Truth From the Belly of a Whale: Running
By Dot Bowen
The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD. Jonah 1:1-3 (NIV)
For the next few weeks, “A Sip from the Cup” will help us discover some truths from the belly of a whale as we focus on the book of Jonah. I pray you will see the heart of God, and that He loves you so much He will never let you go.
I have noticed that some people enjoy going to the beach while others prefer the mountains. Since I hate cold weather, the beach is my happy place! Recently, I read the story of Jonah and his adventure in the belly of a whale. I tried to imagine what I would have done if I had been walking by the ocean on the day Jonah was vomited onto the shore with his head wrapped in seaweed. I wonder if Jonah would have immediately begun to share his story about running from God.
Scripture tells us that God asked Jonah to go to the great city of Nineveh—the most important city in Assyria at the time—to preach. Although Jonah does not mention it, the prophet Nahum describes Nineveh’s wickedness in detail. The people were guilty of evil plots against God, exploitation of the helpless, war cruelties, idolatry and prostitution, and witchcraft just to mention a few! I believe the last thing Jonah wanted to do was give the people of Nineveh an opportunity to turn from their wicked ways and receive forgiveness from God. We know instead of going to Nineveh, Jonah ran from God and caught a boat sailing to Tarshish—which is the complete opposite direction of Nineveh.
I laughed as I pictured Jonah sailing away from the place God asked him to go. Jonah was not in the belly of the whale yet, but he was already acting like a man with a head of seaweed! And then a question came to my mind, Why would anyone think they could run from God?! These words had not formed a complete thought in my mind when God reminded me of the times I have run from Him. I ran from God when I felt He did not answer my prayer to heal my dad’s cancer. Instead, God called my dad home. My heart was broken. I thought, If God allowed my dad to die when I begged Him for him to be healed, why should I try to live the Christian life? In my heart, I ran from God. Little did I know that running FROM God with a broken heart would only later lead to running TO God with a broken heart and a life of regrets.
If you know me at all, you won’t be surprised that as I chewed on Jonah’s story, my thoughts led me back to Adam and Eve. I relate to Adam and Eve’s choice to disobey God. When they thought God was withholding something good from them, they questioned His goodness. And as soon as they lost their trust in God, they ran away from God—the One who truly loved them—and hid. Where did Adam and Eve think they could hide? In a crowd? No! They were the only two people alive! Did they think God might not recognize them with their new fig leaf wardrobe? God immediately pursued Adam and Eve by calling out to them after they sinned. In the same way, God pursued Jonah. He demonstrated incredible love and compassion for Jonah by providing a safe haven for him in the belly of a whale. When I see God’s heart in these situations, I wonder why anyone would want to run from such a loving, forgiving, compassionate God. Adam, Eve and Jonah ran from God because they didn’t trust Him. And when God asked me to accept His will concerning the death of my dad, I also ran because I didn’t trust that He knew what was best.
Running from God always impacts the lives of more than just “the runner.” For example, when Adam and Eve ran from God, sin destroyed their entire world. When Jonah decided to run from God, the men around Jonah almost lost their lives. When I ran from God, my marriage and children experienced the pain of my decision. I’m so thankful that each of our “running” stories ends with a message of hope. God provided covering for Adam and Eve after they confessed their sin. Jonah was given a second chance by surviving three days in the belly of a whale after he prayed and confessed his sin. In the years since I repented and returned to the God I love, He has allowed me to celebrate 43 years of marriage and watch our children live for and love God faithfully. I don’t believe we are able to realize that it is pointless to run from an Almighty God until we come back to Him.
If I had been walking on the shore the day the whale vomited Jonah, I think the first words out of my mouth would have been, No one knows more than me the cost of running from God! I am so grateful that God runs faster after the children He loves!
Further Reading Jonah 1; Genesis 3, Nahum 1:1-3:19