Tonight shall we turn now to Obadiah.
Who Obadiah was, or where he came from, when he prophesied, nobody knows for sure. There have been a lot of guesses as to who Obadiah actually was, but they are all just guesses.
It is amazing how much men can say whenever the Bible is silent on a subject. And it seems to just be a take-off place for guys to develop theories and to write theme papers or doctrinal dissertations on some area where the Bible is silent. But at best, when God's Word is silent, all we can do is offer conjecture, and at best, our conjecture is worthless. So I prefer not to make any conjecture. The Bible is silent; we'll remain silent. All I can tell you is that the name Obadiah means "worshiper of God," or "worshiper of Jehovah," more literally, or Yahweh. And thus, it is a very beautiful name.
Some believe that he prophesied just before Joel, but again, that isn't important. What is important is what he prophesied. And Obadiah directed his prophecy against the Edomites.
Now the Edomites were descendents of Esau the brother of Jacob. And you remember when Jacob, through the advice and counsel of his mother Rebekah, disguised himself and went in and deceived his aged father, receiving the birthright, blessing, from his father Isaac, that Esau hated his brother Jacob and he vowed to kill him. Well, they did patch up their differences in years to come. However, that animosity that seemed to exist between the brothers, Esau and Jacob, did continue on through the years. And the Edomites became the perennial enemies of Israel. They had a very vicious nature that caused them every time Israel had any problem with any enemy, every time that Israel was invaded from either from Egypt or by the Syrians or by the Assyrians, whatever, whenever Israel was pressed in battle, Edom would always attack them also from the south. They took advantage of every situation. And many times when Jerusalem was being overthrown by the Babylonians and all, as the Israelites would seek to flee to Edom, the Edomites would block their borders and turn them back to their enemies, and thus, they were the perennial enemies of Israel, but always taking advantage. So there is that psalm in which the psalmist asked God to take vengeance upon the Edomites who, while Jerusalem was being destroyed, encouraged the destroyer saying, "Raise it, raise it."
Obadiah prophesies against the Edomites, and it is because of this perennial attitude of hatred against God's people Israel that God brings Edom into judgment. Edom was once a great kingdom. The people carved great cities out of the cliffs. The city of Petra today is one of the cities of the Edomites. All we have, of course, today are the ruins of Petra, but it testifies of the grandeur of the Edomite Kingdom. These great palaces and all that were carved right out of the rock. Sort of cliff dwellers, but you don't want to think of them in terms of cavemen. When you see these marvelous really dwelling places, palaces and all that were carved right out of the rock there in Petra. They were the Edomites.
So this is the vision of Obadiah. Thus saith the Lord GOD concerning Edom (1:1);
So the prophecy immediately is directed by God against Edom.
We have heard a rumor from the LORD, and an ambassador is sent among the heathen, Arise ye, and let us go up against her in battle. [So the Lord said concerning Edom,] Behold, I have made thee small among the heathen: thou art greatly despised. The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock (1:1-3),
No doubt a reference to Petra and the other cities that the Edomites had carved out of the rocks.
whose habitation is high; that saith in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the ground? (1:3)
They felt very safe and secure in these cities such as Petra. To get to Petra you have to go back through this narrow canyon that is only wide enough for one horse and a rider to pass through single file, and then you break out sort of into this wider area when you get to Petra. And there these large caves that are dug out of the sandstone rock and it opens up and you see the vastness which was once the great city of Petra. But because of the narrow entry in, dwelling high in the rocks, they felt very secure. They could stop the enemy very easily who tried to make their way up these narrow canyons by just being up on the ledges and tossing rocks down on them. And they dwelt very secure and they felt very secure there within their dwellings. And so God speaks of the pride of their heart as they dwelt in these high cliffs and just felt so secure, saying, “Who shall bring us down to the ground?”
But though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, from there will I bring thee down, saith the LORD. If thieves came to thee, if robbers by night, (how art thou cut off!) would they not have stolen till they had enough? (1:4-5)
In other words, they wouldn't completely destroy you. They would take from you, but they would also leave some.
if the grape gatherers came to thee, would they not leave some grapes? How are the things of Esau searched out! how are his hidden things sought up! All the men of thy confederacy have brought thee even to the border: the men that were at peace with thee have deceived thee, and prevailed against thee; they that eat thy bread have laid a wound under thee: there is none understanding in him. Shall I not in that day, saith the LORD, even destroy the wise men out of Edom, and the understanding out of the mount of Esau? And thy mighty men, O Teman, shall be dismayed, to the end that every one of the mount of Esau may be cut off by slaughter (1:5-9).
So God predicts that though they feel very secure, exalted in their position, that God is going to utterly cut them off, every one of them will be cut off. The question, “Where is thy wise men?” and the mention of Teman.
Now you will remember that when Job had his affliction and his friends came to comfort him, one of the friends that came to comfort Job was Eliphaz the Temanite. Teman was one of the major cities of Edom, and Edom was known for its wise counselors. And, of course, as Eliphaz counsels Job, he expresses the wisdom and the philosophy of the world. And so the Lord makes reference to the understanding of Mount Esau. "And thy mighty men, O Teman, shall be dismayed, to the end that every one of the mount of Esau may be cut off by slaughter." So God predicts the total eradication of the Edomites.
Now do you know any Edomites today? Then God's Word must indeed be true. God did what He said. He cut off all the Edomites. In fact, historically the last of the Edomites was the family of Herod. From there they disappear from history. Herod the Great was from Idumea, or he was an Edomite. At his death his sons reigned in his stead. But with the dynasty of Herod and the end of that dynasty comes historically the end of the Edomites, and they became lost into the other nations at that time. So God's Word was fulfilled, the Edomites had been cut off from being a people.
Now God gives the reason why Edom was to be cut off. At the time that Obadiah prophesied they were a very powerful kingdom, dwelling smugly, filled with pride.
For thy violence against thy brother Jacob (1:10)
Remember Esau and Jacob were brothers, and so there was a close relationship, and yet their violence against them.
You remember when Moses was bringing the children of Israel out of Egypt to the Promise Land, he came to Edom and the king of Edom came out and met him at the borders, and Moses said, "Look, we would like to pass through your land. We will not eat your bread, nor will we even drink your water. We just want passage through the land.” And the king of Edom forbade Moses passage through the land so that Moses and the children of Israel meekly turn and circumvented Edom going way out and around. So Edom was the perennial foe to Israel, though in the beginning they were brothers, Jacob and Esau. And so, "For thy violence against thy brother Jacob,”
shame shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off for ever. In the day that you stood on the other side, in the day that the strangers carried away captive his forces, and the foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even you were as one of them (1:10-11).
And as I said, they would always take advantage whenever Jerusalem was under a siege by their enemies. Edom would always send their troops up there to join in the battle. Edom was finally conquered by David and became sort of a vassal state for a time, but under Rehoboam, actually, is when the Edomites began to rebel against the kingdom of Israel and then began to join their enemies in every attack.
But thou shouldest not have looked on the day of thy brother in the day that he became a stranger; neither should you have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction; neither should you have spoken proudly in the day of his distress (1:12).
So this was the sin of Edom, was rejoicing in the judgment of God against the nation of Israel.
Now God, like a father, reserves the right to punish His own children, but don't let anybody else enter in or interfere. And this is exactly the situation. God was chastising His own children, but Edom was there cheering Him. God said, “I don't need any cheering section when I'm chastising My people.” And the fact that they were rejoicing in the chastisement of God upon the nation is the very thing that God is using as His indictment against them.
You should not have entered into the gate of my people in the day of their calamity (1:13);
Edom would enter in and take what spoil they could. They would rip them off every chance they had.
yes, you should not have looked on their affliction in the day of their calamity, nor have laid hands on their substance in the day of their calamity; Neither should you have stood in the crossway, to cut off those that did escape; neither should you have delivered up those of his that did remain in the day of distress (1:13-14).
So they would stand at the borders, turn the children of Israel back. If any of them escaped, they would turn them over to their enemies. And so God said this was wrong. You should not have done it. And for this cause Edom was to be totally destroyed.
Now the Lord declares,
For the day of the LORD is near upon all the heathen: and as you have done, it shall be done unto thee (1:15):
Here is one of those basic truths that we find also expressed in the New Testament, "As a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7). As you have done, so shall it be done unto thee.
thy reward [for that which you have done] will return on your own head. For as ye have drunk upon my holy mountain, so shall all of the heathen drink continually; yes, they shall drink, and they shall swallow down, and they shall be as though they had not been (1:15-16).
Though Edom is to be destroyed, yet God promises that His people who were being chastised, and Edom was rejoicing in it, they are to be preserved and remain. And so He pronounces the judgment: Edom is to be destroyed.
But upon mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions (1:17).
Now that is one thing the house of Jacob has never yet done.
You remember when God was bringing the children of Israel into the land and Joshua was leading them in the conquest of the land. Several times over in Joshua you read, “But they did not possess all of the land.” There was a failure to go in and to possess all of their possessions. Now God had promised them the land from the great river in Egypt even to the Euphrates. That is what God had promised to Israel. They have never in all of their history possessed all of that land that God had promised to them. When Joshua was leading the children of Israel into the land that God had promised, God said to Joshua, "Behold, I have given you the land. I'll go before you. I'll drive out the inhabitants, but I'm not going to drive them all out at once. I'll drive them out only as you go in and possess. If I drove them out all at once then the wild beasts and all would come in and you'd have that problem when you arrived. The land would become overgrown and desolate. So I will drive them out little by little before you and every place you put your foot I have given it to you for a possession.” In other words, “It's all there, Joshua. It's all yours. All you have to do is go in and lay your foot down on it and say, ‘Hey, this is mine.’ You have to go in and claim your possession. You have to go in and take by faith that which I have given you and possess the land.”
But the sad story of Joshua is the failure of the children of Israel to possess all that God has given to them. The city of the Jebusites was not taken until the time of David, and much of the land of the Philistines was not taken until the time of David. I think of how God has to given to us, as Peter said, “Exceeding rich and precious promises, that by these we might become the partakers of the divine nature” (II Peter 1:4). And yet, how we fail to possess all that God has given to us. There is so much more that God has for us that we have not yet obtained because of our own failure to possess our possessions. It is ours by divine gift. God has promised us these things. But yet, as with the children of Israel, through our lack of faith we're not stepping in and laying claim to that which God has promised to us. Yet the same principle is true; every place you place your foot God has given it. Not, “I will give it to you,” but, “I have given it to you.” It's already given; all you have to do is go in and lay claim to it and these glorious promises of God. What we need to do is to just go in and lay claim. "All right, Lord, You've promised it and I claim it," and begin to possess our possessions.
Now here is the prophecy that the day will come, the day of the Lord is going to come, in which there in Mount Zion will be deliverance. This deliverance in Mount Zion is prophesied in other passages of the Old Testament and is made reference to by Paul in the book of Hebrews when God removes the blindness from the nation of Israel and begins to deal with Israel once again. Romans, chapter 11, "For blindness has happened to Israel in part until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in, and then all Israel shall be saved as saith the Scripture. There shall be a deliverer in Zion." So a reference to this passage and other parallel passages in the prophets as God speaks of that last day revival of the Jewish people when God claims them again. God takes back His bride Israel and bestows again His blessing and His favor upon it; the deliverer in Zion. And there shall be holiness, and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions. Their borders will be expanded to those territories that God promised unto Abraham and also unto Jacob and then unto Moses.
And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle in them, and devour them; and there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau; for the LORD hath spoken it (1:18).
So Esau is to be destroyed, none remaining, and Jacob, Joseph, shall the tribes of Israel possess.
And they of the south shall possess the mount of Esau; and they of the plain, the Philistines: and they shall possess the fields of Ephraim, and the fields of Samaria: and Benjamin shall possess Gilead. And the captivity of this host of the children of Israel shall possess that of the Canaanites, even to Zarephath; and the captivity of Jerusalem, which is in Sepharad, shall possess the cities of the south. And saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be Jehovah's [or Yahweh's] (1:19-21).
So the prophecy of Obadiah, basically addressed against Edom, but going into the day of the Lord when God blesses Israel once again when the deliverer is in Zion and the Lord reigns.
Now we come to that interesting prophet Jonah.
Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me (1:1-2).
Nineveh, a great city; in fact, the historians say was the largest city in the ancient world. There is a reference later on in Jonah to Nineveh being three-days’ journey. What is meant by that is that it took three days to walk through Nineveh. So going from one end of Nineveh to the other walking was a three-day journey. So it was indeed a great city. In fact, the population of Nineveh, no doubt, was quite large, because there were sixty thousand babies in Nineveh, so young as to not know their right hand from their left hand. Now, that is something children will usually learn about four or five years old. So having a population of sixty thousand, say under five, you can come to a rough estimate of what the total population of Nineveh might have been.
A great city, but the problem was, it was a wicked city. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians historically were extremely cruel people. History tells us how that the Assyrians would maim their enemies in war. How that they would desecrate the bodies of the victims of war, impelling them, maiming them, cutting off the ears of their prisoners, or cutting off the noses of the prisoners, or pulling out the tongues of the prisoners. They were horribly cruel inflicting grotesque type of maiming processes upon the prisoners of war that they would take. So that history tells us that there were cities that when surrounded by the Assyrian army and doomed to fall that the inhabitants of the cities would all commit suicide.
The Assyrian Empire was the empire that finally conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and they moved against the Southern Kingdom and surrounded Jerusalem. And had cut Jerusalem off and had Jerusalem under siege.
Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, sent the Rabshakeh to Hezekiah with threatening letters, blasphemous letters against God. And Hezekiah would take these letters in and would spread them out before the Lord and he’d say, “Look, Lord, what the guy is saying he is going to do.” And the guy was promising how he was going to maim them and torture them and what he was going to do when they fell. And Hezekiah just spread the letters out before the Lord and said, "Look at these things that they are saying they are going to do. And Lord, they are able to do them." But all the while the prophet Isaiah was saying to Hezekiah, "Look Hezekiah, don't worry. God is going to take care of you. God is going to deliver you out of the hands of the Assyrians. They are going to be turned back by the hand of the Lord and the king of Assyria is going to be assassinated in his own land. So you don't have to worry, Hezekiah. Just trust in God; God will take care of it." But it was hard to trust in God, because here was this huge Assyrian army, over 185,000 men surrounding the city of Jerusalem. They were cut off from their supplies. And here they were coming up to the wall and they were yelling to the people, "Don't let Hezekiah deceive you saying, 'Trust in the Lord.' Where are the gods of the Israelites? Where are the gods of Syria? Where are the gods of these other nations that we have conquered? They weren't able to deliver them from our hand, and neither will your God deliver out of our hand. Don't believe the words of Hezekiah saying, ‘Just trust in the Lord.’" And the men were there on the wall listening and trembling as these threats were being made. And they heard the blasphemes how they were going to cut off every man in Israel; torturing, maiming them. And inside Isaiah is saying, “Hey, keep cool. Hezekiah, don't worry. God is going to take care of it. God is going to deliver them into your hand. Don't worry, Hezekiah.”
One morning when the children of Israel arose and went to the wall to look at the encampment of the Assyrians, behold, to their amazement the Assyrian forces were all dead corpses. One hundred and eighty-five thousand of them lay slain on the ground. That night the angel of the Lord had gone through the camp of the Assyrians and had destroyed them. King Sennacherib escaped back to Assyria, and as he went in the house of his god Rimmon, his two sons assassinated him and they fled to Armenia. And another son of Sennacherib began to reign in his stead. But the back of Assyria was broken.
Now at the point that God said to Jonah go to Nineveh, that great city, that wicked city and prophesy, was when Assyria was ascending in power. Assyria had not yet become the world-dominating power. There was a vying at this point between Egypt and Syria and Assyria, but gradually Assyria was gaining ascendancy and power, and they were becoming a real threat to Israel and to Judah at the time the Lord said to Jonah, "Go to Nineveh that great city and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before Me."
But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and he went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD (1:3).
Nineveh was east and north from Israel. Jonah went down and caught a ship going west. He is going to run from the call of God. Now God is calling him to go and preach to the Gentiles, something he did not want to do. Felt this nationalistic spirit--salvation is of the Jews; it is not for the Gentiles. He did not want to go to the Gentiles. And so he went to Joppa to escape the call of God to go to the Gentiles.
It is interesting that several years later in this very same port city of Joppa, as Peter was on the rooftop of the house of Simon the tanner, that he saw this sheet in a vision let down from heaven; tied at the corners with all manner of beast and creeping things on it. And the Lord said to Peter, "Rise, Peter, kill and eat." And when Peter objected saying, "Lord, I've never eaten anything that was unclean or common." God said, "Don't call that common which I have cleansed." After this thing happened three times, Peter wondered, “What in the world does this mean?” And the Lord spoke to him and said, "There are some men now down at the gate inquiring for you. Go with them and don't ask any questions. I'll tell you what to say." And there in Joppa is where Peter was called to take the gospel to the Gentiles. Interesting how things always seem to come back.
It was to Joppa that Jonah ran to catch a ship to escape preaching to the Gentiles. It was at Joppa that the Lord called Peter and said go to the Gentiles. And the door of the gospel was open to the Gentiles as God dealt with Peter there in Joppa.
Jonah was arising and seeking to flee from the presence of the Lord, heading for Tarshish. Biblical scholars are divided as to the location of Tarshish. Some say it is a part of Spain; others say it is England. The preponderance of scholars seem to favor England. Wherever Tarshish was, it was the furthest outpost of the known world at that time. It was the jumping off. You can't go any farther than Tarshish from the civilized world. It was the end. It was as far as you could go. Beyond Tarshish lay that wild, boisterous Atlantic, and out there somewhere that precipice, that chasm, that just the ships dropped off into oblivion. No ships ever came back from their voyages on the Atlantic. They surely must have gone over the edge of the world someplace and disappeared. So Tarshish was as far as you dared to go, and that is where Jonah was heading. “I'm going to get as far away from God as I can. I'll head for Tarshish. I'll hide from the call of God, from the presence of the Lord.”
Now there are many people that do make the mistake of attempting to localize God, as though God dwells in one place as over against another place. As though God dwells here in the sanctuary more so than in your home. “Oh, I wanted to come to the church to pray so I could be close to God. I like to go up to the mountains to pray because I'm so much closer to God; five thousand feet.” As though God were somewhere off in the vast universe. Of course, better yet if you could get into a balloon or into a U-2 or something, you get closer to God. Not so! God fills every place in this vast universe or in any other universe that exists.
The astrophysicists are talking about some interesting things in our universe. One of the interesting things that the astrophysicists speaks of is the black hole. Now, there are some interesting theories about these black holes. You see, all matter is made up of expanded atoms, or expanded atoms which are made up of electrons rotating around the protons in the nucleus of an atom. But there is much more space than solid material in atoms, so that if the proton of the hydrogen atom was the size of a basketball, the electron that revolves around it would be some three thousand miles away, to give you an idea of the amount of space that is in the atom of hydrogen. There is the proton, the electron revolving around it, but quite a vast space in between in comparison to the size of the proton and the electron. So that, they tell us, that there is more space in solid matter or in material than in solid matter. In fact, they say if all of the atoms in your body would collapse so that there was no space, just the solid material of the protons and electrons, you would be the size of a microscopic speck of dust. So suddenly, all of the atoms in your body would collapse, you'd say, “Hey, where'd they go?” and we'd have to get an electron microscope to find you. But the interesting thing is that this little microscopic speck of dust would weigh the same as you weigh. So you go to blow that dust off the table and it doesn't move.
Now they say if they started to compress the atoms in the earth...of course, we know Einstein's theory of relativity and then also of gravity, E=MC2. Now they say that if you would start compressing the earth, (you know we're eight thousand miles in diameter), so that you are four thousand miles from the center of the mass of the earth. Therefore, four thousand miles away from the center of the mass you weigh whatever the scales tell you you weigh. So let's say you ladies weigh 130 or 125 or whatever, and us fellows, (I’m not going to tell you what I weigh), but we weigh around two hundred, plus or minus, because we are four thousand miles away from the center of the earth, the center of the mass of the earth, and there is this pull towards the center of the mass. I'm being pulled towards the center of the earth, and that pull upon the mass of my body equals what I weigh.
Now, if we would start compressing the earth so that it was only four thousand miles in diameter instead of the eight thousand miles in diameter, as you are now only two thousand miles away from the center of the mass, the earth would still weigh the same as it weighs now. But your weight would go up tremendously, because you are closer now to the center of the mass. And being closer to the center of the mass your weight would now increase to where you would weigh several tons.
Now, if you continued to compress the earth until, say, it was the size of a baseball, then you would be so close to the center of the mass that you would weigh over one hundred million tons. Now, if you continue to compress the earth, you finally can press it so much that you create a black hole and the whole thing disappears, because now the center of gravity is so powerful that not even light can escape it. So all of the light now is going inward because it is being drawn by this powerful gravity and so now you have a black hole. And you pass this point in the compression to where the center of gravity becomes so great, or the power of gravity is so great that not even light can escape it. And that is the theory for the black holes that we have in the universe.
Now, if you would step into this black hole, according to some of the astrophysicists, you would enter into a whole new universe within this small black hole. You come out into a vast new universe in which, if you would take the object in that universe and begin to compress them, you could make other black holes in that universe. And when you have created the black hole, step into it and you'd enter out into another vast universe. Sounds like science fiction, doesn't it? But that is what the astrophysicists are telling us about these black holes.
Now, you see, in order for us to see things we have to have light, and what we see is reflected light off of the object. We don't see the object, but the light that is reflected by that object is what we behold. But if the gravity is so powerful that light doesn't reflect but it is drawn inward, the light can't escape then this creates the black hole. And it is created by the compression of atoms to the point that the center of gravity is so powerful within them that even light can't escape.
So Jonah is talking about escaping from the presence of God, but you can't. If you would enter into one of these black holes and enter into another whole new universe, you'd find God was there and He fills that whole universe.
Jesus said, "In My Father's house there are many mansions," in My Father's house. How vast is the Father's house? Vast enough that there are many mansions in it. Those mansions could even be universes within the black holes of the black holes of the black holes. Paul the apostle, when talking with the Epicurean philosophers there in the Areopagus, said unto them, "I perceive that you are very religious, for as I have been walking through your streets I have observed all of the altars that you have made to the gods. And on one corner I saw an altar and the inscription was to the unknown god. This is the God that I’d like to talk to you about, because He is the one who has created the heaven and the earth and everything that is in them and in Him we live, we move, we have our being." I'm surrounded by God. I can't escape God. Wherever I am I'm surrounded by God.
David the psalmist said, "If I ascend into heaven thou art there: if I descend into hell thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and flee to the uttermost parts of the sea, even there You lead me" (Psalms 139:8-10). I can't get away from God. I'm surrounded by God, and thus, it is wrong for you to think of God in a local situation.
Now when I was in Sunday school, the Sunday school teacher taught us that it was evil to go to shows. And they told us the story of the little boy who went by the theatre and saw on the marquis the show that was playing and oh he wanted to go in and see it. And he was tempted to go in and see it, but he knew that the Lord wouldn't want him in there, and if the rapture would come, if he were in there would surely not be taken. And I had that boogieman over my head when I was a child. And so he said, "Lord, if you wouldn't mind waiting outside, I'll be with You in an hour and a half," as though we can leave the presence of the Lord, or as though we do leave the presence of the Lord when we turn our backs upon God. Not so, I'm always surrounded by God no matter where I am. And I think that this is an important concept that we need to be aware of. I don't escape God.
When Ben-Hadad was questioning his generals because of the apparent security leak… He had the same problems that Reagan had only of a different sort, because his generals said to him, "Listen, we're true to you. We're not leaking out this security information. The problem is there is a prophet over there in Israel and you can't even talk to your wife in bed but what he doesn't know what you are saying to her.” Now how did the prophet know? Because God was revealing it to him. You see, you don't escape God. I don't care where you are. You cannot escape God.
Now, it was a deceptive lie for Jonah to think that he could escape God. It was a deceptive lie to think that he would be better off running from God and running from the call of God. That was a deception and that was a lie. Many people live under that same delusion. "I would be better off if I could just escape the will of God for my life. I can determine what is best for me better than God can determine. I know what is better for the people of God than God does. If I go to Nineveh and preach the gospel to those Gentiles, if they believe and repent, then God being the softy that He is, being merciful as He is, will probably forgive them and not destroy them. And if they are not destroyed then they are apt to destroy our people. I'm not going. I'm heading for Tarshish. I'm going to get as far away from Nineveh as is humanly possible.”
So he went down to Joppa to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. And he got a ship and paid the fare; went down in the hull to flee from the presence of the Lord.
But the LORD sent out a great wind in the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was being broken. Then the mariners [the sailors] were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and they cast forth the cargo that was in the ship on into the sea, in order to lighten it. But Jonah was gone down in the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep (1:4-5).
Now people are troubled because of the miraculous aspects of the book of Jonah. But usually the part that troubles them most is the fact that he was swallowed by the great fish. But in reality, here are the evidences of God's hand even before we ever get to the fish. The storm that came up was sent from God. A miraculous kind of a storm in that God sent it. But then Jonah able to sleep through the storm has to be some kind of a miracle also. Have you ever been out in a boat in a storm being tossed? And down in the ship fast asleep.
So that the shipmaster came to him, and said, What do you mean by this, O sleeper? arise, and call on your God, if so be that God will think upon us, and we perish not. And they said every one to his fellow, Come on, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and [another miracle] the lot fell on Jonah. So they said unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, why has this evil come upon us; What is your occupation? Where do you come from? what is your country? from what people are you? And Jonah said unto them, I am a Hebrew; and I fear Yahweh, the God of heaven, which has made the sea and the dry land (1:6-9).
I fear the great God, Yahweh, the Creator of the universe.
Francis Schaeffer says that the term god is being so commonly used by people today without definition, that as we speak of God we need to become more definitive. And we probably should say, "The living God, the Creator of the heaven and the earth," so that we define to people the God that we are talking about, because there are so many gods. And people use the term God so freely, and so liberally to express almost anything.
So here he defines Yahweh who made the sea and the land.
Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and they said unto him, Why have you done this? For the men knew that he had fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them (1:10).
He told them that he was trying to flee from the presence of God, from the call of God to go to the Gentiles and preach to them.
Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto you, that the sea may be calm? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous. And he said unto them, Just throw me overboard; and the sea will be calm: for I know that it is for my sake that this great tempest is come upon you. Nevertheless (1:11-13)
Because he had paid his fare and it wasn't polite to throw over fare-paying passengers.
the men rowed hard to bring the ship to land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them. Wherefore they cried unto Yahweh, and said, We beseech thee, O Yahweh, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man's life, and don't lay upon us innocent blood: for thou, O Yahweh, has done as has pleased thee (1:13-14).
God don't blame us. We're going to throw this guy over. We don't want to perish for him, but God, don't blame us for throwing him over, because You're the one that has brought all of this because of him. So God, have mercy on us when we throw him overboard.
So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and [the next miracle] the sea ceased her raging (1:15).
You see the miraculous is interwoven all the way through the book of Jonah.
Then the men when they saw this they reverenced the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and they made vows (1:16).
I imagine there was quite a scene on that ship when they saw all of this.
Now the LORD prepared [more accurately, appointed] a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights (1:17).
The Lord appointed a great fish. What kind of fish was it? The Bible doesn't tell us. Whether or not it was one of the sperm whales or whether or not it was a great shark, or whatever, it doesn't matter. I believe it did happen, because it is here in the Word of God.
Now here is where, of course, the biblical critics have a field day and you can read in so many Bible commentaries and in Bible dictionaries of the legend of Jonah or of the myth of Jonah. Or you can read men's endeavors to give some kind of a plausible, natural explanation of how really it wasn't a fish, but some other ship came along and the captain pulled Jonah out of the water. And it so happened he was going back towards Joppa and so he gave him a ride back, and he got back safely. And you can read a lot of natural explanations of man who are endeavoring to remove the supernatural from the story.
The real problem with the book of Jonah is that Jesus believed it. That is the problem for the critics of the book of Jonah. And I will personally cast my lot with Jesus than with all of the critics that I have ever read. I believe that Jesus knew better than these supposed wise scholars who write with the earthly wisdom of man in their endeavors to discount the miraculous aspects of God.
Jesus made a couple of references to Jonah. The one refers to Jonah's experience in this fish. “And as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). Jesus gave that to the scribes and Pharisees who were asking Him for a sign. After He had been doing all of the miracles, they said, "Show us a sign that You're the Messiah." Jesus said, "A wicked and an adulterous generation seeks after a sign but no sign will be given except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matthew 16:4), “for as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” And so Jesus refers to Jonah's experience as a real, literal experience, and thus I accept it as a real, literal experience. And I have no problem accepting it as a real, literal experience.
For I believe that God has created creatures of which we know nothing about that are surely capable of swallowing a man and retaining him for a period of time. I have no problem with God's ability to create. As I look at the vast creation of God, really I have no problem with creation. They talk of a whale's throat being too small to swallow a man. Well, that’s some species of whales, but there is the sperm whale in which they have found the arms of squid that are five feet in diameter in their stomachs, so evidently they swallowed that portion of the squid. There must be gigantic squid in the oceans that we have never seen. In fact, they have found on whales the imprints of the suction cups of squid that are one foot in diameter, giant squid down there in the depths of the ocean. I would personally love to see a whale and a squid going at it. Boy, if you could get that on film how exciting that would be. One of these giant squid with suction cups a foot in diameter and a five foot in diameter on their tentacles. God has created some interesting creatures that we have not yet seen dwelling, no doubt, in the depths of the seas.
God said to Job, He said, "Hey, Job, you think you know so much, tell Me, have you seen this and that and the other?" And God rings off some of these things. Hey, it's beyond my dimensions. It is beyond my realm.
So Jonah was three days and three nights here in the belly of this great fish.
Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly (2:1),
Jonah must have been a stubborn man indeed that he would wait three days and three nights before he would begin to pray. He was determined not to take the gospel to the Gentiles. He was determined not to go, sitting it out for three days and three nights.
Now he describes the conditions that he was in.
And he said, I cried by reason of my affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I (2:2),
He thought the conditions…he maybe even thought he died and gone to hell. After all, he was trying to run from God, and it was so hot, 98.6 if it were a whale and it's a mammal, so it has a 98.6 temperature, body temperature, beside the heat, the humidity that must have been inside that whale. The gastric juices sloshing around him, the seaweed wrapped around his head. “Out of my affliction, out of hell I cried,”
and you heard my voice. For you had cast me into the deep, into the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all of thy billows and thy waves passed over me (2:2-3).
It is interesting that most of his prayer can be found in the Psalms. Jonah evidently had a very good knowledge of the Psalms, because his entire prayer you can reference back in the Psalms. And that might be an interesting little project for you to take your concordance and reference Jonah's prayer. And he is jumping all over the Psalms in his prayer. It's too bad he didn't get to the hundred and thirty-ninth Psalm, and he could have saved himself problems to begin with, because he would know there is no way to escape from the presence of God. For in Psalm 139, "If I take the wings of the morning and flee to the uttermost parts of the sea, even there You will lead me." Now he knew the Psalms. He knew them well, because he really quotes them in his prayer, but isn't it interesting how that so many times we overlook important things.
Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight [Psalm 31:22]; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple (2:4).
You remember when Solomon was dedicating the temple he said, "Lord, if your people get in trouble, if they be taken captive by the enemy, if they be in a strange land or whatever, if they turn towards the temple and pray, then hear Thou from Thy place in heaven and answer their prayer and all.” Now how he knew which direction the temple was I don't know. He surely had no sense of reference, but he turned in what he evidently thought was the direction of the temple to pray unto the Lord. You know he is going to cover all of his bases.
The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped around my head. I went down to the bottom of the mountains (2:5-6);
This thing was sounding and going way down and no doubt would get dark, dark, dark, dark and then surfacing. Oh, what a miserable experience as this movement within. Probably seasick and just horrible.
the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God. When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came unto thee, into thine holy temple (2:6-7).
Now Jonah shares with you the valuable lesson that he learned. He learned it the hard way, but he shares it with you so that you can learn it the easy way.
They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercies (2:8).
If you are following after deception or after a lie, you're only making it hard on yourself and you're only running away from that which is best for you. It is a lie to think that you know better for your own life than does God. It is a lie for you to think that you can find happiness apart from God. It is a lie for you to think that you can escape from God, or from the call of God, or from the presence of God. And for you to attempt to do so you are only bringing misery and disaster upon yourself. You're forsaking your own mercy, because God is merciful, God is loving. And whatever God has in mind for you is the very best thing that could ever happen to you, though you may not think it. God may be calling you to something, and you are trying to run. And you think, "Oh, that's the last thing I want to do. I never want to do that." And you are trying to run, because you have this fear that to do what God is calling you to do will mean such deprivation and mean all of this, and you think "Oh, I can't do that. I don't want to do that." And you are trying to run from the call of God. Really you are running from what is the very best thing that could ever happen to you. If you are running from the will of God, trying to run from the will of God.
“They that observe these lying vanities are only forsaking their own mercies.” You're creating your own hell, a misery in which you are going to find yourself sitting, and the misery is of your own making, and it is come from your own foolishness in thinking that you know better than God what is good for you. And yet, haven't we all been in that position in our lives?
When I think that I know better than God what will make me happy and what is good for me. And as I look back on those instances in my life, when I was observing these lying vanities, and when I had forsaken the path that God had set before me and I thought that I could find greater happiness and greater pleasure by leaving the path of God, I look back upon those experiences today and I realize they were the most miserable experiences of my entire life. The misery that I brought to myself and brought to others when I thought I knew better than God what would make me happy. And I created a hell in which I had to live until with David I confessed my sin before the Lord and received His forgiveness and His cleansing and the blotting out and was restored in fellowship with God. Oh, to be out of fellowship with God is hell itself. That is what hell is all about. It is out of fellowship with God. And to think of being out of fellowship with God eternally is unthinkable.
So he declares,
I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving (2:9);
Now he couldn't offer a lamb or anything where he was. He could not build a fire and offer a sacrifice to God there in the whale, so he's going to have to just be satisfied with offering to God the sacrifice of thanksgiving. This is the offering that we are encouraged to give to God in the New Testament in the book of Hebrews, to offer unto God the thanksgiving of praise unto Him, which is a sacrifice that is well accepted by Him.
I will pay that that I have vowed (2:9).
Evidently he said, "God, I give up. I'll go to Nineveh." So I'll pay that which I vowed.
And then the acknowledgment,
Salvation is of the LORD (2:9).
What an important lesson to learn for us, for you, for me. Salvation is not of my own works. It is not of my own efforts. I tried for a long time with my works and my efforts to be pleasing to God. Knowing about the little boy that had to leave Jesus outside when he went to the show, I didn't go to shows. And I was trying to be righteous in my own works. But what a glorious day when I learned the lesson that Jonah learned: salvation is of the Lord. I learned that after a lot of bitter experiences, bitter experiences of failure, trying to do what was right, unable to always do what was right, feeling this failure before God, living in this yo-yo Christian experience, up and down and up and down, great highs, tremendous lows. Until I came to the truth that Jonah discovered there in the whale—salvation is of the Lord, and I began to rest my salvation with Him. Oh, what a glorious day when I ceased from my labors and I entered into His rest. One of my most happy days in my whole Christian experience when God taught me this truth—salvation is of the Lord.
So the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee. So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh (3:1-3),
God brings us back so many times to the place of failure, and that is where we start again. I call it oftentimes back to zero. I wonder how many times God has brought me back to zero, back to that place of failure and then He says, “Okay.” And there is where we start again. I can't really go on until I conquer in this area of my failure. I can't continue on in the progress of God in my life until God has worked out this particular area. And when He brings me back to it, then I'm facing the same issues again, but this time with obedience to the Lord and then I move on.
So Jonah arose, and went to Nineveh according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' journey (3:3).
That is, it would take you three days to walk from one end to the other.
And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. So the people of Nineveh believed God (3:4-5),
What a remarkable thing! Jonah, no doubt, in his heart was not happy with what he was doing. This is something that is revealed further on in the text. Jonah's anger at God for not destroying Nineveh. He still hated these people. He still didn't want God to work in their lives. He was only there because it was preferable to dissolving in the gastric juices of the whale. Notice there was no hope laid out in his message at all, no call to repentance, no loving exhortations, just a message of judgment. "Forty days, and Nineveh is going to be overthrown." But the people believed God much to Jonah's chagrin.
they proclaimed a fast, they put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word had come to the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid off his robe from him, and covered himself with sackcloth, and he sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands (3:5-8).
What a tremendous call to the people to repentance, even to the animals, “Don't feed them. And as the cattle are lowing for hunger, let it be as a cry unto God for mercy.” So the cattle as they are getting hungry, you can hear them through the streets—mooo. Let that be a cry unto God for mercy. The general, total repentance of the people as they were there in sackcloth and crying out to God, repenting and crying out unto God for mercy.
Now the second reference that Jesus made to Nineveh was as He was talking to the scribes and the Pharisees and He said, “The men of Nineveh will rise in judgment with this generation and they will condemn it. For they repented at the preaching of Jonah and behold a greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:41). The men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of this angry prophet who only preached the judgment of God. Here Jesus, the Son of God, had come declaring to the people the love of God, encouraging people to experience God's love and to come to God's love, but yet, they did not repent. So the men of Nineveh in the day of judgment will be standing, and they will be pointing a finger at this generation, those who have not repented, those who have not sought God, and they will be condemning this generation for they repented at the preaching of Jonah. Repent they did, complete sackcloth, even to the king laying aside his robes and putting on this itchy sackcloth, putting it over their animals, everybody joining in this citywide repentance.
On what basis did they repent? Jonah didn't say, “Repent or destruction comes.” He didn't preach repentance at all. In fact, he didn't want them to repent. He became angry when they did repent. One of the only preachers in history who was hoping that he would not have a successful ministry. But they repented on the slim basis of,
Who can tell if God will turn and change, and turn away his fierce anger, that we perish not? (3:9)
Who can tell? Maybe if we repent God will have mercy. We don't know. No promise of mercy. No promise of grace to these people, only a message of judgment, and yet, on just the slimmest of threads they were willing to hang their hope. Who can tell? Maybe. Hey, you don't have to hang your faith or your hope on that slim thread. I can tell you tonight that if you will repent God is gracious, God is merciful, God will forgive. You don't have to hang your hope on a maybe. I can assure you from the Word of God tonight that God will forgive if you will repent and turn from your wicked ways and turn from your sinful path. God will be gracious and merciful unto you and you will be washed and cleansed of your sin and be made a child of God. I declare that unto you on the basis of God's unchanging Word.
These people did not have that kind of a hope. They did not have that kind of a message. All they had was a maybe. Who knows? Maybe. And on that slimmest of threads they hung their hope as they turned and repented.
And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil (3:10),
Now, again, this is the problem we have of describing the action of God. All we have is human terms. God is the infinite eternal God, but we are the finite man. And as we talk to each other we have to use terms that are dealing in the finite realm of man because we don't have the infinite terms, and there are things of which we cannot even speak, because there are not words or languages that even relate to these things that we could understand.
Jesus was trying to speak to Nicodemus concerning spiritual things and He finally said, "Look, Nicodemus, you're a teacher of the Jews and all and if I speak to you of earthly things and you cannot understand them, how in the world can I ever speak to you of heavenly things?”
Paul the apostle after his trip to heaven when he came back he said, "Hey, whether in the body or out of the body, I don't know, but I know I was caught up to the third heaven and I heard things that are impossible to describe. In fact, it would be a crime if I tried to describe them. It would be an injustice, because there aren't any words that can describe the ecstasy, the things that I felt, the things that I heard, the things that were there. It's impossible. Words have not been created or formed.”
So that we are limited in talking about God to the finite terminology of man, so that when judgment did not come, the promised judgment, we have to use terms that apply to man, but are not truly applicable to God, because God does not change. "Behold God is not a man that He should lie, nor the Son of man that He should repent: hath He not spoken and shall He not make it good?" (Numbers 23:19) "Behold I am the Lord God, I change not" (Malachi 3:6), He has declared.
So here was an obvious change. The prophet had said, "Forty days and then comes destruction." The people all repented. The destruction did not come. So we in using our finite terms to describe it say, "Well, it repented God,” or, “God changed and He did not destroy them." No, God knew all the time that they were going to repent, that's why He sent Jonah to them. God knew all the time that the judgment would not come. But yet, had they not repented, the judgment would have come. But God knows the end from the beginning. And you say, "Oh, but I can't understand it." Of course you can't, because you have only finite, limited understanding and God is infinite. God says, "My ways are not your ways: My ways are beyond your finding out." And so it's only an exercise of frustration to try to understand the full aspects of the character and nature of God.
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And he prayed unto the LORD, and he said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this what I said to you, when I was still in my own country? And this is why I fled to go to Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, and you’re slow to anger, and of great kindness, and you do not want to bestow evil (4:1-2).
“God, I knew it. Oh, I'm so mad. Just what I was afraid was going to happen happened. Isn't this why I tried not to come here?” Oh, what a character this Jonah was. Angry at God because of the tremendous success of his revival meeting in Nineveh. “Okay, God, I’ve had it.”
take my life from me (4:3);
I don't want to go on living.
for it is better for me to die than to live (4:3).
Boy, he was really angry. “All right, God, I've had it. I knew this might happen. It was what I was afraid of, Lord. It was what I told You about when I was in my own country. That's why I fled to go to Tarshish. I knew that You're so gracious, You're so merciful, You're so slow to anger, You're such a softy. I knew, God, that this might happen. Kill me, Lord, kill me. I don't want to live. Better for me to die than to live. Had it.”
And the Lord dealing with this over-wrought prophet said,
[Jonah,] do you do well to be angry? So Jonah went out of the city, and he made a booth [little thatched lean to, shelter], and he sat under it in the shadow of it, till he might see what might become of the city (4:4-5).
Maybe God will wipe them out yet. I'll go out and just sit and wait and watch.
And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and he made it to come up over Jonah, that it might give shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was very thankful for the gourd [because he was able to have some shade from that burning sun]. But then the LORD prepared a worm (4:6-7)
Now the Lord prepared a great fish. He prepared a gourd. He prepared a worm, or appointed a gourd, appointed a worm.
and the next morning, the worm had eaten the gourd and it withered. And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind (4:7-8);
God prepared the storm. He has charge of the elements. I mean, God's in control of the whole scene.
and the sun beat on the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished to die, and said, I would be better off dead than alive. And God said to Jonah, Do you do well to be angry because of that gourd that was destroyed by that little worm? And he said, [You bet your life] I do well to be angry, even unto death. Then said the LORD, [Isn't that interesting, Jonah,] you have pity on that gourd, for the which you did not labor, you did not make it grow; it came up in a night, and perished in a night (4:8-10):
Something that was so short-lived; came up in a night, perished in a night. You didn't do anything to plant it. You didn't do anything to water it or to develop it. You had really nothing to do with it. It's just a gourd. It's just a vine, and yet, when it died because the worm ate it you felt sorry for the thing because the worm killed it. How strange, Job. For you see, I created the Ninevites. I had something to do with their existence. It isn't just an overnight process; there are eternal souls. It's not just a plant. They are people.
And shouldn’t I not spare Nineveh, the great city (4:11),
And why is God sparing it? Because of his compassion upon the children,
in which there are sixty thousand little children not old enough to know their right hand from their left hand (4:11);
And interestingly enough, God also spared it because of the animals, because of the cattle.
So the book of Jonah ends with an insight into God who is gracious, who is merciful, who is slow to anger, who does not want to bring judgment upon evil people, who has great compassion and interest in children and in the animal kingdom that He has created. Fascinating story. So many lessons to be learned, the chief of them, "They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy."
Don’t try to run from God. Don’t try to hide from God. Surely God knows what is best for you. And for you to do anything other than what God wants you to do is only to create a misery and a hell for yourself. You are inviting and courting disaster. God knows what is best. Therefore, submit your ways unto the Lord and follow Him.
Father, we thank You for the book of Jonah and the lessons that it teaches us, lessons concerning Your nature. Lord, we're so thankful that You are a gracious, loving God; full of mercy, slow to anger. We thank You, Lord, for that grace that we have experienced through Jesus Christ, the mercy and the pardon and the cleansing of our sins, the escaping of the judgment, because Jesus bore that judgment for us. Oh God, how thankful we are that You have redeemed us and that You now claim us as Your children. Help us, Lord, that we might walk in obedience to Your will in all things. In Jesus’ name. Amen. May the Lord be with you, may the Lord bless you, may the Lord keep you through the power of His love through Jesus Christ. And may you this week be obedient unto the voice of God as He calls to your heart for that work that He would have you to accomplish for His glory. In Jesus' name.