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It’s time for Jonah in Sunday School and I thought I would share some lessons I found while writing Redemption. We all recognize the BIG one of “Second Chances” that is exemplified by both Jonah and the people of Nineveh. We are reminded that every one–from prophets and kings to farmers and servants—can change the course of their lives and return to God.

But there are many other lessons we can learn from Jonah and some of them took place on the ship before they cast Jonah into the raging sea.

The Phoenician merchant ships that sailed around the Great Sea (Mediterranean Sea) were links that joined cultures through trade. Egyptians sold cotton to the Phoenicians, then bought it back after it had been dyed purple in Sidon. Israelites, known for their wines, obtained spices from Ethiopia.

The ship owners (and subsequently crews) made their living from this trade. A ship going to Tarshish (the furthest away point a Phoenician ship would venture) would be filled with the treasures of the nations clustered around the Great Sea. Sailors would be gone for months, giving their muscles in exchange for their share of the profits (and a bit of adventure). The goods in the hold of the ships represented their lives.

After Jonah had boarded such a ship to flee from the Lord a severe storm hit. The sailors tried unsuccessfullyto do all they could to get to land until they were faced with the reality that they had to lighten the ship. They were forced to throw all of their precious cargo (accumulated from months and years of sailing from one port to another) into the black waters, hoping that it would have been sufficent to save the crew.

Lesson 1: People are more important than things. Give your priority to people.

When the storm continued to thwart them, the sailors decided that the cause of the storm must lie with someone on board. They cast lots to determine who had offended their god. That is when they discover what Jonah had done.

Lesson 2: Our bad choices always affect someone other than ourselves.

Jonah finally realized the impact of his choice and after much debate (and another attempt for land) the sailors reluctantly threw Jonah overboard. There a great fish swallowed him, saving Jonah’s life.  This was the beginning of his second chance. But there is another lesson we can learn from that moment.

Jonah had not just fled from the idea of going to Nineveh, he had fled the opposite direction, hoping to go as far away as he could from his nation of Israel. Many believed that the god of Israel was The Lord, just as Astarte was the goddess of the Assyrians. Perhaps Jonah thought he could go where The Lord did not reach. But The Lord knew Jonah’s heart. He sent a storm to stop his prophet and a great fish to get him back on track.

Lesson 3: There is no place God can not reach.

But it is always our choice whether we accept the second chances that He offers.

Lesson 4: If we do run from God, the way back may be difficult. But it is there.