For the past 3 weeks at our Day Camps in Moldova, we have been studying the book of Jonah for kids. The participants of these camps are studying the Bible for the first time in their lives. It is so amazing to see how the Word of God can impact grownups and children alike. I would like to share some of the truths that we have been learning with you through this post and several others that will follow in this series. In chapter 1 of Jonah, we learn of 3 different categories of people in this world.
There are those who are far from God’s presence (they have nothing to do with God). There are those who are running from God’s presence (God is calling them to do something for Him yet they do not want to do it). Finally, there are those who are seeking God’s presence. By the end of this chapter, you will know which category you fall in.
I. The people of Nineveh: People who are far from God’s presence.
The book of Jonah opens with the following verses which tells us much about the people of Nineveh and how people who are far from the presence of God act.
And the Word of Jehovah came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their evil has come up before Me. (Jon 1:1-2)
They are many in number because Nineveh is a great city (in size and in number of people). There were over 120,000 people living in the city (a very large number during that time in history). They live evil lifestyles. In fact, their lifestyle is so wicked that God has taken specific notice of it and can no longer tolerate it. One of the god’s worshipped in Nineveh was Ishtar, the goddess of fertility and sexuality. Part of the rites of worship in her temple was sexual intercourse with the temple prostitutes. Another characteristic of this goddess was cruelty. It is said that the king of Nineveh, to whom Jonah was sent to preach repentance, was known for his tactic of skinning alive, the people whom he conquered and using their tanned skins for wall decoration. Their evil had reached its apex and God decided to take action. What about today, are people the same? Yes, indeed. Sexual immorality is taught as the norm from our public schools. Crime and violence has increased immensely over the past 60 years. Violence penetrates almost every aspect of life. People who are far from the presence of God act the same way no matter what Century they live in. The bad news is that there are many who live like this but the good news is that God cares about these people and He takes action, sending His Word to His prophet and sending His prophet to share the truth with them.
II. Jonah: Those who run from God’s presence.
There is another group of people who hear the voice of God, who seem to respect God (even pretend to respect God) yet when it comes to obeying God’s calling in their lives, they run from God.
But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of Jehovah. And he went down to Joppa. And he found a ship going to Tarshish. And he gave its fare, and went down into it, in order to go with them to Tarshish, away from the sight of Jehovah. (Jon 1:3)
If you know geography, then you know that Tarshish is in the exact opposite direction of where God wanted Jonah to go. Jonah recognized the voice of God, knew what he was supposed to do, and yet willingly chose to run away from God. As we will find out, running away from God is absurd because He is everywhere, so Jonah’s move is ill-advised. There are a few interesting things that we can learn about those running from God. 1) They do not care about the lives of the people who are far from God. They could care less if they perish or not. They do not view people the same way that God does. They are not really interested in the salvation of the lost. They are preoccupied with their own lives and their own safety. Keep in mind, going to Nineveh and calling them to repentance is like being sent by God to Hitler in the height of his power to declare to him to stop persecuting the Jews and pray to their God for mercy. Jonah had good reason to fear and to run away (from a humanistic perspective). Do you know that God wants you to take the good news of the Gospel to the lost nations? Are you ready to go or do you excuse yourself claiming that it is dangerous or that you have other things to do? Do you care about the eternal outcome of the people around the world who are far from the presence of God, who do not know Him? 2) They pretend to know and respect God but they do not care about the things that God cares about.
And they said, each one to his fellow, Come and let us cast lots, so that we may know who has caused this evil to occur to us. And they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, Please tell us, for what reason this evil has come on us. What is your business? And where do you come from? Where is your country? And of what people are you? And he said to them, I am a Hebrew; and I fear Jehovah, the God of heaven, who has made the sea and the dry land. Then the men were afraid with a great fear. And they said to him, What is this you have done? For the men knew that he was fleeing from before the face of Jehovah, because he had told them. (Jon 1:7-10)
Jonah claims to know and respect God yet his actions state otherwise. He does not respect God because he thinks that he can disobey God without consequences. Do you claim to know God and respect Him yet at the same time disobey His Word? Do you wear a mask of hypocrisy like Jonah? 3) They are too proud to repent of their wrong actions, instead, they would rather die instead of humble themselves by admitting that they were wrong.
Then they said to him, What shall we do to you, that the sea may be calm to us? For the sea was going on and being stormy. And he said to them, Take me up and throw me out into the sea. And the sea shall be calm to you; for I know that this great storm has come on you for my sake. (Jon 1:11-12)
Instead of admitting that he was wrong, repenting of his actions, and turning around to go to Nineveh, he chose to die by asking to be thrown into the sea. He was not interested in the lives of the sailors or the lives of the people of Nineveh, he was too proud to admit that he was wrong, and by doing all of this, we see that he does not have the same character that God has. When God points out your sins, your faults, and mistakes, how do you respond? Are you too proud to admit that you were wrong? Are you worried about what others will say if you repent? Would you rather ignore God than repent and be in a state to be used by Him?
III. The sailors: Those who are seeking God’s presence.
There is a 3rd category of people who meet God and want to know Him. Watch how the sailors respond in contrast to the way Jonah responds when be encountered by God.
Then the seamen were afraid, and each man cried to his god. And they threw out the ship’s articles in the ship, into the sea in order to lighten it. But Jonah had gone down into the hold of the ship; and he lay there, and was fast asleep. And the chief of the seaman came to him and said to him, What is it to you, O sound sleeper? Arise, call upon your God! It may be that our god will notice us, and we will not perish. And they said, each one to his fellow, Come and let us cast lots, so that we may know who has caused this evil to occur to us. And they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, Please tell us, for what reason this evil has come on us. What is your business? And where do you come from? Where is your country? And of what people are you? (Jon 1:5-8)
1) They are desperate and in their despair, they turn to God for help. God usually has to allow people to hit rock bottom in their actions before they will turn to Him for help. They have no where else to go so they try God. That is when He steps in and miracles happen. The sailors were open to God’s help and they turned to Him for salvation (literal). 2) They value the lives of others (unlike Jonah who did not care about the sailors or the people of Nineveh).
Then the men were afraid with a great fear. And they said to him, What is this you have done? For the men knew that he was fleeing from before the face of Jehovah, because he had told them. Then they said to him, What shall we do to you, that the sea may be calm to us? For the sea was going on and being stormy. And he said to them, Take me up and throw me out into the sea. And the sea shall be calm to you; for I know that this great storm has come on you for my sake. But the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not, for the sea was going on and being stormy against them. (Jon 1:10-13)
They knew that they could escape simply be throwing Jonah overboard yet they value his life (just like their own). They saw others the way that God does. They were sensitive to the things that touch God’s heart. Do you value the lives of others? Do you seek to share the good news of the Gospel for the good of others so that they can avoid God’s judgment on this earth and His eternal judgment? Or, are you satisfied that you have avoided eternal condemnation and now want to get along with your own life, not really caring what happens to others? 3) They truly respect God by their actions. They are not hypocritical like Jonah. They are honest with themselves before God. They see the world the way that God does. They accept God’s help and trust Him.
My dear friend, which category are you in? Are you a person who has nothing to do with God and end up living like the devil? Are you a person who wears a mask of hypocrisy, pretending to know and respect God yet you are really faking it because when it comes to obedience to God, you do what you want to do instead of what God says? Or, maybe you are a person who genuinely is seeking after God. If you are, then when He manifests Himself, do not hesitate to accept His help and trust Him.