– Jonah 2:2
Back in the
late 1800s, a story started circulating in coastal taverns around
But the next day, the sperm whale they were hunting was floating dead on the surface of the ocean. And someone noticed the whale’s abdomen was moving in a strange way—as if something alive was inside it. So, the whalers cut open the large whale, and to everyone’s surprise… out came James Bartley, who had been inside the whale’s stomach for 18 long hours. His skin was bleached white, he was nearly blind, and he was temporarily insane. Newspapers called him a “modern-day Jonah.”
However … in the early 1900s, a historian did some investigating into that whopper of a fish story. He discovered many conflicting reports, and even received a letter from James Bartley’s wife who claimed the whole story was made up. So, was James Bartley actually swallowed by a whale or large fish? Probably not. But the Bible makes it clear that Jonah … WAS.
Now, Bible skeptics read the Book of Jonah and say, “Impossible! It couldn’t happen! It didn’t happen!” But followers of Christ look at Jonah 1:17 and say, “No problem! My Bible tells me in Luke 1:37: “Nothing is impossible with God.” Our God is a great and powerful God. He specializes in the impossible.
In chapter 1 of the Book of Jonah, God gave Jonah clear-cut marching orders to preach a message of repentance to the people of Ninevah. Instead, Jonah boarded a ship headed the other way. But after the boat set sail, God sent a “great wind” and a “violent storm” that engulfed the ship (v. 4). Finally, Jonah admitted to the panicking sailors that he was responsible for the storm because he had angered his Lord. He told the crew the storm would stop if they threw him off the ship. With a little persuading—and a lot more big waves—the crew tossed Jonah overboard.
After spending chapter 1 running FROM God, Jonah finally came to his senses and ran TO God at the beginning of chapter 2: “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God” (v. 1). It’s clear that Jonah didn’t wait until he was being digested to start praying. He started crying out to God before the fish ever swallowed him. As we read Jonah’s prayer in vs. 2-9, we see that it’s more of a testimony. Jonah prayed to God from inside the stomach of the great fish, recounting what had taken place over the past day or two. “In my distress I called to the LORD and He answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and You listened to my cry” (v. 2). According to verse 3, the currents swirled around him and the waves and breakers engulfed him. According to verse 5, the deep waters surrounded him, and seaweed wrapped around his head as he sank down.
And what did God do? Did God say, “Forget you, Jonah! You’re getting what’s coming to you! Good riddance, you worthless piece of fish food!” No, thankfully, that’s not at all what God said.
According to verse 6, “[God] brought [Jonah’s] life up from the pit.” Did you catch that little word “up”? For a whole chapter Jonah had been going down, down, down in his rebellion. But as he humbly cried out to God in desperation, God “brought [his] life up from the pit.”
Isn’t that just like our great and awesome God? Even when we rebel against Him, ignore His commands and do the exact opposite of what He’s commanded us to do … when we in humble repentance cry out to Him for deliverance, His compassion, mercy and love break through.
For a whole chapter, Jonah rebelled against God’s marching orders. He was going nowhere but down until—in desperation—he looked up and cried out to God. So God provided a great fish and instructed the fish to swallow Jonah. And unlike Jonah, the fish OBEYED God’s instructions.
The Book of Jonah reminds us that running from God is pointless. It only brings hardship and disappointment. The 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon said it this way: “God never allows His children to sin successfully.” If you want to run from God, ignore God’s commands and pursue other priorities, God gives you that choice. But it’ll cost you. Life is hard enough when you’re running TO God. It’s a whole lot harder when you’re running FROM God. Jonah quickly discovered when he was running from God, His life just kept getting worse and worse. But when he repented and reached out to God in faith and obedience, God immediately began to bring him back up. God will do the same for you.