Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Power of God, verse 7

Praise the LORD! How blessed is the man who fears the LORD, Who greatly delights in His commandments. Psalm 112:1

In our story today, the power of God is on display in a way probably none of us could ever imagine if it weren't written down for us in the Bible. Most of us have heard this story time and time again as we grew up in Sunday School, and I think it has a special appeal to children because of the drama of it all - a big fish swallows a man! But even for adults, there's a lot to learn from this story of a man who didn't obey God and instead did what he wanted to do. Let's take a closer look at Jonah.

Jonah was a prophet from a land near Nazareth. As our story opens, God tells Jonah to go to Ninevah. He wants Jonah to tell the Ninevites about His coming judgment because the people are evil and engaged in wicked practices.

But Jonah had another idea. Instead of obeying God, he did what he wanted to do.

But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish. Jonah 1:3

When I read this now, it's almost comical! Jonah was hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to the southern part of Spain, near Gibraltar. Escape from the Lord? We know what the Bible tells us about that...

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,” even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You. Psalm 139:7-12

Well, the Lord knew exactly where Jonah was, and He reminded Jonah who was in charge. He sent a big storm, and violent winds, so that the ship that Jonah got on, headed to Tarshish, was in danger of breaking apart. The men who were on the ship were frantic; they were crying out, each to his own god, and they were even throwing the cargo over the side to lighten the load. And where was Jonah in all of this? He was down in the ship's hold, taking a nap.

The captain thought Jonah should be awakened so he could call on his god. (Obviously the other tactics have not worked!)

So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.” Jonah 1:6

The sailors had an idea of how to assign blame - they would cast lots to find out whose fault this was. Well they did, and Jonah lost.

Then they said to him, “Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” He said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.” Jonah 1:8-9

I don't know about you, but I'm sort of surprised at Jonah's honesty to the sailors. He says he fears the Lord God of heaven but yet he didn't obey Him and go to Ninevah. The sailors now know exactly why their ship is in peril and they are furious!

Then the men became extremely frightened and they said to him, “How could you do this?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. Jonah 1:10

Even though these men weren't followers of the Lord, they had a healthy appreciation for Him - they knew His power because they had experienced it out there on the sea! Now they needed to know how to please God so that the storm would stop and they would be safe.

So they said to him, “What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?”—for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy. He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you.” Jonah 1:11-12

Well, the sailors didn't like that idea so they tried to fix it themselves by rowing back to land. But the sea became even stormier. So they cried out to God, and then threw Jonah overboard.

Then they called on the LORD and said, “We earnestly pray, O LORD, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood on us; for You, O LORD, have done as You have pleased.” So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. Jonah 1:14-15

The sea stopped raging. Raging one minute, quiet the next. That is the power of God. The sailors knew that it was nothing but the power of God, and they were awestruck by it. They offered the Lord a sacrifice and vowed to serve Him only.

And what happened to Jonah, who they threw overboard?

And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.
Jonah 1:17

The Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah! His power continues to be on display. God kept Jonah inside that fish for three days and three nights. For me, it's extremely hard to imagine what that would be like - besides the tossing around in the sea as the animal moves, there's the disgust of being inside a fish's stomach! Eww! But God used this experience to move Jonah and to teach him. And it worked. Jonah cried out to God from the belly of the fish, and prayed:

“I called out of my distress to the LORD, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice. For You had cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the current engulfed me. All Your breakers and billows passed over me. So I said, ‘I have been expelled from Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, weeds were wrapped around my head. I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever, but You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. While I was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to You, into Your holy temple. Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness, but I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD.” Jonah 2:2-9

We see that Jonah is truly repentant, and God heard him. God's power is on display again: He commands the fish, and it vomits Jonah up onto the dry land. (Don't even get me started about what that would be like...)

Jonah's back on dry land, and the Lord tells him again to go to Ninevah. This time Jonah listens, and starts walking. He gets to Ninevah and starts preaching in the streets that God will destroy them in 40 days if they don't repent.

The people believed Jonah, and responded.

Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them.
Jonah 3:5

Even the king repented, and called his people to repentance.

When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. He issued a proclamation and it said, “In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.” Jonah 3:6-9

God's power is on display again; He turned he heart of the king and brought Him to repentance.

The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes. Proverbs 21:1

God was pleased with the people of Ninevah for their repentance. So He did not destroy them as He said He would.

When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. Jonah 3:10

God saved the people, because they listened to Jonah and turned away from their wickedness. But He wasn't done with Jonah. Jonah still had some learning to do about God and His power.

The Ninevites were Israel's enemy, and Jonah was not pleased that God spared their lives. These were wicked people, and Jonah was angry - he even told God, "I knew this would happen!"

He prayed to the LORD and said, “Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.” Jonah 4:2-3

Jonah was angry because as a prophet, he had predicted Ninevah's destruction, and told them so. God called the people to Himself, and spared them, so Jonah has a pity party. God still has something to teach Jonah.

Jonah went to the outskirts of the city to watch what would happen. He built a little shelter but it was still very hot. So God made a plant to instantly grow up out of the ground and provide shade and comfort for Jonah. (Power!) The Bible tells us that Jonah was happy about the plant. And here comes God's power to teach Jonah about God's lovingkindness...

But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered. When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.” Jonah 4:7-8

God uses this opportunity to show Jonah what he's missing.

Then God said to Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.” Then the LORD said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” Jonah 4:9-11

God used this plant as an object lesson for Jonah. Jonah didn't put the plant there, yet he feels sorry for it and has compassion for it. God, the creator of heaven and earth, and the creator of the people of Ninevah, sees a great city living in spiritual darkness. He has compassion on them and sends them a prophet to call them to repentance.

The story ends right there, so we don't know Jonah's response! What we do know is that God's power was manifest in Jonah and in the people of Ninevah. We learn that there are consequences for our disobedience. You and I probably won't be swallowed by a fish when we disobey, but God uses other things in our life to show us our error, so that we will call out with Jonah, "Salvation is from the Lord!"

The Power of God
Words by Frederick A. Graves

When Abraham and Sarah had been promised a son,
They were surprised and knew not what to say;
But they knew what God had promised He was able to perform:
And the power of God is just the same today.

The pow’r of God is just the same today,
It doesn’t matter what the people say;
Whatever God has promised
He’s able to perform:
And the power of God is just the same today.

When Moses wanted water to quench the people’s thirst,
He knew that God would then provide a way;
Although his rod was useful he had the power first:
And the power of God is just the same today.

When Moses made a serpent and placed it on a pole,
The bitten ones were told to look that way,
And then while they were looking Jehovah-rophi made them whole:
And the power of God is just the same today.

When Joshua was commander, he spoke—the sun stood still,
The moon its onward course was made to stay;
Thus he won a mighty battle, for he did his Father’s will:
And the power of God is just the same today.

When Naaman, the leper, before Elisha stood,
He thought he knew just what the seer would say,
But he had to wash in Jordan, though he thought it wasn’t good:
And the power of God is just the same today.

When David met Goliath he meant to have a fight,
The leaders put the battle in array;
Of course he killed the giant, for he was in the right:
And the power of God is just the same today.

When Jonah went to Tarshish to flee away from God,
A mighty fish was waiting for its prey;
It quickly swallowed Jonah, then threw him on the sod:
And the power of God is just the same today.

When Malachi, the prophet, was preaching all abroad,
And cutting like sickle and the scythe;
The people were accursed, for they were robbing God,
They filled to bring the offering and the tithe.

Then came the blessed Savior, with power to cleanse and heal,
To bear my sin and sickness all away;
My burdens, too, He carries, and doth my sorrows feel:
And the power of God is just the same today.

Through Paul and Silas singing and praying in the jail,
For Paul and Silas knew the way to pray;
The prison doors were opened, for locks could not avail,
And the power of God is just the same today.

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