(Jonah) How God Sees Lost People

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"...I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm." (Jonah 4:2)


Jonah lived in the little town of Gath-Hepher (near Nazareth) in the time of King Jeroboam II in Israel. (2 Kings 14:25)

These dramatic events happened around 760 BC. Nineveh, with possibly 1 million people, was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, the leading world power at that time. The whole metropolitan area of Nineveh was 45 km x 15 km. It was one of the oldest cities in the world. (Genesis 10:10-12).

The Ninevites were known for their fierce brutality and cruelty. King Adad-Niran III was the Assyrian King referred to in chapter 3. Four times Nineveh is described as a "great city." (Jonah 1:2, 3:2-3, 4:11). They were known for their wickedness (Jonah 1:2) and violence (Jonah 3:8).

The Lord is angry about their wickedness, but cares about their souls, and so calls the prophet Jonah from a tiny Israelite village called Gath-Hepher (2 Kings 14:25) (not far from Nazareth) to go with the message of God's judgment upon them, and calling them to repent to God. They were making military advances toward Israel. God's answer was to send them a prophet - Jonah.


"In February, 1891, the whaling ship, Star of the East was in the vicinity of the Falkland Islands and the lookout sighted a large sperm whale three miles away. Two boats were launched and in a short time one of the harpooners was enabled to spear the fish. The second boat attacked the whale, but was upset by a lash of its tail and the men thrown into the sea, one man being drowned, and another, James Bartley, having disappeared, could not be found. The whale was killed and in a few hours was lying by the ship's side and the crew were busy with axes and spades removing the blubber. They worked all day and part of the night. Next morning, they attached some tackle to the stomach which was hoisted on the deck. The sailors were startled by something in it which gave spasmodic signs of life, and inside was found the missing sailor doubled up, and unconscious. He was laid on the deck and treated to a bath of sea water which soon revived him...He remained two weeks a raving lunatic...At the end of the third week he had entirely recovered from the shock and resumed his duties.

Bartley affirms that he would probably have lived inside his house of flesh until he starved, for he lost his senses through fright and not from lack of air. He remembers the sensation of being thrown out of the boat into the sea...He was then encompassed by a great darkness, and he felt he was slipping along a smooth passage of some sort that seemed to move and carry him forward. The sensation lasted but a short time and then he realised he had more room. He felt about him and his hands came in contact with a yielding, slimy substance that seemed to shrink from his touch. It finally dawned upon him that he had been swallowed by the whale. He could easily breathe, but the heat was terrible. It was not a scorching, stifling nature, but it seemed to open the pores of his skin and draw out his vitality...His skin was exposed to the action of the gastric juice...face, neck and hands were bleached to a deadly whiteness and took on the appearance of parchment...(and)never recovered its natural appearance...(though otherwise)his health did not seem affected by his terrible experience." (Princeton Theological Review, Vol. 25, 1927, page 636.)

1 The Condition of the Lost Sailors

  1. They were afraid. (1:5)
  2. They believed in other gods (1:5)
  3. They believed in luck/chance (1:7)
  4. They believed in appeasement of their gods. (1:11)
  5. When confronted by Jonah's testimony, they prayed to THE LORD. (1:14)
  6. They worshipped THE LORD and took vows. (1:16)

2 The Condition of the Lost Ninevites

  1. They were wicked (1:2)
  2. They were violent. (3:8) Assyria's prominent sin was brutality.

3 The Response of God to the Lost

"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)

  1. God called Jonah twice - to preach against their wickedness (1:2 & 3:1-4) and warn of God's judgment against them, by their city being overthrown.
  2. God sent a great wind to discipline Jonah (1:4)
  3. God prepared a great fish to rescue Jonah (1:17) and to return him to dry land (2:10)
  4. God relented from the judgment intended on Nineveh (3:10), because they repented. God is not fickle, He is working on us all, to bring us to repentance and faith. (John 3:16-18, 1 John 1:9)
  5. God's attitude toward the lost is beautifully stated by Jonah (4:2) "You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, one who relents from doing harm."
  6. To deal with Jonah's anger toward their repentance - God prepared a plant, a worm, and a strong wind. (4:6,7,8)
  7. God means what He says about judgment on our wickedness. Yes, God is longsuffering and patient, but there comes a judgment day, if we continue to reject the mercy of God. (See Nahum 2 and Zephaniah 2:13-15)

"The soul who sins shall die." (Ezekiel 18:4)

"The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life." (Romans 6:23)

4 The Response of Jonah to the Lost

  1. He was afraid of the lost. (1:3)
  2. He was afraid of the Lord (1:3)
  3. He was apathetic toward the lost. (1:5)
  4. He finally prayed to the Lord in the crisis from the fish's belly (2:1) , "Because of my affliction."(2:3) (Really, because it was because of his rebellion against God.)
  5. He was exceedingly displeased (4:1) and became angry at the repentance of the people of Nineveh. He was angry because his prophecy would NOT now happen! (3:4)
    "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown." He was angry with God and the Ninevite people.
  6. Yet, God was gentle with Jonah God said twice: "Is it right for you to be angry?" (verses 4 & 9). Of course, he had no business to be angry with God or with the lost people of Nineveh, especially now that they had turned to the Lord.


Everyone is created by the Lord God. The Lord Jesus died on the cross to atone for all the sins of all His people. He wants us all to come to repentance. Just like the Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd, we should not only love lost people, but look for them, and bring them to Him.

The sailors came to fear God (Jonah 1:14) and the Ninevite people and their king did repent and turn from their evil ways. (Jonah 3:10), and God withheld judgment. When Nineveh did return, many years later, to their wickedness and violence, God did punish them as He had warned through Jonah, Nahum (Nahum 3:7) and Zephaniah (Zephaniah 2:13) in the year 612 BC. The invading Medes, Babylonians and Scythians destroyed the city and its people.

God sees lost people, to whom He longs to be gracious, merciful, and kind. (Jonah 4:2). But, when we ignore and flaunt His mercy, He sets a limit which He will not go beyond. On which side of God's mercy are you? The choice is yours today.


Unless otherwise stated, all Bible quotations are from the New King James Version.

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