Swimming With Whales

January 17, 2021, Jonah 1: 1-3

Peg Ten Have


As you might have guessed from the scripture reading, we are looking at Jonah today.

Jonah’s story is easy to follow.  He is an Old Testament prophet who didn’t want to do what God asked of him.

Have you ever tried to say “NO” when someone, or specifically, God, asked you to do something?  It’s not easy; God just keeps on nudging you. 

That’s how I came to be here today.  When I first took classes in the Lay Servant Academy, I proclaimed that I would never preach.  Yes, famous last words.  Thanks for putting up with me.

Back to Jonah; Jonah was able to put on a great show of obedience but to do what was asked of him, that was where he failed.  It’s the old maxim of talking the talk, but not walking the walk.

He didn’t want to go to Ninevah, because he knew the people there were wicked.  He was afraid, and felt like they didn’t deserve forgiveness.


We know Jonah didn’t care for the people of Ninevah, but I wonder if he might have felt inadequate for the task.  I would feel inadequate to the task if I were asked to participate in a swim meet.  This is because I don’t like to put my face in the water.  Actually, I don’t put my face in the water when swimming.

On the Upper Room reading for this past January 11th, we were reminded of Moses’ hesitation to approach Pharaoh, asking him to free the Israelites.  Yet he did what was asked of him, with the help of his brother Aaron.  But guess what: Even though they were freed from slavery, the Israelites did not want to follow God’s leading.  They knew what to expect under Pharaoh, but they didn’t really know Moses, and were afraid of the unknown.  I guess like a lot of us, they didn’t like change.  There is always fear of the unknown.  Moses chose to listen to God.

What a great example; now, we just need to follow it.


I would like to cross the Red Sea with Moses because I needn’t worry about putting my face in the water.  Good took care of that problem for me when he had Moses part the water.


Jonah finally did what was asked of him, but he was upset because the citizens of Ninevah were forgiven.  Now Jonah knew that God was a forgiving God, but he still complained.  He really didn’t want the Ninevites to repent probably because he wanted to be right about what would happen.  So he whined.

My first impression of Jonah is to feel sorry for him.  A lot of us first met Jonah when we were children.  How awful that he was swallowed by a whale, or a big fish, depending on the Bible translation used at that time.  And that was after being thrown overboard by those on the ship he had booked passage on, for the express purpose of running away from God’s request.  It wasn’t until we were older that we head “the rest of the story”.


Do we know anybody like Jonah?  Are WE like that?  It sure made me look at myself and consider where I can improve.


I snapped at my boss on Wednesday, and then realized that I owed her an apology.  She was just the messenger of unwelcome news from the administration.  She’s also new to our department, and feeling her way.  It was really unfair of the “higher ups” to pass the buck.  Actually, she was simply letting me know that I would no longer get holiday pay because I work slightly less than 30 hours a week.


I remember being surprised when I first started receiving holiday pay, but figured it was due to my number of years with the company.  In all actuality, it was a simple error in the payroll department.  I’m not losing my regular pay, and I don’t have to pay back what I already received.  It’s just a few days each year that I have been paid money I didn’t deserve.  So yes, I apologized, and she was surprised that I did that.  She said I didn’t need to apologize, but I sure felt like I did.  Again, she did nothing wrong.


Looking back, we hear the beginning of Jonah’s story, and the end, but there is not much attention paid to the middle.

Remember the ship Jonah booked passage on?  Remember the storm that came up and the sailors who were so frightened?  He paid his fare and went below deck and fell into a sound sleep.  He didn’t even know that a storm had come up and that the sailors were desperately trying to save themselves.  Then the captain of the ship came to him, and asked him to pray to his God that they might live.  Remember this is a time when multiple gods existed, yet the captain knew that since Jonah admitted that he was running away from God, that he must be responsible for the storm.  To give Jonah credit, he admitted they would have to throw him overboard in order to save the ship.  When they realized this was true, they called out to the Lord, and asked to be forgiven for throwing Jonah overboard.  When the sea calmed down, the sailors were afraid, but they still offered sacrifices to God and made vows to him.  Now THAT is a rough way to evangelize.


What we can take away from the whole story, is the knowledge that God cares deeply for all of us, as well as for people we resent and hate.  Also, God will accomplish his purposes, even through reluctant and unwilling servants.  Finally, he is patient with sinners and patient with his servants.


Let’s try this week to be willing to do what God asks of us, whether we really want to do it or not.  Let’s follow the path God sets before us.