Jonah 1:1-17 Sermon

Posted: July 27, 2012 in Old Testament, Sermons
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          Ken and Dana had been married for a little over 30 years.  On the outside, they seemed to have a strong marriage.  But, on the inside, it was a different story.  Ken was emotionally and mentally abusive to Dana and their children.  Fear was a normal part of their everyday existence.  Dana and the children never knew when Ken might get angry, even over the smallest thing.

Dana constantly had to make sure everything was in order, clean, cooked, and prepared whenever Ken would get home.  She would often hide their financial situation from him for fear of inciting his wrath.  Ken was a compulsive spender.  Switching from hobby to hobby, Ken would splurge large amounts of money on the latest equipment.  Dana tried keeping the check book balanced, but Ken would become quite upset when the bank account was low.

Ken had even been caught in an affair.  Although Dana had left with the children for a short time, she eventually reconciled with him.  Shortly after this point, he decided to go back to college.  Dana worked to put him through school and support the children.  After only two years back in the work force, Ken decided to quit his job and remain unemployed.  Shortly after, Dana found out that Ken was again having an affair.  After 30 years of trying, she had had enough.

The divorce was anything but cordial.  Ken was going to make sure Dana paid.  She didn’t have a college degree and couldn’t afford much of anything.  Ken had taken the money out of their savings account, so she was at his mercy to survive month-to-month.  Dana had no money, had lost her home, and the lawyers cost more than she was making each month.  Despite treating her like dirt for so many years, it seemed like he was coming out on top.  To Dana, Ken embodied wickedness.          

In Jonah’s day, wickedness had a name: Nineveh.  It was a city of atrocities.  The capital of Assyria, it was a brutal and vicious enemy to both Israel and Judah, Jonah’s people.  In fact, Israel was destroyed by the Assyrian army and Judah nearly faced the same fate.  The Assyrians would destroy cities and lead their captives away with hooks in their cheeks.  They weren’t exactly the type of neighbors you wanted to loan your lawn mower.

The prophet Nahum (3:1-4) noted just how evil and cruel the Ninevites were.  He prophesied against Nineveh and described it in this way:

Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims! 2 The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels, galloping horses and jolting chariots! 3 Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears! Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses — 4 all because of the wanton lust of a prostitute, alluring, the mistress of sorceries, who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft.


In Jonah’s mind, there was absolutely no worse place to be than in Nineveh!  It was absolutely evil!

The Word of God comes to Jonah: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”  The son of Amittai, meaning “truthfulness” or “faithfulness,” is called to proclaim the Word of God against Nineveh’s evil.  God is concerned with the disaster that will befall Nineveh, if it continues down its current path.

Jonah was not thrilled to have received this assignment.  God was calling him to go to the city of his mortal enemy!  Jonah wastes no time in “going.”  However, he begins traveling in the exact opposite direction: Tarshish.  He runs from God’s call and tries to escape the responsibility that has been given him.  In Jonah’s mind, the “grass was greener” in Tarshish.  Tarshish was a paradise, an attractive alternative to God’s command.

Thinking he has come up with a brilliant plan to escape God’s call, Jonah goes down to the port in Joppa and goes down into a ship.  The ship sets off across the Mediterranean.  Displeased with Jonah’s decision, God hurls a mighty wind at the sea.  Chaos engulfs the sea, threatening the very ship Jonah is riding.  The sailors are greatly distressed and begin sacrificing the cargo to appease the gods.  Despite the danger, Jonah is in the belly of the ship sleeping.

The captain finds Jonah fast asleep.  “Are you out of your mind!?”  The captain can’t believe Jonah is not praying to his god.  He commands him to begin praying so that the gods may yet have mercy.  Isn’t it a bit ironic that the one acquainted with the true God of the universe is found fast asleep while everyone is in peril?  Jonah had been lulled asleep and it is only after the captain wakes him up and the sailors question him that Jonah begins to proclaim YHWH as sovereign Lord of heaven, sea, and land!

Perhaps we have all journeyed to Tarshish.  We have heard God’s call, but we ignored it and turned to run in the opposite direction.  Our way seemed more exciting, more in line with our desires.  The Church is all too familiar, we are all too familiar, with having been lulled asleep in the ship of convenience, comfort, and consumerism.

Like Jonah, we often don’t realize the disaster that has befallen us and others.  Our eyes are closed to the world around us as we do our best to make our way to Tarshish.  After all, it is easy to love those who love us.  It is manageable to forgive those who are most like us.  It is possible to give our resources to those who are trying to help themselves.

But, in the same breath we dismiss the call to love our enemies, to do good to those who persecute us, and to bless those who curse us.  Like Jonah, we just as soon let our enemies get what is coming to them.  We can recite Jesus’ command to love our enemies, but we celebrate the death of known terrorist leaders.  We hear God’s call to serve the poor in our communities, yet churches move to “better” neighborhoods so that we might be appealing and safe.  We know God has called us to be light… and that often entails walking into the darkest regions of our world that most need that Light!  When we hear the command to “go,” we sometimes react like Jonah… we board the nearest ship for Tarshish.

Recall our friend Dana.  Nearly six months after her separation with her husband, Ken became extremely sick.  He was experiencing excruciating pain in his back and was rendered nearly immobile.  Nobody was there to take care of him; his friends were more interested in his money than helping him.

Dana still felt great anger toward Ken.  Who could blame her!?  Yet, God placed it upon Dana’s heart to take care of Ken.  It was one of the most difficult decisions she ever had to make, especially as everyone else was telling her that she was crazy for helping him.  Dana, however, felt sure that God was calling her to do this difficult task.  For the next few months, she cared for Ken, making sure that everything that needed to be done was done.  In this, she hoped that God’s message of love would finally find root.

We like to think we might be faithful to God’s call, like Dana.  Yet, if we are truly honest, many times we more closely resemble Jonah.  When faced with a call that is distasteful or difficult, we turn the other way.  We are fine with doing the bare minimum to call ourselves Christian, but we like doing so without the Cross.  Dying to self is not a popular option.

Jonah’s decision to run away from God’s call led him down to Joppa, down below deck, and, finally, down to the belly of a great fish.  Chaos had ensued and impacted more than just Jonah.  There’s a trend here.  Jonah’s disobedience leads him down, down, down… it is the place of God’s judgment.  Yet, even in God’s judgment, mercy is extended to Jonah.  God’s vehicle of judgment becomes Jonah’s way of salvation.  He is swallowed by the fish and remains there for three days and three nights.

Wake up, O Sleeper!  Wake up, O Church!  We may have been headed on the way to Tarshish, but God is pursuing us.  The boat we are riding may be tossing and turning.  It may seem like we are sinking fast, waiting for one more breaker to capsize our ship.  Our running has brought chaos into our lives and the lives of others… we might think that we are beyond saving.  But, praise God that God’s judgment is not the final word.  God’s judgment intends to bring salvation!

Although our story follows Jonah, he is not the model of faith for us.  Rather, it is the pagan sailors that set us an example.  In response to God’s judgment, the sailors greatly feared the Lord, offered sacrifices to the Lord and made vows.  They are the model for us from this story about an appropriate response to what God is doing among us.

We may find ourselves wrestling with a difficult call that God has given us.  It may be that we are running from that call.  Tarshish may be luring us in the opposite direction.  We may be experiencing the storm of God’s judgment.

Wherever it is that we find ourselves this morning, let us respond in faith and trust in the One, True God.  Entrust ourselves to God’s direction and calling.  Sacrifice our lives as a living sacrifice to God Almighty; offer our whole selves to God.  Finally, with God’s help, let us commit ourselves to God alone.  Let us devote ourselves to the Lord’s call upon our lives, both as individuals and as the Church.  Let us pray.


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