More than any other part of His creation, God created humankind to behold, enjoy, and display His glory. The fall, however, broke us entirely. We still long to worship, but rather than worship God, we bow down to anything and everything else. This was happening in Israel.
Out of all the nations of the world, God had revealed Himself in special ways to these people whom He had formed into a special nation. He had given them His law, His covenants. He had shown them His character and placed His name upon them. Yet with all of this, Israel was still seeking to bow her knees before false gods. Every human heart was made to worship, and the sinful tendencies of our hearts will always cause us to drift away from worshiping God to worshiping created things.
In His great love, God will not allow His people to continue in unfaithfulness. He will show His people the idols that they worship and how they fail. Hosea came to prophesy to Israel that her idols would always fall short and only God could save and satisfy them. God will do the same in our hearts. He will do all that is necessary—trials, suffering, failure—to expose what we are worshiping other than Him. And in His love, He will bring us back, helping us see that no idol can substitute for His grace and goodness. Only Jesus—God in the flesh—can save and satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts.
When was a time that God revealed to you that you were hoping in something (e.g., people’s approval, money, food) other than Him to save and satisfy you?
Something greater than Jonah is here. Whereas Jonah said he’d rather die than go to sinners, Jesus said He would go to sinners so that He could die. Whereas Jonah was thrown into the sea to appease God’s wrath against him, Jesus was thrown into the sea of God’s wrath to appease His anger against us. Jonah was in the belly of a fish for three days and nights and vomited out, but Jesus was in the belly of the grave for three days and nights and then resurrected out.
Jonah preached his message, and the people of Nineveh repented with uncertain hope of forgiveness (Jonah 3:9). Jesus preached the gospel of the cross, which promises us, if we confess our sins, that God is faithful and just to forgive us (1 John 1:9). God used Jonah to spare one city, but Jesus came to save people from every tongue, tribe, and nation. Indeed, Someone much greater than Jonah is here.
If an entire wicked city repented at the preaching of Jonah, why should you have hope that many sinners might repent in response to your sharing of the gospel?
Jonah’s angry words were affirmations of God’s character: “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (v. 2). These were things that Jonah knew in his head to be true. His theology of God was excellent. Yet what he knew of God had not affected his heart; he did not love these things about God. This was at the root of Jonah’s disobedience. What he knew and what he loved didn’t match up.
We don’t often think of sin as a theology problem, but we should. We know what God thinks about lies, gossip, lust, and greed, so we aren’t disobedient in these ways because of uncertainty. Instead, we disobey because our hearts do not love God completely; we don’t love the things that He loves. Jonah did not want God to save Nineveh because he didn’t love sinners and desire their salvation the way that God did. Jonah and his will were at the center of his heart. God wanted to put Himself and His will at the center of Jonah’s heart. To do so, He first had to show Jonah what was truly in his heart.
Where in your life do you see a misalignment between your theology (what you know is true about God from His Word) and your heart (what you love)?
We can see now that Jonah’s life would have gone so much better if he had just obeyed God in the first place. He had wasted money on a fare to Tarshish. He had wasted days traveling out to sea and then was transported by a fish. If he had immediately responded to the call, there would have been no storm, no drowning, and no fish. All of his efforts to derail God’s will for him had been a waste. If you could talk to Jonah at this point in the story, you might ask him, “Jonah, is there anything you would have done differently?” Surely he would scream: “Of course, I would! I’d obey the first time!” But even still, as we will see, Jonah’s heart was not right in his obedience.
God has promised that He will patiently and lovingly work discipline into the lives of His people to bring about repentance and obedience. Disobedience is a waste of our time. God will continue to pursue us, sanctify us, and create in our hearts a greater desire for Him and His gospel. We will be brought to completion at the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6), so let us join God in this work that He is doing in us rather than futilely fight against it.
How might you use your sinful choices and their consequences in the past to encourage a younger believer to obey God immediately today?
All the discipline that God had brought upon Jonah—the storm, being cast into the sea with anticipation of death, dark isolation inside the fish—brought about God’s intended work in Jonah. From the belly of the fish, Jonah cried out to his God and acknowledged that salvation belongs to Him. Hardhearted and rebellious Jonah had been the recipient of great mercy and grace from the Lord. What better way to prepare the heart of a person to go and deliver God’s word to hardhearted and rebellious people!
Before these events, Jonah refused to deliver a message to Nineveh because he judged them to be great sinners. But here, God reminded Jonah that he too was a sinner and that he needed exactly what the Ninevites needed—the great mercy of God. A man who deserved to be dead at the bottom of the sea for his disobedience instead received mercy. Consequently, Jonah opened his mouth in prayers of praise and thanksgiving to his God from inside a fish.
When has God used His perfect and loving discipline to reveal sin that was in your heart?
The word of the Lord had come to Jonah commanding him to go to Nineveh and preach a message. Yet Jonah fled. In his disobedience, he found what he thought was an open door as he ran from God. When he reached the dock, there was a ship leaving. He had the fare to purchase a trip heading hundreds of miles away from Nineveh. Perhaps he justified his actions believing that God was providing a way out from the original call. Wasn’t it providential that a ship was heading out and he had the financial means to go?
Addressing the faithful use of our tongues, Henry T. Scholl once wrote: “For training the tongue aright God has given us the salutary example of his Son. That we may habitually conform to that example, he would fain work in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Testings come in his wise providence; but these testings are no valid excuse for testiness of speech.” 3 This same idea was working in Jonah’s life for his obedience. Though fleeing was possible, these circumstances did not override the word of God to Jonah. God had told him to go to Nineveh, and no matter how many affordable rides were headed in the opposite direction, the circumstances did not change his call. Jonah took the opportunity to turn his back on God and His word, but God was not going to turn His back on Jonah.
When your circumstances, advice from others, or your own feelings contradict God’s Word, how do you come to a final decision?
Elisha proclaimed deliverance, but the captain responded with a cynical, unbelieving heart. Elisha told the captain that he would see God’s provision and the people would eat, but he would not eat any of it, for he would die. Enter the four unnamed lepers.
Shockingly, when the four lepers got to see the Syrians’ camp, they found no Syrians. The Lord made the Syrians hear the sound of a great army, so they fled. The lepers eventually went and told the king’s household the news. But the king didn’t believe it. Then one of the king’s servants proposed a reasonable solution: send some men to check it out, and these men found the lepers’ story to be true.
Elisha’s words then came to pass, including what he said about the captain. The rushing mob “trampled him in the gate” and he died (vv. 17,20). God takes unbelief seriously and puts it to shame as He brings to pass His plans and purposes in the world.
Are you hesitant to believe the promises of God? Why or why not?
The context of this story involves war and famine, which probably was the result of Israel’s unfaithfulness. Syria executed a full invasion on Israel. Because their siege on Israel lasted for an extended period of time, the conditions were terrible in Israel. Some were selling donkey’s heads and dove’s dung for ridiculously high prices (v. 25).
The poor were so driven to desperation that some were eating human beings (v. 28). This particular story isn’t only pitiful physically; it’s also pitiful morally. Notice that the issue wasn’t with eating a child but in the failure to keep a mutual agreement.
In response, the king was distressed. In anguish, he tore his clothes, a symbol of repentance (v. 30). Because this was a story of divine judgment, it would have been right for the king to repent. However, Joram (or Jehoram) didn’t have a real heart for repentance. As we read next, he didn’t patiently trust in and wait on God for deliverance. He acted like his mother, Jezebel, seeking to kill the prophet. He may have had sackcloth on the outside, but that didn’t make up for his unrepentant heart.
Have you ever practiced false repentance? What hinders your true repentance at times?
This remarkable story highlights the kindness of the prophet, who reflected the kindness of our God. Instead of having the king of Israel kill the raiders of Syria, the prophet told the king to feed them. A feast was prepared for the raiders before they were sent home. Following this dramatic turn of events, you would expect to see the heart of the king of Syria melt before the God of grace. But that didn’t happen (v. 24). He hardened his heart against God.
Sadly, despite being blessed by Yahweh, many refuse to acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior. Every gift and success that a person has comes from the hand of God, Maker of heaven and earth. In response to God’s revealing grace, Paul says that people sinfully exchange the glory of the Creator for created things. Because they suppress the truth revealed to them, they’re without excuse and therefore condemned (Rom. 1:18-25). When it comes to proclaiming the gospel, since we’re dealing with hardened human hearts, we must pray for God to open eyes and transform hearts if anyone is to repent and believe and thus go from being condemned to being saved by divine grace.
How does God display His kindness and grace to the unbelieving world today?
One of the most basic prayers we can offer is that God would open up the eyes of people to see the truth of the gospel. Elisha prayed for his servant to see, and God answered this prayer, enabling the servant to see horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (v. 17). Then, once in Samaria, Elisha prayed for the Lord to open up the eyes of the Syrians (v. 20). God also answered this prayer, enabling them to see that they were in the middle of Samaria.
When Jesus was on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, we read that Jesus gave two disciples a Bible study about the Old Testament, explaining how all of Scripture points to Him. Luke adds that in this process, Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). We too need to give ourselves to the careful study of Scripture, and we too need the Lord to open our eyes that we may behold wonderful things from His Word (Ps. 119:18).
What family members and friends can you pray for by name that their eyes would see the beauty of the gospel?