And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city–a visit required three days. On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
Amazing Grace. How sweet the sound! When I read the story of Jonah, I read about a preacher who is in rebellion to God. God calls him to go and preach to the city of Ninevah, but Jonah did not want to go. So, a giant fish swallows him. For three days, he wrestled with his decision to be rebellious until finally he repented.
Unfortunately, I have to admit that I am quite familiar with that position. Many times, I have done what God told me not to do and there were other times where, like Jonah, I did not do what the Lord told me to do. I have been rebellious and stubborn with the best of them. I am ashamed to say it, but it is quite true.
The fact that Jonah was a prophet of God sets a background, however, for a story of great grace. Grace is the mercy that we do not deserve, nor can we earn. It is the favor of kind God who never stops loving and hoping for the best.
There is no doubt that the Lord hates sin. He despises it. If you want to know how God feels about sin, just look at the cross. Isaiah teaches us that the punishment that fell upon Christ was God’s hand of wrath upon His only Son because of the sin of the world. God hated sin so badly that He was willing to punish His only begotten Son with such violence. We could go further and look to Hell. The final death is the Lake of Fire. For those who choose sin over the Lord, their final resting place will be something like being stranded in the middle of a lake forever, the sensation of drowning perhaps forever while at the same time, the sensation of being burned forever. We don’t know for sure, but this is the analogy given to us to help us have some sense of something that originates in another realm. Needless to say, it is going to be a horrible place.
The core of the Lord’s hatred for sin is what sin does to His children. As a Father, I understand hating anyone who might work to hurt my children. How much does our Heavenly Father hate anything that would hurt His children? It is out of this love that we see grace. The grace that moved Him to leave His throne and come to the Earth, taking the form of a servant even unto death just to give each man, woman, and child the opportunity to be saved from the punishment for their sin. With Jonah, this great grace is extended even further.
When Jonah first said ‘no’ to the Lord, the Lord certainly would have been justified in giving Him the wages of his sin-death. But instead, we see the Lord hard at work to extend grace to this rebellious preacher. The Lord first brings up a storm while Jonah is at sea. Then the Lord makes certain the lot fell upon Jonah so that the sailors would know that Jonah was the cause of the storm. Finally, we see the Lord ‘preparing’ a great fish to swallow Jonah. Animal experts will tell us now that there is no fish or whale that could have swallowed a man like this. But the Scripture says the Lord prepared a fish. The NIV says He provided a fish. It was not simply that He called up a fish from the depths to swallow Jonah. He prepared a fish. He provided a fish. He went the lengths of creating a new fish or adapting an already existing fish to accomplish this feat. And why would the Lord go to such lengths? Well…grace.
The story of Jonah is not just about Ninevah. It is about Jonah’s rebellion and God’s grace. He gives grace allowing us to wrestle with obedience. Sure, there are consequences to not obeying the Lord immediately, but the grace of God to wait for us while we brood. He waits for us as we wrestle with our sinful tendencies all the while hoping we will turn back to Him.
Maybe you have been wrestling with the Lord and life has swallowed you up. You know what He is calling you to, but you have chosen your own way. Isn’t the stench of life becoming like the stomach of a great fish? The Lord is waiting patiently for you. He has extended you grace and though you have been swallowed, you have not received what you deserved. He is waiting and hoping you will turn back to Him. My advice: Repent and get out of the stench.
Where are you rebelling in your life right now? How would you respond to God’s patience with your rebellion?
“Even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.