I wrote about Jonah, fear and escape last time and I would love to jump back into this story. If you are familiar with the city God had asked Jonah to go to, you can see why he was running away. The city was Nineveh and the people were evil. In fact, they were known for their horrible acts from what I have read. I’ll spare you the details, but it wouldn’t be a place on your top 10 travel destinations in those days. Nevertheless, God cared about the 120,000 people who lived there and He told Jonah to go to them.
Because of Jonah trying to flee, God had created a great storm in the sea he was sailing on. His travel companions decided this was his fault and Jonah tells them to do something crazy. “Pick me up and throw me into the sea so that this great storm will calm down for you, for I know that I’m to blame for this great storm that is against you.” (Jonah 1:12). The men rowed hard, but couldn’t save themselves and they made a choice. “So, they called out to the Lord: ‘Please, Lord, don’t let us perish because of this man’s life, and don’t charge us with innocent blood! For you, Lord, have done just as you pleased.’ Then they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped raging. The men were seized by great fear of the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.” (Jonah 1:14-16). Interesting isn’t it how God can turn what seems horrible into something good. These men were eye witnesses to the power of God and that obedience is pretty serious.
God didn’t leave Jonah to perish in the sea and He doesn’t leave us either. He sent an unconventional rescuer. “The Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.” (Jonah 1:17). And in those belly moments Jonah prayed. “I called out to the Lord in my distress, and he answered me. I cried out for help from deep inside Sheol; you heard my voice.” (Jonah 2:2). Have you been there before? Jonah was in a place of darkness and with no help in sight. I love the choice he made somewhere in that 3 day stay. “As my life was fading away, I remembered the Lord and my prayer came to you, to your holy temple. Those who cherish worthless idols abandon their faithful love, but as for me, I will sacrifice to you with a voice of thanksgiving. I will fulfill what I have vowed. Salvation belongs to the Lord.” (Jonah 2:7-9). Nothing like ending up in a pit, where all options have run out, to point you to the Lord.
Jonah also mentions worthless idols. Somethings never change because we still struggle with these today. In my experience, the pursuit of these worthless idols have landed me in a pit. If I stop and think about those times, I’ve got to ask myself what was I hoping to gain? My answers would be acceptance, to finally feel like I was enough and maybe if I’m really being honest, elevate myself just a bit. Recently, I was reminded of the ever tempting “platform”. Now, that would have gotten me some years back, but not anymore. I no longer need a platform to elevate me or give me a false sense of being exalted by others. It won’t last and what would be the price to pay to keep myself on that exalted platform? Oh, I’ve got some examples here, but they would read like judgement. So, I’ll just stick to the scripture that says, “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11). The place to stay is low and let the Lord move you when He decides.
And as for Jonah, who was low in the belly of the fish, the Lord had not forgotten him. “Then the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” (Jonah 2:10). There aren’t words or actions between the end of Jonah’s prayer and the Lord commanding the fish. I wonder if when Jonah started praying, the fish started swimming towards the shore? Guess that will be one of my questions I’ll ask in eternity. In the meantime, we learn from Jonah the need to pray. If we find ourselves in a pit, pray. If we find ourselves in a dark place, pray. If we find ourselves cherishing worthless idols, pray. If we find ourselves abandoning the faithful love of God, pray. In times of thanksgiving, pray. Jonah also told the Lord he would fulfill the vow he had made. He turned from running in fear and disobedience to crying out for help and surrender. He was shown mercy and patience by our all powerful God.
I love the encouraging words written by Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – and I am the worst of them. But I have received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate his extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16). God was patient and merciful with Jonah and Paul and many others in the Bible. You and I are no different. God longs to rescue us….