Swallowed Up By God's Will

By Shawn Tomlin

How many of you are familiar with the story of Jonah? It seems to be one of the first stories we learn as kids, if we grew up in a church. It’s fantastic, and at points seems to be a fable or fictional account written to teach a lesson, but there’s a problem with that. Jesus, in Matthew 12:39-41 and in Luke 11:29-32, talked about Jonah being in the fish and being in Nineveh as if they were real events. If you want to say Jonah is fictional, then it’s as if you are calling Jesus a liar. 

The book opens up with God telling Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and “preach against it.“ (verse 2) So what does Jonah do? He runs. He literally tries to run from God. He just happens to find a ship headed away from Nineveh, so he boards it. So God, seeing the actions of Jonah, causes a huge storm to blow through and the pagan crew end up finding out that Jonah was the one to blame, and throw him overboard because he was fleeing the presence of the Lord. So God, seeing the actions of Jonah, causes a huge storm to blow through in the pagan crew end up finding out that Jonah was the one to blame, and throw him overboard because he was fleeing the presence of the Lord. What’s incredible here is that the pagan crew “call out to the Lord, were seized by a great fear of the Lord” (after the storm stopped once Joe and I was thrown over) and they “ offered a sacrifice and made vows.” (Verse 1:14-16) The Lord used Jonah’s rebellion for good. He called people to faith in him and saved them. Was that the end of Jonah though? No, God had work for him to do, so God “appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.“ (verse 1:17)

“Over Every Motion of the Fin of Every Minnow, Predestination Resides.” -Charles H. Spurgeon

There are a couple things I want to point out here. First, Jonah is a type of Christ he spent three days and three nights in the fish, just as Christ spent three days in the tomb. Second, Jonah wasn’t just swallowed up by a great fish, but he was swallowed up by God’s will. Jonah, like all of us, cannot escape the will of God in our lives. What the Lord wills, will come to pass. In the case of Jonah, he would go and preach to the people of Nineveh. Whether he wanted to or not.

While in the fish, Jonah prays a most beautiful prayer to God. This is the whole of chapter 2. The reason Jonah prays to God is because God rescued him from certain death via the fish. It is a beautiful prayer of Thanksgiving, and with any good prayer of Thanksgiving,“ we praise the Lord for what he has done for us, and in doing so we ask him to perfect the work he has begun.“ (Spurgeon) sometime after this prayer, God commands the fish to “vomit Jonah on to dry land.” (2:10) weather Jonah liked it or not, God‘s will was going to be accomplished, through him, as was the will of God.

Picture this, Jonah is laying in the mud, covered in fish vomit, and God‘s word comes to him again, saying the exact same thing as before. This time Jonah does as he is told, and the entire city of Nineveh repents, and “God saw their actions-that they had turned from their evil ways-so God relented from the disaster he had threatened them with. And he did not do it.” (3:10) 

To see the steadfast love and mercy of God should’ve made Jonah rejoice, but... that didn’t happen. He actually became furious and admitted to God in prayer that the whole reason he ran in the first place is because he knew “God was compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and one who relents from disaster.“ (4:2) God then asks Jonah “Is it right for you to be angry?“ (4:4)

This last section involves Jonah, God, a plant, and a worm. So Jonah goes off and makes a shelter for shade and watches from afar. God appoints a plant to grow to provide shade for Jonah, and Jonah really liked that plan. The next day however God appoints a worm, who destroys the plant, and then causes a scorching east wind and between that and the sun Jonah got ticked off yet again.

It’s here that God does the ultimate mic drop. He asks Jonah again, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” Of course Jonah was. But God explained to him that he cared for a plant, with which she had no part in its creation, but he doesn’t think God should care for the 120,000+ people that were his creation, and were so lost in their own sin. Boom.

The point of all this is that God is sovereign over all things, every aspect of his creation. And when he sees those whom he has chosen from before the foundations of the world lost in their own sin, he will go to any length to redeem them. He went so far as to send his Son, Jesus Christ, from heaven, to live a perfect life under the law for us, allow himself to die on a filthy cross to atone for our sin, and resurrect three days later destroying death and justifying us before the Father. Jonah said it best when he said in chapter 4 verse 2, “ God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and one who relents from disaster.“

Lee Jones