Looking back. I was so arrogant. The Lord had called me to a great task: Preach a message of repentance against the great and despicable city of Nineveh. These people are the hated enemies of the nation of Israel. They would surely not hear the message. In fact, I believed they might even do something awful to the messenger. Me.
So despite my love for God, I fled from Him and His assignment. I climbed aboard a freighter headed for Tarshish, the city that was at the other end of the Mediterranean Sea… as far away from Nineveh as possible. Silly, isn’t it? Thinking I could run or even hide from God.
The Lord used three things, then, to get my attention. A great storm. Sailors. And a fish.
One of the most violent storms ever to come across the Sea descended on us. Lifelong sailors were actually afraid for their lives! I just knew that this was God’s way of getting my attention. The sailors cast lots to see who on board was responsible for the raging waters. I knew the lots would point to me. Sure enough. They roused me from sleep, peppering me with questions: “Who are you? Where did you come from? Why are you causing all this trouble for us?”
I had to acquiesce. No hiding here. I told them of my assignment. That I worshiped the Lord, the God of heaven. And that I was running from Him. And that my presence on their ship was indeed the cause of the tempest. I assured them the only way to calm the storm was to throw me into the waves. They rejected this solution at first, desperately trying to row to shore. But the winds actually increased and tossed the vessel more violently. Finally, they cried out to God in unison: “Forgive Us!” And with one final glance to the raging heavens, they pitched me into the icy water.
As I began to sink into the depths, the sea became amazingly calm. I tried to surface with the goal of swimming to land. Suddenly a great fish scooped me up! It was putrid inside the dark, slimy belly. There was seaweed wrapped around my head. My ears popped as the ocean mammal dove deep and then surfaced above the breakers. The gastric juices of the fluids swirled inside the finback. But I was still alive! Oh, how God has such a fantastic sense of humor! It was dark. But He gave me life. For three days I existed in the dark depths. With each breath, I gave Him praise! I cried out to Him day after day, hour after hour. Minute after minute. Time. Time for me to replay the events of leading to how I got here. Time for me to be reminded that salvation comes from God and God alone.
I kept thinking of the people back home in Israel. And those sailors. And the people of Nineveh.
Finally, God saw fit to spare my life. The whale spit me out on the eastern shore of the Great Sea. With haste I headed for the city gates of Nineveh on the banks of the Tigris River. My urgency to the assignment fresh. I knew His grace must be made known to these people. For three days I went house to house, up and down every street, warning the people and encouraging everyone to call on the grace of God.
The people responded with faith, fasting and repentance. I wondered aloud, “Why? Why would God – slow to anger and abounding in love, God – why would He be so gracious to such a hated and despicable people?”
I’m sure that many wonder of my arrogance. Even I shake my head at God and ask, “Why would you still love me?”
And then the Lord reminds me: He is abounding in love! In the midst of storms. In the midst of misunderstandings between people. In the midst of our arrogance and pride.
And for that, I’m extremely thankful!
Some of the actions, words, and thoughts perhaps of Jonah, from the Old Testament book that bears his name.