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The story of the runaway prophet
That guy who was swallowed by a whale
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If you mention Jonah, the first thing that comes to mind is a guy who was swallowed by a whale. It is surprising because when you read the story; you don't find the mention of a whale anywhere in that story.
I challenge you to show me where the unknown author mentions a whale in his story! We are such poor Bible readers.
Other people regard the book as a story for children! What an absurdity! Shame on you if you think this is a child's story! The book is very provocative and entertaining. If you have never questioned your morals after reading this book, I am 100% sure you have not read the book properly. Let me take you through the book and share a few insights here and there.
Running away from God.
The book opens with God commanding Jonah to go to "that great city" of Nineveh. It was the capital city of Assyria in the 7th century. But Jonah, justified, doesn't want to take on that assignment. Most prophets in the Bible didn't want to be prophets.
Moses complains about his inability to speak when God commissions him to go to Egypt and become an Abraham Lincoln of his days.
Jeremiah claims he's only a child!
Isaiah says he has unclean lips!
I can understand. It is a tough job telling people things they don't want to hear. And yet prophets have this task. Jonah does something extreme.
But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. Jonah 1:3.
Tarshish was somewhere in present day Spain. But isn't God everywhere? Why then is he running? And who does that?
People! Deep within us, in our spirits, something tells us there is a God. But how many times do we run away from that compass within us and reasoning with ourselves how there is no God! Really? I don't have enough faith to be an atheist.
Here's an individual....
Running away from his mission.
He has a mission. Bringing the Ninevites to repentance. But he doesn't want to do it because he doesn't want God to show mercy to his enemies. Can you relate? He says this in chapter 4 verse 2… later.
He wants God to zap his enemies! What a prophet!
Everything in the book of Jonah is big.
God reveals to Jonah that's not up to him. He raises a big storm.
Everything in this book is huge. I don't know why. It reads like a fictional story.
A huge city
A huge fish
Jonah's huge anger
A huge plant
Hebrew translations! Whichever way they read in our English Bible translations, those were the original words.
Chapter 1 highlights.
Because of the huge storm, the sailors panic. I like how the author plays with this word fear in chapter 1. Observe. In 1:5, the sailors were afraid of the storm. In 1:10, he says they became more afraid. And finally, in 1:16, they became exceedingly afraid.
But Jonah doesn't panic. Instead, he falls asleep and… he snores. It is the sailors who wake him up, having learnt from throwing dice, he caused the huge storm!
When they asked him to identify himself, he said:
I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land. Jonah 1:9.
The irony! This is the God who is about to drown them! Jonah claims to be a worshiper. But he is running away from him! Now that they know what's happening, the sailors ask Jonah what to do!
Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me. Jonah 1:12.
Here's a guy who knows he has caused a problem…. and he refuses to take responsibility and fix it. He prefers the sailors to kill him. Why can't he jump into the sea by himself?
They hesitate for a moment. But failing, they make a prayer and then toss him overboard. The sea calms. And then we read this…
Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. Jonah 1:16.
Questions to think about in chapter 1.
Should we kill one person for the good of many?
Many years pass and we meet Caiaphas the high priest. When thinking about delivering Jesus to the Romans, he reasons this way:
You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish. John 11:50.
Or do we work together so that we all survive?
The sailors tried, and it was not working. Which raises another question…
2. Do we really have accidents in nature or they result from the actions of some people? Can we control our fate?
These are major questions. And all you think about is a guy swallowed by a whale? Aargh! Smh!
Chapter 2 highlights.
Having tossed Jonah overboard, a big fish swallows him. Having spent three days and three nights in the fish's belly, he prays. But this prayer is not one you would expect from a person trapped inside a fish's belly.
How would you pray if you were the one? But our prophet's prayer is more about whining..
He blames God for his situation.
For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas. Jonah 2:3.
We have read the story. When did God cast him into the sea? It was only after the sailors couldn't do anything about the storm that they tossed him into the sea. He told them. Jonah!
Then I said, 'I have been cast out of your sight.' Jonah 2:4.
But Jonah, you are the one who ran away from God's presence.
Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own mercy. Jonah 2:8.
The sailors didn't know God, but they became worshipers of the true God in the end.
Questions to think about in chapter 2.
Is there any value in praying selfish prayers?
Is it worth casting blame on others?
Do we look good when we make others look bad?
Jonah gets a second chance at life. This is what God is revealing. The sailors repent and worship God. It is his intention with the people of Nineveh.
What is my role in life? If I get a second chance at anything, will I be able to do what I should have done the first time? How do we use our second chances?
So the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. Jonah 2:10.
It did not harm him at all.
Chapter 3 highlights.
Chapter 1 and 3 begin the same way. God commands Jonah to go to Nineveh. Second chances, remember? Jonah obeys this time.
So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent. Jonah 3:3.
And he makes his prediction in 5 words which translates…
Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. Jonah 3:4.
Now that word overthrow means "to turn" or "to reverse." His prediction turns out right because the Ninevites turn from evil to good.
When the people hear the prophecy, they repent by donning sackcloth and fasting. When the information reaches the king, he too dons the same wear. I told you Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. They did not have a king. It's like saying the president of Boston.
This king takes things further. He decrees:
Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. Jonah 3:7.
The people agreed to go without food. But this king added "no water." The result? God doesn't destroy them. They fast knowing just because they repent, God will not forgive them.
Who can tell? Jonah 3:9.
But he forgives them.
Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that he had said he would bring upon them, and he did not do it. Jonah 3:10.
Ninevites were so evil. But if they can repent, anyone can. And if God can forgive them, he can forgive anyone. No matter how bad!
Chapter 4 highlights.
Jonah was not happy when God forgave the Ninevites. He expected an epicaricacy. He wanted God to punish them for their evil.
Once again he prays.
His prayer is a mashup of the attributes of God from the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy.
Exodus 34:6-7 and Deuteronomy 5:9-10.
Questions to think about in chapter 4.
Prophet Jonah doesn't want a merciful God who offers second chances. He wants a God who destroys evil people for being evil.
What kind of God do you want? The one who forgives or the one who destroys?
What sort of fate do you desire for your enemies? Destroyed or forgiven?
How do you feel when God forgives your enemies?
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