Pastor Barry Robinson

Letters to the Camberwell Congregation from Pastor Barry Robinson

September 2007 - Jonah

September 2007 - Jonah

Sermons on the book of Jonah

Dear Church Family,

Jonah was not without a few problems:

  • His view of God was too small
  • He was too parochial in his outlook
  • Too insular in his beliefs

He was a patriotic prophet of Israel and a fervent nationalist at heart. Beyond his national borders, lay the Gentile world, and as far as he was concerned that was the best place for them.

As for Nineveh, it wasn’t on his preaching schedule, and if the truth be known it wouldn’t have even been on his prayer list either.

Of course, the inevitable happened. God told Jonah to go Nineveh. It seemed incredible, and for Jonah it was unthinkable. In effect he said to God, ‘Lord here I am, but you can send someone else on this assignment. It doesn’t feature in my job description’.

God said ‘Go!’  Jonah said ‘No!’

As soon as he made up his mind that he was having nothing to do with God’s bright idea, he made a beeline in the opposite direction. There he was, one moment preaching to a handful of people in Gath-Hepher and, the next minute, he was gathering his savings together and making enquiries at the local harbour whether anyone might be sailing that night.

That single incident makes Jonah unique. He has the dubious honour of being the only prophet who ever rejected his commission from God, and ran as fast as he could to get away.

Here is the story of an ordinary human being like you and me. It’s the story of his struggles, calling, disobedience, problems and prayer life. It’s the story of his second chance.
It’s the story of revival and of a man who couldn’t handle the grace and blessing of God.

There have been occasions when I’ve seen myself all too much in Jonah and have had to pray ‘Lord don’t let me fall into the Jonah mindset of exclusive, closed-shop Christianity’.

There is a whole world out there, beyond our church’s borders, which God loves and is concerned about, and that don’t know Christ.

We mustn’t have Jonah’s attitude of ‘that’s the best place for them’. Our prayer should be ‘Lord, give us a heart for people who don’t know you. Help us to be more like you and less like Jonah’.

All too often, when we mention Jonah, people immediately think about a large fish and that’s it. But the reality is that there is so much more to this book.

G. Campbell Morgan once said, ‘Men have been looking so long at the great fish, they have failed to see the great God!’

As we come to look at the book of Jonah together in a series of sermons we’ll see that this is a book:

  • Full of excitement and intrigue
  • Packed with suspense and drama
  • And is a mini-orientation course in cross-cultural evangelism

My prayer, as we embark on this study, is that we’ll meet the God of the second chance; a great God whose heart beats for this lost world.

With love in Jesus’ name,

Barry Robinson

PS: Below is a background to the book and a schedule of sermons.

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Background to the book of Jonah


Jonah prophesied during the reign of King Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:25). This would put the events of the book in the middle of the 8th century BC. This makes Jonah a contemporary of the prophet Amos and Hosea. He was from Gath-Hepher in Galilee, a city that belonged to the tribe of Zebulun.

Jonah's name translates into English as dove, his father's name, Amittai as truth, and Nineveh means progeny, which in itself provides an interesting backdrop to the story:

  • A dove was a metaphor for Israel (Hos. 11:11; Ps. 74:19). Israel was disobedient and did not preach the truth to the gentile nations, symbolised by the attempt of Jonah to sail to Tarshish;
  • A dove showed Noah that God's judgment upon earth had truly ended and the flood-waters were receding (Gen 8:11). Peace had been restored between the Creator and His creation;
  • For the very poor, a dove was the prescribed offering for sin, restoring peace between the sinner and God (Lev. 5:7);
  • The Spirit of the Lord descended upon Jesus "like a dove" in Matt. 3:16 and we know that He came to restore peace between mankind and God (Col. 1:19-20);
  • The story of Jonah involves restoring peace between the people of Nineveh and God and so it's fitting that He sent Dove, the offspring of Truth to warn His progeny.


Nineveh was a great city in what is now known as Iraq. It is first mentioned in Gen.10:11 and is described in Jonah 3:3 as ‘…a very important city—a visit required three days’, which is probably a reference to its circumference, estimated to be 60 miles round.

Its streets were 20 miles long; its walls were 100 feet high, and were so wide that 3 chariots could be driven side by side across the top of them.

The people were renowned for their cruelty and brutality; in fact their savagery knew no bounds. History testifies to an awful catalogue of crimes against humanity in that they did things like:

  • Burning their children alive;
  • Torturing adults by skinning them alive and leaving them to die in the blazing sun;

Added to which Nineveh just happened to be the capital city of an enemy nation to Israel, and that nation, Assyria, in later years overran the people of God.

So what really bothered Jonah is that he had a sneaking suspicion that God might just pardon Nineveh, and to make matters worse, it would come as a result of his preaching.

Where then would his reputation be among his own kith and kin? Would he be branded a traitor? All this was more than Jonah could swallow. He found it deeply disturbing and offensive to think that God was asking him to put his reputation on the line for people akin to the Nazis or the Khmer Rouge.

In Jonah’s thinking, they didn’t deserve grace from God, and they didn’t deserve a preacher pointing them to that grace. His theology didn’t stretch to the salvation of the Gentiles.


The underlying theme is:
Yahweh is the all-powerful and sovereign God who can therefore bestow his grace upon whomever he desires.
“…you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2)
From which other themes flow:

  1. It is a book of ‘great things’
  • A great city (1:2)
  • A great wind (1:4)
  • A great fish (1:17)
  • Jonah’s great displeasure (4:1)

And behind it all, a Great God!

  1. It is a book describing Jonah’s ‘going down’
  • He went down to Joppa (1:3)
  • Jonah went down into the ship, below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep (1:5)
  • The lot fell down on Jonah (1:7)
  • Jonah was thrown down into the sea (1:12-15)
  • He went down into the belly of the fish (1:17)
  • And down into the deep (2:3)

All of which is symbolic of Jonah going ‘down’ from God and away from His presence and blessing. Hence Jonah considered himself to be in Sheol1 (2:2) and banished from God’s sight (2:4).

  1. It is a book that shows the scope of the gospel
  • Jonah, a runaway prophet of God was given a second chance (3:1)
  • Pagan sailors sought, feared, offered a sacrifice and made vows to the Lord (1:14-16)
  • The Gentile Ninevites believed God, fasted and turned from their evil ways (3:5,10)

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." (Rom 9:15)

The scope of the gospel is all-inclusive (Rom 10:12-13) – To the Jew first then to the Gentile (Rom 1:16). What Paul was in the New Testament, Jonah was in the Old.

  1. It is a book of the Lord’s miraculous provision
  • The Lord sent [provided] a gathering storm (1:4)
  • The Lord provided for the selection of Jonah by casting lots (1:7
  • The Lord provided a great fish (1:17)
  • Jonah’s preservation in the belly of the great fish (2:1-9)
  • His ejection on shore safe and sound (2:10)
  • The provision and accelerated growing of the vine (4:6)
  • The provision and activity of the worm (4:7)
  • The Lord provided a scorching east wind (4:8)

All things are at the Lord’s fingertips – God is in control. He is the God of the miraculous.

  1. It is a book of God using the weak of the world

Jonah was just a weak ordinary human being. He had personal struggles, problems, and hurdles to overcome. His prayer life was erratic, he felt unfit and inadequate for the task God had for him.

Sometimes it seems easier to run away from the purpose of God than it does to obey the will of God. And despite this God gave Jonah another chance and used him for His glory.

  1. It is a book of balance between the sovereignty of God and evangelism

Jonah learned that God rules over all and will have compassion on whom He wants to have compassion (2:9; 3:10; 4:2,11) and that God wanted him to preach the word (1:1; 3:1,4).

The sovereignty of God and our evangelistic efforts are always held together in tension.

  1. It is a book that records revival

After preaching for just one day, Jonah leads a great city of over 120,000 people (4:11) to its knees in repentance before God (3:5-9).


In Hebraic thought, ‘Sheol’ was considered to be down under the ground (See for example Num 16:3–33; Gen 37:35)

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