Jonah, a Hebrew prophet, tried to avoid God's call by running away. A great storm threatened to destroy the ship he had boarded for his escape and take the lives of the innocent crew members on board. Everyone soon realizes that the cause of their impending doom is Jonah because he has shunned God.
The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, "What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?"
"Pick me up and throw me into the sea," he replied, "and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you."
Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried to the LORD, "O LORD, please do not let us die for taking this man's life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O LORD, have done as you pleased." Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him.
But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.
Jonah 1:11-17 (New International Version)
Jonah confessed to the men that it was he who was going to cause the ship to be destroyed and all aboard to lose their lives. The men of the crew were now seeing the power of almighty God. But when Jonah told them that the only solution to saving them and the boat was to throw him into the sea these men were taken aback. Even though these men did not serve the one true God, they were not heartless, uncaring individuals. They did not want to kill a man with whom they had no quarrel.
They tried their best to save themselves, but the storm grew worse. They cried out to God because they were afraid that they would die for killing God's prophet and then they followed Jonah's instruction. They threw him overboard and the seas became calm. Witnessing God's power caused the men to turn to Him and they experienced a change in their lives. They were saved in more ways than one and likewise God provided a miracle to save Jonah. He was now going to be taken back to start his journey to Nineveh and this time he was going to be taken back to land via submarine! The Bible says it was a "big fish" that swallowed Jonah. We don't know what kind of fish it was, but it was probably not really a whale. Whatever it was, it was an amazing miracle from God.
But Jonah's three days inside the belly of a fish was a foreshadowing of things to come. Centuries later Jesus spoke the following words:
A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah." Jesus then left them and went away.
Matthew 16:4 (NIV)
Like the pagan sailors, the generation of Christ's time wanted signs and wonders to give them some answers. Many were not listening to God and did not understand what Jesus was telling them. Now we understand what Jesus meant when He talked about the "sign of Jonah". Just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and then returned to his mission, Jesus was in the grave for three days and then resurrected.
Like Jesus, Jonah was sent on a mission to deliver a message of salvation and to turn lost people to the Lord. Jonah was disobedient, but through his disobedience he and the others learned that they cannot save themselves, they can only be saved by God through their faith and obedience. Jonah finally achieved his mission, but imperfectly. Jesus compared His own circumstance to that of Jonah's but allowed that Jonah was imperfect.
We read what Jesus said about this in Matthew:
Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, "Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you."
He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.
Matthew 12:38-41 (NIV)
Do you see people in the world today waiting for signs and wonders in order to believe? What signs and wonders do you recognize in your own life? What have you tried to do in your own life to save yourself? What was the result of your efforts? Is there anything you need to toss overboard to calm stormy seas in your life?