Is anybody home?

Is anybody home?

The Bible tells us that, even though Abel is dead, his faith still speaks to us. Well, Zechariah is dead too, but God still speaks to us through his words.

God’s message for us, through Zechariah, is “return to me, and I’ll return to you!” (Zech 1:3). That’s the message of his entire book. It’s a message for covenant people to be more faithful to Him.

We might object, “But I haven’t left God!” That’s what Zechariah’s audience thought, too.

We might think, “This is for other people! It’s not for me!” Well, that’s what they thought, too.

It’s what we always think—and we’re always wrong.

Zechariah begins his book with an introduction:

In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, saying,

Zechariah 1:1

In order to express what’s happening in Zechariah’s day, I’ll ask and answer a few questions.

When is Zechariah preaching? Well, it’s about 519-520 B.C.

Where does Zechariah fit into the big picture of Israel’s history? For all practical purposes, the Babylonians conquered Judah in the last decade of the 7th century B.C. Jerusalem went through a brief period of passive resistance, but eventually rebelled and the Babylonians arrived in force to take the city. Jerusalem fell in 586 B.C. The Babylonians carted prisoners off into exile throughout this entire period. There they stayed for a long time.

  • About 18 years before Zechariah’s ministry, in 538 B.C., the Persian king Cyrus let a large delegation return to Jerusalem to re-build the temple (Ezra 1).
  • 17 years before, in about 537 B.C., Daniel died in exile in Babylon. I’m certain he would have wished to return, but he couldn’t.
  • Zechariah begins preaching in about 520-519 B.C., along with Haggai.
  • Three or four years later, in 516 B.C., the returned exiles finally completed the temple.
  • 50 years after Zechariah’s ministry began, in the 470s, the events in Esther take place.
  • 70 years on, sometime in the mid 440s B.C., Nehemiah arrives from Persia and sets himself the task of re-building the walls of Jerusalem.
  • 90 years later, in the early 430s B.C., Malachi’s preaching ministry begins.

What’s going on in Israel right now? Well, you have desolation, destruction, and ruin. The city has lain vacant lo these 90 years or so. What do you think will happen to a city left empty for that long? It’s why I chose this picture to express something of the mess the exiles inherited when they arrived:

Foreigners occupy the land and the Israelites have no autonomy at all.[1] Stale dates on paper make us forget that 90 years means a lot of water under the bridge. Think on it. Transport yourself to 1930 …

  • Mickey Mouse cartoons first appear in newspapers.
  • Herbert Hoover is President
  • Al Capone is active in Chicago
  • It’s illegal to produce, import, transport or sell alcohol!

How about a real example; one closer to home? Consider the 1930 census data for a residence near my church, in Olympia, WA. Specifically, 118 Cushing St. Here’s the actual page from the 1930 census to which I’ll be referring[2]:

At that address in 1930, there lived Andrew and Ido Lillis. They were both immigrants from Finland, and their native language was Swedish. Ido was a homemaker, and Andrew was a laborer at the “Verneer Plant.” They had two children. The son, Lawrence (age 22), worked with his father as a fellow laborer at the “Verneer Plant.” The daughter, Edith (age 17), stayed home with her mother.

The burning question on the 1930 census was “do you have a radio set?” I must report the Lillis family did not own such a device!

Here is that very same address, today:

But, the catch is that structure from the picture was built in 1937. The home that census worker visited in 1930 is gone! I say all that to say this—90 years is a lot of water under the bridge. Things change. Entire generations live and die. Many people in Jerusalem don’t know, care or remember what used to be.

What’s Israel’s job? It’s pretty simple; (1) build a temple for God to be with them, and (2) start over by following the law because they love Him—don’t make the mistakes their fathers did! Well, what were their mistakes? We ought to know that, so we can avoid repeating them. Zechariah tell us:

 The LORD was very angry with your fathers …”

Zechariah 1:2

This doesn’t sound good—nobody wants the Lord to be angry with them. What did their fathers do? Why did they go into exile in the first place? Isaiah has some hints for us. I’m reaching for Isaiah here because Zechariah alludes to him two years later in his ministry (Zech 7:7).

Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.

Isaiah 58:1

God doesn’t want Isaiah to hold back. He obviously has a serious problem with his people. He explains:

Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God.

Isaiah 58:2

The problems seem to be externalism and fakery. God now mocks what the people ask him:

‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’

Isaiah 58:3

They want to know why God is “ignoring” them when they pray, when they fast, when they bring sacrifices. So, God tells them why:

Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist.

Isaiah 58:3-4

There’s no brotherly love. No real covenant community.

Fasting like yours this day, will not make your voice to be heard on high.

Isaiah 58:4

When there’s no obedience, God ignores us.     

Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?

Isaiah 58:5

Of course not! God sees through externalism. If we really love God, we want to do what He says. Isaiah tells them to start showing love to their brothers and sisters; to show brotherly love to one another in the community (a la John the Baptist). God explains what will happen if they obey:

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’

Isaiah 58:9

None of this is news to many Christians. But let me ask you this—will God one day say speak to our grandchildren and say, “I was very angry with your fathers?”

We want to instinctively respond, “No, because we’re not like them!”

  • is that really true?
  • do you think Isaiah’s audience were a bunch of people who self-consciously hated God and wanted to be free from Him?
  • did they think God was angry with them?
  • or, did they think God was just fine with them?
  • did they deceive themselves?

Is the Lord angry with us? We want to reply, “I’m not like them, even if other Christians are!” But, God is dealing with groups, here. The churches in Revelation weren’t all full of “bad” people, you know. Sometimes the righteous suffer because of the sins of the larger group. Our individualism won’t save us.

So, I ask again—is the Lord angry with us? Let’s see what Zechariah has to say:

Therefore say to them, Thus declares the LORD of hosts: Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts.

Zechariah 1:3

God says they’ve left Him behind, and they don’t even know it! How have they done that? It’s an important question, because right now (today!) we’re doing variations on the same thing. How have the folks in Zechariah’s day “left” God? Ezra and Haggai tell us how.

Ezra tells us they didn’t listen to God, and then rationalized their sins away. The first wave of exiles returned and built a makeshift altar to worship God “for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands,” (Ezra 3:3). They re-instituted proper worship and laid a new temple foundation (Ezra 3:8-13). They rejected help from the syncretistic locals (Ezra 4:3), who then discouraged them, made them afraid, and bribed officials to hinder their work (Ezra 4:4-5). So, they stop working on the temple.

Haggai then weighs in. He and Zechariah practically began their preaching ministries together. What does God think about their failure and their rationalizations? By the time Zechariah and Haggai roll up on the scene, it’s been 16 years—what does God think about this?

Well … God isn’t happy. Even worse, God doesn’t care about their reasons.

Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?

Haggai 1:4

What can they say to this? Not much. They had good reasons for being afraid. For being worried. For being scared. But, God doesn’t care. The time is never “right” to do what God wants. He told them:

Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD

Haggai 1:8

No matter what we think, we only honor and glorify God when we do things His way. And, in Zechariah and Haggai’s day, His way is to have a temple in which to dwell among His people. So, we do things His way or He takes no pleasure in us. We do things His way or we don’t honor Him.

God doesn’t care about our excuses. They might be real excuses, but He still doesn’t care. He wants us to get moving because He promises to help us along the way. The rest of Zechariah is full of encouragement to do just that. God has power over their circumstances.

He has power over ours, too.

But, now another question crops up in our minds as we mull this over. When you think about the real pressures Zechariah’s folks are facing, and the real obstacles in their way, and the fact that they’re probably not cartoon characters who self-consciously hate God … how did they “leave” Him in the first place?

Looking at what Ezra and Haggai said, it seems to go something like this:

  1. we chose to disobey (Hag 1:2-4)
  2. we rationalize our choice (Ezra 3,4)
  3. God doesn’t accept this—He rips our pious cloaks away (Hag 1:4)
  4. so, God takes no pleasure in us (Hag 1:8)
  5. and we dishonor Him (Hag 1:8)
  6. so, He calls us to return to Him (Zech 1:3)

Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the LORD.

Zechariah 1:4

This sounds so simple, so easy. Well, when Jeremiah tried to preach truth to Israelites, a mob of priests and angry folks seized him and declared he must die (Jer 26:7-11)! We read this and think, “what idiots!”

We forget that we’re very good at seeing ourselves in the best possible light— sometimes a very false light. The Pharisees didn’t think they were hypocrites—why not? How does this rationalization work? How do we deceive ourselves?

  1. You stop looking to Him to figure out His standards. You make your own standards—even with good intentions.
  2. Then, you begin to drift away, all while thinking God’s happy with you. With no guardrails, you begin to edge off the road and into the ditch.
  3. Eventually, God’s word sounds strange and offensive to you. But, you’ve been without it for so long that you can’t see that.
  4. So, when you do hear the real truth again, or a call to repentance, or a call to faithfulness … you get angry!
  5. So, you see, the messenger is always the bigot, the hater, the fundamentalist, the intolerant one, the legalist—we’re the “righteous” ones!

So, when we read Zechariah’s words, what do we think about them? He told his people their fathers “did not hear or pay attention to me,” (Zech 1:4). Will we hear or pay attention to God?

If we skip the introspection and immediately scoff and say, “Whaddya mean!? We’re all fine here!” then we’re making their same mistake. Can any of us bring our lives before the Word of God and say with a straight face that there are no problems? Can any of us really hear God say, “Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds,” then look inside our hearts and minds, and say, “I’m good! Nothing to see, here!”?

Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever?

Zechariah 1:5

Well, of course not! So, who should you listen to? Whose example is the best?

But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers?

Zechariah 1:6

They certainly did. Their fathers refused to listen, for whatever reason, because of whatever rationalization, because of whatever excuse. So, God did just what He said He would—He brought discipline!

God isn’t speaking to unbelievers, but to believers—to covenant people. If you’re a Christian, then you’re a covenant member and God is speaking to you just as surely as He spoke to Zechariah’s audience.

Picture that ruined building again:

As Zechariah’s audience surveyed a landscape that looked quite a bit like this, then thought about their duty to build a newer, cruder temple, they might have thought, “God isn’t here! Not in all this mess!” But, He is there … and He’d like to be there more often.

So, too, we Christians might look at our lives, which may look a bit like that picture. Ruined. Scarred. Messy. In need of some extensive renovation. Disobedient. We might mutter to ourselves, “God isn’t here! Not in the mess that’s my life!” But, He is there … and He’d like to be there more often!

So they repented and said, ‘As the LORD of hosts purposed to deal with us for pour ways and deeds, so has he dealt with us.’”

Zechariah 1:6

Eventually, some of their fathers repented, in the end—will we?

Zechariah’s message is deceptively simple. It’s a warning against externalism. So, return to God, and He’ll return to you. God says, in effect:

If you love me, then act like it—because I love you! Prepare your hearts to meet me, because first I’m gonna build my house, and then I’m gonna go to my house, and I want my people to serve me with right and loving hearts!

If you’ve a covenant member, a Christian, then your job is to consider how you’ve left God, and then return to Him—He’s full of mercy! But, how do you do that, exactly?

You do it by asking yourself two questions:

  1. What is one way in which I’ve left God?
  2. How will I return to Him today?

Zechariah spoke in general terms in this message. He meant for his people to raise their eyebrows, and consider their own lives. Whoever you are, there is at least one way in which you’re not being faithful to God. What is it? How will you return to Him?

Remember, we do things His way or He takes no pleasure in us. We do things His way, or we don’t honor Him. Remember the steps-towards self-delusion that Ezra and Haggai taught us:

  1. we choose to disobey (Hag 1:2-4)
  2. then, we rationalize our choices (Ezra 3, 4)
  3. and God doesn’t accept this—He sends His word to us to rip our pious cloaks away (Hag 1:4)
  4. so, He takes no pleasure in us (Hag 1:8),
  5. because we dishonor Him (Hag 1:8),
  6. so we must return to Him

So, I ask again:

  1. What is one way in which you’ve left God?
  2. How will you return to Him today?

Remember, it’s always the deceptively “simple things” that God cares about. Two years later, Zechariah will go on to chastise the people for their lack of brotherly love (Zech 7:8-10). These might seem like “little things,” but they’re actually the most important things.

What is “the thing” in your life? Zechariah says, “you guys don’t have to respond like our fathers did!” And neither do we. He told his people, “you guys don’t have to be self-deceived like they were!” And neither do we.

I say it again—God is speaking into our hearts and souls just as surely as He spoke to those folks in Jerusalem in 519 B.C. Zechariah says, “If you won’t hear God, then He won’t hear you!” And it’s the same for us.

So, again, I offer this challenge from this passage:

  1. What is one way in which you’ve left God?
  2. How will you return to Him today?

But, it’s harder than that. Answer the “how” question to the fourth level. Answer it four times in order to get a “real” answer.

I’ll demonstrate.

Let’s say I decide I’ve “left” God because I don’t show the right kind of love to my wife that scripture commands. I want to fix that. So, here goes:

  • Level one. “I’ll show better love to my wife.” This is cute, but worthless. There’s nothing specific here. It’s a well-meaning bit of nothingness, like a bite of cotton candy. That’s not good enough. I have to ask myself “yeah, and how will I do that?”
  • Level two. “I’ll show better love to my wife … by listening to her more.” That’s also cute. It’s only a bit less worthless than the first attempt. But, at least I’ve now identified a target. I can show better love by listening more. Great. So, what does that mean, exactly?
  • Level three. “I’ll show better love to my wife … by making dedicated time to talk with her more.” Getting better, but there’s still way too much wiggle room. What does that mean?
  • Level four. “I’ll show better love to my wife … by scheduling a 30-minute walk with her 2x per week and never breaking it.” Now we’re talking. Something specific, measurable, realistic … and real.

We each need to “return to God” in some way. What’s your way? How will you do it? Be specific! Answer the question four times in order to get a real answer that’ll actually mean something.

If we return to Him, then He’ll return to us.

[1] The exiles found themselves in a much-reduced geo-political situation. Even perhaps 130 years later under Nehemiah’s governorship, “Judah comprised an area covering roughly nine hundred square miles,” (Thomas V. Brisco, Holman Bible Atlas [Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1998], 171).

[2] “United States Census, 1930,” database with images. Retrieved from FamilySearch ( Washington > Thurston > Olympia > ED 32 > image 2 of 20; citing NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002).

When is God Merciful?

Ps 51 (1-2)

The Psalms are a collections of songs, written by different people over many, many years. The Psalms have always been treasured because they express the most basic and fundamental human emotions in poetic form – they give voice to what so many of us experience in our lives. If you’ve ever had a favorite song on the radio that expresses emotions, fears, anxieties and values that particularly resonate with you, then you’ll understand why the Book of Psalms is such an important part of the Bible. These psalms do the very same thing, but from a spiritual perspective – which makes them much more valuable than the catchy song on the radio!

Psalm 51 has always had a treasured place in Christian’s hearts, because every Christian can see himself in David’s words. We can transport ourselves into David’s world, understand his fears, feel his anxieties and experience the aching shame of regret for our sin. This is the value of the psalms – they express the timelessness of human emotions towards God. It doesn’t matter when the Psalm was written; it conveys feelings and attitudes that are universal. Time does not and cannot render these emotions obsolete.

In this Psalm, King David is begging God for mercy:

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions (Psalm 51:1)

  • Why is David asking for mercy?

He realizes that he has done something wrong, something wicked, something that God is not pleased with, something that is disgraceful to the Lord. Only somebody who belongs to the Lord by repentance and faith in Christ will actually feel ashamed of their conduct and beg for mercy.

There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God (Romans 3:11)

Now, this isn’t to say that unbelievers will never feel sorry for foolish and sinful things they do. What I mean is that it is impossible for unbelievers to feel a sense of accountability to the Lord, and a corresponding sense of shame and sorrow for their failure to serve Him. This is why the Apostle Paul warned us that, in our natural state as lost and rebellious sinners (cf. Romans 3:9-18):

  • There is nobody who is righteous
  • There is nobody who seeks God
  • Everybody is inherently worthless to God
  • There is no fear of God before anybody’s eyes

So, it’s important to realize that the only reason why David is even begging God for mercy in the first place is because he is a believer – and he therefore feels a profound and deep sense of sorrow and shame for his sins, so he begs God for mercy. Mercy is when God decides to withhold punishment that you deserve – this is what David is begging for.

  • What grounds does David have to ask God for mercy in the first place?

There two – (1) God’s lovingkindness and (2) the multitude of His tender mercies.

David can ask for mercy because he believes in God’s promise of the coming Savior – Jesus Christ. From our perspective, Jesus has already come, lived a perfect life for our sake, been tortured and executed for our sake, and rose miraculously from the dead to prove His jurisdiction, power and authority over Satan. From David’s perspective , this is all future – and he believes that God will do it. Know this – the only basis you have for begging God for mercy in the first place is if you have obeyed Jesus’ command to repent and believe the Gospel.

David is a believer in the future Messiah, Jesus Christ, and therefore has a right to lay claim to God’s lovingkindness and His tender mercy.

  • What does David ask God to do once mercy is granted?

He asks God to “blot out” out his transgressions because of the multitude of God’s “tender mercies.” If you belong to the Lord by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, then you have a perfect forgiveness and perfect assurance of forgiveness. Only a saved person can pray this kind of prayer.

Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin (Psalm 51:2).


I can’t think of a more beautiful metaphor for the kind of forgiveness and mercy God shows to His adopted children. David speaks of a complete washing and cleansing from all sin, and the clear conscience that comes from knowing you’ve actually been forgiven.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

This is all present-tense, and this is the kind of forgiveness and mercy that David believes in and looks forward to – and asks God for. What Christian cannot read David’s words and reflect on his own life, his own moral failures, his own unworthiness and his own need for forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation and adoption into God’s family by Jesus Christ!?

More on Psalm 51 next time . . .

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