“Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish's belly. And he said: ‘I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, and He answered me. Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice. For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; all Your billows and Your waves passed over me. Then I said, “I have been cast out of Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple” ’ ” (Jonah 2:1-4).
Have you ever attempted to run away from home? As a child, when I was in the 5th grade, I had my first male teacher at elementary school. For whatever reason, in my mind he scared me so much I thought I could not take being in his class. On multiple occasions that school year I tried to run away from home. Thankfully, I was not successful. It turned out that the teacher was a very nice man.
The prophet Jonah ran away from God and the task which God had given to him: “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.’ But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:1-3). God wanted Jonah to go preach to the people of Ninevah, but Jonah took a ship going in the opposite direction to run away from God.
However, did God just let Jonah run away so easily? God cared for both the people of Ninevah and for His prophet Jonah. God carried out a very unusual plan to search and rescue His wayward prophet. The Lord sent out a great wind that created a mighty tempest on the sea on which Jonah was traveling (Jonah 1:4). Jonah reveals to the mariners on the boat in which he is traveling that the storm has happened because he had run away from God. Jonah tells them to cast him into the sea and the storm will end (Jonah 1:5-12). The men do so believing that Jonah will perish and asking God to not hold them accountable for Jonah’s blood (Jonah 1:13-16).
At this point, it appears all is over for Jonah and that he will simply be drown in the depths of the sea. But, God has another part to his unusual plan to rescue His runaway prophet: “Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights”. As he dwells in the belly of the fish for 3 days and nights, Jonah finally comes to his senses and prays to God as the opening verses above indicate (Jonah 2:1-4). He had run away from God, but now he runs to God as Jonah calls upon God in prayer realizing the error of his running away from God and realizing salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:5-9). God then finishes His plan of rescuing His runaway prophet: “So the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land” (Jonah 2:10). God had completed His search and rescue effort of His wayward prophet.
How many of us have tried to run away from God and His love, direction, and even correction in our lives? Reading about the prophet Jonah encourages me that even though I may act foolish and try to run away from God, God does not give up on me. God will go through various efforts to rescue me. Although He may not send a “tempest” and a “great fish” to bring me to my senses, He may send people to remind me of His love for me or even to correct me to help bring me to my senses. Today, I rejoice that God does not cease His search and rescue efforts for me should I go astray from Him!
“For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25).