Jonah: Praising God’s Grace
Do you ever find yourself deciding that you know what people deserve? This may be especially difficult for parents because deciding what someone deserves is sometimes part of the job. Jonah, one of God’s prophets ministering just after the time of Elisha, was like that; he thought he knew what people deserved and he found himself disagreeing with God over this. But before he would even have a chance to be too judgmental, Jonah himself was going to make a decision and not get what many may say he deserved. Jonah was a prophet in a time of spiritual poverty, and the ruling military force in the world was Assyria; the capital city of Assyria was Nineveh, and God wanted Jonah to go and tell this enemy that God has seen their wickedness and that He planned to destroy them.
“'Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.' But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.” (Jonah 1:2-3)
Jonah ran from the Lord’s command, which brought about a great storm while he was sailing to Tarshish. In verse 5 of chapter 1, we are told that during the storm, Jonah was asleep. We might find this odd or even funny at first—Jonah was the one responsible for the storm and yet he was sleeping through it, avoiding the responsibility and putting others in danger. Our irresponsible actions and our refusal to obey God sometimes can bring pain and consequences into the lives of family and friends. We, like Jonah, need to wake up and take responsibility for our disobedience.
“'Throw me into the sea,' Jonah said, 'and it will become calm again. I know that this terrible storm is all my fault.'” (Jonah 1:12)
It’s possible Jonah thought he was going to die as a result of this and that may have been what he wanted because if he drowned he still didn't have to deliver God’s message to Nineveh. Sort of a win-win. But God had other plans.
“Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah.” (Jonah 1:17)
Jonah, God’s prophet of the time, told God no, and to put a fine point on it, Jonah tried to get as far away from the place he was told to go as he could. Many of us may think that Jonah deserved some pretty harsh punishment here. Certainly he didn't deserve or is no longer qualified to be God’s prophet! God should punish him severely for his disobedience! But instead, God saved Jonah. Our God is a gracious God, and He showed this grace to Jonah in the belly of a fish. Inside the fish Jonah offered a prayer of praise to the Lord.
“I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble, and he answered me. I called to you from the land of the dead, and Lord, you heard me! (…) I sank down to the very roots of the mountains. I was imprisoned in the earth, whose gates lock shut forever. But you, O Lord my God, snatched me from the jaws of death! As my life was slipping away, I remembered the Lord. And my earnest prayer went out to you in your holy Temple. (…) But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise, and I will fulfill all my vows. For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.” (Jonah 2:2, 6-7, 9)
What a beautiful reaction to God’s grace! Could you pray a prayer like that in the belly of a fish? I’m sure being inside the fish was not pleasant or ideal; there could have been innumerable other ways for God to save Jonah, but God arranged for a fish to swallow Jonah up—and it was inside this fish that Jonah prayed this prayer of praise and thankfulness. Do you find yourself in the belly of a fish? It’s not the ideal setting or situation, it’s definitely not where you thought you would be, but the Lord saved you. A ship sailing away sounds nicer than the belly of a fish, but if you are sailing away from God, nothing could be worse! Do you find yourself focusing on the nastiness of the fish belly instead of turning your eyes to the Lord in thankfulness and praising His name as Jonah did? Take a moment and recognize how God has saved you. Read through Jonah’s prayer as a prayer from you to the Lord, if you feel you can. Offer sacrifices, sing praises, and fulfill your vows, for “salvation comes from the Lord alone.”
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.