Jonah is one of the stories I remember hearing about as a kid and mentally mixing with Pinocchio. All I ever remembered was someone got swallowed by a whale for acting foolish. Now that I am old enough to truly process the story, I couldn’t help but see many more lessons than what was explained.
Jonah itself is a really short story. It’s nothing more than four short chapters and the Bible itself doesn’t even specifically mention that he was swallowed by a whale. It literally says a big fish and by the end of the second chapter, Jonah is back on solid ground. The entire story of Jonah is more complex than I originally understood.
If we understood anything from reading through the Bible, is that you can’t run away from God. God spoke clearly to Jonah and gave him directions to go preach to Nineveh . Jonah had other plans and decided to try to go to Tarshish to escape the Lord. God wasn’t having it and while Jonah found a boat to take him to Tarshish, God created a storm to try to sink the ship. Jonah was asleep below the ship as all of the mariners were afraid they were going to die, throwing everything overboard and praying to their gods.
Eventually, they all drew straws to see whose fault it was and Jonah drew the short straw. The crew asked him a bunch of questions and found out Jonah was a Hebrew that was fleeing God. Jonah told them to toss him overboard and the sea would calm because he would be gone. The men tried to make it to land instead of potentially killing Jonah but it didn’t work. They prayed to God, asked for their safe passage, and prayed that tossing Jonah into the sea wouldn’t condemn them. They tossed Jonah into the sea and the storm calmed. They all praised and thanked God then became followers of God. At the same time Jonah was swallowed up by a “great fish” for three days and three nights.
The first lesson I saw was that God still managed to use Jonah to bring people to Him. The entire crew followed God after experiencing His power first hand through the storm and the subsequent quieting. They were shown God’s will and it made them see that their own gods were useless. Jonah wanted to run from his destiny. If you choose not to listen, God will force you to listen. My grandmother used to say, “Your arms aren’t long enough to box with God.” and Jonah couldn’t win that fight. Jonah knew what he did was wrong and only facing God, could he solve the situation.
What wasn’t told when I was young was that the second chapter reads like Jonah died. The imagery reads like drowning and is paralleled with mentions of hell, souls, bars around him forever. Verse seven says “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in unto thee into thine holy temple.” Right as Jonah died, he said one last prayer and God released Him from the belly of the fish. It’s never too late to repent and for things to be set right.
God instructed Jonah to head to Nineveh again. Jonah spoke at the city about its looming destruction and the entire city heeded God’s warning. Everyone from the King down to the cattle wore sackcloth, fasted, and prayed. (Imagine the cows in sacks) The entire city turned from their evil ways. God forgave and didn’t destroy them. This made Jonah mad and that’s what I didn’t understand as a child.
Jonah’s story wasn’t about God’s power to punish disobedience, it’s a story about forgiveness. Jonah ran away to Tarshish because he wanted Nineveh destroyed. We often hold bitterness inside and want for God to punish our enemies but sometimes God wants us to deliver them instead. We are supposed to leave our enemies up to God and not be bothered by what He does with them.
Jonah stormed off and watched the city from a distance. God created a leafy tree over him to provide shade that comforted Jonah. During the night, God sent a worm to eat and destroy the tree. Jonah became so mad about the tree being gone that he wished he were dead. (Jonah does this a lot) God came to Jonah and asked him why was it okay for him to be angry about the plant when Jonah did nothing to have it grow. On the other hand, shouldn’t God have the right to care about Nineveh since He was responsible for them?
Jonah’s story is a story about disobedience, God’s resourcefulness, forgiveness, repentance, grace, and mercy. God showed three times (Sailors, Jonah, Nineveh) that it is never too late for you to start anew. God loves all His people, even when they do wrong. It’s about recognizing the signs of living right and committing to that. We should never hold bitterness in our hearts against because it will only lead us through more trouble than its worth. You never know who you are supposed to bless one day.
Turn your brightness up!
Does anyone have any different readings or lessons from Jonah? Have any stories of running from God that got you into more trouble? Any stories about helping enemies which turned out to be a blessing for you? Leave any comments, questions, or stories in the section below.