We have a God who is powerful, yet merciful. Having been tossed into a stormy sea after disobeying God’s command to go to Nineveh, we see God’s mercy towards Jonah. Jonah chapter 2 tells us that God prepared the fish to swallow Jonah, and after three days and nights, commanded the same fish to vomit him out onto dry land. Inside the whale, Jonah had plenty of time to reflect on things, and as I read his prayer, I see revelation of God’s nature.
1. God is Lord over the heavens and the seas.
Jonah sought to run from the presence of the Lord, and he chose to do so on the seas. Yet, the seas belong to God and He is Lord over them. As Jonah remarks,
“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.” [Jonah 2:3]
This reminds me of what the disciples declare when Jesus walked with them and calmed the sea. They say,
“…Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him,” [Matthew 8:27]
God’s power, demonstrated through His being able to both raise up the waves and quiet them, points to His authority. It is not only that God is Lord over the seas, or winds or heavens, but that He is LORD; Lord over all the earth, Lord over every kingdom and authority and power. When we realise this majesty of God, how can we not bow before Him?
2. It is NOT good to be out of the presence of God.
Jonah intentionally tries to flee from the presence of God. Yet, as he contemplates what has happened, he realises that it is, in fact, not good to be outside the presence of God.
“Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight;
Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.
The waters closed around me;
Weeds were wrapped around my head.
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.
When my soul fainted within me,
I remember the Lord;
And my prayer went up to You,
Into Your holy temple.”
Separation from the presence of God is death, it is hard to even imagine the suffering and pain of what this would be like because now, in His grace, God does not completely withdraw from us. Jonah, realising the error in his fleeing from God’s presence looks towards God again for deliverance. It is not just Jonah’s physical body that is saved from the seas when God sends the fish to swallow him, it is also salvation for Jonah’s heart.
Here was a prophet who disobeyed God, and yet experienced a second chance to fulfil what he was called to do; a prophet who determined to run from God, only to realise that this was a path of destruction and turned back to find a loving Father willing and glad to take Him back. Jonah was not abandoned by God, even after his disobedience and he recognises how God saved him from death.
3. God is merciful, and gives opportunity for repentance.
The price of disobedience is steep and a prophet is not immune. Those who disobeyed God, whether intentionally or by accident, met with severe consequences. Some prophets died, and many a king was stripped of their kingdom. Yet, here we have Jonah, wilfully running from God and despite this, being given still a second chance. Jonah’s story demonstrates the mercy and the grace of God. Not only does God give Jonah a second chance to fulfil his calling, but He also listens to Jonah’s complaints and takes the time to answer them. God explains His heart to Jonah, the way His love operates.
The last two verses of Jonah’s prayer give us an insight into Jonah’s heart.
“Those who regard worthless idols
Forsake their own Mercy.
But I will sacrifice to You
With the voice of thanksgiving;
I will pay what I have vowed.
Salvation is of the Lord.”
Despite his own experience of God’s mercy, it sounds like Jonah still does not think the Ninevites (being idol-worshippers) deserve mercy from God. Yet, Jonah also declares that “salvation is of the Lord”, and determines to at least, go and speak out the word God had given to him for Nineveh. After this change in Jonah’s heart to obey God’s initial command, he is vomited out onto dry land and proceeds to give the Lord’s message to Nineveh. While spending three days and nights in the belly of a fish is not desirable, it was mercy on God’s part for He allowed time for Jonah to repent, and for Jonah to decide to obey God.
I am so glad we have a merciful God. Even though He has all power and all authority, even though we sometimes get things wrong, God forgives and has mercy on us. Moreover, He is kind in how He helps us to understand Him more. It might take a period of fasting, a period of suffering, a period of not feeling the presence of God, but God will be faithful to reveal Himself and reveal His heart to those who turn towards Him. So let us determine to remember God and thank Him for His mercy.