Jonah: More than a Fish Story

The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.”

(Jonah 1:1-2, NASB)

Do you remember the story of Jonah? If you’re like me, the mention of the name elicits images of flannelgraph in Sunday school or a coming to the front during “big church” for the children’s sermon. In both scenarios, I remember being told about a rebellious prophet being swallowed by a giant fish (often depicted as a whale) and spending three nights in its belly. Often, we focus on the fish when we tell the story to children. However, the giant fish is a means to an end. The giant fish ingesting Jonah is a part of the story, but it is not the point of the book. 

If the fish is not the point, then what is? It’s dangerous to boil a biblical book into one theme, because we risk shoehorning God’s truth into a preconceived box. With this in mind, I think Jonah has many themes, but the point is God’s mercy and grace for all people. We get sidetracked by the supporting characters, but the story reveals God is a God of second chances. 

In the opening verse, we witness God calling Jonah the son of Amittai to go preach against the wickedness of the Ninevites. The Bible states, “The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me’” (Jonah 1:1-2). A quick survey of history reveals that Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire. The Assyrians were known for their brutality. They not only defeated opposing armies, but would even desecrate the bodies of their foes. For example, they would impale people on stakes and leave them for days to strike fear into the hearts of the enemies. If you will, the Assyrians were the terrorists of the ancient world. 

God called Jonah to preach against this evil empire. But why? God wanted to show them mercy and grace. This is the very reason Jonah fled in the opposite direction in disobedience. He knew God would forgive them if they repented (see Jonah 4:2). Jonah didn’t think the Ninevites deserved God’s mercy and grace. And I agree they did not, but neither do we! God was giving them another chance. 

Even Jonah received a second chance (if not multiple chances) after his disobedience. The Bible states, “Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time…” (Jonah 3:1). The book of Jonah is more than a fish story. It’s a story that showcases God’s mercy and grace to all.

Identifying Idols

Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

1 Corinthians 10:14

Idolatry sounds archaic. Images of ancient carved statues surface in our minds. But idols are far more than stone. The Bible speaks with clarity about idolatry. God himself ranked this sin at the top of the Ten Commandments. The New Testament writers say we should flee from it and we should guard ourselves from idols. But what is idolatry? How would modern man identify an idol?

Idols hide in the corridors of our heart. They manifest themselves through our thoughts and actions. The Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). Did you catch this list of sins, “which amounts to idolatry?”

In the past, the outworking of an idolatrous heart presented itself in handmade deities. Worshippers devoted their lives to a product of their own making. We may not hold a graven idol in our hands, but if we give our preeminent devotion to anything other than God, it is idolatry. Our relationships, careers, and even ministries can become an idol.

If we are not diligent to examine our inner life, our hearts will erect an altar of offense to God. We need to see the truth of John Calvin’s statement that the “human heart is a factory of idols.” We must allow the Spirit to walk through the hallways of our heart. Giving Him access to enter any door that He knocks on.

If you refuse to heed the rapping of the Spirit, you are guilty of idolatry. Christ should possess preeminence in every aspect of our lives. We have all ignored the Spirit, but God is gracious to uproot idols and continue His work in us. Believers have a guarantee of forgiveness if we confess our sins (see 1 John 1:9). The knock at the door of your heart will only grow louder. For God is jealous and will not share His glory with another. Will you get that knock at the door?