When God Speaks, You Better Listen

Bible Book: Jonah  1
Subject: Obedience

There is an old saying that "truth is stranger than fiction." Many times that is true. The book of Jonah proves that very point. When a man catches a fish, we accept that as truth. But if a fish catches a man, we would think that is fiction. Jonah is a story of truth that sounds like fiction. One reason I know it is true is because Jesus Christ believed it was true. He said in Matt. 12:40-41:

"For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

The men of Nineveh will rise in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here."

Jonah is a very interesting character in the Bible. If he were going to college today he would certainly go to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, because he was the original "Runnin' Rebel." Jonah got off to a bad start with God, and then did everything he could to make it worse. First, he resisted God; then he rebelled against God; and then of all things he tried to run from God. I remember one time Mohammed Ali was going to fight an upcoming opponent and a newspaper reporter said, "Your opponent has said that he's just going to get on his toes and run from you the entire fight." Mohammed Ali just smiled and said, "Well he can run, but he can't hide."

If there is anything that Jonah teaches us, it is this: You not only can't hide from God, you really cannot run from God. I love the story of a little boy who kept riding his bicycle around the block, and a police officer was sitting by the side of the road and he watched this little boy ride around the block about ten times. Finally, he got out of his squad car and stopped him and said, "Son, you keep riding around this same block over and over, what are you doing?"

The little boy said, "I'm running away from home."

The officer said, "Running away from home? How can you be running away and keep going around the same block?"

The little boy said, "Because my Mommy told me I couldn't cross the street!"

In a real sense, we are all like that little boy. You may think you can run from God, but you really cannot. When God speaks and tells you to do something, whether you think it's a big thing or a little thing, you had better do it. Because if you don't, your life will become just one catastrophe looking for a place to happen. As we study the four chapters of this book, we learn four very valuable principles that show us the grief that comes from rebelling against God, and the glory that comes from obeying God.

I. Disobedience Brings Discipline

The story begins with a call of God on the life of Jonah. "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 'Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.'" (1:1-2) Now the command seems simple enough. Jonah was to go to Nineveh. It was indeed a great city. It was the capitol of Assyria. The king's palace there covered five acres, had 71 rooms with hallways 180 ft. long and 40 ft. wide.

It was a huge city. It was enclosed within eight miles of walls, with fifteen gates and had a population of 175,000 people. But primarily it was a wicked city. The Living Bible translates verse 2, "Their sin stunk to high heaven." The stench of their sin had become so putrid in the nostrils of a holy God that He decides to send a preacher named Jonah to give them a choice-repentance or retribution.

But there was only one problem-Jonah did not want to go. "But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He want down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord." (1:3) Now why did Jonah disobey God? Well, to put it bluntly Jonah was a racist. The ninevites were among the most hated enemies of Israel, and Jonah was afraid that their rebellion might turn into repentance, and their repentance might turn into revival, and his attitude was "they might get saved, but I'm not going to have anything to do with it!"

You may be sitting there thinking to yourself, "How terrible! How horrible! How selfish!" May I tell you, that any Christian who refuses to witness and tell other people about Jesus Christ, has the same "Jonah" attitude. Their attitude is, "People might get saved, but it won't be because of me!"

Because of his disobedience Jonah became a man on the run. He was running and running hard, because Nineveh was 550 miles east of Israel and Tarshish was 2,500 miles west of Israel. Now these cities are very important. Because they are the only two cities mentioned in this book, and that is for a reason. Nineveh represents the will of God, and Tarshish represents the will of man. I want you to listen carefully.

Everyday you go to one of those two cities. God allowed you to make the choice, but remember this: Every time you choose to Tarshish over Nineveh it's going to cost you. We're told in verse 3 that when he found the ship going to Tarshish, "he paid the fare." Whenever you run with God He pays the fare, but when you run from God you pay the fare.

You remember this the next time you decide you're going to disobey God and refuse to listen to whatever God is telling you to do. Whenever you run from God, the trip is always longer, always costlier, and always harder. I've told you before sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.

Now because of Jonah's disobedience, everyone experienced God's discipline. From verse 4 to the end of the chapter we are told that a great storm arose. Everybody began to pray to their God, throw out the cargo, lighten the load, but nothing worked. Jonah sizes up the situation and tells these men that they must throw him overboard if they're going to live, and that is exactly what they wind up doing.

I heard a story of a ship that was sinking in the middle of a storm, and the captain called out to the crew and said, "Does anyone here know how to pray?"

One man stepped forward and said, "Yes sir, I know how to pray."

The captain said, "Wonderful, you pray while the rest of us put on life jackets-we're one short." Well, disobedience led to discipline. Because Jonah was not only thrown into the storm, he was swallowed by the sea by a great fish. I want you to learn this lesson. If you are a Christian, in your heart you have a hot line to heaven. Every time that telephone rings God is on the other end. When you answer God does not want you to say simply, "Hello," He wants to hear you say, "Yes, Lord, whatever you ask I will do." Just remember, it is always God's way or the highway. Disobedience brings discipline.

II. Discipline Brings Deliverance

Now the scene shifts from the bottom of a boat to the belly of a fish. If you could sum up the first two chapters it would go like this: God said, "Go!" Jonah said, "No!" The great fish said, "Oh?" and Jonah said, "Whoa!" Now there are those who ridicule this story as mythical, non- historical, a fairy tale. There are pseudo intellectuals and liberal biblical critics who say it is impossible for a fish to swallow a man; keep him for three days; spit that man out on dry land and that man come out alive.

You know what I say to all of that: "With God all things are possible." By the way, this was not an ordinary fish. Verse 17 says, "Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah." This was a God-prepared fish.

May I just go a step further. I not only believe that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish, but if God told me to swallow Moby Dick, I wouldn't argue, I would get out the tartar sauce! What happened was simply this: Jonah got a whale house for a jailhouse; spent three nights on a foam blubber mattress; and then was spit out on dry land. We don't know what kind of fish it was, and it really doesn't matter.

I heard about a preacher that preached on Jonah and the whale, and after the sermon was over, an unbeliever and a critic walked up to him and said, "Preacher, how do you know it was a whale that swallowed Jonah?" The preacher said, "Well, I don't know, but when I get to heaven I'll ask Jonah." The man said, "What if Jonah is not in heaven?" The preacher said, "Then you can ask him."

What I want you to understand is, this whale was really a woodshed where God took Jonah and whipped him for his disobedience. You see, it was God that sent the storm, and it was God that sent the fish to do two things in Jonah's life. First of all, he drove Jonah to prayer. "Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish's belly." (2:1) Quite frankly, that's what Jonah should have done in the first place. If Jonah had prayed before he got onto that ship, the ship would have never gone through the storm, and Jonah would have never been swallowed by the sea.

But it also drove Jonah to repentance. But notice what he says in his prayer:

"For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; all Your billows and Your waves passed over me. Then I said, 'I have been cast out of Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.' But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord." (vv. 3,4,9)

Jonah had learned his lesson the hard way; it just took a storm to teach him.

Oftentimes God sends storms into our lives because of our disobedience. Other times God allows storms into our life because of our obedience. But either way, those storms are always meant to draw us close to Him; to see how helpless we are without Him; and to bring us back to a point where we are totally surrendered to Him. That's why the psalmist said, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word." (Ps. 119:67)

I was reading the other day when Hurricane Hugo was hitting Charleston, South Carolina, there was a group of Christians in a small little whiteboard church who were praying like mad. The wind was howling outside when one man, known for his eloquent prayers, said, "Oh God, send us the spirit of the children of Israel; send us the spirit of the children of Abraham; send us the spirit of the children of Moses; send us the spirit of the children of the promise land!" They said one guy interrupted him and said, "God, don't send no spirit, you come your yourself, this is no time for children!" Well, it's always great when God sends a storm if it drives us to seek Him and no one else.

III. Deliverance Brings Devotion

"Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying,..." (3:1) I thank God more than I can tell you that He is the God of the second chance. I am so grateful that when we fail, and we do, falter, and we do, fall, and we do, God does not throw us on the junk heap of life. Thank God that with God failure is not fatal, nor does it have to be final.

God allowed Jonah in spite of his former disobedience to be the preacher who led perhaps the greatest revival recorded in all of the Bible. Now his message had two parts: mercy and judgment. "And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day's walk. Then he cried out and said, 'Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!'" (3:4)

Now notice they had forty days to get right-that was mercy. If they didn't get right they would be overthrown-that was judgment. Now I have been pretty hard on Jonah up to this point, but let's give old Jonah his due. He preached exactly the message he was supposed to preach. He was not politically correct. He was not seeker-sensitive. God had said in verse 2, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you." (3:2) That's exactly what he did.

I want to say to every preacher that may be hearing this message down the road, I can tell you what you ought to be preaching in your pulpit every Sunday-you ought to be preaching what God tells you to preach. A true prophet and a biblical preacher will preach the whole counsel of God. He will preach on heaven, but he will also preach on hell; he will preach on the love of God, but he will also preach on the wrath of God; he will preach on mercy, but he will also preach on judgment; he will preach on the availability of salvation, but he will also preach on the necessity of repentance.

Now there is a reason why you should keep the gear of your life in drive, and never put it in reverse. There is a reason why the word "no" should never come out of your mouth when it comes to God. There is a reason why His every wish should be your absolute command.

IV. Devotion Brings Delight

Jonah does exactly what God told him to do-preach His word in the city of Nineveh. We learn that God is always ready and willing to put the sword of his judgment back in the sheaf of His forgiveness if a nation is willing to repent, and that is exactly what happened.

"Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it." (3:10) I want you to put a circle around that verse because that is the real miracle in this book. Jonah is not primarily about a physical miracle of a great fish; it is about the spiritual miracle of a gracious Father.

Because Jonah obeyed God, he had the privilege of seeing God do an unbelievable spiritual miracle. In the most unlikeliest of cities, in the most unwilling of hearts, in the most ungodly of people, God brings a revival. In one day over 175,000 people, an entire city, came to faith in Jesus Christ. At no other time do we ever find, either in history or in the Bible, where every single person in a city came to know God.

Now that was a delight, or it should have been. But it is interesting to see Jonah's reaction to the revival: "But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry." (4:1) Jonah went from a preaching prophet to a pouting prophet. All this chapter is about is a prophet's pity party.

Why was he angry? Because God kept His word. "So he prayed to the Lord, and said, 'Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm." (4:2)

Now think about that. God is gracious, but Jonah wanted to be ungracious. God wanted to give mercy, Jonah wanted God to give judgment. The prophet that was quick to anger was angry over a God that is slow to anger. The prophet who wanted to destroy a city was angry because of a God who relents from doing harm.


There was still work to do in Jonah's heart, just like there is still work to do in your heart and mine. You know I sometimes believe that people really don't understand the lesson of the book of Jonah.

One teacher asked her Sunday School class, "What is the lesson of the book of Jonah?" A little boy raised his hand and said, "I know what it is." She said, "What?" He said, "People make whales sick."

Well, that really isn't the lesson. Let me tell you the lesson that this book teaches us. It is one thing to resist the command of God, and the call of God, but it's quite another thing to refuse it. That's what Jonah did, and God kept after him until he finally said yes. But what a tremendous price he paid.

The real lesson this book teaches us is this: When God speaks you better listen. Wherever God tells you to go, whatever God tells you to do, whoever God wants you to be, you had better obey Him and submit to His will and do what He tells you to do.

One of my favorite basketball players of all time is Larry Bird. I think he is one of the five greatest NBA players of all time. During the final seconds of an especially tense close game, Boston Celtics coach, K. C. Jones, called a time-out. As he gathered the players together at court-side, he diagrammed a play only to have Larry Bird interrupt him and say, "Just get the ball to me and get everybody else out of my way."

Jones exploded. He looked at Larry Bird and said, "I'm the coach and I'll call the plays!" Then he turned to the other players and said, "Get the ball to Larry and get out of his way." (Bruce Nash and Allen Sullo, "The Sports Hall of Shame) Well, they did what Larry Bird said and won the game.

Well, Larry Bird is not God, but God is God, and when God speaks, just listen and do what He says. God will give you the victory and He will get the glory.