If you went to Sunday school as a child, I’m fairly sure you’d remember the story of a man named Jonah and a big fish. Now this is a remarkable story from the Old Testament about Jonah, a prophet, man of God, who fell overboard, was swallowed by a fish, possibly a whale. Now some people rubbished this story. Others believe it to be true.
One day, a little girl who was telling her schoolteacher about Jonah being swallowed by a big fish and this teacher said, “Look, you know, it’s physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human being, because even though a whale is a very large mammal, it’s throat is very small. A whale cannot swallow a human. It’s impossible,” – “Well, when I get to heaven, I’ll ask Jonah” said the little girl and the teacher asked. “But what if Jonah went to hell?” And she said, “Well, you can ask him”.
Well, years ago, the evangelists would travel around the area of preaching with a large fish skeleton on the back of a truck to prove that this fish was big enough to swallow a person. So there’s been lots of stories and articles written about this remarkable story about a fish that could literally swallow this preacher Jonah.
More than just a fish story
Well, I’m not going to go into that. So much as to say that this is more than just a fish story. It’s different from probably any other prophetic writings we have in the Old Testament. I believe it’s a true story about this preacher named Jonah. Tremendous lesson, and the lesson is a very simple one. The lesson out of the story of Jonah is that you can’t run away from God. In fact, there’s a book in the Old Testament, the Book of Jonah, and it says in the very first verse that one day the Lord told Jonah to go to the great city of Nineveh and say to the people, The Lord has seen your terrible sins. You are doomed. Well, what a greeting! What a message. Noah was being sent to Nineveh, this capital of the Assyrian Empire that was a great city, but it was a particularly nasty place. It was about 100 kilometres in circumference and about 120,000 people.
But it was the place you really wouldn’t want to be. A place of violence and cruelty and murder, witchcraft, prostitution. And so here was God giving Jonah a big order. Go and preach to this city of Nineveh, bring it back to me. Well, this was just a tall order indeed. Instead, we read that Jonah ran from the Lord. He went for his life. He went to the seaport of Joppa and bought a ticket on a ship that was going to Spain. And he got on this ship and sailed away to escape.
So in effect, what happens here is that he runs away from God. Maybe he was just so frightened, as we say, freaked out by all that was going to come to him that he just couldn’t face it. So What does Jonah do? He heads southwest towards what we call Spain today.
So it was quite a long way away, but he wanted to avoid the responsibility. And actually, who could blame him? He was in fear of his life. In fact, he was thrown overboard. And that’s a story in itself. He survived in the belly of a large fish, and he was vomited out into dry ground. Now it is a remarkable story, an unbelievable story.
But again, I would say that in a simple term, it says we can’t escape God’s love. If God wants you to do something, you need to follow it.
Remember Tony Bullimore in the Southern Ocean, surviving days in freezing cold water? Remember Stuart Diver? Here were people who survived unbelievable odds. Well, so did Jonah. And in many ways, he hit rock bottom.
So have you ever felt like that? Have you ever been swallowed up as it were by your own situation, thinking that your world is going to come to an end. We’ll do what Jonah did. Not run away but cry out to God and ask for God’s help. And it was an amazing story. There. Have a read of it for yourself.
Well, Heavenly Father, we understand your love, but we can’t really grapple the magnitude of your love for us. Thank you for Jesus and thank you that we can’t run away from you. Amen.