I have been spending a lot of time in what many consider a children's story in the old testament, Jonah. If you ask any child about Jonah, they can tell you the story of how Jonah was told by God to do something and Jonah ran away instead. And any child's most memorable part of the story is how Jonah was swallowed by a whale! In fact, for may adults this is the end of our knowledge of Jonah as well. We might be able to talk about what God told Jonah to do (go and preach against Ninevah), we may even see the symbolism between Jonah's three days in the whale and Christ's three days in the grave. But, as we see past the obvious and really dive into this text we will see there is so much more than a children's story.
So let's dive in...
Click here to read Jonah 1:1-3 Jonah is known by many as the "reluctant prophet" but his name actually means dove or peaceful one. His dad, Amittai, means "truth." So we are introduced to Jonah, the peaceful one, son of truth and he is told to go to Ninevah and preach. This seems like a simple request. After all Jonah is a prophet of God and prophets speak to the people as God commands. So what's the big deal? Ninivah was the capital of Assyria and Ninevah, during this time, was absolutely Israels worst enemy. Israel hated Ninevah.
So what made Ninevah so hated by Israel and every other country during this time? Whenever it was rumored that the Assyrians would be attacking a city, all of the people in that town would just commit suicide. Why? Because they would rather die by their own hand than experience the brutality the Assyrians would bring.
When the Assyrians would take over a city. They would kill almost all people, then the surviving women they would rape before they would kill them. Then they would take the husbands, who were prisoners of war, outside the city and they would skin them alive. Then, once they were skinned, they would actually bury them in the desert’s sand up to their necks. You can imagine the pain they would be in. Then, they would take their tongues and they would pull their tongues out, and they would drive a stake through their tongue so they would go crazy as they were dying of thirst in the middle of the desert.
Then once they were dead, they would behead them, and they would take the heads of all of the prisoners of war, and they would make a pyramid of heads outside their city to say to the rest of the world, “This is a city that we conquered.”
Now that we know this about Ninevah, lets put these first few verses into context. Jonah 1:1-3 "The word of the Lord came to "the peaceful one, son of truth." Go to Ninevah, the city you hate and preach against it." When we understand more about the situation Jonah was facing it's easier to understand why he didn't want to go.
Whenever God comes to us and calls us out of our comfort zone remember there will always be a boat going in the opposite direction. It can be an old friend that comes up and says to you "lets go back to the old times, lets do what we used to do..." God told Jonah to go East to Ninevah and instead he got on a boat heading West to Tarshish 2500 miles away. Ninevah was on the far east end of the Mediterranean Sea and Tarshish was through the Straits of Gibraltar near where modern day Cadiz, Spain is located.
Whenever you get on that boat sailing in the wrong direction God may send a storm to get your attention. And this is exactly what happened to Jonah. Jonah finally realizes, “It’s my fault.” Some of you are going to recognize that right now. You are going to think, “what I was doing was own my private rebellion and it wasn’t hurting anybody.” Don’t kid yourself. If it hadn’t hurt somebody yet, it’s going to tomorrow. Jonah realizes, “This is my fault. I’m hurting all these innocent people by my disobedience to God.” Remember, delayed obedience is still disobedience.
The sailors do the unthinkable, they throw Jonah into the sea. Then, something unbelievably bad in our human mind happens to Jonah. If you know the story, he got swallowed up by a big fish. People say, “Jonah and the whale”. It was not a whale. Original text says it was a fish. It was big, it was nasty, and he was in it for three days.
What seems to be the worse possible situation for Jonah and what would appear to be Jonah’s worst nightmare come true, was exactly what he needed. They throw Jonah overboard and the raging sea grew calm. v16: "At this, the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord, and they made vows to him."
v17: "Now the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights."
Do you see that? The Lord provided the fish. What Jonah would see as the worst possible scenario is something God provided. You may be facing what you would consider to be your worse nightmare and God may say, “now do I have your attention?” I am not going to tell you that everything bad that happens is God causing it in your life, because I don’t believe that is true, but I do believe with everything in me that there are times where God may cause, or God may allow, what we would consider is our worst nightmare so that He can fully get our attention.
The Word of the Lord will come to you, and you have a choice: obey or disobey.