Jonah: a wrap up…

We have come to the end of our series in Jonah.

It’s been quite a journey through this small, but profound OT book.

Today is going to be simple, but intentional. As we remove ourselves from the story, what important themes can we draw from the whole story of Jonah?

But first…a recap of the story…

Jonah gets a word from God.
Go to the great city of Nineveh
Jonah says…nope…goes the other way
Boards a ship
A storm brews and erupts on the see
The sailors start to pray (to multiple pagan gods)
Jonah ducks down to the lower deck, not to pray, but to sleep
The captain wakes him up, asks him to pray
The sailors draw straws to see who to blame the storm on
Jonah admits this is his fault
They reluctantly throw Jonah overboard
Enter into the story – big fish
It swallows Jonah, he’s there for 3 days, Jonah Prays, Fish spits him out
God calls on Jonah a second time
Jonah obliges this time
Jonah shares his message (8 words)
At the surface, it wasn’t good news
But Nineveh responded well
They turned around, repented, recognized their wrongs, and took steps towards God
God sees their heart, changes his mind on their judgement, and embraces the Ninevites.
Jonah is angry and resentful
Why? Because he knew God would be gracious and give them a chance to repent.
He complains, says he would rather die
God asks him 2 important questions: Why are you angry? Shouldn’t I be concerned for Nineveh?

– – – – – – – –

Here are a few final take a ways I’d like to point out.


It’s comical, strange, unpredictable…

  • I love that the Bible includes stories like this
  • I believe the Bible to be true, because stories like this made the cut

The story can be true without every part being true!

On the other hand, why not believe the unbelievable parts?

  • “Take note of the strange parts of the story, because they’re usually there for a reason.” (Rob Bell)
  • A few questions we can ask are: How does a story like this survive? Do we only affirm things that can be proven in labs?
  • “If we reject all inexplicable elements of all stories because we have made up our mind ahead of time that such things simply aren’t possible, we run the risk of shrinking the world down to what we can comprehend.
    • What fun is that?
    • How many good things we will miss?

I can live with the fish, but it’s about so much more than the fish.

  • God & People
  • People finding God
  • God pursuing people
  • This is almost always the case in biblical stories

WHO IS YAHWEH/GOD?                

The writer’s desire is that we get to know GOD; especially in comparison to pagan gods.

3 places:

  • the boat/storm (ch. 1)
    • sailors polytheism vs Jonah’s monotheism
    • try your God Jonah…
    • jonah’s response (creator, land & sea)
      • Genesis 1, God created Heaven & Earth (hebrew = top to bottom) basically, EVERYTHING
    • the 1st prayer (ch. 2)
      • God listens, responds, saves, etc.
    • jonah’s 2nd prayer (ch. 4)
      • God is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love (a character reference on God)
      • Compared to pagan gods who got angry and stayed angry

Jonah’s story teaches us about a God…
– who is patient
– who weeps
– who is generous
– who is complex, because he’s both good and just

(Every time we read the Bible, we should ask ourselves, what did I learn about God in this text/story, what did I learn about Jesus today?)


There’s a strong contrast between Jonah, who doesn’t change, and Nineveh, who does change.

Reading this story should lead someone to repentance.

Paul’s words in Romans 2 ring so true here:

Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?
God’s kindness leads to repentance. (NIV)

The thing that Jonah finds so upsetting is the thing that compels us to repent and turn around – It’s God’s compassion and mercy and grace.

Some commentators compare Jonah’s story to the prodigal son. In the same way the son ran away, so to did Jonah run away, in the way the son returned, so to do did Jonah return.
– We see the prodigal son physically turn around and go back home – repent and go back to his loving father.
– Jonah after praying in the fish, reconsiders God’s call and says yes to him.
– Of course there’s Nineveh too…who repented and turned around.

Turning around is a big theme in this story. It should lead us to our own repentance story.

(Every time we read the Bible, we should ask ourselves, ‘how does this text or story lead me to repentance or change of heart or life or action or character?)


This story ends with a question. What do we make of this?

It’s Fascinating; the only biblical book to end with a question.

We see lots of questions in the scripture directed at us from God.

  • Where are you? (Genesis)
  • Who told you were naked? (Genesis)
  • Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? (Job)
  • Whom shall I send? Who will go? (Isaiah)
  • Do you have a reason to be angry? (Jonah)
  • Should I not be concerned about Nineveh? (Jonah)

Jesus asked a lot of them too….

  • Who do you say I am?
  • Do you believe?
  • Do you want to be well?
  • Why are you afraid?
  • Are you going to leave too?
  • Who touched me?
  • Do you love me?

People don’t ask enough questions anymore?

Perhaps Jonah ends with a question to tell us that what we need more than clarity is curiosity. Curiosity is what moves us forward. If this book is about anything, it’s about God moving Israel & Jonah forward in their thinking towards others. Ending with a question, a rhetorical one, could be Jonah & Israel’s best chance to change.

– – – – – – –

(Q&A portion of this talk was not recorded. It was very engaging.)

– – – – – – –

Final take-a-way:


The final question in this story leads us to this conclusion: God’s love is boundless. Grace is scandalous. Mercy is mind blowing. Forgiveness is for all people.

Back to the prodigal son comparison, it’s likely that Jonah may be more like the older brother, who has a difficult time with forgiveness being extended to the rebel kid/brother in the family.

  • The Father’s response to the eldest son is, “You’ve always had all you want, but my son has come home, shouldn’t we throw a party?
  • God tells Jonah, “You’ve always known my love and kindness, but these Ninevites have turned from evil, shouldn’t I (we) forgive them?”

After reading and hanging out in this story the last few weeks, how is God pulling you forward? How is God leading you?? Are you turning around from some places that you’ve been stuck to for far too long?

– – – – – – –

small(er) group discussion:

All we’ll do tonight is talk through the final take-a-ways from Jonah.

Why do you like or not like this story?

What did you learn about God? How are these GOD traits compelling or attractive? What do you make of the comparison in Jonah between GOD & gods?
What can or has become a ‘g’od in our lives today?

Talk about Repentance? What is beautiful about it? What is hard about it?
Do you see why Jonah would’ve had a hard time with this in regards to Nineveh?

How can God’s message of love and mercy and forgiveness help us today in such a polarized and divided world? In our personal lives and community life?

What does it mean to love like God loves, care about what he cares about, dream like he dreams?

Overboard : Jonah is angry? At what? (chapter 4)

As we’ve been walking through the book of Jonah this fall, we’ve entered into a story that is compelling, interesting, comical at times, and reads like a parable or a tale.

Some people have a hard time believing that the Jonah story is based in history. It’s the fish’s fault. It’s hard to take in. I know.

Let’s say, for argument sake that it’s just a tale, a parable perhaps. We know of someone who used parables and tales to teach truth. That would be Jesus.

One of my favourites, not because it’s cute or fun, but because it’s a powerful metaphor of forgiveness, is Found in Matthew 18. In a nutshell, the parable is about a man who was forgiven a loan of, let’s say $10,000. He’s ecstatic, and he should be. Any of you ever been forgiven for a loan of that much money? Thought so. So he turns around and buys everyone coffee at the local cafe. NOT. He finds a man who owes him $100, and hounds him for the money, even threatens him. Ridiculous right? Exactly. What’s Jesus trying to say through this tale? Those who are forgiven of much, should not only be thankful, but should pay that forgiveness forward. You probably agree to this in principal, right?

This story riles up strong feelings in me. I have a hard time with someone who’s been shown grace, and then turns around and doesn’t pay it forward. If we posted this kind of story on social media that #hastags would be: #ungrateful #unappreciative #canyoupayitforward #seriously? #howcouldyou #unbelievable (etc.)

Do you know someone like this? Someone who receives, but is so unaware that what they’ve just received was a gift, that it was undeserved, and instead of living out of the gratefulness, they mistreat others or aren’t generous or live in an aura of selfishness?

Imagine an artist who isn’t grateful that their art was showcased in a big museum, a musician who isn’t grateful for playing Massey Hall and then doesn’t appreciate the standing O at the end, a wealthy athlete who, 1) doesn’t give back to the community, and 2) doesn’t appreciate the victories and the people who helped him/her get there.

– – – – – – – –

This is where we find ourselves in the Jonah story. He’s angry that God did something good – and angry that God used him to do it. Unwilling to show grace, even though he’s received it himself. The drama continues!


Jonah gets a word from God.
Go to the great city of Nineveh
Jonah says…nope…goes the other way
Boards a ship
A storm brews and erupts on the see
The sailors start to pray
Jonah ducks down to the lower deck…to sleep
The captain wakes him up, asks him to pray
They draw straws
Jonah admits this is his fault
They reluctantly throw Jonah overboard
Enter into the story – big fish
Swallows Jonah, Jonah Prays, Fish spits him out
God calls on Jonah a second time
Jonah obliges this time
Jonah shares his message (only uses 8 words)
At the surface, it wasn’t good news
But Nineveh responded well
They turned around, repented, recognized their wrongs, and took steps towards God
God sees their heart, changes his mind on their judgement, and embraces the Ninevites.

This is where we left things off…good right? Positive? Jonah should be happy, correct?

NOPE. Let’s jump into this 4th and final chapter.

– – – – – – – –


But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Why? After all that happened? Would Jonah be angry?

His ‘prayer’ points to the answer:

  • He wishes he never left the house
  • He predicted this outcome
  • He knew God was gracious and would change his mind and not go through with judgement

(Can we first say that this ‘prayer’ isn’t anything that you’d expect in a prayer. It’s harsh, angry, mean, ungrateful. But maybe the writer is trying to show us that prayer is simply conversation with God, uplifting or honest.)

You ever feel like you wish you didn’t leave the house in the morning? Me too. But normally it’s when something goes bad (i.e. a car accident, you made a huge mistake at work, you lost money somewhere…)

  • I can think of a lot of reasons, but 120,000 people repenting of their sins isn’t one of them.
  • Knowing God would redeem a huge city wouldn’t be one of them.
  • Recognizing your God is gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love, isn’t one of them
    • This verse is from Exodus 34, also found in numbers 9, Ps 86, 103, 145, Joel 2.
    • This verse is a character reference for God. What people know God to be. Funny how Jonah is using it to rant back at God.

Here’s why Jonah is angry, under the surface. Are you ready?

  • He’s prejudice
  • He’s a little racist
  • He’s a Nationalist
  • We can all agree that these should not be qualities of an OT prophet? Right?

Remember: Jonah is not good at his job. And this is why. He doesn’t fully grasp God’s goodness and compassion. He’s gotten too complacent in his faith. He puts nation above faith, border above love, Israel above humanity. (Tim Keller says this becomes idolatry)

IMPORTANT to NOTE: Beware of being a follower of Jesus, who really doesn’t follow Jesus, who forgets what Jesus is all about, who gets comfy and cozy on one side of the fence and forgets that God loves people on the other side just as much. (e.g. Jesus’ Parable)


Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

Jonah is so mad that he runs…again. This time, he finds a spot outside of the city, watching to see what will happen, probably hoping that Nineveh doesn’t follow through with their posture of repentance.

Some people will always choose misery. Some people will always want to close themselves in. Some people will never see what God sees, and because of that will miss out on so much beauty and life change, in them and in others.
– 3x we read that Jonah would rather die.
– That is some serious reluctance on Jonah’s part

We might never know why someone who was so close to God responds in such an ungodly manner, and our response must be…sadness and grief. Why? The same way God weeps for Nineveh, we must weep for people like Jonah, and then leave it up to God to figure it out. Sometimes Jonah’s aren’t fix-able, not by us.


But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

Jonah is concerned about a plant. Actually, I think the writer is trying to tell us that Jonah is concerned and distracted by anything & everything…except the things that God is concerned about.

Because it was a big city? Because it had advanced infrastructure? Because it was evil? Because it was great?

Here’s the main reason: because there were 120,000 people in Nineveh who 1) were created in God’s image, and 2) had no idea that they were.

That is what God cares about. People. People matter to God. Period. All people. Not just church people, not just one nation, not just Christians, not just conservatives or republicans or liberals. They. We. All. Matter.

Every time I drive by this sign, I’m reminded of the Jonah story. I can’t help but think that God is telling me that he cares about the 125,000 people who live in Whitby (630,000 in Durham), and that I should care about them too.



What should you be angry about? What should you have a holy discontent for? What should have you weeping? Are you numb when you should feel pain? Are you angry when you should feel joy?

Are you open to see that God can be involved in every area of our life? Do we see him as provider, director, architect, captain, leader & Lord?

  • There is something interesting about this section that alludes to something we see in the book. We read the words, ‘GOD PROVIDED’
    • a leafy plant
    • a worm
    • a scorching east wind
  • ch 1: a word to Jonah, a wind/storm, then a fish
  • ch 2: a fishy upset stomach
  • ch 3: a second word to Jonah
  • They’re all unique and different and a little strange, but God provides them all for a purpose

Do you love people like God loves you?
Do the things that matter to God, matter to you?

Jonah’s story teaches us about a God…
– who is patient
– who weeps
– who is generous
– who is complex, because he’s both good and just

– – – – – – –

Jonah ends with a question, so next week we end with some wrap up thoughts and some Q&A.

– – – – – – –

small(er) group questions:

Anything in Jonah 4 that gets your attention? What got you thinking? What caused you to go hmmmmm?

What do you make of Jonah’s anger? What are something that we should have a holy discontent for? That we should weep for?

Let’s pause at these words, “you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love,”.

If we truly understand this, how should our lives look different because of it? Why is it always easier to receive grace than it is to show it? Do you see underlying prejudice, racism and nationalism in Jonah?

What do you think it means to love our city the way God loves your city?


For those of you who are up on upcoming movies, you may be anticipating the December release of Star Wars, or perhaps your favourite super hero flick. This is the time of year when big movies are scheduled to be released. That said, I’m sure there’s a movie that slipped through the cracks this fall for many of you – RAMBO 5. Or…you all rushed to the theatres to see this. Rrrrright!

My childhood friend, Danny, is a HUGE fan of Sylvester Stalone. Stalone has two stories to tell…Rambo & Rocky…in various forms and settings. I remember the first time I realized he actually wrote these movies…I was a teenager…it was the credits at the end of Rambo 2…I tried to recap his lines and all I could think of was UH…ERR…OH…ARGH.

Of course, his stories are more than his words…but there are some great lines…the best one coming in Rocky 4. If you can change, and I can change, then we can all change. (CLIP)

That was an important message in 1985. So much tension between the US & Russia at the time. I guess you can say it seems like an important message today too. Oh Rocky, if you’d only come out with another movie to inspire us to live civilly 😉

This gets us to a very important verse in the Jonah story…3:10…where we read that God relented…God changed his mind. (This may bring some of you to say, WHAT? Hmmm?)

With that mind blowing bit of info, lets jump back into our series: OVERBOARD, learning from Jonah’s blunders & God’s grace.

– – – – – – – –

(Where we’ve been so far)
Jonah gets a word from God.
Go to the great city of Nineveh
Jonah says…nope…goes the other way
Boards a ship
A storm brews and erupts on the see
The sailors start to pray (to various gods)
Jonah ducks down to the lower deck…not to pray, but to to sleep
The captain wakes him up, and asks him to pray
The sailors draw straws to see who’s fault this all is
Jonah draws the short one, then admits this is his fault, and suggests they throw in into the raging sea
They reluctantly throw Jonah overboard
Enter into the story – the big fish
The fish swallows Jonah, Jonah Prays, Fish spits him out

And here we are…

So we left things off with a Fish vomiting out Jonah from its belly…gross, but for Jonah, it’s better than not getting out at all.

– – – – – – – –


Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

The word from God comes a second time…
– It’s not too often where the same word comes to the same prophet for the same people
– this is interesting, because the beginning of ch1 is the same as the beginning of ch3.

When God wants to get a message across, he’ll keep poking and prodding and nudging. He obviously wanted Nineveh to get this message: first and foremost for them, but also for Israel to learn from this moment, and from this story.


Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh.

The first two verses are a repeat from chapter 1, but here is where things get different – JONAH actually says yes.

  • He doesn’t run
  • He doesn’t board a ship
  • He doesn’t say no
  • This time he obeys God’s invitation

What’s the invite again? Go into Nineveh and share God’s message.


Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it.

  • It’s Large
    • it takes 3 days to walk through
    • there’s 120,000 people in it (chapter 4)
    • it’s the functioning capital of Assyria
      • let’s face it, God cares about people, not buildings, economic success or other claims to fame.
      • when God identifies a great need, it’s always connected to people…his creation…if they’re living right or not, by living right, we mean are they treating other humans with love and respect.
    • It’s a mess
    • Words to describe Nineveh are…
      • evil ways = darko = sexual deviance
      • injustice = hamas = stealing
      • we see these words used in Genesis 6 when God talks to Noah about the evil ways and injustice going on then.
    • Nineveh was the perfect example for Israel to learn from.
      • God wants to use this moment to teach Israel about repentance, about grace, about ‘others’…and we get to learn about it too.


“Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”

Not sure if you can figure this out, but it doesn’t sound like good news!!!
– it’s a warning, a judgement
– God is pointing out their blindspots
– Sometimes that’s what we need. If no one ever points out where we’ve gone wrong, how can we get to a place of confession, repentance and new living?

It is definitely what Nineveh needed.

Only 8 words (5 in Hebrew), but it spread so fast. In today’s language we’d say the message went viral.

Forty Days is really interesting & significant

  • 146 times in scripture
  • a symbol of trial, testing, transformation
  • Flood = 40days, Israel in wilderness = 40 years, Moses on Mt Sinai = 40days, Jesus = 40days in wilderness, etc.
  • God’s message for a pagan nation included a method that his people have used or seen in their own story.
  • Note that in scripture, a time of reflection, of testing, of trial, often leads to repentance.

The word ‘overthrown’, can also be read as ‘overturned’ and can be viewed in two ways. Nineveh will be overturned if they don’t repent…or…Nineveh will overturn, will ‘turn-over’, change, repent, if they listen to this warning and respond.


The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

They did two things: FAST, and put on SACKCLOTH. Both practices that represent confession of sin, and repentance towards a new way to live.

  • Prophets wore SACKCLOTH to one, associate with the poor, and two, grieve for sin.
  • Nineveh is responding with humility, acknowledging their evil ways, their injustice, and they CRY OUT TO GOD!

The point is that REPENTANCE is the striking message of this chapter. Nineveh is ‘overturned’, they in fact did ‘turn over’.


When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

Here we are…back to where we started. God sees their response and accepts their confession.

This is one of the few places we see God changing his mind. Not sure how you feel about that, but I think you should feel ok with it.

God’s character never changes, but he can change his mind. And you’re glad he does…

  • If not, then he can’t hurt when you hurt or feel deeply what you are feeling, or be sad when you’re struggling.
  • When we are in pain or have gotten ourselves in trouble, it moves him
  • When we confess and recognize our failures and brokenness, he embraces us
  • Why pray, why ask, if God never changes his mind?

Jonah finally delivers God’s message. We’ll learn next week that he didn’t deliver it with much love or compassion or confidence, but that doesn’t matter, because God’s words, heard by Nineveh, turned their hearts towards him, and that’s what matters here.


Back to Rocky Balboa’s famous line in Rocky 4. If you can change, and I can change, then we can all change.

This chapter in Jonah, is about changing: repentance, turning away from sin, and turning to God.

It’s about how we can change in response to God’s words, and how God changes in response to our confession and repentance.

It’s about God using a big city, a great city, an evil city, to teach Israel, and us, a lesson about grace. If they can change, then anyone can change. If Nineveh can be humbled towards repentance, then anyone can.

NO ONE is too far from God
NO ONE is too broken
NO ONE is too messed up
NO ONE is has made too many ignorant mistakes

It might only take a few words from God, and that lost friend, than terrible boss, that vicious neighbour, they just might ‘turn to grace’ & ‘turn to God’

Even if it takes us a few times to figure it out, will we obey God, go to where he’s calling, say what he’s instructing, be who he’s calling to be?

– – – – – – – – –

small(er) group discussion:

What are some of the things from Jonah 3 that speak to you, peak your interest or make you ask a few questions?

Jonah chapter 3:1-2 shows a repeat of chapter 1:1-2. God speaks a second time, and asks the same thing of Jonah. Can you recall God coming to you a second time with the same message? What do you think about God prodding, poking and nudging us to get our attention or get his purposes across?

Jonah didn’t say too many words in his big announcement to Nineveh. Eight words (five in Hebrew) What does that say about God’s ability to use the few things we have to offer, in order to make a big difference?

In that message, we read the words “40 days”, which signifies in scripture, a time of reflection, thought, confession, humility, learning, etc. How has time away, forced or planned, helped you in your spiritual journey, and/or other discerning seasons of your life?

God uses Nineveh’s response to teach Jonah, Israel, and us, a lesson on repentance. Chapter 3 is about repentance – change – a turn around. No one is too far, too broken, too messed up, too scarred, or too tainted, to receive God’s grace.
– What is beautiful about the word repentance, and it’s idea?
– What brought you, personally, to repentance?
– Why do some of us have a hard time with grace when it involves someone we don’t like?

God changed his mind in this story. Anybody wanna talk about this? Why it’s key in this story, in our lives, and maybe why some people have difficulty with a God who changes his mind? Is there a difference between a God who doesn’t change and a God who changes his mind?

Overboard : Leaner from Jonah’s blunders & God’s grace #3

What does it mean to hit Rock-bottom?

You may have felt this in your life, seen this reality in others, observed it on film or in books. It’s never fun, it’s never easy, it’s never desirable…

One thing we know about the bottom…of a pool, a cave, a sea, a circumstance…the only direction once you get there is up.

JK Rowling, in a commencement speech at Harvard, looked back to her life and struggles. She said there was a point in her life where she had, “failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless. But…I began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena, writing, in which I believed I truly belonged.” In short, she said, her success was built on her failures.

2 ways to get to the bottom:
– an unfortunate sequence of events that has happened to you
– a sequence of events that we had a hand in…things like bad decisions, bad investments, wrong turns, quick tempered reactions, etc.

We’re walking through a story about someone who has brought his troubles onto himself. Jonah has no one to blame but himself for the predicament he finds himself in – for the bottom he now resides in.

– – – – – – – –

We left the story off with Jonah on a boat…actually, he was just being thrown off the boat.

Up to this point…

  • God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh
  • Jonah ran away
  • On his run-a-way journey, he hops on a boat to Tarshish
  • The boat he is on gets stuck in a storm
  • The sailors pray to their various gods
  • They ask Jonah to pray to his God
  • They draw straws to see who’s fault this is
  • Jonah draws the short straw
  • He tells them to throw him overboard
  • The sailors try not to, but eventually have no choice but to throw him overboard

We’ve learned so far that…

  • Jonah is a reluctant prophet
  • God is a graceful and merciful God
  • Jonah runs away
  • God runs to us

– – – – – – – –

And here we are…Jonah thrown overboard – picture it. If this was an old school TV series that you actually have to wait until the following week to see the outcome, we’d have left things with Jonah half way down the boat, almost in the water, with much anticipation as to what happens next.

Then we read Jonah 1:17

Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

We go from a scene on a boat, then off a boat, to a man being swallowed by a fish, not dying, but stuck there for 3 days.

This is both the best part of the story and the hardest to believe. This is where people who know the story, but don’t necessarily have faith get stuck. And of course they would, it’s normal. A man, swallowed by a fish, lives to tell the story. Seriously?

The word ‘great’ comes up again (14x in Jonah), but here written as the word ‘huge’. (great city, great storm, great fish)

God ‘provided’ a great/huge fish. Provided is also an important word. We can use the word ‘sent’ or ‘appointed’ here as well. If so, that means that God ‘sent’ the fish?

Dagon, a word worth mentioning here, was a pagan god, a popular Semitic-fish-god among the Philistines. The Hebrew word for fish is Dag. Knowing this, some might say that God is using another nation’s idol/god as a tool for his bidding. Someone else’s god as Yahweh’s tool?

  • remember Jonah’s statement on the boat in chapter 1 when responding to the sailors questions? I worship God of Heaven and earth, who created earth and sea.
  • The writer of Jonah is being somewhat deistically playful. Jonah’s GOD uses your god as tools 😉
  • Or, he’s simply using his creation to fulfil his purpose.

Here’s what we know: God provided the fish to save Jonah, to protect Jonah, to transport Jonah, to transform Jonah, and to give him a place to pray and reflect for 3 days.

The great FISH provided:


  • Jonah was swallowed up by the fish
  • Jonah was removed from the deathly sea and storm
  • Jonah was given protection
  • All this from a FISH.

This begs the question: what has God provided that protected you, that saved you, that removed you from harm, that, at first felt like a strange thing, but looking back was actually the thing that saved you?

If you take this story literally or not, the writer wants you to know that God can and will use whatever he wants, to surround you, envelop you, and protect you.


Verse 10 says, And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.”

The fish took Jonah from the point in which he was thrown overboard and eventually led him to the dry land.

Of course God could’ve used anything, but his vehicle of choice was the fish.

(old joke warning) You heard the one about the guy that made it to heaven after unfortunately drowning. When he arrived, Peter asked him why he’s there so early. He didn’t expect him for another few years. The man said that God never saved him. What? Peter said. Ya, I was waiting and he never came? Are you sure? said Peter. Yes, said the man. A person on a canoe came by, a person on a ship came by, and finally a person on a little dingy came by. And? Said Peter. The man said, I told them to keep going, cause I was waiting for God to help me.

The Fish transported Jonah, but it also transformed Jonah. How? We’ll see next as we read Jonah’s prayer.


We’re told that while in the FISH, Jonah prays and reflects.

He’s compelled to pray.
He’s forced to reflect.
He uses his three days of solitude well.

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

It’s here where we get into Jonah’s heart and mind. Through this prayer he reveals what he was feeling, how low he felt, how dark things looked, how desperate he was.

– distress – deep in the realm of death
– currents swirled about me
– waves swept over me – I was banished – I was engulfed

But you, Lord…brought me up…

These words come up in scripture A LOT. When the characters and people we read about look back on their life, it seems like they often say, “BUT GOD” came through. BUT GOD healed me. BUT GOD saved me. BUT GOD helped me, led me, protected me, filled me up, over and over again.

– Jonah was down, God brought him up
– Jonah was wrapped up, God freed him
– Jonah was banished, God brought him to light

What would our prayer look like? Or would we waste our time in the belly of that fish?

Do you ever look at the feature on your i-phone that says how much social media or internet time/percentage you use? It really makes you wonder how you get anything done if we waste so much time on this stuff.

Walking downtown in our city…everyone around you is…on their phone…while walking. Instead of taking the time to reflect, think, even pray, we are occupied by the little technological advancement called the smart phone.

Love this recent tweet…have you seen it?

I saw a guy at Starbucks today.
No iPhone.
No tablet.
No laptop.
He just sat there.
Drinking coffee.
Like a Psychopath.

If the fish and the three days did anything, it brought Jonah to prayer & reflection.

May we use our “FISH” time as well. May we use dead time to reflect and imagine and create and pray.

The Fish was God’s grace for a prophet who is bad at his job. Of course Jonah doesn’t deserve it, but neither do any of us.

If we let him, even though we are broken and flawed, God will work in us, with us, for us, and through us.

Here’s the big question…

Are you open to a fishy idea from God to help get you on your feet again and moving in the right direction?

I sure hope so.

– – – – – – – – –

God will use what he wants, to transform and transport us.

The bottom doesn’t have to be the end. It can be the middle of your story. Be there long enough to learn, but let God pull you up and out of the deep and dark place.

The Fish plays a part in this story, but the main actors are always God and us, and the main purpose is always grace and mission.

– when you’re stuck & when you’re free
– when you’re sick & when you’re well
– when have time & when you don’t
– when you need God & when you think you don’t

– – – – – – – – –

small(er) group discussion questions:

Let’s talk about the big elephant in the room…or the big fish rather. Is this an obstacle for you or simply a mysterious part of the story?

Literally or not, the fish is a metaphor for protection, transportation and transformation. How has God been that for you (protection/haven) or done that for you (transport & transform) in recent years? Or maybe you need him to do this for you this season?

How do transportation & transformation work together? God bringing us some where to change us…or…God changing us to eventually bring us somewhere?

Prayer takes up all of chapter 2.
– Anything about this prayer that speaks to you? That challenges you?
– Do we take advantage of space and time in our life to pray and reflect? Share some ideas. Share some new steps you may like to take towards this.
– Jonah comes to terms with a few things in this prayer: failure, mistakes, disobedience, God’s grace, and more. How does prayer do that for us? How does conversation with God help us understand ourselves, others and God more?

Overboard : Learning from Jonah’s blunders and God’s grace #2

Last week we jumped into our new fall series, OVERBOARD: Learning from Jonah’s blunders and God’s grace.

We just scratched the surface of course, walking through verses 1-3.

We learned that Jonah somehow received a word and a mission from God. The mission was to GO to the GREAT city of Nineveh. Jonah doesn’t like this plan, so he runs the other way. He “FLEES” God, his call, and his mission. This does make some sense at the surface, as Nineveh, part of Assyria, were enemies of Israel. Assyria was not kind to Israel, so why would Jonah want to show any love on them?

Jonah runs the other way: Away from the call. Away from God. Away from his mission.

He hops on a boat to Tarshish: and that’s where we left off…

– – – – – – – –

Ever been involved in a ‘who are you’ conversation? A new friend or acquaintance asks about your work, your hobbies, your cultural background, etc. These conversations can be fun, unless you’re a pastor, like me, then they always seem to be a let down. Mine go like this, So what do you do for a living? ‘Actually, I’m a pastor’ and then the conversation goes south as the other person doesn’t know what to say next. This has happened many times before, and I’m learning to ease into it, but also respond like anyone who has a job, just tell them what it is I do.

As we continue Jonah’s story in chapter one, we find Jonah in this kind of conversation.

We re-enter the story just as Jonah boards a ship for Tarshish…


– – – – – – – –

Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. (4-5a)

Note the word GREAT again (it appears 14x in Jonah). The writer is definitely trying to let us, the readers, know that one, the challenges in this book are great, and two, God is greater than whatever we might view as great.

The sailors were scared. A big deal for sure. There is a common understanding that sailors aren’t afraid of anything…well this had them terrified. So much so that they began lightening the load and throwing things overboard.

You know things are intense, on boats, or in life, when we start to throw stuff that we used to view as valuable, overboard. They were necessary at the onset of the journey, but during a storm, they seem less important. Why? Because life is more valuable than stuff.

“Each cried to his own god.”

This tells us a lot about the sailors and a lot about the culture. Pluralism, and more importantly, polytheism, was the vibe of the day, of the ship, of the non-Israelite culture. That said these sailors did pray…they cried out…because trouble and suffering normally lead us to that action or response…no matter who we are. In this case, the prayers were directed at a variety of gods.

But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.” (5b-6)

How can Jonah sleep at a time like this? C’mon Jonah, you should know better than that. Anyone else able to sleep during what others deem an important or intense moment? I mean, to be transparent, I have fallen asleep on my wife talking a number of times. Late at night of course. I’m not proud of this, but it has happened.

Jonah is SLEEPING, which also means he’s not PRAYING.

The PAGAN captain challenges Jonah to pray. “Maybe you’re god will help us.”

I remember visiting a neighbour in the hospital after they’d been rushed via ambulance. They were Hindi neighbours. I asked if it would be ok to pray, and they said, “sure, it wouldn’t hurt.” Their thinking was, why not? maybe your god can help us? A pretty normal response if you ask me.

This story does tell us that God seems to be in, and at work with our ‘maybes.’ A subtle inclusion, but an important one for sure.

Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. (7)

More chance and more maybes. It worked here, as Jonah was the ONE. But how must Jonah have been feeling inside, knowing that he was the one who caused this, before any lot was cast.

So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”  He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 
This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.) (8-10)

Here come the 20 questions. Actually only 5. And who would blame these sailors? They wanted to get to the bottom of this.

5 questions (regarding his purpose, his place, his race) from the Sailors.
2 answers from Jonah.

  • I’m a Hebrew
  • I worship the God of Heaven, and the maker of the earth.
    • Very intentional here from Jonah
    • It’s like he’s saying, ‘your god has nothing on my God.’

They want to know who Jonah is, he tells them whose he is.

To know who you are is to know what you’ve given yourself to, what controls you, moves you, inspires you – what and who you fundamentally trust. (Brown)

Everyone develops an identity from something or somewhere. Arriving to these statements:
– I’m significant because of _________
– I’m accepted by them because of ____________
– I have purpose because ___________

Jonah, even in his broken and disobedient state, comes back to whose he is – YAHWEH / GOD’s.

The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”
“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (11-12)

Here is Jonah’s best moment in chapter 1: Admission. Confession. Owning up to his failure. “It’s me” “It’s my fault” “I did it” “I got us here”

Can we just say that it’s never worth not fessing up to your mistakes…ever. It doesn’t look good on you & it doesn’t help the situation. Most people know it’s your fault and are waiting for you to say something.

Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. (13-16)

The sailors even try to get Jonah back to land, but it’s simply impossible. How honourable is that? They eventually have no choice but to throw him overboard (hence our series title). They pray, they make a sacrifice to God, and they hope for the best. They went from praying to a variety of gods, to praying to the one true GOD. Quite amazing turn of events.

We’ll find out what happened to Jonah next week. For now, let’s end with a few take home thoughts.


  • When you’re in trouble, you will cry to whoever or whatever you think will help. Choose well!
    Anne Lamotte wrote a book on prayer called, Help, Thanks, Wow, where she says, among other things, that we initiate conversation or prayer with God when we need help. It’s not the ideal way to start up a prayer routine, but it is the human experience. We will, when in trouble, cry out to something or someone, the question for us is, will we choose well? Will we choose, not a ‘g’od that was made up or created, but the GOD who created the heavens and earth?
  • Don’t sleep through storms, especially the ones you created.
    So you can learn something through the storm
    So you can discern how to help others through the storm
    So you can acknowledge God’s presence, as well as His next steps
  • God works with our MAYBES.
    We often think we have to have it all together, all figured out, before God can do what he wants to do in and through us, but sometimes God even works in our MAYBES. God does his absolute work when we are not absolutely sure. That is part of his grace.
  • Who are you? Can you articulate it? Will it take a storm for you to communicate it clearly?
    When you are questioned about who you are, what is your response? Are you ready to give one? Will it communicate clearly to reflect who you truly are? Is your response a reflection of the God you worship?
    1 Peter 3:15 is good to read here. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…
  • Own up to your errors…acknowledge your sin…admit your wrongs.
    Let’s be followers of Jesus who are known to be the first to admit our wrong, not the last? Let’s not be like Jonah and wait for the shortest straw to be picked for us to admit our failure. Let’s be ok with our wrongs, not because what we did was ok, but because we can be forgiven and redeemed through our confession.

– – – – – – – –

Small(er) Group Discussion:

What are something of the things you took from Jonah 1:4-16? Was there anything baffling? Was there something inspiring or compelling?

If you were asked to respond to those 5 questions, what would you say? How do you or would you like to describe yourself? How does 1 Peter 3:15 help us or challenge us?

What’s your reaction to a storm? Why might staying awake through it be a better choice than sleeping through it?

Can you think of a time when you waited to admit a wrong, and it didn’t end well for you or anyone involved? How does the discipline of confession to God, and well discerned confession to others make us better?

When we pray, what leads us to pray to GOD, and not just ‘a god’? How does Jesus’ life and teaching help us here? Maybe The Lord’s prayer can help us, and maybe it is a good way to end our discussion and time together.

Overboard: Learning from Jonah’s blunders and God’s grace – #1

I recently played a game with some friends. It was introduced to us about a year ago, and we loved it so much, we had to buy it for our home. Tele-strations.

You’ve played this before? You get a word, draw the word, pass it along, have other guess that word, pass it along, have another draw that word, and just like broken telephone, see how far you’ve strayed from the initial word given to you at the start. My favourite sequence invloved be getting the word, “Sanding a board”, after attempting to draw, I passed it on, and by the end of the game, the word or phrase became, “Walking the plank”. We then found out that the first word was “brief case”.

Got me thinking about the image and idea of Walking the Plank. Where do you see this anymore? Pirates of the Caribbean? Once upon a time (recent Disney TV series with Captain Hook being one of the characters), Giligan’s island (for you old timers). But really not much.

Imagine that some unique circumstances in your life have led you to a point where you are forced to jump; where you’re forced to jump overboard; or where others throw you overboard because of you’re excess weight on their journey. Not fun at all.

What thoughts might be going through your mind? What plans are you cancelling or what dreams are you regretting you didn’t get around to?

– – – – – – – –

For the next few weeks we’ll be walking through a story about someone who probably never thought their life would arrive at this point: stuck on a boat, immersed by a storm, and walking a plank.

Jonah…a story in the Scriptures that some view as a parable, others a fairy tale, and many literally…but one thing is for sure, there is a lot to learn from this Reluctant Prophet.

Over the next few weeks, we will dive in, pun intended, to the book of Jonah. We will walk through this short tale to see what it can possibly teach us.

Many people know of this story. It’s about a fish, right? And it can’t be real of course, cause how can a fish swallow a person whole, spit him out and, and that person is alive and well?

That’s what most people know about this story, and for those people it ends there. A storm. A boat. Walking the plank. A Fish. .but…there’s so much more going on here. And I can’t wait to get started.

Before we actually begin, we can give you a hint of what we will find:

  • Jonah is bad at his job
  • God is good
  • Jonah is a reluctant, disobedient, and some might say, prodigal prophet.
  • God is compassionate and merciful
  • Jonah’s heart is not easy to crack
  • God’s heart drips with grace for all people

Ok. Now that we now what we got that covered. Let’s get started.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. (Jonah 1:1-3)

– – – – – – – –

“The Word of the Lord came to Jonah, son of Amittai.”

Two things are going on in the beginning of this book. We know that somehow God communicates to Jonah. And we know that Jonah has a father named Amittai.

Interesting. Both of Jonah’s fathers mentioned in the first verse. Heavenly. Earthly.

Son of Amittai…

  • Amittai was married to a woman who was from the tribe of Asher. Said to be the happiest and most prosperous of the tribes of Israel.
  • Amittai means truth.
  • Jonah can therefore be referred to as the son of truth.
  • Is it possible that the writer, which is not Jonah, is poking some fun at Jonah and stating some obvious irony here.
    • Jonah is someone who sticks closely to truth, but has no concept of grace, at least not for people other than his own people.
    • We’ll find out later in this story that Jonah doesn’t think that others are worthy of God’s grace and compassion.
    • He’s so committed to truth, but more than that, law, that he can’t open his heart towards love those outside his tribe.
  • Jesus, who mentions Jonah in the gospels, was the one who coined the phrase, grace & truth, and the purpose would be that they can and should work together as two faces of one coin.
    • Jonah’s coin had one face, truth, a truth that became legalistic in nature.

The thing is this, we all come from someone, some place, some kind of history and past. Whatever it is, good or bad, don’t let it get in the way of what God wants to teach you today, about him, and about others. Don’t allow your checkered past to stop you from being who God wants you to be, and on the other hand, don’t allow your ‘good’ past to stop you from risking a few things for God either.

“Go to the Great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because it’s wickedness has come before me.”

Next comes the call. The question. The ‘word’ from God…

GO to the GREAT city of Nineveh.

I want to get to the word great, but let’s not passover the word go.

God often tells those who follow him to go somewhere. Often the first word is ‘go’, and then it’s ‘do’. It’s almost like God wants us to trust him before we hear what the task is. It’s like he tests our faith, before he even cares about our tasks.

A good lesson is this: Don’t be afraid to take steps in the direction God is leading. If he’s really leading you there, you’ll have something to do when you arrive.

Now to the word GREAT.

  • it comes up 14 times in 48 verses
  • used to describe a great city, great wind, great storm, great fish
  • the first instance is in verse 2 – as the (very) great city
  • some translate it, the very big city.
  • That seems like a better understanding. Because even though it’s big, it’s not that great.
    • Nineveh was known for bloodcurdling & gore; violence and wickedness
    • They’d ‘cut off the legs and one arm of those they captured…leaving one arm to shake as they died before them. Total mockery.
    • They’d force remaining & living family to parade with their decapitated family members heads on poles.
    • Yet God was reaching out to them. WHY?
  • Nineveh was BIG. One of the oldest cities too. The principal city of Assyria. There were 120,000 people there. And God never met eyes with anyone he didn’t want to help and didn’t already love.

That’s where Jonah is told to go. And then we read…

“But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed over to Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, we went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.”

Jonah runs away.

He pays his own fare and Flees from God.

He runs from God’s call: and this verse says that he ran from God himself.

This is what begins our understanding that Jonah was the reluctant prophet, the disobedient prophet, and as Tim Keller calls him, the prodigal prophet.

He goes the opposite direction.

  • He’s called to go east, but goes west
  • He’s called to travel on land, he travels the sea
  • He’s sent to the big city, but buys a one way ticket to the ends of the earth

WHY? We will learn more and more each week, that Jonah basically disagreed with God’s assessment. He didn’t trust him. He doubted God’s goodness, God’s wisdom, God’s justice, and more than anything, God’s grace.

It’s like Jonah said, “If this is what you want to do, I want nothing of it” NIVEVEH – No Way!!!

So he runs. He flees.

– – – – – –

But don’t we do that to? More often than we’d like to admit. There comes a point where we have to decide that we trust God knows best. But do we?

Isn’t our human default to say, “I know best”?
Isn’t that what Adam & Eve did in Genesis 2-3, in the garden?

When you really think about it, Jonah is in each of us, afraid to fail, afraid to shine, fighting God’s will for us, fighting ourselves.

Abraham Heschel (Rabbi/Theoligan) says ‘we see ourselves in Jonah…because Jonah is the symbolic or metaphorical everyman or everywoman who runs away from social obligation, from missional opportunity, from grace-fillied moments.’

I came across these words about running away, “Humans have always employed an enormous variety of clever devices for running away from themselves… We can keep ourselves so busy, fill our lives with so many diversions, stuff our heads with so much knowledge, involve ourselves with so many people, and cover so much ground that we never have time to probe the fearful and wonderful world within. By middle life, most of us are accomplished fugitives from ourselves.”

We’re good at running away, from responsibilities, urgent matters of the heart, issues that need addressing in our families or relationships. We choose to not deal with a conflict and watch netflix instead. We leave the dishes for the next day. We leave the hard conversation for another week. And… when it comes to God’s call…we’re good at running away from that too.

One thing from each of these first 3 verses to take home:

  • When God’s word comes to us, are we listening?
  • Can we say yes to God first? Can our first response to God always be yes?
  • Will we learn very early on from this story, that it’s always better to run to God or with God, but never from God.

If we’re not careful, just like the drawing game, God gives us one word, and by the time we’re done, we’ve messed it up so much, it’s not even recognizable.

– – – – – –

Small(er) Group Discussion Questions:

Why do you think the Jonah story intrigues people? And what about it may not be so inviting?

How do you think our past inhibits or obstructs decisions for our future? How can both kinds of pasts, hurtful or helpful, become obstacles in our lives.

What ways does God use to speak to us? To call us?

Is it easier to say yes to God’s GO or God’s DO? (where to go vs what to do)

Why is it easy, almost human nature, to run from responsibility, from doing justice, from doing good, etc? When did ever you run from God? What caused it? What made you aware of your poor decision to run?

What kind of steps can we take to be people who say yes to God more often, who run to God and with God.