So the prophet was thrown overboard, and the Lord graciously provided a great fish to swallow Jonah. Chapter two is his song of thanksgiving and hope that he sang while he was in there.
Before we get to that, let’s tackle an important issue. Is this book literally true? Was there a literal man named Jonah who was on the ship, who was swallowed by a fish for three days, and who preached Nineveh into repentance? Some say it’s a nice story with some moral lessons, but it’s not to be taken literally. Here’s my response to that: I think I’d trust Jesus Christ as an interpreter better than anyone else, right? So what did he say? When predicting his death, he told his listeners “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” He also said that the generation of Ninevites who listened to Jonah and repented at his preaching would rise up at the last day and condemn the generation that heard Jesus and rejected him. That would be awfully hard to do if the story of Jonah’s just a fairy tale. So I think I’ll take his interpretation of the stories of Jonah, Sodom and Gomorrah, Noah’s Ark, and our first parents over the interpretation of a Bible “scholar” who says different. And in each of the cited references I just made, he interprets them as having literally happened.
So getting back to Jonah’s song in the belly, do you notice anything about it? Does it look familiar at all? If you said, “Well, it looks a lot like a Psalm,” then move to the head of the class. It is very similar to the Psalms. Notice that it doesn’t even really ask the Lord for help; it thanks him in advance for deliverance which he fully anticipates. He expects that he'll soon be giving thank offerings in the temple. He describes how he was sinking into the depths, the seaweed was wrapped around his head, and he was on his way to the next world. But the Lord heard his cry and answered him. And this would be his testimony: “Salvation comes from the Lord.”
This man knew his Scripture. He knew God’s word, both the written version and the word which had come to him directly. So what happened? Why was he heading to Tarshish at the beginning of the book?
Because good theology and knowledge of the facts about God do not always lead to a close relationship with the Lord. Just because someone knows the word of God inside and out doesn't necessarily mean that they know the God of the word. There are plenty of people who know the Bible forwards and backwards but don’t have a relationship with him at all.
And even those of us who’ve known him for a long time can fall into the danger of knowing the Bible better than we know Christ. They say “familiarity breeds contempt,” and that can include Scripture, especially if we haven’t cultivated a personal relationship with him. Our hearts can grow cold towards him.
There’s another lesson I’d like to point out here. I have no doubt that Jonah was a believer. He had a personal relationship with the Lord, but he’d let his personal animosity towards Nineveh wreck that. So he was disobedient.
And so he had to go through all that hardship on that boat, and then he experienced a harrowing journey to the bottom of the sea, and then he got to spend three days in the belly of that fish. How do you think it smelled down there? Think it was nice and clean?
We’ve discussed this before, but it definitely bears repeating. A believer cannot lose his salvation, but if he persists in disobedience, he’ll end up seriously regretting it. He might undergo financial loss, or marital strain, or health issues, up to and including death. Of course my favorite example of this was David when confronted by Nathan about his sin. David confessed “I’ve sinned against the Lord,” and the very next words out of Nathan’s mouth were “The Lord has taken away your sin, you’re not going to die.” But then the prophet went on to predict that David’s life would be marked by tragedy for the rest of his days because of this period of disobedience.
So there are two major lessons here, and I think both are pretty applicable to me. How about you?
Lord Jesus, as the hymn says may I never outlive my love for you. I love your word so much, but mainly because it’s an avenue into your presence. When the coals of my heart are cooling off, blow on them and do whatever’s necessary to ignite them into flame once again. Please.
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