“Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah 1:17, NKJV)
I enjoy children’s Bible stories—Jonah and the big fish, David and Goliath, Daniel in the lion’s den. There’s the drama of an exciting story and a simple lesson to be learned. (And maybe a few crayons with a coloring sheet too.) But those “children’s stories” are really adult stories with serious lessons to be learned. Would you like to take a walk through a story with me? Grab your Bible, some paper, and a pen (or do it digitally). We can jot some notes as we go.
I opened my Bible this morning to the Book of Jonah, a classic Bible story that almost every Sunday school child can recite. It’s only four chapters long, but numerous lessons are found within those few pages. Let’s look at a few of the lessons we can learn from Jonah’s experience.
- Lesson One: We can run from God, but we can’t hide.
When God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, to say he was reluctant is an understatement. We might have been reluctant too. Think of the most violent and evil group today, multiply that, and you might have a picture of the Assyrians. It was an extremely cruel and evil empire. So, when God told Jonah to go and warn them of God’s coming judgment, he ran—in the other direction. Jonah found a ship going to Tarshish and hid from God’s presence. Or so he thought. God knows where we are and how to get our attention.
- Lesson Two: Our decisions, whether good or bad, can affect others.
As the ship sailed toward Tarshish, a violent storm threatened to send them to the bottom of the sea. The crew began throwing the cargo overboard to lighten the load. Meanwhile, Jonah was below deck sound asleep. The captain of the ship woke him and told him to pray to his God for mercy. When the crew cast lots to find the guilty party bringing this calamity upon them, the lot fell on Jonah. Because Jonah decided to flee, the crew’s lives were in danger and the cargo was lost. When he confessed that he was running from the presence of the Lord, the terrified crew asked, “Why did you do it?” Good question.
- Lesson Three: Don’t wait until you are in trouble to pray.
Jonah told the crew to toss him into the sea so they could be saved. Reluctantly, they did. When a large fish swallowed the prophet, he began to pray. Had he earnestly prayed before making the wrong decision, none of this might have happened. However, God still heard his prayer.
- Lesson Four: Listen to God the first time.
When the fish vomited Jonah out, God came to him a second time and gave him the same mission. Go to Nineveh. This time he listened. How much easier everyone’s life would have been had Jonah listened the first time.
- Lesson Five: It’s all about mercy.
Jonah felt the Assyrians were too wicked and did not deserve God’s forgiveness. Did he not realize that he needed that same mercy in his own life? None of us have the right to decide someone is just too bad for the Lord to save them. Have you ignored reaching out to someone with the gospel because you thought they were beyond saving? Never! “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved)” (Ephesians 2:4-5, NKJV).
This little Bible study exercise shows the importance, and enjoyment, of digging into Bible stories. They contain rich truths that will help us in life.