A pastor that I mention often recently started a series on the book of Jonah, and I’ve been listening to the sermons as they are published on YouTube due to not being able to make it to the services in person. The first two have convicted me and inspired me greatly, and I’ve been looking forward to sharing a bit about these messages with you all.
In all honesty, the book of Jonah is one that I’ve neglected. I know the story, but it seems as if learning the story as a young girl made it seem boring. I already knew all of the details; Jonah was called by God, he went after his own will and ignored God, God sent a big fish to swallow him up until he changed his mind and went to Ninevah. But I have never found a personal connection. I’ve never been able to look into the story and find something that I can relate to, and these sermons have helped me with this. I’ve found a way to use this story, one of the stories that I found boring, and, in all honesty, farfetched. As some of you all know, this year has been particularly tough; tougher than usual. My life has enjoyed throwing me curveballs for as long as I can remember, but this year has been one of the hardest I’ve faced yet. And just when I thought that my life may have been ready to take a break and stop throwing those balls (and they always seemed to hit harder and harder.) another ball came and it smacked me right in the face. Although, unlike the last few difficult times, this was not because of a death, arguments, troubles with friends, going through bullying because of my faith, or even my animals getting sick or hurt…no, this ball was thrown right at the thing that I find to be the most important thing in my entire world. The thing that is literally my foundation. The thing that I try to base everything in my life on. The thing that has molded me into the person that I am.
This ball was headed straight towards the heart of my faith, and, well, to put it lightly, it knocked my faith off of the place it had in my heart. It knocked God off of His throne in my life for a few weeks. I won’t get into details, but during those weeks, I doubted my faith. I doubted my salvation. I doubted God. I doubted my Savior. I doubted the Bible. I’ve written about my issues with anxiety and doubt before, but those issues seemed to have gone away after I experienced an amazing meeting with God and rededicated myself. There is nothing I hate more than that doubt, and there it was again. Causing my prayer life to crumble, causing the sleepless nights to return. But the first sermon in this series helped get me back on track. That sermon is titled “Who Cast Jonah Into The Sea.”
The Bible says that after Jonah ran away from God when He had called him to Ninevah, he found himself on a ship full of other men. Shortly after he boarded, a great storm came, a storm so terrifying that these men immediately knew that it was a work of an angry God, and they began praying to their gods before casting lots.
4 But the Lord sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.
5 Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.
6 So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.
7 And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.
When the lot fell upon Jonah, he admitted that he had fled from God Almighty, and these men were terrified, for good reason. This man had boarded their ship, and God seemed to be dead set on destroying everything out of His anger. Can you imagine a storm so terrible that not only scared sailors who were no doubt experienced, but was so terrible that it could only be a work of God? So often we see horrible storms-earthquakes, floods, thunder and lightning, but have we ever seen one so awful that we just knew it was God showing His terrible and righteous anger towards us? These men may have all believed in false gods, but they had more faith and belief in them than we do in our one, true, living God. They knew when God was showing His anger and preparing judgement towards someone, there was no doubt in their mind. How long will it take until we start seeing the awful things happening in America, in this world in general, the terrorist attacks, the natural disasters and so on, and start questioning things. How long until we stop complaining and murmuring like the people in Moses’ day and open our eyes. God was only ready to heal and save them if they opened their eyes and turned from their sins, and America is no different. But before we turn from our ways, we have to see that judgement is coming very quickly. God is giving us signs, very obvious signs, and attempting to warn us that something horrible is going to happen to this world if we do not do something about it now. God will only tarry for so long. These men knew that something was not right and they were ready to do something about it. Regardless if it was just to save their own flesh, they were doing something. They saw that there was sin in the camp and they were prepared to get it out. So often we see people living sinfully, aware of their sin but refusing to do good, and we tolerate it. But perhaps we could learn a lesson from these men and stop tolerating sin. God tells us to rebuke righteously. These men may not have been righteous, but they were also used by God because of their willingness to cast Jonah into the sea and out of their ship. They saw what sin was doing, and they wanted no part of it.
So, cast Jonah out they did.
12 And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.
13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.
14 Wherefore they cried unto the Lord, and said, We beseech thee, O Lord, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased thee.
15 So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.
16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the Lord, and made vows.
After reading these verses, especially verse 15, it seems to be very obvious that the men took up Jonah and cast him into the sea. The beginning of Jonah’s real, very scary, very crazy problems. He was cast into the sea that had been very troubled by the storms.. This was a scary picture regardless of what happened next. God did not tell Jonah that He was going to save him from these waters. All Jonah knew at this point was that he had angered God, and God was showing that anger. He was facing God’s righteous judgement. Did that mean death? Was he going to drown in these waters? And no doubt, those emotions, that pure fear and trembling that he was probably feeling, they were multiplied when the great fish came. Have you ever seen the videos of people swimming in the ocean and suddenly, a shark comes? Or a huge whale jumps out of the water. Those people somehow have enough strength to video it, but can you see the fear in their voices? They are amazed, of course, but with that comes a respect, a fear. We would not want to be alone in this water, our only company a great fish- what kind of fish we do not know -that looked like it wanted to swallow us up. And so it did.
Because of us learning this story as young children, the way most of us have heard this story, I fear that we tend to dumb it down. Just like the story of Noah and the Ark. We read these stories from our Bible’s, or we hear our Pastor’s preach a sermon on them, and I think we’re prone to putting our kid glasses on and seeing it that way. When we picture Noah and the Ark, we picture the cartoon, kid friendly version. All of the cute animals going in two by two. When we picture Jonah and “The Whale” we see that same version. Jonah goes into the sea, a big, cute whale comes and swallows him and he’s just in it’s belly until God has mercy and the whale spits him out. As a child, this is entertaining. As adults who know more about God and more about scripture, we should see these stories as they were, not as they were told when we were kids. Both stories are about God’s judgement against His people refusing to listen to His voice. Both stories show what happens when we ignore Him. Both stories are honestly terrifying, and that is how God wanted it to be. He wants us to see what His judgement is like, and for us to have a holy fear of God. No, we aren’t supposed to be walking on eggshells, scared of His every move, but when we are sinning and we know that we are sinning yet still refuse to walk away, He will judge us, and that judgement is not going to be a pretty, kid friendly thing. So, Jonah was cast into the sea.
But then…we read on in scripture and we read Jonah’s perspective in the form of his prayers to God while in the belly of this fish.
3 For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.
4 Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.
5 The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head.
6 I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God.
So, according to Jonah, who cast him into the sea? God. But we say, those men took him in their arms and threw him! That is what chapter one of the book of Jonah says! And is God really capable of doing such a thing? Look at how Jonah remembers those angry waves around him as he tried to fight for his life…the waters compassed him, the weeds were wrapped around his head! Would God really ask His servant, His messenger, to suffer like this just to prove a point? But then we remember people like Joseph, the man that God allowed to be sold into slavery by his own brothers because He had a plan. He needed Joseph in Egypt. He was destined to do great things. So his brothers sold him, but God sent him. We remember the Little Maid in scripture, who was kidnapped from her own home then sent to live as a servant in the captain’s house, the man that had planned her kidnapping. God needed her there. Because she was there, the captain was healed of his leprosy and there was a great, holy revival. Then…we remember Jesus Christ, our Savior. Who was crucified by the hands of men, but God sent Him. Sometimes, God sends His servants into the sea, sometimes, He allows us to go through terrible things because through those things, we can get closer to God, we can follow His will, we can do great things for Him. With Him.
When we know who cast Jonah into the sea, we can get over all of the hurt in our lives and focus on God’s plan. He has a plan through it all.
Sometimes, we go through terrible things. Death, a loss of a friend, persecution, doubts, anxieties, family issues, arguments, we lose our jobs, we don’t know what to do. But God has a plan, and that plan is going to stick around through it all. He may allow these things to happen to us because they are going to work out for the best. Because of Jonah’s time in the fish, he went on to Ninevah and was a great messenger to those people. People that were lost in sin, so lost that some people didn’t even think they were worthy of God’s good news. People were saved. Because Joseph was sold by his brothers, God used him greatly. He was able to help those same brothers through so much. He was a Christian light in a pagan world. Because Jesus was sent here, and forsaken by everyone, we have salvation.
So, sometimes, these bad things work out for the good. Sometimes God tests my faith and I think it’s horrible, then I remember what other people have gone through, and I get the picture. God brings me back, closer than ever, and I dedicate myself to Him and His will again.
Sometimes, God allows us to be cast into a sea that seems so terrifying, a sea that feels like it’s going to be the end of everything for us. We may look around at what is happening, whether it be in our personal life or what is going on in the world in general, and we may think that there is no escape. But if we look hard enough and turn to Him in these times, we find out that these times are what strengthens us the most. But no matter what, we can take heart knowing that God is at work in our lives if we are willing to be used. As Pastor Sexton said, “God uses many things in our lives, but He is always the source.” He may have to take drastic measures in order to wake us up, but He is still with us.