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Last week the sailors found out the whole reason for the storm was because of Jonah. They found out Jonah was running from God. They needed relief from the storm so they reluctantly obeyed Jonah and threw him into the sea to face certain drowning. That’s where we left Jonah, so let’s see what happens next.
Look at Jonah’s prayer in Jonah 1:17-2:9.
Now we come to the misplaced focus of the story. Too often in our telling of the story of Jonah, the emphasis is placed on the fish. Call it a whale, a fish, a sea monster – it doesn’t matter. Some argue that if this verse and 2:10 were removed from the book, the story would be more realistic. The fish is not the star of the story, but the God that appointed the fish. People over the years have attempted to prove this is possible by telling us that a whale is air breathing so Jonah could really live inside. There is no need to explain the fish in any other way except that it is a miracle of God. A miracle is defined as an act of God beyond human explanation or replication. We don’t need to waste time trying to explain how this is possible – it’s a miracle. Just like the parting of the Red Sea. Just like the children of Israel wandering in the desert for 40 years with neither their shoes nor clothing wearing out. Just like Elijah raising the boy from the dead and Elisha raising the Shulamite’s son. Just like the cruse of oil never running out. Like the talking donkey. Like Joshua and the sun standing still. Just like Jesus turning water into wine, feeding the 5000, and most incredible of all? Jesus defying death!
Don’t worry about how implausible the fish may be – it’s a miracle and it really happened. The fish is definitely miraculous, but so is the fact that God sent the fish to save Jonah. Even with Jonah’s disobedience, his running, his turning his back on God’s call, his refusal to preach Christ to a lost and dying Nineveh, God did not turn His back on Jonah. Jonah had another opportunity. The word appointed in v. 17 means designated, it means equipped or furnished in a special way. Was this fish set aside in eternities past just for this reason? Did God have this fish in mind, or did He come up with the plan based on Jonah’s actions? Does it matter? What we know is God did not allow Jonah to die, but instead provided him with some alone time to reflect. It wasn’t a pleasant place to be. Jonah finds himself flying through the air and hits the water. As he floats down in the water, I think the fish came along immediately and swallowed him up. I don’t think Jonah’s head ever came up out of the water. Did he even try to swim or tread water? I believe in Jonah’s mind, he was dead as soon as the sailors picked him up. God’s mission for Jonah was so contrary to what Jonah wanted to do, he’d rather be dead than obey. The fish was designated to swallow Jonah. The fish knew its purpose and obeyed. Jonah knew his purpose and disobeyed. The vehicle for Jonah’s salvation was the fish. The vehicle for Nineveh’s salvation was Jonah.
Jonah uses his time effectively. Verse 17 tells us that Jonah, “Was in the stomach of the fish for three days and three nights.” Jonah had no reference point so the passing of time would only become apparent after he got out of the fish. What I’m sure was surprising for Jonah was that he was alive. Death did not come to him as he hoped for. We don’t know how much time passed between Jonah realizing he wasn’t dead until he began his prayer in 2:1. I wonder if he was disappointed? I’m sure he expected to wake up in heaven and he wakes up in hell. Remember the captain of the ship waking up Jonah encouraging him to pray? There is no account of Jonah’s willingness to pray earlier. To this point in the book, Jonah is a man of few words speaking only two sentences so far.
Now Jonah prays and it’s interesting to note that Jonah, “prays to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish.” Not just to the Lord as the sailors did earlier. Jonah is acknowledging that God is his Lord. Jonah was desperate. He cried out in his distress. Distress means extreme anxiety. Jesus was so distressed in the garden at His impending death that His sweat became drops of blood. Jonah’s desperation turned to prayer. Too often we’re just like Jonah. We run from God and get ourselves into situations and we wonder why is God allowing this? If only Jonah had prayed for a godly attitude, had prayed for strength, for commitment. If only Jonah had prayed for God’s love to fully encompass him to the point that he would love his enemies and tell them how they could know Jesus. If only had prayed these things when God gave him the mission to preach to Nineveh. Jonah prayed, “from the depth of Sheol.” Jonah was not dead, although he probably felt like it. You’ve heard the expression, “hell on earth?” That’s what Jonah was feeling like. He is overwhelmed by his circumstances.
Jonah ran from God and discovered you can run, but you can’t hide. Ps. 139:7-10 remind us, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me.” No matter where you go, God is there. Jonah ran from God, and God ran after Jonah. Even though Jonah is in complete and utter despair, God heard and answered him and that is extraordinarily significant. Don’t ever think there is a time when God turns His back on you. If you cry out to Him, He’ll hear and answer you.
Jonah knows what is going on. He recognizes God’s sovereignty in v. 3. It was God that prepared the ship. It was God that prepared the storm and the waves. It was God that prepared the fish. It was God that prepared deliverance for Jonah and for Nineveh. Jonah makes what looks like a really disheartening conclusion. He says, “I have been expelled from Your sight.” We know that God is everywhere so what Jonah is saying is, “I have fallen out of favor with God.” That’s how it is with us. Our own actions cause us to fall out of favor with God, but our relationship does not change. Sin does that. God cannot and will not look favorably on sin nor will He ignore it. In many cases, we don’t see any immediate consequences for our sin, so we wrongly conclude that it doesn’t matter. In Jonah’s case, he could have avoided the consequences for sin if he’d simply obeyed. But all hope is not lost. Even though he is in the belly of the fish, Jonah says, “Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.” It’s never too late to turn from our sin to God.
Even though it looks pretty bleak for Jonah, he continues to pray knowing that his God will hear him. It was bad. Imagine yourself in this situation. Swirling around in the stomach juices of the fish, it’s slimy, smelly, disgusting, and dark. The fish is still swimming, taking turns, changing depths. Jonah is probably seasick. You can hear the despair in his voice as he continues to cry out to God, “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.” And now the big turning point for Jonah. The big but. Look at Jonah’s prayer in 6b-9. You cannot acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord of your life and not do what He tells you. In Acts 10, Peter was given a vision to kill and eat all kinds of animals and birds that were unclean. Peter protested so God told him again. Peter got the message – God speaks, we obey. “Salvation is from the Lord.” That is the unchanging message of hope. That is the message our friends, family, co-workers, and Muslims need to hear.
Jonah struggles to surrender to the Lordship of God. I struggle with that too. Are we going to run away? Or are we going to submit? With our mouths we pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Are we serious when we pray those words? Are we willing to be part of God’s answer to that prayer? I can’t help but notice that it if it ever occurred to Jonah to pray for Nineveh, he didn’t do it. Jonah looked to the Temple. Today as part of the new covenant, our bodies are the dwelling place of God. Our bodies are the temple of Christ. Do we see Muslims as potential temples of the Holy Spirit?