By Robert Olsen, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
Calm God (1:15–17)
The Book of Jonah begins with God telling Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach against his wickedness. However, instead of being obedient, Jonah traveled the sea in the opposite direction, trying to avoid God’s will by going to Tarshish. God sent a great storm to prevent the ship from moving forward, and the heathen sailors on the ship cast lots to determine whose fault was if God had sent the storm.
The lot fell on Jonas. He explained that he was running from God and if they threw him overboard, God would end the storm. The sailors were appalled at the thought of assassinating Jonah, so they did their best to weather the storm.
When it became clear that there was no way out of the storm, they asked God for forgiveness for their action and threw Jonah overboard. Immediately the storm stopped and the heathen sailors worshiped the Hebrew God.
The irony of this situation is that he who serves the true God is disobedient, but the pagans recognize the one true God and act appropriately by offering a sacrifice to God.
The main theme here is God and his love for all. Not only was Jonah ordered to go to the Assyrians, the pagan enemy of Israel, but God also used the prophet’s disobedience to reach the pagan sailors. The book of Jonah clearly shows how God loves everyone, not just the Israelites.
When Jonah was cast into the sea, God sent a giant fish to swallow him, and Jonah remained in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.
God hears (2:1-4)
While in the fish, Jonah prayed to God, realizing that God was his only hope. In the midst of his despair, Jonah realized that only God could save him.
The lesson for us is clear: whatever the circumstances, God hears us. The Bible is full of verses that encourage us to pray. For example, James 5:13 says, “Does any of you suffer? He should pray. Is anyone happy? He should sing praises. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul tells us to “pray constantly.”
Our lifeline is to God, and our means of communication is prayer. We can be sure that even when we have disobeyed, God hears us when we repent.
God saves (2:5-10)
The last part of Jonah’s prayer recognizes and shows gratitude for who God is. Jonah chastised those who worship idols because idols are incapable of doing anything. Instead, Jonah thanks God, who is able to do something. God alone brings salvation, while idols sit there and do nothing.
Despite Jonas’ disobedience, he teaches us a lot. First, he shows us that it is impossible to run away from God. God will eventually get what he wants, as he showed when he provided a storm to keep Jonah from running and a big fish to get Jonah going in the right direction.
Second, Jonah shows us that God always hears our prayers. Despite Jonah’s disobedience, God hears him and saves him rather than punishing him outright for his attitude and actions.
Third, Jonah shows us that idols are worthless. For many Christians in the United States, the idea of idols is one reminiscent of Eastern religions like Buddhism or Hinduism. But an idol is anything that takes the place of God, be it a wooden statue, money, a job or a hobby.
We must place our hope and trust in God and not in the things we can see around us. This is a difficult lesson in our material culture. God alone can save us.
We must continually redirect our hopes and affections to him rather than to our circumstances and the things we see around us. Confidence in God alone brings us hope and joy because nothing can take that away from us.