Imagine for a moment that you’re absolutely certain that you know what God wants you to do. Maybe you didn’t hear Him tell you audibly, but you have this impression—this burning in your heart that you must do it and that it is, in fact, His will.
We Christians long for such a situation don’t we? To know the will of God in our life? To have such a clear and precise knowledge of His plan for us that there can be no doubt?
Alright, now imagine that His will is for you to share the existence of Him with your enemies. Now I’m not talking about the enemy who you disagree or bicker back and forth with, but rather the enemy who is opposed to everything you believe; not just the enemy who annoys you like crazy, but rather the enemy that you would literally engage in a physical war with.
That enemy who doesn’t believe in your God.
That enemy who lives in a totally different physical location.
Still want to know what God’s clear cut plan for your life is?
Chances are (if we’re brutally honest) we don’t.
And so we turn to Jonah who was put in this situation.
-An Amazing Book-
It’s really quite amazing that the Christian Bible contains stories such as Jonah in it, because it’s stories of our failures. This separates us from other cultures at the time. You’d never find other cultures admitting the fact that they lost a war or that their king made a mistake. Instead, they would rewrite history to make themselves look good for they had to look supreme in all situations.
But in the book of Jonah, we get a picture of a prophet who really didn’t do that great of a job of being a prophet. I mean, in Old Testament times you’d think that if anyone heard from God and lived a holy set-apart life, it’d be a prophet right?
Yeah… you’d think so.
But the book of Jonah is even more amazing and unique for another reason: it shows the love that the Jewish God has for those who aren’t Jewish! It reveals that God cares for the uncircumcised—for the enemy of His people, Israel. This prophetic book is focused on those people, not His people.
We tend to think that God’s love wasn’t extended to any nation outside of the Jews until the time of Jesus. After that time, all men could be saved whether Jew or Gentile, but before that, you had to accustom yourself to living under Jewish law and bearing the mark of circumcision in order to be accepted into Israel.
For that reason, tell me: why would the Jews include such a story in their compilation of books? I mean, it’s more or less the story of a failed prophet whom was called by God to love their enemy. That’s a God thing right there—that this book would even still be around today.
-Fleeing the Presence-
Now just to make sure that you understand that Jonah knew for certain what God’s will for him was, consider the following:
•Jonah had actually convinced himself that he could escape the presence of God.
Do you know of anyone who has experienced this kind of irrationality? In my own life, for example, I’ve heard some of the most ridiculous statements from Christians. Things like:
“There’s nothing in the Bible that speaks against pre-marital sex.”
Chances are that if you want to deny logic and science and stretch Biblical passages in a way that you can make such a wild statement, you’re probably just looking to justify a problem in your own life. You have conned yourself into believing a lie because it makes life easier and less painful.
That’s the foolishness of Jonah—a prophet who thinks he can flee from God. Talk about denying logic. You only act that stupid when you are desperate to justify your actions.
•You also know for sure that you have heard the voice of God when you make the kind of arrangements Jonah did in order to flee the presence.
I mean, the guy would have had to pay quite a bit of money to take a cruise that was going approximately 1,000 miles to a land in the opposite direction (Tarshish) of that where God had called him to (Nineveh). On top of that, God called Jonah to a land that was would have taken about a month’s journey. Jonah’s oppositional journey would take about twice that amount of time.
Now you’re probably familiar with the story (whether from Sunday School or Veggie Tales). A big ol’ storm starts tossing the boat around and the passengers draw straws to figure out who’s fault it is. Jonah loses and admits that the storm is, in fact, upon them because of his own foolishness.
Now it doesn’t appear that Jonah had planned on taking the blame since he didn’t just come right out and say it. Instead he waited to see who would draw the short straw. But now he admits it and the problem must be confronted.
The solution: chuck Jonah overboard.
Oh, and get this: that’s Jonah’s idea.
“How do we make the storm calm?”
Not by Jonah repenting.
Not by Jonah offering some kind of sacrifice.
But by tossing him off the boat into the storm.
Here’s a question for you: Is it possible that Jonah is so set on not doing God’s will that he would rather die than see it come to completion? I mean’ let’s be honest, do we really think that Jonah was expecting what happened next?
-The Drowning Experience-
I don’t know if you’ve ever had a drowning experience, but according to that British guy in The Prestige, it’s “agony.” I myself have thought I was going to drown a few times and let me tell you about a panic attack. Your muscles become weak. You begin to gag on the water. It gets stuck in your throat as you continually cough it back up. You notice that unless a miracle happens or someone comes to help you, you just might die.
Now I should probably mention tht I’ve never really been in real danger of drowning, but have had those mild “oh crap,” moments while swimming. But Jonah’s experience was more legit. Check out this little poem he wrote about it in Jonah 2:3-9.
“I called out of my distress to the LORD,
And He answered me
I cried for help from the depth of Sheol;
You heard my voice.
“For You had cast me into the deep,
Into the heart of the seas,
And the current engulfed me
All Your breakers and billows passed over me.
“So I said, ‘I have been expelled from Your sight
Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.’
“Water encompassed me to the point of death
The great deep engulfed me,
Weeds were wrapped around my head.
“I descended to the roots of the mountains
The earth with its bars was around me forever,
But You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.
“While I was fainting away,
I remembered the LORD,
And my prayer came to You,
Into Your holy temple.
“Those who regard vain idols
Forsake their faithfulness,
But I will sacrifice to You
With the voice of thanksgiving
That which I have vowed I will pay
Salvation is from the LORD.”
-Falling Into Depression-
Are you able to relate with Jonah at all in this moment? Have you ever found yourself in such depression? You’ve done something stupid and it’s caused you to sink so low that you can see the roots of the mountains? You’ve hit rock bottom and you feel as though you’re about to take your final breath? It’s all over for you.
Or so it seems…
In that surreal moment you find yourself calling out to God with what little energy you have left. It’s a desperate and almost hopeless feeling you have inside because why would He answer? After all, you put yourself in this situation and the last thing you would really expect is for the one you’ve sinned against to come to your rescue.
But that’s the beauty of God. Out of love He responds. He literally made a way for Jonah at the bottom of the ocean—at the roots of the mountains. With salt burning his eyes, water gaging his throat, waves tossing him about, and weeds wrapped around his head, he called out for the only possible salvation he could receive in that moment, and God heard his cry.
Are you able to relate with Jonah at all in this moment?
God answers it in the most bizarre supernatural way: he sends a fish to gobble Jonah up and take him to his destination, because God can always make a way for you—even when it seems impossible.
-The Big City-
“You have reached your destination,” sung the British lady over the intercom of the aqua bus. Fortunately the fish actually went to Nineveh and completed God’s will, unlike Jonah.
Now the mission is a go once more and this time Jonah is headed in the right direction. I can just imagine him standing there on the shore, staring off into the distance. He’s about to walk straight up to his enemies and tell them to repent and turn to his God—the real God—not their fake ones.
And if that’s not enough to freak him out, then he should also note that it will take a while to get his message across as it will take three days to walk around the entire town. Yeah, that leaves plenty of time for someone to kill you, should they not care about your message.
But he enters the city anyways in order to pay God back for the whole not-letting-him-die-thing. And get this: they listen! From the lowest citizen to the highest king, they actually heed Jonah’s word!
It’s one of those questions you can totally miss if you’re not looking for it as it kind of gets overshadowed by the crazy things preceding this moment. But tell me that this isn’t a spectacular supernatural moment!
How many times have you tried to convince people that your God is real and they cared to listen? How many times have you convinced the local politician to move the entire area to repentance? How many times have you persuaded a city that the four gods they worshipped (who were known for to be very violent and evil) weren’t real and that Yahweh was the only way for them to find salvation? How many times?
I believe there’s a very strong possibility here that God has set the stage for Nineveh’s salvation and that this is a big part of the reason the Ninivites were so ready to accept God.
According to historical documents, Nineveh had suffered plagues. Now if you were part of an early culture, what would be your assessment of a plague? It would probably beg to ask that same question that would tug at your heart if we underwent a plague today: “God, why are you doing this to us?” And furthermore, we saw that God used plagues in Egypt to get the attention of both Israel and the Egyptians. So it makes sense that you would think a plague to be the wrath of God.
On top of that, the book of Jonah is thought to have taken place during a timeframe in which an eclipse would have happened. Now again, imagine that you are a part of an early culture and from your observation, something is astronomically very wrong in the sky. Once again, you are going to attribute this phenomenon to some kind of deity.
-A Loving God-
After leading Nineveh to repentance, Jonah goes back into depression, ticked at the fact that God didn’t send hellfire and brimstone upon the city. He’s mad, more or less, because he knows that God is a gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindess, and one who relents concerning calamity. Yeah, that’s Jonah’s description of God. It’s also Jonah’s reasoning as to why he’s mad at God.
But God makes His love clear throughout the story of Jonah. Not only does He reach the Gentiles of the day, but He also loves Jonah through the whole thing—a prophet who whined, complained, bickered, ran, and didn’t have the heart of God.
That is our God. He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and one who relents concerning calamity and He can even reach you at the roots of the mountains—even though it seems impossible.