I called out of my distress to the LORD, and He answered me.
– Jonah 2:2
God gave a tough assignment in a big city to His servant Jonah, a mission the prophet was loathe to accept.
The ancient city of Nineveh took three days to walk through and is thought to have been the home of over 600,000 people. The capital of Assyria, it was well-known for both its cruelty and its pagan worship.
To this city God called the prophet Jonah to preach repentance. He wasn’t happy about the assignment and tried to run from it by boarding a ship to Tarshish, apparently believing God didn’t check boarding passes. God promptly schooled Jonah on the principle of His omniscience.
God knew where to find him.
A terrific storm arose and threatened to sink the ship. Jonah knew the storm was a result of his disobedience, and he convinced the sailors to throw him overboard. That stilled the storm, and the sailors turned to God in awe and thanksgiving.
Relegated to the sea, Jonah probably prepared himself to die. God wasn’t going to let him get off the hook so easily as drowning, though. He arranged for a whale to scoop him out of the water and deposit him in its stomach. In the whale’s belly, Jonah had time to reflect and pray for three days before he was vomited out onto dry land.
The God reminded him once again of his calling. This time, Jonah obeyed went to Nineveh and gave this message to the city: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” (Jonah 3:4 NLT)
The people of Nineveh were cut to the heart by the edict. The king of the city commanded every person and animal to be covered in sackcloth, a symbol of mourning. No creature was allowed to eat or drink. Every person was ordered to cry out to God in repentance for his sins. God saw this, withdrew the judgment, and an entire city was saved.
That made Jonah mad. All this trouble just to look like a fool.
He went outside the city just in case and built himself a shelter to sit under while he waited for destruction to hit. He was happy when a plant grew up to provide him some shade from the sun.
To his dismay, the plant was destroyed the next day by a worm. Not only had his prophecy proved wrong, but now he sat in misery in the heat. He begged God to take his life. Instead, God rebuked him for his hard heart.
Jonah, the reluctant prophet, grumbled and stumbled in his calling and left thousands of saved souls in his turbulent wake.
People love to argue whether Jonah was really swallowed by a whale and lived to tell the tale. But what was the real miracle? That Jonah survived three days in the whale’s belly, that an entire city repented at the preaching of one man, or that God could use someone so very flawed to bring salvation to others?
This should give us hope as we grumble and stumble our way through life. When we run from God, He will pursue us, discipline us, deliver us, and repeat the process until we obey. He will send us into the belly of the whale if that’s what it takes to get our attention. He will expose our hard hearts and teach us His compassion for a world poised at the edge of destruction.
We may struggle. We may fall. We may thrash against God and get swallowed up by our rebellion. But God’s plans will triumph, because it is His power and love, not ours, that secures the victory.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?