Today’s selected reading begins the Old Testament prophetic book of Jonah, and more specifically, is found in the first chapter of the book. I wrote yesterday that the prophetic book of Obadiah is one of the most interesting books found within the section of the Bible known as “the Minor Prophets,” but the book of Jonah is also among unique books which are contained within this section of the Scripture. The book of Obadiah was a prophetic word from the Lord that was spoken and directed to Jacob’s brother—Esau or Edom—and his descendants which made up the nation of Edom. Obadiah was the first Old Testament book where the word of the Lord was directed entirely and solely to a Gentile people, for Obadiah was instructed by the Lord to speak and cry out against the inhabitants and nation of Edom. The book of Jonah can actually be understood as part one of two prophetic messages directed to a particular city and people within the earth, for Jonah was instructed by the Lord to “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before me.” The Old Testament prophetic book of Jonah is one of tremendous interest and intrigue, for the entire book is centered upon the reality that the Lord called one man to arise from his place among the people of God and their inheritance, and travel to the great city of Nineveh. Jonah was instructed to leave the heritage and inheritance of the people of God in order that he might arise and journey to the capital city of the Assyrian Empire—the city of Nineveh. What becomes perfectly evident and clear when reading the words which the Lord spoke to Jonah, is that the city of Nineveh was a city of great wickedness and rebellion for the Lord. This reality is manifested and evidenced in the fact that the Lord declared how their wickedness had come up before Him.
We dare not miss the significance or importance of these words, for this was not the first time in Scripture words like this were spoken concerning the wickedness and rebellion of man upon the earth. Consider the encounter which the Lord God had with His servant and friend Abraham concerning Sodom and Gomorrah: “And the men rose up from thence, and looked toward Sodom: and Abraham went with them to bring them on the way. And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment, that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him. And the Lord said, BECAUSE THE CRY OF SODOM AND GOMORRAH IS GREAT, AND BECAUSE THEIR SIN IS VERY GRIEVOUS; I WILL GO DOWN NOW, AND SEE WHETHER THEY HAVE DONE ALTOGETHER ACCORDING TO THE CRY OF IT, WHICH IS COME UNTO ME; AND IF NOT, I WILL KNOW” (Genesis 18:16-21). If you read these words, it will be absolutely unmistakable that the wickedness and rebellion of Sodom and Gomorrah had come up before the Lord, and that He had taken notice of it. WHEN THE WICKEDNESS OF MAN RISES UP LIKE INCENSE BEFORE THE LORD. Before even getting into the second reference in the Old Testament book of Genesis, it is interesting that when speaking of the wickedness of Nineveh, and when speaking of the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Lord described how their wickedness actually rose from the earth and came up before Him. In other words, their wickedness, their rebellion, their iniquity before the Lord didn’t remain concealed upon the earth, but actually rose like smoke from a raging fire upon the earth, and continued to rise until it came to the very dwelling place of Almighty God. It might even be said that the wickedness of Nineveh, and the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah rose from the earth like smoke and incense would rise from the midst of the flames upon the altar.
I am convinced that there is an incredibly powerful truth that is contained within this passage concerning the rise of wickedness and rebellion from the earth, and the prayers, the worship, and the praise of God’s people. In the Old Testament, there were two specific pieces of furniture that were found in both the Tabernacle of Moses and Solomon’s Temple—the first was the bronze altar of sacrifice, and the second was the altar of incense. The bronze altar of sacrifice was in the outer court of the Tabernacle and Temple, and was that place where the sacrifices and offerings of the people were placed upon the altar in the midst of the fire before the Lord. It was upon this altar that the priests offered up to the Lord the sacrifices of the people as a sweet smelling and fragrant aroma before the Lord. In fact, if you read the Old Testament book of Leviticus, you will discover that the Lord actually uses the words “a pleasing aroma before me” to describe the scent and the smell which rose from the altar. As the sacrifices and offerings which burned upon the altar burned and were consumed in the midst of the fire, the smoke which arose from the altar rose from the altar and caused the scent of the sacrifice to come before the Lord. WHEN THE AROMA OF SACRIFICE ARISES BEFORE THE LORD! WHEN THE AROMA OF YOUR SACRIFICE RISES AND COMES BEFORE THE LORD! Oh, the question that must be asked when considering such a reality is whether or not your sacrifices are burning in the midst of the fire upon the altar, and if so, what is the aroma, what is the fragrance of your sacrifice and offerings? Does the aroma and fragrance of your sacrifice and offering before the Lord rise up before Him, and are both a pleasing scent before Him? What is the aroma of your sacrifice, and is such an aroma pleasing and acceptable before the Lord. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).
Please don’t miss the significance of these words written by the apostle Paul, for no longer were sheep and goats and bulls the sacrifices which were to be offered upon the altar before the Lord, but we as God’s people were called and instructed to present ourselves upon the altar as living sacrifices. Oh, is your living sacrifice before the Lord producing a sweet smelling savor and aroma before the Lord, or is it a stench in His nostrils? Moreover, is the aroma and fragrance of sacrifice even rising from your life before the Lord, or is the scent altogether absent? The Lord revealed to Jonah that the wickedness of Nineveh had come up before Him, and He revealed to Abraham that the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah had ascended and come up before Him. I can’t help but notice a strong contradiction between the two realities which rise and come up before the Lord—the first is the fragrant aroma which is produced by the offerings and sacrifices burning in the midst of the fire upon the altar, while the second is the wickedness and rebellion of man. The harsh reality that surrounds both of these, is that your life is producing one or the other. It is impossible for you to produce both a fragrant and pleasing aroma before the Lord, while simultaneously having rebellion and wickedness come up before the Lord. Oh, there is that which rises from your life and comes up before the Lord, yet the question that begs to be asked is whether it is the fragrant aroma of a sacrifice that is holy and acceptable before Him, or whether it is rebellion and wickedness. I would dare say that if we ever reach the place where we cease presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, holy, acceptable unto the Lord, we may very well find that something entirely different begins to emerge and rise from our lives before Him—namely, rebellion and wickedness.
The wickedness of Nineveh, and the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah had gone up before the Lord, and the Lord had taken notice of how great their wickedness truly was. The rebellion and wickedness of both could not and were not concealed upon the earth, but actually rose from the earth and came up before the Lord. A similar reality was manifested during the days of Noah, and is recorded for us in the sixth chapter of the book of Genesis: “And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them” (Genesis 6:1-7). The wickedness of man rose from the earth and came up before the Lord during the days of Noah. The wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah rose from the earth and came up before the Lord during the days of Abraham. The wickedness of Nineveh rose from the earth and came up before the Lord during the days of Jonah. It was because of the wickedness of Nineveh which had come up before the Lord that the Lord instructed Jonah to arise and go to the great city of Nineveh and cry against it.
What an absolutely incredible thought this is when you take the time to consider it, for here was this Hebrew who was being called on by the Lord to rise from his place in the inheritance of the people of God, and to go the great city of Nineveh—the capital city of the Assyrian empire, which would ultimately be the people who would rise up against the northern kingdom of Israel, invade their land, and take the people captive. In all reality, it may very well be said that Jonah was the first missionary in the entire Scripture, for Jonah was instructed by the Lord to rise from his place in Israel, and to journey to the great city of Nineveh. WHEN THE WICKEDNESS OF MAN CALLS THE PEOPLE OF GOD OUT FROM THE MIDST OF THEIR INHERITANCE. It was the wickedness of Nineveh that had caused Jonah to come out and arise from his place in the earth in order that he might go to Nineveh and cry against it. When the wickedness of the inhabitants of the earth arose from the earth in the days of Noah, the Lord instructed Noah to construct an ark made of acacia wood. When the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah rose from the earth and came up before the Lord, the Lord warned Abraham of the judgment He had purposed, which warranted Abraham’s intercession on their behalf. When the wickedness of the great city of Nineveh had arisen from the earth and come up before the Lord, the Lord called on Jonah to travel to that great city and cry out against it. Oh, there are times when the wickedness that is present on the earth will require the people of God to rise from their place and cry out against it—to warn the people of their flagrant rebellion and iniquity before the Lord, and how their sin had come up before the Lord. There are times when the wickedness that is present on the earth will require the people of God to stand before the Lord, and to intercede on behalf of both land and inhabitants, in order that the Lord might not destroy. There are still other times when the wickedness of man that is upon the earth will require the people of God to rise from their place and build a place of shelter and safety from the judgment and destruction that is about to come upon and befall the earth.
WHEN THE WICKEDNESS OF MAN RISES FROM THE EARTH, BUILD AN ARK OF SAFETY! WHEN THE WICKEDNESS OF MAN RISES FROM THE EARTH, INTERCEDE AND PRAY! WHEN THE WICKEDNESS OF MAN RISES FROM THE EARTH, WARN AND CRY OUT AGAINST IT!
In each of these cases, the response of the people of God was altogether different from the other, for Abraham interceded, Noah built an ark, and Jonah cried out against Nineveh. Oh, in this generation and in these days, what is the Lord your God calling on you to do? Is the Lord calling on you to rise from your place and warn others that judgment and destruction is just over the horizon? Is the Lord calling on you to cry out against the tremendous rebellion and wickedness that is present in our culture and society? Perhaps the Lord isn’t calling on you to rise up and warn a generation, but He is calling to stand in the gap and intercede. Perhaps the Lord is calling on you to enter the secret closet of prayer, and to weep between the porch and the altar. Perhaps the Lord is calling on you to lose your voice in prayer, in travail, in anguish, and an in intercession before Him on behalf of the inhabitants of the earth. It may very well be that the Lord is calling on you to stand in the gap as did Abraham, as did Daniel, as did Nehemiah, as did Samuel, as did Moses, and as did other men and women of God. In days and times of national and perhaps even global judgment and destruction, the Lord might be calling on certain of His people to stand in the gap before Him, and to cry aloud with their voices lifted up, saying, “Spare your people, O God of heaven and earth.” It may also be that in such days of rampant and flagrant rebellion and wickedness that the Lord is calling on you to rise from your place, and to actually cry out against the wickedness and rebellion that is present all around you. There are still others who are called on by the Lord to rise up from their place and to sound an alarm, blow a trumpet, and issue a warning to the inhabitants of the earth because of the great wickedness that has come up before the Lord. I am firmly convinced that we are living in a culture and society where the wickedness and rebellion of man has risen from the earth, and has come up before the Lord. I am convinced that we are living in days when the earth is once more steeped and saturated in rebellion and wickedness before the Lord, and that the Lord is calling for a response from His people. I am convinced that the Old Testament prophetic book of Jonah serves as a powerful picture of what the Lord will call on many from among His people to rise up and do in the earth.
I believe that we are living in days when the wickedness and rebellion of man warrants a response from the people of God, and we need to understand and possess the discernment to know and understand what is required of us. The wickedness and rebellion upon the earth is rising and coming up before the Lord, and the Lord might be calling on you to enter the secret closet of prayer and intercede. The wickedness and rebellion of man upon the earth is coming up before the Lord, and the Lord may very well be calling on your to prepare and build a place (or places) of shelter and safety for others as did Noah in his generation. The wickedness rising up from the earth and coming before the Lord may very well be calling on you to rise from your place and cry out against it, thus warning others of judgment and destruction. I do believe that in this generation, the Lord is calling on, and looking for modern-day Jonah’s—those men and women who will rise from their place in the earth, and cry out against the wickedness that has gone up before the Lord. What we read in the Old Testament prophetic book of Jonah is a picture of what many people in this generation are going to be called upon by the Lord to rise up and fulfill in the earth. What’s so unique and challenging about the first chapter of the book of Jonah, is that he heard the voice and command of the Lord to rise from his place and go to the great city of Nineveh and cry against it, yet he actually attempted to flee from the presence of the Lord. The wickedness of man was coming up before the Lord, and the Lord appointed an ambassador to cry out against the wickedness, and yet the one whom He called attempted to flee from the presence of the Lord. I believe with all my heart that there are a great many men and women who like Jonah are making every attempt to flee from the presence of the Lord. There is absolutely no denying that Jonah heard the voice of the Lord instructing him to go to Nineveh, yet he actually attempted to run in the opposite direction.
Within the first chapter of the prophetic book of Jonah, we not only find him attempting to flee from the presence of the Lord, but we also find him paying the fare (price) needed to make such a bold and brazen attempt, and ultimately, sleeping in the bowel of the ship in the midst of the storm. Oh, I believe with all my heart that Jonah sleeping in the bowel of the ship is a perfect prophetic picture of where many in this generation are, and what many in this generation are doing. I believe that there are men and women in this generation who are sound asleep in the bowel of a ship while a storm is raging all around them threatening the lives of others, and as judgment and destruction threatens an entire city. Consider it—Jonah was sound asleep when the judgment of God threatened to destroy an entire city, and as a storm threatened those aboard the ship. Oh dear brother and sister, are you truly willing to sleep while a storm rages all around you and threatens the lives of others? Are you truly willing to sleep while an entire city faces the judgment and destruction of Almighty God? Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, and He urged them to watch and pray, yet on three separate occasions, He returned and found them fast asleep. The Son of Man was about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and there were His disciples fast asleep in the garden. What’s more, is that the garden of Gethsemane was a place of intimacy, fellowship and communion with the Father, for Jesus had regularly entered it to pray unto His Father, and undoubtedly brought the disciples with Him. The disciples would have had to have been aware of this particular location, for it was Judas Iscariot—one of the twelve—who led the Roman soldiers to the garden. It was Judas Iscariot who led adversaries and enemies into the place of intimacy, and it was Judas Iscariot himself who allowed the serpent to once more enter into the garden. Moreover, there were the disciples of Jesus sound asleep in the place of intimacy.
Oh, what an unbelievable prophetic picture this is of how there are many disciples who are fast asleep in the place of intimacy and fellowship—i.e. the Church and house of God—while rebellion and wickedness is present all around them. There are many churches and houses of worship today that are nothing more than an environment that permits and allows men and women to fall fast asleep while judgment and destruction lie just over the horizon. There are many houses of worship and churches which actually permit and foster such an environment that causes the people of God to fall fast asleep and to slumber before the Lord—this despite the wickedness and rebellion that is present all around them. Jonah was sound asleep in the bowel of the boat while a storm threatened the lives of all those aboard the ship, and ultimately, while judgment threatened an entire city. What about you? Are you sleeping while a storm rages all around you and threatens the lives of others? Are you sleeping while an entire city faces the judgment of the Lord? Are you sleeping while an entire nation is hurdling and spiraling toward the judgment of Almighty God? Could you imagine if Abraham had fallen asleep instead of interceding on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah? What if Noah had chosen to fall fast asleep despite being warned by God of a flood that would destroy the entire earth? What if Noah had chosen to fall fast asleep instead of rising and building the ark according to the word of the Lord? What about you? Are you sleeping when you should be building? Are you sleeping when you should be warning? Are you sleeping when you should be praying? Are you sleeping when you should be interceding? Are you sleeping when you should be blowing the trumpet and sounding the alarm?
There is a storm that is threatening the lives of others around you, is threatening to break up the ship which they are upon, and there is no time for you to be sleeping in the hold of the ship. There are entire cities in the earth today that are facing judgment and destruction from the Lord, and there is absolutely no time or room for you to flee from the presence of the Lord instead of obeying His voice and fulfilling His command and instruction in your life. There are entire cities and nations that are about to face the judgment and wrath of Almighty God—including this nation—and there is no time for us as the people of God to fall fast asleep in the hold of the ship. WHEN THE WICKEDNESS OF MEN RISES BEFORE THE LORD, BUILD! WHEN THE WICKEDNESS OF MEN RISES BEFORE THE LORD, PRAY! WHEN THE WICKEDNESS OF MEN RISES BEFORE THE LORD, WARN! This is the command and instruction of the Lord in this generation, and the Lord is calling out to all those who are making every attempt to flee from His presence, and to all those who are fast asleep in the hold of their ship. What will you do in this hour and in this generation? Will you rise up and build? Will you rise up and pray? Will you rise up and warn? Or, will you be one of those who flees from the presence of the Lord, and one who is actually able to fall asleep when storms threatens the lives of those around you, and entire cities, and even nations face the judgment and wrath of the Lord.
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