I have been hanging out with an old friend recently, the prophet Jonah or at least the book in the Bible about him.
I find Jonah's story to be one of the most amazing stories in the whole Bible . Each chapter begins with a surprising twist. In fact the whole account is full of surprising twists and turns. The first chapter even opens with a shock, Jonah the son of Amatti, has the Word of the LORD come to him. Yet the surprise comes as this prophet of God, who may already have had a faithful ministry in Israel against the crooked King Jeroboam the 2nd, (2 Kings 14:25) runs off in the opposite direction. Verse 3 tells us ‘But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.’ Jonah who was called of God, hears the voice of God, experiences the presence of God in a real way and what does he do? He bolts in the opposite direction as fast as he can. This isn’t a sin of ignorance it is wilful disobedience as he tells the sailors later, (v10) ‘For the men knew he was fleeing the presence of the LORD, because he had told them so.’ Jonah experienced the utter folly of running from an omnipresent God, for you cannot outrun a God who is everywhere at the same time. So the consequences of Jonah’s actions led to his being thrown overboard the ship and ending up in the belly of a great fish. That is probably where we would expect Jonah to end, a very short book on judgement of disobeying God but that is not where the book ends.
Chapter 2 begins in the belly of a great fish. You may have heard of the revivals in Wales, but chapter 2 starts with a revival IN a whale (or big fish). The shock of chapter 2 is first, that there is a chapter 2 and second that what is eating to Jonah is not a big fish but his own stricken conscience. Jonah in the midst of the dark, dank, smelly belly of the great fish calls out to God in prayer. If ever a situation was without hope this seemed like it - the disobedient prophet hidden away in the stomach of a fish towards the bottom of the ocean. Yet it is not without hope, Jonah cries out to God in prayer (2:1), ‘Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the stomach of the great fish.’ We are given some indication of that hope for, in spite of his disobedience and the circumstances Jonah finds himself in, we are told that Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. There is still some sort of a relationship between God and Jonah. Jonah takes the words of Psalm 18 and makes them his own. He acknowledges his sin and his utter dependence upon the LORD. Verse 7 proclaims, ‘While I was fainting away I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to You, into your holy temple.’ He goes on to say, ‘That which I have vowed I will make good. Salvation belongs to the LORD’. Jonah in his hopelessness promises to keep his vow to the LORD and chapter 2 ends with Jonah standing on dry ground, although probably still smelly and messy from his experience.The greatest shock in the whole book however is that in chapter 3, ‘The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time.’ This prophet who disobeyed God by running from his very presence is once again given the opportunity to serve God as the call is renewed and Jonah is forgiven. Jonah discovered that God’s mercies are new every morning. Whilst we serve a holy God, He is also a God who is able and willing to forgive us and bring us home to him