They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.Jonah 2:8 KJV
God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach to them concerning their wickedness but instead of obeying God Jonah goes to Joppa, purchases a boat ticket, boards a ship and then settles down for a nice nap (Jonah 1). Jonah is found by his shipmates sleeping comfortably down inside the ship amid a terrible, life-threatening storm, much like Jesus was found by His disciples sleeping during a similar storm (Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25). The parallel between these two stories is most fascinating as well as edifying:
- Jesus, God incarnate, went into a ship with His disciples. He directs them to sail the ship over to the other side of the lake and they obey; God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh, but he disobeys and instead goes to Joppa and boards a ship heading for Tarshish.
- Jesus falls into a deep, comfortable sleep knowing that He is safe in the perfect will of His Father, God Almighty; Jonah also falls into a deep, comfortable sleep as he falsely presumes on the mercy and grace of God.
We can deduce this is the case for Jonah because later in Jonah 4:2 he states, “…I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness…” As you read through the book of Jonah a few things become very evident. Jonah does know God to an extent, he has just chosen to focus on the beautiful attributes of God, namely His mercy, love, grace, and kindness. Jonah also admits that he knew that God was slow to anger. Jonah, however, shows his ignorance of the LORD by attempting to flee from His presence. A search of the Holy scriptures will quickly reveal that this is an impossible task.
- Proverbs 15: 3 – The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.
- 2 Chronicles 16:9 – For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars.
- Psalm 139:8 – If I ascend up into heaven thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there.
Before we give Jonah a hard time about his foolish attempt to hide from Gods presence and to presume upon His grace and mercy, we would do well to think upon so many other people in the Bible who have mistakenly done the same thing! What about the first people to try it- Adam and Eve? (Genesis 3:7-11) Just like Jonah, they knew that they had gone against Gods will and, as a result, they attempted to hide from His presence for fear of His anger. Jonah, however, was even more brazen than Adam and Eve in that he was able to drift off into a deep and restful sleep even in the face of his blatant disobedience. Ah, the terrible progression of sin! The first sin brings acute fear but as we experience Gods long-suffering towards us, we begin to harden our hearts and stiffen our necks. The Bible tells us in Ecclesiastes 8:11, Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.
Jonah knew that he had the love and favor of God, so he rested easy in that knowledge. How many of us have followed in the footsteps of our ancestors Adam and Eve and Jonah? We know, we admit, in our hearts and with our words to having just enough knowledge of God, just enough fear of Him, just enough that we feel safe lulling ourselves to sleep comfortable in our sins. I mean we are not as bad as that thief down the block from us or that serial killer that we just witnessed being apprehended by the police on the evening news! We love God, we love His mercy, grace, and kindness towards us! We most certainly love His blessings! Amen!
What happens to us when something shakes us violently awake from our peaceful, apathetic, complacent sleep though? Will we respond like Jesus or like Jonah?
Jesus is awakened suddenly by His disciples. In response, He rises and confidently, faithfully, and promptly rebukes the wind and immediately the storm abates, the water and wind calm. Jesus did not have any explaining to do. He did not have to search for clever excuses or make up lies; He had no reason to confess any sins because He had none to confess. Jesus had every right to sleep peacefully through that storm because His conscience was clear, His faith rightly placed, His love perfect- hence He had no fear. This was not the case for our friend Jonah. Jonah too was awakened suddenly from his slumber by the shipmaster who tells him to call upon his God that they might not perish. His companions then begin to question him as they desperately look for the reason why they are in the predicament they are in. At the urging of those around him Jonah confesses to them how he had purposefully run from Gods calling in a miserable attempt to flee from Gods presence.
Jonah sees now how his disobedience has negatively impacted the people around him. He sees how his selfishness could cost the people aboard that ship with him their lives as well as his own. Jonah makes a critical life-changing decision at this point and tells his shipmates that the only way to safety for them is to sacrifice his life by throwing him overboard. Jonah becomes willing to sacrifice his life for the good of others. Jonah is finally willing to show great love like Jesus describes for us in John 15:13, Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Jonah is mirroring the sacrifice that Jesus willfully made for us when He went to the cross at calvary.
Unlike Jesus, however, Jonah does not stop to pray before making this decision, at least not according to the scriptures. Jesus fervently prayed in the garden of Gethsemane the night before He was crucified, three times He, “… prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done…” (Matthew 26:42). What would have happened if Jonah would have heeded the words of the shipmaster who awoke him from his slumber when he stated, “arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not”? What if Jonah would have obeyed Gods call to start with and went to Nineveh? What if he had prayed before he so willingly offered to be sacrificed?
It is actually Jonah’s shipmates that end up praying to God in their desperate attempt to save themselves from destruction. After they pray, they do end up throwing him overboard and immediately the sea ceases from raging; his shipmates’ lives are spared from death. We all know what happens to Jonah at this point (Jonah 2). He is swallowed up by the great fish that God had prepared for him. It is at this point that we FINALLY see Jonah call out to God in prayer. As Jonah comes face to face with death, he humbles himself and seeks the only one who can help him- the LORD God Almighty! Again, we see Jonah mirror Jesus- this time in His death: Jonah spending three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish; Jesus spending three days and three nights in a borrowed tomb.
As Jonah despairs in the belly of that great fish, calling out to God, he again mistakenly believes that he has been cast of God’s sight and, thus, away from God’s presence. But he soon finds out that God was watching and ready to answer His prayer for as soon as Jonah relinquished his false sense of control and humbled himself from a contrite heart, stating “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord…the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.” (Jonah 2:8-10)
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Psalm 51:17) God proved this promise of scripture true when he saved Jonah’s life. Up until that point Jonah had refused to deny himself. He had refused to obey. His refusal had almost cost an entire shipload of innocent people their lives. It took impending death to humble Jonah. What will Jonah do now that he has, in a sense, been reborn? Will he obey God now that he has been granted this fresh start; been given this new lease on life?
Jesus Christ gives us all the opportunity to be like Jonah: born again and brought to newness of life. Through our belief in the glorious power of His gospel (found in 1 Corinthains 15:1-4) we all can be given a fresh start. Do you truly believe on the finished work of Jesus Christ? Have you been born again? Are you still foolishly trying to run from the presence of God in disobedience? What will it take to humble you?