Jump Start # 2389
Jonah 2:1 “Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish.”
On Mondays, we are running a series on Jonah. This follows a series of sermons I’m preaching this month from Jonah. These Jump Starts are not intended to be a repeat of Sunday’s sermon, but they follow the direction that I am going.
Our verse today comes from the belly of the fish. It is here that Jonah prays. It is here that he prays for the first time in this book. The first chapter showed us a very violent storm that scared the pagan sailors. They were praying and Jonah was sleeping. He was told to pray. There is no indication that he did. He told the sailors to toss him overboard. That would stop the storm. Jonah knew that this wasn’t just any ordinary storm. God was behind it. God was chasing Jonah. The running prophet had no indication or reason to believe that he would survive being tossed overboard. This was a death wish. Jonah would rather die than go to Nineveh. With great reluctance and fear the sailors toss Jonah in to the sea. The storm stopped. Those on the boat pray and offer sacrifice to God. A conversion took place.
And, for Jonah, he sank into the deep. Seaweed wrapped around his head. He was sinking down in the water and sinking away from God. Then, this great fish swallows Jonah. This wasn’t luck, good fortune or a coincidence. This was all by design. Everything was coming together just as God planned it. The fish was in the right spot and it was developed not to chew, digest, or consume Jonah. God was in control.
Our verse takes place from the belly of this fish. I don’t think it’s fair to imagine Disney’s Pinocchio, sitting in a boat, with a candle lit inside a whale. That’s much too comfortable. The scene would have been horrific for most of us. First, it’s dark. Jonah has been in the water, there are no matches, flashlights, or cellphone lights with him. Second, it’s confining. I doubt Jonah could stand up. Even if he could, it would be so slippery and wet, that he couldn’t do it. All around is wet, slimy stuff that he touches but can’t see what it is. Third, the smell would be enough to make most of us barf. This is a sea creature. Who knows what it swallowed along with Jonah. There is a store near our church building. I often pop in there in the mornings to grab some muffins for breakfast. I walk past the sea food counter just as they are putting out stuff. That smell is enough to make me run. Fourth, this fish is swimming. Up and down, and in darkness, Jonah is probably tossed about on the inside and having all kinds of slimy stuff running into his face. This was Jonah’s home for three days.
Now, there are some powerful lessons that come from the second chapter.
First, Jonah prayed. It looks like this is Jonah’s second prayer. His first prayer is implied. It was prayed when he was sinking in the ocean. Death was certain. He is swallowed and now he prays again. Jonah has reason to believe that God hears him. Jonah has reason to think that God hasn’t given up on him. What a terrible place to pray from. Yet, some of us have prayed from a jail cell. We may have prayed while sitting in a hospital bed awaiting surgery. I have prayed many times in a funeral home. God is not like our cell phones. There are places we can’t use our phones. There are times when there isn’t enough bars to get reception. Not with God. From the belly of a fish, from the depths of the sea, Jonah was praying.
Second, Jonah doesn’t pray to be released from the fish. I would have. Jonah sees the fish as salvation. The fish isn’t God’s punishment. The fish is the boat God sent. The fish is considered the answer to his prayers. Rather than let Jonah drown, God sent this fish. And, swallowed, Jonah was still alive. He was conscience. He was aware of what was going on. Jonah knows that the fish could have eaten him and killed him. But there he is, alive. The fish was God’s way to get Jonah back to land. God wasn’t finished with Jonah and Jonah had the confidence that somehow God would get him back to land. Jonah is thankful for the fish.
Now, that’s hard to understand for us. Had God sent a cruise ship, I could understand this. But in the belly of a fish? And, not for a three minute amusement ride, but for three days. Sea sick, stinking, dizzy, in total darkness for a long time, nothing to drink but sea water and nothing to eat but slime and then to be thrown up on dry land. Have you ever really looked at throw up. Yuck! The smell is enough to make one sick. And Jonah is covered in that as he is spit out on the land.
Third, for three days Jonah had time to think. He had time to pray. He had time to consider his ways. God was giving him a second chance. Why couldn’t Jonah give Nineveh a second chance? It was God who was going to forgive Nineveh, not Jonah. It was God who Nineveh sinned against, not Jonah. One of the things that I do not like about our times today is that we do not consider, reflect, observe or meditate. We have TVs, phones and tablets to keep us occupied. We have no moments in which we are alone with just our thoughts and reflections upon what we have done. We become numb to our ways. We become blind to what we say. For Jonah, there was no one to talk to except God. For Jonah, there was no one who knew where he was but God. Joseph in a pit. Daniel in a lion’s den. Paul in a prison. You don’t have to be in the worst ways to consider your ways. While driving alone in your car, drive in silence with your thoughts. Think about your day. Think about what you said to others. Think about where you are with the Lord. You don’t have to be in the belly of a fish to see the true picture of things. Maybe the reason we don’t change much is because we don’t consider our ways very much. We fill our days with material things and superficial things that hide the fact that we are often running from God. We look at our 401, the square footage of our house, the cars in our garage and convince ourselves that we are doing pretty good. But is there that person we refuse to talk to? Is there someone that we won’t forgive? Is there someone that we ought to invite to services, but we don’t? Are there attitudes we hold that are not godly? Could we help others, but we can’t let go of our money? Could it be that we run from God’s commands just as fast as Jonah? Maybe we don’t see it because we are not in the belly of a whale. Maybe we don’t think about those things and convince ourselves that we are pretty good, in fact better than most.
Fourth, Jonah finally turned to God. That’s the pivotal point of the second chapter of Jonah. The running prophet is no longer running. He can’t run. He’s splashing about inside the belly of a giant fish. And, he’s glad to be there. He’s glad that he’s not dead. For the prodigal, it took feeding pigs to turn him. And, what will it take for you? A car accident? A job loss? Having your kids tell you, “Why won’t you play with us?” Having the shepherds of the congregation ask you why you don’t do more spiritually? Jonah was not a pagan. He was a prophet of God. He was a prophet who wasn’t thinking like God thinks. He was a prophet who didn’t like some people. He was a prophet with a problem. That ought to tell us that preachers are not perfect and somedays we need to listen to what we are preaching more than anyone else. It tells us that shepherds sometimes need to turn to God. Just because we are a Christian, doesn’t mean that we are where we need to be. We are a work in progress and for some of us, we are a real work. Some of the most cruel things I have ever heard have come from the lips of Christians. There are times when pagans act more spiritual than we do. They can be praying and we are sleeping. They are seeking and we are playing around. They are asking questions and we aren’t thinking. Maybe it’s time we turned to God as well. Maybe we’ve convinced ourselves that we don’t need to. But this book shows us that a prophet of God certainly needed to turn.
From the belly of a fish…no complaints. No shouting. Just prayers…