JONAH ~ PROPHET OF KNOWLEDGE
By Rodney W. Francis
So you think you are “a Jonah”? You are always getting blamed for the things that go wrong? The concept people have of you is not what they should have – they do not understand your position, your motives, your actions, especially since you became a Holy Spirit-filled Christian.
Let’s get the record straight – just as the Bible declares there are those who serve “another Jesus” to the Jesus of the Bible, so can we say there are those whose concept of Jonah is that of “another Jonah” to the Jonah of the Bible. This Faith Message seeks to share the Jonah of the Bible.
The Book of Jonah reveals to us some of the dealings and experiences in God the Holy Spirit-filled believer has. Jonah is one of the great prophets of God whose life and ministry has been very misunderstood. This is, to some extent, borne out by the commonly used saying among people when things go wrong as a result of some person’s mistake – “He’s a Jonah.” I do not believe the Bible reveals Jonah as that kind of person at all. The name “Jonah” means “a dove” which is symbolic of sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. His father’s name was “Amittai” and means “truthful, faithful and trustworthiness.”
Jonah had been brought up in the ways of God and, if there is anything that stands out in Jonah’s relationship with God, it was his intimate knowledge of the ways of God. I believe we can call him “a prophet of knowledge.” Jonah knew God like few men ever did, either in the Old or New Testaments – and any time since. Alas, this fact seems to be overshadowed to a large degree owing to Jonah always being presented to us as a “backslider.” He was no such thing! Digest the Book of Jonah and you will find he was an amazing prophet who walked close to the God he loved and served. His so-called “backsliding” was not that he did not love God – rather, it was a “contention” he had with God over a new thing God was about to do through him. Jonah knew God so well he knew what God would do before it happened! He knew what would happen to Jonah too, if he obeyed what God had asked him! That is the reason why Jonah ran “from the presence of the Lord” (1:3). It was not that he was ignorant of the ways of God, but because he knew too much! This book reveals the struggles that those who walk close to God go through – not of those who are running away from God! (which is what a backslider does).
Let us look at this Book of Jonah and see what it really has to say. The Word of the Lord came to Jonah to do something entirely new for a Jew. He was to go to a heathen people and cry against their wickedness. God chose Jonah to be His first foreign missionary. What an honour. But Jonah knew there was no “glory” for him in that – in fact, quite the opposite. God’s people in that day would not accept any such venture as being right, or “of God”! Jonah would get no encouragement from his own people.
KNOW THE VOICE OF GOD
“The Word of the Lord came unto Jonah” (1:1). He knew it was God speaking to him. He had learned to recognize the voice of God (that is why he was a prophet). That was also how he became so knowledgeable in the first place – he walked with God. This is one of the secrets of a life of victory in the Christian walk and ministry – recognizing the voice of God. It is a “must” if we are going to know the fullness of the Holy Spirit-filled life. The Christian must know when God speaks to him as an individual. Too many are “falling short” here and are looking to “the church,” or “church leaders” for their guidance. This is a fatal mistake when it comes to doing “a new thing” in God like Jonah was called to. Jonah knew that. Know the voice of God, be committed to obeying it, and you will know a ministry in God to bless your generation.
The word that came from God to Jonah placed Jonah in a very awkward position naturally. He knew it would bring upon him the rejection and wrath of the Israelites, and, knowing God like he did, should he obey God and go, it would mean he would be labelled as a false prophet and become “despised and rejected of men.”
Jonah knew what God was like. This third way would not be completely disobedient – only partially – and the Israelites would know nothing of what was going on between God and Jonah. The word said, “Arise . . . go . . . Nineveh,” so Jonah “Arose . . . went . . . Tarshish.” How wonderful, even his fare came in – he paid cash for the ticket!
There was one thing Jonah had overlooked in this third possibility. In his scheming to “get around” God concerning His Word for Nineveh, he did not bargain on God scheming to “get around” Jonah concerning His Word for Nineveh. For, as soon as the ship was out on the high seas, the Lord set to work to win His man. A mighty wind came against the ship; so strong was it that there was panic on board of it breaking up – all except Jonah, that is. He was fast asleep in the storm (not even the disciples of Jesus could do that)! The shipmaster and his crew were all idolatrous men – they served false gods and not the true God (Who was the God of Jonah). They cried unto their gods, and at the same time they sought to solve the problem themselves by throwing the cargo overboard. It was then that Jonah was discovered asleep. He was roughly shaken out of his sleep, and before he knew what was happening, they were casting lots. “So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah” (1:7). Now Jonah realized God had come along too!
QUITE A “BACKSLIDER”
According to most, this is the time that Jonah was backslidden. Let us see what kind of “backslider” he really was. He was called upon to explain the cause of the evil. What did Jonah do? He testified how he feared the Lord. He preached that the Lord is God of heaven and earth. He told them he was fleeing from God’s presence – a difference had arisen between him and God – but the crew, nor for that matter anybody else, would understand what Jonah was meaning unless they had been in the same situation.
After Jonah had spoken those things to them, their whole attitude changed. Instead of despising him like a criminal they were asking him what should be done. Jonah knew what should be done! He told them if they threw him overboard the storm would cease – the sea would be calm. The men could not accept Jonah’s advice – that would be murder on their part! So once again they tried to solve the problem in their own strength. They rowed hard to bring the ship to land, but they could not. “The harder they rowed, the harder God blowed.”God wore them out. He brought those heathen men to the end of themselves and they cried unto the Lord. They turned from idolatry to the true and living God through being with Jonah. Finally, they believed Jonah and, after prayer, they cast him forth into the sea. Immediately his word to them came to pass: “The sea ceased from its raging” (1:15). This does not reveal to us the condition of a man “backslidden” and “shut-off” from God. In fact, it was quite the opposite. It reveals to us a prophet of God in command of the circumstances – a prophet of knowledge who knows what is going on! Jonah had a very keen insight, discernment and understanding of the ways of God. It enabled him to know what to do, even before the events took place. That is the mark of a true prophet of God.
If this is the ministry of a “backslider” then we should pray for more of them! Jonah accomplished more for God in his “backsliding” than most do when they are “fired up” for God. We should be careful how we label God’s prophets – for if you still believe he was a backslider you have to also ask yourself the question, “In the light of what Jonah accomplished, where does that place you? Does your Christian witness and ministry shine above Jonah’s during his period of so-called “backsliding”?
JONAH THE “SIGN”
God was not finished with Jonah by any means. The Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow him up. As soon as Jonah was thrown overboard, it was there with its mouth wide open. The crew of the ship would have been very bewildered, as they never saw Jonah surface after being thrown overboard. He just disappeared. For three days and three nights Jonah went through hell inside the fish’s belly.
And that was what God was wanting. God brought Jonah to death’s door, where Jonah “died” to Jonah! There were no choices for him now, no other alternatives. Jonah could no longer be concerned about what the Israelites would say about him. His only hope now was GOD! Only God could deliver him from the “belly of hell” (2:2). Who put him there? God put him there! It was not Jonah’s doing. This was the Lord’s doing, for through it Jonah became a sign to every generation since – not of a “backslider,” but of the Saviour of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ! Do you honestly think that God would make a “backslider” the sign of the greatest event in history? No other prophet has had the honour of being the ”sign” of Jesus more than Jonah. And no two other prophets have been more misunderstood than Jesus and Jonah. In the days of Jesus, when He was being pressured for a sign, He referred them to one prophet – Jonah (Matthew 12:38-41 ; Matthew 16:1-4 ; Luke 11:16-32 ). The religious leaders did not accept Jonah as a prophet of God. On one occasion the Jews stated: “For out of Galilee arises no prophet” (John 7:52 ). Yet the Scripture tells us that Jonah was of Gath-hepher (a place in Galilee, 2 Kings 14:25 ) and Jesus Himself was the “Prophet of Nazareth of Galilee” (Matthew 21:11 )! Both prophets performed the will of God, and both prophets were not accepted by the religious leaders of their day.
This is one reason why it is so important that we know the voice of God. If you want to know the will of God and do the will of God today it would be advisable to study His two “signs” to us – Jesus and Jonah. Then count the cost! It is not the life of popular opinion, or seeking to please man. Those desires have to be removed from us; crucified at the Cross of Jesus.
You may be asking yourself the question, “Why should Jonah and Jesus be so unacceptable?” One reason is because they preached what people did not want to hear. They preached the “now” life-giving will of God – not a religious, historical message from the past. They would not, and could not, be manipulated by religious men and women trapped in pomp and tradition (they were bigger than that)! Between them they carried a world vision of the love and knowledge of God. Jonah preached on the foreign mission field, while Jesus “came unto His own, and His own received Him not” (John 1:11 ). But those who do receive Him are charged with a message and a mission to the whole world! Jesus shares His vision with those who will follow Him.
THE COST OF PREACHING GOD’S WORD
Getting back to the Book of Jonah, we find after God’s dealings with him inside the fish’s belly, Jonah cried out to God and was delivered out of certain death onto dry land. Then the very same word Jonah had struggled with previously was sent to him the second time, “Arise . . . go . . . Nineveh” (3:1). He was not to take a book full of sermons with him and teach them their “a,b,c’s” of the Gospel. Like all God’s true prophets he was to go to Nineveh and“Preach unto it the message that I tell you” (3:2). What a difference that makes in a preacher’s life and ministry! The trouble was that Jonah knew the consequences of doing that. That was why he had run from the presence of the Lord in the first place! If the people obeyed his message, it would not come to pass. And if a prophet’s message does not come to pass, you know what that means. It means that Jonah would be labelled a false prophet! And false prophets were to be rejected and stoned to death! Not only that, but going without the “church’s sanction” (covering) makes one a rebel, a person to be avoided – watch out! (Is it any wonder we have so many “men pleasers” preaching from our pulpits today? – The cost of obedience to God’s Word is too great).
It was a good thing that Jonah’s God was Bigger than the “church” of his day. Through experience he learned obedience (to God) through the things he suffered (like Jesus –Hebrews 5:8 ). He also learned that to walk close to God would cost him his reputation, crucify his ministry in the eyes of others, bring hurts to his own feelings, etc. Even knowing all these things beforehand, Jonah went to Nineveh “according to the Word of the Lord” (3:3). On entering the city he began to proclaim the message God had given him, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (3:4). God’s message of divine judgment went forth. Word soon spread and came even unto the knowledge of the king. The people believed God (their only knowledge of Him was through Jonah) and they cried mightily unto God in repentance. Their cry of repentance moved God to turn their deserved judgment into forgiving grace.
All that Jonah knew God would do before he went to Nineveh came to pass! This upset him no end. In anger he confessed to God the reason why he went to go to Tarshish: “Was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, One Who relents from doing harm” (4:2). This prayer of Jonah is the “key” to understanding what the Bible says when he “fled from the presence of the Lord”(1:3). He knew what obedience to that word would cost him. Now it had happened, according to the word of Jonah! Here he was in a foreign country, cut off from his fellowmen, despised and rejected, all alone, because he had placed his life and ministry entirely into God’s hands, entirely on the Word of the Lord. All he felt he had now was a message, which had not come to pass – even God seemed to have let him down. “Why could there not have been a great display of judgment?” He really would have had a story to take back to convince those Israelites. Jonah was so full of his own hurt and grief that he seemed to entirely overlook the wonderful miracle of grace that God had done through his act of obedience to His Word. So great was the power of the Lord moving through Jonah’s ministry, that the entire city of more than 120,000 undiscerning people were delivered from destruction.
The Book of Jonah shows us something of God’s dealings with the man He chooses to accomplish His divine mission. It reveals how God prepares a man (or woman) to deliver a specific message to a specific people. We see how God can use such a man, change lives through such a man, even though it costs that man his reputation, all he has and is. We see the same principles shining out through the life of Jesus. Both Jonah and Jesus have been very misrepresented.
If we really desire to see a greater impact made on the world through God’s Word, then we must be willing to let God prepare us for what He wants done. As we study the lives of Jonah and Jesus we soon learn that there is “a price to pay” to be a real disciple of Jesus. How desirous are we of letting God prepare us for service like He did with those two great prophets? Only you can answer that question for your life – and only I can answer it for mine.
The next time someone calls you “a Jonah” – if it is the Jonah of the Bible, then count yourself honoured for such a high compliment. I trust your ministry is equally as powerful as his. And preachers, please preach Jonah for who he really was – a prophet of knowledge!