Jesus said, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:39-41).
Jonah lived 2800 years ago. The name Jonah means a Dove. God’s commission to him was simple and direct. “Arise and go to Niveneh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me” (Jonah 1:2).
Jonah went in the opposite direction. to the seaport of Joppa, and booked passage on a ship, going just the opposite way to Tarshish. The Lord followed that ship with a great and mighty wind, so unusual that even the sailors became afraid that the ship would be lost. They jettisoned all they could to lighten the ship but nothing seemed to help. They began to call upon their gods, but the storm only increased. They cast lots to see who among them was the cause of their fate, and the lot fell upon Jonah. He was a stranger among them and they inquired about his past and the purpose of his journey. Jonah said, “I am a Hebrew, and fear the Lord, the God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.” When they asked what could be done to calm the sea, he said, “just take me up and throw me overboard and the sea will be calm again”. Having no other choice, “they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging” (Jonah 1:15).
“Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah, and there he stayed for three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17). If you’re a believer, just how much faith does it really take to believe a fish story like this? Think of it in another way. God created man and the man whom God created designed and built a great ‘fish’ called a submarine. That ‘fish’ can take 130 men down, three miles below the surface of the deep and keep them there for six months and then bring them back to shore alive! How can you believe in a God that made the man, that made the submarine that takes 130 men three miles below the surface of the water and keeps them there for six months only to present them alive again on dry land and not believe in the God who could make one fish to take one man down for three days?
Jonah prayed from the fish’s belly and the Lord spoke to the fish and it vomited Jonah onto dry Land”. There he stood in the sand, clothes shredded, body scratched and bruised, with seaweed about his head and arms to hear the call of God the second time. “Arise and go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I will tell you” (Jonah 3:2).
Nineveh was the capital of the greatest empire on earth. It was totally corrupt. Jonah arrived crying out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown”. Jonah’s cry resulted in the greatest evangelistic revival in all recorded history. The entire city, including the king, fasted and put on sackcloth and poured ashes over their heads. Even the animals were so decorated and humbled. This city, of 120,000 idol worshipers, was converted to believe in the one God and to fear Him.
“Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that he said he would bring upon them.” Their conversion displeased Jonah exceedingly and he became angry” (Jonah 4:1). He rebuked God by saying, “I knew you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness. Take my life from me”.
Jonah needed converting as much as Nineveh. The idea that a non-Jew could share in the love and grace of God was a vital truth that Jonah needed to see and understand. When the apostle Peter witnessed the conversion of the first gentiles, all the miracles wrought were designed to help Peter understand his own statement, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation, he that fears Him and works righteousness, is accepted with Him” (Acts 10:34-45).
Jesus told of the prodigal son who came home to be joyfully received by his Father, while the elder brother brooded and was angry and would not go in to the reception party. God help us to learn the true meaning of God’s amazing grace.
One hundred and twenty thousand repented in Nineveh and God spared them. Rejoice Jonah! Smile and be happy. If it were not for the grace and goodness of God, we’d all be lost.