Everyone knows the story of Jonah and the big fish. But what is the message God is trying to tell us? What does this teach us about God? This is not just a story to tell your kids. It is God’s truth about people, about sin, about repentance, about righteousness, about mercy. Jesus used the same power described in this account while here on earth. He also referenced this historic event to describe His death and resurrection though which we can have salvation by believing in Him.
Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. But the LORD sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.
Has God called you to do something (or not do something) and you chose to ignore it, rebel against it or try to run from it? I think we all have. But God is persistent. He does not give up on us. He may put us through trials but he is always there. I see three sins or follies that Jonah committed that is common among all of us at one time or another, I believe. The first is outright disobedience. God told Jonah to do something and he decided not to and to run from it, which was his second sin. Running from God or from the work He has put before us is never a good thing. We cannot run from God or hide from Him. That leads us to the third folly…thinking we can hide from God. God is much bigger than that. He knows all and sees all. We need to know God better. We need to read and study His word and to pray. He wants a relationship with us.
Therefore they cried out to the LORD and said, “We pray, O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O LORD, have done as it pleased You.” So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took vows.
God can use us even in our rebellion. He can even use our sin to turn people away from theirs and to lead them to Christ. He works all things together for good. Even in our weakness the Spirit will not only make intercession for us but will also speak to the hearts of those around us.
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Everyone knows what happened next. God sent a great fish to swallow Jonah to protect him from drowning in the sea and spit him out on land after 3 days. This gave Jonah time to think and realize what he had done and what he needed to do and how God showed mercy.
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent. And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.
Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
God said, “Let’s try this again.” This time Jonah obeyed God and because of it 120,000 people were saved. One of my biggest regrets in life is all those years of rebellion that God could have used me. How many people could have been saved or blessed had I not been living in sin all those years? How much joy and blessings did I lose out on during that time? But I know that God always has a plan. He will not stop working on people to bring them to salvation and to bless them. And when we do allow God to work through us, we need to have the right attitude. We need to love others as God does. We need to show grace.
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the LORD, and said, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”
Then the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city. And the LORD God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”
But the LORD said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?
So here is another folly of Jonah. He did what God called him to do, but his heart was not right in doing it. He wanted to see the people of Ninevah burn. He did not understand God’s mercy. He was selfish in thinking that God only blesses the Israelites, but God loves the whole world. He sent His only Son to die for all of us. Jonah then moped around and felt sorry for himself. Again God used His power to teach Jonah a lesson. God does the same for us. He will use His power in different ways, so that each of us would understand. In the next post we will show how Jesus used His power to teach others and to show who He is. He is our Savior and our God.