In the first chapter of Jonah we read about a wayward prophet. Jonah was told to go and preach to Ninevah because of their sins but Jonah has rejected God’s call. He decides to quit being God’s prophet and takes passage to Tarshish rather than going to Ninevah. Jonah’s stubbornness was so great that he tells the sailors to cast him into the raging sea to preserve the crew and ship. He refuses to turn to God, refuses to pray for forgiveness, and refuses to turn back to Joppa. He would rather drown than do any of these things. This is where we left Jonah in chapter 1.
The last verse of chapter 1 and the whole of chapter 2 present two amazing events. Verse 17 records the first stunning development. The Lord appoints a great fish to swallow Jonah. It is important to notice that a large fish does not by random swallow Jonah. The Lord appointed for this fish to swallow Jonah. Just as God appointed a storm in his graciousness to try to bring Jonah back from his destruction, so now God appointed a great fish in his graciousness to spare Jonah from death. Many efforts have been made to try to prove that it is possible for a human to live inside of a fish a a few days. In my opinion these efforts are useless and pointless. A random fish did not swallow Jonah. All of this was God’s doing. God appointed a fish of sufficient size and God kept Jonah alive while in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. This event is a miracle and it is important to classify this event as a miracle. We will note the reason later in the lesson.
We noted in our last lesson that everyone is praying to their gods but Jonah. Jonah refuses to pray to God. Chapter 2 begins with Jonah praying, but notice his location. He is in the belly of the great fish. What follows is the recording of Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the fish.
The prayer begins by recounting what happened once he had been thrown off the ship into the sea. Verse 3 says that he was cast into the deep, into the heart of the sea. Visualize the progression of Jonah as he struggles in the sea. Verse 3 shows Jonah in the sea and the waves of the storm are crashing over his head. One can visualize Jonah on the surface of the water being battered by the waves. Verse 5 reveals Jonah sinking into the sea. “The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me” (2:5). As Jonah is sinking the seaweed wraps around his head as he is engulfed by the waters. Then, in verse 6, Jonah reaches the sea floor. He is at the root of the mountains and describes the sand bar as bars of a prison closing on him. Finally, in verse 7, Jonah is drowning. His life is fainting away. He is about to die.
Lessons From The Belly of the Fish
Seek the Lord (2:4).
Sitting in the belly of the fish for three days and nights causes Jonah to finally get it. The light bulb clicks on and he has a dramatic turn. In verse 4 Jonah decides that he will look again to God’s holy temple. Jonah is not expressing a confidence that he is going to live through this and will go to Jerusalem and see the physical structure of the temple again at some point. Turning toward the temple was an expression used to speak of a person turning toward the Lord, praying to the Lord, and seeking the favor of the Lord (cf. 1 Kings 8:44). What Jonah is concluding is that he will seek the Lord. Jonah was unwilling to do this on the boat. But after his near death experience and now sitting in the belly of the fish, Jonah realizes that he must seek the Lord. Jonah is the one who ran from the Lord and did not want to have a relationship with God any longer. Now Jonah recognizes that he has ran from the Lord and needs a relationship with God.
What was it that brought Jonah to this point? Verse 2 reveals that Jonah called out to the Lord in his distress. Verse 7 tells us that Jonah remembered the Lord when his life was fading away. Going through a life-changing experience is not going to bring you back to the Lord unless you recognize the distress and danger you were in spiritually. Jonah understood that he was separated from the Lord. “Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight'” (2:4). This is the realization that one must makes to experience a true turning point in one’s life. Only when we understand the depths to which we have sunk will we be ready to seek God’s help and deliverance. We must see the devastating reality of our spiritual situation before we will seek the Lord. I believe this is an important reason why God is always telling us about our condition without God and what God has done.
Sometimes it takes a Jonah-like event to wake us from our spiritual blindness. Sometimes it is a very serious, life-changing event that will rattle our spirituality so that we will consider seeking the Lord. For many it requires a near-death experience to cause us to reconsider our ways. But I want us to notice an important message. It is not too late to turn back to God. Jonah has utterly rejected God’s call. He has rejected God to the point that he would rather die than obey. God has used a variety of events to try to call Jonah back to a relationship with the Lord. It was not too late for Jonah to return and it is not too late for any of us to return. It is not a matter of how rebellious you have been. It is a matter of how much God loves his people and does not want any to suffer eternal punishment. Jonah recognizes that is not too late, even though his life is passing before his eyes. He knew that there was still a way of hope. God’s promise of grace remains even though we plunge ourselves in the folly of sin. Jonah had deserted God, but the fact that Jonah had not drowned proved that God had not deserted him.
Salvation belongs to the Lord (2:9).
Once we see our condition, then there is only one place to turn. Salvation is from the Lord. People have so many false notions of how to appeal to their inner sense of conscience. Some try to appease that feeling by trying to do good, be spiritual, give money, or some other act. These things are not done to the glory of God but in an effort to quiet their conscience that tells them they have done evil and are not righteous. All our deeds do not negate all the evil that we have done. It does not take much life experience to realize that our evil deeds are like a waded piece of paper. We cannot open that ball of paper and smooth it out to the degree that the paper was when new. In the same way we cannot fully fix what we have said and done to others and what we have done to God. We have offended God and that cannot be taken back. What has occurred to Jonah is a great metaphor for us in our spiritual condition. What is Jonah going to do? He was dead in the sea. Only God could save him. We are dead in our sins. Only God can save us. God, who has the power to speak to a fish and tell it to vomit Jonah, has the power to save you for eternal destruction.
Christ, the Savior (Matthew 12:38-40).
At the beginning of the lesson I pointed out that we must see the story of Jonah as a miraculous event. In our final minutes we are going to look at why. Turn to Matthew 12:38-40. The sign of Jonah was an expression used by Jesus to refer to Jonah’s three days and three nights in the belly of the fish (Jonah 1:17). The sign is that a place of death had become a place of deliverance. No one expects a person to survive inside a fish. Jonah was cast into the sea and did not drown. When Jesus pointed to the sign of Jonah as a sign for his own work, he was pointing out that God is at work to save those who rebelled against him.
The greatness of the sign is that is symbolized the impossible. What happened to Jonah was not possible. But God delivered Jonah from the belly of the fish after three days and three nights. In the same way, what would happen to Jesus was not possible. God would deliver Jesus from the belly of the earth after three days and three nights. Jesus is not merely connecting the timeframe (three days and three nights). Jesus is connecting the miracle of salvation/deliverance. The place of death has become the place of deliverance. His death is going to bring deliverance to the world. Salvation is from the Lord. God has saved the world through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus.
34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:34–43 ESV)