If you went to Sunday School as a child, I’m fairly sure you would remember the story of a prophet named Jonah and the big fish. It’s a remarkable story from the Old Testament about a man of God who fell overboard and was swallowed by a fish, possibly a whale.
Now, some people rubbish this story and others believe it to be true.
One day a little girl who was telling her school teacher about Jonah being swallowed by a big fish. The teacher said, “It is physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human being because even though a whale is a very large mammal, its throat is very small.”
The little girl again stated that Jonah was swallowed by a large fish. Irritated, the teacher reiterated, “A whale cannot swallow a human; it is physically impossible!” The little girl said, “When I get to heaven I will ask Jonah.” The teacher asked, “What if Jonah went to hell?” “Then you ask him!” she replied.
Years ago evangelists would travel around the world with a large fish skeleton on the back of a flatbed truck to prove that this fish was big enough to swallow a person.
Lots of energy has gone into proving that a big fish could literally swallow this preacher Jonah.
This is more than a fish story, however, and is different from all other prophetic writings.I believe it to be a true story about a preacher named Johah, and there is a tremendous lesson here. And it is simply this. You can’t run away from God.
If you read the book of Jonah the very 1st verse says “One day the Lord told Jonah to go to the great city of Ninevah and say to the people ‘The Lord has seen your terrible sins. You are doomed’”.
Jonah was being sent to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire; even though it was a great city – it was a particularly nasty place. Approximately 100 km in circumference housing about 120,000 people. it was a city full of violence; cruelty; plotting evil against God; plundering in war; prostitution; witchcraft; commercial exploitation.
Jonah’s mission: God says to him: “Go and preach to Nineveh and bring it back to me!” Tall order? Impossible for one man to bring back a whole city to God?
v2 gets straight to the point ‘Instead Jonah ran from the Lord. He went to the seaport of Joppa and bought a ticket on a ship that was going to Spain. Then he got on the ship and sailed away to escape”. He runs away from God. Why? Maybe he had a conflict on his calendar. Maybe he didn’t speak their language. Maybe he was afraid of what they would do to an out-of-town preacher. Maybe he didn’t like the Assyrians for what their army had done to his country and its citizens. They were, after all, the enemy.
It really doesn’t matter why Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh, that great city. All that God really hears in his response is, “No, I don’t want to do it!” So Jonah heads in the opposite direction. Nineveh (which is modern day Iraq) is northeast, so Jonah heads southwest to Tarshish, which is probably modern Spain.
Spain is on the western tip of Europe and is literally for Jonah the end of his world and as far from Nineveh as he can possibly be. Nineveh was quite a distance away, probably over six hundred miles as the crow flies, and about seven hundred-fifty miles by road. And Jonah probably had to walk. It was a very big city with many people. Here was a lone person from another country asked to go and make contacts there and to preach against this city – a very difficult task.
He wanted to get away from this responsibility, and who could blame him. He was in fear of his life. But his journey by boat proved to be very hazardous and dangerous. He was thrown overboard and survived in the belly of a large fish, and was vomited out onto dry ground. Quite remarkable. STOP, PRY, APPLY. WE CAN’T ESCAPE God’s love and we can’t escape His presence.
Do you remember hide and seek as a child thinking that the curtain would hide you – not realizing the huge bulge in the front. I can’t see anyone so nobody can see me! We were just fooling ourselves and sometimes we continue to do it as adults. We have to face God, come to him in honesty. Turning our back on God and running away never works, just ask Jonah!
There’s a storm front coming!
Jonah – a boat – the open sea – and a vicious storm!
The Bible says God HURLED a storm across the sea
The sailors experienced absolute fear, panic, throw everything overboard!
And all this time Jonah was fast asleep? Oblivious to the danger he and the crew were in!
STOP, PRY, APPLY
SIN IS ANYTHING WE DO that is opposite to the will of God. And the things we think we are getting away with can often lull us into a false sense of security. “Gee, I’ve just done this, and nothing bad has happened! Maybe I’ll do it again!” We can be doing the wrong thing and be fast asleep to it just like Jonah! What is God telling us about our behaviour? What in our lives are we becoming blind to?
And in spite of their protest, the mariners finally resort to throwing Jonah overboard to stop the storm,
I think if you or I were thrown overboard during a life-threatening storm, we would be thinking just one thing – THIS IS IT! I’m done for! But God wouldn’t let Jonah get away that easily…He still had a plan for him! A great fish, maybe a shark swallowed Jonah – a miracle? NO PROBLEMS FOR GOD! (Men’s bodies have been discovered whole in shark’s bellies in the Mediterranean Sea)
Remember Tony Bullimore in the Southern Ocean surviving days in freezing cold water… remember Stuart Diver at Thredbo. You even held your breath for nine months in your mother’s womb before you were born. Three days in a great fish? – God had a reason! In this fishy tomb, Jonah had time to think and he prayed a pray of repentance. He knew he had deliberately disobeyed God and in desperation calls out…Praise God, His love is constant and unending. Jonah cries out to God, the centre of his faith and the only one who can save him…And God hears him and gives him that second chance, he gives him another go…
STOP, PRY APPLY
Ever hit rock bottom, ever been swallowed up by your situation? Ever been desperate, thinking your world is at an end? Centre your faith on God, and cry out to Him with all your being, He hears you – put Him to the test. He will answer…Jonah is vomited up onto the beach and he has learnt his lesson. This time he accepts His mission, the same one as before, this time without argument.
The truth is we can’t run from God. Psalm 139 says “Where could I go to escape from your Spirit or from your sight? Or suppose I say ‘I’ll hide in the dark until night comes to cover me over’. But you see in the dark because daylight and dark are all the same to you”. (v7,12). If you sense God is calling you to do something for Him, don’t run away. Don’t forfeit His peace, because Isaiah 26: 3 says “The Lord gives perfect peace to those whose faith is firm”.