Amazing Grace Bible Class Program #1052
February 23, 1992
From the time you and I were little children, we've known the story of Jonah, haven't we? Perhaps there's no other account anywhere in the Bible that is more dramatic, more bizarre, and for some people more unbelievable than the story of Jonah and the great fish.
As we continue our series looking at these more minor characters from the Old Testament, I want you take your Bible and turn to the little book of Jonah and I want us to read about his story together.
The Book of Jonah is divided into four chapters and each unfolds almost like an act of the prophet's drama. And if I were giving this little book of Jonah a title, I would call it the story of the running prophet and each one of the four chapters tells us where Jonah runs. Now let's look at Chapter One together. Take a look at verse one with me, it introduces our man.
"The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai." Now by the way you need to know that the person of Jonah is authenticated elsewhere in Scripture. There have been some skeptics who've heard the story of Jonah being swallowed by a fish who claim: Well, he was just some mythological character. Did you know that in 11 Kings 14:25 that Jonah, the son of Amittai same father, is identified there as well and we even know when he lived. He lived about 825 B.C.
And now in verse 2 we find the plot. God said to him, "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." In other words God comes to Jonah and says look, Nineveh, the great city that some historians have estimated had up to half a million at this time. Nineveh is wicked and Jonah I want you to go bring those people to repentance by your preaching. So what does Jonah do? Look at verse 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. "You see God told Jonah to go to Nineveh. Nineveh was east of where he was. But instead Jonah heads straight west, he goes down to Tarshish and he gets aboard a boat and he goes out on the Mediterranean and he's running away from God. I told you I would call this book, "The Running Prophet" and Chapter 1 is the story of him running away from God. Now what happens when he does?
Verse 4 says a terrible storm begins to come up and the ship is engulfed by the waves. The sailors begin to be frightened and in their fear, the captain runs and shakes Jonah and says, "Pray to your God that this calamity will leave us." And in the meantime, the sailors themselves are casting lots to see who got them in this mess and lo and behold the lot falls upon Jonah. And Jonah looks at the crew and he confesses to them. He said, "The reason there is this storm and that we are all in jeopardy is because I am running away from the Lord. Jonah even says, "Throw me overboard and all of this will cease."
But the sailors being humane men didn't want to do that. They tried their best to begin to row back to land, but they were unable to beat the waves. And so finally asking for forgiveness as they do it, they grab Jonah and they throw him overboard into the ocean in an effort to appease an angry God. Now incidentally let's stop the story here for just a moment.
Have you ever run from God? Have you ever been angry at God because of events in your life? Have you ever been disillusioned? Were you mad? Were you scared? Have you ever run from God? If so, let me ask you a question? What happened?
When you ran from God and like Jonah did exactly the opposite of what God has told you to do, what happened? I thought so. You ran into your own storm didn't you? And maybe you were even thrown overboard too. Verse 17 concludes the chapter of Jonah running away from God, it says, "But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights." Wow, can you imagine that? You know there are a lot of people on our earth who can't and they read the story of Jonah and those skeptics get to this point and they say, Uh, Uh, this is where I draw the line. I've got a problem with this man Jonah. To which I would reply, they don't have a problem with Jonah, they've got a problem with God. I like what Dr. A. C. Dickson said. He said, "I have no problem believing that when Jonah was swallowed he may have had an Waldorf-Astoria apartment, totally electricized and air conditioned. Or I like even better what another preacher said, "Jonah, swallowed by a great fish. Uh! I've got no problem with that, I would believe it if God said Jonah swallowed the fish." I like that. You see when God says something happens, God can make it happen. He's the God who created anything and the amazing thing is that the story of Jonah is not so bizarre, it's not even unique. And you know that history is documented for us numerous accounts of seafaring animals swallowing cows and horses and yes even men, and then retaining life.
Sir Francis Fox records a story which he assures us was carefully investigated by two scientists, one of whom was N. Day Pardill, editor of a scientific journal in Paris. I want to read to you some excerpts from this:
February 1891 - "The Whaleship Star of the East was in the vicinity of the Falcon Islands. The lookout spotted a large sperm whale three miles away. Two boats were lowered and in a short time, one of the harpooners was unable to spear the whale. The second boat attacked the whale, but was upset by a lash of its tail and the men were thrown into the sea. One being drowned, and another a James Bartley having disappeared could not be found. The whale was killed later and in a few hours the great body was laying by the ship's side and the crew was busy with axes and spades removing the blubber. They worked all day and into the night. The next day they attached some tackle to the stomach, which was hoisted onto the deck. The sailors were startled by spasmodic signs of life and inside was found the missing sailor, doubled up and unconscious. He was laid on the deck and treated to a bath of sea water which soon revived him, but his mind was not clear. He was placed in the Captain's quarters where he remained for two weeks, a raving lunatic. He was kindly and carefully treated by the Captain and the officers of the ship. He gradually regained possession of his senses and at the end of the third week, he had entirely recovered from shock and resumed his duties. During the sojourn in the whale's stomach, Bartley's skin, where exposed to the strong action of the gastric juices, underwent a striking change. His face, neck, and hands were 9 bleached to a deadly whiteness and took on the appearance of parchment. Bartley affirmed he would probably have lived in this house of flesh until he starved to death. For he said he lost his senses from fright and not from loss of air."
But you know the trouble with that account is, Jonah wasn't swallowed by a whale. The Hebrew word is "dagh" d-a -g-h and it literally means a fish, not a whale, not a mammal. But, there are some things you need to know about that.
I suspect that the species of fish that swallowed Jonah was probably a thing called a "Rhincodon typus" and you may have heard it called the "whale shark." Incidentally, Jacques Cousteau has identified Rhincodons even in the Mediterranean Sea. Dr. Harry Rimmer, President of Research Science Bureau of Los Angeles, writes of a case of an individual who was swallowed by a Rhincodon. "In the LITERARY DIGEST, we noted an account of an English sailor, who was swallowed by a gigantic Rhincodon in the English Channel. Forty-eight hours after the accident occurred the fish was sighted and slain. The man was found unconscious on the inside, but he was alive. He was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was found to be suffering from shock alone. A few hours later he was discharged having been declared physically fit. The man went on exhibit in the London Museum at a shilling admittance fee, being billed as the 'Jonah of the 20th Century.' In 1926, Dr. Rimmer met this man personally and said his physical appearance was odd. His body was devoid of hair, patches of yellowish-brown-whitish color covered his entire skin."
Folks what I want you to see is that there was no miracle in Jonah being swallowed by a fish. It has happened before, the miracle is what happened after he was swallowed. And that's recorded for us by the way in Chapter 2. Jonah's been running away from God, now look Jonah runs to God. Look at verse 1 with me. From inside the fish, Jonah prayed to the Lord, his God. Folks, that was likely the strangest prayer meeting that's ever occurred in the history of the world.
I want you to notice here, we don't read of Jonah praying when he got the news from God to go to Nineveh. We don't read of Jonah praying when he got down to Joppa running away. We don't even read of Jonah praying when he was on the boat and the storm was terrible. Where do we read of Jonah praying? When he was in the belly of the whale, he got on his knees and prayed. It kind of reminds you like the sign says, "When all else fails, try prayer. "I hope you've got the good sense not to wait till then, but if you have and if you do, get on your knees and pray and run to God. And look at his prayer. Look at verse 2 with me.
"He said: 'In my distress I called to the Lord and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help."' Verse 6, read it with me: ... To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God."' Now I want you to notice something from those statements, how God provides your perspective changes when you pray to Him. Now did you notice that, Jonah says, "Thank you God for listening to my cry," verse 2. Jonah cries out, "Thank you God for saving me from the pit," verse 6. You see once he began to run to God, Jonah didn't see the fish as the problem. The fish was the solution. If he had never been swallowed by the fish, he would have drowned, he couldn't have lived. But, from the pit of the stomach of that great fish, Jonah said, "You've saved me God, you've provided this for me." And sure enough He did, look at verse 10.
And the Lord commanded the fish and it vomited Jonah on to dry land. He ran to God. But then in the third chapter it gets even better because now Jonah runs with God. Verse 1 we read in Chapter 3 that God comes to Jonah for a second time and says, "Jonah, I want you to Nineveh, I want you to preach to them." And you better believe he did this time. Look at verse 5 with me.
"The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sack- cloth." We're going to see in a moment in Chapter 4 that there were at least 120,000 people in Nineveh. Some historians as I said a moment ago think there were over half a million. I want you to see that the story of Jonah is the greatest story of repentance and revival in all history. One man, a prophet, three-day journey to Nineveh and at least a 120,000 people repent.
Folks, if you don't remember anything else about this lesson, remember this. The story of Jonah is not a story about a fish. It is a story about revival. The book of Jonah from the Old Testament and the Book of Acts from the New Testament are the two greatest mission books in the Bible. That's what we're supposed to remember.
By the way there's one other thing I want to bring in here about this great revival. Have you ever wondered how Jonah could get so many people to respond? In just a short period of time, I want to suggest to you that God used Jonah's fish experience to bring it about.
Number one, don't you know that news about Jonah being swallowed by that fish had spread everywhere. And number two, do you remember a moment ago as we read the physical descriptions of those men who had been swallowed by whales and fishes, how they were bleached white from the gastric juices, how the hair was gone, and what a startling and striking appearance they must have made? Can you imagine Jonah when he walked into Nineveh, the hair off his body from the gastric juices, bleached white as snow, and proclaiming the Word of God. Do you think those people would have listened? They didn't just listen, they responded.
And folks the lesson from that part of the story is this. God will use your scars to reach people that otherwise might not be reached. If you've been to prison in your past, God can use you to reach people who are behind bars where it would be more difficult for him to use other folks. If you've had a terrible experience with drugs or alcohol, God can use you to touch people who suffer from the same, better than he can use me. I am not suggesting we go looking for scars. I am suggesting those we encounter God can use for His glory if we let him.
Well, frankly I wish this book ended in Chapter 3. Verse 10 says when God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened, but it doesn't end there. You see in Chapter 4, Jonah after running from God and then running to God, and then running with God, in Chapter 4, we find him running up against God. Look at verses 1, 2, and 3 with me from Chapter 4.
"But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, 'O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, 0 Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."' I am amazed at how many people misunderstand the reason that Jonah fled to Tarshish in the first place. They think he was afraid to go to Nineveh. Jonah was never afraid to go to Nineveh. Jonah didn't want to go to Nineveh because he hated those people. He was prejudiced against them. And the reason he ran away, he said, "I knew you were that kind of God. I would go and preach for them to repent and they would repent and lo and behold you would spare them and I want them dead. I want them dead. He said if that's the way you're going to be God, I just soon go die. And the Bible says, he went out in the desert and he sat there and he just looked toward the city and waited to die.
And then God taught him one of the great object lessons of all time. He caused a vine to grow up over him and Jonah got happy again. He said, "You know this vine's pretty nice, I feel comfortable. Isn't this great?" And then God caused this worm to come and eat away at the vine until it died. And Jonah got all sad again and wanted to die again and God came to him at the end of the book and said, "Jonah if you can find that much compassion in your heart for a plant, can't you find that much compassion for a 120,000 people who don't know their right hand from their left?" Well, the Book of Jonah offers a stinging rebuke to those of us who would harbor prejudice in our heart. To those of us who wouldn't love another person because of the color of their skin, or where they're from, or even what they've done. The "Running Prophet"...He ran away from God, he ran to God, he ran with God, he ran up against God. Two of those four chapters I hope tell your story, running to God and then running with Him.
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