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“God’s Love Corrects and Rescues”
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Please Note: All lesson verses and titles are based on International Sunday School Lesson/Uniform Series ©2013 by the Lesson Committee, but all content/commentary written within is original to wordforlifesays.com unless properly quoted/cited. As always you are encouraged to do your own studies as well. Blessings!)
Many of us are familiar with the bones of Jonah’s story, but few can really identify God’s love being at work throughout those four chapters.
Although little in size, this book packs a powerful punch. It shows how a man went from being a powerful, popular prophet (2 Kings 14:25) to being a passive resistant individual who refused to get on board with God’s plan.
Ultimately, there are only two clear paths for one to choose in life: God-seeking or self-seeking. Self-seeking equals disobedience, and that brings with it, its own consequences. But, even in the midst of that, what we find out in Jonah’s story is God is not soon to give up on His love pursuit of His people. Hebrews 12:6 tells us, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth . . .” However, it is also up to the individual to not test the waters of God’s patience. Riding through this life in the will of God can help us to avoid some pretty great storms.
Jonah 1:7-10 “And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah. Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou? And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land. Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.”
As the story goes, God spoke a direct word with direct instructions to Jonah. During the reign of Jeroboam II (approx. 786-746 BC), Jonah was privileged to deliver a message of blessing and restoration to the people of Judah. But the mission God has in mind for Jonah in today’s lesson is not mean to speak terrific things to his own people. God’s plan pushed Jonah out of his comfort zone and had him directed to go to Nineveh, the wicked city of Assyria (Jonah 1:1-2). It was the place of their enemy.
This was the last thing Jonah wanted to do. Without saying a word to anybody he hit the road (or, boat docks, in this case) with one agenda in mind, to “flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD,” (Jonah 1:3; note that Jonah’s trying to escape God’s presence is brought up twice in this one verse). He thought he could avoid God and ignore the mission He had for him. And, he was willing to pay to do it (Jonah 3:3 also states “he paid the fare”).
His running from God left him nowhere but in the middle of a storm. God wasn’t going to deviate from His original plan just because Jonah didn’t want to do it. He wasn’t going to get on board with Jonah’s desire (or, lack thereof) and just forget about it or send someone else. Oh, no! That’s not how this works. Remember Moses excuses in Exodus 3-4? God didn’t change His mind about sending him. And, He hasn’t changed His mind about Jonah doing what he was told.
Therefore, a storm like no other was sent by God to stop this runaway prophet in his tracks. When the mariners couldn’t gain control of the ship, they knew something else out of the ordinary of this howling weather phenomenon, was going on. And, in a moment of desperation, they began to call on their false gods while Jonah was enjoying a siesta in the bottom of the boat (Jonah 1:4-5).
Awakened by the shipmaster, he was confronted by his lackadaisical attitude at the situation that had befallen them. He wanted everybody to participate in finding help during this stormy trial. “Call upon thy God!” (Jonah 1:6) was his frantic plea.
As was the custom of the day, they “cast lots” to find out who brought this trouble their way (see Joshua 7:12-18; Proverbs 16:33 and 18:18 for other examples). No mystery to us, Jonah’s name was chosen. Through the lots, God revealed the cause of their woes was Jonah (Jonah 1:7).
When you are going through a storm in life or facing adversity one of the first things you want to know is, “Why?” The men of the ship were no different and they peppered Jonah with a series of questions. They wanted to know the ins and outs of who he was, where he was from, what was going on, and why was this happening to them. In other words, you better know who is riding in the boat with you because you might end up capsized. You can almost hear the hopelessness present in their voices. They were at their wit’s end and they thought their time was coming to end. The danger before them was real and that desperation brought forth questions. And, those questions demanded an answer (Jonah 1:8).
It’s those answers that brought the great reveal and even more dread to the heart of the desperately, rowing men. Jonah first identified himself as being a “Hebrew.” This, as everybody knew in that day, separated him from all other nationalities. The Jewish people of Israel were recognized separately from all others in the world (examples see Genesis 43:32; Exodus 2:6; 2 Corinthians 11:22). They were God’s people (Exodus 6:7; Deuteronomy 4:34; Jeremiah 30:22; Hebrews 8:10) and they were blessed by Him (Deuteronomy 7:14). And, not just any “god’s” people – they were the people of the one and only true God who created the “heaven, sea, and the dry land” (see Genesis 1). It is of Him, Jonah tells the men, that, “I fear.” He serves and worships God (Jonah 1:9)!
As opposed to the false deities these men worshipped, God Almighty was not only the Creator, but He is the Sovereign of the universe who held time and life in His hands and instructed him on his mission, to which Jonah admitted, he ran from (Jonah 1:10). Maybe at some point in their life, these men heard stories about this powerful God who fought for His people down through the years (ex. Exodus 15:15; Joshua 2:11, 5:1, 7:5); stories that made the hearts of people melt. And, if He is responsible for creation as well, how can they stand? If this man on the boat with them is a prophet of God under His wrath, what did that mean for the rest of them? If He was on a warpath toward Jonah, He was on a warpath toward them as well. Even if they had no previous knowledge of God, what they were facing now was proof enough. And, as ferocious as the waves were, they were even more “exceedingly afraid;” utterly terrified, when they found out it was the “LORD” who had brought about these tempestuous seas and it was the Lord who was fighting against them.
Jonah 1:11-16 “Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous. And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you. Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but the could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them. Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, as done as it pleased thee. So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging. Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.”
“What shall we do?” are questions that usually follow all the whys. They had the answers they were looking for as to why this was all happening to them, but they didn’t know what to do with those answers. They have never faced this God before. Their life was in danger, how could turn His wrath from their path?
You could almost hear them saying, “Jonah, you’re the one who brought this trouble our way. You’re the reason we are suffering in this intense storm. You’re to blame. You’re the one who disobeyed your God. Now, what can we do to make it out of this alive; “that the sea may be calm unto us?”
They were in panic mode. Time was running out to take action. A decision had to be made. With the waves thrashing the ship I can imagine it was taking on water. Gale force winds probably made it hard to stand aright. When they talked to each other it was probably hard to hear due to the “great tempest.” Yet, they heard Jonah speak his solution to the problem they were all facing: “Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.” He is the one that erred, thus the charge for the wrong he committed is his to carry and with that, he accepted the responsibility of it all. He basically said, “I know I am the reason all this is happening to you.” Since he was the problem for the trouble, throwing him overboard would offer an answer for peace.
The men of the ship were not quite ready to resort to such extreme measures. It’s funny, Jonah brought disaster into their life but they were rowing hard to save his: “Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land.” The land would offer safety from the storm if they could just get there. They fought against the difficulty of the storm. They tried to gain control of an out of control situation. With every ounce of energy and hope they possessed, they threw the oars back into the water and rowed, and rowed, and rowed some more, but to no avail.
The storm was “against them.” God was against their efforts. Although, they had good hearts in trying to spare Jonah’s life, what they were doing was contrary to God’s purpose for the storm. They too were standing in opposition to God’s will.
They acquiesced. They reluctantly agreed to Jonah’s solution. And, they did so with this prayer: “We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, has done as it pleased thee.” They are in prayer mode, calling on God to save their lives and not charge them with Jonah’s death (which anybody would expect to happen after being tossed in a raging sea). The shedding of “innocent blood” would normally bring guilt to their own lives and if this is the God who makes storms rise up and batter this ship, there’s no telling what can happen to the people who take a man’s life. Every man is held accountable before God for every action and before any action is taken they have to make sure they reach out to God for themselves. Using the word “beseech” they were begging God to spare them of the repercussions of what they were reluctantly about to do. They were praying for pardon. In the NLT version, this verse reads like this: “’O LORD,’ they pleaded, ‘don’t make us die for this man’s sin. And don’t hold us responsible for his death. O LORD, you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons.’”
Then, the men of the ship did the deed they fought so hard to avoid. “They took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.” They rowed and they prayed, in the end, it was and will always be God’s will that prevails. They followed Jonah’s direction and threw him into the raging sea.
When they did so, the winds and the waves quieted themselves. Remember, Jonah’s testimony of God being the Creator of the sea and dry land? Psalms 107:25-30 reaffirms His power and authority over the seas, saying:
“For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.
They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end.
Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.
Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.”
If they had an inkling of doubt left over about the God whom they stood before in the boat, surely the events that followed Jonah hitting the water stirred something in their hearts: “the sea ceased from her raging.” The quieting of the sea confirmed the power of God. God caused the storm to rise up and God made it be still. This brings to mind how Jesus, possessing the same authority of God, spoke and calmed the wind and the sea (see Matthew 8:26).
“Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.” Surely, in all their years of serving and worshiping false deities they had never seen one of them do the amazing things their eyes witnessed on that day in that boat. Those previous “gods” were false and unable to exhibit the same power that the one and only true God can. They knew they had a true God encounter. This pushed their hearts to worship and sacrifice to Him. The God of Israel, the God that Jonah previously ran from now had their attention. In that, they also made “vows” to the LORD. We don’t how this happened or what specifically was offered and done, but we do know that the lives and hearts of these men were forever affected by meeting God in the midst of the storm.
Jonah 1:17 “Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”
Moving past the effects this experience had on the men, the story now brings its focus back to Jonah, whose actions caused the storm in the first place. God was not through with him just because he’s in the water struggling for life. His story was about to get really interesting.
“Now the LORD . . .” Let’s just pause right there. Regardless of what you have been taught or thought down through the years in reference to this lesson, be it a fish, a serpent, or a whale, I am here to tell you none of that really matters. What matters is the instance of “a great fish” swallowing Jonah whole was a God-inspired event. God orchestrated this miracle that not only testifies to His power, but also to the seriousness of the missions He gives His people, and also of His love.
Traveling through the digestive tract of an animal cannot be a pleasant experience. At the same time, God used this event to save his life from the sea. Remember, the sailors and Jonah thought such an action as being thrown in the sea would surely end his life, that’s how terrible it was. But, not when God is the author of life and the conductor of the miracle. Jonah could have perished right then and there but God gave him another chance. God rescued him.
For “three days and three nights” the Bible tells us Jonah was “in the belly of the fish.” I can’t imagine and I don’t want to know what that was like. During that time Jonah had some serious reflecting to do about life and the choices he made (discussed more in next week’s lesson). It was God’s love that saved him from this horrible experience, and it is God’s love that causes Jesus to identify with Jonah’s story when He referenced His death on the cross for our sins and His resurrection to bring us new life (Matthew 12:39-40; Luke 11:29-30).
Disobedience and sin always bring the wrath of God. But, as Jonah’s story shows, in His love, He seeks to not only correct but to rescue.
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