Starting Again in Obedience
I believe that many times God gives us a chance to start over. After Jonah repented of his sin, God's word came to him a second time--the same word, in fact. For all his travels, God brought Jonah back to the exact same moment and the exact same decision he had at the beginning of the book--either to obey or disobey the Lord. I would imagine, however, that smelling like fish vomit, in fact, being fish vomit, was an influencing factor in Jonah's decision to obey.
Yes, God loves us so much that He may actually introduce us to the digestive juices of large sea creatures so that we may compare the life God wants us to experience with the view of life that our sin has enabled us to see. For no matter how dismal looking Nineveh may have been in Jonah's mind, it was a tremendous improvement over the view of the dark side of a fish's belly. So, "the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land" (Jonah 2:10, NIV). Did you notice that Jonah ran at the word of God, but the fish promptly obeyed? Unlike the prophet, the fish responded quickly and accurately to the word of the Lord. So, the next time someone tells you that your faith smells fishy, take it as a compliment.
Jonah received a second chance. However, we should not take this "second chance" grace of God for granted. In fact, Scripture lists many people who did not receive a second chance: Adam and Eve, Moses, Lot's wife, Ananias and Sapphira, to name a few. Then why did Jonah receive a second chance? God is sovereign over all of His creation, including His people and their prophets. He is the God of second chances, but those second chances are never guaranteed.
The sovereignty of God also means that He can work through us whether or not we have a "correct" attitude. Jonah was displeased that God would save his enemies, the Assyrians, and he was not in a repentant state when the sailors threw him overboard. But conscious of it or not, Jonah was God's instrument in the salvation of the sailors. However, God's ability to use our disobedience to bring others to salvation is not an excuse to disobey, but a tribute to God's mercy and grace.
I also find it interesting that the sailors and Jonah even show opposing views regarding their life before God. When the sailors threw Jonah overboard, they prayed, "'Please do not let us die for taking this man's life'" (1:14). But when Jonah preached, and 120,000 lives were spared, Jonah prayed, "'O Lord, take away my life'" (4:3). How is it that the unsaved among us can often have a better grasp of God's goodness than those in the church?
Do we understand that if we are living in disobedience to God's Word, then no amount of service, sacrifice, work, tithes, or prayers we offer will ever grant us the grace of God's mercy? We must never forget that obedience to God's Word is better than any amount of church-oriented sacrifice and ministry we can offer. Samuel told Saul that to obey was better than to sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). Why? Because obedience prevents sin, but sacrifice follows it.
If you have been living in sin and want a second chance at God's mercy, then today is the day of salvation. If we cling to the worthless idols of our own desires, then we will certainly forfeit the grace that could be ours. But if we let go of our idols, then the grace of God is there for the asking. It was for Jonah, and it could be for you too.
James D. Thornber