Summary: Sermon series on the Book of Jonah. Some of my resources come from John Hamby’s sermons as well as Jerry Giffords
“Returning to God”
Jonah’s story is simple. Jonah, a child of God, ran from his Father. God pursued his child on the wings of a storm. The storm, of course, forced Jonah to reconsider the path he had chosen. This short book is his record of those difficult days. As he reflected back on those events he confessed that he felt abandoned by God: “I said, ‘I have been banished from Your sight.’” We have a tendency to think that during times of crisis God is distant or removed. Sometimes we even interpret His silence as indifference. Jonah reminds us that God’s presence enables us to endure the trials we face – even the ones we create by our own disobedience.
Leonard Sweet tells of an unusual tribal custom that pictures God’s presence during our darkest hours. “One tribe of native Americans had a unique practice for training young braves. On the night of a boy’s thirteenth birthday, he was placed in a dense forest to spend the entire night alone. Until then he had never been away from the security of his family and tribe. But on this night he was blindfolded and taken miles away. When he took off the blindfold, he was in the middle of thick woods, by himself all night long. Every time a twig snapped, he probably visualized a wild animal ready to pounce. Every time an animal howled, he imagined a wolf leaping out of the darkness. Every time the wind blew, he wondered what more sinister sound it masked. No doubt it was a terrifying night for many.
”After what seemed like an eternity, the first rays of sunlight entered the interior of the forest. Looking around, the boy saw flowers, trees, and the outline of the path. Then, to his utter astonishment, he beheld the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow. It was the boy’s father. He had been there all night long.” Likewise, God never forsakes His children – even when we disobey Him. And He wants us back.
In our study of Jonah we have seen that all Christians need to periodically examine their spiritual passion to see if we have drifted from God. We also know that God is willing to do whatever it takes to awaken our hearts and bring us back. Once we become aware of our need to renew our spiritual passion and return to God, we must then take the next step. In Jonah’s story we learn how to respond to God’s promptings to return to Him. In fact, Jonah’s experience illustrates the steps back to God. Read Jonah 1:17-2:10. Notice what we learn from:
I. Jonah’s Confinement: We need to get alone with God – 1:17.
In his testimony, the prophet wrote, in verse seventeen, “Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Now, I would like to suggest to you that the fish was a miracle of God’s grace! It was God’s way of giving Jonah a second chance. Think about it, Jonah expected death. He knew that the wages of sin, of disobedience meant death and when he was cast into the raging sea that’s what he expected. He deserved it, in fact, the justice of God, demanded it. But then, out of nowhere the great fish gulped him down and he finds himself alive inside the fish.
A word about the fish! It just says it was a "great fish." I am not sure what kind of fish it was. All I know is that the critics have a hard time swallowing the story of Jonah because they say it couldn’t happen. But it could happen. An average sperm whale may have a mouth 20 feet long, 15 feet high and 9 feet wide. Let me tell you this is a big animal. In fact, it’s about the biggest mammal on the planet. That explains how the fish could swallow a person. The sperm whale feeds largely on squid. These squid are often larger then people. Whalers have sometimes found an entire squid in the stomach of a dead whale.
As to whether a man could survive in a whale’s stomach, he certainly could, it would be uncomfortable, but it’s possible. There would be air to breathe, of a sort, because air is needed to keep the animal afloat, it would be hot about 104-108F. Add to that the unpleasant contact with the animal’s gastric juices, which might affect the skin. There was actually a case of man who had been swallowed by a whale and lived. It happened on the ship, Star of the East. In February 1891, this whaling ship spotted a large sperm whale in the vicinity of the Falkland Islands. Two boats were launched, and shortly a harpooner speared the whale. The second boat attempted to get in another harpoon, but the boat was overturned in the process and one man drowned. Another man, James Bartley, disappeared and was assumed drowned. In time the whale was killed and drawn to the side of the ship where it was tied fast and the blubber removed. The following day the stomach was hoisted onto the deck. That’s where James Bartley was. He was in the whale’s stomach, unconscious, but alive. He recovered and did his job again.