Thursday Evening Bible Study

May 4, 2006


It was the time of the prophet Amos. It was a time of military and financial prosperity for the northern kingdom. Jeroboam II was the king of the northern kingdom (793-753 BC) and he led the nation with some helpful guidance.

(2 Ki 14:25 NKJV) He restored the territory of Israel from the entrance of Hamath to the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which He had spoken through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet who was from Gath Hepher.

Jonah 1

:1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,

JonahYonah – “dove”

:2 "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me."

Nineveh[email protected] – “abode of Ninus”; capital of the ancient kingdom of Assyria; located on the east bank of the Tigris river. It was about 550 miles from Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel.

Nineveh was not a nice place and the Assyrians were not nice people. From the Bible Knowledge Commentary:

Nineveh was the capital of one of the cruelest, vilest, most powerful, and most idolatrous empires in the world. For example, writing of one of his conquests, Ashurnaṣirpal II (883-859) boasted, “I stormed the mountain peaks and took them. In the midst of the mighty mountain I slaughtered them; with their blood I dyed the mountain red like wool. . . . The heads of their warriors I cut off, and I formed them into a pillar over against their city; their young men and their maidens I burned in the fire” (Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, 1:148). Regarding one captured leader, he wrote, “I flayed [him], his skin I spread upon the wall of the city . . .” (ibid., 1:146). He also wrote of mutilating the bodies of live captives and stacking their corpses in piles.

God had a message for the people of Nineveh, and God had a messenger to deliver it.

:3 But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

TarshishTarshiysh – “yellow jasper”, thought to be a city of the Phoenicians located somewhere on the coast of modern Spain. It was the farthest place Jonah could go in the opposite direction of Nineveh.


Running from God

Jonah thought he could somehow run away from God.
David knew better:
(Psa 139:7-10 NKJV) Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? {8} If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. {9} If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, {10} Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me.
We may think at times that we’ve gone to a place where God isn’t, but we’re wrong.
You can’t get away from God – you can run but you can’t hide.
And you also can’t get away from God – you may feel like you’ve gone so far that you could never get back. But He hasn’t left you.
There’s a story about a fellow who suddenly left a discussion group at a tea quite disgusted, slamming the door after him. One person trying to relieve the tension, remarked, “Well, he’s gone.” To this the hostess replied, “No, he isn’t. That’s a closet!”
That’s what it’s like when we try to run from God’s presence. We just get trapped.


The importance of simple obedience

Sometimes God asks us to go somewhere and we, like Jonah, refuse to go.
Perhaps we don’t want to pay the consequences of what might happen if we go.
Perhaps our life would be uncomfortable.
Perhaps the people of Nineveh won’t like me.
Perhaps it won’t work out.
But sometimes God leads us one place only to get us to another.

It was time to finally pick out a king for the nation of Israel. God whispered some things into Samuel’s ears about this fellow named Saul, and he got ready to meet Saul, but first God had to get Saul to meet Samuel.

God used missing donkeys to get Saul out of the house.

Saul went off to look for the missing donkeys, and couldn’t find them.

Yet while he was looking he just happened to run into Samuel. He never found the donkeys, and in fact they were already found when he got home. But the most important thing was that God worked to get Saul where he needed to be.

If it’s really God asking us to go, why are we worried?

It’s the Texas Rangers locker room on an August 1997 afternoon. Star relief pitcher and passionate Christian John Wetteland is flipping through his Bible, talking about why he isn’t worried about his religious fervor fitting in with the Rangers’ club house.

“ ‘ That would be like Noah asking God—not Noah. What’s his name? Went to Nineveh!’

“ ‘ Simsy!’ Wetteland yells, startling reserve outfielder Mike Simms, who is watching TV. ‘Who refused to go to Nineveh?’ Simms stares back blankly.

“ ‘ Jonah!’ Wetteland, the former Yankee, hollers, suddenly remembering and very pleased. ‘It would be like Jonah saying to God, “Well, how many people are in Nineveh that are gonna listen to my message that I have from you?” Of course, Jonah decided to go 180 degrees the opposite direction—and you know the rest of the story; he gets barfed up on the beach at Nineveh. When God directs you somewhere, you just go.’ “

-- The New York Times Magazine, cited in Christian Reader, "Personally Speaking."

Here was a fellow who was more concerned about being a strong Christian than what the consequences might be.


Setting the example

God is concerned that people have the right examples to follow.
Are you setting the example of running away or obeying?
Paul said to Timothy:
(1 Tim 4:12 NKJV) Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.

I wonder what kind of example Jonah was setting for the nation back at home.

I may offend some of us Republicans with this comment – but I wonder if we need to be careful just how much of Fox News we watch.  I’m not saying that they’re bad at reporting the news.  But I think that there’s a mindset of hating our enemies that you pick up on and swallow.  I’m not against identifying our enemies.  I wonder if we need to be careful about our attitudes toward them.

Gasping For Breath
A senior gas company training supervisor and a young trainee were out checking meters in a suburban neighborhood. They parked their truck at the end of the alley and worked their way to the other end. At the last house, a woman in her kitchen window watched the two men as they checked her gas meter. Having finished the meter checks, the supervisor challenged his younger co-worker to a foot race down the alley back to the truck-just to prove that an older guy could outrun a younger one. As they at last came running up to the truck, they forgot to check who had won since they both realized the lady from that last house was huffing and puffing right behind them. They stopped immediately and asked her what was wrong. Gasping for breath, she replied, “When I saw two man from the gas company running away from my house as hard as you two were, I figured I’d better run too!”
If we find ourselves running away from God’s call, we might just look around and find that people are following our example.

:4 But the LORD sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.

I think we could call this “getting Jonah’s attention”.

:5 Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.

He’s unaware of the trouble he’s caused others around him.

:6 So the captain came to him, and said to him, "What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish."

:7 And they said to one another, "Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us." So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.

casting lots – we’d probably look at it like tossing dice.

:8 Then they said to him, "Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?"

:9 So he said to them, "I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land."

LORD – the Hebrew is “Yahweh”, the name of God.

:10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, "Why have you done this?" For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.

It’s interesting that he’s told them about his rebellion against God.  It’s actually kind of sad. He ought to be telling them how to follow his merciful God.

:11 Then they said to him, "What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?"; for the sea was growing more tempestuous.

:12 And he said to them, "Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me."

Sometimes we may wonder what we did to cause the storm we’re in, and we wonder because we really don’t know.


Why storms?

1. Sometimes God is getting ready to show people His glory.
(John 9:1-3 NKJV) Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. {2} And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" {3} Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.

Then Jesus healed the man, bringing glory to God.

2. Sometimes God is working to refine us.
(1 Pet 1:6-7 NKJV) In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, {7} that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,

The trials we go through are like the fire that refines precious metals, helping the goldsmith separate the valuable metal from the worthless dross.

3. Sometimes God is showing us that He’s enough.
(2 Cor 12:7-10 NKJV) And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. {8} Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. {9} And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. {10} Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

God continued to allow Paul to suffer this “thorn in the flesh” and Paul learned that he didn’t have to quit because of it. He learned that God’s grace on his life was enough. He learned that God doesn’t need strong, healthy people to work, God prefers to use weakness so that people can see God’s power at work.

4. Sometimes we are being chastened.
This is what is happening to Jonah.
Jonah knew better. He knew exactly what was happening. He isn’t responding this way because he has a death wish or because he is following some sort of superstitious belief. He is a prophet. He knows what God wants of him.
(Heb 12:11 NKJV) Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Sometimes the storms come to get our attention. Sometimes they are the way that God gets us to turn away from destructive behavior. Sometimes it’s the way God gets us to turn around and follow Him.

5.  Sometimes we may not simply know the reason.


A fellow was driving a rig in a long line of tractor-trailers when a police officer pulled him over for speeding. Astounded that he alone was caught, he asked, “Out of all these trucks that were going just as fast as I was, why did you pull me over?” “Have you ever gone fishing?” the officer asked. “Yes,” the man replied. “Well, have you ever caught all the fish in the pond?”

Sometimes it feels like it was just a cruel coincidence.  But that’s only because we don’t always know why.

:13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them.

It sounds to me that they don’t want to be guilty of murder, throwing Jonah overboard.

:14 Therefore they cried out to the LORD and said, "We pray, O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man's life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O LORD, have done as it pleased You."

:15 So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.

:16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took vows.

:17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

great fish – it doesn’t say “whale”. Some people have difficulty with this because most whales can’t eat something as large as a man. But it simply says “fish”, and that it was a special fish that God had prepared probably just for this occasion.

Some folks have a problem “swallowing” this story. Could such a thing ever have happened?

I know some folks point to modern examples where a fisherman has been swallowed by some huge fish, but I have a more convincing authority to quote on the authenticity of this story.
Jesus believed in the story of Jonah.
(Mat 12:38-40 NKJV) Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from You." {39} But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. {40} "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Not only was Jesus talking about Jonah being a picture of Jesus being in the “belly” of the earth for three days, but don’t miss the fact that Jesus Himself understood this story as a literal, factual, telling of the truth.

Jonah 2

:1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish's belly.

I think one of the most amazing parts of this story is the fact that it took Jonah three days before he started praying.

That’s stubbornness!


Stubborn Ship

Supposedly an actual transcript of a radio conversation of a US naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October 1995.  Radio conversation released by the Chief of Naval Operations 10-10-95.
Americans:  Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.
Canadians:  Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.
Americans:  This is the Captain of a US Navy ship.  I say again, DIVERT YOUR COURSE!
Canadians:  No, I say again, you divert YOUR course.
Canadians:  This is a lighthouse!  Your call!

You aren’t going to win if you’re going to go up against God.

:2 And he said: "I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, And He answered me. "Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice.

Sheol – the place of the dead.

Jonah had felt like he was dead.

:3 For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.

:4 Then I said, 'I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.'

Solomon had prayed that if God’s people sinned and were finding themselves taken captive in a distant land (1Ki. 8:46-50), that if they turned and prayed towards the Temple in Jerusalem, God would hear and forgive.

:5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head.

:6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God.

:7 "When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple.

:8 "Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy.

:9 But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD."

Jonah is officially giving in to the Lord.

:10 So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

Jonah 3

:1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying,

He is the God of the second chance.

You may have said “no” to him about something in the past, but perhaps it’s not too late yet to turn around and say “yes”. Perhaps God will speak the word a second time.

:2 "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you."

It wasn’t until Jonah was finally humbled that he because useful to God.

:3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent.

It’s easy to get the wrong idea. I used to think that the fish spit Jonah out on the beach at Nineveh. Nineveh is at least 400 miles from the Mediterranean Sea.

Nineveh was a large city for that day. It would take three days to walk around it, about 60 miles in circumference.

:4 And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day's walk. Then he cried out and said, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"

Not a very fancy message. No stories. No jokes. He doesn’t even tell the people what to do. He doesn’t even invite them to turn to God.

:5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.

:6 Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.

the king of Nineveh – Either Adad-nirari III (810-783 B.C.) or Ashurdan III (771-754).

:7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water.

:8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.

:9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?

:10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.

This could easily be called the greatest revival in world history. An entire major city turns to God.

It wasn’t a lasting revival because during the following generation, the Assyrians would come and wipe out the northern kingdom of Israel and take them into captivity in 722 BC.


Success in ministry

I am mystified at times as to how to measure “success” in ministry.
 Compare the ministries of Jonah and Jeremiah.

If we were to stack them up side by side and count how many people “went forward” at their crusades, Jonah is easily the winner. Jonah converted an entire city. Jeremiah converted … nobody.

If we put them side by side and measure their hearts, measure their faithfulness to the ministry and the Lord, Jeremiah is easily the winner.

Perhaps our ideas about “success” aren’t the same as God’s ideas.
I would think that for most pastors going into the ministry, this is something that we wrestle with.
 I know that I read and admire stories about the small, unknown guy who is simply faithful, though he doesn’t see too many results from his ministry.

Like the story about the unknown deacon who was preaching the message in the place of the pastor who didn’t show up on a cold Sunday morning in England when a young sixteen year old walked in and sat down in the back. The old deacon was preaching from Isaiah –

(Isa 45:22 KJV) Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.

And that morning Charles Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers to ever live, was saved. Because of the faithfulness of an unknown man.

But as much as I am encouraged by the faithfulness of that deacon, I have to admit that like most guys I know, I’d rather be the guy they influenced, one of the Spurgeons of the world.

But I have the idea that in God’s eyes, numbers maybe aren’t always the true measure of a man’s ministry.

Think of Jonah and Jeremiah.

For most of us, we’ve come to the place where we’re looking forward to that day when we see Jesus, and we are hoping for Him to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”.
That line comes from the parable of the talents, where a lord distributes his wealth to his servants to take care of while he’s away:
(Mat 25:19-27 NKJV)  "After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. {20} "So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, 'Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.' {21} "His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.' {22} "He also who had received two talents came and said, 'Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.' {23} "His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.' {24} "Then he who had received the one talent came and said, 'Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. {25} 'And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.' {26} "But his lord answered and said to him, 'You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. {27} 'So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest.

If you look at the parable carefully, the Lord measured the servants faithfulness with what they did with what He had given them.

He didn’t expect the fellow with two talents to come up with as much as the fellow with five.  And the fellow with one was rebuked because he didn’t do anything with the one talent he had been given.

God is looking for faithfulness in the things He’s given us.  He’s looking for me to be the best Rich Cathers I can be.  He’s not measuring me against fellows with five talents.

What has God given you to do?  What’s on your plate?  What’s in front of you.  Be faithful in those things.

Jonah 4

:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.

:2 So he prayed to the LORD, and said, "Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.

:3 "Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!"

Now we get the real reason why Jonah refused to go to Nineveh and had run off to Tarshish.

He just knew that God was going to be kind and gracious to the people of Nineveh.

And Jonah wanted them destroyed, not forgiven.

:4 Then the LORD said, "Is it right for you to be angry?"

:5 So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city.

He hoped that God would change his mind and destroy Nineveh.

He was planning on waiting out the remaining forty days.  I get the idea that the “three days walk” (3:3) might have also been the extent of his ministry.

:6 And the LORD God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant.

Jonah was glad for God to be gracious to him.

:7 But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered.

:8 And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah's head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, "It is better for me to die than to live."

:9 Then God said to Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?" And he said, "It is right for me to be angry, even to death!"

:10 But the LORD said, "You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night.

Jonah seems to have only known what selfish love was all about.

All Jonah really cared about was himself.

He was upset for the plant, but only because the plant helped him out.

He was upset because God disturbed his comfort.

:11 "And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left; and much livestock?"

one hundred and twenty thousand persons … – this was the number of young children in the city.  The population of Nineveh would then have been around 600,000 people.

Jonah didn’t even care for the children of Nineveh. He wanted it all destroyed.

As a touch of sarcasm, God mentions that destroying Nineveh would also hurt the cattle as well.  Couldn’t Jonah at least love the cows?


God’s love

Jesus said,
(Mat 5:44-48 KJV) But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; {45} That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. {46} For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? {47} And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? {48} Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

When we learn to love our “enemies”, then we are beginning to love like God loves.

Who are you angry with right now?
Do you hope for God’s destruction of them or God’s mercy?
What do you think God wants for them?
Corrie Ten Boom shares this true story in her book, The Hiding Place:
It was a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck.  He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time.  And suddenly it was all there—the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.  He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said.  “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”  His hand was thrust out to shake mine.  And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.  Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them.  Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more?  Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.  I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand.  I could not.  I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity.  And so again I breathed a silent prayer.  Jesus, I cannot forgive him.  Give me Your forgiveness.  As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened.  From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.  And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His.  When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.