I’ve been judging Jonah unfairly. And I didn’t realize it until I read someone else judging him the same way.
You know Jonah, right? God tells him to go preach to the rather nasty folks in Nineveh. Jonah hops on a boat and high-tails it in the opposite direction. Big storm comes. Jonah tells the crew to throw him overboard; storm stops, fish swallows Jonah. Jonah has a big heart-to-heart with God; fish spits him out three days after he was swallowed. Per God’s instructions, Jonah preaches to the nasty folks in Nineveh. Ninevites repent; God spares them. Jonah gets ticked off at God’s grace in not destroying the people he doesn’t like. Tree grows; tree dies; Jonah learns nothing. The end.
Jonah’s come up several times this year — in a series of sermons I heard, in a study I was given to read, and now again in the latest book I’m reading.
And the unfair judgment of Jonah I made, that was also in the book I’m reading, was this — Jonah was quick to want grace for himself, but resented it being given to others. What a hypocrite, right?
The book I’m reading made another assumption, though, and that’s what triggered my realization that I’ve been unfair.
The author talks about how unpleasant it must have been inside the fish. And, you know, that’s almost certainly true. In fact, the author says, Jonah probably started praying for deliverance and grace immediately.
That makes a lot of sense. But it’s not what scripture says. This is what scripture says:
Now the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. He said: [[Prayer Omitted]]. And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
The fish swallowed Jonah. Jonah was in the fish for three days. He prayed. Got responded immediately.
Now, you could make the assumption that the timetable is general instead of precise. But, I don’t think so.
Jump back a little bit. Jonah’s on the boat. The storm comes. Jonah knows it’s from God, and he knows it’s because of his disobedience. The sailors confront him about it.
At that point, someone else might have been on their knees, praying for God to stop the storm and promising to do whatever He wants. I mean, it sounds like the sort of storm that would have gotten someone’s attention, and probably inspired some reconsideration.
Not Jonah. He looks at the sailors, and tells them to throw him overboard, knowing it means almost certain death.
Jonah’s not quick to ask for grace. He’d rather die.
But he doesn’t. A fish swallows him.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the author’s right. Maybe Jonah started begging for mercy at that point. But, you know, given his behavior on the boat, I don’t think so.
I think he was waiting to die. As the author was quick to point out, without a miracle, there’s no way a person could survive that. Jonah was that, since the storm didn’t kill him, being digested would.
And so, he waited. Patiently. In unimaginably unpleasant conditions. Waiting for death.
Sitting there, inside the fish. “Any minute now …”
And on the third day, he realized it wasn’t going to come. God wasn’t going to let him die.
Those three days were God waiting for Jonah. Waiting for him to stop wanting to die. Waiting for him to start wanting to live. Waiting for him to humble himself to ask for grace.
Jonah wasn’t a hypocrite. He wasn’t quick to want grace for himself. He was just as willing for himself to die as anyone else.
But God wasn’t. His grace wasn’t just freely offered to Jonah. It was, literally, irresistible.
Because sometimes grace is difficult. Grace isn’t a free ride. Grace for Jonah meant that he still had to do the thing he didn’t want to do. I’ll admit, I’ve been at the point before where Jonah was, where it seems easier to give up. But God wasn’t going to let Jonah have that option.
What about you? Are there times you’d just as soon avoid God’s grace? And what does it take to make you accept it?