and three nights." (Jonah 1:16 NIV)
The unusual lesson that I glean from Jonah's story is that God is so awesome that He will even take our mistakes and use them for His glory! Now, you might ask, "How did she come up with THAT from reading about a man and a great big fish?" Well, let's go back to the beginning of the story...
The story begins with Jonah, a known prophet and man of God. God instructed Jonah to go and preach to the people of Ninevah. But, Jonah didn't want to go there. The people of Ninevah were enemies with Jonah's people, and he simply did not want to go. So, Jonah disobeyed God. (There's that obedience thing cropping up again!) Jonah went in the opposite direction, trying to run away from God. But, when God gives us a mission to fulfill, He expects us to work at it... not run from it.
|courtesy, National Maritime Museum|
Jonah was the passenger on a boat - heading away from Ninevah - when God sent a violent storm onto the sea. The boat was in grave danger. Trying to save their ship, the sailors threw all the cargo overboard to lighten the load. All of these sailors were pagans, and they cried out to their various gods - in vain. Jonah said nothing, although he knew that the storm was the wrath of God and that it was aimed at him. He went below board. The captain went down, saw Jonah, reprimanded him, and implored him to call out to "his god", as the sailors were.
When Jonah came back up on deck, the sailors were casting lots to see who was responsible for the situation. The lot fell to Jonah. They began to question Jonah, and he finally admitted that he worshiped the God of heaven, the Creator of the land and the sea. And he confessed that he was trying to run away from God. The pagan sailors were terrified and asked Jonah what they should do to calm the sea.(Sadly, at this point, the pagan sailors showed more respect for the LORD than the "man of God" did! Only after being reprimanded by the captain did Jonah join the sailors. Until then he was too wrapped up in himself to consider their peril. Jonah knew the storm was because of his disobedience, but didn't admit it until the casting of lots turned all eyes upon him. Then, he FINALLY acted like the man of God that he should have been in the first place!)
|painting by Louise August|
Jonah told the pagans to throw him into the sea. That bit of selflessness was what the LORD was asking of him in the first place when He told Jonah to go to Ninevah! But, even in this Jonah wasn't very brave... Why did he expect the other men to throw him in? Why not voluntarily jump in? We people sure do mess things up with our wrong attitudes, don't we?
The pagan sailors showed more compassion for Jonah than he showed for them. When he told them to throw him overboard, they refused. Instead, they tried rowing even harder. They tried to row back to land, but were unable to do so. Then, they cried out to God, asking for forgiveness for taking Jonah's life, and they threw him into the sea.
The sea grew calm, and the sailors made vows to God and greatly feared Him.
God provided a great fish to swallow up Jonah. After three days and three nights (which I am certain were filled with repentance, fear, and awe), Jonah was spewed onto land by the great fish.
So, you see, even our mistakes can be turned around and used for God's glory. Once Jonah got honest with God, himself, and the sailors, he became a living testimony of God's power and mercy. The once-pagan sailors now knew God..
|my photo of the Sea of Galillee|
Often, admitting our past sins and mistakes can help lead another to God. God is not looking for perfection. None of us has perfection to offer. God is looking for you and me - "as is" - because each of us has a story to tell. What is your story? You probably weren't swallowed by a great fish, but I'll bet there was some sort of storm involved... Share it. Your testimony could help a "pagan sailor" or two...