Jonah 1

The most important thing you can do as a Christian is to find and follow the will of God. It is one thing to not know the will of God and miss it. It is another thing altogether to know the will of God and refuse it, rebel against it, and run from it. The classic example in Scripture of a believer who knows the will of God, and yet doesn’t want to do it, is Jonah. The book of Jonah is unique among the Old Testament books of prophecy because it centers on the story of the prophet himself and not the prophecies he delivered.

God gave Jonah a simple command (v.2): “Arise, go to Nineveh, and preach to them.” Nineveh was about 500 miles northeast of Israel, but Jonah headed in the opposite direction, southwest to Joppa (called Jaffa in present-day Israel). He intended to run away to Tarshish, 2,000 miles westward (v.3). In defiance and disobedience to God’s command, Jonah resigned as a prophet and went the opposite direction. Why would a God-called prophet do that? Two reasons are strongly implied.

First, Jonah knew the character of the Ninevites (people of Nineveh). Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria in the ancient world. It was a large, powerful, famous city. It was “great” in many ways, but God said that it was greatly wicked (v.2): “Their wickedness has come up before Me” (I like the way that is rendered in The Living Bible, “It smells to high heaven”). Nineveh was famous for its brutality in warfare. The Ninevites were notoriously cruel and vicious. They were the Nazis of the ancient world — and they were the enemy of Israel, Jonah’s people. No wonder he didn’t want to go there; he knew their character, he knew their record, and he hated them for it.

But a second reason he ran from his calling is that he also knew God’s character. Jonah didn’t want to preach in Nineveh because he knew that their rebellion might turn to repentance; he knew that if they repented God would forgive them; and he knew that if God forgave them they would escape punishment. And Jonah did not want to be involved in the Ninevites receiving God’s grace — so he ran. (Note: did you catch the symbolism of Jonah’s downward spiral once he ran from God’s will? He went down to Joppa (v.3), he went down into the ship, he went down into the lowest part of the ship (v.5), he lay down on his bed, and he sunk down into the sea (v.15). When we rebel against something God calls us to do, we go down, down, down, down. And the only way back up is surrender and obedience.)

Jonah thought he could escape the presence of the Lord, but he couldn’t. God found Jonah and He loved him enough to send him a disciplinary storm. The Lord “hurled a great wind” at the ship and the Mediterranean Sea became so rough that the ship was about to capsize. The sailors threw out their cargo, prayed to their pagan gods, and hung on for dear life. Jonah was asleep below deck, and the captain woke him up (v.6). Jonah sized up the situation and finally repented, owning up to his sin (v.10). He told the ship’s crew that if they wanted to survive, they had to throw him overboard. By telling the men to throw him overboard, Jonah was repenting of his sin and throwing himself on the mercy of God.

If you are out of God’s will, you got there the same way Jonah got there: by sin (rebellion, ignoring God, disobedience). The best thing you can do is repent and throw yourself on the mercy of God without delay. This book is a testimony of the fact that He is the God of the second chance! If you have run from God, made mistakes, or hurt other people, turn back to God in confession and repentance. (Note: Jonah told some other people what he had done. Maybe you should find a Christian friend in whom you can confide and let them pray with you, share the Scripture with you, and encourage you.)

“God appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah” (v.17), and it started swimming for Israel to return Jonah to the place of his disobedience. If you are out of God’s will, you need to go back to where you said no and say yes. That fish returned Jonah so that he could obey the Lord.

Jonah survived inside the fish for three days. It must have been an awful, slimy, stinky, nightmarish 72 hours. I believe it literally, actually happened. I also believe that if you are out of God’s will, you may not get swallowed by a whale, but you will find yourself in circumstances just as unpleasant and just as uncomfortable as Jonah did. Don’t waste that time. The belly of a fish was not a good place to live, but it was a good place to learn.

P.S. Happy Thanksgiving!