I will go down now, and see if they (Sodom and Gomorrah) have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.” (Genesis 18:21 NASB)

Sodom and Gomorrah were murderous, extremely violent cities and He describes Nineveh the same way. It isn’t just the people who are crying out but the blood of their dead who have died is also crying out to God. 

This story is also similar to the sad story of the Levite’s concubine in Gibeah in Judges 19, who was “known” by the  men of the city and was killed as a result. The fact that all three stories (Sodom/Gomorrah, Nineveh and Gibeah) are written the same way is God telling us that the same wickedness was an issue in all three places. 

The one thing that all three cities had in common is that they did not inflict their wicked deeds on their citizens but on non-citizens. 

God had sent plagues onto Nineveh 20 years before that killed many people and they were still recovering from the great loss of life at this time. The people of Nineveh may have had a sense that they were being judged since the other cities didn’t suffer from plague but they had no idea who was judging them.  

Yonah had no interest in going to Nineveh so he decides he wants to flee to Tarshish (Spain), which back then would have been a 6 month journey from Joppa to Tarshish. 

“But Yonah 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 go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.” (Jonah 1:3 NASB)

God can hear and see what is happening in Nineveh so God could certain see what is happening in Spain. It says that Yonah was trying to flee God’s presence. As a follower of God, Yonah would understand that God’s presence on earth was in Jerusalem. Yonah doesn’t want to be in front of God’s face. Yonah didn’t want to be the one to “save” Nineveh. He isn’t running away from God Himself but he is running away from God’s job. You might say Yonah is trying to play hookey. 

Yonah then gets on the ship and they are on their way to Tarshish but they quickly run into problems. Yonah is oblivious to all of this and is sleeping in the bottom of the boat. The mariners were praying to their various deities. 

“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.” (Jonah 1:6 NASB)

The gods of the mariners were discussed in generic terms but when the captain confronts Yonah, he does not refer to Yonah’s God in the generic. At this point, they don’t know yet that Yonah is the cause of their distress. 

The mariners go to Yonah for help. Nineveh needs saving from destruction but they don’t so anywhere. God goes to Yonah to save Nineveh. Nineveh is treated differently than the mariners. 

What does God see in Nineveh vs. the mariners?

When the sailors realized that Yonah was running away from his God, they tried to fix it the problem by rowing back towards the land, but God wouldn’t let them go back to land. He wouldn’t let the mariners fix the problem. As they tried to go back to land, God made the storm worse. The mariners were trying to do what is right, which should be rewarded but God didn’t want this. What the mariners were trying to do is a form of repentance. 

God wanted to save the mariners, not with repentance but with sacrifice. The salvation of the mariners came only through the “death” of Yonah. 

In Nineveh’s case, the death of a prophet was not going to be accepted. Their salvation came only through repentance. Nineveh gets to repent while the mariners had to “kill” a prophet to obtain their salvation. 

Why is God treating these two groups differently? One reason is that the mariners valued human life. Yeshua said that the sign of Yonah is His sign. Yonah is a messianic character, a prototype of the Messiah. 

The death of the Messiah and the “death” of Yonah accomplished the same thing. The death of the Messiah saved those who believed in Him. The mariners did have some kind of belief in God. The death of Messiah does not bring salvation to those who don’t believe in Him. 

The citizens of Nineveh had no awareness of God. The death of a prophet would have no meaning to the city of Nineveh because life and death meant nothing to them. The death of a righteous person would mean nothing to Nineveh until they repented and turned to God. 

Yonah’s “death” made a profound mark on the mariners as we read: 

“Then the men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.” (Jonah 1:16 NASB)

God treated two groups of “heathens” differently. We are all God’s children but He reaches them where they are. This is something the people of Israel did not comprehend until after Yonah was written. This is to open the eyes of the people of Israel and Judah of how He saves people. 

In a sense, God saved both the mariners and the people of Nineveh from Himself. 

Speaker: Daniel Agee. Summary: Tammy.


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