Jonah 2:1-6 Jonah wanted to run from the presence of God and now he feels like he succeeded. He thought the journey from God’s presence would end in Tarshish. Tarshish would have been a pleasant place in Southern Spain where the climate is perfect. Tarshish would have been the perfect place to get away and live the rest of your days. When we attempt to run from God, we may have plans for things more pleasant. When we sin, we may think that we’re really going to enjoy ourselves and make ourselves happy but running from the presence of God never takes us to a happy place. I mentioned in the last session that God had a place prepared for Jonah; in the belly of a fish, in a place, Jonah calls hell. But it was also a place where the mercies of God were waiting for Jonah would call out. When the Bible speaks of God preparing a place for us so that where He is we may be also, I don’t think we would usually think of the place that Jonah found himself. But any place with the presence of God is better than any place we can possibly imagine where God cannot be found.
In our verses, Jonah seems to realize that the fish has gone down to the lowest place in the sea. Do you remember what water represents in the Bible? One thing is death or burial. We are buried with Jesus in baptism, and it represents our death to this life. Jonah is saying that in being at the bottom of the sea he is dead. He has died and is at the bottom of the sea he has arrived in hell. But water also represents something else in the Bible. Water represents the Holy Spirit, for out of your belly will flow rivers of living water. Water represents the presence of God. Jonah ran from the presence of God which led to the realm of death, but even there the presence of God was calling him. There is a Psalm that reminds me of the story of Jonah, Psalm 139.
Psalm 139 was written by David, long before Jonah was even born. Jonah as a prophet of God would have been very familiar with the Psalms of David and almost certainly knew this Psalm. In reading through Psalm 139 it is important for you to realize that the Psalm should be understood in a personal way. The psalmist intends for you to read it as a personal application. It is how God relates to each individual. In Psalm 139:1-6 we see first that God is the God of our whole life. The first 6 verses tell us that God knows us completely. He knows everything about our daily lives. God knows when we go to bed at night and God knows when we rise in the morning. God even hears everything we say. Is it possible to deceive God? You may deceive man, but not God. God knows us so well that in verses 5-6 the Psalmist is overwhelmed by the thought that God can know so much about every human on earth. This leads to the next section of the Psalm.
Psalm 139:7-12 David here is saying that there is nowhere that we can go from the presence of the Lord. So, in the first 6 verses, God knows everything, and in these verses, God is everywhere. There isn’t a better story about God being everywhere than in the story of Jonah. Jeremiah 23:23-24 the presence of the Lord is something to be considered and talked about. In Matthew 18:20 Jesus promises to be among us when we gather in His name. My experience in most gatherings is that we know Him to be a God far off, but not a God near at hand. Often preachers try to stir our hearts by saying that Jesus is here, or the Holy Spirit is present today when the truth is that He is always present with us, but especially when we are gathered. We know that sometimes He makes Himself known. In Numbers 12:6 God says something about making Himself known to His prophets through visions and dreams. These are special times when the Lord helps us to know that His presence is among us, but we should never allow ourselves to doubt that He is always present, even now!!!
We talked earlier about the fact that all of nature knows God and recognizes His voice and obeys Him immediately. The natural creation is a very thin veil between the eternal God and man. Not only does nature know God, but it also makes God known. Romans 1:18-25 is a very interesting lesson because we know that nature knows God and in its nearness to God it reflects God. What should that say to us concerning our relationship with God? If a man can look to the stars and if he’s willing, know that there is a God, what should be a man’s response when he meets you? Are you not a son of God? Is not all of creation waiting for you to finally express His glory? Read Daniel 12:3 or consider Isaiah 60:1. How about the many places where the psalmist cries out to the Lord to make His face shine upon him, do we reflect the glory of the Lord? Or, how about Moses who spent time in the presence of the Lord and his face shined so bright, literally in this present natural realm, that the people asked him to cover his face. I believe that glory is the glory that influenced the citizens of Nineveh as Jonah walked among them and shared his short message of warning. As we used to sing, Shine Jesus Shine!
This brings us to another point in Psalm 139:13-18. God has always known you even before you were born. He even caused you to be created in every detail. Verse 13 says that God knit you together. You are handwoven by God in the protected safe place of your momma’s belly. Ephesians 1:4 says that you were chosen before the foundation of the world. Revelations 13:8 and 17:8 say that your name has been written in the book of life from before the foundation of the world. Jeremiah 1:5 God tells Jeremiah that he was chosen to be a prophet before God formed him in his mother’s belly. Psalm 71:5-6 David says that God caused him to trust in the Lord before he was even born. Galatians 1:15-16 Paul says that God called him before he was even born and set him apart. I point all of this out, to tell you that you pastors sitting in this room are called and chosen. You have been given by Jesus as a gift to His people at this time for this season. Don’t ever allow your heart to run from God. (Just a reminder that these messages were intended for a group of pastors in Western Africa). Look at verses 14-16. The days of your life are already determined by the Lord. Your day of death will come as no surprise to God. While you are very valuable to God’s purposes, God does not need you forever to accomplish His purpose. I built you up and I want you to stay built up in your spirit, but I also want you to stay humble in your hearts. The Lord has been dealing with me concerning 2 men in the Bible and 2 lessons from their lives.
First is Moses. God used Moses to set His people free, but God didn’t need Moses to take His people into the promised land, Joshua 1:1-7. Moses sinned in the wilderness and so God chose to use someone else. He raised up Joshua through many years of preparation to bring the people into the promise. On just a side note, never ever despise the seasons of preparation for the primary purpose of your calling. Every one of us has a calling to bring Him glory and none of us are capable of bringing that glory within the limits of our natural ability. None of us! But, every one of us, without exception, has a calling on our lives to bring Him glory. Sometimes the most encouraging appeal I have when I am attempting to bring Him glory is not my righteousness or my worthiness, but His namesake. It’s for Him and not because of me, whether I’m at my best or at my worst.
The other man that I have been meditating about is David. God used David to establish the kingdom of Israel, but God did not need David to build Him a house. David sinned. God allowed him to continue being king and continued to use him, but God did not need the famous king to build him a house and instead used a man who would not remain faithful, Solomon. So, God may use us and we are so thankful that He does, but God doesn’t need us. God is never needy or without the ability to do what needs to be done without us. And yet when we look at the lives of Moses and David as a whole. We see 2 men who are still heroes of the faith, 2 men who to this very day continue to minister to us from heaven by their faithful hearts, and 2 men who will throughout eternity be remembered as men of God because His Word abides forever. In this, the Lord has been dealing with my heart about all the things that I have felt Him promising me throughout the years that I will likely never see in my lifetime. God told Abraham that the promises He had made to him would not come to pass in his lifetime and still, Abraham rejoiced and remained faithful. I want my life and ministry to count for eternity. The older I get and the closer to eternity that I find myself, the more I feel driven to accomplish eternal things more than the things that man’s eyes see.
Finally, Psalm 139:17-18. Have you ever considered here in a desert environment how much sand there is? (Again, this was for messages in Western Africa in the sub-Saharan desert). The Psalmist says that the thoughts of God about you are more than the sands. God thinks about you a lot!!! However many days you are alive on earth, and considering how much sand there is, I have to think that God thinks about you almost every moment of your life!!!
Psalm 40:1-5 it’s amazing how much this Psalm also fits the story of Jonah. Have you ever watched or maybe experienced a child trying to get the attention of their parent? A child will just keep talking to a parent until they get that parent’s attention. Or maybe the child has been taught to not interrupt adults when they are talking and so the child patiently stands beside their parent until finally, they can make their statement. That’s what the Psalmist is talking about here. Patiently waiting until Father bends down and pays attention. And then the Psalmist says He picked me up out of the pit and set my feet on solid ground and He made my steps secure so that I felt safe. What is the result of this rescue? Praise and thanksgiving and singing and many witnesses of my rescue and they put their trust in the Lord because of my testimony. But mostly, I want you to notice that the Psalmist again testifies that the Lord has been thinking about him a whole lot. In Psalm 139 not only does God think about you, but those thoughts are precious. Maybe you think God is only thinking about how much you fail Him, but the Psalmist who certainly did fail God, says that God’s thoughts about him are precious thoughts. In Isaiah 55:8-9 that’s exactly what the Lord is arguing with men about. His thoughts are thoughts of salvation and blessings. In verse 18 of Psalm 139 David says that when he awakes, he finds that God is still right there. This idea here is that even after I die, I will discover that you are right there and that not even death can separate us from the Lord, Romans 8:35-39.
David closes the Psalm with these words in verses 23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
and see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” He is no longer running from God or trying to hide from the Lord, but is now inviting the Lord to search him. That should be the cry of every Christian, “Lord look at me!” “Look into my heart!” What a beautiful surrender to God, but when we return to our study of Jonah, we find that his attitude is nothing like David’s and yet, God uses him.