Jonah fled from the presence of the LORD. He ran from his home country. He ran from his calling. He ran from his mission. He boarded a ship to hopefully use oceans to separate him from the presence of the LORD, but to no avail. The LORD never left him.
In Ezekiel 48:35 we learn a name of God, Jehovah-Shammah, The Lord is There. In Exodus 25:22 when the LORD is giving Moses instructions on the tabernacle, as He is explaining the mercy seat to Moses, He tells him that there, above the mercy seat, He will meet with him. In 1 Kings 8 and 2 Chronicles 5 – 6 as Solomon was dedicating the temple, the LORD enters the temple in a cloud to let the people know that He was there. In the prayer that Solomon lifted up during this dedication he asked that whenever and where ever the people sinned against the LORD that if they turned themselves toward the house of the LORD and prayed and repented that the LORD would hear them and forgive their sin.
Jonah was about to learn that when the LORD said that He would be there in the temple above the mercy seat, that didn’t mean that He was ONLY there. He was there and on the oceans and there below them. He was there when Jonah took flight. He was there in Joppa. He was there on the ship. He was and still is Jehovah-Shammah. In Psalm 139:7-12 we read,
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.
Jonah is thrown from the ship and as he hits the raging waters all of a sudden he is in darkness. I don’t believe he knew he was in the belly of a fish. Who has ever been in the belly of a fish to recognize it as such? I believe he thought he was in Sheol, the underworld, the place of death, hell. His own prayer in Jonah 2:2-3 says as much…
“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.
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.”
It’s really amazing what thoughts can pass through our minds as we face death head on. When we think that this is it. This is our end. Yet, often times it doesn’t take facing death, but simply facing the end of ourselves in a situation or circumstance and we have no other options because we have exhausted all of our own efforts and do not know what to do next. We find that though we have ran all our lives we, in this moment and at this time, discover that somewhere in our depths we find a hope that maybe there is a God in Heaven, and we cry out to Him, somehow believing against unbelief that He hears.
We learn a beautiful thing about our God through the rebellion of Jonah. As the breakers and billows passed over Jonah, as the weeds wrapped around his head, as the deep engulfed him and the waters encompassed him to the point of death because of his own choice to run from the presence of the LORD, Jonah remembered the LORD. As Jonah found himself no longer encompassed by waters, but in darkness and thought himself to be in the roots of mountains imprisoned forever in the heart of the earth, Jonah remembered what he had been taught all his life. Jonah remembered the hope of turning toward the house of the LORD. Jonah remembered the mercy seat.
“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong. I am weak, yet He is strong. Yes Jesus loves me. Yes Jesus loves me. Yes Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so…”
He probably wasn’t sure which way was Jerusalem. He probably wasn’t sure if he was dead or alive or somewhere in between. He probably just knew that somehow he was still conscience and able to communicate. Somehow he still had breathe, and with breathe there is life, and with life there is hope. So Jonah prayed to the God of his salvation. Jonah prayed with a sacrifice of thanksgiving while in the midst of his darkness and the LORD heard his cry. Then He commanded that fish to vomit him out on the dry land.
Jonah learned a lesson from his hell on earth. He learned that perhaps being away from the presence of the LORD was not such a good idea. He learned that being IN the presence of the LORD was much better. Jonah learned that there was no were he could go on earth, above the earth, or under the earth that the LORD would not be there. Jonah learned that even in his own choice to sin and rebel against the LORD, when he woke up to his sin, sought the LORD with a true repentant heart, and returned to Him the LORD would hear and forgive. Jonah learned that for his own life, he was very thankful for that truth.
In 2 Kings 21 and 2 Chronicles 33 we read of Manasseh the king of Judah, Judah being the southern kingdom of Israel. Manasseh’s legacy is one of idolatry and death. He did not serve the LORD when he became king. He encouraged the kingdom of Judah to worship the false gods of the nations around them. He went so far as to even make altars to these false gods inside the temple of the LORD.
One of the false gods that Manasseh introduced was Molech who received child sacrifices. Manasseh worshiped this god and even burned his own children on the idol’s altar. This is how far Manasseh had fled from the presence of the LORD while still in Jerusalem. We don’t have to take flight from home and jump a ship to the oceans to reject the presence of the LORD. We can do it while we sit in His house.
While Jonah was in the belly of this fish, he prayed in Jonah 2:7-8,
“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,”
Times of distress help us weed out the vain idols we trusted in before. The sailors on the ship learned this, Jonah knew this (and we will see how he responds to his knowledge of this in the next chapter), and Manasseh is about to learn this truth. In 2 Chronicles 33:10-13 we read of what happened when the LORD stepped back and left Manasseh to his false gods….
“The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the Lord brought the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria against them, and they captured Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze chains and took him to Babylon. When he was in distress, he entreated the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.”
When Manasseh needed help it was not Baal, Asherah, Dagon, Chemosh, or Molech that came to his rescue. It was the LORD of heaven and earth, the Only God who has the power of salvation. The absolutely astounding awe-inspiring truth in all of this is that the LORD heard after all that Manasseh had done. He heard, He forgave, He restored him to his kingdom. This is our GOD. Why on earth would we ever want to flee the presence of HIM?