Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish. He said:
“I called to the Lord out of my distress, and He answered me. Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice. You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas,and the flood surrounded me. All Your billows and Your waves passed over me. Then I said, ‘I am cast away from Your sight; yet I will look again to Your holy temple.’”
The waters encompassed me; even to my soul the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head. I went down to the foundations of the mountains; the earth with its bars was around me forever; yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.
“When my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to You, into Your holy temple. Those who follow vain idols forsake their true loyalty. But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord!”
Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon dry land.
~Jonah 2, MEV
Continuing our series called ‘New Every Morning,’ we are going to look at the lament of Jonah. Last week we compared complaint to lament and concluded that the major qualifying difference is the presence of hope. I want to remind you that to lament is to take your struggles to God, to the only one who can fix it, to the one who has promised you mercy ‘new every morning.’
When I was a kid I loved bicycling. My parents got me a BMX bike in the 1st or 2nd grade and I rode it for years. When I was old enough to go out on bike rides with my friends, I decided I wanted a mountain bike. It took me a couple of months of saving and some help from my parents along with Wal Mart’s layaway program, and I was able to get on some new wheels and go out with my friends riding all over town.
I really loved that bike. I remember riding it to school in 8th grade with my trumpet case bungeed to the handlebars. I remember riding through the desert with friends. I remember pushing it through the desert for miles with flat tires. Thank you goat-heads! I rode that bike everywhere.
And the more I rode, the better I got at it. It was a good thing I had some friends who were good at riding though because a few of my friends really couldn’t keep up. You see, they didn’t ride as much…They didn’t like it as much…They just didn’t care as much.
Now, I’ve never competed as a bicyclist, but I’ve had enough experience riding that I feel like I know a few things about it. Much like other competitive sports, rule number one is …
NOT MOVING FORWARD IS MOVING BACKWARDS
Actually, as I think about it, the saying, ‘It’s like riding a bike’ is a bit misleading. That saying presumes that once you know how to ride a bike, you’ll never forget. You’ll always be good at it. You’re done. You’ve accomplished bike riding. But that’s not exactly true.
If you stop riding a bike for a few months and come back to it, sure, you’ll still be able to ride it, but you will probably find that you have lost much of your stamina: you won’t be as fast, you can’t ride as long of a distance or for as long of a time, your reflexes aren’t as sharp, and maybe you run into stuff.
Your lack of progress means that you actually digress. You’ll find that since you weren’t moving forward, you actually took a few steps backward.
Just like riding a bike, pretty much everything in your life will digress if you become complacent about it. If you stop being intentional about moving forward, you will inadvertently move backward. Complacency results in digression.
The scientific term for this phenomenon is ‘entropy.’ Entropy is ‘the inevitable tendency of every system in the universe to gradually decline into disorder.’
Human life does this. Life is created in the womb. It grows and changes and inevitably dies. No one escapes this pattern.
We see entropy in the business world. This isn’t true for every business, but businesses are launched every day. They grow and change and they begin to achieve success, but when their resources are tapped out and the investors can’t give any more money, they often begin to die.
Astronomers tell us that the entire universe is doing this. The universe is expanding from a center point and the further the universe expands, the more unstable it becomes. The more the universe expands, the closer it gets to death.
You see, everything created works this way.
Even your own life works this way.
You have no doubt seen entropy in relationships. If you are not intentional about loving your spouse, or if you become disinterested or apathetic about the things that your spouse is interested in, it causes tension in your marriage. The same thing happens with kids.
Have you ever been in an argument with a family member or a good friend and they brought up all kinds of accusations against you that you weren’t even aware of? How did you get to that point?
This is how. It’s a lack of intentional moving forward in the relationship that results in its destruction. It’s relational entropy.
You have probably seen this in your own personal morality. If I ever allow myself to think that I have arrived at a state of moral or spiritual accomplishment, I am probably marching full force towards a gigantic stumbling block that will soon show me how little progress I have actually made.
It shouldn’t surprise us to see this in the Bible as well. Proverbs 24 (30-34) says,
I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles covered its surface, and the stone wall was broken down.
Then I saw, and considered it; I looked on it and received instruction: Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep.
So your poverty will come like a stalker, and your need as an armed man.
The author of this text records his experience at a vineyard. Everything is overgrown and the facilities are falling apart. He saw this and he received a teaching from it. What was the teaching?
If you’re going to be lazy, if you aren’t going to push forward, if you aren’t going to be intentional about growth, then things are going to come to ruin. It will fall apart.
And it’s a slippery slope. It starts with a little give here and a little give there…and it ends in ruin.
Entropy is everywhere.
We are in the story of Jonah today. Jonah made a decision not to move forward in the direction God pointed him and inadvertently took a huge step backwards.
Now, Jonah was a prophet who spoke on behalf of God to the people of Israel. Unlike most of God’s prophets who were persecuted by the Israelites, Jonah was favored by the Israelites. Jonah liked his job.
But one day, the Lord spoke to Jonah, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, the great city, and cry out against it, because their wickedness has come up before Me.”
Nineveh was the treasury city for the nation of Assyria and a very wicked people. They worshiped evil gods who demanded hateful things to be done in order to appease them. Because of this, the Israelites didn’t associate with Assyrians. In fact, they avoided the Assyrians at all costs and they certainly didn’t go to Nineveh for any reason.
So obviously, Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. He did not want to obey God because he knew that God wanted to be merciful to the Ninevites and Jonah did not like that.
So instead of starting out on the long journey to Nineveh, across the sandy desert, he set out in exactly the opposite direction. He went down to the seacoast. There he found a ship that was going to Spain—the furthest place he believed he could travel. He paid his fare and boarded the ship.
I think he really believed he was going to escape from God!
But Jonah could not escape God! Deep down in the belly of the ship Jonah fell fast asleep, wearied from the stressful decision he had made. The sailors loosened the ropes. The wind filled the sails, and the ship glided gracefully away from the harbor, out into the open sea.
But God, seeing that Jonah disobeyed Him, sent a great wind. The blue sky was cast over with black clouds. The winds began to howl and roar. Great waves tossed the ship about the seas. Water swept over the deck.
The sailors were terrified for their lives. They threw all the freight on the ship out into the sea, to make the ship lighter. Every one of them cried out to his own god, begging for help. But their gods were powerless against “the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
Jonah was still asleep while all of this was happening. The captain realized Jonah was missing and found him stupidly sleeping and paying no attention to the danger they were in. The captain shook him awake and said sharply to him, “What are you doing asleep? Get up, call to your god! Perhaps your god will consider us, so that we will not perish”
All this time the sailors began to think that someone must have done something to anger the gods. They said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots that we may know on whose account this disaster has come upon us.”
Casting lots is an ancient practice of determining something that humans otherwise wouldn’t know, for example, who was responsible for the storm. We don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s seemingly random, like throwing dice, and it’s only accurate if it is empowered by a spiritual force—either the Holy Spirit or another spirit. In this case, the lots fell to Jonah—and that’s what God wanted—so I assume the Holy Spirit was at work here.
The frightened men gathered around Jonah and said to him, “Tell us why this disaster has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And from what people are you?”
Jonah responded, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Jonah told him that he was a prophet who was running away from God.
As the storm grew stronger the terrified men insisted, “What shall we do so that the sea may quiet down for us?”
Jonah said, “Pick me up and toss me into the sea. Then the sea will quiet down for you. For I know that it is on my account this great storm has come.”
The sailors hated to do this. It sounded like murder to them. So, they ignored Jonah’s advice and rowed with all their might, trying to bring their ship back to shore. But it was no use. The storm got even worse.
The waves rose higher and higher, threatening to sweep all of them into the sea. The sailors cried to the Lord—not their own gods, but to the one true God—saying, ‘Please, LORD, do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not make us guilty for innocent blood, for You, LORD, have done as it pleased You.”
Then they picked up Jonah and tossed him into the sea. And the sea became calm and ceased from its raging.’
If you know the story, you may think that’s when God sends the great fish, but that’s not true. God lets Jonah get tossed about by the waves—God was going to let Jonah die because of his anger and bitterness towards God and his refusal to submit to his calling.
When Jonah cries out in lament from the belly of the great fish he tells us. Jonah knew that even in the most dire of circumstances…with God…
IT IS NEVER TOO LATE
Let’s see what happens (2-7)
I called to the LORD out of my distress, and He answered me. Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice. You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me. All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.
Jonah was under great distress when he was cast into the depths of the sea. The waters surrounded him. He wasn’t swimming on top of the water, he was sinking and the waves were crashing over his head pressing his body under the water.
He says, ‘Out of the belly of Sheol’ which means from beyond the grave. Jonah considered himself as good as dead. But even at that time, Jonah cried out to God. He says…
I am cast away from Your sight…The waters encompassed me; even to my soul. The deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head. I went down to the foundations of the mountains; the earth with its bars was around me forever;
For Jonah, being buried in the darkest recesses of the ocean, in the great depths where the mountains meet the sea floor, and being wrapped in a coffin of seaweed, meant that God had cast him far away from his sight. It would cost him his very life.
He says ‘the waters encompassed me, even to my soul.’ This is not just a physical death to Jonah, but a death that penetrates beyond the confines of the physical world, a death that delves deep into the consciousness of a man, effecting his eternal soul. Jonah believed his disobedience had eternal implications—that he was cast away from the Lord not just for then, but for eternity. So he laments…
When my life was ebbing away, I remembered the LORD; and my prayer came to You, into Your holy temple.
He remembered! He remembered that being with God for eternity is far more important than any pain or persecution he might receive in Nineveh. He knew that even if they tortured and killed him, there would be life and joy and peace eternally with the Lord.
So even in the midst of his lament he proclaims, “I will look again to Your holy temple.”
It is upon the pondering of these powerful words, these words of belief, this expression of faith in the saving power of God…it is upon the pondering of these words that God sent the great fish to swallow him up. You see, the fish was not a punishment for Jonah; the fish was the great salvation of ‘the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.’
That’s why he utters from the belly of the fish these important words, ‘O LORD my God, You have brought up my life from the pit.’ He doesn’t wait until his feet hit dry land; he knew that the fish had already saved him.
You see; God is a God of second chances. With God, as long as you have breath, it is never too late to repent. The fact that you still have breath is because God gives New Mercies Every Morning, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. As long as you have breath, though you feel as though your life is ebbing away, I plead with you, if you believe that there is a God in heaven who has sent His son to rescue your soul from the depths, lament to God. Cry out to Him for rescue.
As you sit here now—you are older than you have ever been and you are closer to death than you have ever been—and every day is still an opportunity to follow. Will you run from God because of fear like Jonah did? Or will you have faith and follow like Jonah did when He cried out to God?
Speaking of Jonah…
…when we left Jonah in the story he was in the belly of the great fish. I think maybe the fish couldn’t digest Jonah and he got indigestion. So, nearing the shore the fish vomited Jonah up onto dry land. Actually, God had the fish vomit Jonah onto dry land.
I imagine Jonah returned home for a time of recovery, but it wasn’t long before God called upon Jonah again. He again told Jonah to go to Nineveh and proclaim a message. It was a short message. It was a simple message. It was a message, I think, Jonah very much enjoyed proclaiming to a people he hated so much.
The message was… “In forty days’ time, Nineveh will be overthrown!” Jonah would have loved to see Nineveh suffer for their wickedness.
Jonah spends three days proclaiming this message to all the people of Ninevah, even to the king in his palace. And an interesting thing happened. They recognized Jonah as a prophet of the one true God. And beginning to fear God, they repented of their sins and made vows to worship him. They figured, if they could make right with God, then maybe they would be forgiven and live.
That was exactly the opposite of what Jonah thought would happen, however, Jonah thought God might still make good on the promise to overthrow them. So, he set up camp outside the city on a hilltop where he had a good view and he waited. I imagine he thought about fire reigning down from heaven, or the ground opening up to swallow the whole city, or at the very least, maybe armies would come marching in to destroy everything and enslave the survivors.
But nothing happened.
Jonah waited and nothing happened. It started getting hot and Jonah was getting weary, and so he began to get very angry at God. He cried out to God, “Is this not what I said while I was still in my own land? This is the reason that I fled…because I KNEW that You are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in faithfulness, and ready to relent from punishment.”
Jonah confessed that the real reason he fled God’s direction in the first place was not because he was afraid of the Ninevites, but because he was afraid God would forgive them and let them live! That’s a special kind of hatred, if you ask me.
But, how many of us have been hurt, deeply wounded by others and would like nothing more than to see the destruction of those who hurt us? How many of you might be grieved if those people you never wanted to see again walked into church today, repented of their sins before your very eyes, claimed mercy and forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ, were baptized in water, received the Holy Spirit, and placed membership right here at Sonrise Church…How many of you, if that happened today, would be angry at God for delivering them?
Jonah was angry, so angry he wished death upon himself before God. But God challenged him, taught him, and counseled him to repent and to have mercy on the Ninevites.
And we have no idea if he did. We have no idea if Jonah relinquished his pride to God. We don’t know if he repented.
The story is left on a cliffhanger.
Now, I think the cliffhanger is there for a reason; it’s there to teach us something. The cliffhanger communicates that just like Jonah, you have a decision to make. Are you going to walk away from God like Jonah, or are you going to follow Christ today? And what about the next day? The cliffhanger communicates the need to…
HOPE AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN.
Maybe you walked away yesterday…well, ‘His mercies are new every morning.’ Today is a new day. How do you make the change you need? How do you stop moving backwards and start moving forwards?
Jonah gives us a starting point. At the end of his lament he says this (8):
Those who follow vain idols forsake their true loyalty.
When you refuse to move forward in your relationship with God and instead ‘do what’s right in your own eyes’ as a means of hope, you ‘forsake your true loyalty.’ We call this hypocrisy, when you say you follow Christ, but every day your life reflects more and more that you follow in the patterns of the world.
Paul says, (Romans 12.2a, NLT) “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” Being a Christian means a whole new way of thinking, one that’s different than the world, one that seeks satisfaction in Jesus Christ alone and no longer seeks to find satisfaction in the world.
Why? Because salvation doesn’t come from the world (9c); “Salvation is of the LORD!”
Do the vain idols of the world love you like God loves you? Can the things of this world that distract you from following Jesus Christ save you from sin? Salvation doesn’t come from them. Salvation comes from the Lord, Jesus Christ.
You may be thinking at this point that you aren’t sure how to do this. How do I focus on Christ and not on the world?
We are talking about giving up or sacrificing the things that distract us from worshipping God. So Jonah says (9a), “I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving.”
Jonah is literally saying he is going to make a ceremonial sacrifice as an act of repentance. The interesting thing about ceremonial sacrifices is that they are always a sacrifice of something people need and want. It’s a statement that, ‘even though I need or want this, I’m going to give it up for God and trust Him to provide everything.’ In other words, Jonah knew that things in life had distracted him and he needed to give them up to follow God.
What is in your life that distracts you from God? Is it entertainment, television, movies, electronics, games? Is it relationships? Is it self-righteousness, pride, laziness, people-pleasing, or wealth? Anything can become a vain idol if it distracts us from God. Whatever robs your focus from living every moment of every day for the glory of God…sacrifice it! Those things don’t save your eternal soul; only Jesus saves.
Finally, Jonah says (9b), “I will pay what I have vowed.”
Jonah vowed to give his whole life to the service of God and to be God’s prophet, God’s mouthpiece in the world. What have you vowed?
Paul says, “If you confess…Jesus as Lord…you will be saved.”
Do you confess that Jesus is Lord of your life? Are you making good on that vow? Are you serving him with your life? Are you obeying what he says? Are you worshiping him daily? Or do you worship on Sundays and obey periodically?
I’ll leave you with the words of Joshua, when he led the people of Israel into the land God had promised to them. He said, ‘Choose this day whom you will serve’ (Josh 24:15).
Every day is an opportunity to serve Christ or to serve something else. Choose this day whom you will serve.