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"Better Obey, or a Big Fish may Swallow you up!" - was it God's punishment or mercy for Jonah to be in the fish's belly?

The story of Jonah is among one of the well-known stories and you will remember seeing illustrations of Jonah in the fish belly in children's Bible.

This story is often told as a "warning" not to disobey God and not to run away from God's calling in our life. It is often told to remind us not to disobey God's call over our life. 

In our mind, we will picture that as an image of God's punishment to Jonah for his obedience. "Better obey, or a big fish may swallow you up!"
But the book of Jonah is much more than that. It is really about the love, grace and mercies of God throughout the four chapters.

The story began with God giving Jonah an assignment to go to Nineveh with a message to cry out against them, that their city will be destroyed due to their wickedness. (Jon 1:1-2)

For some reason it was not told to us in the opening chapter, why Jonah's first response was to choose not to take up God's assignment for him and instead disobeyed and ran away from God's presence. Immediately after God spoke to him, Jonah took a ship in Joppa, (a city in Judah) going toward Tarshish (a port city in Spain, west end of Mediterranean Sea), which was in the opposite direction towards Nineveh and a very far distance away from it. (Jon 1:3)

But the Lord sent a great storm in the sea so the ship that Jonah was in, was in danger of being destroyed. The Lord revealed to the people on the ship that Jonah was the cause of this storm as he had fled away from God. Jonah told them to throw him to the sea to calm the storm but they did not do so immediately. (Jon 1:4-9)

That was God's grace and mercy at work.

Eventually because the storm was getting worse and it seemed that they would soon perish, they prayed to God to save them and then threw Jonah into the sea. Immediately the storm calmed down. As a result those men feared the Lord exceedingly, offered a sacrifice to God and took vows. In the midst of getting Jonah to turn back to God, the signs that God performed turned the hearts of those men towards Him. (Jon 1:10-16)

That was God's grace and mercy at work.

Next, God prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. It seemed that God was nasty to Jonah and wanted to punish him and make him perish, from sending a raging storm to a fish swallowing him up. But no, God sent the fish to protect him from drowning and the cold elements at sea, and kept him warm and safe inside. For three days and three nights he was inside the fish's belly but miraculously, he was kept alive. (Jon 1:17)

That was God's grace and mercy at work.

Finally Jonah came to a point of realisation and repentance and surrendered to God's Lordship and the sovereignty of His will. As he turned back to the Lord, God spoke to Jonah a second time and told him once again to go to Nineveh, giving him another chance to obey His word. (Jon 2, 3:1-2)

That was God's grace and mercy at work.

This time round, Jonah obeyed and immediately arose and went to Nineveh. God's authority and anointing was upon him. As he prophesied over Nineveh, the whole nation fasted, prayed and repented of their wickedness before God, turning away from sin and turning back to Him. So God saw that and relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. (Jon 3:3-10)

That was God's grace and mercy at work.

We will have our moments of weakness and failures. We will have times when we yield to our fleshly desires and temptations, instead of  surrendering to God. But our God is a God of second chance. As long as you repent and turn back to Him, and are willing to obey Him, He will forgive you, speak to you and use you once again. In fact, Jesus said to Peter in Matt 18:21 - 22 that he ought to forgive those who have sinned against him seventy times seven times.
Our God is a good loving Heavenly Father who gives us more chances and forgives us more than we could ever deserve.

As a result of Jonah's obedience, 120,000 people repented from their wickedness and they were delivered from the destiny of destruction.

The book of Jonah ended in an interesting twist. Instead of rejoicing that he had obeyed God and fulfilled his God-given assignment, and thanking God for using him mightily to save 120,000 lives, Jonah became angry with God.

Why was Jonah angry with God? He was angry because God's forgiveness, kindness and mercy in not bringing disaster to Nineveh made Jonah looked like a fool, that his prophecy of Nineveh shall be overthrown in forty days did not come to pass. 

This was revealed in Jon 4:1-3, that Jonah already knew God would relent from doing harm and did not want to prophecy destruction to the city knowing it would not happen, and that was the reason with why he fled to Tarshish. Instead of being angry with Jonah, for his irreverence toward Him, God used a plant to illustrate on His sovereignty, His kindness towards Nineveh to Jonah. 

That was God's grace and mercy at work.

Indeed, our God is so full of love, grace, mercy, kindness and compassion for us. It also shows that sometimes we may not understand when God speaks and calls us to do certain things, or even make us feel like a fool. But let's learn to obey and trust Him for His goodness and His sovereignty. For what may seemed foolish to us, could probably be God's salvation plan for the lives of many, just like Jonah. 

God's plan for Jonah was not to harm him but to prosper him, to give him a future and a hope. (Jer 29:11) Jonah's plan was to run away. But the Lord was able to turn his life around to run toward his God-given destiny instead. 

The same grace of God is upon our life today. Even when we veered away from His will and plans, as we repent and turn toward Him, God is gracious and merciful to bring us back to His original intended course and purpose for our life.  Truly as Rom 8:28 says, all things work together for good to those who love Him, to those who are the called according to His purpose!

Jonah 2:1-10 NKJV
1 Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly. 2 And he said: “I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, And He answered me. “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice. 3 For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me. 4 Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ 5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head. 6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord , my God. 7 “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord ; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple. 8 “Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy. 9 But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord .” 10 So the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

Jeremiah 29:11‭-‬13 NKJV
11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord , thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.

Romans 8:28 NKJV
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:38‭-‬39 NKJV
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Dear Heavenly Father, I thank You for your love, grace and mercy over my life. I thank You that even when I am faithless, You are faithful to me. Help me to understand the great plans and purpose that You have for my life. And even when I do not comprehend, give me the faith to trust and obey Your word. I make a decision to surrender myself fully to Your will for me. I know that You love me and that Your plans for me are to prosper me and not to harm me. Forgive me for all the times that I chose to run away, to avoid and disobeyed Your word for me. Create in me a clean and pure heart, one that will wholly follow after You. Turn my life around Lord, turn my running away towards running straight into Your arms and into the original destiny, calling and purpose that You have prepared for me. I stand on Your word that all things will work together for my good, for me who are the called according to Your purpose. 

In Jesus' name I pray, Amen! 

God bless,
Hazel Ashley

This post first appeared on Devotionals: Walking In God's Love And Power, please read the originial post: here

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"Better Obey, or a Big Fish may Swallow you up!" - was it God's punishment or mercy for Jonah to be in the fish's belly?


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