These messages were prepared as teachings for pastors in a West African nation and reflect thoughts for them. Before we look at Jonah in the belly of the fish, I want us to notice that even in the middle of the storm, Jonah still had time to repent but he chose instead to die rather than obey. It took the experience in the place God had prepared for him before he would repent. In Jonah 1:10 and 11 Jonah has an opportunity to turn the situation completely around. There were 2 very important questions that these unsaved men asked; What have you done; What should we do? When they asked him what he had done, all he had to do was repent. Then they asked him what they should do, and he could have told them to turn their hearts to Jehovah and to turn the boat around. True repentance is confessing sin and changing or turning around.
Jonah 1:17; 2:1-4 – In these verses we read that Jonah finally felt as if he had escaped the presence of the Lord, but it was the worst experience of his life. When Jonah was abandoning God, he was fine, but when he felt that God had abandoned him, that’s different. How many times have we seen people abandon God but then in their time of crisis they want Him to come running to their rescue? He calls this place in the belly of the fish, hell. It’s from this place prepared by God that Jonah begins to pray as if even here, God is there. In our next session, I want to look closer at this idea that even in our worst situations, Jesus is a very present help. But now we see Jonah praying from a place of deep trouble. The primary thing about Jonah’s prayer of repentance is that he is already believing God for deliverance before he’s set free! Jonah is not praising God while standing on the beach after his deliverance. Jonah is in the belly, the very center of his really bad circumstance. Jonah 1:17 says that not only did God prepare a crisis for Jonah, He predetermined that the fish would hold him for 3 days. Have you ever been in a crisis that God prepared just for you? You don’t have to be in sin for God to decide that He loves you enough to put you into a crisis!!! I Peter 1:3-7; James 1:2-4 – Let’s look at a story that shows this truth, Job 1:13-22. Job did nothing wrong and yet God chose to put him through a terrible trial that cost him his children. He also lost all of his oxen and donkeys. He lost all of his sheep and camels. His servants were all killed except for 4 servants. In all of this Job did not sin or turn from God. God tests all of His children! Hebrews 12:5-13; Proverbs 3:11-12
Our first lesson in Jonah is that God uses our failures for His glory. Matthew 12:40 shows us that God can take the rebellion of a prophet and not just turn Jonah’s heart, but use it for a mighty sign to the world. Our sins affect others and our redemption frees others. When Adam and Eve sinned, it affected all people for all time. And, not just people, but all of creation. Paul says in Romans 8 that all of creation was put in bondage because of the sin of Adam and Eve. More than that, what God made and was pleased with and called good, they ruined. But when Jesus died and rose again, hope was made alive again! When Jonah fled from the presence of the Lord and rebelled from the will of God, he put at risk all the unsaved people of Nineveh and the 120,000 children. His sin was not just about himself. He also put all of the men on the boat at risk. Our rebellion and sin affect our families and our brothers and sisters in Christ and it also affects the unsaved that God has appointed us to reach with the gospel. But it also affects the glory of God that He has invested in us. Let me show you a “great” thing that God has put in every one of our lives, Hebrews 12:1. When we think of the great cloud of witnesses, we often think of the saints who are in heaven and our mind goes off into some faraway place, but that is not what this verse is saying. It is not saying that those who are watching us from heaven are far away. In fact, it says just the opposite. It says that we are surrounded by these witnesses like a great cloud. We are also on display before principalities and powers in heavenly places, Ephesians 3:10. And I Peter 1:7 says that even the angels are watching the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Our lives have an impact in the realm of the spirit and in the realm of the natural. And when we turn to the Lord, when He redeems our situation, there is a mighty effect that also touches everyone in our lives!!
The amazing thing about Jonah’s prayer of deliverance is that even though he is still in the belly of the fish; even though he is still in the worst situation, he praises God as though he was already set free (read Jonah 2). In 2:2 Jonah says that when he cried out, the Lord heard him! I think that was key to seeing that his deliverance would come. When we draw near to the Lord, He will draw near to us. 2:4 Jonah admits that he is not in a good place, but it’s a place that God had prepared for him and Jonah confesses that he would end up in the house of God. 2:7-8 are interesting because Jonah says that when he was at his worst moment, he remembered the Lord. Have you ever been in a place of deep discouragement and all you could hold on to are the memories of times with the Lord? I remember times in my life where all I could do is think about promises that the Lord had given me or times when other people had encouraged me. My hope was anchored in His past faithfulness. Everything in front of me looked so hopeless, but hope was found in His past faithfulness.
When I was a young pastor planting churches it was very difficult for me and my family financially. I was traveling to other cities and holding meetings and it was costing me a lot of money. In America we use cars and can travel long distances and so when I traveled, I had to pay for gas and food and sometimes I had to pay for hotels to stay in. I was not making much money in the offerings I was receiving and so I was using a credit card to pay for all my expenses but wasn’t making enough to pay the bills. I got very deep in debt and yet I was doing the work of the Lord. Finally, we got to a place where the bank was about to take my house from me. I was very discouraged and kept asking the Lord why He was not providing for all the bills. Looking back at that time I am able to realize that the Lord was stretching my faith and trust in Him, but at the time it didn’t seem fair. I was trying to be faithful and yet it didn’t seem like the Lord was being faithful. I remember the day the Lord finally spoke to my heart about the situation and helped me see that I really wasn’t having faith and that I was constantly complaining instead of praising Him. He then spoke to me that I had been pushing Him out of my situation with my unbelief and that my attitude was like Jonah, full of complaint. He then told me that He wasn’t going to provide an instant miracle of deliverance, but if I would let Him, He would join me in the pit of my problem and would stay with me until I found my way out. It took many months of struggle, but from that day everything changed because Hope entered my heart and praise entered my soul. Over many months, the offerings began to grow enough to pay my bills each month but I was still in the same debt from before but the pit wasn’t getting any deeper. After about 2 years, I had a friend who came to my house and asked to see all of my bills. I didn’t really know him very well, but he sat down at my kitchen table and we went over all my bills and then he wrote me a check for the whole amount. The Lord is faithful. He may not immediately get you out of the pit of trouble, but He will get in the pit with you if you let Him.
And then Jonah makes a powerful statement, if we trust in anything except the Lord, we will not find His mercy. If we look to idols, (other sources of deliverance) we forsake our own mercy. It’s interesting to note the Bible says that it’s our own mercy. It’s a mercy that God offers to us, as our own and yet we turn from His gift of mercy. Some interpret this verse to say “lying vanities” or literally, lying emptiness. I usually find that when people trust in anything but the Lord for deliverance it is a deception and a lie in their own minds. Our only hope is found in the mercy of the Lord. None of us are so righteous or live so sinless that we don’t need the mercy of the Lord every day. That’s why Jeremiah says in Lamentations that His mercies are new every morning. But so often, that thing in us that wants to save our lives and wants so much to keep us from pain, rises up and causes us to fight to save ourselves. Sometimes when we find ourselves in hard trouble, we work so hard ourselves to come up with a way to change things. Or maybe we look to others to come and save us with their abilities or their wisdoms. But the only thing that will truly deliver us from our difficult troubles is the Lord. We must turn to Him with all of our hearts. We must trust and we must obey Him if we hope to find true lasting deliverance. In 2:9 Jonah begins to give the Lord praise because He is worthy even in our trouble and Jonah finally surrenders and says to the Lord “I will pay my vows”. I’ll do what you’ve asked me to do. And when Jonah surrenders, God speaks to the fish and the fish obeys. I almost picture the fish being thankful that the horrible rebelling prophet is finally out of his belly. The obedient fish really didn’t enjoy having that rebellion in his belly.
One man says this about Jonah’s story, “When you run away from God you never get where you’re going and you always pay your own fare.” One version of Jonah 2:8 says that if I listen to my empty imagination, I forsake the mercy of God. So often our thoughts take us into sinful ideas that can never come true. Many people spend much of their lives thinking about fulfilling selfish desires that will never bring true joy and in fact will lead to deep sorrow. Our hearts must turn to Him who holds the only possibility of true joy. Jonah paid for the boat trip to Tarshish when he ran from God, but he never arrived in Tarshish and he didn’t get a refund. I have seen people pay so much for their rebellion. So much trouble, so much stress and sorrow. I don’t know why any of us would ever think that running from God will make us feel better or make our lives better or even safer, it never works. Thankfully the Lord in His mercy puts us back on the path to His purposes. I would like to show you how God works to bring His glory in our lives through 2 stories in scripture. First let me give you a scripture about restoration and tell you the story of how restoration works, then I want to show you another story in scripture that talks about a boat ride into the will of God. Galatians 6:1 – I have been involved a few times in the restoration of men who have fallen into the trap of sin and I have learned a valuable lesson about restoration. When the Bible speaks of restoration, it means that God in His mercy takes you from the place you left the path to where you would have been on the path if you had not sinned and left the path. A good example of God redeeming is seen in the contrast of Adam and Jesus. I Corinthians 15:35-49 Paul is talking about resurrection and he compares it to seeds. You plant a seed and when it grows it becomes a plant. Then he compares resurrection to the first Adam and the second Adam. You die as a living soul and you are resurrected in a life-giving Spirit. Adam never achieved his full potential, he sinned and fell before he fully became what God intended for man to become, but in Christ we become everything that God intended. Our sinful past is gone and now we are partakers of the life-giving Spirit. We were born in sin and destined for death, but now we are partakers of eternal life!!! That is the message of I Corinthians 15.
The second story is about a man and woman who had a child that was illegal. The law of the nation they lived in said that they could not have any more male children and if they did have a male child it had to die. But they had a son and they tried for as long as they could to hide him so that no one knew about the baby. What’s interesting is that God had a plan for this baby and wanted it to live. You would think that God could have made the baby not cry so that no one would know about him. Mom and dad probably prayed often for God to please help us so that this child will stop crying because he’s drawing too much attention and someone is going to report us and please don’t let anyone know about him, but God didn’t answer those prayers. God had a plan that mom and dad couldn’t even imagine. It was a plan that only God could work and it would lead to that baby boy ending up not only as a leader of the nation, but several other miracles would happen. That baby was Moses!! I just want us to read the first 10 verses of this story, Exodus 2:1-10. Not only did God spare this child by the little boat mom made, but sister decides to watch and see what will happen. So, God saves the child, but notice verse 9, “and I will give you wages”. In other words, not only can you keep and nurse the baby, but mom gets paid to raise her own son. Only God can do these things. So here in the story of Moses we see just the opposite result from the story of Jonah. Not only did Moses get where he needed to be, but God paid his way there.
Close with one last point: How do we see the church in this story? God may test the church. God may call us to a repentance that leads to obedience. You can’t truly repent and not intend to keep your promise to obey. The church cannot repent and not obey. When the church truly repents with every intention of obeying, God will set it free. What does all this look like in your nation? I think that the church has to be very alert and discerning to realize that God is in control in this nation and all that is happening is for His purpose and His glory. Many times, the church is crying out for God to change circumstances with the idea that we can’t obey under these situations and if you’ll change the circumstances, Lord, then we will be able to really do Your work. But could it be that the very circumstance we find ourselves in is the very best situation for the light of God to shine?