The irony of Jonah’s story is compelling. Here’s a prophet from among the people of God who had been called to deliver a message for God to another nation. If anyone should know that the Lord is sovereign over all the earth, that there is no place away from His presence, we would expect that person’s bio to read something like Jonah’s. And yet, Jonah is on the run from God. And if anyone was going to cry out to the Lord when a great wind came upon the sea and threatened the ship Jonah had boarded, we would expect it to be Jonah. But as the sailors on board the ship cried out to their own gods, Jonah was asleep. The irony only intensifies as Jonah claims to fear the Lord, who made the sea and the dry land. Yes, the same Lord from which he was fleeing. By the time the sailors cast Jonah into the sea, it seems he was the only one on board who hadn’t called out to the Lord in prayer. And while Jonah claimed to fear the Lord, we’re told these sailors’ fear of the Lord was followed up with acts of worship instead of rebellion.
Nothing in this story is as we would expect it to be, and we haven’t even gotten to the great fish the Lord sent to swallow up Jonah. Maybe we’re tempted to look at Jonah and take the lesson, “Don’t run from God, or you might wind up in the belly of a fish,” as if the fish was a bad thing, but let’s not forget that Jonah–cast into the sea after rebelliously running from the Lord–didn’t deserve the fish. And neither do we. When the men hurled Jonah into the sea, they did not expect him to survive, but the fish reminds us how grace works–unexpectedly. At unexpected moments in unexpected places in unexpected ways with unexpected people, when everything says all hope is gone, when we’ve rebelliously run from the Lord, God saves us by His grace! Actually, “Don’t run from God” is a good lesson, but as unexpected as it might be, “You might wind up in the belly of a fish” is good news. Thank God for His grace! May we never take it for granted, and may we never cease to be amazed by it!