In the belly of the fish!
Meanwhile, Jonah was sinking down into the cold, black waters.
But Jonah couldn’t get away from God THAT easy! Even down in the deep, dark sea, God was with him.
And so God sent Jonah a fish - not a fish sandwich for lunch, but a big fish - and Jonah was the lunch.
The fish swallowed Jonah with one big gulp.
Instead of Jonah catching the fish, the fish caught Jonah. God seems to have a different idea of fishing than we do!
For three days Jonah sat in the dark, wet, smelly belly of that fish. But he was alive! And so Jonah prayed;
“When I was in trouble, I called to My Lord and he heard my prayer.
Even from the belly of a fish, in the deep, dark sea, God could hear my voice! The water swallowed me up, sea weeds wrapped around my legs.
And then I remembered my God.
I called out to him, and in his holy temple he heard the sound of my cry!
My God saved me!
And so I will give him an offering of thanks. I have made my vow, and I will pay it!
For our God saves!”
Then God whispered to the fish, and the fish spit Jonah out onto dry land.
That fish was probably glad to get rid of bony old Jonah, making all that noise in his belly.
Jonah spent three days in the belly of a fish, and stepped out alive again - just like Jesus would spend three days in the belly of the earth, and step out alive. How great and powerful God is!
Then God said to Jonah, “Okay, Jonah, get thee up! Now go to Ninevah!”
This time Jonah went the right way.
Ninevah was a big city. It took three whole days to walk all the way from one side to the other. It had walls all around a hundred feet tall, and so wide three chariots could ride, side by side.
THAT is a big city!
Jonah walked into the center of the city and he shouted out, “In 40 days God is going to destroy this city you think is so great!”
Now, that’s not the kind of thing most people want to hear. And Jonah must have thought that no one would pay much attention to him.
But Jonah was in for a surprise.
The people of Ninevah listened to Jonah. The evil there must have been so bad, that everyone knew they couldn’t go on like that. They needed someone to show them the way out. And Jonah showed it to them. They could turn to their loving God.
And so, from the greatest to the least, they got rid of all their evil things (just like the sailors threw overboard the things that were making them sink when they were in trouble) - and they begged God for his forgiveness. When the king heard the news of this, he didn’t get angry as you might have expected.
Instead, he tore off his royal robe, and put on an old robe made of the cheap, scratchy stuff they made sacks out of. He took off the robe of a king, and put on the robe of a beggar, to show he understood that God is the real king, and compared to God, he was nothing but a poor beggar.
And then the King made a decree. There would be a fast. No one was to eat or drink, not even the animals of their herds. Everyone was to put on sackcloth, and cover themselves with ashes, to show how dirty they must be in the sight of God.
“Let us call out to God!” The King decreed. “Let us all stop the evil things we have been doing. Let us stop hurting each other, and maybe God will have mercy on us. Maybe he will forgive us, and not destroy our city like we deserve.”
When God saw that they really were turning from the evil way they were living - and that they weren’t just saying it - he had mercy on them.
God decided he would not destroy the city after all.
God saved their lives!
When God first called Jonah, Jonah did the exact opposite of what God asked him to do. But God didn't give up on him. God used him to accomplish his plan. It was just a little more painful than it had to be!
But now, Jonah was mad.
These people did mean, rotten and nasty things. They were famous for it! They didn’t follow God, and still they had everything they wanted. It wasn’t fair!
“How come they should get off so easy!” Jonah grumbled to himself. Secretly he had been looking forward to watching God really punish them good.
Now God was giving them a second chance.
“I knew this would happen,“ Jonah said to God. “I knew you would let them off the hook!”
I guess Jonah forgot just WHO got let off the hook in the first place.
“I knew it!” Jonah said to God. “I knew that you are full of everlasting love, and that you are always ready to forgive and to hold back from punishing.”
So Jonah walked to the edge of the city and sat down to pout. Maybe the city would go up in a ball of fire anyway. That is what he was hoping to see.
Now, the sun was burning down on Jonah. Sweat was rolling down his face and stinging his eyes.
So God made a bush grow up next to where Jonah was pouting, to shade him from the sun.
Jonah was thankful for the bush and the comfort of the shade.
But the next morning, God sent a worm to eat the roots of the bush. The bush withered and died. When the sun came up, God sent a scorching eastern wind, heated by the desert. The sun beat down on Jonah’s head until Jonah nearly fainted.
Jonah cried out to God (well, whined, more likely!) “Why don’t you just take my life now, and save me from this misery!”
Poor Jonah. He was having such a rough time!
“Jonah, Jonah, Jonah!" God said to him. "Do you think I have stopped loving and caring for you? I could never do that!
“You are so upset because I let a little bush die - but you want me to destroy the whole city of Ninevah! Aren’t all these people worth far, far more than a little weed?
“Didn’t I forgive you, even though you tried to run away from me? I love you so much!
“Even though these people didn’t know me, and they sinned against me, I love them as much as I love you."
And then at last, Jonah understood that God truly is slow to anger, and always willing to forgive us when we turn to him.
Now he knew that our wonderful God truly is tenderhearted and forgiving, and overflowing with a love for us that will never end.