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JONAH 1:17-2:10
Series:  Jonah:  Lessons in the Sovereignty of God - Part Two

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
March 23, 2003

Please turn with me to Jonah 1:17 - where we want to begin this morning. This is our second Sunday focused on the sovereignty of God and the Book of Jonah. By the way, how many of you did your homework last week by watching the Jonah movie?

Most people when they think of the Book of Jonah think about what? Jonah and the whale. But the Book of Jonah is much deeper than that (no pun intended). This is more than just “a fish story.” We’ve been seeing that Jonah is really a four chapters long look into the heart of a strong-willed man of God struggling with obedience to God’s will. Which touches the core of who we are. Who we are in our relationships with others. And most important - God’s sovereignty touches the core of our relationship with God. Who is in charge of our lives? Who is sovereign? Us or God?

Last week you’ll recall that we looked at Jonah chapter one - God’s calling of Jonah to go and prophesy in Nineveh - to call the people there to obedience to God. Jonah rebels against God - gets on a ship going to Tarshish - trying to go as far from Nineveh and God’s will - to go as far in the opposite direction as someone could go in those days. On that ship - sinking in the midst of a storm - Jonah is confronted with the sovereignty of God. Yet, in a final act of defiance - rebellious Jonah has himself thrown overboard. He’d rather take his chances in the sea than obey God.

Which brings us to Jonah 1:17: And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.

Before we go any farther there are three things we need to understand.

First - this is a real account about a real person. It’s important to keep in mind that Jonah is not a legend or a myth. Jonah was real prophet of God who served in Israel during the reign of King Jeroboam II from about 800 to 750 B.C. (2 Kings 14:25)

Second - this is a real fish that swallowed Jonah.

Popular Mechanics Magazine - back in December of 2001 - published and article entitled “Science Solves More Mysteries of the Bible.” Popular Mechanics - of course - is known as a theological publication supportive of a conservative understanding of Scripture so I was very interested to see what they had say about Jonah and the whale. Let me read you a quote from their article.

“For Jonah to have survived being swallowed by a whale, four things had to happen. A large enough creature had to be involved. Jonah had to pass over the animal’s teeth sufficiently unmolested to survive. He had to avoid the acidity of digestive juices. And, he had to have enough oxygen to survive for three days. A large sperm whale, which can easily swallow lumps of food 8 ft. in diameter, could swallow a man in a gush of water without chewing him. If the whale in the story of Jonah was sick or died, it must might be that Jonah could have survived inside until he was washed out of the whale’s mouth or regurgitated.” The article goes on to list 2 documented accounts of men swallowed by fish - who survived. (1)

Dr. J. Vernon McGee - in his commentary on the Book of Jonah lists 6 documented examples of animals and people who have been swallowed by fish - remained in the fish for days - and have lived to tell about it. (2) In the head of a Blue whale is an air storage chamber - an enlargement of the nasal sinus - often measuring seven feet high - seven feet wide - fourteen feet long. Three days in a whale is a possibility.

The point being that this not something out of Star Trek. Jonah being swallowed by a whale is reality.

Third - we need to understand that this real man was swallowed by a real fish - which is why our first two points are so important - we need to understand that this real man was swallowed by a real fish by an act of God’s sovereign will. Notice that it says in verse 17, “the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah.”

The subject of these verses - this book - is not the fish. In fact, the fish is referred to in only 3 verses out of the 48 verses in the book. The subject is the sovereign God. Say that with me, “Its God.”

Its God - who has created all things by the power of His word - created the sea and the fish in the sea - God who created the storm that terrified the sailors. Its God who has prepared this great fish and brought it to this location in the Mediterranean. God is demonstrating to Jonah - and us - that He is sovereign. In His sovereignty - God in a great act of graciousness and compassion and mercy - undeserved as it is - God by an act of His sovereign will - is going to save Jonah.

Jonah is thrown overboard into the storm and is swallowed by a fish.

Chapter two, verse 1: Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish, and he said, “I called out of my distress to the Lord, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice.

Its been said that, “Pain plants the flag of reality in the fortress of the rebel heart.” Jonah is drowning. His life is over and he knows it. Sheol is the grave - the unseen world of the dead. Jonah is confronted physically - emotionally - psychologically - spiritually with the end reality of his sin. Imagine what might go through the mind when we know we’re dying.

Verse 3: For you had cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the current engulfed me. All your breakers and billows passed over me.”

Jonah realizes God’s sovereignty. God has hurled him into the sea. God’s breakers and billows are above him. Sinking below the waves - in the terror of drowning - Jonah is realizing that God is giving him exactly what he - Jonah - has wanted - separation from God.

Verse 4: So I said, “I have been expelled from your sight. He no longer feels God’s presence with Him. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple - the dwelling place of God with His people. I can’t feel God. But, I’m still going to cry out to Him. Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, weeds were wrapped around my head. I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever - He’s tangled in seaweed and he’s hit bottom - “the roots of the mountains.” He’s imprisoned by death - behind earth’s bars. Jonah has been engulfed by the sea.

Going on in verse 6 - notice the change in Jonah’s tone - but you have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God. While I was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to You, into Your holy temple. Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness, but I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the Lord.”

In verse eight Jonah is saying that those who worship idols - man made gods - will eventually abandon them - “forsake” them because they’re worthless - empty - idols. Remember that Jonah’s idol - his god - has been Jonah. Up until this point Jonah is serving Jonah - placing Jonah’s will ahead of God’s sovereign will. That trust has led Jonah to the bottom of the Mediterranean - “the pit.”

But, looking at verses 6 to 9, the entire focus of Jonah’s life has changed. When he cannot sink lower - Jonah cries out to God. And our sovereign God saves him. Jonah says, “I will sacrifice to You.” God - not Jonah - God is now sovereign. He is worthy of worship - devotion - praise - sacrifice.

Verse 10: Then the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.

There are two points of application that I would like to share this morning.

The first is that EACH OF US HAS A FISH STORY. Try that with me, “Each of us has a fish story.” Which is really not about the fish. But, about our hearts and who is sovereign - the struggle we have in surrendering our lives to God and the process of coming to that surrender.

There's a familiar story - maybe you’ve heard it - a story about a proud young man who came to Socrates asking for knowledge. He walked up to the muscular philosopher and said, "O great Socrates, I come to you for knowledge."

Socrates led the young man through the streets of the town - down to the sea - and chest deep into water. Then he asked, "What do you want?"

"Knowledge, O wise Socrates," said the young man with a smile.

Socrates put his strong hands on the man's shoulders and pushed him under. Thirty seconds later Socrates let him up. "What do you want?" he asked again.

"Knowledge," the young man sputtered, "O great and wise Socrates."

Socrates pushed him under again. Thirty seconds passed, thirty-five. Forty. Socrates let him up. The man was gasping. What do you want, young man?"

Between heavy, heaving breaths the fellow wheezed, "Knowledge, O wise and wonderful..."

Socrates jammed him under again. Forty seconds passed. Fifty. "What do you want?"

"Air!" he screeched. "I need air!"

"When you want knowledge as you have just wanted air, then you will have knowledge." (3)

Have you heard that? I share the story because the point is so close to our hearts. Unless we’re brought to the point of realizing our desperate need for God to be sovereign over our lives we will continue on our own way trusting in ourselves.

This kind of honesty stabs at our pride. We may have been believers - Christians - for many years - serving God - accomplishing great things for His Kingdom. We may think that we’ve grown beyond all this. Even like Jonah - a man of God - God’s prophet - used by God powerfully in the Kingdom of Israel. But, we all need to be brought back to this place of decision time and time again - with God working to strip away the layers of our rebellion - working to gain complete control of our hearts.

Let me suggest that we need to learn to thank God when He confronts us with our sin. Like God used the storm to confront Jonah, God uses circumstances - consequences - others in our lives - the struggles of our heart - to bring us back kicking and screaming - to surrender more of our lives to Him. Rather than being angry at others - or at our circumstances - we need to look to God - and thank Him for pursuing us even when we’re disobedient to Him.

Years ago - a lot of years ago - back during a very rebellious time in my life - I had come home from a party. The party was in a house - and all over the house there was more alcohol laying around than in a liquor store. When I came home I was wasted. About the best I could manage to do was to lay face down on my bed. Maybe some of you have been there. The room was moving around this way and the bed was swaying back and forth the other way.

You need to understand this about me. My first encounter with the church of Jesus Christ was from behind bars. My parents took me church. So my first view of church was from behind the bars of a nursery crib. I’d accepted Jesus as my Savior and been saved from a terrible life of sin at the age of 4. I grew up in a Christian home. I’d grown up in the church - knowing God. But this was a time of rebellion. For the first time in my life - like Jonah sinking and separated from God - I couldn’t feel the presence of God in my life. Just this great emptiness where God had been.

I remember God saying to me, “This is what its like without Me.” There on my bed - with the room going around and the bed going like this - I cried out, “God, if you can. Please help me. My life is yours. I’ll do whatever you want.”

It still amazes me today. Within two months I was working as a canoeing instructor and counselor at a Christian camp - down by Woodlake. I’d applied and been accepted to attend BIOLA University - pursing a major in Biblical Studies. I was back on track towards God’s plan for my life. He cleaned me up and He changed my life.

We need to thank God when we’re confronted with our sin - when we’re in the midst of disobedience - even when we may think that we have no right to approach God. We need to learn to pray and cry out to God and realize that He is always there waiting for us to trust Him more fully.

The second point of application is Jonah’s declaration in verse 9: SALVATION IS FROM THE LORD. Try that with me, “Salvation is from the Lord.”

God uses His sovereignty to save us. That’s at the heart of this whole Book of Jonah. God saving the sailors despite Jonah’s disobedience. God saving Jonah despite his disobedience. God sending Jonah to Nineveh despite their disobedience - for their salvation. Later Jonah writes his autobiography - this Book of Jonah - and God preserves it for the salvation of the Jewish people. He preserved this book for us today - for our salvation - to realize His love for us.

Jesus uses Jonah as an example of God’s work of salvation. Jesus said, “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:39,40) Jesus goes on to say that Jonah was a sign of salvation to the Ninevites and a sign to us - pointing to Jesus and His even greater salvation. Salvation is from the Lord.

Little Tommy was doing very badly in math. His parents had tried everything: tutors - mentors - flash cards - special learning centers - in short, everything they could think of. Finally - in a last act of desperation - they took Tommy down and enrolled him in the local Catholic school. They knew nothing about Christianity or the Roman Church except that the Catholics seemed to have good schools. So they enrolled Tommy.

After the first day, little Tommy came home with a very serious look on his face. He didn't even kiss his mother hello. Instead, he went straight to his room and started studying. Books and papers were spread out all over the room and little Tommy was hard at work. His mother was amazed. She called him down to dinner and to her shock, the minute he was done he marched back to his room without a word and in no time he was back hitting the books as hard as before. This went on for some time - day after day - while the mother tried to understand what made all the difference.

Finally, little Tommy brought home his first report card. He quietly laid it on the table and went up to his room and hit the books. With great trepidation, his mother looked at it and to her surprise, little Tommy got an A in math.

The mother could no longer hold her curiosity. She went to his room and said: "Son, What was it? Was it the nuns?" Little Tommy looked at her and shook his head, no.

"Well, then," she replied, "was it the books, the discipline, the structure, the uniforms? What was it?"

Little Tommy looked up at her and said, "Well, on the first day of school, when I saw that guy nailed to the plus sign, I knew they weren't fooling around."

For God - for us - the gift of life and salvation is a very serious reality. God doesn’t fool around with the life He’s given us. We’re grateful for His salvation. But, we struggle with His “Lordship” over our lives. Salvation - is from - the Lord. It’s a hard combination for us. We long to know the Lord and at the same time we fear what His love may require of us - the sacrifice - the commitment. We struggle - tempted to keep running away.

The Apostle John writes in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love - God’s kind of love - His love that sent Jesus to the cross - loving us even when we are rebellious - God’s - perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” - does not fully understand God’s kind of love in his life. God desires for us to realize our position before Him not so He can punish us but so that He can save us.

Our rebellion - our sin - breaks the string that binds us to God. And when we repent and surrender our will to Him - God ties the string again - a little knot. That means that string is a little shorter - and we’re bound just a little closer to God. He is always ready to draw us closer to Him.

I don’t know what your fish story is today. That’s between you and God. Let me encourage you to thank Him for what He is confronting you with. Cry out to Him. Trust Him with your heart. Salvation is from the Lord.


1. Popular Mechanics, December 2001, pages 78-81
2. McGee, Dr. J. Vernon, Thru The Bible Commentary on Jonah, page 40
3. Littleton, M., Moody Monthly, June 1989, page 29

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.