Jonah and the Big Fish

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Last week we talked about the chariot of fire that took Elijah up into heaven. You remember Elijah's pupil Elisha became prophet in his teacher's place. God also raised up King Jehu to get rid of the wicked queen Jezebel and her followers who worshipped Baal. But people in the Northern Kingdom kept burning incense and sacrificing before the golden calves that Jeroboam had set up in Dan and Bethel.

Would God ignore these sins against Him? No, He would not. For punishment, he brought heathen nations against His people. The kings of Israel had to pay huge amounts of gold and silver to their enemies for tribute. The war records of Assyria show a good example of this--we can see King Jehu kneeling with his tribute before one of the Assyrian kings named Shalmaneser.

Assyria was one of the worst of the robber nations. They had hundreds of swift chariots that quickly crushed weaker countries. When they took captives,- they tortured them unmercifully--cutting off their hands and feet, pulling out their tongues and even skinning them alive. As the Assyrian reign of cruelty spread nations were petrified that they would be attacked next.

Imagine, then, the surprise of a prophet named Jonah when God sent him to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh! God told Jonah, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me."

But Jonah didn't want to go preach to Nineveh. Why should he try to help this wicked nation who had harmed so many? So instead of obeying God, Jonah went to the seaside town of Joppa. A ship there was ready to sail in the opposite direction for Tarshish, so he paid his fare and went down inside to get away from God.

God knew where Jonah was, though, and sent a great wind on the sea, a storm so mighty it threatened to break up the ship. The sailors were terrified and began to pray to their gods to deliver them, but the storm just got worse. They threw the ship's cargo overboard to make the ship lighter, but that didn't help, either.

None of this seemed to bother Jonah--he was down in the bottom part of the ship, fast asleep.

Next the ship's crew cast lots to find out if someone on board was causing their troubles. And God guided their lots to show them Jonah was the one to blame.

Gathering around their passenger, they asked what he had done to cause such trouble. Jonah told the sailors the truth--he had come aboard their ship to get away from his God, the One who made the sea and dry land.

"What shall we do to you that the-sea may be calm for us?" they said to him. Jonah told them to throw him into the water. Since God had sent the great storm because of him, the sea would be calm again when he was gone.

But the men did not want Jonah to drown. They rowed harder than ever, hoping they could bring the ship to dry land. Finally, they gave up and threw Jonah overboard, praying that God would not blame them. Immediately the sea stopped its raging, showing Jonah's God did control the winds! This struck such fear in the sailors' hearts that they offered a sacrifice to Him at once.

That was not the end for Jonah, though. God sent a great fish to swallow him and soon the stubborn prophet was in its belly. Now Jonah realized how wrong he had been to disobey God. Confessing his sins, he prayed to God to deliver him. And on the third day, God made the fish vomit Jonah up on dry land.

Now the Word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you." What do you think Jonah did then? Yes, he went! All through the city he cried out, "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown! "

To great Jonah's surprise, the entire city-- including its king--believed his message and repented. And God spared Nineveh for that time.

Text by Betty Belue Haynes, originally published in Bible Talk Times. Used here with the kind permission of the author. Users are free to reproduce for use, but not for publication.