By Debbie Ogunjobi
Jonah was a prophet with a mission from God; it was not a mission he particularly relished. Having served God for many years he was at his wit’s end at the merciful nature of God. God’s mercy made him a liar before the people; Jonah wanted to be feared, revered and respected.

He wanted to deliver messages from God that came to pass exactly as he said it would but his experience was that God would send him to deliver a message of impending wrath and damnation and would suddenly avert the damnation once the people had repented. How on earth was he ever going to be taken seriously if nothing he said ever happened? This latest mission to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria was going to be another lesson in humiliation as Jonah was sure God would not destroy the people as was contained in the message.

He took a stand; he was going to run from God; no way was he going to be made a mockery by God’s mercy again; he was not going to obey God and inform the people of Nineveh that their sins had become an affront before God and they were in line for annihilation! Jonah was a prophet from Galilee and his story takes place somewhere between 780 B.C and 760 B.C.

During this period of history, Assyria was a powerful, evil nation and Israel’s most dreaded enemy, so it was a double agony to be sent to preach repentance to a people who were vicious enemies of Israel.

Huge storm

Jonah began the long journey to escape God, he got on a boat and before long, a huge storm comes up and tosses the boat wildly till out of fright, the sailors cast lots to determine whose bad luck was responsible for the storm. As the Bible tells it, Jonah was found the guilty one and he confesses that he was running from God after which he advises the sailors to throw him overboard.

He was thrown overboard and a whale swallows him and he begins his three day sojourn in the belly of the fish. There he begins to appreciate the mercy he had earlier despised and taken for granted; for it was indeed mercy that caused him to find shelter in the belly of a fish of all places. There are many lessons to learn from the story of Jonah but sadly most of us miss it, settling for the obvious one of never disobeying God.

I quite agree that we should not disobey God but what I gather in the story of Jonah is the judgemental nature of man and the merciful nature of God. Jonah wanted God to implement judgement on the people of Nineveh while God wanted to give them an opportunity to repent.

The greatest lesson one can learn from the story of Jonah is that there is a process of refinement, atonement and restoration.  It doesn’t seem very obvious but Jonah didn’t go for an undersea excursion in a 5star hotel; he sat in the whale’s belly for three days and nights; in darkness, without food or water. He spends that time in prayer, thanking God for saving him.

He realizes the miracle that God has effected to save him and is truly grateful. He finally gets the miracle that is mercy and he himself becomes merciful to the people he considers enemies.

There are some situations in our lives that are trying and very hard to bear, those for me are the times when we inhabit the belly of the fish. I believe those are the times when we run away from God and by some easy choices we make, land ourselves in dire situations where only mercy can overthrow judgement.

So what does one do when in the belly of the big fish? What situations can even be considered the belly of the fish? Adversity in any form is the belly of the fish; sickness, financial downturns, heartbreak, bereavement and even disappointment qualify.

If you ever get to a stage where you are broken in every way and find yourself throwing yourself at God’s mercy, then my friend you are very much in the belly of the fish.

The thing not to do while there is to  surrender to despair and give up; the belly of the fish is where Jonah spends time in supplication and thanksgiving. For every situation we find ourselves only mercy keeps it from being worse.

The same mercy that Jonah wanted God to deny the Ninevites is his own salvation and it’s important to note that even though Jonah eventually ended up on the shore, it took some time. For Jonah it was 3 days and nights. For you and I it may be shorter or longer but just like Jonah we will end up on shore.

Last year was indeed the belly of the fish for a lot of people in more ways than one but with the right attitude who says we can’t end up on shore? To quote George Michael “You just gotta have faith”

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