FLY AND SWIM | 40 Days of Focus, Day 5

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.
(Genesis 1:20-23)

On day two God separated the waters above from the waters below. Now on day five God filled the waters below with fish and the sky with birds. For the first time the Earth is inhabited by creatures that can breathe and move and mate and fight and hunt and forage and multiply and spread out and start families. There is something of free will within the order of creation.

These living creatures are the first to receive a blessing from the Creator – to be fruitful and multiply, fill the waters and the sky. God’s blessing is one of permission and encouragement to do what his creatures are made to do. There is a freedom to living within the order of creation.

Is there something special about birds and fish in particular that they would get their own “day” devoted to them?

Looking back to Genesis 1:2 again, we see that the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the deep. That word “hovering” is also the word for “fluttering”…you know, like a bird. Then at the baptism of Jesus, we once again see the Spirit of God descending like, wait for it… a bird.

And then who could forget the awesome passage in Isaiah:

Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
(Isaiah 40:30-31)

Birds factor prominently in the story of Scripture, but what about fish?

Obviously I think about the story of Jonah in which God creates a “great fish” to swallow Jonah and save him from drowning. After three days, the fish vomited Jonah up onto dry land, and he then goes on to complete his mission to the city of Nineveh. Nineveh, coincidentally, means “house of fish.” And Jonah’s name, coincidentally, means “dove.” Crazy, right?

I think it would be hard to think about fish in the Bible without skimming through all the fish stories in the gospels. It seemed like Jesus was always around fish. His first disciples were fishermen whom he called to “fish for people.” One of his first miracles was an overwhelming catch of fish. He used fish and bread to feed close to 10,000 people all together. Then there was that odd story where Jesus told Peter to go catch a fish and inside the fish would be a coin to pay the Temple tax…that was weird. Even after the resurrection, the disciples met Jesus on the shore of Galilee as he was cooking up a fish breakfast.

There’s something unique about birds and fish. Have you ever found yourself jealous of them? Flight is one of the most often requested superpowers. Everyone wants to fly. Nearly 500 years past between the flying machine drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci in the late 1400s and the first manned airplane developed by the Wright brothers in the early 1900s. We take flight for granted now, but we’ve only been able to soar above the clouds for just over 100 years of human history. We dream of flying cars and jet packs and hover boards. We want to be able to do what the birds can do naturally.

And what about swimming? We’ve been sailing the oceans for thousands of years, but submarine technology has only been around for a couple hundred years. Even today, something like 80% of the oceans have yet to be explored thoroughly. Will we ever have our own personal submarines? Not likely. But we still want to do what the fish can do naturally.

God’s creation has a design and a purpose. Each piece of it falls neatly into place. God brings order out of chaos, and in that order there is freedom. If we try to do what birds do, we will fall off the roof and break a bone. If we try to do what fish can do, we will drown.

Birds were created to fly. Fish were created to swim. So what were you created to do?

You have made [humans] a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
(Psalm 8:5-8)


Why do you think humans have tried so hard to fly throughout the ages?

Would you rather be able to fly like a bird or swim like a fish? Why?

What significance is there in the Holy Spirit appearing in the form of a dove?

Jonah: A Second Chance to Screw It Up

I love the way Jonah 2 ends. Right after the prayer concludes, it says this:

And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
(Jonah 2:10)

Can you imagine what that would feel like? It’s one thing to be swallowed, but to be vomited up? I can’t even handle it when one of my children throw up. I get nauseous and feel like I’m going to puke, too. Thankfully my wife has a stronger stomach and less of a gag reflex. The thought of actually being thrown up – along with all the bile and remains of undigested fish food….

But it’s really no different than what Jesus says about lukewarm, stale, tepid Christians.

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
(Revelation 3:15-16)

When God commanded the fish to regurgitate the rebellious prophet, the fish was probably relieved. Jonah was that tepid, wishy-washy fence-sitter that Jesus warned about later in Revelation. Jonah probably didn’t set will in the fish’s stomach.


Then we see what I consider to be one of the most amazing sentences in the entire story as we being chapter 3.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.
(Jonah 3:1)

If I were God, I think I would have just left Jonah on his own and went to find someone else. There has to be someone better than Jonah – less racist, less spiteful, less flighty, more willing to take God’s word to people who aren’t just like him. But God didn’t give up on Jonah. God is a God of second chances. The sailors were given a second chance. The people of Nineveh would be given a second chance. And Jonah is given a second chance.

As a society we used to love good redemption stories. We like to see people who messed up get a second chance at life. But I don’t think we’re that way anymore. We want justice! We want people to get what they have coming to them! If someone is pegged as a racist, then that could be the end of their career. We’re so willing to dish out judgement and punishment that lives can be ruined for good based on a few Tweets in their past. We aren’t willing to help them work through their issues and give them a fresh start.

That’s the whole point of Philip Yancey’s book Vanishing Grace from a few years ago.

But I’m eternally grateful that while society may be short on Grace, God is overflowing with it. In the story of Jonah, it’s Jonah himself who is in most need of God’s grace. I think that’s the point.

The Bible is full of men and women who were given a second chance at life because of God’s grace. Just to list a few – Jacob, Moses, Samson, David, the Woman at the Well, Mary Magdalene, Peter, Paul. Each of these people had demons in their past (figurative AND literal). Jacob was a con-artist. Moses was a murderer. The Woman at the Well had a really checkered sexual history. Peter denied knowing Jesus. Paul used to persecute Christians.

Did any of these deserve a second chance? If they didn’t, then neither do I.

Jonah got a second chance because I think he hadn’t learned his lesson yet. Sure, he’s learned about God’s justice through the storm and about God’s mercy and salvation through the fish. But Jonah needs to learn more about God’s grace and love.

I know plenty of people demand justice for being wronged but then expect mercy when they are in the wrong. That’s Jonah’s outlook. Jonah was thankful to receive mercy for his own sinful actions, but he was still demanding justice to be done for the people of Nineveh.


God says, it doesn’t work that way. God gave him these instructions:

“Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
(Jonah 3:2)

If Jonah were able to proclaim his own message, I wonder what he would say. Actually, I don’t have to wonder. All I have to do is get on “Christian” Twitter to see what the modern-day “Jonahs” are saying to their own “Ninevehs.” It’s not pretty. And it’s not good news. And it’s not changing any hearts.

We’ll get to what message Jonah gave to the people in Nineveh next time, but I don’t want to skip over this sentence:

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh.
(Jonah 3:3a)

Does obedience indicate a change of heart? Nope. But it’s a start.

Imagine being covered in slimy fish bile and then having to make the 500+ mile overland journey to a foreign city. I bet Jonah had some interesting conversations along the way.

But here’s something you would miss if you didn’t do a little research into the ancient city of Nineveh. I’m just going to quote the Wikipedia article about it here. What do you notice about it?

The English placename Nineveh comes from Latin Ninive and Septuagint Greek Nineuḗ (Νινευή) under influence of the Biblical Hebrew Nīnewēh (נִינְוֶה[2] from the Akkadian Ninua (var. Ninâ) or Old Babylonian Ninuwā. The original meaning of the name is unclear but may have referred to a patron goddess. The cuneiform for Ninâ (𒀏) is a fish within a house (cf. Aramaic nuna, “fish”). This may have simply intended “Place of Fish” or may have indicated a goddess associated with fish or the Tigris, possibly originally of Hurrian origin. The city was later said to be devoted to “the goddess Ishtar of Nineveh” and Nina was one of the Sumerian and Assyrian names of that goddess.

That’s right. The name of the city literally meant “Place of Fish.” The symbol for Nineveh was a fish in a house. And they worshiped a god/goddess represented by a man-fish hybrid!

Tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor. Jonah spends three days inside a fish. He is then vomited out of the fish and makes a three-week journey on foot just to be greeted by…images of a man-fish in the “Place of Fish.”

Welcome to Nineveh!

Jonah: Sorry, Not Sorry

Have you ever heard of the non-apology? Here’s the definition from Google.

Non-Apology: A statement that takes the form of an apology but does not constitute an acknowledgement of responsibility or regret for what has caused offense or upset.

We see the ALL. THE. TIME. in politics and the like. Some politicians are absolute masters at the non-apology. Common examples of the non-apology are statements like “I deeply regret…”, “Mistakes were made…”, “I’m sorry you feel that way…”, or even the prevalent “I’m sorry, but…”

These all take on the form of an apology without, as per the definition, acknowledging responsibility or remorse for one’s own actions.

This article from Cracked explains some of the most common forms of the non-apology and reveals why we fall for them so often. We want to give people the benefit of the doubt. We want to believe that people are sincere and that they are willing to acknowledge fault and move on. We want to see the best in people. That’s how relationships work. There can be no relationship without reconciliation*.

*reconciliation: the restoration of friendly relations

When people offer a non-apology, there is no true reconciliation. The offending party retains all their pride and dignity, often without addressing the very attitudes, words, or actions that caused the offense in the first place. We rely on non-apologies when we are afraid to humble ourselves in order to repair the relationship. Real apologies are seen as weak. The non-apology allows you to keep up the appearance of strength. But there can be no true relationship without humility.

This is all made harder by what I consider to be the worst quote from any book of movie ever. It’s from the novel Love Story, by Erich Segal, and popularized by the 1970s film adaptation by the same name. You may have heard it before. “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

What terrible relationship advice! If I truly love someone, I will apologize the instant I realize I hurt them. I’m not always the best at this – just ask my wife. But I’m trying. I’m not too proud to acknowledge fault or wrongdoing. Sometimes I’ll even apologize in order to make amends when I don’t think I’ve done anything particularly wrong. But I try to be humble enough to see things from the other person’s perspective.


We are all greedy, self-centered creatures by nature. We all face this internal struggle between looking out for our own interests and wanting what’s best for our social group. We are both highly individualistic AND incredibly social creatures. Any human on his/her own will die. We need each other. Reconciliation should be our highest goal.

This is why I can’t stand the prayer in Jonah 2 – as it pertains to Jonah himself. I really love this prayer for anyone else. You can see in my last post, I recommend the prayer from Jonah 2 for anyone who is struggling emotionally, mentally, physically, or spiritually. It’s a great prayer for re-centering, for reorienting our lives around God. When we feel like we’re drowning and the world is closing in on us, this prayer helps remind us that we’re in God’s hands. God is with us even in the depths of despair.

But for Jonah to pray this prayer really grinds on me, not because of what he says but because of what he doesn’t say. He never once says, “I’m sorry.” This prayer is a non-apology!

Look at it again:

“In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.
You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.
I said, ‘I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.’
The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.
“When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
“Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”
(Jonah 2:2-9)

What does Jonah do? He cries out to God. He acknowledges his helplessness and his distress. He praises God for saving him. He desires to worship and offer sacrifices to God. He pledges to make good on his vows to God.

All good things, but he never once says, “I’m sorry for disobeying and running from you. That was really foolish of me. Please forgive me.”

The argument could be made that the apology is implied, that Jonah really is repentant. One could assume that Jonah’s words own up to his fault, and that there would be no need for sacrifice if he weren’t acknowledging his sinfulness. We could maybe see that confession, forgiveness, and repentance are all implied by God’s salvation.

But I can’t go there. I don’t think Jonah is sorry for what he did. I don’t think he’s repentant. I don’t think he really sees the need for forgiveness, because in his view he didn’t do anything wrong! How do I know this? Because of the rest of the story, but we’ll get to that later.


What makes it worse is that Jonah even uses this prayer to throw shade at the pagan sailors who tossed him overboard. “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.” That’s a direct slam against those sailors who cried out to their little-g gods during the storm. Jonah doesn’t even know that the entire crew converted to becoming worshipers of YHWH while he’s drowning in the sea to avoid the very same God.

And no good non-apology is complete without a humblebrag at the end! “But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you.” Yeah, sure Jonah. You’re assuming a lot. Guess what? While you’re in the bowels of a fish, the sailors you just slammed are actually making vows and sacrificing to YHWH.

I love the prayer in Jonah 2 for anyone except Jonah. Coming from Jonah, it’s like the pie from The Help, if you know what it mean…

Do you know what really turns people away from God’s love for them, Jonah? A calloused, unrepentant heart that denies the need for forgiveness. Those who cannot acknowledge their own sin are not only lying to themselves, but they are making God out to be a liar. Jesus had a word for people like you, Jonah – “Hypocrite.” You want the salvation from God without repentance. You want God’s mercy without showing mercy to others. You expect grace for yourself and judgment for others.


And you’ve got to know that when I address those issues to Jonah, I’m really talking to a mirror.

Because as much as I can’t stand Jonah, I see so much of him in myself. That’s the brilliance of this book. That’s why this shouldn’t just be relegated to the realm of children’s Bible stories. That’s why we need to take our time with this story and really dive into it. On a surface level reading of Jonah 2, it can seem like Jonah’s really turned a corner. But he hasn’t.

Jonah is that person who shows up to worship Sunday after Sunday, who sings the songs and takes communion, who leads prayers, who even preaches on occasion, but still struggles to have any empathy for those who aren’t just like him. Jonah sings “Oh, how I love Jesus,” but then badmouths immigrants. Jonah takes communion, the body and blood of Christ, but then scoffs at movements like Black Lives Matter. Jonah says a hearty “Amen!” when the preacher makes a point about God’s salvation, but refuses to tip the overworked waitress because service was a little too slow.

Jonah is a hypocrite. Jonah is a prophet of God who doesn’t understand God at all. Jonah is an unrepentant sinner. Jonah is a racist hyper-nationalist who thinks in stereotypes and 280 characters. Jonah is more concerned about being right than about reconciliation.

But before we get too harsh with Jonah, we’ve go to realize this story is like the story told by Nathan to King David. If we aren’t careful, we can get worked up and angry just to have it thrown back at us that “You are the man. You are Jonah!”

So I apologize if anyone was made uncomfortable by this. I regret any offense that may have been caused. And I’m sorry, but we’ve all got to take a good hard look at ourselves in the story of Jonah.

Jonah: Head Above Water

When we left off, our rebellious prophet was recruiting the pagan Gentile sailors to assist him in committing suicide.

“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (Jonah 1:12)

But the sailors didn’t buy into this crazy scheme and tried for Plan A.2 – row to shore. But they couldn’t. God/the storm wouldn’t let them. Jonah tried to force God’s hand in overthrowing the Assyrians by running from the mission. Now God is forcing the sailors’ hands to throw Jonah overboard – Jonah’s idea, not God’s, just so we’re clear. God never asked this of Jonah.

Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm…Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:15, 17)

FINALLY! Here’s the fish! Now we get to pull out the flannel graph board and sick a kneeling/fetal-position Jonah onto a cutaway felt image of a whale fish. We get to sing the songs and put in the Veggie Tales movie!

This is where so many of us stop with the story of Jonah. It’s always David and Goliath, Daniel and the Lion’s Den, Jonah and the Whale Fish. But the story of Jonah is not about a big fish. The story of Jonah is about a God who is big with a big plan. The fish is mentioned in a whopping 3 verses – 1:17; 2:1; and 2:10. That’s it. And the whole fish scene isn’t even the most impressive miracle of the story. But we’ll get to that later.


Can you imagine drowning in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea? Drowning is one of the top fears among humans. A lot of people are hesitant to swim or get in a large body of water for fear of drowning. What a terrible way to die! I get panicky just thinking about it.

Jonah wanted to die. It wasn’t a heroic self-sacrifice to save the lives of the sailors. It was a selfish get-out-of-mission-work-free card. It was a last ditch effort to run from God. It wasn’t martyrdom, it was suicide.

So God gave him a taste of what Jonah said he wanted. Sometimes the worst thing God can do is to give us what we want. Look at this prayer of Jonah’s that we have recorded in chapter 2.

“In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.
You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.
I said, ‘I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.’
The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.”
(Jonah 2:2-6a)

Maybe we have a hard time feeling sorry for Jonah, but I think we’ve all been there. Maybe you haven’t had the physical experience of drowning, but most of us have felt like we’re drowning figuratively – from stress, depression, broken relationships, pressure from school or work, the demands of everyday life that keep adding up. Maybe you’ve felt like you were drowning under the weight of some sin that has pulled you down – addictions, anger, lies, etc.

Every sin has a consequence. Sometimes we bring them on ourselves, and we have to face the natural consequences of our own dumb choices. Other times we have to pay for our actions through punishment or retribution. Or maybe we’re suffering under the consequences of generational/societal sin that we really didn’t have anything to do with, but we’re still negatively affected by it.

Every sin has a consequence.

I’ll say this. I don’t think God causes bad things to happen. But I believe God allows bad things to happen as a wakeup call. God didn’t cause Jonah to be thrown overboard. But God used this experience of drowning as a wakeup call to this rebellious prophet. God definitely got Jonah’s attention. It only took a trip to literal rock bottom. But for some people, like Jonah and like the younger brother in the Story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), that’s what it takes for them to come to their senses.


FINALLY the prophet of God actually prays to God – the first time in the whole book so far. Even when the sailors were crying out to their own gods and urged Jonah to do the same, Jonah kept silent. Jonah refused to even utter a word in prayer to God until his life was on the line. And when he finally decides to pray, what does he talk about?

He thanks God for saving him. He recounts his terrifying experience of drowning, sinking down to the “roots of the mountains.” The imagery Jonah uses to describe his underwater experience is quite similar to how other writers and poets describe Sheol, aka the grave or realm of the dead. Jonah is coming to terms with the reality of his watery grave.

But not so fast. What’s that? A giant mouth opening in my direction and sucking me in like a spaghetti noodle!

“But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.
When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”
(Jonah 2:6b-9)

The punishment was the near death experience as he was sinking into the salt water. The salvation came in the form of fish guts. The “great fish” was God’s chosen means of salvation for his runaway prophet.

What a weird story.

And what a testament to the fact that God’s modus operandi for saving people is constantly changing. I’m glad this story never caught on in religious rituals. “In order to experience God’s salvation you must be swallowed and vomited up by a fish.”


Anyway, God saves Jonah. Jonah at least has the decency to acknowledge his need for God and his utter helplessness apart from God.

When you feel like you’re drowning – by sin, by stress, by life – this is a great prayer to go to. Read it. Reflect on it. Make it your own. We all have been at rock bottom before. We all know what it’s like to desperately cry out to God. This prayer in Jonah 2 is a great way to find the words if you don’t have them.

In fact, a song came out recently by Avril Lavigne. I hadn’t heard anything from her in years. Turns out she was battling Lyme Disease, an absolutely debilitating illness. In an interview she recalled a time in the hospital when the disease affected her lungs in such a way that it literally felt like she was drowning in that hospital bed. She fought through the disease, and is in a much better place now. But her first single released is called “Head Above Water.” The first time I heard it, I thought this is straight from Jonah’s prayer. If you haven’t heard it, check it out. It’s amazing.

More posts in the Jonah series:

Jesus Is the New Jonah…And So Are You.

A prophet of God sleeping in a boat at sea during a particularly violent storm which has everyone else on board panicked. The prophet is rudely awakened and miraculously causes the storm to cease.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

The more I study the story of Jonah, the clearer it becomes that Jesus based a lot of his ministry and teachings on the life of Jonah. The connections become obvious to anyone paying attention. In fact, Jesus makes it obvious for us by coming right out and telling us that “something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12).

So how is Jesus the new Jonah?

We’ll look at this throughout the story, but let’s just stay in chapter 1 for now.


The opening phrase of Jonah’s story should perk the ears of Christians. “The Word of the Lord…” doesn’t that have some significance?

Look at how John’s gospel begins: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Jesus IS the Word of God. Jesus’ story is inextricably connected to Jonah’s from the opening phrase.


God calls Jonah to leave his home (Israel) and go to a foreign, hostile land (Nineveh) to proclaim God’s message. Jonah, somewhat understandably, is hesitant to do this. Instead, he runs away from the call to foreign missions.

Where is Jesus in this? How is Jesus the new Jonah in this regard? The answer is best summarized in Philippians 2:

Who, being in very nature God,
Did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
Rather, he made himself nothing
By taking on the very nature of a servant,
Being made in human likeness,
And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself
By becoming obedient to death –
Even death on a cross!

Looking back at John 1, The Message version puts it this way:

The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.

Jesus was sent on a mission from God to leave his home in heaven, to come to a foreign land (the world), to preach to a hostile population, and ultimately to be killed for it.

Jonah didn’t want to leave Israel and go to Nineveh for fear of what might happen. Christ left heaven and came to Earth fully knowing what would happen. Christ is the greater Jonah.

Then there’s the storm. I want to draw your attention to all the parallels between Jonah 1:3-16 and Mark 4:35-41.

Sailing in the opposite direction/other side

  • But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. (Jonah 1:3)
  • That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” (Mark 4:35)

Violent windstorm on the sea and imminent danger of ship’s sinking

  • Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. (Jonah 1:4)
  • A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. (Mark 4:37)

Deep sleep during the storm

  • All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. (Jonah 1:5)
  • Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. (Mark 4:38)

Rude awakening by frightened shipmates

  • The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 1:6)
  • The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38)

Calming of sea by protagonist’s actions

  • Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. (Jonah 1:15)
  • He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (Mark 4:39)

Shipmates’ awestruck fear at divine power

  • At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. (Jonah 1:16)
  • They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41)

Before you start crying “Coincidence!” I must remind you that it was Jesus himself who drew the parallels between his ministry and Jonah’s. Jesus’ earliest followers purposefully pointed to these connections in the way they told their stories.

God was trying to teach Jonah (and subsequently Israel) the lesson that God cares about the Gentile nations, too. As Peter and Paul would put it, God wants all people everywhere to be saved (Acts 17:30; 2 Peter 3:9). God loved the world to the extent that he sent his one and only Son (John 3:16).

Not long after Jonah, the Assyrian Empire would rise in power once again and overthrow the evil kingdom of Israel, taking their people into exile and erasing them from the annals of history. Even in the face of this unspeakable tragedy, God still had a bigger plan in mind:

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
To restore the tribes of Jacob
And bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
That my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)

Jesus, with this very passage in mind, would tell his earliest followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5).

Jesus is Jonah. So am I. So are you. Each one of us is called to leave the comfort and security of our own tribe in order to take God’s word to the nations.


Jonah: Unnecessary Sacrifice

Last time we saw that Jonah spilled the beans about who he was, what God he served, and what he was doing on the boat. Jonah was a Hebrew. He was a worshiper of YHWH, the creator of the sea and dry land. And he was on the boat because he was running from YHWH, the creator of the sea, ON THE SEA.

The rest of the sailors are rightfully panicked.

This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)
The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”
“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (Jonah 1:10-12)

Wait, what? This raises so many questions for me. Let’s look at the a bit more closely.


What does God want? God wants Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach against it in order that they might have a chance to repent from their evil ways. God wants to grant mercy to Israel’s enemy. God wants to make a great name for himself among the nations and draw all peoples to him. God wants all people everywhere to come to repentance.

What does Jonah want? Basically…not that. Jonah wants the Assyrians to get what’s coming to them. Jonah wants his enemies to perish and for Israel to thrive. In fact, Jonah would rather die than to offer mercy to the Assyrians.

And that’s the problem. Jonah isn’t heroically and selflessly offering his own life in order to save others. We’ve already seen that Jonah cares nothing about the Gentile sailors he hired. We already know that Jonah would do literally anything to avoid going to Nineveh to preach to the Assyrians. Jonah isn’t taking a bullet for anyone. Jonah isn’t sacrificing himself in exchange for someone else’s life.

Jonah is sacrificing himself as a last ditch effort to escape God’s call. This isn’t martyrdom. It’s assisted suicide.


The entire story of Jonah is based on the premise that God relents from sending calamity when people repent of their evil ways and turn to him. We see that with the sailors, and we will see it later with the people of Nineveh. But Jonah doesn’t get it.

Or maybe he does.

You see, Jonah doesn’t ever repent. Jonah skips straight to the sacrifice part of it. He cries “throw me overboard!” but he never cries out, “I’m sorry!” Jonah is willing to offer himself as a sacrifice, but isn’t willing to repent and turn from his own evil ways and attitudes.

I truly believe that God could have stopped the storm without Jonah’s sacrifice. If Jonah had repented and had a genuine change of heart on the deck of that ship, God could have stopped the storm. They could have made for a safe harbor. Jonah could have disembarked in safety to make his way to Nineveh. But that’s not what happened.

Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. (Jonah 1:13-15)

Amazingly, the sailors tried everything they could to save Jonah’s life and the lives of all the crew. That’s way more than could be said for Jonah himself. But when they tried to row toward land, the storm grew more violent. Why?

I think God was giving Jonah what he wanted – at least a taste of it. Ok Jonah, you say you’d rather die than go to Nineveh. Let’s see.

So they threw Jonah overboard just as they had done with the cargo earlier. And what do you know? The sea grew completely calm. It worked! Kind of.


Was Jonah’s self-sacrifice really necessary? I don’t think so.

Why do I think not? Because Bible.

Jonah lived in a religious era that was intimately familiar with animal sacrifice. It was common practice among not just the people of Israel, but also among most ancient cultures. An animal would be killed and burned on some kind of altar in order to get the attention of the gods or to remind the people that they deserve what the animal is getting.

Sacrifices did not remove or forgive sins.

It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:4)

The scapegoat (Leviticus 16) was the representation of Israel’s sins being forgiven. But even then, it wasn’t the goat – it was God who forgave sins.

“Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7)

God doesn’t demand a sacrifice. God doesn’t want them because God knew that humans would easily substitute the sacrifice for true repentance. Seriously, I know I’ve sinned before and thought It’s ok, God will forgive me. We have a tendency to believe that we can do whatever we want, say whatever we want, live however we want, and it’s ok. We’ll just go to church, pray, take the Lord’s Supper, and it will all be good.

To quote The Good Place, “That’s bull shirt.”

This is the exact mindset that Jeremiah railed against:

“‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 7:9-11)

This was the exact mindset that Micah railed against:

With what shall I come before the Lord
    and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:6-8)

This was the exact mindset that Amos railed against:

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:21-24)

Finally, Jesus railed against this mindset by quoting Hosea:

I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. (Matthew 12:6-7, quoting Hosea 6:6)

I believe God knew there would come a time when sacrifices could no longer be used as a crutch or an excuse. God knew there would come a time when his people could no longer offer sacrifices and burnt offerings. Through his own sacrifice, Jesus put an end to the sacrificial system and reconciled everyone to God.


But Jonah completely missed that. He sacrificed his own life to avoid showing mercy to others. Jonah got it all completely backwards.

That’s why I think God let him go through with it. Jonah had more lessons to learn.

So as Jonah sank down into the depths, the sailors went about their way – forever changed.

At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. (Jonah 1:16)

Yes, they offered sacrifices. But their sacrifices were in response to what YHWH had done. Their sacrifice was a form of worship, the kind of sacrifice Paul would encourage us to make with our lives in worship to God as a response for all God has done for us (Romans 12:1).

The sailors were converted to become true worshipers of YHWH (as Jonah had claimed to be), while the prophet of YHWH sank down to the bottom of the sea. It saddens me to think that Jonah never knew what happened with those sailors. But it also reminds me that I have no control over who gets to experience the mercy, forgiveness, and salvation of God. As God says to Moses:

I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. (Exodus 33:19)


That could have easily been the end of Jonah. If I were God, I probably would have just let Jonah drown (that’s what he wanted, after all) and found someone else to go to Nineveh. But that’s not the God of the Bible. Our God is one who pursues us, who leaves the ninety-nine and goes after the one. Even if that one is an unrepentant, racist, nationalistic prophet who cares about no one but himself. God still pursues Jonah to the ends of the earth and to the depths of the sea. God has mercy on the one who deserves it the least.

But sometimes God’s mercy can come in unexpected ways:

Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah… (Jonah 1:17a)

More posts in the Jonah series:
If you like these posts, go ahead and share it on your favorite social media platform, and don’t forget to subscribe so you never miss a post!

Jonah: Who Are You?

The storm at sea is threatening to kill them all. The waves are swelling and breaking over the boat. The wind is driving the rain like gravel into their faces. They are frantically hurling the cargo boxes overboard in an effort to lighten the ship.

In the midst of this fear and panic, they find someone who really couldn’t be bothered by it all – Jonah, a prophet on the run.

After quite a rude awakening, Jonah is brought to meet with the rest of the crew. They’ve got to find out who is responsible for this storm – not necessarily what person, but what god/deity  is behind this. The most obvious god to pinpoint would be Ba’al, the Storm God of the Ancient Near-East. But Ba’al isn’t responding right now (shocker!), so they have to figure this out.

They cast lots (think Yahtzee, but with higher stakes). The lot falls to Jonah (shocker again!). Check out the interaction that follows:

Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”
He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (Jonah 1:7-10)

They want to know his job, his region, his country, his tribe, his shopping habits, his Social Security number, his mother’s maiden name. They interrogate Jonah to find out which god he might have angered. In the ancient world gods were viewed as very tribal and/or territorial. Your family would have certain gods. You tribe would have other gods. Your country and region would have bigger gods. Even certain occupations, like merchants and sailors, had their own gods. So they have to narrow it down.

Let’s look again at Jonah’s response to this line of questioning:

“I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

This is an interesting response for several reasons.


Jonah does the same thing I see so many people doing today. His first identifier was his country – “I am a Hebrew.” His identity was first and foremost grounded in his particular geopolitical situation. Jonah was a Hebrew before he was a worshiper of YHWH.

If you look back at 2 Kings 14, you will see that Jonah had every reason to be patriotic. Israel had just experienced the greatest time of political, economic, and military expansion in decades thanks to the word of God through his prophet Jonah. The king was evil, the nation was evil, yet God blessed them anyway. Jonah was at the top of his game. Jonah seems to be more than just a patriot, though. He has tendencies toward nationalism, the ideology that proclaims “My country, right or wrong.”

Today we have two identifiers – Christian and American. Which one is the noun and which is the adjective? That makes all the difference in the world. Are you a Christian American? Or are you an American Christian? Say you meet a foreigner for the first time and you’re getting to know each other. Do you tell that person you’re a Christian or an American first?

For Jonah it was clear that his allegiance to his country took precedent over his allegiance to God. He would rather blatantly disobey God than have a hand in saving Israel’s enemies. But when we become followers of Christ, we are now citizens of a new kingdom, a global kingdom. It’s great to be proud of your country and seek God’s blessing on the place you live (see Jeremiah 29). But it’s not ok to do that to the exclusion or detriment of other countries and nationalities.


Jonah reveals the sacred covenant name of God to these sailors – YHWH. Any time you see “the LORD” in your Bibles, that is a replacement for the name YHWH. Jonah says, “I worship YHWH.”

But here’s the thing – YHWH was never just a regional God. YHWH had gone by other names, too. Most commonly the name El. El is the more widely used word/name for God. YHWH was the special name God gave to Moses in Exodus when establishing a covenant with the Hebrews.

I’m no Hebrew scholar, but from what I’ve heard and read, the name El is closely related to the name Ba’al, who was frequently referred to as “The God of Thunder” or “The God of the Heavens.” Jonah introduces these sailors to YHWH, the God of Heaven. Essentially, Jonah is using language they would have been familiar with to introduce them to YHWH and emphasize what a big deal this God is.


Jonah gives the sailors the most basic Bible school lesson about who God is. YHWH created the sea and the dry land. That’s also a Hebrew way of implying “and everything in them.” So let’s all sing the Days of Creation song!

But this is an important distinction to make. Ba’al may have been “The Storm God” but he didn’t create the sea. There’s a big difference between having control over something and being the creator of something. I may know how to drive my Toyota, but I didn’t build it. My father-in-law worked at the plant where my vehicle was made. He knows where the parts came from and how they are all put together. If there’s an issue with the car, I defer to him.

YHWH isn’t just some little-case-g god like Ba’al. YHWH is the one who created everything that Ba’al supposedly controlled.

This rightly has the sailors terrified. “How can you run away from ‘the God who created the sea’ on the sea!


With as crazy as things are, we always have to remember who is in control. God has not abdicated his throne to the big wigs in Washington. YHWH is still the God of Heaven who created the sea and the dry land and everything they contain.

When our identity is primarily rooted in our nationality or politics, then we will always be on shifting sand. We’ll be like the foolish man who built his house on the beach with no foundation. Nations rise and fall. Politics change daily.

But if our identity is rooted in God and the kingdom of heaven, we know we will always be on solid footing, not being tossed around by the winds of political storms.

Jonah: Wake Up, Idiot!

Jonah runs from God.

We should all realize the ridiculousness of this decision. Unfortunately, we all too often find ourselves in the same boat (pun intended).

But look what happens next.

But the Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship.
But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold. So the captain went down after him. “How can you sleep at a time like this?” he shouted. “Get up and pray to your god! Maybe he will pay attention to us and spare our lives.” (Jonah 1:4-6)

The reaction of the sailors is telling. They knew this storm was not natural. It takes them completely by surprise and with such a ferocity that it can only be divine in origin – a punishment from the gods upon someone aboard the boat.

We have information that the sailors don’t. Jonah has information the sailors don’t. This whole section is just fascinating. I want to make a few key observations about the story so far as the action picks up. The gentile, pagan sailors are set in direct contrast to the prophet of YHWH.


The storm hits. The ship threatens to break up. The sailors begin throwing the cargo (their livelihood, the very thing that makes this whole mission economically viable) into the sea, and they begin to cry out to their gods. Not just “thoughts and prayers,” but prayer accompanied by action. These gentile idol-worshipers demonstrate what James means when he says “faith without works is dead.” It also reminds me of something St. Augustine said: “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”

When tragedy strikes, by all means PRAY! But then do something about it.

Jonah did neither. He was down in the boat below deck. The Hebrew phrase may even indicate that he had holed up somewhere in the very cargo bay being emptied out by the sailors, and that’s how he was discovered. But he wasn’t just hiding. He was in a deep sleep. Not praying, not acting, not helping.


The sailors did everything they could to save the lives of everyone on board. They dumped the cargo. They cried out to their gods. They cast lots to discover the responsible party. And even when Jonah was found out and told them to toss him overboard, they still tried to save his life and row back to land. Saving human life was more important to them than the cargo. More than that, **and really listen to this** saving human life was more important to them than following the orders of God’s prophet! Even though the prophet of YHWH was telling them to let him drown, they didn’t want to accept that course of action. Even though Jonah was the one responsible for this tragedy, the sailors still thought his life was worth saving.

Jonah, on the other hand, had no regard for human life. In his opinion, it would be better if the whole ship sank and everyone drowned than to go to Nineveh and possibly save the Assyrians from disaster. By not caring what happened aboard the boat, Jonah was essentially taking responsibility for his own death, the deaths of all the men on board, and the deaths of thousands of Ninevites.


The sailors cried out to their gods. They did everything within their power to save the lives off all their shipmates. So when they discovered Jonah asleep below deck, the captain was well within his rights to call the prophet to task. “Get up! Call…” These are the very first words that came to Jonah from YHWH. Now they are being repeated verbatim by the pagan ship captain.

The captain was absolutely right to criticize Jonah’s laziness and lack of concern. The captain was absolutely right to urge Jonah, the prophet of God, to call out to God. But I don’t think Jonah appreciated being called out like that. Why? Because he Still. Doesn’t. Pray. Jonah stubbornly refuses to lift a finger or a prayer to help anyone else.

When the world see Christians acting un-Christ-like, they have every right to call us out on it. Non-believers may not know as much about the Bible or our faith as we do, but most of them know that whole “Love God, and love your neighbor” thing. That’s kind of a big deal. If Christians are failing to fulfill the greatest commands in the whole Bible, then we should be criticized for it. If we are willingly “falling asleep” to the tragedies and hardships of our neighbors, we deserve to be called out. If we can’t be bothered to seek the good of people who are different from us, then the world has every right to ridicule us and point out our hypocrisy.

When we don’t denounce nationalism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism, racism, classism, sexism, and every other kind of discrimination, we deserve every bit of  finger pointing we get from the world. Maybe, just maybe, that will wake us up to action and love.


The sailors didn’t really care which god caused this storm. They didn’t really care who worshiped whom or who was from where. The important thing to them was that they were all in the same boat. If everyone doesn’t work together, then they could all die. What a metaphor for life.

They sailors didn’t let their religion, as it were, keep them from banding together to save everyone. The same could not be said for Jonah. He used his religious and civil convictions as a justification for not helping others – both the Ninevites and the pagan sailors.

When we hear “Love your neighbor as yourself,” we often interpret that how Jonah and his fellow Israelites did. Your neighbors are those closest to you – physically, socially, relationally, and religiously. But Jesus completely reinterprets this command. In Luke 10 a man asks the question that’s on all of our minds, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ brilliant answer literally changed history. Jesus knew that in asking “Who is my neighbor?” the man really wants to know “Who isn’t my neighbor.” If we define the neighbor, then there will always be people who fall outside that definition.

So Jesus told a story about a man who was ambushed by robbers, stripped of his money and clothing, and left for dead on the side of the road. In other words, here was a man devoid of any identifying markers. You couldn’t tell how rich he was, where he came from, what ethnicity he was, what language he spoke, or anything else. The priest and the Levite passed by on the other side, refusing to help the man. They, like Jonah, used their religious obligations as an excuse for not helping. But the Samaritan came along, saw a man in need, and without a second thought stopped to help. The man he helped was Jewish. It makes me wonder, If the man had been conscious, would he have accepted help from the Samaritan?

We may be willing to help and even love people who are different from us – homeless or Muslim or LGBTQ or Democrat or undocumented immigrant, etc. But are we willing to accept love and help from those same people?

We can extend love, but can we receive it?

I think deep down Jonah resented the fact that he had to rely on the very people he would rather avoid. Jonah doesn’t care about these sailors. It’s not that he actively hates them like he does the Assyrians. He just has no obligation or commitment to them whatsoever. If one of them was injured on the side of the road, Jonah would probably pass by on the other side. But the sailors care about Jonah. The sailors want to save his life. The sailors would stop to help Jonah if he were the man in Jesus’ story.

It’s an attitude of supremacy to be willing to extend help to someone you consider “lesser” but to be unwilling to receive help from those same people.


Jonah had to be awakened to the plight of the ship and the crew. As long as he remained unaware of the problem he could plead ignorance. His lack of concern or action was somewhat understandable. But as soon as he was awake and aware of the situation, Jonah had an obligation to act.

Christians, many of us need to wake up. We need the world to shout us awake to the disaster befalling much of the world. We need to wake up to the rates of depression and suicide among LGBTQ teenagers. We need to wake up to the abject poverty, evil, and governmental corruption driving Central American families from their homes to seek asylum north of the border. We need to wake up to the tyrannical rule of dictators around the world. We need to wake up to the rise carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. We need to wake up to the opioid crisis plaguing the Midwest and the sheer number of orphans being left in its wake. We need to wake up to the dangers of religious nationalism. We need to wake up to the experience of People of Color in our country.

After all, we’re all in the same boat.

“How can you sleep at a time like this? Get up and pray to your god! Maybe he will pay attention to us and spare our lives.”

This post is part of an ongoing series on the book of Jonah. Click the links below to view other posts.
Jonah: Bravely Ran Away!
Jonah: Nope
Jonah: World’s Worst Prophet

Jonah: Bravely Ran Away

Ok, so here’s the thing. Psychologists sometimes explain consciousness as the story we tell ourselves. We make meaning out of anything and everything. We have supporting characters and extras, protagonists and antagonists. And wouldn’t you know it? We just so happen to always be the hero in our own story. One of the best portrayals of this is in the Will Ferrel movie Stranger Than Fiction.

We are the hero in the story we tell ourselves that makes up our conscious experience of life.

Got it?


So the thing to remember about Jonah is that he is the hero in his own story. No, he may not be the “hero” in the story recorded in Scripture. But in the moment, to himself, he is definitely the good guy. Jonah is doing what he thinks is right. He/Israel is the good guy. Nineveh/Assyria is the bad guy.

Where does that put God?

There’s an interesting scene in the book of Joshua. The Hebrew nation is on the verge of entering the Promised Land after 40 years of nomadic life in the wilderness. The only thing standing in their way is the heavily fortified city of Jericho. Joshua is walking around the area one time and he’s stopped in his tracks by an Angel from God. Joshua asks if the Angel is on their side or on the side of Jericho. The Angel’s answer? “Neither.” (Joshua 5:13-15)

Is God for us or for our enemies? Neither. That’ not how this works.

Jonah thinks he’s doing the right thing by disobeying God. The call to Nineveh seems traitorous. Jonah still has this “us vs. them” mentality. God doesn’t play those games. God is not for someone if it means being against someone else. God is truly for all people, everywhere.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

It’s completely counter to the message of Scripture to believe there are some people not worth saving. God gave Jonah a mission to go to the Assyrians in Nineveh. Jesus gave his disciples (including us!) a mission to go into “all the world” and take the message of God’s grace to “every nation.” All means all. Every means every.

But there’s more to it for Jonah. This is possibly the most shocking part of Jonah’s escape. God gives a chilling warning to Ezekiel (who was after Jonah, but I believe the warning would still apply to Jonah).

Once again a message came to me from the Lord: “Son of man, give your people this message: ‘When I bring an army against a country, the people of that land choose one of their own to be a watchman. When the watchman sees the enemy coming, he sounds the alarm to warn the people. Then if those who hear the alarm refuse to take action, it is their own fault if they die. They heard the alarm but ignored it, so the responsibility is theirs. If they had listened to the warning, they could have saved their lives. But if the watchman sees the enemy coming and doesn’t sound the alarm to warn the people, he is responsible for their captivity. They will die in their sins, but I will hold the watchman responsible for their deaths.’
“Now, son of man, I am making you a watchman for the people of Israel. Therefore, listen to what I say and warn them for me. If I announce that some wicked people are sure to die and you fail to tell them to change their ways, then they will die in their sins, and I will hold you responsible for their deaths. But if you warn them to repent and they don’t repent, they will die in their sins, but you will have saved yourself.” (Ezekiel 33:1-9)

Did you catch that? If you know something bad is going to happen and you don’t tell anyone – that’s on you! So often we use fear of rejection as a reason not to share the Gospel with people. But if we neglect to tell people about Jesus, then their eternal destruction is on us. If we tell them and they refuse to listen, then that’s on them.

Jonah refused to go to Nineveh and warn them of the coming destruction. In doing so, he was accepting responsibility for their demise.

If Jonah is the hero and Nineveh is the enemy, then it obviously makes sense that Jonah would do this. He’s single handedly ensuring the downfall of Israel’s greatest enemy. Way to go, Jonah!

Our task is to see the world as God see it – not as us vs. them, not as winners and losers, not as good and evil, but as God’s children. Or as Jesus would put it – the 99 sheep in the fold and the one lost sheep waiting to be found.

What do you think? Was Jonah doing the right thing for Israel? What would you do if God called you to share the Gospel with your “enemies?” Keep the conversation going in the comments, and be sure to subscribe so you never miss a post!

Jonah: Nope

Have you ever heard God speak directly to you? Odds are that you haven’t. I would say that most
people don’t.

If you did, how would you respond?

The closest I’ve come to hearing God speak to me happened when I was just out of my freshman year of high school. I was fifteen years old. We were at church camp that summer. It was one of those super emotional nights where a bunch of campers were thinking seriously about their lives. We ended each night with a time of singing. That night so many youth ministers and counselors were busy talking with teens in need that they turned over the song leading to some of us young guys. I got up in the middle of everyone and led a few songs. In that moment I could see and feel the Spirit of God at work in the lives of my peers. In that moment I felt/heard God tell me that this was what I was meant to do with my life.

From that moment on I began to pursue my calling to youth ministry and worship leading. I’ve been doing that full time for the last eight years. It hasn’t always been easy or fun or glamorous. But I can’t see myself doing anything else.

If God were to speak to you, how would you respond?

The Bible is littered with stories of men and women encountering the divine. The most common reaction is terror. They fall down in fear (Isaiah, Peter, Paul). Some of them choose to test and argue with the divine (Moses, Gideon). Others “gird up their loins” for a wrestling match (Jacob!). Still others willingly submit and obey (Samuel, Mary).

And then there’s Jonah.

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. (Jonah 1:1-3)

Jonah quietly slips out the back door without saying a word. He doesn’t protest or argue. He doesn’t try to bargain with God or air his grievances. He simply makes like a tree and leaves.

Obviously, Jonah doesn’t want to go to Nineveh. But when does God ever call us to something we already want to do? I guarantee you that God will never call you to pursue a promotion, a bigger pay check, more exotic vacations, a larger home, a nicer car, a more respectable position.


As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” God called Moses to confront his past and lead an unwilling slave population to freedom. God called Gideon to face down an enemy army with just 300 men carrying trumpets and torches. God called Isaiah to speak out against the evil kings and governments. God called Saul/Paul to take the gospel to the Gentiles, literally saying, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh. Jonah thinks Nope! and runs the other direction. Jonah was totally cool with the stuff that benefitted his own people and his own standing among them. Jonah would prophesy all day long about how Israel would increase and their nation would become great again. But a mission trip to Nineveh? The enemy? No thanks, I’d rather not.

When I look at the state of the church in America, I am saddened to see so many people walking out the doors never to return. I’ve seen people leave our church without saying a word to anyone. They don’t want to have that confrontation, so they simply leave. They escape silently like Jonah rather than stick it out through a tough situation.

I also see certain churches thriving and growing at an unbelievable rate. Then I hear what their pastors are preaching and I’m sick to my stomach. They make it seem like following Jesus is always an easy and #blessed life. Follow Jesus and you’ll get that promotion. Follow Jesus and your family will be perfect. Follow Jesus and all that you want is within your reach.

Nothing could be further from the truth. We’re never guaranteed and easy life in the here and now. But we are guaranteed that God will be with us no matter what we go through.

God would have been with Jonah every step of the way on the 550 mile journey to Nineveh. But Jonah would rather go to Tarshish without God than to Nineveh with God.

Still Nope!

And here is one of the great ironies of the story. **Spoilers** The wind and the waves obey God. The gentile, pagan sailors obey God. The fish obeys God. The people and king of Nineveh obey God. The plant obeys God. The worm obeys God. The only player in the whole story who doesn’t obey God is the prophet of God!

If God were to speak to you and call you to a mission, what would you do? Creation has no choice but to obey the sovereign Word of the Lord. But humans have the ability to say Nope! and move on. God always gives his people a choice. You are always given a choice.

What’s your Nineveh that you might be avoiding?
What good but difficult thing might God be calling you to do that you would rather not bother with?
Are we really any better than Jonah?

Tell me, have you ever heard God speak to you? What did God say? How did you respond? Let me know in the comments, and subscribe for email notifications so you never miss a post.