We are almost all familiar with the Sunday School story about a very large fish that swallowed a man who didn’t listen to the Lord, right? Yes! I’m talking about the story of “Jonah and the Whale.” The story, in short, is about a man named Jonah to whom the Lord gave a very specific task.
Jonah, in plain, just really didn’t want to do what God had asked of him. He didn’t listen, and in fact, he got scared and ran away. This led him to a ship, where he went as far away as he could from what God had asked of him — and eventually found himself in the middle of a storm. Jonah ended up getting thrown overboard and swallowed by a very large fish! Goodness. But God gave Jonah a second chance, and Jonah then completed the task God was asking of him.
Now, this is just a summary of the story, but really, there are so many lessons we can learn from Jonah.
What really happened when Jonah ran from the call of God? God bestowed His grace and mercy on Jonah! God saved his life and gave him a second chance to obey, listen, and answer the call.
You see, Jonah was running from the Lord. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh, a city full of sin. The Lord wanted the people of Nineveh to turn from their wicked ways (and boy, were they wicked!), and turn to Him. Nineveh was part of the Assyrian empire, where they would cut off their prisoners’ ears and noses to mark that they belonged to them! The Assyrian lifestyle was terrifying and most definitely immoral: temple prostitution, child sacrifice, and infanticide were the norm. So it’s no wonder Jonah didn’t want to go! But I do find it a bit interesting, being that Jonah was a child of God.
Jonah found the people of Ninevah to be horrifying people. He found their lifestyle to be absolutely wrong and pitiful — and rightfully so! He didn’t want to go anywhere near Nineveh, let alone put himself in harm’s way and preach to them whatever “thus sayeth the Lord.” I mean, in his mind, these wicked people were the last to deserve any word from God. Would they even listen?!
Doesn’t this sound kind of familiar? Wasn’t it Jonah who the Lord spoke to, yet he ran? Wasn’t it Jonah the Lord spoke to, but he disobeyed? And wasn’t it Jonah who the Lord saved from the belly of a fish and gave a second chance to?
When Jonah finally listened to God and went to Nineveh to deliver the message, he left and then waited for the city to be destroyed. Jonah was angry! He waited all day to see how God would punish this city.
The Lord grew a tree for Jonah to find shade and rest beside. Jonah was pleased by the tree, and he did find rest as he waited for judgment from the Lord to occur. Later, the Lord sent a worm to kill the tree. Oh, this made Jonah even more upset! Now the sun was beating down on him, and he was most uncomfortable!
The Lord spoke to Jonah and asked if it was right for him to be upset about the tree. Jonah replied, “Yes, of course!” He told God he was angry enough to die!
God then replied (and I’m paraphrasing), “You cared about the plant which you did not labor for and you did not grow. It appeared and was gone within a day, yet I may not care for this great city of Nineveh that is more than a hundred and twenty thousand? Whose people can not know between their left and right hand?”
Wow. I can’t help but wonder . . . Do we look at our brothers and sisters in Christ the way that Jonah looked at Nineveh? Do we look at those who have not yet met the Lord this way? God has bestowed mercy and grace on me time and time again; that is without a doubt. I am nowhere near perfect. What kind of attitude do we have towards those who we’ve seen make mistakes? Are we waiting for someone to trip and fall because, well, we “knew they would”? Do we look down upon people who fell into sin without extending a hand to pick them back up?
I must say, I do feel convicted in my heart when I think about how much the Lord has done for me and how little I have done for others. Are we responding to our brothers and sisters with a spirit of judgment when they come to us and admit mistakes they have made? When we see that someone has fallen, instead of looking at them and thinking to ourselves, I saw it coming or I’m not shocked at all, why don’t we fall to our knees and cry out to the Lord on their behalf? God forbid we ever make the mistake of having an attitude of criticism toward others.
I am SO grateful for the grace and mercy of our Lord. I am so grateful for His faithfulness and His love. Where would I be if not for His amazing grace?