Jonah . . . An Example of Real Faith?


Today, we’re looking at the passage where Jonah runs away from God. In this passage, Jonah is going to teach us about what real faith is. This may not sound quite right; after all, Jonah’s not usually considered a good candidate, at first glance! How can a prophet who runs from God be an example of real faith?



But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.

Here, you can see that God intentionally sends a storm out to hound Jonah as he tries to get away.[1] This is a very bad storm that threatens to break their ship in two! God does what He needs to in order to get our attention when we run from our calling. Somne people believe that God doesn’t have a plan and purpose for every believer’s life. I disagree. I believe God has made us each unique and special, and has given us different niches within our local churches. The Apostle Paul told us that we’re all different members of the same body – the Church. God gifted Jeremiah to be a prophet. He made Paul the way he was, with his peculiar background, upbringing, education and citizenship, in order to do a specific job (Galatians 1:13-16). He did the same for Jonah.

Your calling, your specific gifts and your specific task are probably not as exciting as Jonah’s mission. But, you have one.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).

Jonah had a calling from God, and he chose to run away. God was not pleased, and His word tells us that He will discipline His wayward children (John 15:1-2; Hebrews 12:5-11).


Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.

The Bible tells us “the mariners were afraid.” I wonder how bad this storm was to make the sailors afraid!? They “cried every man unto his god.” Notice that man’s instinctive reaction is to pray to something higher than yourself. In this case, each sailor prays to his own god. You could say we’re “hard-wired” to do this. Where does this instinct come from? It comes from being made in God’s image! We’re hard-wired (all of us) to seek relationships with (1) other people and (2) with God.

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them (Genesis 1:26-27).

The sailors “cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them.” It’s amazing how quickly our priorities change when we’re in physical danger! If only people would realize that they’re in worse, eternal and spiritual danger without Christ![2] Now, here is a good question – why was Jonah sleeping? Shouldn’t he be awake, worried sick about God’s vengeance? Shouldn’t his conscience be giving him fits?

the answer seems to be that Jonah had some bizarre, false sense of security. He knew intellectually that God could reach out and stop him in his tracks. But practically, however, he’d allowed himself to forget all about it[3] Once we start down the path of stupidity and completely abandon God’s word on a certain point, we allow Satan to fool us into a false sense of security that isn’t real.

Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil (Ecclesiastes 8:11).


So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.

The shipmaster seems to think, “the more gods we pray to, the better! Sooner or later one of them will hear us!” Isn’t it so sad to see a pagan urging the prophet of God to pray![4]. Consider how Muslims put our prayer life to shame! They’re unbelievers, and yet they pray several times per day!


And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.

Jonah has come out on deck in the middle of this horrible storm. You can picture the sailors taking shelter wherever they could find it. Maybe in some cabin, maybe behind something solid. The wind and the waves are trying to break the entire boat into pieces all around them. The sailors decide to cast lots to find out who is responsible for bringing this evil storm upon them.

God providentially arranges so that the lot falls on Jonah. Imagine how defeated Jonah must feel right now!

  • Wakened out of a sound sleep to find himself in the middle of a terrible storm.
  • Told he ought to pray by a pagan ship’s captain
  • Reluctantly participating in drawing lots to see who is responsible for bringing this storm on them

I can picture Jonah right now as everybody’s eyes turn to him. His shoulders slump and the entire weight of his stupidity and sin comes crashing down on him. He thinks, “you’re not going to let me get away from this, are you . . .?”


Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou?

These questions come at him rapid-fire from different people:

  • “Why is this storm happening?”
  • “What do you do for a living?”
  • “Where do you come from”

Can you imagine the guilt and shame Jonah felt when they asked him what his job was!?


And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.

Jonah responds, “I’m a Hebrew! I worship the Lord God of heaven who made everything, including the sea and the dry land”

This kind of claim is odd in a pluralistic society,[5] but in the heat and fear of the moment the sailors aren’t going to have a philosophical discussion with Jonah. What they would have snickered at a few hours ago they’re now ready to take seriously!


Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.

Now the men are terrified, “What have you done to bring this upon us!?” [6] They knew that Jonah was fleeing from God; that part of the story had come out sometime before[7]. They probably smiled condescendingly then, shrugged their shoulders and thought “you’re running from your God. Ok. Whatever . . .”

They don’t think it’s so funny anymore – now they’re completely horrified[8]. Who is this God who controls the sea and the storms? Who is this guy that this God is angry at?

JONAH REPENTS (1:11-16):


Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous.

Meanwhile, the sea is growing worse and worse. The sails are being almost torn to pieces in the rigging. The masts are groaning under the pressure of the wind. The ship itself is creaking from the pressure of being tossed up and down like a bathtub toy on the sea. They ask Jonah in increasingly desperation, “what are we supposed to do!?”

Their own gods are discarded and forgotten for the moment – they can’t help them. They’re perfectly willing to accept Jonah’s God as the supreme and real God of heaven and earth – at least for now. All the loyalty, sacrifices and devotion they made have for their own “gods” is completely forgotten when their own lives are at risk of being lost.

Meanwhile, the sailors are still standing there, asking Jonah, “what are we going to do!?” It’s at this very time when God is doing what He must to get ahold of us, to grab our attention, that we ask ourselves that very same question. Remember, God chastens those He loves (Heb 12:4-17).

So, if you’re in a similar situation, wher God is disciplining you to get your attention about something . . . “what are we going to do?” [9]. We ought to do what Jonah does, and stop running and repent


And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.

He asks to be thrown into the sea, which would mean certain death[10]. Why does Jonah choose this route? So the sailors won’t die. They’re suffering for something that he did, and he isn’t willing the they would continue to suffer – it’s not their fault.

What Jonah does is an example of real repentance. He basically admitted, “it’s my fault this is happening!” He owns up to it.

Why does Jonah have to be thrown into the sea? Why can’t he just repent and tell them to let him out at the closest port, and make his way back home? I think this is a very graphic lesson learned for us. Here it is – if we are serious about repentance, and we’ve confessed our specific sin and forsaken it – we ought to be willing to deal with the consequences.

Jonah is the only prophet of God who ever actually ran away and defied God. He knew the storm was God’s doing. He knew God made the lot fall on him. The ship is about to break apart in this ferocious storm. This isn’t a walk in the park – they’re literally all about to lose their lives! Evidently God isn’t through disciplining him yet. What else can Jonah do?

The idea of the Lordship of Christ is a strange one in too much of Christianity. We read Jonah’s words and see them abstractly, like a movie scene or a cute Sunday School lesson – we don’t see it as a real-life possibility. We think, perhaps even unconsciously, “that’s noble and all, but this is the 21st century . . .”

Christ MUST be Lord of your life. You and I MUST be willing to suffer loss for His sake. This isn’t an abstract, cold idea – it must be a reality in our lives! There was a terrorist attack in Kenya in June of 2014. Here is an excerpt from a news story that illustrates what real Lordship of Christ ought to look like in a believer’s life[11]:

Somali militants who murdered 48 people in a Kenyan village as they watched the World Cup went door to door asking residents if they were Muslim or spoke Somali – and shot them dead if either answer was ‘no’, witnesses revealed today.

The attack on the coastal village of Mpeketoni, about 30-miles southwest of the tourist centre of Lamu, came at the end of a weekend of bloodshed that has exposed the world to the shocking depravity of terrorists, apparently emboldened by each other’s acts.

Witnesses told how about 30 gunmen – believed to be members of Somali terror group al-Shabaab – arrived in the town in minibuses at 8pm yesterday before bursting into residents homes, shooting dead any man they thought was not Muslim.

They came to our house at around 8pm and asked us in Swahili whether we were Muslims,’ said Anne Gathigi. ‘My husband told them we were Christians and they shot him in the head and chest.’ ”

How easy would it have been for that poor man to say they were Muslims? How painless and tempting it would have been! Why didn’t this man do it? We can’t ask him now, but we can assume he would rather die than renounce Christ. That’s what making Christ Lord of your life looks like. It isn’t abstract and it isn’t old-fashioned – it’s real. Jonah understood that

He’d done wrong and he’d repented – he’d admitted fault. Now, he was willing to die if necessary it that was what God wanted.


Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.


Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee.


So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.


Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.

Jonah knew that was what the Lord wanted – and he was right. The storm ceased immediately. The sailors are terrified – God’s power has been demonstrated now more than ever.


What does real faith look like? It doesn’t mean we’re perfect. Jonah wasn’t perfect.

It means we own up to our sin when God chastens us. Jonah sure did.

It means that we claim Christ as Lord of our life. Jonah did. Remember Jesus’ words:

And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it (Mark 8:34-35).

Are these just profound words, or a command? It’s a command. 

Real faith means we’re willing to actually live our faith out in real life. Jonah was willing – and if God wanted Him dead for disobeying Him, so be it. That man in Kenya was, too – and was willing to die rather than deny the name of His Savior. Are you?


[1] “When Jonah was set on ship-board, and under sail for Tarshish, he thought himself safe enough; but here we find him pursued and overtaken, discovered and convicted as a deserter from God, as one that had run his colours,” (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, 6 vols. [New York, NY: Fleming H. Revell, n.d.], 4:1281).

[2] “And shall we not put a like value upon the spiritual life, the life of the soul, reckoning that the gain of all the world cannot countervail the loss of the soul? See the vanity of worldly wealth, and the uncertainty of its continuance with us . . . Oh that men would be thus wise for their souls, and would be willing to part with that wealth, pleasure, and honour which they cannot keep without making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience and ruining their souls for ever! Those that thus quit their temporal interests for the securing of their spiritual welfare will be unspeakable gainers at last; for what they lose upon those terms they shall find again to life eternal,” (Henry, Commentary, 4:1281).

[3] C.F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch are spot on when they remark, “[i]t was not an evil conscience, or despair occasioned by the threatening danger, which induced him to lie down to sleep; nor was it his fearless composure in the midst of the dangers of the storm, but the careless self-security with which he had embarked on the ship to flee from God, without considering that the hand of God could reach him even on the sea, and punish him for his disobedience. This security is apparent in his subsequent conduct,” (Commentary on the Old Testament, 10 vols. [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2011), 10:265-266).

Henry, in his characteristically warm way, writes, “[i]t is the policy of Satan, when by his temptations he has drawn men from God and their duty, to rock them asleep in carnal security, that they may not be sensible of their misery and danger. It concerns us all to watch therefore,” (Commentary, 4:1281).

[4] “There is extreme irony here: a ‘heathen sea captain’ pleaded with a Hebrew prophet to pray to his God. It is sobering to see one who might be termed an ‘unbeliever’ pleading for spiritual action on the part of a ‘believer.’ The ‘unbeliever’ saw the gravity of the situation while the prophet slept. It is a sad commentary when those who are committed to the truth of God’s word have to be prodded by a lost world into spiritual activity,” (Billy K. Smith and Franklin S. Page, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, vol. 19B, The New American Commentary [Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995], 231).

Charles L. Feinberg comments, “[w]hat a shame that the prophet of God had to be called to pray by a heathen. How the Muslim with his five times of prayer daily puts us to shame as believers. Are there among us those who remember not to lift their hearts to God once a day?” (The Minor Prophets, Kindle ed. [Chicago, IL: Moody, 1990], Kindle Locations 2445-2446).

[5] Commenting on Jonah’s insistence that His God “hath made the sea and the dry land,” H.L. Ellison wrote, “[i]n a pluralistic society, it was difficult to find a title that would more perfectly express the supremacy of Yahweh,” (Jonah, vol. 7, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985], 372).

[6] “To run away from a god was foolish; but to run from ‘the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land’ was suicidal. Their question, ‘What have you done?’ was not a question about the nature of Jonah’s sin but an exclamation of horror. They were frightened to the depths of their beings,” (Smith and Page, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, 235).

[7] Did Jonah tell them everything right now, as the storm raged? Or, had he told them the bare bones of his story before the storm struck? Nobody will ever know for sure, but I lean towards the latter option.

[8] “The fact that Jonah is fleeing from an audience with his god would generally not have been cause for alarm. But now the Sailors are overwhelmed by its significance,” (John Walton, Jonah, vol. 8, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Tremper Longman III and David Garland [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008], 472).

[9] “When sin has raised a storm, and laid us under the tokens of God’s displeasure, we are concerned to enquire what we shall do that the sea may be calm; and what shall we do? We must pray and believe, when we are in a storm, and study to answer the end for which it was sent, and then the storm shall become a calm. But especially we must consider what is to be done to the sin that raised the storm; that must be discovered, and penitently confessed; that must be detested, disclaimed, and utterly forsaken. What have I to do any more with it? Crucify it, crucify it, for this evil it has done,” (Henry, Commentary, 4:1284).

[10] Did Jonah ask to be tossed overboard, content with the sure knowledge that God would save him? Some, like Matthew Poole, suggest that. I don’t.

John Calvin writes, “[h]e seemed like a man in despair, when he would thus advance to death of his own accord. But Jonah no doubt knew that he was doomed to punishment by God. It is uncertain whether he then entertained a hope of deliverance, that is, whether he confidently relied at this time on the grace of God. But, however it may have been, we may yet conclude, that he gave himself up to death, because he knew and was fully persuaded that he was in a manner summoned by the evident voice of God. And thus there is no doubt but that he patiently submitted to the judgment which the Lord had allotted to him. Take me, then, and throw me into the sea,” (Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, vol. 3 [Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010], 55–56).

Feinberg remarks, “Jonah confesses he is worthy of death and is willing to endure the punishment. These are noble words from a true servant of God. He was willing to sacrifice himself to save those about to die,” (Minor Prophets, Kindle Locations 2462-2463).

Keil and Delitzsch agree, and write, “Jonah confesses that he has deserved to die for his rebellion against God, and that the wrath of God which has manifested itself in the storm can only be appeased by his death. He pronounces this sentence, not by virtue of any prophetic inspiration, but as a believing Israelite who is well acquainted with the severity of the justice of the holy God, both from the law and from the history of his nation,” (Commentary, 10:267).

[11] Tara Brady and Matthew Blake, “ ‘My husband told them we were Christians and they shot him in the head’: How al-Shabaab militia went from door to door killing non-Muslims as Kenyan village watched World Cup,” DailyMail Online. 16JUN14. Retrieved from

Jonah . . . the Missionary?

This is the beginning of a short little series on the Book of Jonah. Enjoy!


All people know about Jonah is that he was swallowed by a giant fish! That’s all most Christians remember about this wonderful little book. The truth is the Book of Jonah isn’t a Sunday School lesson, but a real account of a real event that has real meaning for your life

 JONAH RUNS (1:1-3):


1 Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.


Jonah is commanded to go and preach to the people in Nineveh because of their wickedness. God hasn’t just found out about their wickedness. It’s just gotten so bad that He’s decided to take some drastic action. Nineveh is in Assyria, and if you know the Old Testament, you know that the northern kingdom of Israel isn’t exactly friends with Assyria!

God gives an immediate command, “Arise, go to Nineveh!” In other words, “Go, right now!” It’s also a pretty big undertaking – over 500 miles overland! This is more than a car-trip!

Jonah 1 (1-3)
See the distance Jonah had to travel, from Israel all the way overland to Nineveh?


Before we move on, I want you to think about how strange of a command this is in the Old Testament. We see calls for repentance all the time in the prophets – for Israel, though. Where else do we see a prophet sent directly to a pagan nation to preach to them about their wickedness in particular? Nowhere else! So, this raises the question – what kind of missions work was done in the Old Testament?

 Missions Work in the Old Testament:

Here are some good questions to ponder, and if these questions have never occurred to you, then do some thinking on it now:

  • Why don’t we see a “great commission” in the OT?
  • Why weren’t the Israelites told to go make disciples of all nations, and bring them to Jerusalem to worship the One true God?
  • Why don’t we have maps telling about Old Testament missionary journeys in the back of our Bibles?
  • Did God have no message of salvation for the rest of the world?

I want to start by reminding you that God has worked with mankind in different ways, at different times. Before God chose Israel, He worked with all of mankind individually. After God chose Israel, He worked with all of mankind through Israel

Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3).

God makes a whole lot of promises, but one of them is that the vehicle of blessing for all the other nations will be Israel:

“In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai. For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount. And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel” (Exodus 19:1-6).

What in the world was God talking about here? What does it mean to be a kingdom of priests? What does a priest do? A priest represents God to the rest of the people – He’s a go-between. So, to go back to the missions question – what were the Israelites supposed to do to fulfill this responsibility of being a kingdom of priests, or a corporate go-between for God and the pagan nations?[1]

  • Option #1: Go out, preach the Gospel, and make disciples!
  • Option #2: Live holy lives, follow God’s law with a true heart and let unbelievers gradually flow to them, slowly but surely?

Don’t worry about what scholars say, or what your study Bible notes say – what do you think? I take option #2. If Israel had lived as a holy people, God would have continued what began under Solomon. After all, some great things happened under Solomon. Israel came closer than ever before to realizing the covenant blessings that God had promised for obedience. The temple was built and God did dwell inside it. Solomon was a godly king who only asked for the wisdom to rule right (see 1 Kings 10:1-9).

And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom (1 Kings 4:34).

And king Solomon passed all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom. And all the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom, that God had put in his heart (2 Chronicles 9:22-23).

This sounds like a good start, doesn’t it? So, what happened to this seemingly unstoppable roller-coaster ride to greatness and God’s blessing? The Bible tells us:

But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites; Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart (1 Kings 11:1-3).

Sin is what happened. That’s why we need Christ –  the perfect King who will succeed where even good men like Solomon failed.


3 But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.


So far, so good – Jonah is commanded to go preach to the heathen Assyrians in Nineveh. But, he doesn’t like that idea, so he heads off to Joppa and books passage[2] on a ship bound for Tarshish. Nobody is quite sure where Tarshish was – but the smart money says the southwest coast of Spain[3].

 Why is Jonah Running?

So, why is Jonah fleeing? What in the world does he hope to accomplish?

  • Option #1 – Jonah thinks he can hide from God, and God won’t be able to find him[4]
  • Option #2 – Jonah just wants to get away, wash his hands of the whole business and have God find someone else for the job[5]

I go with option #2. Jonah hates the Assyrians and doesn’t want anything to do with them. He’s so sick at heart and outraged that God’s mercy and forgiveness is being offered to them, that he’s willing to run from God!

Think about how drastic of a move this is! He’s dropping everything, leaving his home, family, friends, possessions – everything! He books last-minute passage on a ship bound for the ends of the earth (not literally, but you know what I mean!) – this must have cost a whole lot of money! He has no baggage, probably not much money and no plans.

He used a ship; today we’d use a plane. If I were in Jonah’s position today, and wanted to run far, far away, long-distance destinations available from O’Hare airport today are Beijing, Berlin, Tokyo and Zurich. I’d personally choose Zurich. There’s a flight leaving on tomorrow, for only $1,000! I could pay for the flight, and survive for a few weeks on just the credit card, but I’d have to figure something out very quickly:

  • Where would I live?
  • How would I earn money?
  • Where will I buy clothes?
  • How will I afford food

Jonah is doing something very drastic – and his situation would be more dire than mine! He’s so opposed to the very idea of the Gospel[6] going to the Assyrians that He’d willing to do all this!

Why Didn’t Jonah Want To Go?

He didn’t want to go because the Assyrians were not nice people! They were the dominant empire in the entire Middle East – Babylon would come next. Archeologists and historians have discovered evidence of several massive military battles in Israel from 853 – 845 B.C. During that period, Israel, Judah and a bunch of other countries apparently joined together to defend themselves against the Assyrians[7]. The Judean King, Jehu, is shown cowering down and kissing the Assyrian King’s feet in this picture, below:


In Jonah’s day, Assyria is in the middle of a roughly 75 year (823-744 B.C.)[8] slump. They’re not doing so well anymore and are fighting amongst themselves. Meanwhile in Israel, Jeroboam II has come to power. Israel is expanding northwards and gaining territory. The economy is booming. Jonah and Hosea are from the same approximate generation.

But, Assyria is still out there, still dangerous and still a threat to Israel. They’re a serious danger to Israel – that means they’re a serious danger to Jonah. I want you to picture the absolute last kind of foreigner you’d want to share the Gospel with as an American – who would it be?

  • The five Taliban members who were just released in trade for SSG Bowe Bergdahl?
  • The 9/11 hijackers?
  • Osama bin Laden?
  • ISIS?

How would you like to leave behind your family, friends and your home to preach the Gospel to these folks? Not many Christians would be too eager to sign up for that trip? Yet, that’s what Jonah was told to do; and he didn’t like it!

There is a new book out about a Lutheran chaplain during World War II named Harry Gerecke. He served two years in England and then in Europe with the Army. He was preparing to ship back home in the summer of 1945, but was asked to stay and be a Chaplain to the German war-criminals during the Nuremberg Trials. He had watched soldiers blown up, shot and killed by Germans for two years. Now, he was being asked to delay his return home and preach the Gospel to the captured Nazi leaders, many of whom had committed horrible atrocities!

What would he do? What would you do? He stayed 1.5 years extra and reported that four men were saved![9] Put yourself in Jonah’s position, and don’t condemn him too easily. What he did was wrong, of course – but what would you do if God told you to travel to Syria and preach the Gospel to ISIS militants?


I won’t answer that question until we reach the end of the book! But, what can we learn about God from the very beginning of this little book? God saves people from every tribe, tongue and nation.

The Gospel isn’t an American thing and it wasn’t an Israelite thing – God’s vision has always encompassed more than that. Israel wasn’t supposed to sit still and look pretty because she was chosen (“elect”) by God to be His holy people – she was supposed to:

  1. live the right way
  2. follow His law out of a pure heart, and
  3. draw other nations to Him by her own example!

The Gospel gets shared with everybody, even if we don’t like them.


[1] This is indeed the crux of the issue! Perhaps the most accessible advocate for the idea that Israelites were supposed to be active missionaries to the pagan world is Walter J. Kaiser. He asks, “[i]t is at this point that the thesis of this book participates in issues that are hotly debated today: Did this ‘kingdom of priests’ serve Israel alone or the entire world? Were they to be active or merely passive witnesses,” (Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a Light to the Nations, 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012], xiii). Kaiser goes on to insist, “[t]he fact remains that the goal of the Old Testament was to see both Jews and Gentiles come to a saving knowledge of the Messiah who was to come. Anything less than this goal was a misunderstanding and an attenuation of the plan of God. God’s eternal plan was to provide salvation for all peoples; it was never intended to be reserved for one special group, such as the Jews, even as an initial offer!” (Ibid, xiv). Kaiser states the issue well, but his opponents do not suggest that Israel was supposed to be an elitist, snobbish society. Nor do they suggest that Israel did not fail in her adherence to the Mosaic Covenant. They merely disagree over the nature of her missions mandate – was it passive or active?

Over against Kaiser’s model is the idea that Israel’s “missions mandate,” such as it was, was basically passive. This position believes that the great ingathering of Gentiles is an eschatological one, for the latter days. This position is well represented by Andreas J. Kostenberger and Peter T. O’Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission (Downer’s Grove, IL : IVP, 2001), 25-53. At this point, one’s theological stripes will be revealed – will this ingathering take place when Jesus rules and reigns from a literal Jerusalem over a literally restored Israel (dispensationalist), or is this ingathering taking place right now as the spiritual kingdom of Christ reigns in the hearts of the elect (covenantalist)?

I hold to the second option, advocated by Kostenberger and O’Brien, that Israel’s missions mandate was very real, but basically very passive (Jonah being an obvious exception). I am a dispensationalist, so I believe the great eschatological ingathering of Gentiles will take place when Israel is restored, and Christ rules and reigns as her King in Jerusalem in the Millennium (see, for example, Isa 61).

[2] There is some debate about whether Jonah chartered the entire vessel, or whether he merely booked passage as a passenger to Tarshish, where the ship had already been headed. The Scripture itself provides the answer; v.5 tells us that the frightened sailors tossed the wares they were carrying overboard. Evidently the ship was engaged in trade and already bound for Tarshish; Jonah merely slipped on-board after negotiating the fare. If Jonah had chartered the entire vessel outright, they wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of loading wares for later sale in Tarshish. If they had tried to, there would no doubt have been a considerable delay and Jonah would have sought passage on another vessel.

[3] “Although alternatives have been suggested, south-west Spain remains the most likely location for Tarshish,” (T. Desmond Alexander, “Jonah,” in Obadiah, Jonah and Micah, vol. 26, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988], 110). John Walton suggests Tarshish need not be taken as a literal destination, but as a reference to great distance, e.g “I’m headed for Timbuktu!” doesn’t necessarily mean one is going to Mali, Africa. It could mean one just wants to get far, far away (Jonah, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 8, revised ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008], 469).

[4] No Bible believer would really believe one can literally hide from God. This is not a legitimate option!

[5] “Jonah wished to escape, not beyond the power of God, but away from the stage on which God was working out His purposes and judgments. The Christian worker anxious to avoid the full impact of modern problems should have no difficulty in understanding Jonah’s action,” (H. L. Ellison, Jonah, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 7 [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985], 369). See also Ellison’s remarks on the silliness of the first interpretive option (369). Walton remarks, “Jonah does not necessarily think that distance will put him out of range of the Lord’s reach; he may have thought his flight will simply result in the Lord’s finding someone else for the job,” (Jonah, 469).

[6] Many commentators discount the idea that Jonah was a “missionary” in the NT sense, and certainly don’t agree that Jonah preached the Gospel (according to the revelation Jonah had at the time, the Gospel entailed saving faith in God alone for justification [e.g. Gen 15:6] and loving adherence to the Mosaic Covenant as proselytes). John Walton (Jonah, 457-458, 477-485) and H.L. Ellison (Jonah, 363, 383-384) are particularly insistent on this point. The particulars will wait until we reach Jonah 3, but as for a hint of my own position, Jesus’ own words in Mt 12:41 are rather decisive on this point! But for the sake of brevity I’ll simply refer to Jonah as a “missionary” and his message as “the Gospel” and save the details for later!

[7] See A. K. Grayson, “Assyria, Assyrians” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, ed. Bill T. Arnold and H.T.M. Williamson (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 2005), 100-102

[8] Ibid.

[9] This information is from Lyle Dorsett, “Would You Share the Gospel with Hitler’s Worst Henchmen?” 23MAY14. Retrieved from