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.

Be Like the Bees

And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;

(Colossians 3:23, KJV)

I sipped my coffee and savored the solitude of my backyard. I sat listening as the early birds chirped and warbled. Their chorus signaling the dawn of a new day. God’s mercies renewed. I rested in my lawn chair, flanked by privets that needed pruning three seasons ago, soaking in creation’s song of praise. Humbled by all the surrounding glory, I whispered a heartfelt prayer.

My offering of thanks was fresh on my lips, when I heard buzzing coming from the bushes. I then spotted several bees and sensed God sharing a truth through these little insects. Like Edward Taylor, that Puritan poet, I looked for the deeper meaning in these winged object lessons. The bees’ feverish labor caused the tiny white blossoms to plummet like staccato raindrops. I considered how they never grow weary of their God-given vocation of pollination. Scientists say one of three bites of food comes from the honeybees’ pollinating prowess. In short, without these insects, the vine would bring no fruit and our grocery store shelves would be barren. But who takes notice of them? Hardly anyone. But bees, like the ones in my backyard, bring glory to God by their small actions done in obscurity.

Be like the bee.

These words surfaced in my mind as I watched them buzz along. Immediately, I understood God was speaking concerning the Christian life. As Christians, we can learn a lesson from them. They never stop their work to consider its significance. They simply float from flower to flower in faithful submission to God’s commandment. Bees are content with the process of pollination. It’s what they do. They work heartily as to the Lord. If we are not careful, we can view our everyday tasks as trivial obstacles to be overcome, instead of moments to be embraced.

Like the bees pollinating the world, instead of flower by flower, we can work task by task, job by job, for the love of the Lord and glorify God with our labor. More than likely, we will not understand the full impact we have on others with our work. How could we measure the reach of our efforts on this side of eternity? We cannot. It’s not for us to know. We must trust God to sew our small offerings into His overall tapestry of glory. When we consider our labor, let us take a lesson from the honeybees.

And be like the bee, happy, content, and faithful to the work, even when no one notices. God notices. Who else can know the fruits of our labor?

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