Breathtaking Events Engulfed Jonah

Three Gulps

Sunday July 1, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray

Early last month, big government looked to strike again. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City proposed banning big sugary drinks with the hope of saving us from obesity and diabetes at our own hands. The Big Gulp came to mind for we know that staple of decades, an oversized 7-11 beverage, pretty well. A Big Gulp is the very definition of gluttony. Saint Thomas Aquinas said this about the matter – “Gluttony denotes, not any desire of eating and drinking, but an inordinate desire … leaving the order of reason, wherein the good of moral virtue consists.”

Jonah was a glutton for punishment, the fish that swallowed him was a glutton for a big gulp, and these days we all are gluttons for pushing a failed society beyond all bounds of prudent. Jonah might have wished that a commandment from a leader like Mayor Bloomberg carried the authority to save him from himself or hide him from the Lord. It wasn’t going to work that way.

Our scripture for today is Jonah Chapter 2. Jonah rebelled against the Lord’s instruction to go to Nineveh; he had gulped at the prospect to preaching to imaginably hostile crowds. Then the fish gulped down Jonah. In chapter 2 we read of Jonah gulping in anguish at being separated from the light of the world and the light of God. We get a sense of Jonah’s reality check at the seriousness of his position and his new-found faith that got him out of it.

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said:

“In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.
You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.
I said, ‘I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.’
The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.

“When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.

“Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”

10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

There are trinities all through the Bible.  The Book of Jonah is the story of the Three Gulps. The first gulp was one caused by Jonah’s imagination of the indifference, ridicule, and hostility he might receive at the hands of a foreign people, amongst crowds of strangers. Most folks we know are like that. They will do anything to avoid speaking in public, about anything, much less preaching about the one Lord in a pagan land.

The second gulp was that of the fish swallowing Jonah. While we can be sure the Lord summoned the great fish for the purpose of bringing obedience to Jonah, we can also imagine that a fish large enough to swallow a man would have a Big Gulp out of natural proximity to prey not too big to swallow.

It was the third gulp of realization in this story that is the most important. Gulping can be out of apprehension of the imagined, such as the prospect of preaching to a novice; it can be a physical act of taking an inordinate swallow, as the fish exhibited; and it can arise at a sudden very real assault on the senses, as the near-drowning, then engulfment of Jonah. There was a sudden need for breath, a desperation causing panicked swallowing of nothing but stale air. Then came realization, not just of his predicament of being in the belly of a fish, but the recognition of how wrong, sinful, and dismissive of God he had been, not just in avoiding Nineveh, but all through his life.

Lastly, the third gulp brought redemption. Jonah made peace with the Lord and promised to follow his commands, after his emotions had ranged from despair to calm assurance in the Lord’s presence and forgiveness.

Are we in this day and age so jaded, so conceited, and so consumed with gluttony from constant immersion in this corrupt society that it will take a massive shock to our senses to bring us to the conclusions to which Jonah was brought? Let us pray to the Lord that we might be mindful of the story of Jonah.

Three gulps there were. One arose from imagination. One arose from the aggressive gluttony of another, albeit that of a fish. One arose from physical assault on a fragile human body.

Mayor Bloomberg cannot save New Yorkers from a Big Gulp, nor can President Obama and Congress spare the American people. There will be no deliverance. Yet there will be redemption for those who believe in our Lord Jesus Christ.

No one had greater trials than Jonah, Job and Moses. Let us pray that, should the time come, the Lord will give us their

perseverance and focus on Him.***

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