JONAH AND THE BIG FISH
It is a story we teach children in Bible classes. A story they like to talk about and study. The book teaches us, in essence, about the obedience to God’s commands, and a man that wasn’t happy about what God commanded. How many of us are always happy about what the word of God says? How many of us want to obey the God whom we have never actually heard, or seen? Not many!
God pronounced doom on Nineveh, the seat of the government of the Assyrians. There may have been as many as 120,000 people in this city (see Jonah 4:11) as we consider Jonah 3:3 “So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city, a three-day journey in extent.” The book stresses that it is NOT JUST GOD’S PEOPLE that He is concerned about, but the whole world. Indeed, He sends Jonah to preach to a people that Jonah hated, and would rather not be saved. Sometimes we wonder if this fits many Christians today – do we care about the lost that will spend eternity away from God?
An easy outline of the book is as follows: Jonah runs away from God – Disobedience. Jonah Runs to God – Repentance. Jonah runs with God – Obedience. Jonah runs ahead of God – Complaint.” (Leon Stancliff, The Biblical Prophets In Outlined Notes, Gospel Advocate Company, 1976)
Jonah was an unwilling missionary. He thought God was making the wrong decision in telling him to warn the people of Nineveh concerning their destruction. How often do we wonder about decisions God has made, and commands he has given, because these do not agree with our way of thinking? Consider the command to repent and be immersed in Acts 2:38. How many people today dismiss this verse and others about the command of baptism, because it does not fit in with their thinking and theology?
As we continue to think on these things, we know that there are many who believe that this is just a story, suitable for children, but based on a myth. Yet Jonah is recorded as a real man in 2 Kings 14:25 and Jesus himself considered the events recorded in this book as a matter of history (Matthew 12:38-41 and Luke 11:29-32). Will we argue that Jesus was wrong also?
Jonah had some time to think in the belly of the great fish. He is grateful for another opportunity by God to do what he was told to do – but as we see later in the book, he is still not happy about the salvation of the Assyrians (see Jonah 4). Jonah teaches us that we can be so prejudiced that we hate to think that God would be willing to forgive and save those who are not like us in our thoughts and ways of thinking. But as stated above, 1 Timothy 2:3-4 reminds us that, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
The message God sent Jonah to speak was one of the most successful sermons ever preached. Yet, sadly he was not happy about it; so much so that he asked God to take his life (Jonah 4:2-3) Jonah knew God and his desire for the salvation of all. In Jonah 4:2 he quotes from Exodus 34:5-9; Numbers 14:18; Psalms 86:15; Psalms 103:6-10; 145:8-9; and Nehemiah 9:17. All of these teach us the nature and love that God has for mankind – a love that we need to express and share to a world that is speedily heading to eternal punishment.
Jonah had an attitude problem, and as the book closes, we see that God reproves him – and we do not know if Jonah changed his heart to be like God or not. All Christians need to examine their hearts and make sure that we do not carry grudges, hatred, animosity or ill will to anyone for whom Christ died. We need to do our best in sharing the gospel.
May we all pray for God’s word to be preached, and may we do our best to share that word with others.
10 Great lessons from the book of Jonah.
Wayne Jackson and Leon Stancliff
1. Jonah’s resistance to God
2. Jonah Preaches to the Ninevites
3. Jonah’s Story is validated By Christ
4. The Sovereignty of God
5. God’s Interest in all People
6. God is in Control. Psalms 22:28; Proverbs 14:34; Daniel 2:21; 4:17
7. Mankind is accountable to the Lord Jonah 1:2
8. People can change – the power of the word of God on good and honest hearts
9. Repentance Requires Works – Jonah 3:10. It is not being sorry for sin it is a turning away from our evil ways
10. The Punishment of Hell — Being in a great fish belly Jonah 2:2 “I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, and he answered me. Out of the belly of Sheol (the unseen spirit world often translated as hell) I cried, and you heard my voice.”
11. It is futile to resist God’s will.
12. God can turn men’s mistakes into good influence.
13. People are more important than things (gourd trees).