Posts Tagged ‘Jonah’

A God of Second Chances

And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee. 

Jonah 3:1-2

I don’t know about you, but I am glad that I serve a God of second chances.  I am thankful that I serve a God of third and fourth and fifth and sixth chances.  I don’t know how many “chances” I have needed in my life to get various things right, but I can guarantee that it has been more than one or two on most occasions.  In this book of the Bible, Jonah, a prophet of God, had directly rebelled against what God told him to do.  In fact, he ran the opposite direction.  God could have wiped him off the face of the earth.  He could have sent the storm, sunk the boat and found another man to go to Nineveh.  He could have had the sailors throw Jonah overboard and let him drown.  He could have prepared a great white shark to swallow Jonah after eating him.  But He didn’t do any of those things.  He taught Jonah a lesson (a hard lesson), put him back on dry land and gave him his instructions again.  He gave Jonah a second chance.  And He has given us second chances to get something right time and time again.  I am glad that God is merciful and slow to anger.  We give Him plenty of reasons to be angry, yet He continues to give us chance after chance to obey Him.  What a merciful God!

Of course, listening and obeying the first time is the best policy.  But when we find ourselves in Jonah’s shoes, we would do well to follow his example.  When he was given a second chance, he got it right:

So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD.  Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey.

Jonah 3:3

Forsaking Mercy

When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.  They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.  But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that I have vowed.  Salvation is of the LORD.

Jonah 2:7-9

As I was reading this passage, I thought that verse 8 seemed a little out of place.  The whole chapter is about Jonah and his prayer to the Lord from the belly of the fish.  And right in the middle of that, we have a verse that says “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.”  At first, I wondered what that had to do with Jonah praying for deliverance.  But when I took a look at the verses surrounding it, it began to make sense.

Verse 7 tells us that it was when Jonah’s soul “fainted within” him that he “remembered the LORD.”  It was not until Jonah reached the end of himself that He cried out to the Lord for mercy.  It is after that revelation that we find the fact that “they that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.”  Before a person will turn from their own way and cry out to the Lord, their soul must “faint within them.”

Verse 9 ends Jonah’s prayer with this great statement: “Salvation is of the LORD.”  I have to say “amen” to Jonah’s comment.  Salvation is of the Lord.  “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”  (Acts 4:12)

We “observe lying vanities” when we think that anyone or anything else apart from Jesus Christ can help us or save us.  It is a “lying vanity” to think that we can help ourselves.  And when we observe those lying vanities in our lives, we forsake our own mercy.  What a sad statement.  There is mercy available, but we first must humble ourselves before the One Who can grant that mercy.  Jonah learned this lesson the hard way.  Let us learn it the easy way.

Man or Animal?

Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.  And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dray land.

Jonah 1:17, 2:10

The title of this post contains two possible answers to a question: Who obeyed God better, the man or the animal?  The book of Jonah is about God’s man, the prophet Jonah.  God told him to go to Ninevah, and he ran the other direction instead.  He directly disobeyed God’s command, choosing instead to try to do things his way.  Of course God followed him and did what was necessary to bring him back.

On the other hand, we read of this “great fish” twice in the book of Jonah.  Once in the first chapter where it tells us that “the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.”  And again in the second chapter in which the Lord “spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.”  Here is what I find interesting:

In chapter one, we are told that “the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.  And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”  There is nothing between the Lord preparing the fish and Jonah being in the fish.  In chapter two, we are told that the Lord “spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.”  Again, the Lord speaks and the fish obeys.  As far as we can tell from the Scripture, there was no hesitation or delay.  The Lord spoke and fish obeyed.

What a sad commentary.  Jonah, the prophet of God, disobeyed God.  A mindless, dumb fish obeyed and obeyed immediately.  When you think about it, humans are the only creatures in all of God’s creation that disobey Him and rebel against Him.  All of nature obeys Him.  It is only us who disobeys Him.  We can take a lesson from this great fish.  Immediate obedience is something we can learn from this fish.

Cast Out of Sight

Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly, And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.  For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.  Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.

Jonah 2:1-4

After being thrown overboard and swallowed by the great fish, Jonah found himself in quite a predicament.  Sitting in the belly of a fish is a pretty bad place to be.  He even mentions in the next verse that “the weeds were wrapped about my head.”  Jonah ran from the Lord and disobeyed His instructions.  He then found himself on the receiving end of some heavy chastening.  It was there that he uttered some very disheartening words: “I am cast out of thy sight.”  Jonah felt that God had abandoned him and turned His back on him.  Jonah had rejected God.  Now God, Jonah felt, had rejected him.

So he did the only thing that a person can do in a situation like that: He turned to the Lord.  “…yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.”  When we find ourselves feeling that we have been “cast out of thy sight,” we need only to “look to Him.”  He has promised that He will “never leave us nor forsake us,” so we can rest in the knowledge that He is there.

Often when we feel that we “can’t see” the Lord, it is because we are not looking in the right direction.  When we get rebellious and try to go our own way, it becomes easy to lose sight of Him.  If and when we find ourselves in that situation, we must do as Jonah did: “look again toward thy holy temple.”

Jonah Prayed

Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.  And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.  Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly…

When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.

Jonah 1:17-2:1, 7

I find this encouraging.  Jonah rejected the Lord and he rejected what God had told him to do.  In fact, he ran the opposite direction when God told him to go and preach to Ninevah.  Jonah turned his back and ran in the opposite direction.  But God knew where he was the whole time and sent a great fish to swallow him after he had been thrown overboard during the storm.

The encouraging thing to me is that, after all of this, Jonah prayed to the Lord and the Lord still heard him.  We often want to condemn those who cry out to the Lord when they are in trouble.  I have heard them called “fox hole prayers.”  Of course, we should be praying to the Lord all the time, during the good times and the bad times.  But the Lord does not despise our prayers.  In verse 7, Jonah says that “when my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord.”  Sometimes it takes a “whack upside the head” to get our attention and to get us to remember the Lord.  Sometimes the Lord has to “make our soul faint within us” to bring us back to Himself.

God did not despise Jonah’s “foxhole” prayer.  The Lord could have ignored Jonah’s cries, just as Jonah ignored the Lord’s instruction to go to Ninevah.  But He didn’t.  Just as He doesn’t ignore us when we cry out to Him.  It surely is “amazing love” with which He loves us.

God Prepared the Fish

So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.  Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.  Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.  And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Jonah 1:15-17

After trying to row their boat against the wind and waves of God, the sailors in Jonah’s ship decided to a ahead and throw him overboard.  As soon as they had done that, “the sea ceased from her raging.”  All was calm and the men on the ship “feared the LORD exceedingly.”  They offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows, but to them, the ordeal was over.  I am curious as to whether or not they followed through with their vows, but since that is not dealt with in the Scripture, it would be pure speculation.  What is not speculation is this fact:

“Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.  And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”  I say that this is a fact and that this is not speculation because it is written in the Bible.  There is perhaps no miracle in the entire Bible that brings so much criticism and doubt as this one.  The unregenerate world can not understand how a “great fish” could swallow a man and keep him there for three days and three nights.  But, as William Jennings Bryan said, “If the Bible said that Jonah swallowed the whale, I would believe it.”  I say amen to that.  “It is written…”  And thus it happened.

Anyway, the sailors thought that everything was over when they threw Jonah over the side of the ship.  But God was still working on Jonah.  As soon as he went overboard, the great fish was prepared to swallow Jonah.  God was in complete control during the entire situation.  That is comforting on two levels: first, even though Jonah had run from God, God had not forsaken him.  And second, there was never a point at which God was not in complete control.

Rowing Against God

And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us.  So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.  Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation?  and whence comest thou?  what is thy country?  and of what people art thou?  And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.  Then were the men exceeding afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this?  For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.  Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us?  for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous.  And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.  Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.

Jonah 1:7-13

We are all probably very familiar with the story of Jonah.  Today, a verse struck me that had never struck me before.  Jonah tried to flee from the Lord after he was told to go to Ninevah.  God then sent a strong wind and a giant storm to get his attention.  The sailors were afraid and, of course, their gods were of no use.  It was finally discovered that Jonah was the cause of the storm.  He gave them the way to calm the storm: thown him overboard.  The one verse I want to bring out is verse 13 and the sailors’ response:

“Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not…”

Despite the fact that God had sent the storm and they knew it, they still tried to use their own strength to control the situation.  They were literally rowing against God Almighty.  Think of the futility.  Now think of the futility when try to do the same thing.

You Can Run But You Can’t Hide

Arise, go to Ninevah, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.  But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.  But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.

Jonah 1:2-4

God told Jonah to go and preach to the city of Ninevah.  Jonah, being a little nervous to confront a city of savage warriors about their wickedness, decided to run in the opposite direction.  He decided that he would run from God and flee to Tarshish.  He found a ship going that direction and hopped on.

Of course, we know that running from God is not good idea.  Jonah discovered this as “the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea.”  God found Jonah at sea and sent a great wind and a “tempest” after him.  God knew where Jonah was all the time.  Jonah couldn’t run from God and neither can we.

When we read this story, we think about how silly Jonah was for even trying to run from the Lord.  And it is silly.  But, somehow, we sometimes think that we can run from God.  Maybe we don’t think that we can run from Him, but we think we can hide something from Him.  We get a little sin in our lives and we think that either He isn’t going to notice it or that we have effectively hidden it from Him.  Neither is going to work.

God is everywhere at once.  He knows not only where we are, but He knows everything about us.  We, like Jonah, can try to run from God, but there is no place to hide from Him.

If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.

Psalm 139:8

Running the Wrong Way

Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Ninevah, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.  But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

Jonah 1:1-3

For a long time, I heard the story of Jonah and somewhat looked down my nose at him for directly disobeying the Lord and running the opposite direction that he was supposed to go.  But the more I think about it, the more I realize that Jonah is quite a bit like me and I am quite a bit like Jonah.  The more I see those similarities, the more encouraging the book of Jonah becomes.

Jonah was a prophet.  And the word of the Lord came to him to tell him to “go to Ninevah, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.”  That is an easy to follow, direct command.  And Jonah disobeyed it.  Before we shake our heads at Jonah too much, let us look a little closer at this command.

“Go and ‘cry against’ Ninevah” is a pretty straightforward command.  But we should look back in history to see what Ninevah was.  Ninevah was the main city of the Assyrians.  The Assyrians were a conquering people known for their brutality.  Legend says that they would take prisoners of war and nail them to the outer walls of Ninevah (dead or alive) to discourage invaders.  This is the city to which Jonah was called to go.  He was to go to those people with a message of judgment.  I can see how that would be a fearful assignment.  Thinking of his own safety, I’m sure Jonah didn’t want to get within a thousand miles of Ninevah, as doing so would likely mean torture and death.

How many times have we “ran the opposite direction” when God wanted us to do something.  How often have we been silent simply out of a fear of embarrassment?  We have likely never had a legitimate fear of death for obeying the Lord as Jonah, yet how often have we disobeyed?  The next time we hear the story of Jonah, maybe we should not be so quick to criticize him when we have likely done far worse.