Any child which finds its roots in a Christian home where the Bible is front and center in all things, can probably tell you the story of Jonah. I suppose most of us immediately think of Jonah and the time he spent in the belly of the big fish, but just like all the stories and events in the Old Testament, they have lessons to teach and truth to be believed, even for New Testament Christians. Let's look at the story a little closer.
"Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” 3 But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord." Jonah 1:1-3
Jonah was a prophet now commissioned by God to deliver a sermon to the residents of Nineveh, to let them know God had issues with them because of their wicked and sinful lives. Just how Jonah would accomplish this must have weighed heavy on his mind. Put yourself in his shoes. Suppose God told you to go into a city and start proclaiming to its residents, that they were sinners and viewed through the eyes of God as being totally wicked. Jonah was no dummy. He knew a message like that from someone unknown to the people of Nineveh would probably lead to his demise. So he decided to do what we would probably do. Go the opposite direction, away from Nineveh, in an attempt to hide from God.
Jonah paid the fare for a trip on a boat headed for Tarshish. Perhaps he could attempt to justify his decision by assuming he was saving his own life. Like us in our unfaithfulness to God, Jonah could feel safe if he just convinced himself he was doing the right thing.
The verses that follow our text tell the story of Jonah running from God and the subsequent wind and storm that came up, the fear of the sailors, and how each one of them was crying out to their own gods for safety. All the cargo was tossed overboard to lighten the load. During all of this, Jonah found a comfortable place below the deck and went to sleep. Ultimately lots were cast to determine who was responsible for the impending calamity. The lot fell on Jonah. This led to their questioning about Jonah, who he was, where he was from, who were his people?
When Jonah revealed to them he was a Hebrew, and a follower of the Lord, the crew was terrified, because Jonah had already told them he was running from God. Jonah then made the suggestion for them to toss him into the sea because he knew all this was happening because of him. They tried rowing back to shore, but the waves were too great. They then prayed for forgiveness for what they were about to do, and they threw Jonah overboard. Verse 17 says, "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."
I don't know about Jonah's immediate reaction, but mine would have been, "It Stinks." Fish smell bad enough on the outside, but I can only imagine how bad they smell on the inside. And that teaches me, if I choose to run from God, and go in a direction opposite from the one he has chosen for me, I can expect to know I am in the wrong place and living the wrong way because, "It Stinks." Do a little spiritual "sniffing" in your life. Learn the love of God as he directs your steps.