“God uncovers the deeps out of darkness, and brings deep darkness to light.” Job 12:22
Today let’s do a Message that transforms into a Bible study or we could say a Bible study that turns into a message. A message for you and a message for me.
The story of Jonah and the whale is an Old Testament narrative that was profound in its day for what it was teaching. There was nothing else like it beforehand. And it’s radical even today.
Let’s look at this saga. And let’s discover the hidden meanings or messages and see what they may reveal for us.
This short Old Testament book in our Bible exhibits so much truth, that biblical scholars have it presented as its own separate book in the Bible, the book of Jonah.
“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying. . .”
We often hear that statement in the Bible “The word of the Lord.” I often wonder what that word of the Lord sounds like. Jesus says that the word of the Lord is the still, small voice inside of you. You have that feeling inside like you’re being led to do something with your life; we often call that a calling. You just know that this is what God wants you to do. That special vision is what led to our spiritual family prayer website, this message blog, and the soon to be revealed – the on-line Chapel.
Now, sometimes we tend to run in the opposite direction. And that is exactly what Jonah did.
“Rise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”
Now, Nineveh was the capital city of Assaria, near where the area we now call Mosul is… that area recently taken over by ISIS. There were 120,000 people living there. If you left to begin walking from the edge of town, it would take three days to get to the other side of the city — three days to walk across Nineveh. That is how large that city was.
“But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish [Spain today] from the presence of the Lord.”
It was believed, back in those days, that God only existed within the borders of Israel. If you can get past those borders, you can get away from the eyes of God. When we think about that today it makes us chuckle. Sometimes we ourselves try to hide from God. We think or hope that God can’t really see our actions if we can hide. But God is right beside us; God is everywhere. He is with each of us in the good times and the bad times. We all have special places where we feel we are closer to God, but he is wherever we are, and he is our always available help.
“He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.”
Think about what happens in our lives when we hear God, and we know it is God; we are absolutely positive. But God is telling us to do something we’re not sure we really want to do right now. Oh, maybe later we will think about doing it but right now we’re kind of busy with other plans. Guess what’s going to happen. Trouble is going to befall us; it’s not that God is punishing us, it is us punishing ourselves. God knows the best way for us to lead our lives and what it is we are to do to follow that path; when we don’t do that, all sorts of negative things happen. It’s like driving a car and seeing a stop sign. We know what were supposed to do to follow the rules in the plan for safe driving; but we don’t feel like stopping. We’re kind of in a hurry and maybe will stop at another stop sign later on when we have more time. You can imagine the consequences of that kind of thinking. To have absolute good in our lives, God’s way is the way. It is the best way we can ever imagine and probably even better. That is God’s way. That is the will of God and it is beyond anything we can conceive of.
Following the way of God, no matter how crazy it may seem in the beginning when you hear that quiet voice inside, is the only way to remain in a strong, positive relationship with God. We won’t be able to grasp it all at the time with our human mind, but if we obey, and go the extra mile, we’ll have a wonderful time of it. It we don’t, we’re going to run into some big trouble. I know that we, as humans, are experts at going the opposite way of God’s way, and running into some huge human problems.
“But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god; and they threw the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, ‘What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call upon your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we do not perish.’”
Many times Jesus used this story in his teachings. Remember the story of Jesus on the Sea of Galilee when He went down into the hold of the ship and fell fast asleep? They woke Him up and asked him why he didn’t He care about them because they were about to perish. They told Him to call upon His God.
“And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.’ So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.”
Of course we don’t wonder why that lot fell upon Jonah. First of all he was the only one who was not praying to God. Everyone on the ship was praying and begging to be saved, but Jonah was running away from God. He thought because he was beyond the borders of Israel he could not contact God. However, it was very obvious that Jonah was the man that brought the trouble to the ship.
“‘Tell us, on whose account this evil has come upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come? What is your country? And of what people are you?’ And he said to them, ‘I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.’ Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, ‘What is this that you have done!’ For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he told them.”
Well, that was not a very smart thing for Jonah to tell them. Telling them that he was the reason the ship was in trouble because he was trying to escape God was a very, very foolish thing. How many times have people tried to do that? People think they can escape God, and they think there are many ways to escape. They don’t have to physically move, or flee to Spain in the hold of a ship. People try to do it through drugs or alcohol, money, different relationships, excessive working or other escape. People can seek to find their gods wherever they perceive them to be. But they always find that they have missed the mark. They have not found God; God was not where they thought. And it becomes a huge problem for their lives.
Imagine that this story is about you. You have been on the ship. You’ve gone through things like Jonah. You’ve been there when that ship was ready to go down. We all have. Even though each of us has been sailing to different ports, or following different paths, we have all have experienced this restlessness, this turbulence, and seen and felt the tempest rise and fall against us.
“Then they said to him, ‘What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?’ For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. He said to them, ‘Take me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.’ Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them.”
These men had more mercy, more grace and more love than Jonah had in himself.
When our life is not going right, WE OURSELVES are usually maddest, not at other people, but at ourselves. We just want to give up as soon as the chance comes. We want to give up because we think it is easier than going through the situation. This is what Jonah was trying to do. He tries to do it many times during the story.
“Therefore they cried to the Lord, ‘We beseech Thee, O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood; for Thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased Thee.’ So they took up Jonah and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.”
Here is the first part of the radical teaching.
We have heard, time and time again in the Old Testament, that God is a God who requires sacrifices. That is radical teaching. Because this story shows as do many others, time and time again, that God is not a God who requires sacrifice. But God is a God who continually gives mercy. The one thing God requires you to do is to accept God’s mercy and not to reject it.
Imagine Jonah falling into the ocean; he begins to sink; his arms and legs are flailing. He sinks. God sends him a second chance, a second chance to this man who has denied and tried to escape him.
“And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”
If we can imagine that that fish to us symbolizes an idea. It’s a great fish, big enough to swallow up Jonah, big enough to swallow us. Have you ever, in your life, been swallowed up by a great idea? It literally consumes us; it becomes a part of us. It encompasses everything in our life, our mind, our body, all our actions and reactions. Our life is changed because of it.
And think of the three days and three nights that Jonah was in the whale as also being symbolic of Jesus. He was put in the tomb for three days and three nights. The lowering into the sea by Jonah is symbolic of the death and resurrection that is to come. So, Jonah is there for three days and three nights – one for body, one for mind and one for soul in order to be so totally consumed with this idea that it can change his life. There he is, in the belly of this fish, (the fish that is the second chance from God), and he is swallowed by this great idea.
“Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying, ‘I called to the Lord, out my distress, and He answered me; out of the belly of Sheol [this is one of the concepts we have in the Old Testament for Hell, or the pit, or the grave] I cried and Thou didst hear my voice. For Thou didst cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood was round about me; all Thy waves and Thy billows passed over me.’
“Then I said, ‘I am cast from Thy presence; how shall I again look upon Thy holy temple?’ The waters closed in over me, the deep was round about me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet Thou didst bring up my life from the Pit, O Lord my God. When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord…”
What in the world does it mean when your soul faints inside of you? In this particular place in the Bible, it’s talking about human ego. “I’m going to do it my way. No matter what the cost, I’m going to go this way. I don’t care if I hurt myself, or who else I hurt, I’m going to do it my way.” We find that this is NOT the way.
Then eventually we hit the bottom. Our ego, our self will, goes as low as it can go. That is when we are ready and willing to change. Once we’ve hit the bottom, the change happens because that is when we turn to God once and as we turn to God that little bit of magic appears in our hearts and our souls. We know that even though we’ve made so many mistakes God is still with us. Even though God knows our past and all the skeletons in our closet, God still wants us to be part of his work, to continue that walk with him. God says yes I will help you. God always says yes.
“And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.”
Well, perhaps there could have been a better word for Jonah flying out of the Wales mouth and landing on the sand, but if you are vomited out this is a powerful way to say that you are ready, and you are bringing that new commitment that you have into full manifestation; you are ready to go; you’re ready to take on that task. If you are doing the work of God, it’s always much easier when you accept your role and are able to perceive of it in your mind. But regardless, you are ready.
“Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’”
Well, Jonah got up and went on to Nineveh, as commanded by the Lord. “Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he cried, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them, to the least of them.”
Now, Jonah sat on the side of the road and wondered how this could be happening. He wondered how his God could give these pagan people the same chance that would be given to him. We see that God is a God of even third chances.
“Then tidings reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he made proclamation and published through Nineveh, ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed, or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them cry mightily to God; yea, let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may yet repent and turn from his fierce anger, now that we perish not?’ When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which He had said he would do to them; and He did not do it.”
We must remember that whenever we turn from the way were going which is not the way God told us to go and we know we are “missing the mark,” no matter who we are, or what faith we are, we’re going to have grace and mercy from God. This was very difficult for some of the people in that day to believe.
As long as you turn to God, as long as you believe in your heart, you’re going to have that mercy and grace and forgiveness sweep over your life.
“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, ‘I pray Thee, Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that Thou art a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repentest of evil. Therefore now, O Lord, take my life from me, I beseech Thee, for it is better for me to die than to live.’”
So Jonah was saying that it would be better and he would prefer to die than to be able to expand his belief system and to extend his own personal love to people of whom he did not approve or did not regard. He didn’t think he could live this way, knowing that these people had grace and mercy when he had been taught all his life to hate and disregard them. How could he live knowing this. What the truth is and the message is that we can’t. We have to change from within. We have to realize that ALL people are equal to ourselves in the eyes of God. And if in the eyes of God, it should also be in our eyes. There is no such thing as an exclusiveness of religion.
“And the Lord said, ‘Do you do well to be angry?’ Then Jonah went out of city and sat to the east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.”
So here he sits outside the city just waiting for God to destroy it. He really believes that God is a vengeful and angry God. He cannot even imagine that God is a God of love, that God is love. So he’s just waiting for the destruction to begin. But, God is a God of even fourth chances.
“And the Lord God appointed a plant, and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. When dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm which attacked the plant, so that it withered.”
This might just be telling us that after we rest, it’s time to get on with our journey.
“When the sun rose, God appointed a sultry east wind, and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah so that he was faint; and he asked that he might die, and said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’ But God said to Jonah, ‘Do you do well to be angry with the plant?’ And he said, ‘I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.’ And the Lord said, ‘You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night, and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?’”
God is telling Jonah to expand his thinking a bit; to see these people through the eyes of God. When they use the idiom, “Do not know their right hand from their left,” he is saying here that they don’t know good from evil. In the Bible, the right hand indicates goodness, and the left-hand represents evil.
And so the story ends. We never know if Jonah ever changed, and we also often don’t know if people that we chanced to meet in our walk of life ever changed. Many people choose not to change. They choose to stay in the same thought pattern and action pattern because that’s where they are the most comfortable. “People often prefer known hells to unknown heavens.”
People are often blind to all the second chances, third chances, fourth chances, to infinity that God gives.
If you’re at all like Jonah, I pray you get another chance. I pray you are swallowed up by a great idea. I pray that you are in that idea so long that it consumes you. And then I pray that you take that idea and materialize it; work with it, live it, and go the way of God. Discover joy again in your life.
Then, I pray you discover not only the second chance of God, but the third, the fourth, the fifth, and on, into infinity. When the eyes are spiritually open, we are not blind to all the blessings from God.
God will never let you down, as long as you remain in that relationship with Him and follow that path. In doing so, you will find an infinity of chances to live a beautiful, wonderful life. You will have all the chances you need.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness Lamentations 3:21-23 (NIV):
God Bless You!