The little book of Jonah is only 48 verses in four chapters. It can be read in just a few minutes. Yet, it is jam packed with a number of important lessons for believers and non-believers alike. I have only scratched the surface of one of these here in this BriRant. Indeed, Jonah himself still had a long way to go on his journey toward obedience of the Lord even after he was rescued from the belly of the fish. But that’s a subject for another BriRant.
At our Friday night Bible study and prayer meeting, the hostess – a dear sister in Christ – suggested I pray Jonah’s prayer (Jonah chapter 2) for my friends and loved ones who do not yet know Jesus as their Lord and savior, and particularly for my two sons. Being somewhat familiar with the book of Jonah, I must admit I found this suggestion a little odd. Nevertheless, since I know this dear lady is an astute and diligent Bible student, I decided I should follow her suggestion.
I’m sure most of you are acquainted with the story of Jonah…
God commanded Jonah to travel to Nineveh – the capital city of ancient Assyria (located in modern-day Mosul, Iraq). Once there, Jonah was to preach to the citizens, crying out against the city, because of their wickedness. But Jonah rebelled against the Lord‘s commandment, instead boarding a ship headed in the opposite direction. At sea a great storm arose, threatening the lives of those aboard the ship. Jonah realized that the storm was due to his rebellion against God, and told the ship’s crew that they should cast him into the ocean in order to spare their own lives. Not wanting Jonah’s blood on their hands, the sailors tried their best to reach land despite the storm, but when they couldn’t they threw Jonah into the sea, whereupon the weather immediately became calm. “Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17 [NKJV]). While inside the fish, Jonah repented of his rebellion, and prayed to the Lord, after which the Lord told the fish to vomit Jonah up on dry land. Jonah then completed his mission to Nineveh as the Lord had directed.
At first glance, it might seem that entombment inside the belly of a fish was God’s punishment for Jonah’s rebellion. It certainly can’t have been very pleasant in there, but consider the alternative. Even in calm seas, Jonah would surely have perished if he had remained adrift in the ocean. The belly of the fish was actually a sanctuary for Jonah, which God had prepared so that Jonah might survive until he came to his senses and turned back to God in repentance and obedience. Certainly God must have also protected Jonah from being digested inside the fish’s belly, and the scripture is clear that God had an active hand in Jonah’s preservation and eventual deliverance.
So it is with all of us. The Bible makes it very clear that we are all sinners in rebellion against God (Romans 3:23) and that the just punishment for our sins is death (Romans 6:23). God is perfectly holy, and cannot abide in the presence of our sins. Yet God is “…not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 [NKJV]). The Lord Jesus made the way for us to be forgiven of our sins when He died on the cross, and three days later (like Jonah) He rose again. He calls out to each of us to repent of our sins and declare Him the Lord of our hearts and lives. When we do, He promises to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Even more than that, He promises us eternal life if we believe in Him (John 3:16).
Until that time, when we recognize our need of salvation and finally turn away from our sins toward God in repentance, God is merciful. He prepares a great fish for each of us where we can be safe (if not comfortable) even in our sins. For some of us, the experience is so unpleasant that we turn almost immediately to God in repentance. Others spend almost their entire lives in the belly of the fish before finally seeking God. Sadly, some choose to remain inside the fish’s belly, and perish there. So for my loved ones still lost in their sins without the Lord, I will indeed pray the prayer of Jonah, in the blessed Hope that one day they will all pray this prayer for themselves, and be restored to “dry land.”