Jonah Series: Consequences of Prodigal Living (Jonah 1)
Consequences of Prodigal Living
The Lord’s message came to Jonah son of Amittai, “Go immediately to Nineveh, that large capital city, and announce judgment against its people because their wickedness has come to my attention.” Instead, Jonah immediately headed off to Tarshish to escape from the commission of the Lord. He traveled to Joppa and found a merchant ship heading to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went aboard it to go with them to Tarshish far away from the Lord. But the Lord hurled a powerful wind on the sea. Such a violent tempest arose on the sea that the ship threatened to break up! The sailors were so afraid that each cried out to his own god and they flung the ship’s cargo overboard to make the ship lighter. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold below deck, had lain down, and was sound asleep. The ship’s captain approached him and said, “What are you doing asleep? Get up! Cry out to your god! Perhaps your god might take notice of us so that we might not die!” The sailors said to one another, “Come on, let’s cast lots to find out whose fault it is that this disaster has overtaken us.” So they cast lots, and Jonah was singled out. They said to him, “Tell us, whose fault is it that this disaster has overtaken us? What’s your occupation? Where do you come from? What’s your country? And who are your people?” He said to them, “I am a Hebrew, And I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Hearing this, the men became even more afraid and said to him, “What have you done?” (The men said this because they knew that he was trying to escape from the Lord, because he had previously told them.) Because the storm was growing worse and worse, they said to him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea so that the sea will calm down for you, because I know it’s my fault you are in this severe storm.” Instead, they tried to row back to land, but they were not able to do so because the storm kept growing worse and worse. So they cried out to the Lord, “Oh, please, Lord, don’t let us die on account of this man! Don’t hold us guilty of shedding innocent blood. After all, you, Lord, have done just as you pleased.” So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped raging. The men feared the Lord greatly, and earnestly vowed to offer lavish sacrifices to the Lord. The Lord sent a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.
Jonah 1 (NET)
What are the consequences of prodigal living—rebelling against God’s will?
In the story of Jonah, Scripture shatters our pre-conceptions. Jonah was a prophet from Galilee who prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II, an ungodly king over the northern tribes of Israel from 786–746 B.C. (cf. 2 Kgs 14:25). When the Word of the Lord came to Jonah, instead of obeying it and sharing it with others, he ran away from God. Throughout Scripture, when God’s Word came to a prophet, he typically obeyed it. But, that’s not true with Jonah. It’s one thing to read the story about the Prodigal Son’s rebellion (Lk 15:11-32). Christians go astray, back-slide, and return to God all the time, but a prophet? Or to use our contemporary terminology, a pastor? Certainly, we see this throughout Scripture in various ways. The heroes of the Bible are both saints and sinners. Abraham lied about his wife being his sister and married a second wife. David committed adultery and murdered the husband of his mistress. Solomon married hundreds of wives and turned away from God for a season. Samson visited prostitutes (Jdg 16:1), broke the rules for a Narizite (cf. Jdg 13:5, Num 6:6, Jdg 14:9), and married a Philistine (Num 14). Unfortunately, in Scripture, our heroes are not perfect. They are sinners who are being sanctified, growing into the image of Christ. Certainly, their failures remind us to put our ultimate hope in Christ and not in his followers, even the most spiritually mature ones (cf. Heb 12:2-3).
With all that said, the first chapter of Jonah reminds us that there are consequences for rebelling against God. Like Genesis 3 which details Adam’s and Eve’s sin and the consequences they experienced, Jonah 1 details the consequences of Jonah’s rebellion. For the most part, Jonah is an example of what not to do. Even when he finally obeys God at the end of Jonah’s story, he does it with a wrong heart, as he complains about God’s mercy on his enemies, the Ninevites (Jonah 4:2).
As we consider Jonah, we will learn about the consequences of prodigal living—rebelling against God’s revealed will for our lives. Jonah’s story is a warning for us, which we must heed well lest we experience the consequences of his failure in our lives, families, and communities.
Big Question: As demonstrated in Jonah 1, what are the consequences of prodigal living for believers, as they rebel against God’s revealed will for their lives?
A Consequence of Prodigal Living Is Unrestrained Sin, Unreached People, and God’s Judgment
The Lord’s message came to Jonah son of Amittai, “Go immediately to Nineveh, that large capital city, and announce judgment against its people because their wickedness has come to my attention.”
God had seen the great wickedness in Nineveh. They were known for being cruel and violent, especially to their enemies. In many ways, God’s declared judgment was similar to that on the pre-flood world of Noah. Genesis 6:5-7 says this:
But the Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind had become great on the earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of their minds was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made humankind on the earth, and he was highly offended. So the Lord said, “I will wipe humankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—everything from humankind to animals, including creatures that move on the ground and birds of the air, for I regret that I have made them.”
This reminds us that sin is not only individual, but communal, national, and global. Communities and nations have common cultures and also common sins which will bring them under God’s judgment. With Sodom and Gomorrah, God was not judging the nation because a group of men tried to gang-rape two angels who appeared as men. That incident was just a sample of their communal sins. The cities were full of sexual perversion and violence which brought God’s judgment on them. Likewise, in Genesis 6, violence and sexual sin characterized the nations of the earth and therefore God wiped all of them out.
In this, we see a consequence of prodigal living. If Jonah did not obey God by interceding for Nineveh and warning them of judgment, sin would have continued to increase—leading to God’s judgment. Certainly, this happens all the time. Ezekiel 22:30-31 says,
I looked for a man from among them who would repair the wall and stand in the gap before me on behalf of the land, so that I would not destroy it, but I found no one. So I have poured my anger on them, and destroyed them with the fire of my fury. I hereby repay them for what they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.
Ezekiel 22 is talking about Israel. They were the rebellious people, and none among them would pray for the land and challenge people to repent; therefore, God destroyed it. Certainly, there were many religious people; however, temple worship had just become a cultural distinctive for them in order to receive prosperity from God and protection from judgment. But, none were truly about God’s work, which led to increasing sin and therefore God’s judgment.
No doubt, this is happening in many cities around the world—Seoul, New York, Paris, Moscow, and others. There are Christian communities within them, but are they (or rather are we) being Christian witnesses? Is our faith simply internal and comfortable or is it external and risky? If we don’t witness with both our lives and mouths, then our communities (and nations) will become increasingly rebellious and incur God’s judgment.
Often, we look at Jonah with disbelief. “How could he run from God’s call,” we ask? However, Jonah is us. His story was a reflection of the nation of Israel at that time who was called to be a blessing to the nations and yet became exclusively internal focused—consumed with their righteousness and prosperity and neglecting their mission to reach those outside of Israel. Jonah is us, and Israel is us. We have the same commission. Matthew 28:19-20 says:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Jonah could have probably come up with many good excuses to not go to Nineveh, just like we often do: (1) It was going to be a long journey, some 500 miles northeast of Israel. (2) Assyrians were the enemies of the Jews. (3) Most likely, they would reject the message, and some would probably even become violent in response. There were many reasons to not go or say anything, and many of these are our reasons. We don’t want people to be upset at us and potentially become violent. We know most, if not all, will reject the message. It’s easier to just be silent. However, that leaves many unreached with no hope of salvation. This would have been a grave consequence of Jonah failing to go, even just initially. For all we know, during his brief rebellion (however long that lasted), maybe some died without hearing his message of repentance and therefore had no chance to receive grace. Certainly, the same is true with our quietness. A consequence of prodigal living is unrestrained sin, unreached people, and God’s judgment. As we consider Jonah, we must ask ourselves, “Will we go and share the message and why are we not?”
Application Question: In what ways is unrestrained sin growing in our community, nation, and the world? How should the church respond to this reality? Why do many people refuse God’s call to make disciples of all people groups? What are your major hindrances to sharing God’s Word with others locally or abroad and how is God calling you to overcome those hindrances?
A Consequence of Prodigal Living Is Forfeiture of Intimacy with God and His Calling
Instead, Jonah immediately headed off to Tarshish to escape from the commission of the Lord. He traveled to Joppa and found a merchant ship heading to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went aboard it to go with them to Tarshish far away from the Lord.
After hearing his call to go to Nineveh and preach to the enemies of the Jews, Jonah ran in the opposite direction. As mentioned, Nineveh was 500 miles northeast of Israel; however, Jonah started traveling southwest to Tarshish which was on the west coast of Spain. He went in the exact opposite direction of where God called him to go. At that time, with all the port stops, the journey might have almost taken an entire year. He wanted nothing to do with God’s call. The primary reason he rebelled seems to be because he hated the Assyrians as they were the Jews’ chief enemy, and Jonah did not want to participate in God’s saving them if they repented (cf. Jonah 4:2, Jer 18:7-8). Jonah was OK with obeying God as long as he agreed with the command—as long as it was something he wanted to do—but when it was something he didn’t like, he was willing to run. No doubt, many Christians are like this as well. They practice obedience only when its easy and comfortable; otherwise, they complain against God and at times rebel against him.
Jonah 1:3 says that when Jonah was traveling to Tarshish he was trying to “escape from the commission of the Lord” or “the presence of the Lord” (ESV). Since Jonah later says God is the creator of the sea and dry land (v. 9), it is unlikely that he believed that he could escape God’s presence. In Jonah 2, his prayer in the belly of a fish shows his knowledge of the Psalms. He would have been familiar with Psalm 139:7-8 (ESV) when David says, “Where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” There was nowhere Jonah could run from God. Therefore, when the NET translates it, “to escape from the commission of the Lord” (v. 3), it’s probably a correct interpretation. Jonah didn’t believe he could run from God. He was running from God’s mission. Apparently, he was quitting the ministry—turning in his prophetic mantle. To support this, when God brings a violent storm on the sea when he was traveling on a ship to Tarshish, the sailors prayed to false gods for deliverance and even to Yahweh (v. 5, 14), but we never see Jonah pray, even though the captain of the ship told him to (v. 6). Jonah had turned away from God and his calling.
Likewise, prodigal living, whether through compromising with our words, entertainment, relationships, and integrity, or simply disobeying God’s clear plan for our lives, all are just further steps along the path of leaving God altogether. In Psalm 1:1, David describes this downward path into depravity. He says, “How blessed is the one who does not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand in the pathway with sinners, or sit in the assembly of scoffers.” Falling away from God starts with simply listening to the wrong people, then doing what they say (the path), then becoming a scoffer (one who mocks holy things). We’ve seen this happen with many who were raised in the church. First, they compromised with their music and TV watching for entertainment purposes or joyfully sat in the classroom of a liberal professor to eventually seek financial success in their career. These compromises eventually eroded the way they thought and viewed morality. Then, they started accepting and practicing various sins they previously condemned. Finally, they became scoffers—those who mock the biblical values they once believed about sex, marriage, creation, or even gender. It all started with who they were listening to. It was a small compromise.
With Jonah, maybe he continually listened to the national and political rhetoric in Israel about the greatness of the nation and how other nations deserved God’s judgment, especially the Assyrians. Instead of loving the foreigner and his enemy, he began to despise them instead. He probably would sit in the groups with other Jews and mock the Gentile dogs and spew curses on them. When God wanted to be gracious to them, he had heard enough. In his heart, he mocked God’s mercy and gentleness to them. Surely, his pathway towards rebellion started with little compromises, as he took in the antagonistic, political rhetoric towards those unlike him.
As mentioned, this happens all the time in the church today. Sin always leads us first away from God’s presence and then God’s calling. All unconfessed sin negatively affects our relationship with God. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I had harbored sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Also, Christ said this about unforgiveness in Matthew 6:15, “But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins.” In addition, 2 Corinthians 6:14 and 17-18 say this about our relationship with the world (ungodly people, institutions, and ways):
Do not become partners with those who do not believe, for what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship does light have with darkness? …Therefore “come out from their midst, and be separate,” says the Lord, “and touch no unclean thing, and I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters,” says the All-Powerful Lord.
What does God mean by his promise to welcome the Corinthians and be a father to them if they separated from the world? As Christians, wasn’t God already their father? Paul was describing intimacy with God. Sin separates us from God’s presence. It hinders our walk with him. It’s possible to be married to a person and yet be very distant from them. The legal standing of the relationship remains the same, but intimacy is not there because of various unconfessed sins. With God, he never sins against us, but we sin against him all the time. And apart from continual repentance and drawing near him in worship, study of his Word, prayer, and general obedience, we will be distant. Our continual compromise leads us further and further away from him and his call on our lives. Eventually, sin may lead us away from God altogether.
A classic example of forfeiting one’s call is in the story of Saul. Saul was called to lead Israel; however, because of his continual rebellion, God rejected him as king and sought someone else to lead Israel. The kingship was eventually stripped from Saul and his family. With Jonah, his calling was only forfeited temporarily until he repented. Eventually, Jonah 3:1 says, “the Lord’s message came to Jonah a second time.” God certainly is the God of the second, third, fourth, and fifth chances. However, his grace, in the sense of a specific call, will not last forever. We all have limited time on this earth to serve the Lord, and certain works we’re called to can only be completed during a specific time-period. It is possible to forfeit aspects of God’s call on our lives because of sin. Israel was kept out of the promised land because of unbelief, and Moses was kept out because of anger. Certainly, with God, there is unlimited forgiveness and grace but not all opportunities will remain open to us. Prodigal living always leads to forfeiting intimacy with God and opportunities to serve, even if only temporarily. That’s what we see with Jonah’s rebellion.
Application Question: In what ways does unrepentant sin hinder our relationship with God and his people and our fulfilling his call? In what ways have you seen this with others or experienced it in your own life?
A Consequence of Prodigal Living Is Negative Effects on Creation
But the Lord hurled a powerful wind on the sea. Such a violent tempest arose on the sea that the ship threatened to break up!
After Jonah ran from God’s presence and his assignment, he went to Joppa and got on a merchant ship to Tarshish. When he got on the ship and they started traveling, God hurled a powerful wind on the sea which threatened to destroy the ship. Though this was a supernatural work of God to turn Jonah from his ways, it is also a common consequence of sin throughout Biblical history. Humanity’s sins and righteousness affect creation, either positively or negatively. This theme is repeated from early on in Scripture. When Adam sinned, God did not curse Adam. He cursed the land (Gen 3:17). From that point on, it would grow thorns and thistles, as well as experience natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and famines. Then, when Adam’s son, Cain, killed his brother, God did the same. He made it so that wherever Cain went the land wouldn’t produce fruit (Gen 4:12). As a farmer, this would make him a wanderer always seeking food. Likewise, with Noah’s generation, they were destroyed by the flood because of their sins (Gen 7). In addition, with the inhabitants of Canaan, before Israel replaced them, God said that because of their sins, the land vomited them up. Leviticus 18:24-25 (ESV) says,
Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.
In the context, it was because of the sexual sins of the Canaanites (homosexuality, incest, and bestiality), God cursed the land and the land vomited out its inhabitants. The land vomiting out its inhabitants no doubt refers to natural disasters like flooding, earthquakes, tsunamis, drought, famine, and probably also disease from various animals. God also promised the Israelites that if they committed the same sins, the land would do the same to them (Lev 18:26-28).
We certainly see a clear example of the land negatively reacting while Israel ruled Canaan during David’s reign. Second Samuel 21:1 says,
During David’s reign there was a famine for three consecutive years. So David inquired of the Lord. The Lord said, “It is because of Saul and his bloodstained family, because he murdered the Gibeonites.”
To stop the famine, David had to make restitution with the Gibeonites by allowing seven of Saul’s descendants to be executed by the Gibeonites (2 Sam 21:5-6, 14). No doubt, various lands throughout the world are stained and negatively affected by injustices that have happened on them sometime in history.
In line with all these stories, God cursed the sea because of Jonah’s sin. As God punished the land for Adam’s and Cain’s sins, the sins of Noah’s generation and that of the Canaanites’ and the Israelites’, God punished the sea because of Jonah’s rebellion. He hurled a powerful wind on the sea which almost destroyed the boat and all in it.
Certainly, we must be aware of this reality. God made humans to rule the earth (Gen 1:28). They were supposed to rule it benevolently and cultivate the land for good. However, when humanity sinned, creation was subjected to bondage and decay (Rom 8:20-22), and it is still affected either positively or negatively based on our sin or righteousness. Therefore, as we get closer to Christ’s coming and sin increases as Scripture foretells so will natural disasters on the earth. In Matthew 24:7-8, Christ described some of the signs of his coming: “For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these things are the beginning of birth pains.” Famines and earthquakes—various natural disasters—will happen and grow in intensity like birth pains before Christ comes. The book of Revelation describes these as well. Revelation 6:8 describes how one fourth of the earth would be killed by war, famine, disease, and animals. Throughout the book, in God’s sovereignty, creation will respond to the great sin and rebellion happening on the earth, as a form of God’s judgment. Then, when God reestablishes righteousness, the earth will be remade, and there will be peace and prosperity again on the earth.
Therefore, as we consider Jonah’s sin, we must soberly realize that these negative effects on creation do not just happen based on the sins of a community, nation, or nations, they also happen because of individual sins, even as was true with Adam, Cain, and now Jonah.
Certainly, this reality should affect our voting as we consider things like the LGBT agenda and abortion. As our nations become more ungodly, it will not only affect the morality of the community but also creation. We should not be surprised as natural disasters, famine, and disease become more common—negatively affecting both the national and global economies. Rebellion against God negatively effects creation. This is a sober warning for us as individuals, communities, and nations.
Application Question: In what ways do we see humanity’s sins negatively affecting creation throughout the Bible? Why is there such a clear link between creation and humanity (cf. Rom 8:20-23)? How should this reality affect Christians in both how they live and things like voting?
A Consequence of Prodigal Living Is God’s Discipline
But the Lord hurled a powerful wind on the sea. Such a violent tempest arose on the sea that the ship threatened to break up!
Though Jonah had effectively resigned his prophetic office, God did not accept it. God’s cursing of the sea was a means of discipline for Jonah, meant to turn him back to righteousness. The writer of Hebrews says this is how God treats every one of his children. As a good father, God disciplines his children to lead them into more holiness. Hebrews 12:7-8 and 11 say this:
Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? But if you do not experience discipline, something all sons have shared in, then you are illegitimate and are not sons … Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it.
Since God uses discipline to train us, we might ask ourselves, “How do we know if a specific trial is from God—meant to train us and make us holy?” The writer of Hebrews does not distinguish between trials caused by Satan, us, God, or some natural means. He just says, “endure suffering as discipline” from God. It’s not that he is denying various causes; the author just sees God in control of all of them and using them for our training—to bear fruits of peace and righteousness in our lives. James said the same thing in James 1:2-4:
My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything
When he says, “all sorts of trials,” that refers to trials that happen because of our sin, Satan’s attacks, accidents, etc. James, like the author of Hebrews, saw God in control of all and using them to create endurance and maturity in our lives.
With that said, though God is in control of all trials and uses them for our holiness, certainly, he brings specific disciplines as a result of his kids’ outright rebellion. In 1 Corinthians 11 when the church members were mistaking the Lord’s Supper by getting drunk and dishonoring the poor, he directly disciplined some by allowing them to get sick, depressed, or die (1 Cor 11:30). In considering this reality, Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 11:32, “But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world.” For believers, they experience discipline on this earth from their heavenly Father; however, they will never experience eternal condemnation like the world will. Here on this earth, God allows storms in our lives to turn us away from various sins or to develop certain virtues in us like perseverance, patience, faith, and love. Apart from these trials, we would never develop these virtues. This is the lot of believers on this earth, and it is proof that God is their father. Again, the author of Hebrews said, “But if you do not experience discipline, something all sons have shared in, then you are illegitimate and are not sons” (Heb 12:8).
Therefore, prodigal living for God’s children always leads to pain and suffering—meant to turn them away from sin and back to God. With the Prodigal Son in Jesus’ parable, leaving the father’s house, spending all his money on luxury, and indulging in prostitutes led him to poverty and eating pig’s food (Lk 15:11-32). It was while eating pig’s food that he came to his right mind and decided to return to the father’s house. Those sufferings represent God’s discipline, meant to turn his child back to the right path. In addition, sometimes, God’s discipline, instead of bringing a supernatural storm, is simply allowing us to go our own way and experience the natural consequences of our sins. Romans 1:28-31 describes this reality in how God dealt with the pagan, ancient world:
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done. They are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice. They are rife with envy, murder, strife, deceit, hostility. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, covenant-breakers, heartless, ruthless.
Sometimes God’s discipline is just handing us over to our own evil thoughts and desires and allowing us to reap the consequences in the hope that they’ll lead us to repentance. With that said, with Jonah, God does not just allow him to go his own way and reap the natural consequences of it; God supernaturally intervened by sending a storm to bring repentance in Jonah’s life and turn him to the right path.
As we consider this reality, we must ask ourselves:
Are there any ways we are experiencing God’s storm in our lives to turn us back to him? What lessons is God trying to teach us through various storms? What virtues is he developing in our lives as his children? If we’re living in rebellion and there are no storms (no discipline), what does that tell us about our status as children (cf. Heb 12:8)?
May God’s storms turn us from sin to God and develop a plethora of virtues in our lives. Amen!
Application Question: In what ways does God use discipline to train his children in holiness (cf. Heb 12:5-6, 11)? What does God’s discipline teach us about parenting children (or future parenting)? In what ways has God used storms in your life to lead you in a certain direction, set you free from a specific sin, or develop various virtues? In what ways has he trained you by simply allowing you to go your own way and reap the consequences of that path (cf. Lk 15:11-24, Rom 1:28-31)? Why does God stop some from going down the wrong path (like Jonah) and allow others to go down the path to reap the full consequences (like with the Prodigal Son)?
A Consequence of Prodigal Living Is Its Negative Effects on Others
The sailors were so afraid that each cried out to his own god and they flung the ship’s cargo overboard to make the ship lighter. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold below deck, had lain down, and was sound asleep. The ship’s captain approached him and said, “What are you doing asleep? Get up! Cry out to your god! Perhaps your god might take notice of us so that we might not die!” The sailors said to one another, “Come on, let’s cast lots to find out whose fault it is that this disaster has overtaken us.” So they cast lots, and Jonah was singled out.
As the storm raged, it made the sailors afraid, and each began to cry out to their god for deliverance. As professional sailors, they began to lighten the boat to help it say afloat in the difficult storm (v. 5). During this time, Jonah was below the deck sleeping. Most likely, this was the sleep of depression instead of peace. There is no internal peace when running away from God and sinning against his will for our lives (cf. Ps 32:3-4). The captain of the ship approached him, woke him up, and told him to cry out to his God for help (v. 6). Finally, when their pleas to the gods did not help, they decided to cast lots to see whose fault this storm was (v. 7). It was clear that this was no normal storm. Therefore, they figured that a god was angry at one of them. After casting lots (possibly some combination of colored stones) and reading them, they determined that it was Jonah’s fault.
This is significant to consider in that Jonah’s rebellion could have potentially cost the lives of “innocent” men who were in the boat with him. Apparently, they were men of character because when Jonah later suggests that they throw him in the sea to make it calm down, instead, they tried to row to land as they didn’t want the guilt of killing someone (v. 13). Though men of integrity, their association with a prodigal prophet brought trouble into their lives.
Likewise, a consequence of prodigal living is the fact that our sins don’t just negatively affect us; they always negatively affect others as well, even if they’re not public sins. Proverbs 13:20 says, “The one who associates with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” In the Proverbs, wisdom and foolishness have nothing to do with intelligence. It’s referring to morality and obedience to God or the lack thereof. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord.” Also, Psalm 14:1 says, “Fools say to themselves, ‘There is no God.’ They sin and commit evil deeds; none of them does what is right.” When we are partnering with people who fear God and serve him, it helps us do the same. Similarly, partnering with those who are disobedient to God always leads to our spiritual harm. Sometimes that harm is simply us starting to model their spiritual or moral compromise possibly in overindulging in alcohol, becoming consumed with worldly things such as wealth, prestige, and beauty, or beginning to lack integrity, amongst other things. Prodigal living always negatively affects others. Sometimes the negative effects are the worry and heartache that happen to those who love us and pray for us. At times though the consequences can be drastic, as in this situation with Jonah.
We see this at other times in Scripture: When Achan disobeyed God’s command to devote Jericho to destruction by instead stealing money and clothes, it led to Israel’s defeat in a war against Ai where thirty-six men died (Josh 7). Sometimes prodigal living can have drastic consequences. First Corinthians 5:6 says, “a little yeast affects the whole batch of dough.” Sin tends to spread and bring consequences to a community. These potential consequences should be a deterrent towards falling into sin—considering the consequence on our family, friends, co-workers, our community, nations, or even the nations. Certainly, Jonah had counted the cost of rebellion when considering the Ninevites. Jonah considered their destruction just, which showed how hardened his heart was towards them. But, maybe, he didn’t consider the destruction of innocent Gentiles who were unwittingly trying to help him run from God. Prodigal living always brings consequences to others. This reality should turn us away from the path of sin.
Even worse than the potential death of innocents, prodigal living commonly pushes people away from God which has eternal consequences. When a professed follower of the Lord lives in rebellion, it makes people think the church is corrupt, full of hypocrites, and lacks any real power to change lives. In Matthew 18:6-7, Christ says this about the consequences of causing others to stumble:
But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a huge millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the open sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! It is necessary that stumbling blocks come, but woe to the person through whom they come.
Prodigal living always negatively affects others and has drastic consequences. Certainly, this should make us runaway from sin and aim to stay on the right path.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced how rebellion often negatively affects others, including innocents? In what ways does religious hypocrisy commonly push people away from Christ?
A Consequence of Prodigal Living Is the Need to Discipline Others
They said to him, “Tell us, whose fault is it that this disaster has overtaken us? What’s your occupation? Where do you come from? What’s your country? And who are your people?” He said to them, “I am a Hebrew, And I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Hearing this, the men became even more afraid and said to him, “What have you done?” (The men said this because they knew that he was trying to escape from the Lord, because he had previously told them.) Because the storm was growing worse and worse, they said to him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea so that the sea will calm down for you, because I know it’s my fault you are in this severe storm.” Instead, they tried to row back to land, but they were not able to do so because the storm kept growing worse and worse. So they cried out to the Lord, “Oh, please, Lord, don’t let us die on account of this man! Don’t hold us guilty of shedding innocent blood. After all, you, Lord, have done just as you pleased.” So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped raging.
Even as God brought discipline for Jonah’s rebellion, the sailors were also forced to participate in that discipline as they threw Jonah off the ship into the raging sea. Initially, they tried not to. They vigorously sought to row back to land, but it was impossible because the storm kept growing worse (v. 13). So they cried out to the Lord to not be held liable for killing Jonah and then threw him out of the ship. After they did so, the sea stopped raging (v. 15). Likewise, after Israel lost a battle because of Achan’s sin, Joshua had to bring justice by executing Achan and those who participated in his sin. Only after, this did God allow Israel to conquer Ai (Josh 7).
As mentioned, our sins never affect just us, they also affect our community and even our nation at times. For this reason, God calls the government to practice discipline through the justice system. Scripture says government officials do not bear the sword in vain (Rom 13:1-7). Also, God calls the church to practice discipline by challenging and at times removing members (Matt 18:15-17). Even as Jonah eventually had to be thrown out of the ship, at times, Scripture calls us to remove people from the church. This only happens after repeated calls for repentance as noted in Matthew 18:15-17: first through a private one on one conversation, then with two or three others, and finally with the church. After these repeated loving challenges, Christ says this in Matthew 18:17, “… If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector.” Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, Paul said this:
I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you.
Certainly, this happens at the church level, but it also at times must happen amongst friends, co-workers, and family members. At times, we may need to separate from a rebellious person to warn them and protect ourselves. Proverbs 22:10 says, “Drive out the scorner and contention will leave; strife and insults will cease.” As with the sailors, is God calling us to separate from someone to protect us and others from temptation and experiencing God’s discipline?
Application Question: Why is church discipline so uncommon in churches today? What types of sins should the church discipline over (cf. 2 Cor 5:9-13)? In what ways have you seen or experienced church discipline? How have you experienced the need to separate from a friend, co-worker, or family member who was living in sin to have peace and righteousness in your life? Why is this so hard to do?
A Consequence of Prodigal Living Is God’s Abounding Grace
They said to him, “Tell us, whose fault is it that this disaster has overtaken us? What’s your occupation? Where do you come from? What’s your country? And who are your people?” He said to them, “I am a Hebrew, And I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Hearing this, the men became even more afraid and said to him, “What have you done?” (The men said this because they knew that he was trying to escape from the Lord, because he had previously told them.) … So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped raging. The men feared the Lord greatly, and earnestly vowed to offer lavish sacrifices to the Lord. The Lord sent a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.
Jonah 1:8-10, 15-17
Observation Question: In what ways do we see God’s grace throughout this narrative?
Though there are great consequences for Jonah’s rebellion throughout this narrative, there is also God’s abounding grace. Romans 5:20 says, “... but where sin increased, grace multiplied all the more.” In what ways do we see God’s grace abound throughout this narrative?
1. Though sin abounded, God’s grace abounded in that the sailors heard about God from Jonah and experienced God’s saving grace.
There is a bit of irony in this narrative. Jonah ran because he didn’t want to witness to Gentiles about God; however, because the storm almost killed him and the sailors, he was forced to witness to Gentiles. In Jonah 1:9, when questioned by the sailors, Jonah responded, “I am a Hebrew, And I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” In response, the sailors became “even more afraid” (v. 10). They may or may not have heard of Yahweh, but it was clear he was a powerful God. In fact, after they threw Jonah into the sea and it calmed, it says “The men feared the Lord greatly, and earnestly vowed to offer lavish sacrifices to the Lord” (v. 16). It’s quite possible that Yahweh just became another one of their many gods, but it’s also possible that they stopped worshipping other gods, as they became followers of Yahweh. He was the creator God, the one in control of the land and sea. Therefore, many believe these sailors became true believers. Again, this is the irony and a thread of God’s grace in the narrative, the one who didn’t want to partake in God’s saving work of Gentiles, through discipline, participated in witnessing to Gentiles who became saved. Romans 8:28 is expansive and has no limitations. God works “all things” for the good of those who love the Lord, which includes our rebellion. It’s a mystery. Certainly, we can see how God uses our sin for the good in that it leads to discipline so that we repent and become more like Christ. We also often learn how to conquer our sins and other weaknesses so we can be used to help others do the same (cf. Matt 5:29-30). In addition, at times, our rebellion may even lead to severe discipline where God takes us home early, but even then, the ultimate result is eternal salvation and being like Christ in heaven, though potentially without any rewards to show for our life on earth (cf. 1 Cor 3:15-16). God’s grace abounds even through our failures.
2. Though sin abounded, grace abounded in that God would not let Jonah go his own way.
Like God searching after Adam and Eve after they rebelled against his will and hid (Gen 3), God did not let Jonah go his own way. God chased him and hurled a dangerous storm in his path to keep him from fully working out his plan of apostasy and experiencing further consequences from it. God kept him from going to Tarshish and permanently relinquishing his prophetic ministry. Likewise, if we are truly born again, God will not let us go. We are his children. In John 10:28-30, Christ said this about his sheep:
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.
He keeps his children in his hand, and no one can snatch them out of it. When they rebel against him, he pursues them. In the parable of the hundred sheep, when one leaves, the good shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to get the one (Lk 15:4). Likewise, God does the same with us. If we can leave God without experiencing his pursuing discipline, then we never were his kids. That’s what Hebrews 12:8 says, “But if you do not experience discipline, something all sons have shared in, then you are illegitimate and are not sons.” Every true child experiences discipline; God is a good father who will not let his children ultimately go their own way, even if that means taking them home prematurely as with Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5:1-10) or the people in Corinth abusing the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:30).
3. Though sin abounded, God’s grace abounded in that he delivered Jonah from death.
It doesn’t seem like Jonah repented of his rebellion in this narrative. When asked to pray by the ship’s captain (v. 6), the narrative never says that he prayed. The sailors prayed to God (v. 14) but not Jonah. When Jonah challenged the sailors to throw him into the sea (v. 12), that seems to be him continuing unwaveringly in rebellion. He would rather die than go and preach to the Ninevites. He does the same thing after God has mercy on the Ninevites in chapter 4, he prays for God to just kill him because he would rather die than live (4:3). If Jonah really wanted to save the sailors, he could have repented on the ship when asked to pray or thrown himself in the sea without telling them to do so. Jonah being swallowed by a large fish seems to be God’s grace. In Jonah 2:1, it seems that either while sinking in the sea or while in the fish he truly repented which led to him being vomited up onto dry land (2:10). Sometimes, God in his grace and mercy does not give us the full punishment we deserve. In his anger, he remembers mercy. Thank God, he has been merciful to us in our sins by at times holding back his full justice.
4. Though sin abounded, God’s grace abounded by demonstrating Christ’s death and resurrection through Jonah.
God chose that Jonah’s rebellion would lead to a picture of Christ in the Old Testament. In Matthew 12:39-41, Christ said this:
An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. The people of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented when Jonah preached to them—and now, something greater than Jonah is here!
Jonah was a prodigal prophet who ran from God’s will for his life. He didn’t love his enemies and therefore wouldn’t share God’s Word with them. In the midst of his running from God, he was saved from drowning by being swallowed by a large fish and spending three days and nights in its belly before being vomited up to preach repentance to the Ninevites. However, God would one day send the Prophet who would not rebel against God’s command. He would speak God’s Word to both Israel and Gentiles, his friends and his enemies, and he would be put to death on a cross to pay the penalty for the sins of the world. He bore God’s wrath for our sins on that cross. He was buried for three days and three nights, even as Jonah was in the large fish for the same time. After that, Jesus rose from the dead as proof that God had accepted his sacrifice for the sins of the world, even as Jonah was vomited from the fish onto dry land. Figuratively, Jonah went from death to life, so he could save many people.
God took Jonah’s rebellion and made it a type of Christ—a picture of Christ in the Old Testament. Surely, our God is the one who can take the sins of people and use them for something good. In fact, he took the worst thing in the world, the murder of his Son, and made it the best thing in the world, as it leads to the eternal salvation of many.
Surely, God can take our rebellion and failures and somehow use them for the good (Rom 8:28). That is no excuse to remain in our sin. Certainly, some have at times used God’s abounding grace as an excuse to continue in sin. In Romans 6:1-2, Paul rebuked such foolish arguments. He said, “What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Far from being an excuse for continuing in sin, God’s abounding grace should be a motivation for repentance and righteousness. Romans 2:4 says, “Or do you have contempt for the wealth of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, and yet do not know that God’s kindness leads you to repentance?”
Certainly, God’s grace over Jonah’s rebellion reminds us that we have never gone too far for God’s grace to save us, forgive us, and restore us to productive service. It also reminds us that nobody is too far gone for God to save with his amazing grace. Thank you, Lord!
Application Question: How have you seen or experienced God’s abounding grace over your failures and others’? How has God used what the enemy meant for bad for good (cf. Gen 50:20)?
Certainly, as we consider this narrative, we must ask ourselves a few questions:
1. What is our Nineveh? Where is God calling us to go and what is he calling us do that might be uncomfortable or difficult?
2. Also, what is our Tarshish? Where do we go and what do we do when resisting God’s will, whether it’s by being around rebellious people, participating in compromising activities, or simply entertaining wrong thoughts, including depressive, defeatist ones?
3. In addition, is there anyone we need to throw off the boat to be set free from sin, protected from temptation, avoid God’s discipline, grow in his grace, and experience God’s blessing?
4. Finally, is there a person or people we need to go after to turn them back to God? Sometimes, God sends a storm, but most often he sends his people to restore prodigals to himself. James 5:19-20 says,
My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone turns him back, he should know that the one who turns a sinner back from his wandering path will save that person’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
To faithfully obey God especially when his will is difficult or uncomfortable, we must remember the consequences of prodigal living as demonstrated in Jonah’s life:
1. A Consequence of Prodigal Living Is Unrestrained Sin, Unreached People, and God’s Judgment
2. A Consequence of Prodigal Living Is Forfeiture of Intimacy with God and His Calling
3. A Consequence of Prodigal Living Is Negative Effects on Creation
4. A Consequence of Prodigal Living Is God’s Discipline
5. A Consequence of Prodigal Living Is Its Negative Effects on Others
6. A Consequence of Prodigal Living Is the Need to Discipline Others
7. A Consequence of Prodigal Living Is God’s Abounding Grace
Application Question: What consequence of prodigal living stood out most and why?
• Pray for God to forgive his church for being silent, not sharing the gospel and challenging others towards holiness, and that he would embolden his church and its leaders to be faithful witnesses.
• Pray for God to draw the prodigals back to himself, that he would not let them go astray, but restore them to himself and his people.
• Pray for God to raise up faithful witnesses to go into the harvest (missionaries, pastors, Christian vocational workers, businessmen, teachers, homemakers, etc.) and that he would bring a great revival in every nation, tribe, and tongue through them.
• Pray for God to heal the nations and their lands from the consequences of sin, including famine, drought, earthquakes, tornados, and severe disease—pray that he would restore the local, national, and global economies according to his grace.