Category Archives: Book of Jonah

JONAH 6: Prayer & Vomit (2:1-9)

“From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. He said:

   “In my distress I called to the LORD, 
   and he answered me. 
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, 
   and you listened to my cry. 
You hurled me into the depths, 
   into the very heart of the seas, 
   and the currents swirled about me; 
all your waves and breakers 
   swept over me. 
I said, ‘I have been banished 
   from your sight; 
yet I will look again 
   toward your holy temple.’ 
The engulfing waters threatened me, 
   the deep surrounded me; 
   seaweed was wrapped around my head. 
To the roots of the mountains I sank down; 
   the earth beneath barred me in forever. 
But you, LORD my God, 
   brought my life up from the pit.

  “When my life was ebbing away, 
   I remembered you, LORD, 
and my prayer rose to you, 
   to your holy temple.

  “Those who cling to worthless idols 
   turn away from God’s love for them. 
But I, with shouts of grateful praise, 
   will sacrifice to you. 
What I have vowed I will make good. 
   I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD.’”

  And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land” (Jonah 2:1-9).

I apologize for the crude title. Once a youth pastor, always a youth pastor. This aptly sums up this section: Having been rescued from drowning by a giant fish, Jonah gives thanks to the Lord for his salvation from inside the belly.  His prayer is followed by release. Jonah is “vomited out” onto dry land.

Here we have an intense picture of a person being thrust out of darkness and into light, going under the waters a sinner and coming up a new person. This is Jonah’s sinner’s prayer, his testimonial, his conversion moment, his baptism into (near) death and his new birth experience.

From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, 
   and you listened to my cry.  

May we all remember our prayer from the belly of sin, and the moment we were given a new chance at life on new dry land. When were you vomited out of your old life of sin?

Finally, this image of “vomiting” evokes two other passages that serve as a warning to the new believer just leaving behind their old life of rebellion.  Firstly, Jonah and the new believer must not foolishly return to their old life of sin, for “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11).  Jonah has been dumped back on the seashore where he first boarded the ship of rebellion.  Will he repeat his mistake?  We shall see.

Secondly, the emotional buzz of Jonah and the new believer’s born again experience will slowly fade in time, and then they must guard against becoming half-hearted or complacent in their obedience to the Lord.  Or else they will become like the Laodicean church to whom the Lord said: “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:16).

So, as you can see, vomit is nothing to joke around about…. [Insert Junior high snickering here]

JONAH 5: In the Belly of the Fish (1:17)

  “Now the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17).

Sinking toward the bottom.  Overcome by despair.  Near the end of your rope.  At death’s door.  Holding your breath and gasping for air.  Jonah’s stubborn rebellion and insistence on a life apart from God has finally caught up with him. He’s literally drowning under the weight of his sin, and hopelessly entangled in the weedy mess he’s created for himself.

But our God is a merciful God.  The Day of Reckoning does not always issue forth justice.  To the contrary, we often don’t get what we deserve.  Instead of upholding justice, the Judge opts for mercy instead.

But God’s merciful hand reaching down into our pit of despair to rescue us often involves a messy process. A time of repentance, pruning, discipline, sanctification, purification or detox, whatever we call it our journey back to God is often as pleasant as 3 nights lodging in the belly of a giant fish.  Now I’ve never been inside the stomach of any living being, but I’m guessing its quite a few notches below the accommodations of your nearest Super 8.  Dark, hot, cramped, smelly, slimy — not unlike my freshman college dorm room.

Now I had always drawn the conclusion that being swallowed by a big fish was just another part of Jonah’s punishment for disobedience.  Yet, shockingly, the storyteller is clear that this “fishy situation” is actually a remarkable picture of God’s amazing grace. “Yahweh mounts a special rescue operation: an enormous fish plays the astounding part of a submarine to pick up Jonah from the murky seaweed at the bottom of the ocean and transport him safely to the mainland” (Leslie Allen, 213).  The belly of a fish is no pleasant place to be, but it sure beats the alternative which for Jonah was death.  Continue reading JONAH 5: In the Belly of the Fish (1:17)

JONAH 4: Shoot the Skunk (1:11-17)

“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, “Pick me up and hurl 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 get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. Therefore they called out to the LORD, “O LORD, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.” So they picked up Jonah and hurled 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. 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” (Jonah 1:11-17).

“The wages of sin is death.”  Sin must be dealt with before it’s destructive potential is realized. This applies to all dysfunctional behaviors and patterns, secret sins and snowballing problems present in our life’s boat.   Sometimes drastic action is required, such as in the case of these unfortunate sailors who find themselves carrying on board something, or rather someone, offensive to a Holy and Just God.  As one pastor said of sin, “Sometimes you just have to shoot the skunk.”  Continue reading JONAH 4: Shoot the Skunk (1:11-17)

JONAH 3: Rude Awakening & Unlikely Prophet (1:6)

“So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”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 on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? 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 had told them” (Jonah 1:6-10).

Unable to outrun God and his troubles, Jonah hopes to escape his responsibility to God by way of sleep.  A few days earlier Jonah’s life was interrupted by the divine summons to “Arise! Go..!” (1:2).  Now hoping to run from that very summons, his sleep is interrupted by the captain’s irritated, “Arise! Call out to your god!” (1:6)  Jonah probably believes he’s trapped in a nightmare.  But the situation is grim on deck, and the captain is determined to cover all his religious bases, seeking help from any and all possible gods.

Isn’t it just like our God to use a pagan polytheist to bring the wise pastoral counsel to Jonah, urging him to “Call out to your god…perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish” (1:6). Jonah does not cry out to God.  He’s not yet willing to repent and “face the music.”  How often do we also dilly-dally and postpone dealing with our problem, repenting of our sin, hoping our problems will get better magically on their own or simply go away if we ignore them long enough?  Why is it so hard to swallow our pride, and repent of our sin and receive the grace of divine mercy and the peace of divine reconciliation? Continue reading JONAH 3: Rude Awakening & Unlikely Prophet (1:6)

JONAH 2: Sinking Ship & Tossing Cargo (1:4-5)

“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 out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was 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” (Jonah 1:4-5).

“You can run but you can’t hide.”  Especially from God.  Jeremiah 23 says, “Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the LORD. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD. “Psalm 139 declares, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”  Jonah will find this to be true soon enough — especially when he’s camping in the depths of a giant fish belly and finally crying out to the God he has been running from.

When we rebel against God, and insist on going our own way in opposition to God’s way, we’ll eventually pay a price.  Consequences do follow sin– whether in this life or the next. Jonah experiences the stern punishment of God for his disobedience as “the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea…so that the ship threatened to break up” (1:5).  When we try to live life on our own terms, it’s only a matter of time before “the bottom falls out” on us, when our self-made lives begin to break apart like Jonah’s boat.

Has God ever needed to bring you into stormy waters to break down your layers of prideful self-reliance?  Did God get your attention?

Another lesson in this story is that our sinful ways affect more than just ourselves. Continue reading JONAH 2: Sinking Ship & Tossing Cargo (1:4-5)

JONAH 1: Where are you headed? (1:1-3)

“Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. 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” (Jonah 1:1-3).

“What is God’s will for my life?”  “What vocation should I pursue after college?”  “I wish I could hear from God more clearly and directly.”  “Where is God leading me?”

These are common questions I hear as a pastor working with many young adults and college age students. When we first meet the reluctant prophet Jonah, we’re both envious of his clear direction from God (“the word of the Lord came to Jonah”) and desperately hoping God doesn’t give us such a difficult task (“Arise, go to Ninevah, that great city, and call out against it”). Jonah knows exactly what God wants him to do, and he flees in the opposite direction “to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.”

Here’s the problem: We can’t have it both ways.  Many want to have some “religion” on the side of life.  We want a safe amount of “spirituality” in our lives, some divine assistance in our own pursuits, and a rosy afterlife when we die.  But we don’t want to completely surrender our lives over to the will of God, to give Him sole control over our life’s destiny and main purpose.  We’d prefer to chase our own dreams, and give God an hour on Sunday morning, and keep Him on speed dial for when emergencies arise.

Jonah is faced with a simple choice: Thy will be done or my will be done.   Continue reading JONAH 1: Where are you headed? (1:1-3)