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.

Victory in Jesus

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

(John 16:33, KJV)

I stood by my friend’s bedside, singing Victory in Jesus with his family. His body, ravaged by cancer, was fading fast. We knew the end was near. To some, he was losing his battle with cancer, but my friend was not tasting defeat, but victory. As we sang, prayed, and wept, he was hearing the grandstand of heaven cheering for him to crossover. He was leaving this life in victory.

How can I say this? By faith. The Bible states, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Some confuse faith with positive thinking. Although positive thinking is good, it only takes you so far. A preacher once said positive thinking is having faith in faith. Yet the Bible calls us to have faith in God (see Mark 11:22). The object of our faith is God and only He can comfort us in times of tribulation.

As a pastor, I’ve walked people over joyous mountaintops and through dark valleys of despair. The latter is never easy. No one, even a believer, is exempt from the suffering of this world. In fact, Jesus assured us we would face persecution, pain, and even loss. However, God promises victory to believers. Christians can experience peace and joy during trials because Jesus has overcome the world.

Our faith in Jesus’ triumph over this world (i.e., His death, burial, and resurrection) secures our victory. We have victory in Jesus! We shouldn’t base our salvation on our moralistic or religious achievements in this life. It’s not about what we do, because we will always fall short of God’s glory (see Romans 3:23). But it is about placing our faith in what Christ accomplished. He lived, died, and rose victoriously in our place. He was our substitute. Christ provided the victory for any circumstance we face. Paul writes, “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Romans 8:37, KJV emphasis mine). By faith in Christ, we can rest in being victorious.

What the world views as tragedy and loss may be our gain by faith. God never promises the Christian a rosy experience in this life, but He does promise to never leave nor forsake them (see Hebrews 13:5). His presence provides the peace, joy, and victory. You will face hard times, but you have the choice to face them with or without Him. Are you experiencing the victory in Jesus that God promised believers? Remember, it’s only found in Him.

The Runt of Bakersville

For by thee I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall.” (Psalm 18:29)

A silence fell over the stands of Stewart Stadium as Kyle Littleton recovered the fumbled football. Littleton, a runt of a boy, was the last player the Bakersville Bearcat fans wanted to have the ball. Littleton, or “Runt” as his teammates called him, was almost five feet tall and weighed all of one hundred pounds. Against the Argyle Gators, the best defense in the state, and with seconds on the clock, Bakersville’s hope of a state championship title waned.

green grass across beige red open sports stadium during daytime

Littleton bowed his head and then struck out across the fifty-yard line. He ran past a defender. A few Bakersville fans cheered. Littleton zigzagged like a rabbit around his opponents with lightning speed. A unified chant of “Run, Runt, run!” surfaced from the sidelines. Littleton juked and spun his way into the red zone. The clock was out and Bakersville leaned forward, watching the boy they called Runt blaze down field.

Gators barricaded the goal line, but the Runt of Bakersville ran hard towards them. Littleton slanted left, thinning the defenders, and leaped over an Argyle Gator into the end zone. The crowd erupted. No one, not even Littleton, could believe what he had done.

After the game, Coach Hicks said, “Littleton, you scared me at first when you bowed your head. I thought you were giving up.”

“Coach, I wasn’t giving up. I prayed for strength. I might be small, but I serve a big God.”