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Finding God’s Will, and Other Insights from Jonah

May 12, 2011

In my continuing studies through the minor prophets, I recently listened to S. Lewis Johnson’s 5-part Jonah series.  Of all the minor prophets, of course, none is so well known as the story of Jonah — though as SLJ admitted, as a young person he couldn’t remember if it was the fish that swallowed Jonah, or Jonah that swallowed the fish!

Again, S. Lewis Johnson’s exposition of Jonah does not disappoint, and he points out several great scripture-treasures in this little book.

In Jonah chapter 1 comes the doctrine of Satanic providence, the whole notion of how we determine God’s will for our lives.  Providence, as played out in actual events or even in the drawing of lots or other random events, is supposed to show God’s will.  After all, Jonah had all the right circumstances going for him: he was able to go down to the coast, he had the necessary money for fare to Tarshish, the ship was available, etc.  Since it was so easy to do, and the circumstances all worked out so well, surely — Jonah could have reasoned — this was in God’s will.  Another great example from scripture:  1 Samuel 26:8, David and Abishai in Saul’s camp, and the Lord had put everyone in the camp to sleep.  Abishai reasoned that this was God’s will, that now is the time for David to kill Saul and gain the kingdom.

In today’s society, some Christians think of finding God’s will by opening up the Bible and randomly sticking their finger on a page — and that verse that the person “lands on” will somehow provide direction.  (I read of this very type of thing in Brother Andrew’s story from his early Christian years.)  Johnson here observed that sometimes God will accommodate us when we do such things, but it’s clearly not the right way to learn God’s will.

Regarding Jonah’s attitude itself, many ideas have been suggested, including that he was prejudiced against the Gentiles, that he only wanted God’s blessings for the Jews and not for others.  Johnson suggests yet another idea:  Jonah loved his country more than he loved God.  He understood the covenant relationship of Israel to God, and knew that Israel was in apostasy and thus under threat of judgment.  Very likely he was even aware of the prophecies that had been made, as by others of the minor prophets, that Assyria would be the instrument used to bring judgment upon Israel.  Therefore, if Nineveh turned to the Lord, such would be a rebuke to Jonah’s nation and would seal their doom.  We are not told any of this explicitly, but certainly in Jonah 4:2 Jonah says “when I was yet in my country.”

Another theme that comes out is Jonah’s runs, showing us a prophet who caused more problems for God than the many Ninevites did — and God’s incredible patience with us and our waywardness:

  •     In chapter 1, Jonah runs away from God
  •     In chapter 2, Jonah runs back to God
  •     In chapter 3, Jonah runs with God
  •     In chapter 4, Jonah runs ahead of God

The book of Jonah also shows several “prepared” things, and the word occurs four times in this book (Jonah 1:17, and Jonah 4:6-8).  (Note: in the ESV edition, which I read from, the word is “appointed.”)  The prepared things include a great fish, a gourd, a worm, and a “scorching east wind.”  Yet going beyond all the actions and things in the basic story, we can see a 5th “prepared thing” in the prophet Jonah himself.  Through the very fact that Jonah later penned the story of his experiences, Jonah shows himself to now be a “humbled and spirited saint.”  Finally, the book of Jonah is Jonah’s confession of how God settled Jonah’s quarrel with Him.

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