The Gospel According to Jonah. Part Two
The book of Jonah is the fifth in the collection called the Minor Prophets; it records the Prophet's interaction with God after the instruction to go to Nineveh, the repentance of the Ninevites and the Prophet's displeasure at God's forgiveness.
Rather than a fully developed prophecy, it is an account of the experience of a prophet— more events than sermon.
With only four chapters, the book divides into four major parts: first, God's Commission and the Prophet's Disobedience (Jon1:1-17); second, the Prophet's Repentance and God's Deliverance (Jon2:1-10); third, God's Commission and the Prophet's Obedience (Jn3:1-10) and the fourth part is the Prophet's Annoyance and God's Correction (Jon4:1-11).
From studying the first chapter, we learn some vital truths about God and our interaction with him; we learn about his love for all people irrespective of their nationality, ethnicity or religious practices. We also learn of his sovereignty over nature and how his presence is pervasive and can't be escaped from.
The first chapter of Jonah concluded with Jonah being thrown into the raging sea despite the unwillingness of the sailors but at Jonah's prompting; the real reason why Jonah told them to throw him overboard is not clear, however there are at least two possibilities: firstly, perhaps Jonah regretted putting the other guys into trouble and didn't want them destroyed because of his disobedience, hence opted to die so they could live.
Secondly, it is possible Jonah was so averse to the idea of preaching to the Ninevites he would rather die before going there and giving them an opportunity to be recipients of God's grace and mercy. Whatever his reason, to Jonah and the sailors, it was clear that throwing him overboard board was going to result in certain death, hence their initial reluctance to do that despite Jonah's request.
While everyone was certain Jonah was going to perish in the raging sea, God in his graciousness provided a giant fish to swallow him up and he was in there for three days and three nights. Thus the first episode of Jonah's story was concluded.
Before commencing a study of the second chapter of the book of Jonah, we should realize two things about Jonah and the Whale — the most significant is that the large sea animal that swallowed Jonah was an instrument of God's grace. Jonah courted death, he deserved death for the wages of sin (and disobedience is definitely sin) is death.
The second truth we must never forget is that the provision of a fish to swallow Jonah and keep him alive for three days and nights is a miracle. Most sceptics reject the Jonah account as they find it ridiculous and laughable to claim that a man was swallowed by a giant fish; however while some persons have claimed that a man can actually survive in a whale's stomach though in great discomfort and have even provided historical accounts of such in contemporary times, trying to prove whether it can happen or not is beside the point.
The account of Jonah and the fish is just one out of the many miracles in the Bible that sceptics would have a hard time believing; if we can't accept the miracle of Jonah, then we probably won't believe the confusing of tongues at Babel or the parting of the Red Sea or the fall of Jericho or how Balaam's donkey suddenly learnt to speak or Jesus feeding the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fishes.
If Jonah in the belly of the fish is not believable, then we won't believe the greatest miracle of all— that Jesus lived, and died, he was buried and after three days was raised from the dead and anyone who puts their faith in him will be saved from their sins and will have a father-son relationship with the God, the creator of heaven and earth!
Chapter Two: Jonah's Repentance and God's Deliverance
Chapter two of the book of Jonah is an account of Jonah's prayer to God in the belly of the fish and it can be studied by asking four questions:
1. When did Jonah Pray?
2. Who did Jonah Pray to?
3. How did Jonah Pray?
4. What did Jonah Pray?
So let's start with the first question.
When did Jonah pray?
Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly...
It is very instructive for us to remember that the last time Jonah interacted with God was back in the early verses of chapter one when the instruction to go to Nineveh was given, after that all forms of spiritual communication ceased while Jonah planned his rebellion against the Lord.
Perhaps,it was the shock of looking death in the face when he hit the waters, then the miraculous deliverance from sudden death that jolted Jonah back to reality and showed him the futility of a life lived in disobedience; or more than that, he realised that God was not through with him yet.
If we tie together the last verse of chapter one and the first verse of chapter two, it would seem to one that Jonah begun his prayer not immediately he was swallowed by the fish but perhaps after days of trying to extricate himself from the contents of the fish's belly and concluding that the only way out of his predicament can only be provided by God that he started to pray.
C S Lewis in his classic work, The Problem of Pain wrote these words, 'God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.' One of the challenges of our depraved humanity is that until we get our lives messed up and we are at the end of the rope, we do not see the need to heed God.
We need to see the failure of our self sufficiency; sequestered in a fish's belly, Jonah had no where else to turn, no more getaway plans or escape strategies. The reality of his situation hit him squarely and to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, Jonah, convinced that he had nowhere else to go was driven to pray.
Who did Jonah Pray To?
Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God...
Did you see that? Jonah knew that despite his sin and rebellion, the Lord God is still HIS God! There is a revelation here for us to see, sin doesn't affect the nature of our relationship with God! Even when we are in sin and rebellion, though we may have difficulties in our interaction with God, it is not because his disposition towards us changes but he remains our God who loves us and wants the very best for us.
The three-part parable told by the Lord in Luke 15 is a commentary on this reality and we will do well to consider how the Lord Jesus reproved the Pharisees who were surprised to see Jesus relating with people who in the Pharisaic worldview were down and out sinners that do not deserve even a glance from any who claims to be righteous.
In the first part of the parable, Jesus by likening the sinner to a lost sheep and a lost coin, helped the Pharisees and his disciples understand that sin or rebellion in humanity does not in any way remove from the worth of man and does not make man undesirable to God. Secondly, he showed them that though the sheep and the coin got lost, the shepherd and the housewife in each case took responsibility for restoration and confirmed that the lost were theirs still and yet valuable. See Lk15:4-6; 8-9.
In the second part of the parable (known popularly as the parable of the prodigal son) Jesus showed that the action of the younger son was not big enough to destroy or mar the relationship he had with his father, and while he may be reluctant to enter fully into all that such a relationship promises because he feels unworthy, the father has no such notion!
Notice the personal pronouns used both by the prodigal son and the father:
And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father...and he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him... the father said to his servants, this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
While some have taught that sin in the life of a believer changes the relationship they have with God, some have rejected such a stand and taught that sin doesn't change the relationship a believer has with God but only the fellowship; however by studying Jonah (and Luke 15), we see that from the divine side, sin does neither! Sin or no sin, God is our God, we are his own and also very importantly, God desires to fellowship with us all the time even more so in our rebellion when he goes all out and searches us out!
No where else in Scripture is this more graphically presented than it is in the attitude of the father who despised Jewish custom of courtesy, refinement and propriety and ran to the prodigal son, hugged him, kissed him and restored him to his rightful place as a son in the family! We may (because of guilt, regret and sadness) feel reluctant to fellowship with the Father when we sin; he however has not stopped loving us and has not stopped wanting us!
Though Jonah had disobeyed God and rebelled against his will, he recognized the grace of God in his deliverance from death and by faith, he recognized also that God was 'his' still — not only as the sovereign creator but also as his redemptive God and Deliverer. Jonah knew this— and he took advantage of the graciousness of God.
(To be continued)