Jonah - Part 1

Scripture: Jonah 1:, Jonah 2:, Matthew 12:39
The story of Jonah being swallowed by a whale and living has been pointed to by skeptics of the Bible as proof that the Scriptures are not reliable and full of fairy tales. This broadcast explores the story and its spiritual message.
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Our subject today revolves around that old-time Bible story of Jonah and the whale. The book of Jonah is very short, containing only four chapters and 48 verses. Yet skeptics, critics, agnostics, infidels, and even some professed Christians have had more trouble over this one little book than all the other books in the Bible put together. It seems that two verses cause the trouble. If these particular verses could be cut out, no one would quibble. One is the last verse in chapter one, and the other is the last verse of chapter two. The last verse of chapter one tells about Jonah being swallowed by a great fish or whale, and the last verse of chapter two tells that the fish got rid of him by depositing him on the shore.

Now just as soon as the book of Jonah is mentioned, a great many people will say, "Oh, it's absolutely impossible for that story to be true." They have two reasons for feeling that way, friends. The first is that scientists have said time and again that whales have very little throats and that it is impossible for a whale to swallow anything as big as a human being. The second reason is that even if a big fish could swallow a man, he wouldn't live very long. It is ridiculous, they say, to believe that a man could survive for three days and three nights inside a whale. Well, in spite of what one thinks, it is on the record again and again, even outside the Bible, that men have been swallowed by whales and did live. They were taken out of the stomach of a whale and did survive. I've heard preachers mention this fact and go into great length showing how it happened here and there. I know it's true because I've seen the certified records myself.

But I'm not going into that, you can look it up for yourself if you care to, it's well documented. I don't think it's necessary because of one verse in Jonah. Jonah 1:17, this is what it says: "Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah." Friends, it doesn't make a particle of difference whether or not a whale today could swallow a man. I believe it can because it has been proven. But it doesn't make a bit of difference because God prepared a special fish for this occasion. I don't know if He prepared one that was already swimming around out there by remodeling it a bit, or whether He actually created a new fish for the purpose, but the Bible says it happened, and I believe it. Jonah was actually swallowed by that fish.

Many years ago Sam Jones, a very famous preacher and evangelist down south, said concerning the story of Jonah, ‘'I believe the story of Jonah word for word. God said a whale swallowed Jonah and I believe it. And if God said Jonah swallowed a whale I would believe that.'' Then he went on to say, "I believe that if God wanted Jonah to swallow a whale he could take off his belt and swallow a whale." Well, he had a very picturesque way of saying things, but you know, friends, he's right. If God said a whale swallowed Jonah, that settles it. You can put it down, He did prepare a special fish and that fish did swallow the prophet.

There's something else I want to mention here. Did you know that you can't be a Christian unless you believe this story about Jonah and the whale? That's a fact. I've heard a great many people who profess Christianity deny that the book of Jonah is true, but it's impossible for a person to be a true Christian and a true follower of Christ and not believe the book of Jonah. Well, you ask, what makes you say that? Let's read Matthew 12:39 and notice that Jesus Himself is speaking here and He's speaking about Jonah. "An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas; For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it; because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here." God said He prepared a special fish and that the fish swallowed Jonah. Then in the New Testament Christ said the story was true. So, friends, there is absolutely no room for doubt. A Christian must believe this story or else admit that he doesn't believe the testimony of Christ. That would make him unchristian, wouldn't it?

The book of Jonah is a very important book, for it contains far more than the story of the first submarine ride. It is that, of course, but there are other strong lessons for all of us in this book. One of the most solemn lessons of all the Bible is right here in the story of Jonah and the great fish.

Jonah was a preacher, and he must have been an outstanding preacher judging by the results we're going to talk about in just a moment. One day the Lord said to Jonah, "You are acquainted with the city of Nineveh and how it is so wicked and abominable. I am going to destroy it. I'm going to give those people just forty days warning and then I will destroy them and their city. I want you to go there and tell them this message and give them the warning." Well, Jonah began to think about that assignment. He probably had done evangelistic work in other places and had prophesied here and there, but Nineveh, Oh, no, not Nineveh. Anywhere but Nineveh!

You see, it was a very old city. In fact, it was built way back in the time of the Tower of Babel. In this old-time city the people were very set in their ways, and it was a really big city. The scriptures teach that it was a city of three days journey, Most commentators believe that this meant it would take three days to journey through the city on foot. In Nahum 3:1 the Bible declares it was a bloody city, full of lies and robbery. So there it stood, a great metropolis with no one good living in it. All the people were wicked. They had no church. And this one man was commissioned to go over and tell them, "You are so wicked that in forty days God is going to destroy this city."

Jonah must have thought, "My, that's an awful big job, and would surely take a lot of faith. I don't think I would have enough faith to do that. Besides, what might they do to me? Why, they might tar and feather me, or even worse, they might tear me limb from limb. Even if I escaped, I'd be the laughing stock of the whole world." The more he thought about it the more fanatical and unreasonable it seemed. Then just as most of us would probably have done, he decided not to do it. He would run away from it, but where to? He remembered the city of Tarshish, which was located just as far away as possible in the other direction. That's where I'll go, he decided. The Bible says he went down to Joppa, a little seacoast town, and bought a ticket. Then he went down to the ship and down into the sides of the ship and went to sleep.

When you read this little book (and I hope you will), it will take you only a few minutes. I want you to notice the word "down." It is used over and over again. Jonah went down, down, down. Down to discouragement, down to Joppa, down to the ship, down in the sides of the ship, down into sleep, down into unbelief, down into lack of faith, down in everything; he was at the bottom because he was running away from God. That's how sin works, friends. It always leads us on a downward path to destruction. Are you running away from God over something? It's pretty hard to stop after you get started. It's like a big snowball that starts rolling at the top of a hill; you better stop it quick, or it goes down, down, down, and becomes bigger and faster and harder to cope with.

Well, Jonah was down. He was in a very sorry way because of running away from God. So he went to sleep and after a while the ship set sail. The crew manning the ship were not Christians, they were a pagan crew. As they got out to sea, a great storm swept down upon them. The little ship began to toss and turn and twist like a little chip of wood being tossed hither and yon. As the boat creaked under the strain, they began to throw things overboard to lighten up the load. The storm got worse and worse until they thought there was no hope. Then those heathen men began to pray to their gods. They cried out to them, "If you can do anything for us, save us now!"

Where was Jonah all this time? He was down in the hold of the ship sleeping. I've thought about that many times. How like many Christians today, when the world is going down to certain destruction they are asleep when they ought to be praying, weeping, and working with all their soul and might. That was Jonah's trouble, he was down there asleep. Finally the captain of the ship went down into the hold for some reason and saw this man lying there asleep. He went over, yanked him up, and said, "What ails you man? How can you sleep in a storm like this? We're going to sink! If you have a god, pray to him and maybe he can save us.'' Jonah leaped up. I think we ought to pause right here to realize what a tragedy it was that a preacher of God had to be told to pray by a heathen man. I want to tell you something. There is nothing worse than a sleeping Christian. A worldling is ahead of a sleeping Christian. Put that down. So ask yourself right now, "Am I a sleeping Christian?" About the worst condition in the world to which a Christian can come is to know the Bible and its message concerning the future and to be sleeping and failing God in the hour of crisis.

Well, the tempest kept raging after Jonah got up. He knew he couldn't pray. He was running away from God. How could he say, "Lord help me?" He didn't want to go back to Nineveh, so he just didn't say a word. He probably tried to look concerned, and I'm sure he was concerned when he saw those waves; but he wasn't going to pray just the same. He didn't tell the men what the situation was, and the storm got worse and worse. Finally the sailors said, "This is the worst weather we've ever been in. Surely the gods are angry and there must be a reason. Somebody has offended the gods." You can read in the Bible story how they cast lots to find the guilty fellow. "And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah." Then they asked him what he was doing there, and he had to explain what it was all about. He confessed, "I'm running away from my God and I serve the God who made the sea and the wind, the clouds and the sky.''

Those heathen sailors really didn't want to throw Jonah overboard. They tried their best to save him. They kept rowing with all their strength, they threw overboard everything that could go; but finally as conditions worsened they admitted they would have to do it. It was the only way to save themselves and the ship. Finally, they cried out in desperation, "Lord, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not upon us innocent blood; for thou, 0 Lord, hast done as it pleased thee.'' I can just picture three or four sailors swinging him back and forth a few times then out over the rail. As Jonah went down into the water, the storm ceased. And here we must leave the story for today. Tomorrow we'll continue to examine the lessons recorded for us in this strange Bible story.

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