The Bizarre Story of the Prophet Jonah
“But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up. Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.” Jonah 1: 4, 5
I am sure that many have questioned the authenticity of the biblical account of Jonah, especially his survival in a belly of a great fish for 3 days. One validation of this account comes from the fact that it was mentioned by Jesus:
“For even as Jonah was there days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Matthew 12: 40
Also, Jonah was referenced in the Old Testament book of II Kings, in chapter 14, verse 25, noting that he was the prophet who had prophesied that King Jeroboam would restore Israel’s border.
I find it interesting, though, that of all the prophetic books in the Bible, the book of Jonah is the only one that is entirely about an incident in the life of the prophet Jonah, with no account of the actual prophetic words that he had spoken; all of the other books record the words of the prophecies by these men, along with some events in their life. In addition, I find that this event in the book of Jonah is quite bizarre, leaving a seemingly negative impression of Jonah. I have to think that there was a reason that this account has been preserved for us in the Scriptures and that there must be some lesson for us to learn from it.
Here’s a list of the seemingly bizarre things that Jonah did:
- He ran away from the presence of the Lord after he was asked to prophecy to Nineveh about God’s judgment that was coming upon them.
- He fell into a deep sleep in the lower part of a boat that was being broken up by a severe storm
- He told the crew that he was running from the Lord and confirmed that he was the cause of the deadly storm (after the lot fell on him).
- He suggested that the crew throw him overboard to calm the storm.
- He became exceedingly displeased and angry when the Lord didn’t destroy Nineveh according to his prophecy.
- After the Lord had showed mercy on Nineveh, he requested that the Lord end his life.
There are a few things that we need to understand before assessing Jonah’s behavior. First, we must remember that it was not an easy thing to be a prophet of the Lord back in these times. Many of the prophets were killed or forced into being a fugitive. Also, we don’t know what had led up to this situation. Possibly, there were other times that God used Jonah to prophecy about judgment and then was merciful when the people responded to the message in repentance. Jonah may have had past experiences that caused him to think, “Why should I go when God is just going to be merciful to them and it will be a waste of my time.”
Remember too that walking in faith is a bizarre thing in itself, especially to our worldly minds and to people who have no faith.
I think that we need to look in the mirror to get to the message for us here. Aren’t there times when we know that God wants us to do something, we know the right and proper thing to do according to God’s ways, but our flesh doesn’t want to do it, or we resist for whatever reason? Yes, I think we all have done this. It may not be as clear as this example with Jonah, but there have been times when there were things we knew we should have been doing but we didn’t do them. Our conscience and the Holy Spirit were nudging us but we resisted.
And sometimes God sends some type of storm our way when we put up this resistance. It may not be a physical weather event, but rather it is something that comes into our life that has a disruptive impact on our circumstances. What’s our reaction? We want to ignore it. We want to sleep through it thinking maybe it will go away. But God won’t allow it to pass us by without making it clear that it is Him behind the storm, and that it is directed at us for a reason (remind you of Jonah?).
Unfortunately for us, much like Jonah’s circumstances, once we get ourselves in this kind of a situation there isn’t an easy way out. For Jonah, he had to be tossed overboard into the ocean. Fortunately, God had a large fish waiting to swallow him, to save him from death in the sea. Here lies the good news in this lesson: God is merciful and once we give up our resistance He is there to get us back to where we need to be, even though the transition may be quite challenging for us. I’m sure that spending 3 days and nights in the belly of a whale was no easy time for Jonah!
In full disclosure I can tell you that in my past there was a time that I was resisting God and had given in to my flesh in some areas of my life. Sure enough, God sent the storm. All at once I had a health issue, my wife decided to leave me (after being married for almost 30 years), I lost my high paying job which eventually led to losing my house. Bang! I look back now and think how foolish it was to go there in the first place, and I deeply regret having done so, but somehow it happened, and at the very least I can now understand and have compassion on others who go there.
I saw immediately that this was the hand of God in my life so I removed all resistance to His will in my life and submitted totally to Him. I humbled myself and asked forgiveness. Sure enough, God had prepared a way of escape for me and directed my path ever since. He has mostly restored the things that were removed and is still working. I am in a much better place now since I am aligned with His will and purpose for my life. Looking back I am utterly amazed at what He has done. (Praise God!)
A major lesson here is to understand that if you find yourself in a place where God’s storm comes upon you due to past resistance to His leading, know that He has a way of escape set up for you, and although it may not be free of difficulties and challenges, you will end up in a much better place.
I want to emphasize here that Jonah’s bizarre actions were in large part a direct result of his faith and his walking in the Spirit. Another lesson for us is to understand that our actions of faith will many times seem bizarre to others, even other Christians, but especially to the world. In Jonah’s case his faith was apparent to the other mariners, and they were able to recognize the power of God and it had an impact on their lives:
“Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows.” Jonah 1: 16
Jonah did have one issue that was erroneous, that is, the fact that he was displeased and angry about the Lord’s dealings with Nineveh. The Lord rebuked him for his anger and even used an example to illustrate the situation (the tree that he allowed to shade Jonah and then caused to wither). We don’t know Jonah’s heart and therefore don’t know the underlying cause for his displeasure and anger, but we can certainly be more aware of our attitude towards the things that God is doing. We can’t always understand and don’t always see the entire picture from God’s view. It seemed that Jonah was looking at his circumstances from his own perspective. He seemed to not understand that the city of Nineveh had value to God and that the change in the hearts of the people was important to God. Jonah seemed to be more concerned with how people would look at him, now that he gave a prophecy that would not come about due to God’s decision to relinquish His original intention of bringing judgment on Nineveh.
“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. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and He became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!’ Then the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’” Jonah 3:10 to 4:4
“But the Lord said, ‘You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left – and much livestock?” Jonah 4: 10-11
It is good advice for us to give more consideration to God’s perspective in our circumstances, not just our own view, putting aside our emotions and possible embarrassments, and looking instead at God’s will and purpose for the general good of all involved.
In summary, we can learn from the story of Jonah that men of faith often act in bizarre ways. We all are human and will miss God’s direction at times and could even find ourselves resisting what He is prompting us to do. In these cases, we can rest assured that no matter what difficulties we find ourselves in as the Lord attempts to steer us towards being aligned with His purposes, that God will take us through, in His mercy, and preserve us from the difficult events that may come upon us. We need to submit to Him and His calling, the sooner the better, and we must also take time to consider His larger purpose in what He has us doing, not just our own feelings and concerns.
I hope this has encouraged you in your situation. I know that sometimes life can be confusing and difficult but God has a purpose and He knows what is best for us.
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8: 28
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:33