Last week we began looking at book of Jonah and we found Jonah in rebellion and God in pursuit. Again, I am thankful that God continues to pursue us even when we run away from Him. Remember what we said about rebellion last week.
When we left Jonah he had just been thrown overboard by the sailors in an attempt to quiet the storm and save their lives. Note v17
(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.
Consider some interesting thoughts on this verse. The sailors never dreamed that a person could survive the waters. They had prayed and asked God not to punish them for 'innocent blood'. They were convinced that they were sending Jonah to his death, but God wasn't finished with him. The great fish was 'prepared' by God to rescue Jonah from certain death. The Hebrew word for 'prepared' is also translated numbered, appointed, set, or told. This great fish was not there by accident or by coincidence! The Lord had him precisely where he needed to be in order to fulfill the purpose of God for Jonah. Why would God do such a thing? Because He loved Jonah…He would rather have Jonah swallowed by a fish than to live in rebellion. That is pretty amazing isn't it? God would rather have us anywhere, than to have us in rebellion! Think of it … God pursues us and will do some amazing things in order to get our attention. It may mean taking that which we think is most important to us. Our family, our finances, our health, or our ministry… why? God would rather have us anywhere, than to have us in rebellion toward Him. For Jonah it was in the midst of a storm, and then in the belly of the great fish. Where will it be for us?
In chapter one we saw Jonah running away from God, but in this chapter we see him running back to God. In chapter one we saw the great patience of God, but in this chapter we see the great pardon of God. In chapter one everyone but Jonah was praying, but in this chapter the only one praying is Jonah.
I. Where He Prayed. v1
A. 'Out of the fish's belly'
1. Three days and three nights.
2. Why did it take him so long to pray?
3. One word…rebellion!
4. You see Jonah had plenty of other opportunities to pray, but wouldn't.
5. Folks who are running from God don't want to pray!
6. Christians make many important decisions without a moment spent in prayer.
B. We can pray anywhere, and God will hear us.
1. Some prayers have been said in some strange surroundings.
2. I read of the young woman who prayed in the elevator moments before the trade tower came crashing down.
3. I, personally, have prayed while lying on my back under a car.
4. Peter prayed as he began to sink below the surface of the water.
5. This has to be one of the strangest places of prayer...in the belly of the fish.
6. But, God always hears our prayer of repentance.
II. Why He Prayed. v2
A. Because of affliction.
1. Finally Jonah got it!
2. After all of this time, he finally recognized the need to pray.
3. God had sent the storm, the sailors, and now the fish…
B. 'Out of the belly of hell'
1. This phrase doesn't mean that Jonah died and went to hell.
2. It means that he realized that he was at death's door.
3. Then he cried out to God.
4. Previously, Jonah chose death over repentance, but what he experienced changed his thinking.
5. Now he was ready to cry out to God.
III. When He Prayed. v7-9
A. 'When my soul fainted within me…'
1. Again, a reference to being at death's door.
2. He had reached the end of the line.
3. No more running…there wasn't anywhere for him to go.
4. No more rebellion…like the prodigal son, he had gone as low as he could.
5. There was nowhere to go but back to God.
B. Then he '…remembered the Lord…'
1. Jonah's life portrays for us the formula for backsliding.
a. Rebel against the Word of God.
b. Rebel against the leading of God.
c. Rebel against the will of God.
2. But we also see the formula for repentance. v9
a. He saw that he had brought it all upon himself.
(Jonah 2:8) They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.
b. He was willing to acknowledge his sin before God and commit himself anew.
c. I will sacrifice…
d. I will pay…
e. Salvation is of the Lord
(1 John 1:9) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
As a result of Jonah's long awaited confession and repentance, God instructed the fish to dump him out on dry land. Jonah was set free from the bondage of the fish; but he was not free to do as he chose…he was set free to serve and obey God. What if…?
Think tonight about this. What if God had not gone after Jonah? Where would he have been? He would have arrived in Tarshish with no job, no family, no friends, and no real purpose for his life. He would have probably gotten a lame job (like scraping barnacles off the ships) and lived his life in bitterness and rebellion toward God. If you could have talked with him what would he have said? Oh yeah, I used to be a prophet of God, but that was just a phase…now I am doing what I really want to do!
Folks there are plenty of Christians who have gone on to Tarshish …they have run from God and are still running. Jerry Qualls was called to preach when he was 18 years old; he finally stopped running when he was nearly 40. Ben Harrison ran off and joined the Navy. Are you running from God tonight? Are you in rebellion or in obedience?