Jonah 1: “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” 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.
Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 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. 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, and we will not perish.”
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. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” 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.)
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?” “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.”
Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried to the Lord, “O Lord, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O Lord, have done as you pleased.” Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.
But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.”
There are three main truths I would like to briefly speak to out of this first chapter of the short but well known book of Jonah.
1. There is a price to pay for disobedience in our own lives.
2. Our disobedience causes “storms” in others’ lives.
3. God’s grace is amazing!
First of all, Jonah paid a price for rebelling against the Lord. He went in the opposite direction that God was telling him to go (trying to run away from God and His call on his life) and paid for it. The end of verse 3 says: “After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.” Later He would pay a greater price, that of seeming death, although instead he was swallowed alive by some “fish.”
But the basic point is simple yet sober: there is a price to pay in disobeying the Lord. This seems obvious, but it is amazing how we fool ourselves and think we can “hide from God” or “get away with it.” As a pastor recently told me in regard to a situation we were talking about concerning a member of his church and someone attending our church, “sin complicates things!”
Galatians 6:7-8 warns: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”
Notice also Jonah wasn’t merely trying to run from the call on his life or what God told him to do, he was trying to run away from the Lord Himself! But we cannot hide from the presence of God. No matter where we go He sees us and knows.
Psalm 139:7-12 says: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can 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. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”
This is either a comforting truth or a troubling truth depending on whether you are trying to run away from God or not!
Secondly, sin, disobedience or rebellion against God not only has consequences in our own personal lives; but our sin causes “storms” in others’ lives.
My wife sometimes watches a TV show called “Hoarders” which deals with those about to face the loss of their home because of their extreme hoarding. Just the other day she was watching a show called “Intervention” where family and friends sit down with a family member caught up in addiction to try to put the pressure on them to get help. It is amazing when watching these shows, how the choices and sin of one person can cause such pain and heartbreak and “storms” in the lives of others. I am sure we can all think of those whose presence was not a blessing in our lives, but cause such “unsettling storms” and “drama.” And I am sure if we are honest, we can point to a time or season in our own life where we caused “storms” in others’ lives because of our choices.
This is an important but often forgotten truth. Many are deceived into thinking that our choices affect only ourselves. Or we are so selfish we don’t care. But none of us are an island unto ourselves. Everything we do or don’t do affects others and has a ripple effect in ways we couldn’t possibly fathom. This is a very sober truth. Read Joshua 7 and see how one man’s sin brought God’s wrath on an entire nation, resulting in 36 soldiers losing their lives (and think of how that affected their parents, their spouse, their children’s lives), and resulted in the death of that man and his entire family.
Our sin never just affects us. It affects those closest to us the worst! However, thankfully Jonah was spiritual enough to connect (and confess) that this storm affecting the other sailors was because of him. I see many more who think they are Job’s when really they are Jonah’s! I have also seen within the church how sometimes we make the minor mistakes/issue’s of others major issue’s; or non-issue’s are made into issues’ (creating drama), yet we can’t see (or don’t want to see) how serious our own sin and compromise is and the severity of the consequences of it (both in our own life and others). Again thankfully Jonah was humble and honest enough to acknowledge this storm was not because of his faithfulness but unfaithfulness!
Well, all of this would be more than depressing if it were not for this third truth: God’s grace is amazing! Once Jonah was thrown overboard (the situation and root of the situation addressed), the storm stopped and the men on the boat were safe, but God also provided a “fish” to swallow Jonah and while Jonah was in the belly of the fish 3 days and 3 nights, he was later spit up on dry ground. And then God gave him a second chance to do what He had told him to do before. Jonah obeyed and a nation was spared the wrath of God and saved!
God’s grace is truly amazing and awesome. If you are running from Him, disobeying Him and causing storms in your life and others, all it takes is one sincere cry for mercy and willingness to obey and stop rebelling. All it takes is a willingness to deal with the root issue. God is merciful! But why don’t I just let Jonah tell you that (out of chapter 2) in his own words, from his own experience:
“From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. (Notice there is always hope if you are still alive, no matter where you find yourself or how deep the pit is or “belly of a whale” is…if you will just pray!)
He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the deep, 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 brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God. “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 forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.” And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.”
It may not sound pleasant to be vomited out of a fish, but it sure beats dying inside of a fish! Sometimes the process of deliverance (or prayers being answered) isn’t pleasant or glamorous (though it may be dramatic!). But the point is God is merciful when we cry out to Him in repentance and faith, asking for His mercy, though we know we don’t deserve it. Perhaps you need to call on the Lord on your life? Perhaps you have been running from Him and caused storms in other lives and now you find yourself in the “belly of a fish.” I pray you can see that the fact that you are still alive is God’s grace in and of itself. And so I pray you will call on His name as that fact alone means there is still the possibility of a second chance. And then once “spit up on dry ground” don’t take it for granted, but walk in obedience to God even if you don’t want to or your flesh desires something else. “Salvation comes from the Lord.”
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.