Jonah’s experience in the belly of a whale may be a kid’s church favorite, but there are serious warnings here for New Testament prophets. While the Book of Jonah tells a familiar story, deeper examination demonstrates two spiritual death knells for prophets: rebellion and stubbornness. The Lord told Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach against the wickedness of its society. Jonah’s immediate response was to run away from the Lord and board a ship that was headed in the opposite direction toward Tarshish. Jonah rebelled against the word of the Lord because he wanted Nineveh to experience the wrath of God instead of the mercy of God. Jonah knew that Jehovah would forgive the people there if his message brought them to repentance.
This is where Jonah’s woes begin because rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft (1 Samuel 15:23). Prophets who operate in rebellion are in danger of tapping into a spirit of divination and perverting the voice of God. Divination is foretelling the future by occult means and Isaiah Chapter 44 declares that the Lord makes fools of diviners. Rebellion made a fool out of Jonah, who brought danger to himself and those around him. The Lord even sent a violent storm upon the sea in response to Jonah’s disobedience.
The Bible tells us that the ship was about to be broken into pieces and the sailors were terrified for their lives. Meanwhile, Jonah was down in the hold of the ship taking a nap. Who could take a nap in the middle of such a violent tempest? Is it possible that Jonah’s rebellion opened up a door for a spirit of witchcraft to attack him? Spiritual witchcraft is the power of satan and fatigue, weariness and slumber are some of its manifestations. When witchcraft attacks, its victims may feel tired, oppressed or depressed. What could have caused Jonah to remain fast asleep in the midst of such a life-threatening situation? That’s exactly what the ship’s captain wanted to know.
So the captain went to him and said, ‘How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god’ (Jonah 1:6 NLV). Knowing full well that he was in rebellion, Jonah was too stubborn to call upon his God. So the sailors drew lots to fi nd out who was to blame for the misfortune. Once again we see Jonah’s stubbornness manifest as he refuses to admit that it was his own rebellion that had angered the Lord and put everyone’s lives in danger. Only when the lot fell on him did he ultimately acknowledge his sin. The sailors then asked Jonah what they could do to end the storm and he told them to cast him into the furious sea. Jonah chose to die instead of repenting to God. How stubborn can a prophet be?
Speak Not, See Not, Hear Not
Jonah’s woes were about to worsen because stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry (1 Samuel 15:23). The stubbornness of following self-will instead of God’s will is idolatry and puts the prophet in a precarious position. A vital part of the prophetic ministry is to see, hear and say, but Psalms 115 makes it clear that everyone who trusts in idols takes on the characteristics of idols. “They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see; They have ears, but they cannot hear” (Psalm 115:5-6 NASB). What good is a prophet who can’t see, hear or say? About as good as a prophet who is in the belly of a whale.
That’s just where Jonah ended up when the sailors threw him into the tumultuous sea. His hellish situation eventually led him to call upon his God. Jonah recognized his rebellion and stubbornness and fi nally repented, acknowledging that “Those who pay regard to false, useless, and worthless idols forsake their own [Source of] mercy and loving-kindness” (Jonah 2:8 AMP). Jonah promised God to pay what he had vowed and the Lord delivered him from the whale’s belly on to dry land. Of course, Jonah wound up preaching in Nineveh, the people repented and that made him angry. Despite his experience in the whale’s belly, Jonah didn’t seem to learn his lesson. The end of the story is left to our imagination, but the Bible makes no record of the Lord using Jonah again.
Jonah’s legend illustrates how critical is the restoration of the apostolic ministry. Prophets are undoubtedly vital to the end-time Church. Apostles recognize this truth and welcome prophets to work alongside them to build the church and to equip believers for the work of the ministry. Where other ministry offi ces have been threatened by or misunderstood the gift, apostles embrace the grace and seek to build a platform for the prophetic voice. That platform, however, is only accessible by stable prophets who are willing to be held accountable for their utterances.
This accountability does not hinder the prophet, but rather acts as a safety net as there is safety in submission. Consider Nehemiah. Nehemiah was a type of apostle who was called to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Who was working alongside Nehemiah? The trumpeters (types of prophets). The trumpeters were submitted to Nehemiah’s vision to rebuild the wall and his authority to oversee the completion of that vision. The Old Testament apostolic builder, in turn, welcomed and depended upon the prophetic watchmen to warn him if the enemies were approaching (Nehemiah 4:18). So the apostle and prophets worked together in a dangerous situation as several hostile forces sought to kill them in order to stop the work. What would have happened to the trumpeters if they had abandoned Nehemiah’s apostolic covering to follow selfwill instead of God’s will? They may have fallen prey to the Arabs, the Ammonites or the Ashdodites (types of demonic guards) that opposed the building.
Likewise, New Testament prophets who start off walking in God’s will but take a detour into rebellion, stubbornness, pride, lust or any other sinful lifestyle, are apt to fall prey to demonic guards that oppose the building of the glorious Church of Jesus Christ. True apostles are spiritual fathers with the prophets’ best interests at heart. Remember what the Apostle Paul said to the church at Corinth: “I’m writing as a father to you, my children. I love you and want you to grow up well, not spoiled. There are a lot of people around who can’t wait to tell you what you’ve done wrong, but there aren’t many fathers willing to take the time and effort to help you grow up” (1 Corinthians 4:14-15 MSG).
By speaking the truth in love, however uncomfortable it may be to receive, apostolic fathers are helping to protect New Testament prophets from spirits like Jezebel and witchcraft. An apostolic covering and some fatherly correction may have saved Jonah’s ministry, but the last we read of him he was sitting outside Nineveh wishing he was dead.
Want to read more about prophetic pitfalls? Read Jennifer’s book, “The Heart of the Prophetic.”