FLASHBACK: "A True Fish Story"

Jonah 1

 1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

 3 But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD.

 4 Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.

   But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”

 7 Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”

 9 He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

 10 This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.)

 11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”

 12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”

 13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried out to the LORD, “Please, LORD, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, LORD, have done as you pleased.” 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him.

 17 Now the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

In verses one and two Jonah hears more bad news than he ever wanted to hear. He first hears from God that he is supposed to go to the very wicked city of Ninevah and not only is he supposed to go there but he is to teach them about God. There are many reasons that Jonah was probably afraid to do this. One of the reasons that he was probably afraid was because he could lose his life. The other thing that probably made him angrier than before was the fact that God was showing favor to anyone but His chosen people, the Jews. To top it off Ninevah was the capital city of the Assyrians who had earlier taken the Jews captive and killed many of them. 

Ninevah was probably over 300 miles northeast from where Jonah was when he was told by God to go there. Instead, Jonah decided to go over 200 miles south toward Tarshish. Jonah tried to outrun his duties, and he probably hoped that God would forget that he had told him to do these things.

God often throws a monkey wrench into the clockwork of our lives when we least expect it, and sometimes when it is very inconvenient. Jonah thought that if he ran away he could escape God's will. (It turned out that Jonah got himself into more trouble and even though he ran away, he was saved when God made the fish that swallowed him.) One of the things that Jonah probably didn't realize is that even though he tried to run away from God so that he would not have to tell anyone about God that was not a Jew; he ended up converting all the men on the ship. God's will was still accomplished even though Jonah did not follow directions.

So the lesson that we can learn from chapter one is that God's will is always carried out, and even though we disobey God and get in the rough seas of life he will always rescue us with a "great fish".

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I must admit I chuckled a bit when I read this. A monkey wrench?!?!? But the thing that strikes me when I read the story of Jonah (and this devotional) are the implications of the last paragraph particularly the idea that "we disobey God and get in the rough seas of life". The consequences of doing things our way, of choosing to participate in our plans instead of the mission of God can have such enormous consequences and yet at the same time God remains faithful.

There has been more than one occassion in my life where God spared me although I certainly felt as though I deserved to be thrown overboard and drowned in the depths of the sea. Thus far in the story we haven't learned too much about Jonah, but we have learned volumes about the God that pursues those who are disobedient... not in order to punish them but to show them mercy. What an amazing God.