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Jonah Pays and Prays

(Jonah 1:1-4, 10-15; 2:1,9,10)

Lesson 12 -- first quarter 2002
February 17, 2002

by Mark Roth
© Copyright 2001, Christian Light Publications

But Jonah . . . .

God had a mission for Jonah. In God's heart, this was a wonderful mission, a mission warning of judgment but offering mercy in exchange for repentance. In Jonah's heart, this was a horrible mission. Sure, the judgment part sounded great to him, but knowing God's heart, he just knew those heathen enemies of his people would repent and receive mercy. So Jonah hit upon the perfect solution (he thought): He would not relay the message to the people of Nineveh, which meant they wouldn't have a chance to repent, which meant God would destroy them.

You know the account; that's what he did. "But Jonah rose up to flee...from the presence of the LORD" (Jonah 1:3). "Now there's a silly project," you may think, "especially for someone who knows God's heart and greatness." Not only did Jonah reject the mission and the Sender, he also tried to get away from God completely. Surely he knew Psalm 139:7 -- "Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?" Maybe he honestly thought he could evade God. Whatever he may have thought, we can learn that disobedience, as foolish as that is, leads to further foolishness and futility.

I wonder how often I have pulled a Jonah. That is, I know from God's Word and His witness in my heart that I ought to do a certain something. The matter may be as "simple" as correcting my thoughts about someone else; the issue may be bitterness, anger, lust, mistrust, envy, contempt, rebellion, or mockery. The divine order is no less clear to me now than it was to Jonah way back then. But I have other preferences, so I hatch other plans. In other words, "But Mark...."

Does the shoe ever fit you also?

But the Lord . . . .

OK, so we have Jonah on the run, trying the impossible: fleeing from the Lord and His assignment. Somehow he got this unreasonable notion into his head that if he could make it to Tarshish, he would have succeeded in escaping from the Lord's presence. Like I say, disobedience clouds our ability to reason properly and leads us to what really amounts to irrational behavior.

"But the Lord" intercepted Jonah. Now mind you, it isn't that God figured he'd better head off Jonah before that fellow made it to Tarshish and away from His presence. No, of course not. We must understand this interception an another demonstration of God's mercy toward Jonah and toward the Ninevites. It was not good for Jonah to indulge in this behavior too long. And it was not good for the Ninevites to continue in their condition too much longer either. Besides, Jonah just as well learn that even if he could somehow survive underwater for a while, even there he could not get away from God.

And, lo and behold, God did arrange it so Jonah could live underwater for three days. And Jonah saw the foolishness of trying to get away from God. In fact, he had reason to rejoice now that he couldn't get away. "Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly" (Jonah 2:1). And Jonah knew with a certainty that he did not pray in vain. He knew that even there, God could and did hear him.

Not matter how you may fail God, no matter how grievous your disobedience, no matter how foolishly you act -- God in His mercy will act to bring you back. Then may God find in us a response like Jonah's: "But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed" (Jonah 2:9).

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