So the story goes that a father and his son once went on a journey. This was a unique circumstance—and a unique relationship.
The father was old—quite a bit older than most fathers with teenage children.
The man and his wife had essentially given up on children quite some time ago.
They were unable to conceive. But, as happens often in life, something miraculous happened. She became pregnant, and now they had a son.
Of course, every child is special. But a surprise blessing such as this one goes beyond the everyday sort of “special”.
Now this journey was, in some ways, a normal one—but, in other ways, very abnormal. The father and son were going off to worship God, together.
For them—according to their religion—worship meant making an offering.
Because of this, the boy was a little bit confused. Every morning when his family went to worship, he either saw or physically held the offering in his hand.
But, for some reason, there was no visible offering today. He didn’t see any money with his dad. He didn’t see any sort of gift.
Slightly curious but not really worried, the boy marched on with his dad. They reached the place of worship.
It wasn’t long before the son had a startling realization. He was the offering! His dad was about to give him to God. He would be with God forever.
What’s more, he would never see his dad or his mom again. That’s the case with these offerings, you know.
If you give an offering to God, you don’t see it again. It belongs to Him and will be used according to His purposes.
Then, in the blink of an eye, his dad found a last-second substitute. An acceptable offering was found, right there at the place of worship.
It was a gift worthy of God. The father willingly offered it up to God, instead of his son. In the father’s mind, God provided that offering as a substitute.
So he named that worship location. The father called it, “The Lord Will Provide”.
The father knew that, no matter the circumstance, God would take care of him and his family. He could trust God to provide exactly what they needed.
By now, you probably know that we are talking about the account of Abraham and Isaac, from the twenty-second chapter of Genesis.
This is one of those passages of scripture that has perhaps the strongest lesson—a lesson about the true measure of faith and trust.
But it’s not really an account that we might define as “a children’s story”. I feel as though, if Hollywood were to make a movie of it, it would be rated at least PG-13.
But here we are, on the eve of VBS. It’s a time to focus on children, is it not? Wouldn’t it make more sense to talk about a passage that’s a little bit more conducive to that childlike way of thinking?
To be sure, there are those passages in the Bible, which we feel better fit that sort of mold. But, in searching for another passage, I still wanted to hang out at that notion of “The Lord Will Provide”. I think that’s a valuable lesson for children to learn.
It’s also a valuable lesson for all of us to revisit. Therefore, we are going to be in the book of Jonah this morning—and I mean, the whole book of Jonah.
We are going to focus on specific verses, but before we do that, I want to recap the story a little bit—just in case you’ve forgotten any details.
For that, I will enlist the help of some of our aforementioned children. As you might expect, these two have a special place in my heart. (Pause for AC and CJ to come up.)
(Question and Answer time with the boys.)
Thank you, Andrew and Caleb, for helping us recap the story today. What a fascinating story it is! You may remember we did a Sunday evening Bible study on this entire book. But we are going to take a different angle on it today.
I want us to look at some specific ways in which the Lord provided. So be prepared to jump around a little bit. We’ll start with the very first verse of the book. (Read.)
First and foremost, we see that God provides His word. In saying this, I’m not necessarily referring to the Bible, though that is the Word of God.
But here in this first verse, we see this. The word of the Lord came to Jonah. That’s the first thing we read about as far as God providing in this book.
And this is no mere word in the generic sense. It’s not as if it’s saying, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah. And that word was: obsequious.”
You know, as if there’s some word of the day on a TV show. Rather, this is a call.
This is a command from God. He has life words to speak into Jonah’s existence.
Now let’s think big picture. Everything begins with God’s word, in the existential sense. What I mean by that is this. Nothing exists without God’s word.
That’s the first chapter of the Bible. That’s creation. God spoke, and then everything came into being—stars, oceans, persimmons, iguanas, and of course people.
Just as creation began with God’s word, so does our spiritual life with Him—our relationship with Him. It all starts with His call.
What I’m saying is this. If you call yourself a Christian today, it’s because God called you into a relationship with Himself. It may not have been audibly.
But the initiation came from Him. The general initiation for all of us was the “Word become flesh,” Jesus Christ coming to the earth.
But every Christian experiences his or her own distinct, personal call from the Lord.
Christians don’t just figure this whole walk-with-God-thing out on their own. We respond to God, upon His initiation.
What we see here in the first verse of Jonah is God letting the prophet know that He is including him in His work.
The same is true of us. God provides us with a call, and it’s not a call primarily to bless us and shower us with good things, though that can be a by-product.
His call is to partner with Him in His work here on the earth. And, seeing as we have already recapped the story, you likely know what God’s work for Jonah was.
Jonah got to be a part of God’s great work of redemption. Similarly, we get to be a part of God’s great kingdom work, when we surrender to the filling of His Spirit.
So, first and foremost, God provided Jonah with a word—a call to response.
Our second provision comes in verse four. Take a look. (Read Jonah 1:4.)
So God provides a storm. Better put, God provides Jonah with a means of correction.
We might be prone to say, “Well, why did it have to be a life-threatening squall at sea?” Of course, bear in mind that Jonah was on that sea by his own choice.
God knows what Jonah—and all in this very room—were created to do. We were created to worship God, to serve Him, to trust and obey.
This storm, in fact, is actually a help in the area of obedience. It’s a help toward fulfilling that which Jonah was called and created to do.
There are a few caveats to take note of here. First of all, we must remember that not all storms in life are sent by God.
In talking about “storms” in this context, I’m not speaking of meteorological storms—though that can certainly be the case from time to time!
We have to be careful in assuming that God has willfully and actively sent certain difficult circumstances our way.
In this instance, however, the storm is sent directly by God. And that can be the case with us from time to time. God gets our attention.
The positive here is that God is once again participating in Jonah’s life. He participated at the outset, calling him to go to Nineveh.
Jonah, however, refused to accept that participation. You see, we must understand how it all works to have God active in your life—to have a relationship with Him.
The relationship doesn’t work unless each party assumes its ordained role. We must assume the role of the servant. We must embrace God’s role as Master.
Jonah wasn’t willing to accept those roles. And yet, in the storm, we see God still actively participating in Jonah’s life, in spite of his rebellion.
The storms of life might not be our favorite means of provision that God gives to us.
But they can still be blessings. And, must like the call from God in verse one, this provision requires a response as well.
Jonah responded negatively to the first provision. Here on the boat, his response is make or break. If he stays on the ship bound for Tarshish, we must assume he dies.
Or, he can throw himself on God’s mercy—allow himself to fall into God’s hands and see what happens. Symbolically, he chose this by being cast overboard.
Now, Jonah may well have thought or even hoped that he would die in that sea.
But, as we will see with the next provision, God had a different plan. Look at verse seventeen of chapter one. (Read Jonah 1:17.)
God provides a fish. In truth, God provides a means of deliverance for Jonah.
Now, this might not be the sort of deliverance you would give to somebody whose life is in danger. Perhaps you would prefer a life preserver and a boat.
Perhaps you would prefer something like God miraculously levitating Jonah from the water. Or perhaps you’d simply prefer something less stinky.
In considering all this, we would do well to remember Isaiah, chapter 55. God states that His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts.
He is on a higher plane. He’s not simply better. He’s completely other. So, yes, it’s not quite the way you might have done it. But God has his reasons.
In wondering, “Why did it have to be a fish?” we might miss the key point of this verse. The fish provided salvation from certain death.
And, since we know the rest of the story, the fish became a sanctuary of worship for Jonah, praising his God. Within the fish, Jonah experienced a different deliverance.
He got back on track with God. He put himself in the right place, under God’s authority. And in observing this crazy scene, we learn another lesson.
Is it possible that, sometimes, God provides displeasing circumstances that are actually deliverance from disastrous ones?
Our next example of God’s provision comes at the end of chapter two, spilling over into the beginning of chapter three. Look with me. (Read Jonah 2:10-3:1.)
You want to know one of the things that God provides, which I’m most grateful for?
It’s second chances. God gives Jonah what some might call a new lease on life.
Within the belly of that fish, God granted Jonah new eyes to see the world around him and a new perspective on life.
We see that in his psalm, composed within the fish. He submits to joyfully serving, obeying, and sacrificing for the Lord.
God’s second chance also provided a change in Jonah’s demeanor and attitude.
Then, next thing we know, that fish is gently and neatly placing Jonah on dry land.
Okay, that’s not exactly how it happened, but it sounds so much better than being vomited onto the land. Jonah is alive and back among the living.
Furthermore, as we see at the beginning of chapter three, God is back at it again.
The passage says, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.” Moreover, God gives him essentially the same calling.
“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it.” Note that God does not easily give up on His call to Jonah.
I’d like to think that the same is true regarding His call to us. We ought to thank God everyday that He gives us the opportunity to get back on the right track.
We ought the thank God everyday that He hasn’t given us what we deserve.
Now, toward the end of chapter three, God provides something else. This time, however, the provision didn’t come to Jonah. Look at verse 10. (Read Jonah 3:10.)
Jonah obeys God, preaches an urgent message to the Ninehvites, and they respond!
The king the lead, and the people followed suit—everyone repented and turned from their evil ways. Knowing the whole story, we know that Jonah wasn’t happy.
But we need to put him aside for just a moment. This is a key moment in this account, for God now begins providing for the Gentiles—pagans, heathens.
And what does He provide? He gives compassion and mercy to the ungodly.
God is very aware of these irreligious Ninehvites. Verse ten says that He saw what they did. He’s been involved with Jonah. He’s also involved with Nineveh.
He provides a watchful eye. He didn’t turn a deaf ear to their repentant cries.
Mercy has been described as not getting what you deserve. We saw that with Jonah as God gave him a second chance in his call to preach.
Now we see it with the people of Nineveh. But the Ninehvites and Jonah could not have been more opposite in nature.
Jonah grew up immersed in God’s rules, God’s word, and a God-related culture. The Ninehvites grew up in a godless culture, completely unaware of the one true God.
Yet God calls them both to repentance. And God is personally involved with both.
Truly, the scripture holds that, in Christ, there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, white or black, rich or poor.
Now we get to the final chapter. Jonah has thrown his hissy-fit about that mercy and compassion that God had for the Ninehvites.
Surely he deserved a second chance, but they did not. So, after griping God out over the whole situation, he sulks and leaves the city.
He heads to a place east of the city, hunkers down, and watches for what he hopes will be God changing His mind and wiping out Nineveh.
As you and I know very well, that ain’t gonna happen. But in the midst of this sullen mood, God has still more to provide for Jonah. Look at verse 6. (Read Jonah 4:6.)
God provided a vine—a large shade plant. Basically, this is a small measure of comfort. Notice Jonah’s response.
He’s angry. He’s bitter. He’s in a very dark place. And he’s also hot and uncomfortable. Then God sends this vine his way.
Suddenly, he is very happy, according to the scripture. Curious, isn’t it? Now, I don’t know about hot weather in the Middle East.
But I do know a little bit about hot weather in East Texas. Shade helps, but it isn’t as though shade feels the same as air conditioning.
Shade makes a really hot situation to be a little less hot. So why would “a little less hot” cause such a dramatic shift in Jonah’s demeanor?
Perhaps now Jonah thinks things are starting to turn his way. Perhaps now God is looking out for him and trying to make him happy.
You know, God blesses us with many material blessings. I don’t really believe He gives us those things to make us happy, however.
But they do make us happy, don’t they? They make life a little more comfortable for us. And we all desire to be more comfortable.
And, much like Jonah, we become too emotionally invested in those material blessings. We start to think we can’t live without them.
We are overjoyed when we get them—and even more so when we get a better version of the first one. And we are devastated when they go away or won’t work.
When we get that invested, those things have become our gods. We have elevated them to the highest status and priority in our lives.
And yet, they were still provided by God. They are there to bless us, almost like tokens of affection from the Father who cares for us so greatly.
Interestingly enough, God provides something else in the very next verse. (Read Jonah 4:7.) Along came the worm.
Sometimes God provides the removal of material blessings. Sometimes He takes away that which gives us so much perceived security.
It rarely happens as quickly as this vine-worm situation. This was pretty much “bang-bang”. But God does, at times, remove those material blessings.
Much like with the storm, this doesn’t mean that, every time you lose something, it was God taking it away. But this instance also differed from the storm a good deal.
First of all, this was personal. The storm at sea affected others. This worm only impacted Jonah. Furthermore, this was on a much smaller scale.
The storm was legitimately life-threatening. This worm only caused more discomfort for Jonah. And yet, think about this.
Which angered Jonah more—the storm or the worm? Was it not the worm? Jonah slept through much of the storm. He willfully submitted to the waves of the ocean.
But here, combined with our next provision, Jonah is ready to give up the ghost.
Look at verse 8. (Read Jonah 4:8.) He’s ready to die. He no longer wants to live.
God provided a scorching wind that sapped the strength out of Jonah. In truth, God had provided brokenness. Sometimes, God will give us a beatdown.
Sometimes, He pushes us to the breaking point. And Jonah—frustrated, uncomfortable, and now horribly weak—is ready to die.
His response is hopeless. All is lost. There’s no sense going on. I want you to contrast this response to that of the apostle Paul.
Do you remember Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”? He wrote of that thorn in II Corinthians. We do not know what that thorn was.
But Paul said it tormented him. He pleaded with the Lord three times to remove it, but God did not. Now, I don’t know if it was as bad as Jonah’s pain.
But I do know that Paul said he was tormented. I also know that Paul discovered that God’s power is made perfect in our weaknesses.
God is removing Jonah from the spiritual equation. Jonah is as weak as he could get.
And God will provide that sort of brokenness and weakness for us, so that His power may be made perfect in us. But, as we said earlier, we must respond.
We must respond to that provision as Paul did, not as Jonah did.
Finally, God provides a life lesson to Jonah. Check out verse 10. (Read Jonah 4:10-11.) Ultimately, God has provided us with the best teacher—Himself.
God will teach this lesson again and again throughout scripture—and throughout our lives as well. Everything exists for His glory.
God’s always got a plan, and it’s always the best plan. His plan of redemption for Nineveh might not have made sense to Jonah, but that didn’t make it wrong.
We, much like Jonah, have a choice. We can get on board with His plan or fight tooth and nail, but His purposes—which are always right—will always prevail.
Yes, God provides us with four chapters of testing here in the book of Jonah. You know, He tested all the great men and women of faith throughout the Bible.
Think about Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Daniel, Mary, Peter, Paul, and yes, even Jesus. We can only hope that He will test us as well.
And notice perhaps the most important thing in the midst of all God’s provision. He never removed Himself from Jonah.
His presence and His activity were always with Jonah. His guiding hand was there, even when Jonah swam against the current.
May we be a people who submit to His leadership. May we be a people who recognize God’s provision, thank Him for it, and accept it—even when it seems difficult. Would you pray with me? (Pray.)