Clear Thinking from Inside a Fish—Jonah 2:8
Often I see the truth most clearly when my situation is most dire. When God sends a life crisis my way, it helps me see what matters to him and how I need to change. The same may be true for you, though I suspect we’d all rather avoid the crisis and learn from someone else’s trauma—like that of the prophet Jonah.
Jonah famously had a life crisis in the form of a most unpleasant encounter with a large fish. The story goes like this: God called Jonah to preach to the enemy city of Nineveh. Jonah, wanting no part in helping the Ninevites to repent and be spared from destruction, tried to escape God’s call by taking a ship in the opposite direction. God sent a storm that led to Jonah being thrown overboard, and then he arranged for the fish to swallow him. God kept Jonah alive in the fish for three days before the prophet was spit up on shore.
Jonah went to Nineveh after that, and his preaching there was effective. But the book of Jonah is more about what Jonah learns in the process than about what he preached. There’s very little preaching in it at all. One spot that comes closest is when Jonah prays from inside the fish for God to save him. That must have been a time of clarity. Jonah comes up with a proverb that finally makes him sound like a prophet of God: “Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all God’s mercies” (Jonah 2:8, NLT).
Wow! There’s a lot of insight in that little line.
Worshiping false gods
First, Jonah speaks about those who worship false gods. He should know. Even while operating on the surface as a prophet of the true God, he’s been serving other gods in his heart.
Jonah’s unwillingness to preach to people who were his nation’s enemies shows that he put his country before God. He may also have put his reputation, his safety, and his comfort before God. Those things were his false gods—the real love of his life.
Anytime we resist godly behavior and choose what we like better, we reveal our heart’s actual god. Reputation, safety, and comfort are still top alternatives to God for us today. So are our nation, families, and other things that claim our allegiance.
Spurning all God’s mercies
Next, Jonah gives a striking explanation of what that false worship really means. It means that we’re “turning our backs on all God’s mercies.” All. That includes a ton of goodness, most of which we can’t even fully comprehend. God is so faithful to his children. As a Father, he loves us, forgives us, protects us, speaks to us, trains us, disciplines us, rescues us, heals us, comforts us, fights our enemies, and lives among us. And that’s just a start; that’s only what springs to the top of my mind.
Most of the time, we don’t mean to turns our backs on these things—especially when we consider our blessings in Jesus. His death and resurrection give us both forgiveness for any sin we commit and the power to fight sin and live like him. What amazing mercies! We want them, don’t we? We just want that reputation and comfort and other stuff, too. At the moment, we like those other things a little better.
Well, that’s turning our backs on all God’s mercies.
That false worship is easy to detect when life gets hard. It’s easy to wake up to our foolishness and turn to God again when our pursuit of comfort and worldly victories goes awry and these things fail us—when we’re in the fish.
I’d rather learn some other way, but God keeps arranging for fish in my life. I’m guessing that he does the same for you. Do you think, maybe, that’s one of his many mercies too?
This is the fifth in a series of articles about the shorter books of prophecy known as the Minor Prophets.
Jack Klumpenhower is a writer and children’s ministry worker living in Colorado.