A man stopped at one of those roadside “scenic marker” places to have lunch and take some time to take in the natural beauty. But when he returned to his car, his battery was dead. With no cell phone service way out there, or any other alternative, he decided to try and flag down a passing car. Finally, a someone stopped but they didn’t have jumper cables.
The man convinced the driver who stopped to give him a little push to get him started.
“Just come up behind my car and push it and I’ll pop the clutch”
“How fast will I need to go?” “Oh, 20 to 25 miles an hour should be fine”
They agreed, but after a few moments, he didn’t see their car anymore.
He looked in his rear view mirror to see what was taking so long.
When he looked he saw to his horror that they had backed way up and they were coming right at his car at 25 miles an hour.
It dawned on him, at that very moment, he had not been adequately clear with his instructions.
That was not the case with Jonah. God had been very, very clear. Go to Ninivah.
But in a surprise move, we instead find him running in the wrong direction. We find him going the opposite way that God instructed.
I guess I didn’t get your attention, Jonah.
Then we find him sleeping in the bottom of the ship during a terrible storm while even the pagan sailors were praying to their gods.
Am I not getting your attention, Jonah?
He wakes up when the captain of the ship challenges him. They all know that the storm had been brought upon them by God because of Jonah’s disobedience.
You know, I’ve gotten the pagans attention, Jonah? What about you?
Then, finally starting to grasp the reality of the situation, he volunteers to be thrown over board to save the others.
Oh, so you do fear me Jonah, I was wondering about that.
The crew gives him the heave-ho. The storm stops. God most certainly has the crews attention.
But what about Jonah? Has God really gotten his attention yet?
It’s taken a lot, but I think the gravity of the situation is finally starting to, most appropriately, sink in as he goes into the sea to his certain death.
But, amazingly, Jonah doesn’t die, because, as it says the LORD provided a great fish to swallow him, and that’s where we find him now: inside the fish, at last praying to God.
Jonah Chapter 2 [From the NLT – New Living Translation]
1 Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from inside the fish.
2 He said, “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!
3 You threw me into the ocean depths, and I sank down to the heart of the sea.
The mighty waters engulfed me; I was buried beneath your wild and stormy waves.
4 Then I said, ‘O Lord, you have driven me from your presence. Yet I will look once more toward your holy Temple.’
5 “I sank beneath the waves, and the waters closed over me. Seaweed wrapped itself around my head.
6 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!
7 As my life was slipping away, I remembered the Lord. And my earnest prayer went out to you in your holy Temple.
8 Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all God’s mercies.
9 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.”
10 Then the Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach.
So for the first nine verses of this short chapter, we find Jonah inside the fish, praying. The book doesn’t tell us anything else about what he does in there for those three days.
J. Vernon McGee, whom I respect and usually agree with, proposed in his sermon series on Jonah, that although we’ve always assumed that Jonah was alive in the fish for three days, maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he was dead. And in a parallel to Jesus, this was also a resurrection. He speculates that maybe when he was spit out by the fish, he came back to life.
Jesus does mention Jonah by name, and there are a lot of interesting little similarities. Jesus even compares his three days to Jonah’s three days specifically.
But I’m not convinced.
McGee says the Bible doesn’t say Jonah was alive. And in the King James, and other translations he’s right. It doesn’t say it outright. Instead it says he was in the belly of the fish, but not specifically alive. And when he prays, as in verse one, it says he was in the fish but again it doesn’t say specifically alive.
And, of course, it is a plausible, possible explanation because God has brought the dead back to life.
But each time God has done so the Bible says plainly that a person was first dead and then alive again. In no place here, does the bible even hint that Jonah died and came back.
And I, for one, although it’s interesting from time to time to wonder about things left out of the bible, am not comfortable adding just adding these details to the Bible that God himself did not give us or changing the facts as they are presented.
So in this case, I think Dr. McGee is taking a big leap, and one not permitted by a literal reading of they scripture. They are interesting lectures, and worth a listen, as he has a lot of insights, but I feel the text is plain.
God has finally gotten Jonah’s full attention. He’s alive inside a big fish, and praying. There’s no need to change that fact, or explain it away. God can do anything. He has done, quite literally everything, and Jonah now finds himself in a very sticky situation.
And to be inside a big fish for three days and alive, no less, sounds like a nightmare to me.
But some circumstances that we think are our worst nightmare may be exactly what we need.
But lets first stop and think – what would being in a big fish, alive, be like?
Has anyone seen the animated Disney movie Pinocchio? Where Pinocchio is in whale and he has this little campfire in there, plenty of space to move around and figure out what to do next.
It wouldn’t have been like that.
Again, I’m not going to add details, because we really don’t know how God sustained Jonah inside the fish. But if Jonah was inside any sort of fish that we might recognize today, and there are such creatures today that could easily swallow an man if not several men at once whole, but the three day ride would be nothing but unpleasant.
First, it’s pitch black with stomach acid and dead sea life and plants decomposing all around you. The little oxygen that is there is saturated with salt water. There’s a rancid smell. Everything you touch has the slimy feel of a mucous membrane. You’d likely feel claustrophobic. Every turn and dive of the great fish would throw you around. You slip and slide in the huge cesspool of fluid. There’s nothing to grab on to stabilize you and keep you from being bounced around. And finally, you’d have no idea if or when it would ever end , and no way to get out.
So what do you think? Does this sound like fun?
Scientists tell us that normally, being in the belly of a great fish would be a deadly circumstance, but in this situation it was exactly what Jonah needed for God to get his attention.
Without God intervention, He simply wouldn’t have survived long. It would be kind of like being stuck in washing machine at a laundromat. Yes, you’d tumble around in there for a while, alive, trying to get your bearing, and catch your breath, but not for three days. To stay alive in a situation like that, God would have to take hold of you and save you.
But frankly, sometimes God has to take some rather drastic measures to get our attention when we have wandered from Him.
But I’m sure that none of us here can relate to that, right?
In the bigger picture, the over-arcing theme of the book of Jonah is salvation: salvation for Jonah, and salvation for the people of Ninevah, and salvation in general.
And in verse nine, Jonah finally admits this. ” my salvation comes from the Lord alone”
It takes some mighty hard work sometimes to get our attention, but he offers to salvation to all who head His call.
You see, Jonah might have given up on God, but God had not given up on Jonah. Jonah had started his troubles, but God finished them. God had pursued Jonah. God did not give up on him.
How would we respond if we were in a similar situation? One response is often to be like those who, as Jonah puts it in verse 8, “cling to worthless idols.” We trust in our money, our intellect, our families, our own hard work, but in the end these things are worthless idols. They won’t save us.
That’s common today. The idea that we can save ourselves. Jonah could have tried to save himself. Maybe he could have tried to swim for it, trusting in his own strength. But almost certainly he would have drowned in the storm. So, instead he HAD to trust in God, and God in his grace provided a rescue for Jonah. Because Jonah could not save himself; only God could save him.
To be saved you have to give up your dependence on idols and yourself, and accept the salvation that God offers.
God’s salvation demands a response. Jonah turned away from his rebellion against God, and turned back towards him. So, Jonah is saved.
To save Jonah, God provided a fish; to save us he provides his very own Son.
That’s a big deal, if you haven’t caught on so far. Jesus, in no way, should have gone to that cross, we should have. But because Jesus did, we don’t have to. In the same way, Jesus never rebelled against God, but he died the death of a rebel, the death that we should die.
Jesus saves us from danger by taking our place in that danger: he pulls us out of storm, but dies in the storm himself. That’s how God’s salvation works: it’s the story of the whole Bible.
That’s what it takes to receive God’s salvation, if you have not already done so?
Just like Jonah, you must acknowledge the danger that you’re in, but also that God has pursued you and is longing to save you.
You must recognize that you cannot save yourself. Like Jonah our only hope is to call on the Lord. Only God can do it.
And like Jonah, we must act. God saves us as we are, but he does not leave us as we are. Returning to God will mean huge changes in your life. Jonah vowed to the Lord, and he kept his vow. The direction in his life was literally turned around when he came back to God. He wasn’t always happy with how God was doing things, but he stayed on course in following God’s will. Go against God, and he’d be in for some rough seas again.
And the same will happen for us; we must be prepared for that.
So I’ll end with a few words from Charles Spurgeon who sums up this dependent salvation so well.
“Salvation is the work of God. It is he alone who quickens the soul “dead in trespasses and sins,” and it is he also who maintains the soul in its spiritual life.
He is both “Alpha and Omega.”
If I am prayerful, God makes me prayerful; if I have graces, they are God’s gifts to me;
if I hold on in a consistent life, it is because he upholds me with his hand.
I do nothing whatever towards my own preservation, except what God himself first does in me.
Whatever I have, all my goodness is of the Lord alone.
Wherein I sin, that is my own; but wherein I act rightly, that is of God, wholly and completely.
If I have repulsed a spiritual enemy, the Lord’s strength nerved my arm.
Do I live before men a consecrated life? It is not I, but Christ who liveth in me.
Am I sanctified? I did not cleanse myself: God’s Holy Spirit sanctifies me.
Am I weaned from the world? I am weaned by God’s chastisements sanctified to my good.
Do I grow in knowledge? The great Instructor teaches me. All my jewels were fashioned by heavenly art. I find in God all that I want; but I find in myself nothing but sin and misery. “He only is my rock and my salvation.”
Do I feed on the Word? That Word would be no food for me unless the Lord made it food for my soul, and helped me to feed upon it.
Do I live on the manna which comes down from heaven? What is that manna but Jesus Christ himself incarnate, whose body and whose blood I eat and drink?
Am I continually receiving fresh increase of strength? Where do I gather my might?
My help comes from heaven’s hills: without Jesus I can do nothing. As a branch cannot bring forth fruit except it abide in the vine, no more can I, except I abide in him.
What Jonah learned in the great deep, let me learn this morning … “Salvation is of the Lord.”
© 2010 Timothy Henry