Jonah and the big fish. If you have kids or have been a kid you have likely heard this story a thousand times. God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh. Nineveh was a wicked place and God needed Jonah to share the good news of his love. Jonah thought this sounded like a terrible idea so he ran away from God, literally and figuratively. Instead of going to Nineveh, Jonah heads to Joppa and jumps on a ship headed towards Tarshish. Here’s a visual to help you understand how serious Jonah was about getting away from Nineveh (and God’s plan for his life!)
As you can see, instead of taking the short trip to Nineveh (the route of obedience) Jonah attempts to flee as far away as possible.
So we find Jonah on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea running away from God when disaster strikes. God sends a great wind across the sea to stir up the waters. The other men on the boat are puzzled by this sudden storm while Jonah sleeps soundly below deck. After many efforts to save their boat from collapse, the men wake up Jonah to call on God. When this doesn’t stop the storm they draw straws (or most likely sticks), casting the blame for this sudden, evil storm upon the man that draws the shortest one. Of course Jonah draws the short straw. He confesses that he is running away from God and the men asks what they must do to stop the storm. Jonah says “throw me into the sea”. At first the men refuse but the waves grow stronger and stronger so they pick up Jonah and throw him overboard. Immediately the sea becomes calm. “Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.” (Jonah 1:16)
How many times have we been like Jonah? We know exactly what God is calling us to do and yet out of fear or selfishness or pride we turn and do exactly the opposite. We choose to live in sin instead of obedience, forcing ourselves out of God’s presence. Yes, sin really is that drastic! John 15:10 says “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” This also means the opposite is true; if we disobey his commands we will be cast away from his love, just like Jonah was cast into the sea.
But as Jonah finds out, there is hope even in our disobedience.
Instead of allowing Jonah to drown, God sends a giant fish to swallow him. I cannot imagine this was a pleasant experience, but when you look at it in light of the alternative (drowning and thus death) it doesn’t seem so bad!
Sitting in the belly of the fish does a lot to change Jonah’s perspective and he cries out to God saying…
I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.
For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the sea, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’
The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.
When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.
But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord.”
Jonah’s prayer may sound long-winded but it’s really pretty simple.
I cry out Lord and you answer me.
I am sinking in my troubles and feel far from your presence,
yet I know you have not forgotten me.
I am drowning, yet you give me air.
I want to give up but I remember all you have done for me. I am crying out to you.
I am done with the ways of the world. I want to be secure in you.
I praise you God for you have saved me.
You and I can pray this same prayer. Whether we are turning back to God after being disobedient or find ourselves facing difficulties beyond our control (like the other men in the boat!) God is waiting for us, longing to hear our voice.
Make today the day you turn to him. Let him wrap his loving arms around you and draw you into his sweet embrace. It’s one decision you’ll never regret!