There is nothing like a good fish story, especially when you hear it the second time and remember how big the fish was the first time you heard it. There is a fish story in the Bible that happens to be true! And I believe it has some application to those of us today as well. You will see what I mean in a minute.

I am sure that most of us have had the misfortune of working with someone who had a bad attitude. They hate what they are doing and make sure everyone else regrets being there as well. It is a mystery of the universe how such folks ever accomplish anything at all in life. But, as with all things, what is impossible with man is possible with God.

The prophet Jonah was just such a man. He was a prophet of God, and he received a commission to go and preach. Seems like that would be a simple task. But Jonah was blinded by his racism, hatred and overall meanness to the point of direct disobedience to the command of God. Here was his simple job description:

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of A-mittaī, saying, “Arise, go to Nine-veh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” (Jonah 1:1, 2 NKJV)

Sounds pretty simple, right? But from the beginning, you can almost hear the wheels turning in Jonah’s mind. He hated the people of Nineveh with a passion. The last thing he wanted was for them to repent. “If I flee in the other direction, then the will not get the message, will not repent, and will be destroyed!”
So Jonah heads to the sea port of Joppa and gets passage clear to the other side of the Mediterranean at Tarshish, which was around Gibraltar.

Well, to make a long story short, the people of Nineveh end up being preached at by the worst possible candidate for a preacher. He is racist and hates them, he doesn’t want to be there, he doesn’t want them to accept his message, and he makes the message as short and blunt as he can. Sounds like a recipe for a failure. But God uses the message to turn the hearts if the people and they repent. The city is spared, and Jonah does not get to watch them being judged with fire from heaven.

Jesus, when talking to the Pharisees, alludes to the people of Nineveh.

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 something greater than Jonah is here. (Matthew 12:41 NIV)

The hardness of their hearts caused them to reject the message from the perfect messenger, the One who is the very Word of God. They will stand condemned by those who repented at the preaching of the most flawed of prophets. But what does that have to do with us today?

There has never been more access to the Bible in our language as there is today. Free resources abound with access to multiple translations of the text. In addition, study helps are easier than ever to obtain that can aid us in understanding what we are reading. We have access to audio, video and printed teaching (paper and electronic) that our forefathers could not even dream about. But can we truly say we know our Bibles as well as those of a generation ago? Many of them grew up in homes with one family Bible and didn’t get their own copy until they were grown. But they studied it and committed it to memory. We, on the other hand, are so distracted by what the world flashes in front of us that we have little time for plumbing the depths of the Word of God.

Those who struggled to obtain the Scriptures in the past, along with those in countries where the Bible is forbidden and must be read in secret, will rise to condemn those of us in countries where most Christians have multiple Bibles and study helps galore, yet do not take full advantage of such. We would be foolish to assume that our access to the Word will always be unfettered.

When I was headed over for Desert Storm, we stopped in the Philippines. I spoke to some missionaries there who spoke of soldiers who would memorize sections of the Bible, just in case they were ever captured. What would happen to us if the Bible was suddenly classified as “hate speech” and banned? What if we were imprisoned for our faith? Would we know enough Bible to live on spiritually?

May the ease with which we can become familiar with the Bible never become a cause for contempt, or a reason to take His Word for granted.

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