The FISHERS Magazine (Issue 226)
Every child who has attended church will be able to tell you the story of 'Jonah and the Big Fish'. Jonah was commissioned by God to go to Nineveh to preach to the wicked people urging them to repent from their sins and turn to worship the living God. Instead of obeying God's command, he fled in the opposite direction and got on a ship that was bound for Tarshish. As a result, Jonah ended up spending three days and three nights in the belly of a great fish.
Men have looked so hard for the great fish that was capable of swallowing a human being and yet did not liquidise him with its powerful digestive juices, that they have failed to see the great God behind the story. While scientists try to identify such a big fish and find the explanation for the survival of a man after staying in the suffocating environment of the belly of the fish for three days and nights, skeptics dismiss the story as a myth.
The truth is that this story demonstrates the greatness of God to Jonah as well as to readers of the story throughout the ages in every development of the story-line. The story begins with the prophet Jonah receiving the command from the Lord, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me” (Jonah 1:2)
Nineveh, about 500 miles northeast of Israel, was the capital city of Assyria. The people there worshipped the fish goddess, Nanshe. Instead of travelling north, Jonah decided to flee to Tarshish, a merchant city in southern Spain, as far west in the opposite direction as possible from Nineveh. Perhaps he thought that if he could get far away enough, God would call someone else who was more available to do the job. But God did not let him get away so easily. He displayed His greatness in several ways to reveal His character to His vagabond servant. There was no escape for Jonah for the omniscient God knew every trail he took.
God Displayed His Greatness in Creation
When they found out that he was fleeing from the God of Heaven who created the seas and the dry lands and that the tempest came because of him, they were sore afraid. Jonah requested to be thrown overboard so that the sea would calm down and that their lives be preserved. The sailors had no choice but to accede to his request by hurling him into the sea. At once the sea ceased raging and the sailors turned from calling upon their own gods to worship the Creator God of Jonah. The greatness of God preached a powerful sermon to the sailors.
Not only did the sea and the wind obey God, the fishes were under His control too. God summoned a big fish to be on standby. When Jonah was thrown out of the ship, it opened its mouth wide to swallow him with one gulp. Later in the account, God also prepared a plant to grow overnight to provide shade for Jonah from the blazing sun and then prepared a worm to chew up the plant for His own purpose. God is great in controlling both the creature and the plant kingdoms for He is the Creator and Controller of the whole universe.
God is Great in Mercy and Grace
But God wanted Jonah to bring the message of His offer of mercy and forgiveness through repentance and trust in Him to the Assyrians. Jonah could not bear to see the consequences should God turn their hearts around and grant them salvation because he also knew that Nineveh was predestined, prepared and prophesied of God to be an instrument of punishment for the wickedness of Israel in the future. That was the reason he decided to flee from God. He would rather die than see Israel's enemies saved by Him.
God is great in mercy and grace towards not just the rebellious Jews but also the sinful Gentiles. No one deserves God's mercy and grace, but our great God is compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love towards those who repent and turn to Him. When God decided to save the Ninevites, who could oppose Him?
God is Great in Showing Patience Towards His Disobedient Servant
God did not write him off for his wilful disobedience. On the contrary, He gave Jonah a second chance to redeem himself. We would have thought that after Jonah had gone through the experience of being cast into the raging sea, being thrust by God into the belly of hell, and finally being vomitted out by the fish, he would become a better prophet whom God could use and the best ambassador sent to Nineveh. But these experiences did not help him to see things from God's perspective. No doubt his message to the Ninevites, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4) had great impact on the king and the people alike and as a result of Jonah's successful evangelistic campaign, “They turned from their evil way: and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10).
Instead of rejoicing at the repentance of the Ninevites, Jonah was exceedingly angry! Why? He was like the older brother in the New Testament 'Parable of the Prodigal Son' who would not share the joy of the father over the return of his repentant younger brother, who was dead and now alive, lost and found. The longsuffering God had to teach him yet another lesson to make him realise his folly. After Jonah had proclaimed the message of doom to the Ninevites, he went out of the city and sat under a shelter to see what would become of the city. God prepared a plant to grow rapidly over Jonah's head to provide comfort for him and he was grateful for the plant. The next day God also prepared a worm to damage the plant so that it died. God sent a hot east wind and the blazing sun to beat on Jonah's head so that he grew faint and he lost his will to live. God could have granted him his wish to die and strickened him dead there and then for his self-righteous, uncompassionate and unforgiving attitude towards the city of Nineveh. But the longsuffering God preserved him so that he might pen down his testimony for the benefit of posterity.
God patiently taught him another lesson, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not laboured, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left – and much livestock?” (Jonah 4:11). The story ended with these words from God.
God is Great in Salvation
Once, after a busy day of teaching, preaching, healing and a question and answer session, He was exhausted. He climbed on a boat with His disciples wishing to get to the other side of the lake to continue His ministries. While they were rowing across the lake, Jesus laid down on a pillow in the stern of the boat and fell fast asleep. Suddenly a great tempest arose, not due to the disobedience of any man towards God but for His own glory. The waves beat into the boat and almost caused it to sink. The disciples woke Him up and shouted, “Lord save us, we are perishing!” He stood up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” At once a great calm came to drive the raging of the water away. The disciples marvelled, “Who can this be? For He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him!” (Luke 8:25).
This tempest was sent by God to display the deity of Christ so that the disciples might know that their Teacher was indeed the Messiah who had come to save the world from perishing. After the storm was calmed, Jesus asked His disciples a very pointed question, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” (Mk 4:40). No one who has the Saviour in his life will ever perish in Hell. God is great in saving those who put their trust in the Person and work of Christ to the uttermost.
Next time when you see the snow-capped mountains, the mighty waterfall, the untouched beauty of the lakes and woods, do not just admire them as the unparalleled creation of God but also meditate on the great Creator behind this universe. He made all things beautiful, He also sustains them by His mighty power and He is also the great Saviour to those who put their trust in Him!