Jonah’s prophecy and idolatry

Remember about a month ago I recommend you purchase the new ESV Study Bible (you can still buy one at our bookstore for what we pay for it). It is a great resource for you to have when you want to study or just read the Bible. I was reading my own ESV Study Bible in preparation for my sermon on Jonah 3 last Sunday. A study note for Jonah 1:1 indicates that Jonah prophesied during the politically prosperous time of Jeroboam II of Israel (2 Kings 14:23–28).

And it’s interesting because the Bible says in 2 Kings 14:24-25—

“And [Jeroboam II] did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher” (ESV).

It’s interesting for at least two important reasons…
(1) Just because God blessed Israel so that their borders expanded did not mean God was pleased with them. The fact is he was far from pleased. That’s key because sometimes we think an increase in blessings automatically indicates God’s favor upon what we’re doing. But that certainly was not the case with Israel in the mid-700’s BC. In other words, an increase in something good in our lives is a blessing from God, but not necessarily a sign of God’s blessing upon what we’re doing. We need to stay humble in our times of prosperity and blessing.

(2) But 2 Kings 14:25 is interesting for a second reason, and this relates more to my sermon last Sunday. Notice that Jonah was the prophet who prophesied the word of the LORD that God would expand Israel’s border even into Assyrian territory. And God did so. But now we begin to perhaps see a bit clearer why Jonah had grown to hate the Ninevites so much (see Jonah 3:10-4:5). His prophecy foretold his nation’s God-enabled expansion into Assyria, of which the city of Nineveh was a key part (interesting fact: Nineveh was located where modern-day Mosul is in Iraq—a city recently in the news for intense persecution of Iraqi Christians).

Jonah hated the Ninevites because they were the rival to the security of Israel’s promised blessing, and I’m sure he justified that hatred also because everything “godless” happened in Nineveh—they were perverse; they were sadistic; they were vile; they were violent; they were evil in every way imaginable. And eventually, or perhaps simultaneously, God’s blessing upon Israel through the mouth of Jonah had become an idol in Jonah’s heart.

And it’s another reminder to me that it’s so easy to be blessed by God in some good way, only to make that blessing something that gives our life meaning and purpose, thus taking the place of Christ in our hearts. When a God-given blessing becomes something that gives our life meaning, makes our life worth living, motivates us to want to get up in the morning, then that’s when it becomes an idol that will eventually with it bring greater worry, fear, anger, and depression—just as it did in the life of Jonah. Let’s remember to keep Christ as our God and our blessings as signs of his grace and goodness to be enjoyed but not worshiped.

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