We all know the story of Jonah: God asks Jonah to preach repentance to a city of ungodly people, Jonah is terrified so he takes off in the opposite direction, and God punishes him by letting him spend 3 days inside a whale to teach him a lesson on disobeying God, right? Now hold on, let’s read the first two chapters of Jonah and see if that’s actually what happens.
I know it’s a little bit of a read, two whole chapters, but if we want to understand what’s going on, we really need to get into the text. You can read it by clicking here.
These first two chapters aren’t so much a story of God punishing Jonah for being disobedient as it is a story of God using all kinds of different people and different situations to fulfill His will. Do you think it was a coincidence that there was a ship departing in the exact opposite direction of Nineveh? Do you think it was chance that when the mariners cast lots to find out who was to blame for the storm, they fell on Jonah? Was it just pure luck that instead of drowning in the sea Jonah was swallowed up by a fish and survived for three days and three nights and then the fish “vomited Jonah out upon the dry land”?
Not coincidence, not chance, not pure luck – but providence. God’s sovereign hand moving on people, speaking to the sea and even to a fish, to work out His will. God isn’t surprised or taken off guard when Jonah runs away, I am pretty sure it was part of the plan. Maybe so Jonah would trust God to take care of Him, maybe so we could learn from his example (or rather not learn from his example)? I don’t know, but we are talking about God here, there certainly is a big picture purpose for every little thing in Jonah’s story.
“I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice…you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God. When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.” – Jonah 2:2,6-7 ESV (with my edits)
While still inside the belly of the fish (maybe a whale, we don’t know) Jonah is giving thanks to God for his grace towards him. For saving his life, not from the fish but by the fish. How often do you give thanks when you are in the thick of it? I know that I am not very good at seeing how God is showing grace and providing for me in the midst of trials. I have a tendency of complaining and pining about how hard it is, and yearning for “the other side”, without even considering that maybe where I am at right now is right where I need to be, that maybe God is providing for me by letting me go through trials not just once He gets me safe on the other side, or “on dry land” so to speak.
“But we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:3-5 ESV
There is learning and growing happening in the trials and in the hardships if only we are willing to learn, willing to be stretched so that we can grow. Maybe it’s supposed to be messy, so that it can be made beautiful.
What is God calling you to that you are tempted to run away from? Where is He challenging you and giving you a chance to trust in Him, and you are refusing to? Pray, talk to your Creator, ask Him to give you courage, strength and boldness, to do what He is asking you to do for Him.
Oh, and Jonah does end up going to Nineveh, but that’s another post at another time.