Pride & Prejudice – Jonah 1

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Pride and prejudice mark out the life of Jonah. It’s such a “well-known” little book, but it’s not about a whale.

Jonah is one of the most despicable people in the Old Testament. Worse, there’s more of Jonah in most Christians than we’d like to admit. In fact, this is one of the toughest, most challenging books for modern Christians to get hold of. Because it’s so demanding of us, so uncomfortable. And yet, it’s also ultimately encouraging too.

We’ll go through Jonah 1 in a bit of detail, then step back and see what it says about Jonah, about Jesus, and about you. You can find links to the original sermon video in our sermon index.

Who is on the Lord’s side?


Read v1. We don’t actually know who wrote this little book. Is it fiction? A fable? Or fact? Jonah is mentioned in 2 Kings 14 as prophet in the days of Jeroboam II.

Jeroboam II was yet another wicked king of northern Israel. Israel as a nation had left true worship of God, and Jonah was part of that nation. That’s all we know. And yet, that paints Jonah as a real person in history which suggests the Bible regards the book of Jonah as historical.

Read v2. This is highly unusual. OT prophets often had prophetic words against foreign nations – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos – but they weren’t actually sent to those countries to preach repentance. Nineveh was thoroughly wicked. Too cruel and brutal for me to describe here. It would make you sick. God knew, so he sent Jonah to them to preach judgment.

Away from God and life, towards disobedience and death.

Read v3. The “get up” of v2 immediately became “went down” in v3. From Israel, Nineveh was east and the sea was west. He didn’t take a wrong turn. It wasn’t a mistake. He paid good money for a bad ticket, and went in 180º disobedience to a direct command from God. And the word “went down” is usually used in the OT for going down to the grave, to Sheol, to death. Away from God and life, towards disobedience and death.

Thrown around

The sea can be a dangerous place. Read v4. Not a freak storm, but a catastrophe deliberately thrown by God. The sailors were very much afraid of the storm. Read v5 [all]. God threw the storm at them, so the sailors threw the cargo into the sea. There are lots of repeated words in this little book – you’re meant to notice. There’s a little parallel between God’s action and the sailors, but what did Jonah do? He went down (again).

The captain went down to get him. Read v6. Again, there’s a little parallel between God’s action and the sailors: God said to Jonah “Get up” in v2; the captain said it again in v6. The pagan sailors seem more aligned to God than God’s own prophet is. Equally, the captain is concerned with the lives of everyone on board but this prophet of God couldn’t care less – he’s gone for a nap.

Things change pretty quickly for him next: Read v7-8. The rapid-fire questions suggest a crowd around him; it’s an uncomfortable interrogation on a moving, shaking, creaking ship. Everyone’s bailing water out, holding onto ropes – and asking serious questions.

Jonah’s reply says much about him: Read v9.

Pride and prejudice

Two words are emphasised: “Hebrew” and “the LORD/Yahweh”.

  • This is his identity, his passion.
  • A member of Israel, God’s special possession. A member of a holy nation, a royal priesthood.
  • And not worshipping some hokey, local deity – “I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
    • The LORD / Yahweh, the covenant God.
    • The God of heaven – a phrase only used 9 times in the OT, always in an international setting, referring to the God of Creation.
  • You can sense his pride. He’s special. God has chosen him. He’s even a prophet of God (albeit disobedient).
  • But Jonah’s blind to his own irony: He has fled from the God who made the sea… to the sea!

The sailors’ fear has switched from the storm to God.

Now the sailors had been afraid of the storm. But in v10 their fear grows and switches. Read v10-11. Their fear has switched from the storm to God.

Even as the storm rages around them, they’ve realised that there’s a hand behind it that’s to be feared even more. But look: Jonah doesn’t seem to share that fear – either of the storm or of God; he’d still be napping, left to himself. V9 revealed much about Jonah’s belief about his own exalted status as a Hebrew.

What is God like – just or merciful?

Now v12 reveals much about what he thinks about God. Read v12.

  • Was this selfless nobility? We’ve not seen much from Jonah so far to suggest he’s the sort. He’s selfish.
  • Why didn’t he pray for forgiveness? “O Lord, please forgive me my foolishness, spare the lives of these men, and lead me back to obedience and to Nineveh”?
  • In saying “Throw me into the sea” he’s trying to force God into justice rather than mercy. 
  • In not preaching to Nineveh, God will have to bring them justice, not mercy. 
  • Why? Because justice for is pagans; mercy is for Israel. Pride and prejudice. “Throw me into the sea”? Despicable.

The sailors can’t bring themselves to do it: Read v13. The storm – and the God who was sending it – couldn’t be resisted.

So v14 is remarkable. Read v14. The NLT adds in the phrase “Jonah’s God” in case you miss it: They call on the LORD, Yahweh, by name.

And then they throw him in: Read v15-16. Imagine! They’re scared, tired, soaked to the skin. The ship is rocking and creaking, about to break apart. They throw him in, and suddenly… everything is completely calm. The water is still. The wind has gone. So’s Jonah.

Nothing to fear?

There’s now nothing to fear. But they were “awestruck”. Literally, “the men feared a big fear” – typical Hebrew phrase for “they were terrified”. But now they were fearing God. They had become God-fearing men, if you like. And they offered sacrifice to him, and took vows in his name. The pagan men were conducting themselves as godly Israelites – whereas the actual Hebrew prophet had been thrown overboard because of disobedience.

V17 properly belongs to Ch 2 so we’ll look at that next time. Don’t be disappointed – this isn’t about the fish anyway!

Jonah is a sham. A hypocrite.

So: Who is on the Lord’s side?

  • Jonah, the Hebrew prophet, or a crew of pagan sailors?
  • The sailors are lined up with God
    • God threw a storm; the men threw cargo… + Jonah
    • Both God and the captain told Jonah to “Get up”
    • The sailors prayed to God, showed concern for others, were diligent in their work, made sacrifices to God, made vows in God’s name and – most fundamental of all – they feared God.
  • Jonah was none of those things.
    • All you get from him is the claim that he’s a Hebrew and that he worships (lit. “fears”) the LORD.
    • He’s a sham. A hypocrite.

How much are you like Jonah?

The book of Jonah is a tough read, if you see it rightly. Because Jonah is filled with pride about his Hebrew heritage, and prejudiced against pagan nations. He expects grace from God for himself, but looks to God to judge others. And, in truth, he has no fear or respect for God himself.

“…quicker to judge others than to love them.”

But here’s the tough bit: Jonah is representative of all God’s people – wherever there is pride (“I’m a Christian!”), prejudice (“those people deserve judgment!”), and disobedience. This is faith without works; a Christian without love; someone who claims to follow Jesus without actually obeying him. Someone quicker to judge others than to love them.

How much are you like Jonah? There’s a simple acid test:

  • Jesus has commanded us all to go and make disciples of all nations. 
  • You know you’re to be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is in you – and that your language and conduct should prompt questions from others!
  • You also know your conversation with unbelieving people is to be seasoned with salt – lightly sprinkled with the joy and hope you have from belonging to Christ.
  • And you know that to tell people about judgment coming is to love them. You’re the walking, talking tsunami warning.
  • You know you have a message of hope and joy because that’s what it brings to you.
  • And you know that Jesus will grow his church, and he does it through you and me, one by one.

How much are you like Jonah? How much do you keep the Good News to yourself, while looking down at the sins in others and tutting and shaking your head? We’re napping in the hold of the ship, aren’t we?

Jesus in command

You can’t spend time in Jonah 1 without thinking about Jesus calming the storm in Mark 4.

  • He also slept in the storm, but he did so knowing that he wouldn’t die on a boat. His time had not yet come.
  • But they woke him, and he stood up and rebuked the wind and the waves.
  • And the wind stopped, the waves fell calm, and the men in that boat stood dripping wet, buckets in hand from bailing out – and their fear switched.
  • They had been very much afraid of the storm, but now they fear Jesus.
  • Mark tells us that those with him “feared a great fear” – a typical Hebrew expression meaning they were terrified. Ring any bells?

The men with Jesus that day learned something so shocking they dared hardly suggest it: “Who is this man, that even the wind and waves obey him?” None other, of course, than the Son of God (Mark 1:1).

The God who sent the wind and storm to Jonah. The one who sent the wind and storm to Galilee. The same God who sent Jonah to Nineveh – only to have Jonah turn away in disobedience – is the same God who sends you now to go and make him known.

Representative men

Jonah represents the nation of Israel in their pride (“I belong to God”) and prejudice (“you don’t”), and disobedience (“I won’t tell”). And the root cause is that the have lost their fear of God. They do not love the Lord; they do not love others.

Jesus, of course, represents his people in a much more profound way. He humbled himself, served others, and was obedient even to death on a cross. Jesus died to save others in an act of perfect grace, to save you. Jonah thought he was dying for his own sin; Jesus knew he was dying for yours. And so we are united to Jesus – in his death and in his life. And the life you are called to is to follow Jesus: Fear God and love him; serve others and love them. The same God who told Jonah to go to Nineveh commands you to go and tell people the Good News today. But will you?

Will you follow Jonah in disobedience, or Jesus in service?

  • Do you have so little fear of him that you’re comfortable in your contempt and disobedience?
  • Do you have so much pride in being a Christian that you’ve forgotten God’s grace to you?
  • Or do you have so much prejudice towards “the wicked” that you’ve lost sight of the need to love them, serve them, and tell them.

Christians, we’re more like Jonah that we’d like to admit. Repent!