“Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah 1:17, NIV)
The big fish in Jonah’s story often gets treated unfairly. He (or she) is often made out to be the villain or an instrument of punishment. Perhaps we mistake the story of Jonah for that of Gepetto, the father of Pinocchio, who gets trapped inside an evil whale while searching for his wooden boy.
The big fish of the Jonah story is not a foreboding, evil force sent to strike terror into the hearts of Jonah or of the sailors who throw Jonah overboard to protect their boat (see Jonah 1). Except for God Himself, who mercifully rescues virtually everyone in the book of Jonah—from pagan sailors to wicked Ninevites—the fish is the hero of the whole story!
Jonah himself acknowledges this in his own prayer. Note these excerpts from Jonah 2:
From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said:
“In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.” (2:1-2)
“The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.” (2:5-6)
“Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”
And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. (2:8-10)
Jonah is thankful for the provision of the fish!
Although the method of deliverance was uncomfortable, the creativity of God’s provision when all seemed hopeless is the focus of Jonah’s praise.
We know from the whole story that Jonah was a reluctant prophet. In fact, I recently heard a sermon that reminded me that the only consistently disobedient person in the book of Jonah is Jonah! The pagan sailors obey God, the elements of the weather obey God, the big fish obeys God, and even the evil Ninevites turn from their wicked ways and come to God. In the end, Jonah sits in misery, even though God has demonstrated His provision and mercy over and over again.
I wonder if, in our places of privilege and blessing, we fail to acknowledge and celebrate the creative provision of God like Jonah. Our God is merciful and loving, “not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9), yet we so often take this kindness for granted. We either forget the times of God’s creative provision in our own lives, or we resent God’s provision in the lives of those with whom we disagree or who have harmed us.
May God remind us that his mercy endures forever, and may we celebrate that mercy every single day!
Prayer for the week:
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen. (from The Book of Common Prayer)
Charles W. Christian is managing editor of Holiness Today.
Written for Coffee Break with Holiness Today.