One of the first “Bible stories” I remember hearing as a child was that of Jonah and the whale. It was also one of my favorites. But there is so much more to this story than I could have ever truly grasped at that age. I always focused on the first part, where all the action was, so to speak, and never really listened to what came after that. More than a few of us may be guilty of this.
The part that I remembered went something as follows:
God called Jonah to go and preach to the wicked people of Nineveh, but Jonah decided that he didn’t like this idea and that instead, he would travel in the opposite direction, to Tarshish, by boat. But God, being all-seeing, knew exactly what Jonah had done, and sent a storm. The others on the boat, feared for their lives, and, blaming Jonah, threw him overboard, and he was promptly swallowed by a large fish. There he learned his lesson, repented, prayed, and even praised God before he was vomited back out onto the shores of Nineveh, where he finally carried out God’s command.
But this is only the first two chapters of the book of Jonah, only half of the story. The rest of the book described how Jonah went to Nineveh and managed to change the hearts of the people there. God even relented in sparing them. And then Jonah became angry. He was angry at God for not destroying the people of Nineveh, who were enemies of Israel. God decided to teach him another lesson.
God provided Jonah with a leafy plant in order to shelter him from the sweltering sun, but the next he created a worm, which ate it, and caused it to whither away. Jonah became so angry at the loss of the plant that he wished he would die. God scolded him for this, asking him how he could worry over a plant that he didn’t even create, that appeared overnight and disappeared just as quickly when God was concerned over the lives and hearts of the 120,000 people of Nineveh.
It seems as if the entire book is one that should be scrutinized. We would lose out greatly if we only ever considered the first half and the lessons that it provides. Yes, the first half is a wonderful example of the consequences of defiance, and how God has a plan for each one of us, but there are a variety of other lessons that we should consider as well. Especially ones that we can relate to better now that we are older. Above all, one stands out, interconnecting all others.
God is sovereign.
We all have some preconceived notion of this as a child, but we struggle to truly grasp how awesome He is. Not only did he control nature in the weather (Jonah 1: 4-15), but he also commanded the obedience of a sea animal (Jonah 1:17), plants, and a simple worm (Jonah 4:6-7).
How dare we defy the will of our Almighty God? Well, the truth is that many of us are like Jonah in this regard. We all know that God is in complete control, and we know that we could never hold ourselves up even close to Him, yet we all defy Him continuously, daily even. We are not the firsts and we are far from the last. But we do have one advantage as Christians who study the Word. Like Jonah after his time in the belly of the fish, like the people of Nineveh after Jonah had preached to them, we have gained some knowledge as to who God is, and we understand the need for repentance.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus is asked for a sign by the scribes and Pharisees. He rebukes them, and says they will receive no sign other than that of Jonah:
“For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” Matthew 12:40-41 (ESV)
Live It Out
We are privileged to know so much more about God’s will for our lives than the people of Nineveh ever did, and they repented for all their wickedness and defiance. I’d like to challenge you to think of a few moments in the past few days where you knowingly disobeyed God, or instances where you realized later that what you had done might not have been what you should have, and then repent. We cannot expect to move to tomorrow if we do not hold ourselves accountable for yesterday.
Once you have done that, focus on one thing that you know you will struggle with tomorrow, whether it be a specific sin, or whether you just don’t know exactly what the best course of action would be, and then plan so that you will be as obedient to God as possible in that instance. It may seem difficult at first, but we are not in this alone. After all, even in our weakest moments, and darkest hours, He holds us up.
“Christ alone, Cornerstone
Weak made strong in the Savior’s love
Through the storm
He is Lord
Lord of all” – ‘Cornerstone’ by Hillsong Worship