Summary: God mercifully rescues Jonah in a specatular way showing his control over all things.
Last week we started a sermon series on the life of the prophet Jonah. Independent Jonah, as we’re calling him for his I-know-what’s-best attitude, shares some similarities with the Indiana Jones character from the Steven Spielberg movies. Both got into their share of tight spots and both managed to get out of them in spectacular, if not unbelievable ways. For example in the second Indiana Jones’ movie, Temple of Doom, Indy and his friends hop into a miner’s car to escape the bad guys. They zoomed around the mine at breakneck speeds switching tracks, dodging gunfire, and even soaring over missing sections of track without as much as a scratch. That escape scene was exciting but hardly believable.
I suppose today’s Independent Jonah adventure seems like something Hollywood dreamed up. Last week we saw Independent run away from his mission to the Ninevites only to have God stop him in his tracks by sending a huge storm to batter the ship he had boarded for Tarshish, a city 5,000 km the opposite way God wanted him to go. Jonah admitted to the frightened sailors that he was the reason for the storm and directed them to throw him overboard promising that if they did, the storm would calm. The storm did subside when Jonah hit the water saving the sailors but what became of Independent? That’s what we’re going to find out in today’s adventure: Independent Jonah and the Rescue from Doom.
Once the storm subsided you’d think that Jonah would have been able to swim back to the ship having learned his lesson not to run away from God. But this was before life vests and if Jonah had been fully dressed in cloak and tunic, swimming, much less staying afloat would have been near impossible. Jonah himself describes what happened after he hit the water: “…the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me… 5 The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. 6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down” (Jonah 2:3b, 5, 6a).
If you’ve ever gone swimming in strong surf, you know how helpless Jonah must have felt. Even medium-sized waves can toss an adult around as if he was a rubber ducky. Add to that the terror of clammy seaweed wrapping around you to form a straight jacket so that you can’t kick, you can’t doggy-paddle, you can’t even do the dead-man’s float. It’s no wonder Independent started to sink to the bottom of the sea.
It seemed like the end for God’s prophet. Jonah certainly thought so. He cried out to God: “I have been banished from your sight” (Jonah 2:4a). Like a child who is sent to his room for misbehaving, Independent felt he had been expelled from God’s loving presence. Do you see the irony here? Isn’t this what Jonah wanted: separation from God? That’s why he had run from his mission to Nineveh. Well Independent was now getting what he had asked for but was quickly learning that it wasn’t what he really wanted.
Jonah learned a lesson that we would do well to take to heart. When we do things our way instead of God’s we’re declaring independence from him. It might sound exciting and liberating to go off on our own and ignore all those things our parents and Sunday School teachers taught us about sexuality, for example. After all, isn’t God too strict about his gift of sex? Enjoy it now in the prime of your youth. Don’t bother getting married first, says Satan. Get with the times! And who cares what God said about working to earn an honest wage. Get it by stealing or living off others. A lot of people you know are doing that already. Why not you? Think about yourself! Yet those who have declared independence from God find out, as did Jonah, that it leads to chaos and despair, not peace and happiness.
Independent deserved to drown but the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea did not become Jonah’s final resting place. As he sank the prophet recalled God’s mercy and remembered that it was never too late to turn to him for help. So Jonah prayed. While it’s never too late to turn to the Lord in prayer, we shouldn’t treat prayer as a last resort. When we do we show just how sinfully stupid we are. We huff and puff, grunt and grumble under the weight of our problems trying to fix them ourselves and failing, forgetting that a gracious God has invited us to address him as our heavenly Father and to come to him with all our problems no matter how large or how small. The Lord showed his fatherly concern for Jonah when he answered his call for help albeit in a most unusual way: God sent a large fish to swallow Jonah and then three days later spit him out onto dry land.