Summary: This is a youth lesson used in Junior age camp as the evening vespers hour message for children. Taken from the prayer in Jonah chapter 2
Jonah chapter 2 : The Great Fish – a place to think
Intro: The other day, I walked through the door of the Multi Purpose Building to get into my office and saw the decorations Ronnie had put in the hall and on the windows for this week of camp. The fish theme was obvious. And the fish theme is what I want to share with you today. We are looking at Jonah chapter 2 which is basically a prayer the Jonah prayed from the belly of the great fish.
If you recall from the previous lesson on Jonah chapter 1, the illustration used was of a ship. That is the tool Jonah had used to attempt to run away from God’s call to preach against Nineveh. Now, If I had picked an image to illustrate Jonah’s attitude and actions I might have chosen a pair of running shoes. Why? Because Jonah was a runner, and he was trying his hardest to run away from God.
We have to ask, then, if God’s request to Jonah was unreasonable. Why, if Jonah was a bonified prophet of God, would he run away from a preaching assignment. What was it about these Ninevite people that caused Jonah to want to run away from going to preach to them? Well, Nineveh was a major city in the Assyrian empire. It was about 500 miles away from Jerusalem to the north and east. This was a huge city for its time. Some said it was so big that it took more than one day just to walk through it. The people who lived in this city were very militaristic in their attitudes. They were guilty of doing cruel and inhumane acts to whoever they fought against.
When Assyria fought the Jews they would skin people alive, tear out their tongues, cut off arms and legs from living prisoners, not to mention selling prisoners as slaves to other people. These kinds of things had been done to Jews, by the Assyrians, so they hated them and wanted something awful to happen to them.
But Jonah not only knew about the ways of the horrible Assyrians, he also knew about the heart of God, who was full of mercy and compassion. He knew that if God was calling him to preach to the Assyrians, then it was at least within the realm of possibility that God might decide to show mercy to these people. Jonah couldn’t stand that thought.
Therefore, even though Jonah had often been obedient to God’s call to preach before, this time he decided to run pell-mell in the opposite direction. He looked on the map of the known world at that time, and looked for the farthest possible place away from Nineveh. There it was, on the far western shores of the Medeterranian, Tarshish: A full 180 degrees away from Nineveh. Jonah could either chose to forgive the Ninevites and preach to them, or hold a grudge against them and run away. He booked a ticket on a west-bound ship headed for Tarshish.
The truth is that the world is full of runners. People are running in sin and running away from God. It was rather odd, though, to see this prophet of God like other sinners, running away from God.
If you remember the particulars of the first chapter, no sooner did the ship get under way, but God provided a great storm. Evidently, this storm was coming at a time when storms didn’t normally hit, or in a way that was unusual for that time of year. The sailors got scared about this storm and decided to cast lots to see who among them had angered the gods so much that this storm had been sent against them. The Lot fell on Jonah, and the soldiers asked him to give them information about himself
Jonah quickly confessed that he was a prophet of God, running away from God’s call, and admitted that the storm was because of him. He told the sailors to throw him into the sea, and the storm would calm down. Though they didn’t want to (him being a paying customer and all), Jonah was able to persuade them, and they gave him the old heave-ho.
He landed in the sea, and the text tells us that God then provided a great fish. (This story seems to be full of God’s provision as we will see in the later parts of this short book.)
This is when we take up with the account in chapter 2. For the most part, this is Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the fish. And in the prayer is Jonah’s testimony.
He prayed: “In my distress” (the Hebrew words used here often refer to the pain of childbirth). He also said “from the depths of the grave (Sheol) I cried out” No doubt, in the darkness of the fish’s belly, Jonah wasn’t sure exactly where he was. He was not even sure he was alive. But he testified that God listened to his cry. Admittedly, Jonah was in a mess and in a tight place. He cried out and God heard him.