Fish Guts and Fed Up


JONAH 1:1-6 (MSG): 1-2 One day long ago, God’s Word came to Jonah, Amittai’s son: “Up on your feet and on your way to the big city of Nineveh! Preach to them. They’re in a bad way and I can’t ignore it any longer.”  3 But Jonah got up and went the other direction to Tarshish, running away from God. He went down to the port of Joppa and found a ship headed for Tarshish. He paid the fare and went on board, joining those going to Tarshish—as far away from God as he could get.  But God sent a huge storm at sea, the waves towering.  The ship was about to break into pieces. The sailors were terrified. They called out in desperation to their gods. They threw everything they were carrying overboard to lighten the ship. Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down into the hold of the ship to take a nap. He was sound asleep. The captain came to him and said, “What’s this? Sleeping! Get up! Pray to your god! Maybe your god will see we’re in trouble and rescue us.”

The Prophet Jonah’s story begins with the Word of the Lord coming to him and getting an assignment.  The assignment is not to prophesy to the People of God, but rather to preach a Word of repentance to one of Israel’s enemies.  Jonah does not want to do it.  He literally and figuratively goes in the opposite direction than what God commands.

Between verses 2 and 3 we find Jonah’s fear and anger.  Between verses 2 and 3 we find a struggle within Jonah that each of us also shares at times.  Between verses 2 and 3 we find Jonah flat unwilling to do what God tells him to do.  What do we call that? Sin.  Disobedience.  Wrongdoing.  What do we call that? Stubbornness.  Willfulness.  Selfishness.


We see grace even at the beginning of Jonah’s story because God could have just let Jonah go.  God could have allowed Jonah to board a ship and sail west to avoid his calling.  Letting Jonah sail away was what he wanted, but it was not what was best for him.  God could have said, “Jonah, you disobeyed and I am cutting you off!”  It is an absolute act of grace that God sent a storm to grab Jonah’s attention.  It is grace when God comes after us.  It is grace when God chases us down when we run away.

Chapter one of Jonah’s story culminates in verses 15-17 which tells us: JONAH 1:15-17 (MSG): Then they prayed to God, “O God! Don’t let us drown because of this man’s life, and don’t blame us for his death. You are God. Do what you think is best.” 15 They took Jonah and threw him overboard. Immediately the sea was quieted down.  16 The sailors were impressed, no longer terrified by the sea, but in awe of God. They worshiped God, offered a sacrifice, and made vows. 17 Then God assigned a huge fish to swallow Jonah. Jonah was in the fish’s belly three days and nights.”

I wonder what Jonah felt as angry fearful sailors grabbed him.  I wonder what Jonah felt as he was heaved over the side of the boat.  I wonder what Jonah felt as he was falling into the raging storm.  I wonder what Jonah felt as he hit the water.

We are told in the story of Jonah that as soon as he hit the water, the storm died down.  The storm was sent by God and the storm was taken away by God.  God’s will was that Jonah be tossed over and it was done.  God had a bit of a surprise waiting for Jonah in the water in the form of a huge fish.  It swallowed him.  Jonah became a resident inside the fish.

He realizes that his life cannot literally get any worse.  He is being slowly digested inside a living submarine.  What does he do?  He cries out to God.  His prayer is chapter 2: JONAH 2:1-9 (MSG): Then Jonah prayed to his God from the belly of the fish. He prayed: “In trouble, deep trouble, I prayed to God. He answered me. From the belly of the grave I cried, ‘Help!’ You heard my cry.  You threw me into ocean’s depths, into a watery grave, With ocean waves, ocean breakers crashing over me.  I said, ‘I’ve been thrown away, thrown out, out of your sight.  I’ll never again lay eyes on your Holy Temple.’  Ocean gripped me by the throat. The ancient Abyss grabbed me and held tight.  My head was all tangled in seaweed at the bottom of the sea where the mountains take root. I was as far down as a body can go, and the gates were slamming shut behind me forever— Yet you pulled me up from that grave alive, O God, my God! When my life was slipping away, I remembered God, And my prayer got through to you, made it all the way to your Holy Temple.  Those who worship hollow gods, god-frauds, walk away from their only true love.  But I’m worshiping you, God, calling out in thanksgiving! And I’ll do what I promised I’d do! Salvation belongs to God!”  10 Then God spoke to the fish, and it vomited up Jonah on the seashore.”

Jonah admits that he is in deep trouble.  He was in the ocean and God swallowed him up.  Jonah laments that he will not see his home again.  He is sad that he will never see the Temple in Jerusalem.  He is finally afraid of the reality that he has thrown his life away.  As he prays, he tells God that he will be His prophet and will fulfill the task that God gave Him.


We see grace for Jonah in the belly of the whale.  It was not until Jonah was in the whale that he changed his mind about serving God.  He should have changed his mind during the storm, but oh no!  He had to test God to the limits!  It is absolute grace that God planned to have a large enough fish to swallow Jonah.  God could have let Jonah go.  There were other prophets.  Amos was around at the same time as Jonah (2 Kings 14 and Amos 1).  God could also just call another prophet.  God chose to give grace and give Jonah the opportunity to turn his life around.

It was absolute grace from God that God heard Jonah’s prayers.  Remember, Jonah was in full rebellion mode.  He was running away.  Jonah even remarks in his prayer that he is thankful God heard his prayers.  In Jonah’s disobedience, God still listened and still provided and still answered… I call that grace.

Jonah is vomited up on shore and he knows exactly where he has to go because God commands him for the second time where He wants Jonah to go and what He wants Jonah to tell them.  Jonah does go.  Jonah tells the people exactly the message that God has given him.  JONAH 3:1-5 (MSG): Next, God spoke to Jonah a second time: “Up on your feet and on your way to the big city of Nineveh! Preach to them. They’re in a bad way and I can’t ignore it any longer.”  3 This time Jonah started off straight for Nineveh, obeying God’s orders to the letter.  Nineveh was a big city, very big—it took three days to walk across it.  4 Jonah entered the city, went one day’s walk and preached, “In forty days Nineveh will be smashed.”  5 The people of Nineveh listened, and trusted God. They proclaimed a citywide fast and dressed in burlap to show their repentance. Everyone did it—rich and poor, famous and obscure, leaders and followers.”

In an amazing turn of events, the awful sinners of Nineveh listen to the Word of the Lord and hear the message from Jonah and they repent.  The Bible tells us that everyone in the city heard and began to repent.  The next verses describe the king listening and repenting.  The king even wants the animals to be dressed like they are repenting.  JONAH 3:10 (MSG): God saw what they had done, that they had turned away from their evil lives. He did change his mind about them. What he said he would do to them he didn’t do.”

God had planned on bringing judgment against Nineveh because of their sin.  They changed their ways and attitudes and so God did not do what He planned.  God never changes when it comes to covenant promises, but He is always willing to apply grace when it comes to our sin.  God applied grace to the Ninevites and forgave them.


These are bad people.  These are godless people.  These are people who deserve the judgment of Almighty God.  These are people who received the grace of God.

It is 100% the grace of God that He did not wipe them off the face of the earth.  Grace is unmerited favor.  The Ninevites did not merit God’s favor.  Jonah was not wrong to see them as bad, wicked, or godless folks.  What Jonah knew was that the grace of God extends even to bad, wicked, and godless folks.  Grace is not just for the good.  Grace is for those who need it.

You might think Jonah would be happy.  We might think that Jonah would be ecstatic that his preaching was successful and that his message was heard.  He should be full of joy that the moral message about God Almighty was heard by people who lived immorally.  He should be thrilled that the power of God was displayed in the lives of people and they saw His grace.  He could have been relieved that he finally gave the message that he was supposed to give and could now go home.  He was not any of those things.  Not even close.

What should have happened is that Jonah realizes the grace that he has been given and then offers that to the people around him.  He should have seen how gracious God was with him through this whole process and so when it came to someone else… he should have also given grace.  Grace is not something we should hold on to.  Grace should be given out.  Being “grace-filled” is a character quality you and I should want to have because we want to model ourselves after God and after Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jonah did none of that.  JONAH 4:1-3 (MSG): Jonah was furious. He lost his temper. He yelled at God, “God! I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness! 3 “So, God, if you won’t kill them, kill me! I’m better off dead!”

Jonah knows God.  Jonah knows exactly who God is:

God acts in unbounded grace and pure mercy.  John 1:16 says, “From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another.”  Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “It because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions– it is by grace you have been saved.”

God is not easily angered.  Exodus 34:6 says, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” and Nahum 1:3 says, “The LORD is slow to anger and great in power.”

God is rich in love.  Psalm 145:8-9 says, “The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.  9 The LORD is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made.”

God wants to forgive.  Psalm 103:2-4 says, “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits–  3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,  4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion.”  Micah 7:18 says, “Who is a God like You, Who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.”

Jonah is sulking and brooding and being an all-around horses’-patootie as he sits outside of town hoping that God will still strike the Ninevites dead.  He wants to watch sinful people get what they deserve and burn.  While he sits, God gives even more grace to Jonah anyway.  JONAH 4:5-8 (MSG): But Jonah just left. He went out of the city to the east and sat down in a sulk. He put together a makeshift shelter of leafy branches and sat there in the shade to see what would happen to the city.  6 God arranged for a broad-leafed tree to spring up. It grew over Jonah to cool him off and get him out of his angry sulk. Jonah was pleased and enjoyed the shade. Life was looking up.  7-8 But then God sent a worm. By dawn of the next day, the worm had bored into the shade tree and it withered away. The sun came up and God sent a hot, blistering wind from the east. The sun beat down on Jonah’s head and he started to faint. He prayed to die: “I’m better off dead!”


I don’t know about you, but if I were God, I would be fed up with Jonah being fed up.  Jonah has disobeyed, run away, caused problems, sulked, yelled, asked to die on multiple occasions, whined, and on and on and on.  Jonah thinks there is nothing about Nineveh worth saving and giving grace to.  I don’t think there is much about Jonah worth saving and giving grace to.

And that’s just it… isn’t it?  God is the author of grace.  God is the one who defines grace and hands it out.  Grace does not depend on me or you.  Grace doesn’t depend on Jonah.  Grace is a characteristic of God that pours out from Him to us.

What do we do with Jonah?  What should we learn from the story of Jonah?  How can we apply the lessons of Jonah’s life and live more Christlike today?

Grace is given to us.

Grace is given by us.

Grace is given to us.

Grace is given by us.

Grace is given to us.

Grace is given by us.

We who are Christians are part of the People of God.  We have received grace over and over.  We have been forgiven.  Our lives are marked by the mercy of the Messiah.  Grace is not something we keep to ourselves, but rather give out to the people around us who have hurt us, don’t deserve it, and are our stressors.  In giving out grace, we become more like our God.




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