The Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17)
We are in the midst of a series of articles that I’ve titled “Odd God” . . . “Odd” in the way that He calls people into the service of advancing His kingdom. We’ve looked at the callings of Moses and Gideon; let’s spend today some time with the course correction that our Lord provided for Jonah.
God called Jonah to go and preach destruction to the Ninevites if they did not change their ways. But when God told Jonah to go, Jonah said no because he hated the Assyrians, who had cruelly oppressed Israel, and Nineveh was the prosperous capitol city of Assyria. Unlike Moses and Gideon, who tried to talk God out of calling them into service, Jonah hopped a ship headed in the exact opposite direction of where God had called him to go.
Jonah’s attempt to avoid his calling didn’t work out so well. God sent a violent storm that terrified the sailors on the ship, who woke Jonah from a sound sleep and pressed him to call on his God to save them. Next, the sailors cast lots to see who was responsible for the storm and the lot fell on Jonah. (You’ll recall that Proverbs 16:33 informs us that “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”)
I try to picture the looks on the sailors’ faces—anger and terror struggling for supremacy—as Jonah explained that he was running away from God’s call on his life. Rather than suggesting that the ship redirect to Nineveh, Jonah told the sailors to throw him into the sea and the storm would subside. The sailors tried to row the boat back to shore, but when the storm grew even worse, they cried out to God, asking that they not be held accountable for the life of Jonah, and threw him into the sea. The storm immediately subsided.
Now here’s the really “odd” part: Jonah spent three days and nights in the Hotel Huge Fish. At checkout time, the great fish spit Jonah out onto the shore . . . and now Jonah was ready to fulfill God’s call on his life!
What happened next can only be explained by the power and grace of God. Jonah preached perhaps the shortest sermon in recorded history: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned” (Jonah 3:4), and 120,000 pagans, including the king of Nineveh, repented in prayer and fasting. It was the kind of response that any itinerant preacher can only dream of, and our gracious God relented from sending the calamity on Nineveh that He had threatened.
Sadly, there was one itinerant preacher who was not delighted by God’s amazing grace: our reluctant prophet Jonah. Jonah sulked and grumbled –
O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live. (Jonah 4:2-3)
In looking back in your life, can you see any “great fish” that God used to provide course correction when He was calling you into His service? Perhaps, like Jonah, you sensed God’s call on your life and your response was, “No way!” Were you headed in one direction and suddenly found yourself going in another? Remember, our “Odd God” is in the business of calling His people into His service in unexpected and unprecedented ways. Be on the lookout!
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!