For some reason, ever since I was in high school, I’ve found the term “small craft advisory” to be amusing. It just hits me funny to hear that as a local weather warning probably because I wonder, “Don’t the folks own small crafts know not to go out in this weather?” And around here, living near the great lakes, they advise small boats to watch out all of the time.
Storm Stories this week issues that same warning due to “High Seas.” Let’s see how God was present in the story of Jonah.
The history on Jonah is that he’s a minor prophet- meaning that this book in the Bible is one of the shorter books when compared to the Major prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, or Daniel. The book of Jonah is actually regarded by each of the three Abrahamic faiths- Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
So, Jonah was a prophet who is contacted by God to go to the city of Nineveh to prophesy against it. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria and as I understand it, was a rough place- it was a large city, full of sailors, and known by God for its wicked ways.
Jonah knows this about Nineveh so instead of heeding God’s command, Jonah flees from “the presence of the Lord” by going to Joppa. In Joppa, Jonah knows he can catch a boat to Tarshish- the opposite direction of Nineveh. Jonah directly disobeys God.
Have you ever encountered a time in your life when God has asked you to do something, but it does not sound like a very good idea to you? You go to great lengths to run like Jonah- in the complete opposite direction?
Nowadays, the city of Joppa has a main street named after Jonah. The ancient port there is still intact and functional. Archeological diggings find that the port has been functioning at this location as early as 300 BC.
While sailing out of Joppa to Tarshish, a huge storm arises out of nowhere and the sailors realize this is no ordinary storm. The seas get so high that they become fearful that the ship will break up. They need to find someone or something to pin their superstitions to.
So they decide to roll the dice, to cast lots and determine that Jonah is to blame. Jonah admits this and states that if he is thrown overboard, the storm will cease.
The sailors fear Jonah’s God. They do not want to be responsible for his death. They try to dump as much cargo as possible and row back to shore but it does not work.
They are forced to throw him overboard to preserve their own lives. Jonah goes in the water and no sooner, the sea calms.
Do we ever keep running- even when we know it’s not a good idea? Do we run harder and faster, insisting, “God I have a better way! But, God I wanted to do this!”
The inspired sailors then offer sacrifices to God and Jonah is miraculously saved by being swallowed by a “great fish” specially prepared by God where he spends three days and three nights.
Something special, something inspired, something only of God happened over those three nights. God is present with Jonah!
Jonah calls out to God in prayer and thanks God for his “time out.” I’m sure glad I’ve never had a “time out” inside of a fish!
In Jonah’s prayer, he promises to follow through with God’s request. He promises to do what God has asked. God commands the fish to spew or “vomit” Jonah out.
In the New Testament, Jonah is mentioned in Matthew 12:38-41, 16:4 and Luke 11:29-32
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus makes a reference to Jonah when he was asked for a miraculous sign by the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. Jesus said that the sign would be the sign of Jonah. Jesus implies that Jonah’s rebirth after three days inside the great whale foreshadows His own resurrection. “For as Jonah 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”
Jonah has received a gift of rebirth- another chance. His attitude, desires, will and selfishness will change.
God again asks Jonah to visit Nineveh and to prophesy to its inhabitants. This time he goes and enters the city, crying “In forty days Nineveh shall be overthrown.”
After Jonah has walked for three days across Nineveh, the people of Nineveh begin to believe his word and proclaim a fast. The king of Nineveh puts on sackcloth and sits in ashes, making a proclamation to decree fasting, sackcloth, prayer, and repentance. This is serious.
The payoff? God sees their repentant hearts and spares the city at that time. The entire city is humbled and broken with the people (and even the animals) in sackcloth and ashes. Even the king comes off his throne to repent. This would be the most outward sign of grieving in those times.
We all like to cheer for the underdog in a movie, but how do you feel when you assume all the risk and people that don’t deserve anything receive everything? We feel cheated!
I’ve been so good- passed on life’s pleasures- lost out-UGH….
So Jonah gets mad! “Why did I bother God, you wouldn’t hurt them anyways!” He then leaves the city and makes himself a shelter, waiting to see whether or not the city will be destroyed.
Jonah is baking in the sun having his hissy fit. The hot East winds are blowing. God causes a plant to grow over Jonah’s shelter to give him some shade from the sun. Jonah is not grateful. Later, God causes a worm to bite the plant’s root and it withers. Jonah, now being exposed to the full force of the sun, becomes faint and begs for God to end things
God said to Jonah: “Why are you so mad? I gave you something good.”
Jonah: ‘I am greatly angry, even to death.’
God responds: “Jonah, you are mad about the plant and you did nothing for it. You didn’t plant it, water it- you care about it. It just came and went.
If you care about a plant why shouldn’t I care about all of the people and animals in Nineveh?”
When we find ourselves stuck in high seas. When nothing really is going right- are we pulling a Jonah? Running from God? Crying out to God? Are we interfering with something God is trying to do?
And just like last week, when God gives us or anyone else a second chance, how are we responding? Like Noah- getting foolishly drunk? Like Jonah- stewing in jealousy and then sitting and pouting? Or do we respond with joy?
I encourage you to be like those we have learned about these past three weeks and the next two we will look at in the weeks ahead. Listen to how God is calling you- respond like Moses, Noah, and Jonah. But beware of how you live after the mountain top experience. As people of faith, we need to and live like God is at work within us. I see it in each of you… get to it before the seas get too high! Amen.
John 14:1-7, Jonah 1:1-16