What is God really like? He is there when we’re broken. He hears us when we pray. When we are broken God is present, He is comforting and He continues to love us. I’ve discovered when I’m broken God has been there, Jonah discovers this truth as well.
In the last post we ended on a cliffhanger. Jonah, the popular prophet of God at his own request asked the sailors to throw him overboard. They reluctantly did and the storm stopped. We last left him sinking down deeper into the cold, dark depths of the Mediterranean Sea.
The Jews were never seafaring people. They were afraid of the ocean. For them death by drowning was the worst way to die. But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights. Jonah 1:17
Now it is at this point that we are confronted with one of God’s most unusual miracles. Some cynics try to explain it away but there are several stories of this actually happening of whalers or fishermen being swallowed and then discovered alive inside the stomach later. So, this is not really that big of a miracle; which is why it is strange that so some people would have such a hard time swallowing this part of the Bible.
It makes sense to me then that the reason there has been an attack upon the book of Jonah is that Jesus compares his own resurrection to this event in Jonah. You can read more here: Matthew 12:39-41 If you attack this miracle…you also attack the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection.
The key word in verse 17 that is used to describe this whale or fish is “provided.” Notice it did not say, God created a great fish. “Provided” literally means assigned or ordained or appointed. This word is used four times in the Book of Jonah and always points to the Lord’s power to accomplish His will. And that is one of the most wonderful truths we can glean from Jonah’s experience. God doesn’t sit up there in heaven remote…disinterested in our affairs. No. He watches us every moment of our lives and when necessary, He intervenes miraculously as He did here.
Earlier God controlled the weather as well as the lots they drew that fell on Jonah. Now He controls this great sea creature. Later He will control a plant, a worm, and a desert wind. I hope we can see here that there is a saving purpose in all of God’s miraculous interventions in Jonah’s life as there is in our own.
So, one thing the book of Jonah teaches is the amazing truth that God does intervene in our lives. He does miracles but always for a purpose which leads to a second truth we can learn at this point in our study.
God often uses our brokenness to help us see what’s really important. This is why He threw this storm at Jonah’s ship and why He often miraculously throws storms our way when we do stupid things. Like a bucket of cold water in the face, these tough times help us to come to our senses. God loves us too much to just let us go off and do foolish things that will bring pain into our lives and the lives of our loved ones.
As Max Lucado says, God loves us as we are…but too much to let us stay that way! This is why He intervened in Jonah’s life…out of love. God could have chosen another prophet and said, “good riddance!” But he loved Jonah too much to let him get way with this sinful rebellion. So He threw a storm at his ship and worked things so that Jonah would be thrown into the sea, sink to the bottom, and panic so much that he would be humbled to the point that he would finally pray and through his prayer and the time he spent in that fish, he would have an opportunity to realize how wrong he had been.
Often the ONLY thing that brings us to our knees in prayer are the storms of crisis or being broken.
Pushed to the brink, back to the wall, right up to the wire, all escape routes closed, ONLY then do many people go to God for His help. Abraham Lincoln once said, I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.
There’s the true story of an airliner bound for New York that began its descent when the pilot realized the landing gear had refused to engage. He worked the controls back and forth, trying again and again to make the gear lock down into place but had no success. He then asked the control tower for instructions as he circled the landing field. Responding to the crisis, airport personnel sprayed the runway with foam as fire trucks and other emergency vehicles moved into position. Disaster was only minutes away. The passengers, meanwhile, were told of each maneuver in that calm, cheery voice pilots manage to use at times like this. Flight attendants glided about the cabin with an air of cool reserve telling the passengers to place their heads between their knees and grab their ankles just before impact. It was one of those “I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening-to-me” experiences that led to many tears and screams of despair in the cabin. The landing was only a minutes away when suddenly the pilot announced over the intercom: “We are beginning our final descent. At this moment, in accordance with International Aviation Codes established in Geneva, it is my obligation to inform you that if you believe in God you should COMMENCE PRAYER.”
The belly landing went off without a hitch. No one was injured, and aside from some very extensive damage to the plane, the airline chose to distance themselves from the prayer comment. In fact, a relative of one of the passengers called the airline the very next day and asked about the prayer rule the pilot had quoted. No one volunteered any information on the subject. Only a “no comment” response was given.
The only thing that brought out into the open a deep-down secret prayer rule was crisis, but when the crises was over, it was time to quickly move on and ignore God.
This is like so many of people because only when death and disaster is imminent only when everything else has been tried; only then do they crack open a hint of recognition that God just might be there and that they should commence prayer which is what Jonah did. When he was totally exhausted at the end of his rope with no where else to turn only then did he cry out for God’s help. And you know, when you are sinning like Jonah, that scenario is the best possible place to be. Because until we get to that place where we have exhausted our abilities and sufficiency; until we give up on every logical human resource, most of us don’t reach out for God.
Sometimes I think that the trouble with many of us is that we have just enough ease in our life experiences that we never get desperate. We never quite get to the place where there is no hope for us except in God so we ignore Him and rely instead on self. And when this happens God may send storms our way, like He did for Jonah—storms that are really blessings in disguise because they drive us back to Him and what is really important.
A little boy was sailing his model boat on a lake when the wind caught it and threatened to blow it out of his grasp. His father came along and started throwing rocks at the boat and the first the little boy cried in anger for him to stop. But then he noticed that the rocks were carefully aimed to fall just beyond the boat and that the waves made by the rocks were gradually gently pushing the boat closer to shore. In the same way many times God throws problems in our lives…trials that push us closer back to relationship with Him.
Often, like Jonah we have to be DRIVEN to our knees but finally the time comes when we say, with the Psalmist, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might LEARN Your decrees.” ( Psalm 119:67,71 )
And Jonah had a lot to LEARN…For three days in that smelly, dark fish belly he pondered his situation. He did a lot of soul-searching. He eventually saw the foolishness of his sin. He saw his need for God and then he prayed again the prayer that makes up most of this second chapter. I like the way R. T. Kendall put it. He said: “the belly of the fish is not a happy place to LIVE, but it is a good place to LEARN.” Up until this point Jonah had thought all he needed was public success as a prophet and the material rewards and acclaim that comes with it but in the fish he realized this was not true. He saw that his greatest need was to follow God’s instructions.
In the next post we’ll examine elements of prayer and his brokenness and see God’s presence and purpose in our brokenness.