Lessons from the Belly of a Whale

New mercies. Second chances. We all desire them at one point or another in our lives. Looking back on a past decision or mistake, we think to ourselves, “If only I could have a second chance, a do-over, how I would do things differently!” We are not the first generation in need of second chances. In fact, there are many examples found in Scripture of God bestowing second chances upon various men and women who had sinned against Him. I want us to focus on one in particular, and that is the story of Jonah. Now, if you’re not familiar with the story of Jonah and the whale, I would strongly encourage you to go and read through the book of Jonah. It’s a really brief book, and there’s much to be learned from its content. For the purpose of this article, however, I will provide only a brief summary.

Jonah was a prophet of the Lord, and as such, he was one of the very few people in history who had the privilege of speaking with God directly. In the first couple of verses of chapter one, God commands Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh, and exhort the people there to turn from their wicked ways. Seems simple enough, right? There was only one problem: like many of us, Jonah’s heart didn’t align with God’s. His desires were out of kilter with those of His Father, and he didn’t want to encourage the Ninevites to turn from their evil. Jonah was concerned that if he warned the Ninevites of the destruction that was to come if they continued in their sin, they might actually listen. And that was the last thing he wanted. The atrocity of their actions disgusted him, and he wanted justice. He wanted them to reap the consequences of their rebellion against the Most High God. So he did what many of us do when we don’t like what God has to say to us: he ran. He jumped on a boat and headed in the opposite direction of Nineveh to a town approximately 2,500 miles away known as Tarshish. I don’t know if he really believed he could outrun God or if he was so desperate he figured anything was worth a try, but whatever the case, his sin found him out. On his way to Tarshish, a great storm arose, and after some rudimentary investigation, the other people on the boat came to the conclusion that Jonah’s God was punishing him for running away. In an attempt to save their own lives and to end the ferocious storm, they threw Jonah into the sea, and the storm calmed down. You would think that this is where our story ends. God gave Jonah a command, Jonah disobeyed, and as a result of his disobedience, Jonah drowned in the depths of the sea. Thankfully, however, our God is a merciful God, and Jonah was awarded a second chance. As Jonah sank into the waters of the deep, a big fish swallowed him up, and became his residence for the next three days. Listen to some of his thoughts during his time in the belly of the big fish:

“The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God. When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.” – Jonah 2:5-7 (ESV; emphasis mine)

Though Jonah deserved death for his rebellion against God (Rom. 6:23), God showed him mercy. Though Jonah turned his back on the Most High and attempted to flee as far from Him as possible, God did not turn His back on Jonah. Many of us in God’s position would likely have thought Jonah to be a lost cause. Perhaps we would have even chosen to use someone else to carry our message to Nineveh. But not God. Instead, He orchestrated a supernatural event to re-align Jonah’s heart with His own. You know why? Because “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end” (Lam. 3:22).

Live It Out

Jonah is not alone in his rebellion against God. We, like Jonah, choose to go against the desires of our Father and King on a regular basis. We lie. We lust. We lose our temper. But God does not reject us. He does not turn His face away from us. Instead, He uses circumstances in our lives to bring us back to Him. The Father lavishes us with mercy, and each and every day, he gives us another chance to serve Him. How are you using your second chance? Are you using this day for His glory or are you wasting it on your own? Resolve to make the most of today. Do not take advantage of His mercy. Love God and love others. And live as you shall wish you had done when you come to die (Jonathan Edwards).

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