A God who is Gracious and Merciful
Dear Church Family,
Although the book of Jonah is included in the Old Testament collection of prophets, it is unlike the others. To begin with it is an account of incidents in the prophet’s life. His actual message is very short indeed (Jonah 3:4). Also it seems to have been written up by someone else who speaks about Jonah in the third person, unlike the other books in this section of the Bible. Apart from this book all we know about Jonah is that he preached in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:25), which would date him around 780 BCE, although the book itself may have been composed at a later date.
Nineveh was an ancient Assyrian city of Upper Mesopotamia probably in modern-day northern Iraq. Of all the peoples of ancient times there were none who delighted in sheer cruelty as much as the Assyrians. Later on they were going to wipe out the northern kingdom and crush Judah. In Jonah’s day, their power was on the increase, and they presented a terrible threat to the people of God. If anyone did not deserve God’s goodness, grace, and mercy it was those who lived in Assyria.
We can understand, therefore, something of Jonah’s natural revulsion when he was told to go and preach there, especially as he had the inclination that God was going to forgive them (Jonah 4:2). To put it in perspective it would not be dissimilar to God asking us to take the Gospel to Daesh in Iraq or Syria.
As we work through this book together in a series of sermons, we will discover a number of things about Jonah, God, the Gentile pagans, and ourselves; and finally we will see how this account is a backdrop to God’s mission to the Gentiles in the New Testament.
In chapter one Jonah is the runaway prophet, in chapter two the grateful prophet, in chapter three the obedient prophet and in chapter four the hard-hearted prophet. We will see that Jonah, is a representative of God’s people, who knows God’s grace, has a relationship with him, and who can pray to him in a time of trouble. We even find him praising God and recommitting his life to him (1:9; 2:1-9). Jonah is also inconsistent and disobedient. He tries to run away from the God who made all things (1:3, 10). He is angry when God is merciful, and is more concerned about a plant than he is about people (4:1-3, 9).
We will learn that God is sovereign in the world he has made. He can control the weather (1:4), his creatures (1:17) and even a plant (4:6-8). We will observe that God is merciful, compassionate and gracious towards, and cares for, all mankind (4:2, 11); and is even concerned for animals (4:11). In giving Jonah another opportunity to fulfil his commission God demonstrated that he gives second chances (3:1-3).
In this story the pagan Gentiles come out in a better light than Jonah, whether it be the worshiping sailors (1:14, 16) or the repentant Ninevites (3:5-9). They surprise the reader with their sense of what is right and their ready response to God’s message. Yet Jonah wrote them off because they were not Israelites.
Unfortunately, like Jonah, we are too often prepared to profess our faith in God without being prepared to see what that will mean. We can also be wilfully disobedient, and illogically try to run away from the Almighty God. Even worse we can be heard-hearted and totally unfeeling towards others, even when we profess to know God’s grace and mercy; we can be upset over little things which do not matter, while we are unconcerned with people.
There is so much for us to see and learn from such a small book. I hope that this series of sermons entitled, A God who is gracious and merciful, will help us to better understand and emulate the heart of God.
The sermons below are displayed in reverse order: the most recent at the top. If you want to listen to the sermons in the correct order, start at the bottom and work your way up the list.