By Robert Olsen, Ph. D.
Associate Professor of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
God Calms (1:15–17)
The Book of Jonah begins with God telling Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach against its wickedness. However, instead of being obedient, Jonah traveled on the sea in the opposite direction, trying to avoid God’s will by traveling to Tarshish. God sent a great storm to keep the boat from making any headway, and the pagan sailors on the boat cast lots to determine whose fault it was that God sent the storm.
The lot fell to Jonah. He explained he was running from God, and if they threw him overboard God would end the storm. The sailors were appalled at the thought of murdering Jonah, so they tried their best to weather the storm.
When it became evident there was no way to get out of the storm, they asked God’s forgiveness for their action and threw Jonah overboard. Immediately the storm stopped, and the pagan sailors worshipped the Hebrew God.
The irony of this situation is the one 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 people. Not only is Jonah commanded to go to the Assyrians, the pagan enemy of Israel, but God also uses the prophet’s disobedience to reach the pagan sailors. The Book of Jonah clearly shows how God loves all people, not just the Israelites.
When Jonah was thrown into the sea, God sent a giant fish to swallow him, and Jonah stayed 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 God was his only hope. In the midst of his despair, Jonah realized only God could save him.
The lesson for us is clear: No matter the circumstance, God hears us. The Bible is full of verses that encourage us to pray. For example, James 5:13 says, “Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? 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 confident that even when we have been disobedient, God hears us when we repent.
God Saves (2:5–10)
The final portion of Jonah’s prayer recognizes and shows thankfulness for who God is. Jonah chastised those who worship idols because idols are unable to do anything. Instead, Jonah thanks God, who is able to do something. God alone brings salvation, whereas idols sit there and achieve nothing.
In spite of Jonah’s disobedience, he actually teaches us a lot. First, he shows us it is impossible to run from God. God will ultimately get His way, as shown when He provided a storm to prevent Jonah from running and a large fish to get Jonah going in the right direction.
Second, Jonah shows us God always hears our prayers. Despite Jonah’s disobedience, God hears and saves him rather than punishing him outright for his attitude and actions.
Third, Jonah shows us idols are worthless. For many Christians in the U.S., the idea of idols is one that brings to mind 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 need to place our hope and trust in God and not in things we can see around us. It is a difficult lesson in our material culture. God alone can save us.
We need to continually reorient our hopes and affections toward Him rather than toward our circumstances and the things we see around us. Trusting in God alone brings us hope and joy because nothing can take that away from us.