Sunday, August 1, 2021

Lessons from Sunday School: A Whopper of a Fishing Story (Volume 1, Edition 3)

 Today my Bible reading was from Nahum 1, which was a warning to Ninevah.

Wait... a prophet preaching to Ninevah? 

We learned about that in Sunday School... but it wasn't a prophet named Nahum!

(Or at least I didn't remember it!)

Picture this: God wants you to do something that you don't want to do... so you run in the complete opposite direction.

Kind of sounds familiar to me... and that's just what Jonah, the prophet we may be more familiar with, does. 

Jonah knows Ninevah is evil, and he wants God's wrath to come on them, so he decided he'll hide from God and ignore his instructions. 

He hops on a boat and heads to Tarshish... which may mean "far away"... and thinks he is good to go. 

This isn't some Carnival Cruise, though, and we all know you can't hide from God, so sooner rather than later there's a storm that brews. 

If you've ever been at the ocean when a storm is brewing off the shorelines, you know the power of the wind and the waves... the angry tide crashing against the shoreline... 

even on a lake, which is normally relatively still, it doesn't take long for the wind to whip up a pretty strong current which can push a boat against the shoreline. 

So the winds are howling, the rain is pouring, and Jonah.... is snoring. 

Yes, that's right. He's sleeping as the boat is tossed to and fro. The captain comes to him and says, "Are you crazy? How can you sleep like that? We are looking at death! Get up and pray to whatever God you believe in!"

So Jonah gets up and goes above deck, where he joins in the casting of lots to determine whose fault it is that the storm has brewed. I'm reminded here about how so much of Biblical life is different. If it storms today, we don't automatically blame each other... we understand weather patterns. In fact, I can sometimes predict storms because the humidity triggers migraines... but in this case... we know it was God. 

And the lots prove that. Jonah explained that he was on the run from his responsibilities. Jonah tells them to throw him overboard, but the sailors value life too much, so they try to take things in their own hands and keep trying to row to shore. 

Does that remind anyone of anything in their own lives? Not us, grasping at the wheel, white-knuckled, just trying to keep it between the lines as all hell breaks lose around us. Nope, we've got it under control...

but the sailors soon become exhausted, so they realize they will have no choice but to throw Jonah overboard. Here's the part I never got from Sunday School. Even though they did not serve God, they prayed to Him that He wouldn't hold them accountable for being the means of death for Jonah. This tells me they respected the Hebrew God. 

So they threw Jonah overboard, and the sea became calm... the end. 


God wasn't done yet. He still needed Ninevah to hear a redemptive message, and for whatever reason, He wanted Jonah to be the one to preach it. Hear this, friend. It doesn't matter what you have done. How you have ran. God has a purpose for you. He has a plan for you. And He'll use whatever means it takes to get your attention and get you on the right road to where you are supposed to be. 

In Jonah's case, it was a gigantic fish. (Cue the Sunday School teacher with the flannel board with the gray whale bobbing in the blue sea). Swallowed Jonah right up... I wonder if it was in one gulp. 

And there he stayed for three days and three nights... that sounds familiar, too? Maybe some foreshadowing of death being defeated? 

So Jonah doesn't just lay there in the belly of the fish. He cries out to God. Can you even imagine? I'm pretty sure that, knowing my disposition, I'd be a little angry, even though I asked for it.  We can read  part of Jonah's prayer in Chapter 2, but 3 days is a long time to say just a few words. I'm thinking that there were some things Jonah had to say to God... and God had to say to Jonah... that we just don't need to know. 

At the end of the prayer, Jonah is praising God and recognizing his salvation. The fish spewed him out of his mouth onto dry land... and Jonah went on his merry way. Straight to Ninevah. Where he preached a fire and brimstone message, doom and gloom and destruction, so passionately that he convinced the king, who declared a fast and a time of repentance. God saw the city citizens turn their heart away from evil and decided not to destroy them. 

And then, chapter 4. My favorite part of the story that I never focused on when I was young, probably because my mind was trying to work around the whole logistics of living in the belly of a whale and also because a eight year old only pouts at their parents. 

Jonah gets mad. He sees the good God has done and it displeases him. "See! I knew you'd save them! That's why I didn't want to come here!" 

Not because he was afraid that when he was preaching a negative message that he'd be in danger. 

Nope, but because he KNEW God was good and KNEW Ninevah didn't deserve grace... but that grace is who God is. He was so mad he wished that he would die! 

So he went and sat and pouted, just as I probably would, because our flesh likes the thought of karma and people getting what they deserve until it is us that deserves punishment. God sent a little tree or vine to cover up his head when he got hot, and used it as an illustration of how God cares about all living things, and says, "Shouldn't I have spared Ninevah, and the residents?"

And then it ends, y'all. We don't see Jonah's response. Did he sit and stew or did he realize that we all need grace? 

What I learned in recapping this story

-You can't run from God. 

-God has a plan for each of us. He wants to use us in His story.

-Nobody deserves grace, but God is so very merciful that He longs to give it to all. 

I'd love to hear your takeaways!

"Who did, who did, who did, who did swallow Jonah?" Jonah and the Whale song - YouTube (I don't own rights to this song but I sure did sing it when I was little in the basement of the church, probably wearing a frilly polyester dress with patent leather shoes and itchy tights, dancing along and looking forward to cherry koolaid!) 

And, going back to my reading today... well, Ninevah didn't learn it's lesson, kind of like the people of Israel and also kind of like me, sometimes, so 150 or so years later Nahum is telling them the same message, and this time, the great city does see destruction... 

So let's keep looking for lessons in our lives and not make the same mistake twice (it's not a mistake if you learn something). 

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