“Wake Up!”

Jonah 1:1-16

We are reading through a book of the Old Testament that many of you think you are familiar with because of the countless children’s books and movies that have been published in our culture. Not that those books and movies aren’t true, but they only tell a sliver of what this book is all about. So in some ways they have done a disservice in portraying the real message God wants to get across with this minor prophet story. 

Let’s recap what we learned last week about this book. It is the only book in the Bible that is a story about a prophet rather than the words that the prophet is saying. It turns out that this prophet was a horrible person and so God is using this story to send specific messages to His people. This book is also different in the way it is written. It is a comic book/satire all rolled up into one. 

Within this story we have various characters. First there is Jonah, who represents the covenant people of God and he is a horrible, hypocritical, prejudiced character. In fact, everything in this book is upside-down. The bad guys are actually the good guys and the good guy turns out to be the bad guy. The goal of this book is to critique the worst tendencies that form in the hearts and minds of God’s people. Such as judgmentalism, pride or as we will discover in today’s Scripture, spiritual apathy. 

I warned you last week that this book has the ability to sock us right between the eyes. It was written in order to wake God’s people up from their slumber. 

Check in time. How many of you have ever been driving down the road, a familiar drive, like to work or your drive home and you get to where you are going and you realize you don’t remember the last three to five minutes? 

Or maybe you are reading a book or the newspaper and you have read every word but you get done with the page or the article and you realize you don’t remember one thing you just read? 

Often a large chunk of our lives are lived in disengagement. We look back and think, where did the last few months go? We go through life with a routine that keeps going day after day. 

That is how some of us live our spiritual lives as well. Maybe there was a time when you were reading your Bible and it really spoke to you but most of the time it’s just words on the page. You remember a time when your prayer life was alive, but it’s not that you don’t pray but it’s not alive. It’s not that you aren’t a Christian it’s just that things are set on cruise control and go along day by day. 

There are some reasons for this, sometimes it is our season of life. We change and grow and ebb and flow. However, we may also end up in that place because of decisions that we have made. They may not be large, negative mistakes. More than likely they are small compromises that we make day by day. We justify them somehow and go on and then months later we find ourselves somewhere down a road where we look around and wonder, “How did I get here?”

You look back over the previous months or years and if you are honest you realize you have been asleep at the wheel and you have allowed things to occur and have done things that have landed you in a place of apathy. 

Chapter one of Jonah is a description of this phenomena, of spiritual apathy. 

This chapter explores how this happens and the consequences that can occur when we are asleep at the wheel with our relationship with God. 

So let’s take a look at what is happening to Jonah. Let’s begin with the first sentence of Jonah, 

“The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai:”

A couple of things here, the word LORD has all capital letters. This means the word that is represented here is not just the name for any god, but the Hebrew word for the covenant name of Yahweh, the personal name the Hebrews had for their God. So we have the word of Yahweh, that came to Jonah the son of Amittai, which ironically means, “dove, son of faithfulness.” Which is where you are supposed to laugh because he was not an innocent dove and he was the least faithful in the story. 

God has been looking down at His earth and He has heard the cries of those who have been oppressed in the city of Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian empire. He decides to send His messenger, an innocent dove, to tell them to turn from their wicked ways and His messenger goes in the opposite direction.  Not only does Jonah flee from God, he manages to get in a boat and head to Tarshish, as far as was humanly known at the time, in the opposite direction. Here is where you are supposed to chuckle again. 

They were on their way to Tarshish and the Lord sent a great storm. We read “the ship threatened to break up.”  This is written in such a way in Hebrew that the ship becomes personified or cartoon-like and actually ponders for itself whether it should break up or not. This is where we are supposed to chuckle. 

While the ship was pondering whether it should fall apart, all of the sailors were afraid, and began calling out to their own god. They even throw their cargo, their money making possibilities into the sea so they could lighten the ship.  

God has chosen to pursue His prophet with severe mercy. We might be thinking, Here He is again, the Old Testament God, throwing down lightning bolts and striking people. But we need to remember the big picture. God wants to use Jonah to deliver His message of forgiveness and life to the people of Nineveh. God’s mission is to reach people and rescue them and that is what is pursuing Jonah. This is a severe love. It’s like the love of a parent who is chasing after their own child who is about to bring ruin to their own life. This is not a God who gets angry with His prophet and punishes him. 

The storm God sends doesn’t even seem to affect His prophet, but it is affecting everyone else on the ship. The sailors and captain were afraid. They had done everything humanly possible to make their ship secure by throwing over their livelihood in hopes to survive. They then realize this storm wasn’t just any storm, it was one that had been produced by some god. They had a polytheistic worldview that involved thousands of different gods. So they start praying to every god they can think of in hopes to hit the right one and receive mercy. 

That’s what the pagan sailors were doing. What is the man of God doing? He is asleep. There is a word play in this chapter where the author represents Jonah going down, down, down. 

Jonah 1:3

He went “down” to Joppa, and in Hebrew it reads, 

“He went down into the ship.”

Jonah 1:5

“He went down into the depths of the ship.”

“He lay down and went into a deep sleep.” 

Check out the picture here. The pagan sailors were alert and aware of a god produced storm, and the spiritual prophet was not only asleep but literally in a spiritual slumber. The author has created this vision of Jonah’s sin bringing him to this deadened, unaware state. 

Jonah’s sin was that God had given him a call to participate in God’s story of His grace reaching all people. 

Jonah has a different opinion. According to Jonah, God’s grace shouldn’t go to ALL people. The Ninevites were ruthless, they didn’t deserve God’s grace. Jonah hates the Ninevites and he knows that somehow God is going to give them grace and mercy and he wants no part of it. Jonah thinks he knows better than God. We see how Jonah’s sin begins to separate him from God. At this point in the story Jonah was so numb to God that he fell asleep in the midst of an extreme storm that even seasoned sailors fear. 

Consider the irony of what is happening. 

Not only that, but who was suffering because of Jonah’s bad decision? Not Jonah, he was sleeping like a baby. Instead, everyone around Jonah suffers. 

Think about it. 

Jonah’s sin was selfishness, he thought he was better than anyone else and he acted accordingly. 

He was in a state where he was totally unaware of the people and circumstances around him. Jonah was like a human wrecking ball to those around him and he doesn’t even have a clue. The author provides us with a profound image of sin and its consequences in our lives. 

Take a step into today’s culture. 

This image is difficult for us to wrap our heads around because we are brought up in a culture where our morality is supposed to be individualistic. We are told that whatever our moral compass may be, as long as we don’t hurt anyone, it’s okay. We have an understanding that everything is individualistic including our morals. If it is okay with you that’s okay. 

What the Scriptures do and especially Jonah chapter 1 is reveal that that thinking is utterly naive and simplistic. 

The Bible demonstrates that our moral decisions and how we live our lives are very intertwined. Statistically if a person chooses to make thousands of small compromises and bad moral decisions, there will come a point when one decision becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and will affect those around them. To think that my moral decisions only affect me is ridiculous. 

American culture is so silly when it comes to this concept. We say we have the right to make our own moral decisions, until someone in politics decides to do something morally incorrect and everyone is all over them. Think about the latest sex scandal. Sexual images occur in America in more places on a daily basis than anywhere else in the world. But we are so prudish when it comes to a politician having an affair. We proclaim innocence should be maintained, as if we think it would never happen. 

Jonah chapter one is trying to tell us that the decisions we make do not only affect ourselves. We become a human wrecking ball when we allow a thousand little compromises to happen, and what was once a personal matter between God and you eventually affects everyone around you. For Jonah, he was so checked out, and so self absorbed, he was not even aware. 

It’s a tragedy. 

It then becomes more intense, look at verse 6. The captain goes to Jonah and asks him how he can sleep. He asks him to wake up and call on his God and maybe his God will notice them. 

Irony here…. The only reason they were in a mess was because Jonah’s God noticed them. 

What’s even more ironic is…. Jonah was a prophet of God, he had spent time speaking the very words of God, and yet now, a pagan, polytheistic sailor, who doesn’t know Yahweh from anyone else, has to remind him to pray. 

At this point, the sailors were clueless. They had tried everything they knew to survive so they resorted to drawing lots to see who was responsible. This was ancient dice rolling. It was used to make decisions and see what the gods wanted. Ironically, it works. They cast lots and Jonah wins, or loses, whichever way you want to look at it. At this point the sailors were frantic, this passenger was the cause and they tried to figure out who he was by asking him questions, verse 8, 

“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?”

Jonah responds with, 

“I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

Okay, you are supposed to laugh here because note what Jonah just said. He worships the God who made the seas, or who has power over the seas, whom he is running away from, on a boat? 

Also, the Hebrew word used here for “worship” can also be translated “fear.” This would be that sort of reverent fear of someone whom you know loves you and because they want only the best for you they are strict and stern. 

As we read this statement from Jonah, we should be thinking, what a line he just fed those sailors. 

He doesn’t fear Yahweh. That’s just religious jargon that makes him look and sound good. How hypocritical can one get? Jonah’s words and the choices he had been making were in deep contradiction. 

The storyteller really has us going, doesn’t he? We look at the character of Jonah and think, how can he be doing such things? Trying to run away from God? Ridiculous! Falling asleep in the midst of a raging storm? Really? And now telling these sailors he fears God when he was actually asleep and numb to what God was doing? There is no way anyone is as crazy as Jonah. I certainly wouldn’t ever do something like this. 

Oops! Got me!

As soon as we begin to think we are superior to Jonah we have fallen into the author’s trap. 

What the author is trying to do is hold up a mirror, can you honestly say you have never said how you believed and then acted differently? 

Jonah doesn’t fear Yahweh, but in the next verse we discover everyone else on the ship does. We are also told by the author that Jonah has already told them, probably when he was going through customs to get on board the ship, that he was running away from Yahweh. At the time they didn’t think anything of it, but now that they know who Yahweh is, they were petrified. If Yahweh was this angry and Jonah was the reason, what on earth had Jonah done to get Yahweh this upset?

This is one of the most tragic ironies of this story. 

The people who were outside the realm of God had a better understanding and were more aware of what God’s people say they believe and how they behave. 

It’s like we are reading the history of the church. 

Here’s where the book of Jonah gives us hope. We have Jonah, a very imperfect prophet of God. 

Is God limited to how successful or unsuccessful Jonah is as a witness to God? Is God limited in using Jonah to bring people to Himself? Thoughts to ponder. 

Back to the story. At this point the sailors ask Jonah what they should do. Jonah responds with them having to throw him overboard. 


The sailors ask Jonah what they should do and he responds with, “Kill me.” That’s strange. 

There are two ways to take Jonah’s statement.

We could figure that Jonah has realized his wrong doing. He realizes other people were involved because of him and he was repentant. Time to get what was coming. 

Or, depending on what commentator you read, 

Jonah could also be running even further from God right now. What would be the surest way Jonah could escape from having to go to Nineveh? Die. 

Which would not be out of character for Jonah, because he will request to die when we get to chapter four. Would he rather die than follow a God like Yahweh? 

The storyteller doesn’t make it clear. Maybe it’s because in reality we often confess the wrong we have done but are we really sorry and aware of the wrong that we’ve done. I hear it every day from my sixth graders. They do something wrong and when caught they immediately say, “I’m sorry.” Like that’s supposed to make it all better. Until I ask, “Sorry for what?” and they don’t know what to say. Because either they don’t even know what they did wrong or they aren’t really sorry after all. 

The sailors hear Jonah’s answer and think it is a terrible idea. Kill the prophet of the God who rules the sea? 

No way. 

They attempt to do their best to row back to land and the storm gets worse. They can’t go back. Something was happening with Jonah that made it so they couldn’t go back. 

Now if Jonah really had a change of heart, why doesn’t he just agree to go to Nineveh? Instead he requests the sailors kill him. 

In verse 14, the sailors have a change of allegiance. They come to realize that the only God that can save them is Yahweh, the God who made the land and the sea. He is the most powerful God. The sailors start praying to Yahweh. 

How ironic! This is the first prayer that comes in the first chapter of the book, and who does it come from? Not God’s prophet, instead some polytheistic heathen sailors. The sailors truly don’t want to throw Jonah overboard, they think it will bring them more trouble, but the Lord’s prophet was the one who told them to do it, so they pray for salvation and do what God’s prophet said and throw Jonah overboard. 

The sea grew calm, and the sailors’ lives were changed. They fear Yahweh even more. 

Who said he fears Yahweh? Jonah.

Who actually fears Yahweh? The pagans. 

We are told, in verse 16, 

“and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.”

Now remember they don’t have any cargo on the ship, so this implies that these men went back to land and found a Hebrew temple and offered a sacrifice and made vows. They become dedicated followers of Yahweh from then on out. 

Despite the behavior of God’s imperfect prophet, these men have become followers of Yahweh. God is not limited by our poor choices. However, that does not mean we should behave like Jonah. 

But for some reason, American Christianity has fostered this system where we get the “grace” card so we are covered for eternity. We do our best and try to keep our noses clean but we can always play the grace card. We can take off for a weekend and do whatever, return on Monday and ask for forgiveness. So what we end up with is a whole culture of people like Jonah. They can quote for us all kinds of Scripture and talk theologically, but how they treat people around them and what they do is contradictory. Everyone can see it, but them.

It’s a tragedy. 

Not only do they miss out on being a part of Jesus changing the lives of those around them, they are withering as human beings. 

Back to the story. Does Jonah wake up? Not yet. 

Actually God provides a huge fish to swallow up Jonah. 

If Jonah was a one chapter book and ended right here, would this be a happy ending? No. It would be a tragic ending, much like a Greek tragedy where this protagonist does horrible things and gets swallowed up by an animal. You are not supposed to read this and think, “Wonderful!” It is not a good thing to be swallowed by a big fish, you die. It does however wake Jonah up. All of a sudden Jonah is alert and aware of Yahweh.

Jonah has reached the bottom of the pit of life and it looks like it is over, Jonah is toast, which may be true if we were reading a book about any other god than Yahweh. 

Here’s the plot of this story so far. We have the character Jonah, who has fallen, fallen to the bottom of the pit, no hope, ultimately death. Which is where Yahweh steps in and offers new life. God uses this instrument of death and makes it a vehicle of grace, where He gives Jonah life and a second chance. The very essence of the gospel. In fact, do you recall back in Matthew chapter 12, when Jesus refers to this story? The religious leaders mock Jesus and say if you claim to be the Messiah then give us a sign. Jesus refuses to give them a sign, but offers them the sign of Jonah. The religious leaders were confused, what? Jesus responded with just like Jonah was in the belly of a fish for three days, so would Jesus be in the belly of the earth. 

Jesus sees this portrait of God’s people, enveloped in sin, going towards death, where they can’t go any further, He meets them right there, with a chance for new life. Jesus tells the religious leaders, “Yeah, that’s what I am going to do.” 

Think about it. Jesus enters the world as God becomes human and lives a life completely opposite to Jonah’s. He is utterly and completely other centered, self-giving and aware of other people and their well being perpetually. What do humans do? Kill him. 

But strangely Yahweh turns the death of Jesus upside-down and Jesus’ death becomes a vehicle for life. 

Jesus takes our sins and our apathy and conquers them through conquering death and is resurrected. 

If we grab onto Jesus and His resurrection, in faith, we too are able to experience a second chance. We become a new human being with a new and different kind of life. 

As for Jonah, from this point on he will be living a borrowed life. It’s not his life to live anymore, he will be living on pure grace. 

So what do we do to wake up spiritually? If we look at Jonah, we would answer that question by saying we need to get to the bottom of the pit.

The real answer is we need to get to the place where we finally “give up.” When we recognize we can’t do it and we need God. That’s where God meets us with His grace and gives us a second chance at life. This is good news! 

Jonah doesn’t do anything to wake up. God’s grace happens to him and he becomes awake to it for the very first time. 

This isn’t about becoming good religious people. There is no such thing. As for waking up,  I don’t feel adequate to be delivering this message. Because truth be told, I am as hypocritical as anyone. But then again, there isn’t one of us here that is adequate. So one of us has to read Jonah 1. In essence, we are a community of people who are trying to wake up and recognize that God has done something for us. I don’t know how to wake you up, I have difficulty waking myself up. 

I do know that we need to recognize that we are helpless. God can work with that, just like He did with Jonah. 

Let’s pray.