In the Hebrew, this sentence is only 5 words long. It doesn’t even mention God, nor did it call the people of Nineveh to repentance. So why did the Ninevites believe what Jonah warned them of? Jesus tells us in Luke 11:29-32 that the Ninevites had heard of Jonah’s miraculous deliverance from the belly of that fish and that they will, “stand up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.” The people of Nineveh heard and believed God…may this present generation do the same.
Anytime we put a “thing” between us and God…that’s an idol. Anytime we take God off the throne of our heart and put that “thing” in His place…it’s an idol. We’d all vehemently deny that we engage in idol worship…but let’s stop and think about for a moment. An IDOL is – Iconoclastic Ideology that causes Deception Over Our Lives. An idol is something that attacks and opposes cherished beliefs and doctrines in a very misleading and crafty way…slowly and deceptively worming its way into our lives over time…until that idol has become firmly established on the throne of our heart. We may say we’re not into idol worship…but who’s sitting on that throne today? The newest smart phone…an addiction…unforgiveness? Anything can become an idol when it comes between and causes discord between God and you.
The first time Jonah heard God say, “Go!”…He ran in the opposite direction. So surprisingly, when Jonah head God say, “Go!” this time, he obeyed. So what changed? Not God. His command was simple, straight forward, and didn’t waver in what He wanted Jonah to do. Nor was it the people of Nineveh who God wanted Jonah to warn. They remained a perishing and lost people of the Assyrian capital. No, the only thing that had changed was Jonah’s heart. In the belly of that great fish, Jonah had received a second chance…and with it then came an attitude adjustment on Jonah’s part. For our God is the God of second chances…from Jonah, to the Ninevites, to us… the Lord gives all of us second chances to change.
When life’s going along smoothly…we tend to ignore God. We smugly think it’s us that’s making it all happen. So when disease, death or tragedy hits – we’re thrown for a loop. ” How can this possibly be happening to me…what am I going to do…how can I fix this?” It’s at that point of distress, we finally cry out to the Lord. But how do we know God’s listening to us…how do we know we have His attention? We can start by reading His Word. The Bible is full of times when God miraculously answered His people’s cries for help. And each time He answered, their faith was built up a little more. The Psalmist showed this confidence when he wrote, “Hear my prayer, O Lord; listen to my cry for mercy. In the day of my trouble I will call to You, for You will answer me.” (Psalm 86:6-7) It’s that assurance from past answered prayers that enable us to have confidence every time we cry out to God anew.
God has an uncanny way of getting our attention…of controlling situations until suddenly we find the walls closing in around us. And most times, we’re there because of our own disobedience. We’re self-absorbed and engrossed in the idols of this world…or we’re preoccupied and fixated on what others think of us rather than God. Either way, we end up in dire circumstances with no way out. And as the old saying goes, “Sometimes you have to end up in the gutter to finally look up.” Jonah was running from the Lord in disobedience, when God got his attention by confining him in the belly of a fish for three days. Three long days to think about what he had done…three long days to repent, relent, and be restored. Have no doubt about it, if you’re running from the Lord today, He will get your attention sooner or later.
God assigned and appointed that big fish for a specific task…to gulp Jonah down and carry him around in its belly until Jonah changed his mind about the people of Nineveh. There are three interesting theories concerning this fish. Did God pick a fish already in existence to carry out His plan for Jonah? Or did He instantly create that fish the moment He needed it? Or was that fish created way beforehand for the sole purpose of swallowing Jonah at some point in the future? Any way you think about it, God’s creativity is boundless…His imagination endless.