By Benjamin H. Liles
I want to start this quick little study of Jonah to show how even we in this age are similarly like Jonah, who lived shortly after Elisha did. When God came to Jonah, He said to him, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me" (Jonah 1:2, New King James). Where scholars have their information on Jonah and how he acted in relation to this news from God I have to wonder on. But the thing that gives me an indication of who Jonah is found in his actions: "But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD" (Jonah 1:3).
The first thing that stands out to me with these verses is Jonah's disobedience to God. Not only did he run from God, but if you were to look at a map of that area we see that instead of going to Nineveh he went to Joppa, to go to Tarshish. It means Jonah had a problem with God declaring to Assyria, "Repent! Before I destroy you for your wickedness!" From what I've heard Biblical scholars say Jonah was an exclusive kind of a guy. He didn't have the same desire as God did. So, it comes across to me that he thought God should be Israel's God and not belong to anyone else. Talk about unloving to others.
Now we come to where God has a big aquatic mammal swallow Jonah. In every version I read of this text the words are "great fish." We're never fully told if this was a whale, if it was something bigger, or what -- all we know it's a fish that is bigger than Jonah (see Jonah 1:17). If there is one thing I do know it's that there is no way to fully know if Jonah was kept alive in the belly of this fish, but from the scriptures in Jonah, we see he is, for why else does he pray to God? "Called to the LORD in my distress, and He answered me. I cried out for help in the belly of Sheol; You heard my voice...but as for me, I will sacrifice to You with a voice of thanksgiving. I will fulfill what I have vowed. Salvation is from the LORD!" Then the Lord has the fish vomit Jonah onto dry land (see Jonah 2:1-10).
Therefore, this is the take away I get from these two chapters: 1) When we disobey God's voice, He will always find a way to get our attention, whether from storms in our life, or holding us captive in some holding pattern; 2) The allusion of Jonah informs us of God's greater purpose. This purpose is found in Jesus Christ who said, "An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at Jonah's proclamation; and look--something greater than Jonah is here!" (Matthew 12:39-41, emphasis on Jesus' words of His resurrection).
And ultimately that is the good news here. God is so very patient and enduring towards us all. When He has someone go out and tell the gospel story, to awaken hearts, to redeem people from their slavery and bondage of sin, to receive new life and have His righteousness bestowed on them, this is God's will for man. It is so that people believe and hear the news that Christ has come to deliver us from evil. It is up to us to turn completely away from our sins; to give up on past patterns that keep us bound to an old life that seeks to keep us attached to Hell and death. We have victory here and now in Christ Jesus because He has conquered death and the grave. And He did it without asking anything more than you simply turning to Him in faith, believing He is God's Son giving you new life in God.
So, this is my prayer for you to turn from disobedience and death, and to take up a new life which can be had and found in Christ Jesus. I ask this in His name to bless, redeem, and reconcile you to the Father. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.