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Jonah woke one morning to the bright sun shining through the window of his bedroom. It was a day like every other day; with one difference; today God woke him out of a sound sleep with a command.
“Jonah, arise, go to Ninevah that great city, and cry out against it.”
You have got to be kidding me, he thought. Ninevah? Why, that is the capital of the worst empire on the planet. They are a nation of violence who love to torture their enemies. They are the most feared people on earth, and you want me to go there and tell them what? They are sinners, aren’t they? It is not going to happen. You can find someone else. The afternoon passed, and he resolved to run from God. Who did he think I was, Jonah thought, a preacher with half his brain missing?
Jonah went to Joppa and bought a ticket to Tarshish. I’ll get as far from God as I can get; I’ll run in the opposite direction, and then he will have to find someone else to commit suicide.
The ship’s captain and crew gladly took him on board; he was a paying customer, and it would help defray some of the cost of sailing to Tarshish.
Granted it was not a luxury liner, no steward on the ship, and no entertainment, but it had sufficient accommodations. Jonah went below deck, to take a nap, and while he was sleeping a storm arose. The crew had never seen any storm of this magnitude in all their days at sea. The boat tossed to and fro in a violent pattern.
“What’s the matter Captain?” The crew asked. “We are frightened.”
“Something or someone is the cause of this calamity. Go below and wake the stranger,” he commanded.
Picture this, Jonah was sound asleep below deck unaware there was a commotion up on deck, or that the sailors were profoundly disturbed. The sailors who were doing the captain’s bidding brought Jonah up on deck. He is still groggy from being awakened out of his sleep. Over in the corner the sailors were selecting lots.
“We’ll cast lots to see who is causing this evil to befall us,” the mariners said.
The lot fell to Jonah. The sailors, by now, had made a friend in Jonah, and they did not want to lose him. Alas Jonah volunteered. “Throw me overboard and the tempest will abate, and you will all be safe.”
“No, there must be another way, Jonah,” one of the mariners said. “We can not toss you over the side.”
“You have to,” replied Jonah. “I am the jinx here.” The men prayed to God and asked that Jonah’s blood not fall upon their heads. They reluctantly picked him up and cast him over the side of the ship, and as soon as he hit the water, the raging storm subsided.
The mariners were so scared they sacrificed and made vows to the Lord. Isn’t that just like we humans, when under pressure and stress we make vows to God. “If you get me out of this mess, I’ll never swear again, I’ll even quit drinking and telling dirty stories.” Alas, when God spares us, we return to the old ways, at least until we need help again.
The Lord prepared a great fish to swallow old Jonah. I doubt the fish was that eager to swallow a cantankerous old prophet, but he was prepared to act as the Lord commanded. Isn’t it funny how a fish, a whale, so easily obeys God, but we, like Jonah, are stubborn and head in the opposite direction when God calls us to do something?
Picture Jonah in the belly of that whale. He is sitting there; the whale’s halitosis is unbearable, and it is darker than the inside of a whale’s belly. Wait a minute, isn’t that what I just said? The darkness is overwhelming, and the only reprieve he gets is when the whale goes up for air, then he gets a little light for a second or two.
“Help me God, remember little ole me, I’m the one with the sea weed wrapped around my head, the one sitting here in this fish.” Maybe Jonah was the first instance in writing of sushi; only the fish ate the man; not the other way around. Yuk and he was raw too, not even cooked.
If Jonah had trusted God in the first place, had faith to believe his God, he could have gone after that whale with a harpoon and a jar of tartar sauce.
Suddenly after three days that fish vomited up his human sushi on the shores of Ninevah and returned to the deep, his job finished.
“Jonah, this is God speaking. Go into the great city of Ninevah, about sixty miles from here; and preach.”
“But God, don’t you know how those people are, they just as soon kill me as look at me,” Jonah complained.
“Come on Jonah, don’t you think I can handle a few thousand people who would like to decapitate you?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Then get going.”
When Jonah appeared before the people they promptly tore their clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, a sign of repentance of sin.
Did you ever ask yourself why they repented so fast. You too would repent quickly if you saw a man coming down the street, white as a sheet, bleached by the whale’s saliva and acidic juices, a man whose skin was shriveled like an albino prune and preaching, “You have forty days or the Lord will completely destroy your town and all that is in it.” Can you imagine what a sight Jonah was?
God saw that the people repented, and, by the way, their repentance lasted one hundred years. He was satisfied, but Jonah was not. He was upset to think that the Ninevites repented so fast, and turned from their wicked ways. This is not as if these people would turn around so fast. They have something up their sleeve.
“God take my life, I do not want to live, it would be better if I were dead,” Jonah pleaded.
“You want to die? Are you that angry, Jonah do you want to see these people return to what they had been before you came here?”
“No, I would not say that, but I am sure their repentance will not last. They are a bloodthirsty bunch you know.”
“Is that so, Jonah, and you know that because?”
“I just know it, that’s all.”
So Jonah sat on a hill outside the city to wait for them to revert to their old ways. In his cranky mood, he sat in the hot baking sun. God prepared a gourd that grew up over Jonah to supply him with shelter. Now we have a fish that obeyed God and a gourd that submitted to the will of God, but, as you can see, Jonah had not yet submitted. Then God prepared a worm, and struck the gourd that it withered. Then God prepared a vehement east wind; the sun beat upon Jonah’s head so that he fainted. God prepared a fish, a gourd, a worm and a vehement east wind, but still man refused to be prepared.
Jonah, still stubborn enough to sit on that hill and wait for the Ninevites to revert to their old ways to prove to God they were a people that were incapable of repentance.
“Jonah, you do well to be angry for the gourd,” God said.
Jonah answered, “I do well to be angry even unto death.”
“You had pity on a gourd which you had no part in growing. Give me a break. I grew that gourd in a night and destroyed it in a night. All the more reason you see why I spared Ninevah. There are one hundred and twenty thousand people in that city who do not know the difference between their right hand and their left, and I also spared their cattle. I suppose you would have done differently?”
“Yes I would. I would not have sent anyone here in the first place. Now kill me and get it over with will you?” Jonah was on the next ship out of the port and on his way back to his hometown. We do not know if he remained God’s cantankerous prophet until he died or not, but we do know that his voyage to Ninveh was something he most likely would never forget.
“…Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, and to harken better than the fat of rams.” I Sam 15:22
“For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Matthew 12:40