You may think you know the story of Jonah, but there is so much more for us to learn from his book. There is the fact that disobedience and running from God can land us in some pretty nasty circumstances. But there is, also, a great lesson in God’s mercy and willingness to forgive in the rest of the story.
Our New Testament reading is from Revelation 8 with the beginning of the seven trumpet judgments. The first four are horrible enough, but before the fifth one sounds an angel cries, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet …”
Lessons from a Fish’s Belly
The Real Lesson from Jonah
Most of us grew up hearing the story of Jonah in Sunday school or at least had some vague idea of what it was all about. But there is so much more to be learned from this little book.
Jonah received a call from God to go to the capital of Assyria, the city of Nineveh. The Assyrians were the enemies of Israel and Judah. Instead of obeying God he got on a ship going in the opposite direction only to have God bring a fierce storm against the ship. He ended up being thrown overboard, though reluctantly, by the crew when they realized that it was the only way to save the ship and themselves. Jonah 1:
13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them. 14 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.” 15 So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took vows.
They recognized God’s hand in what was happening, and the text says they feared Him and offered sacrifices to Him. Even God’s judgment can cause people to turn to Him.
Back to Jonah himself. Don’t you wonder what it was like to be inside that fish’s belly for three days and three nights? God knows just how to get our attention. We don’t know everything that went through his mind, but chapter 2 gives us some insight:
1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly. 2 And he said.
“I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction,
And He answered me.
Even though he had been disobedient and was running from God, he turned back to Him in his time of trouble.
He knew God was faithful:
4 Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight;
Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’
7 “ When my soul fainted within me,
I remembered the LORD;
And my prayer went up to You,
Into Your holy temple.
8 “Those who regard worthless idols
Forsake their own Mercy.
9 But I will sacrifice to You
With the voice of thanksgiving;
I will pay what I have vowed.
Salvation is of the LORD.”
10 So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.”
Notice, God did not say, “Oh, you poor thing, I can see you really didn’t want to go to Nineveh. Just go back home.” Instead, He told, Jonah, “Now go and do what I have called you to do.”
3 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. 4 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!”
5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.
One commentator says that after being in the fish’s belly with its digestive juices, seaweed and rotting fish, Jonah would have been quite a sight. We don’t know exactly what he looked like, because the text doesn’t tell us. But with a little sanctified imagination, it’s quite possible that much of his hair had fallen out, his skin was blotchy and discolored, his clothes … you get the picture. Just think about a man like that walking through your city, crying out “Yet forty days, and El Paso (or New York or Las Vegas or San Francisco …) shall be overthrown!”
Today he would probably get taken to the psychiatric ward. But the people of Nineveh listened and repented.
1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. 2 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. 3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”
Jonah knew God. He knew He was merciful and willing to extend grace to the worst sinners, and Jonah wanted no part of it … especially where it concerned the Ninevites!
What about you? How do you respond to the idea that God wants you to pray for your enemies, to forgive them, to share the Gospel with them? Are you more concerned about what you consider justice—about them getting what they deserve? Or do you want what God wants—that all men might be saved and come to repentance (1 Tim. 2.4)?
God wanted to forgive the Ninevites and Ephesians 4 tells us that we are to forgive as God forgives (Eph. 4.31).
But notice, that God’s forgiveness is not automatic, the Ninevites had to receive the Word of God and repent. There can be no forgiveness without repentance. Repentance means not just saying “I’m sorry,” but also a turning away from sin.
As believers, we must forgive from our hearts even those who have sinned against us and not repented. Forgiving on the heart level will enable us to pray for them, do good to them, share the gospel with them whenever possible, and grant them forgiveness when they ask. Not forgiving from the heart makes it impossible to do those things and we will also short-circuit our own relationship with God.
“But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6.15).
And we, too, could find ourselves in the belly of a great fish and wondering how we got there!
Meditation & Praise
As David prayed, he didn’t just lay out his wants, he acknowledged God for who He is, “[his] lovingkindness … [his] fortress, [his] high tower, [his] deliverer, [his] shield” (v. 2), and he contemplated His attributes then he prayed:
5 Bow down Your heavens, O LORD, and come down;
Touch the mountains, and they shall smoke.
6 Flash forth lightning and scatter them;
Shoot out Your arrows and destroy them.
7 Stretch out Your hand from above;
Rescue me and deliver me out of great waters,
From the hand of foreigners.
We should make meditation on His attributes and praise for who He is a part of our prayer life, even before we make our requests! When we do, we’ll find that prayer changes us as much as it changes anything about which we’re praying.
Give Me Just What I Need
Verse 8, “… Give me neither poverty nor riches—Feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, “Who is the LORD?” Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.”
Jesus said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Financial prosperity and its accompanying sense of self-sufficiency can keep a person from seeing a need for God in his or her life or cause one to forget Him and trust in self. If you’re broke and get sick, you are much quicker to turn to God in prayer.
But on the other hand, poverty can lead to anger, resentment, self-pity, and more. So the writer of proverbs wrote, in effect, “Lord, give me just what I need. You know what would be too much for me to handle, and yet, You know what I need. I put myself in Your hands.” We might add to that, “Help me to be content with what You have provided in Your wisdom and mercy!”
The Angel’s Warning
Yesterday I talked about the calm that will take place on earth before the seventh seal is opened. There will also be 30 minutes of silence in heaven after it is broken. Then the opening of this seventh seal will bring in the “seven trumpet judgments.”
When the first trumpet is blown:
7 The first angel sounded. And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth. And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
This fiery hail mixed with blood will destroy much of the vegetation. Just like Moses’ bush which burned, but was not consumed, this is a supernatural work of God.
The second trumpet:
8 Then the second angel sounded. And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. 9 And a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
This may be an asteroid of some kind. Whatever it is, it will kill a third of the sea creatures. Can you imagine the stench and decay and pollution which will result?
The third trumpet:
10 Then the third angel sounded. And a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. 11 The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water, because it was made bitter.
Perhaps this is a comet, a comet which obeys the sovereign commands and will of God who was, is, and always will be, in control of all the comets and everything else in His creation. It will affect the fresh water, making much of the water poisonous.
The forth trumpet:
12 Then the fourth angel sounded. And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night.
Time, day and night as we know it, will be changed.
But all this will be nothing in comparison to what is to come:
13 And I looked, and I heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!”
May we have a new resolve to pray for our unsaved friends and family members and a willingness to share the gospel so they might be spared from the wrath to come!
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“Bible in a Year” posts have been edited and updated from previous posts.