His dreams were filled with scenes from the past day and a half, especially the command from God to go to Nineveh.
Who did God think he was? Some sort of prophet?
He wasn’t going to stand for it.
He didn’t want to go.
So he left early in the morning, found a large vessel bound for Tarshish. Secretly, he was proud of himself. He’d dodged a bullet. He didn’t think it would be so easy to outrun God, but so far everything was going nicely, except for the uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. But that was unimportant. (Maybe it was seasickness?)
They had been sailing for several hours when a violent shaking brought him out of his deep sleep, and he opened his eyes to see the captain with a terrified look in his eyes.
“Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”
Suddenly, he was wide awake (and terrified). Could this be his punishment for running from God? The ship rocked and pitched from side to side. The sailors had already thrown most of the cargo overboard, but their desperation was growing. They cast lots, and the lot fell on him.
“Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.”
No one spoke for a minute, but as the ship creaked and groaned, a decision was quickly made. Three men grabbed hold of his body, hurling him into the dark swirling waters, and suddenly, the wind died away.
The water was icy and dark. Suddenly, there was a rush and a horrible struggling, sucking, and swirling. Water went up his nose and into his mouth and made his eyes burn. When his head came up again, after what seemed like an eternity, the smell of dead and rotting flesh and digestive acids filled his nostrils, and the darkness was thick.
The next three days and nights were spent in that horrible place, and finally, on the fourth morning, he heard a rumbling. In a confusing and slimy mass of rushing water and seaweed, he was spit up onto the beach, covered in the last few meals of the fish who had swallowed him. But he didn’t care. He was going to Nineveh.*
Three Lessons About Surrender
You’ve probably guessed who the man was, since besides Jonah, there isn’t any other story in the Bible about a man eaten by a fish and then vomited out three days later.
Jonah was a follower of God. It seems that Jonah had a relationship with God, and he was mostly committed, except for that one little area he was holding on to. How could he be expected to just drop everything and leave his home? And go to the most heathen place of all? No, surely God wouldn’t expect that. That’s not even logical.
But God did ask and Jonah disobeyed, landing him in a heap of trouble and regret.
Is there an area of your life that you’re holding on to? In my life, I struggle with giving God my choices in books and music. You know, when you get halfway through a book and it takes an inappropriate turn? And you know, deep down, you should turn your attention to something else?
I don’t often have the discipline and obedience to set the book aside instead of finishing it. It’s a daily choice, even for something as simple as a song or as big as an unhealthy relationship. Since surrender is tough for all of us, let’s look at three things we can learn about surrender from our friend Jonah.
1. Pay attention to your need to justify.
“Well, it’s fine because . . .” Ever start a sentence in your head like that? Me, too!
My guess is that Jonah had to talk himself into disobedience. Someone had to convince him that running from God was a-okay, and it certainly wasn’t God. When we feel the need to justify our actions or choices to ourselves, it’s often a sign that we shouldn’t be doing/listening to/watching/going to this. “It’s fine because I don’t do it all the time,” or “It’s okay because she watched it, and she’s fine.” Pay attention to that red flag!
2. You can’t outrun God.
But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD (Jonah 1:3).
Jonah literally did the opposite of what God asked, but he could not outrun the sovereign hand of God.
Though God’s command was to go to Nineveh, Jonah went to Tarshish. If you’re not familiar with an ancient Middle Eastern map, Google it. Tarshish is the exact opposite direction from Nineveh. Jonah literally did the opposite of what God asked, but he could not outrun the sovereign hand of God.
Check out these powerful words from Jeremiah 23:24:
“Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I do not see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.”
3. Don’t go the hard way.
Our way never ends up being as good as Jesus’ way for us.
Jonah ended up going to Nineveh in the end, but it took him a lot longer, and there was a lot more fish slime involved than if he would have just obeyed the first time. Let’s surrender to God in every single area of our hearts. Our way never ends up being as good as Jesus’ way for us.
So what areas of your life do you need to surrender? What are some things you learn from Jonah’s story? I’d love to hear in the comments!
*The Bible’s account of Jonah’s story is very factual, leaving room for the imagination to describe and assume how Jonah was feeling/what he was thinking. The biblical account can be found in the book of Jonah.