“Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah 1:17)
There has always been some skepticism about the Book of Jonah. Many have tried to say that it is a fictional story that teaches a lesson by using allegory. One of the main reasons for liberal skepticism comes from the verse above (Jonah 1:17) which says that Jonah was “in the belly of the fish.”
Let me say up front — I believe that the story of Jonah is REAL. WHY you may ask. Because Jesus believed it. In Matthew 12:38-41, the Bible says, “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 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 threes nights in the heart of the earth.” Quite clearly Jesus accepted the story of Jonah as an accurate description of an historical event — so if Jesus believed it — I believe it too.
Now back to the story. The key to understanding this event is to see what happened as a result of Jonah being in the belly of the fish. HE REPENTED to God and by doing so he gives us an example of what happens when we repent of our sin.
First…when we repent, we realize just how desperate our condition really is. Maybe Jonah had thought that by telling God NO — God would just leave him alone and find someone else to go to Nineveh. But when he went overboard and was swallowed by the fish…I think Jonah’s perspective changed. He realized God was serious. God had arranged for Jonah to do some long, hard, serious undisturbed thinking. And sometime during that three-day journey inside the fish, Jonah came to the realization that his relationship with God was really out of whack!
Just think about it. Seventy-two hours is a long time to think. Three days and nights is certainly long enough to get desperate. That is the point most of us must come to before we take action. But many people today have ignored their relationship with God for a LONG time! There are plenty of people who right now think — “I’m pretty good. Me and God, we’re all cool!”
So…the question I would ask is this. How desperate must you become before things get truly settled between you and God? That may be how desperate things will get. Be prepared.
When our lives become desperate enough that we finally recognize that God’s way is the best way — then we will truly repent. Inside the belly of the fish Jonah decided that God’s plan for him to go to Nineveh didn’t look so bad after all. In every church there are people who attend but who know they are out of step with God. Yet, they have made up their minds that they are not going to change. Mark it down. Let them get desperate enough and they may have to reconsider God’s way.
Maybe God has been convicting YOU of sin recently. May you are convicted that God wants you to be a more verbal witness. Maybe you are convicted that you should give more to the work of God. Maybe God wants you to surrender your life to be a missionary. Maybe there is some sin in your life you need to shed. The question is…are you convinced that God’s way is the best way? If you aren’t, then you are saying, “God…I’ve not become desperate. I’m not thoroughly convinced that Your way is best.”
In verse 9 of Jonah 2, Jonah finally repents and says, “But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.” To truly repent, you must become desperate and you must realize that God’s plan is the best plan but then you must commit yourself to do what God has called you to do. Usually this is where our repentance is shortsighted. Real repentance has to include submitting your whole self to God and His plan — not just remorse for sin — not just saying “I will try and do better.” REAL repentance is when you finally say — “Lord, I fully commit myself to You. I will go where You say. I will do what You say. I’m not in charge any more — You are.”
I don’t how desperate you are right now to make things right with God, but I do know that God desperately wants every person to be in a right relationship with Him. How desperate does He want that? Enough that He sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross as our substitute.
How desperate does it have to get in your life for you to fully commit to God? Be careful…you may find yourself in the belly of a fish with nothing but time to consider your decision.