The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.
(Jonah 1: 1-3, NIV)
The instructions were pretty simple. Jonah, go and preach. Yes, the city was wicked. Yes, the city and its residents needed a fresh infusion of Truth, with a side of Mercy. Go and preach. Instead, Jonah runs. Nineveh? No way. Jonah is out as quickly as a boat can take him.
Did Jonah really believe he could deceive God?
God sends a great wind, and a violent storm erupts at sea. The ship Jonah is hiding in is not at risk of being sunk. Jonah, in his first honest act, tells the ship’s crew he is the reason the storm rages. The crew asks Jonah what they can do to save the ship and their own lives.
2 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”
Jonah tells the men to throw him overboard. I wonder if he thought he might drown at sea. Did he hope for his life to end? Was Jonah so unwilling to go to Nineveh that he preferred death? Instead, God sent a huge fish to swallow Jonah. For three days and three nights, Jonah remained in the belly of that fish. (Ewww. Gross.)
How does my disobedience determine my circumstances?
I have never been in the belly of a fish. However, I do know the stink of a fish market. My mind can only imagine what being nestled into the belly of a fish might look, smell, and feel like. (In fact, I do not care to think much about those things. Again, gross.) So maybe I have never been thrown into the belly of a fish because I am on the run from God. But I have felt lost. I have experienced discontent and the nagging feeling of not following where God told me to go. The reflection in the mirror has been unrecognizable to me because I thought my way was better. My heart has been shattered, not because God disliked me, but because I chose to come out from the safety of His covering.
No fish has swallowed me, but I have feared the world swallowing me into oblivion. I have smelled the horrific aroma of disobedience. Darkness has encompassed me while my eyes fought to find light. Within walls never meant for me, I have felt trapped, alone, and desperate.
How did Jonah escape his imprisonment at sea?
Jonah prays (read Jonah 2). I am not sure what prayers Jonah prayed before this moment sounded like, but from within the belly of the fish, Jonah praises and worships God. In many ways, Jonah corrects his own thinking, remembering who God is. And God? God hears Jonah’s prayer.
10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. (Jonah 2:10, NIV)
The exit from the fish was not without consequence. Jonah is vomited out, and I assume it was not a neat and clean moment. The stench would still be on him. Covered in vomit, Jonah is now ready to obey God’s command to go to Nineveh.
Disobedience is not without consequence.
When Jonah calls out to God, God rescues Jonah from the belly of the fish. However, it is not without consequence. I would think Jonah made a mad dash for the nearest shower. Wash off the remnants of the fish. Scrub away the slime and filth.
God has always been faithful to me when I have called on Him. He forgives me and loves me still. Yet, the moments I have tried to run from Him are in my memories. There are scars others cannot see that exist only because of my own disobedience. God did not inflict them upon me; I inflicted them upon myself. He has healed me, but the scars remain. Our disobedience will have consequences simply because God knows we do not belong in the belly of a fish.
We were meant to proclaim the Good News.
Are you going where God is telling you to go, or are you running? Are you willing to lay aside your own feelings in order to obey God’s leading? He will not fail you. He will not leave you. God desires that we know Him and make Him known. Yes, the world, the enemy of our souls, will attempt to persuade us that God is wrong, or that we can outrun and escape from Him. The enemy is wrong. It is better, so much better, to trust where the Father leads. Will you go?