The Reluctant Witness
By Ronald and Nathele Graham
The city of Nineveh was, magnificent. It was the capital of Assyria and though the city was beautiful the people were more than barbaric. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of their brutality and it is no wonder that God was going to send judgment upon them. “Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.” Jonah 1:1-2. Imagine Jonah’s shock. He knew of their extreme cruelty and didn’t want any part of them. Why would God want him to go to these heathens with a warning? Rather than acknowledge that God’s wisdom is wiser than man’s folly, Jonah fled. Jonah intended to go to Tarshish in order to flee from the presence of the LORD. Is that possible? Not hardly, but Jonah thought he would give it a shot. Satan will always be there to help us to disobey God and Jonah found a ship in Joppa that was headed to Tarshish. As it always happens when we try to hide ourselves from God’s purpose for us, we fail miserably. Jonah was about to fail in a big way.
We know the story. God sent a tempest to stop Jonah from running away. “Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.” Jonah 1:5. The sailors all worshipped false gods and Jonah’s disobedience endangered them all. How many times do we yoke ourselves with non-believers when we are embracing sin and disobedience? That will always end in disaster. The sailors knew this wasn’t an ordinary storm and when their false gods failed, the captain found Jonah and told him to call upon his God. Then they cast lots to find the cause of this tempest. The lots fell upon Jonah. Jonah wasn’t a perfect witness, but at least his answer told them about God. “And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.” Jonah 1:9. Did he really fear the LORD or did he fear the storm? Maybe he feared the LORD because he was beginning to understand that it’s impossible to run from God. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10.
Jonah knew the storm would stop if they threw him overboard and told them to cast him into the sea. “Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.” Jonah 1:13. Like so many of us, especially those who have not learned to trust the LORD, they tried to solve the problem by their own effort. After failing, these men who just a short time earlier had relied on false gods, cried out to the LORD. “Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee.” Jonah 1:14. When they tossed Jonah overboard the sea became calm. That may have been the last we heard of Jonah, except the LORD was there to save him. “Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Jonah 1:17.
Is this just a “myth”? Is it a Sunday school story that has taken “artistic license” with reality? Jesus confirms that this is a true account. When the Scribes and Pharisees asked Him for a sign, Jesus answered “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Matthew 12:40. Jonah’s time in the fish’s belly was a prophetic sign of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Had the story ended with Jonah in the belly of the fish it would have been a tragic tale, but one with many lessons to teach, such as the importance of being obedient to God, the importance of being a willing witness for the Lord, and the truth that sin carries a huge price. The story did not end there. When you’re in the belly of a great fish for three days and three nights you have time to think over your predicament. “Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly,” Jonah 2:1. Jonah recalled his predicament, and finally said “When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple. They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.” Jonah 2:7-8. When all else failed he turned to the same God he had tried to run away from. Then he made promises. “But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.” Jonah 2:9. God heard Jonah and answered. “And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.” Jonah 2:10. Aren’t we like Jonah? We make bad choices and try to run from God. When we find ourselves in the fish’s belly we call out to God and make all kinds of promises. God is always there. We’re thankful for His mercy, but as soon as we are out of the fish’s belly we forget our promises and go right back to our old ways.
The writer of Hebrews also talks of the sacrifice of praise. “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.” Hebrews 13:15. When we are on the mountain top it is easy to give a sacrifice of praise, but when we are in the belly of a fish we forget. Most times when we are in the belly of the fish it is because we, like Jonah, were trying to flee from God. We make bad choices or join up with the wrong friends. Maybe we just outright rebel and don’t want to do what God asks of us, then try to run away.
God gave Jonah a second chance to obey, and this time he stomped off to Nineveh in a pout. Jonah promised to “…sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving” but he was never joyous about his mission. His message to these heathen people was short and to the point. “And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Jonah 3:4. Jonah’s words were more of joyous condemnation rather than hope that they would repent. Jonah wanted them to be judged.
Too often Christians are like Jonah. We are admonished to share the Gospel, but instead of it being a message of joy and hope we wield it like a weapon of condemnation. We have a message of hope, but aren’t always happy to share it. In his anger and pride Jonah thought the people of Nineveh deserved God’s wrath and too often that’s how Christians view the lost around us. Whether those lost people are leaders of nations, the office gossip, or that neighbor who calls the police if he hears your worship music playing, God loves them and they need a good witness to share the Gospel with them. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17. If we would boldly walk through our nation proclaiming the Gospel to every person from the government leaders down to the homeless on the street, our nation just might repent. Satan is attempting to silence Christians and instead of witnessing we hide our faith. Like Jonah, many of us head to Tarshish rather than witness to those who are lost.
To Jonah’s disappointment his message was taken seriously and the entire city of Nineveh repented. The king and the people fasted, put on sackcloth, and sat in ashes; they even required it of their animals. “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.” Jonah 4:1. Jonah had been thankful that the Lord saved him from the belly of the fish and had made lots of promises. He was thankful for God’s mercy for himself, but now he wanted God to take vengeance upon those undeserving, idol worshipping heathens in Nineveh. We are so much like Jonah. We want God’s blessing for our self, but just let someone less deserving of God’s love get a blessing and we have a snit fit and hope for their destruction. Shame on us!
The scribes and Pharisees were stubborn and would not accept Jesus. They saw His miracles and heard His words, yet they wouldn’t believe Him. They wanted more signs, but Jesus only told them about the sign of Jonah. Then He said “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.” Matthew 12:41. The men of Nineveh heard God’s message and repented, but the Jewish leaders were blind and refused to believe. There are many blind people today. They have heard of Jesus, but they are blind to who He is. They may be members of cults, or sit in pews on Sunday morning with no understanding, or maybe they claim to be atheists and openly reject the only One who can save them. Brethren, joyfully witness to them. Their need is as great as those heathens in Nineveh.
The Gospel is a message of hope and love, not condemnation. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” John 3:16-18. God used Jonah and He can use you. Is God calling you to share the Gospel with someone? Don’t be a reluctant witness. In spite of everything, God used Jonah and many idol worshipping sailors and barbaric soldiers came to know the one true God. What would have happened if Jonah had gone about his task with a joyous attitude? He wouldn’t have spent time inside a fish and he would have rejoiced over the fact that so many people came to repent. He would have kept his promise of the sacrifice of praise.
God’s judgment is once again looming on the horizon. Do we have 40 days? Maybe. We don’t really know if it will be 40 days or 40 years, but we know that God’s word says judgment will come. You need to carry God’s message to the idol worshipping people around you. They need to come to know Jesus in order to avoid God’s judgment and you may be the witness they need. There is another Old Testament prophet who was much more willing than Jonah. “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.” Isaiah 6:8. The prophet Isaiah was eager to witness and when he heard the voice of the Lord asking for volunteers, he was ready.
Christians, be like Isaiah and willing to go. Don’t be like Jonah, the reluctant witness.
God bless you all,
All original scripture is “theopneustos” God breathed.
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