Don't Be Swallowed by a Whale
Nancy T Warner
“...You are a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness.” Jonah 4:2
I have been humming a song that I sang as a child. “I don’t want to be a Jonah, and be swallowed by a whale. Down to Nineveh I must go, if the Savior tells me so. Shout aloud you must be born again!”
This little song pretty much sums up the book of Jonah. But what is it really saying? Simply, that if the Lord calls us to go somewhere, then we must go. Yes, this is true, but there is much more in this song.
The key is found in why Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. Was it just because they were a gentile nation, and he was a Jew? Interestingly, Joppa is the very place where God, 800 years later, gave a vision to Peter, causing him to go to Cornelius’s house, a gentile, releasing the out pouring of the Holy Spirit on the gentiles (Acts 10:1-29).
Or was it perhaps because of the great wickedness in Nineveh? The sins of Nineveh were great (Jonah 1:8; Nahum 3:1-4). Was it because they were so evil that Jonah did not want to go? Or it may be that Jonah was afraid? These people were known for their brutality, no one wanted to become captive to their cruelty.
Why did not Jonah want to go to Nineveh? As you look at Jonah’s own words, the real reason is found.
“And he prayed to the Lord, and said, I pray You, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before to Tarshish: for I knew that You are a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repents You of the evil.” Jonah 4:2
Jonah was saying that he knows God is gracious, and that if they repent He will forgive them. And he did not want these people forgiven! Why? Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, an enemy to Israel. To hear judgment was coming on Nineveh in forty days was good news for Israel; it put them in a much better position. It must have been a joy to Jonah’s ears!
But if Jonah warned them as God was asking him to do, then they might repent, and if they repented, God might forgive them. Nineveh might be spared, but Israel’s position would not be strengthened. This he did not want to see happen, so Jonah decided not to go. He personally preferred to see Nineveh judged.
Though initially Jonah resisted the call to Nineveh, after God dealt with him, he obeyed. Nineveh believed and repented, just as Jonah was afraid they might, thus God’s judgment was withheld. This made Jonah very angry. The book ends with the Lord rebuking Jonah for his anger. Historically we know that the Assyrian Empire eventually did destroy the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Has there ever been a situation in your life where you really did not want to see God forgive someone? You would rather see the judgment of God on them? Where when someone gets blessed, you are disappointed rather than happy?
I do not want to be a Jonah, and be swallowed by a whale. No matter how terrible we may see a crime, or an individual to be, the Lord would give them opportunity to repent. I think of Corrie Ten Boom, forgiving the very guard that brought much suffering to herself, and caused her sister’s death. God forgave the guard because he repented. Corrie had to be willing to forgive too. When she did, the love of God flooded her heart.
Notice the mercy of God, both toward Jonah, a disobedient servant, and to Nineveh, a sinful people. The Lord’s judgment on both disobedience and wickedness is very clear. Yet prior to judgment is warning, an opportunity to repent. God's grace is visible both in saving Jonah, who was disobedient, and in saving Nineveh, who did evil things, after they repented.
The omnipresence of the Lord is seen when Jonah tried to flee from the presence of the Lord, which is not possible. Jonah went in the other direction. A storm came, he was cast over board. But when Jonah prayed out of the fish’s belly, God was still there.
Jonah was written not only so that we can learn from Jonah’s mistakes, but as a further revelation of the very nature and character of God. God’s will truly is that none should perish. Whosoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. And he whom God forgives, we must be willing to also forgive.
We must be willing to forgive ourselves. And, we must we willing to forgive others.
What is the book of Jonah telling us? If the Lord desires to bring repentance to someone, I must be willing to move in cooperation with Him as He brings it about, and that I too must be willing to forgive, even as God is willing to forgive all those who do repent.
Where can we go from the presence of the Lord? May we know the Lord, even as Jonah did, and may the Lord give us hearts like His heart, full of compassion and mercy, delighting in repentance, willing to forgive. A favorite verse of mine has been hanging on my office wall for years. May my life experience also find it to have been engraved in my heart.
“He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8
Lord, make each of us more like You! Give us Your heart. As we walk through this life, may Your very nature be seen in and through our lives. And may we be found pleasing in Your sight.
May we hear when we come before Your throne, “well done, you good and faithful servant.”