Jonah: When all else fails

Then Jonah prayed. Jonah 2

What does it take for us to turn to God? Jonah had to book passage on an outbound ship, survive a terrifying storm, convince a bunch of sailors to pitch him overboard, and get swallowed by a great fish where he was tangled in seaweed and looking death in the eyes.

Jonah’s situation was not God’s original plan. Jonah got himself in dire circumstances by his choices. God used the natural consequences of Jonah’s decisions to make Himself known, but it is impossible to run from God’s call.

Psalm 139 says, ” Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Jonah was in a hell of his own making, but God, in His mercy, continued to hold out an opportunity for repentance, and Jonah finally acquiesced. He had to be completely out of options and even then it took three days for him to admit he couldn’t find a way out.

But he did repent. And found himself able to thank the Lord for His salvation. With a changed attitude, God released Jonah from the great fish (much to its relief, I suspect) and Jonah found himself on dry ground. He was filthy, smelling of seaweed and decay, but he was alive to tell his story.

It’s sometimes tempting to tell God our plans and the way we want things to go, but God’s will prevails. Jonah could have stayed clean and avoided his big fish story if he had obeyed God the first time. But, like us, Jonah didn’t understand God’s desire to save the people of Nineveh- people Jonah didn’t like. Whether or not Jonah approved of their politics, music, worship styles, food preferences, and the rest, God told him that they were part of His plan.
God may call on us to do something we don’t like or don’t understand. His ways are so much higher than ours! We are much better off if we obey the first time He says, “Arise and go.”

Jonah: Swallowed and wallowing

Jonah 1:17

And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.


Full stop.


Let me think about this. Jonah figures he would be better off dead than to obey the Lord and preach in Nineveh. He did not seek the Lord in this decision, and he did not consider what might happen to the sailors whom he told to throw him overboard. He made decisions based on his own fears. I do wonder why he didn’t jump himself. Why did he need to be thrown by others? God ultimately used that decision to reveal Himself to the sailors, so they at least could be saved.

So, Jonah figures death by drowning is his preferred option. He did not repent, nor did he vow to obey the Lord. But God. In His mercy. Appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah. I consulted a number of commentaries (on Bible Hub) to see what the Hebrew word meant. It means “great fish.” Some of the commentaries tried to explain away the notion, saying it was really a ship with a whale as its sign (that to me is just silly), while others try to guess what kind of fish is might have been (shark? dog fish?) I suspect it was probably some species now extinct, but it really doesn’t matter. One thing is certain: Jonah, expecting death by drowning, found himself wallowing in the muck and bile and partially digested bits of some sea creatures belly!

How often does God allow us to wallow in our sin while preserving our lives, giving us every possible opportunity to repent? His mercy is for our sakes, and also for the work He has prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). When we run from God, we may well find ourselves swallowed and wallowing while God patiently waits for us to come to our senses.