Last time we saw the completion of the first phase of God’s plan for Jonah’s mission – the salvation of Jonah’s shipmates. As we take up the story, Jonah has just been cast into the sea, and God has calmed the storm He used to draw Jonah and the crew to call on Him. Now God turns His attention to dealing with Jonah’s rebellion…
Jonah 1:17 – 2:1017Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.2-1Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly. 2And he said:“I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction,And He answered me.“Out of the belly of Sheol I cried,And You heard my voice.3For You cast me into the deep,Into the heart of the seas,And the floods surrounded me;All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.4Then I said, “I have been cast out of Your sight;Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.”5The waters surrounded me, even to my soul;The deep closed around me;Weeds were wrapped around my head.6I went down to the moorings of the mountains;The earth with its bars closed behind me forever;Yet You have brought up my life from the pit,O LORD, my God.7“When my soul fainted within me,I remembered the LORD;And my prayer went up to You,Into Your holy temple.8“Those who regard worthless idolsForsake their own Mercy.9But I will sacrifice to YouWith the voice of thanksgiving;I will pay what I have vowed.Salvation is of the LORD.”10So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
Jonah 1:17aNow the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah.
As we discussed in the introduction to our Jonah study, the primary reason that Bible skeptics cite against a literal reading of Jonah is the idea that no one could survive inside an animal’s digestive system for three days. The key to understanding this passage is to realize that God had specially chosen and conditioned the fish in which Jonah was preserved. The Hebrew word we see translated here as “prepared” is מָנָה manah. It means – to count, reckon, number, assign, tell, appoint, prepare. Of course, this wasn’t just some random creature with a yearning for a Jonah lunch, but a specific animal which God chose and directed.
Job 41:1-4 (God speaking to Job and his companions from the whirlwind)1Can you draw out Leviathan with a hook,Or snare his tongue with a line which you lower?2Can you put a reed through his nose,Or pierce his jaw with a hook?3Will he make many supplications to you?Will he speak softly to you?4Will he make a covenant with you?Will you take him as a servant forever?
It is natural to assume (as we’ll see in a moment Jonah did) that being swallowed by a fish was God’s punishment for Jonah’s rebellion. But consider the alternative. Could Jonah have survived for three days and three nights adrift in the ocean? Even if he could have survived, would he have simply drifted back toward the shores of Israel so he could continue on his appointed journey to Nineveh?
Instead, God appointed the fish to swallow Jonah…
- to protect him from the elements and other ocean carnivores,
- to provide him transportation back toward his appointed mission field,
- to give him time to reconsider and repent of his rebellion against God’s direction.
When we take a moment to really meditate on the orchestration of God’s plan for Jonah, it is quite encouraging. Most of us have loved ones who remain in sin and deception outside the salvation of Jesus Christ. Many of them are suffering in the midst of a wicked and dangerous world. Yet God preserves them until they can come to a place of repentance, as He preserved Jonah…
2 Peter 3:9The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
Jonah’s main issue was pride, manifested in self-righteousness (as we shall see) and rebellion against the Lord. God cannot abide human pride…
Proverbs 6:16-1916These six things the LORD hates,Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:17A proud look,A lying tongue,Hands that shed innocent blood,18A heart that devises wicked plans,Feet that are swift in running to evil,19A false witness who speaks lies,And one who sows discord among brethren.
Indeed it was pride which led to the fall of mankind which introduced death, pain, war, and all manner of evil and suffering into the world in which we now live…
Isaiah 14:12-1512“How you are fallen from heaven,O Lucifer, son of the morning!How you are cut down to the ground,You who weakened the nations!13For you have said in your heart:‘I will ascend into heaven,I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;I will also sit on the mount of the congregationOn the farthest sides of the north;14I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,I will be like the Most High.’15Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol,To the lowest depths of the Pit.
God requires a humble and contrite heart from His servants. Without that we are useless to God; With it, there’s nothing God can’t do with and through us…
2 Samuel 22:28 (see also Psalm 18:27)You will save the humble people;But Your eyes are on the haughty, that You may bring them down.
Psalm 34:18The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart,And saves such as have a contrite spirit.
Psalm 51:15-1715O Lord, open my lips,And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.16For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;You do not delight in burnt offering.17The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise.
Isaiah 57:15For thus says the High and Lofty OneWho inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:“I dwell in the high and holy place,With him who has a contrite and humble spirit,To revive the spirit of the humble,And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
Isaiah 66:1-21Thus says the LORD:“Heaven is My throne,And earth is My footstool.Where is the house that you will build Me?And where is the place of My rest?2For all those things My hand has made,And all those things exist,”Says the LORD.“But on this one will I look:On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit,And who trembles at My word.
Matthew 5:3Blessed are the poor in spirit,For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Jonah 1:17bAnd Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Of course, there’s no coincidence in the timing of Jonah’s symbolic “burial” and “resurrection!” Here we find one of the most powerful arguments for a literal reading of the book of Jonah, because the Lord Jesus Himself obviously considered it historically accurate, and evidently used the example of Jonah often in His teaching…
Matthew 12:38-4038Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.”39But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
Notice that, in preaching to His Jewish audience, Jesus had no need to reiterate the story of Jonah itself, because the story of Jonah would have been taught to all young Jewish children. Later on we’ll take a look at the concluding thought of this famous saying of Jesus concerning the repentance of the people of Nineveh.
In the meantime, let’s consider the symbolism of the period of 3 days. The Word of God mentions a three-day period a number of times in association with restoration or healing. Our memory verse for this week – Hosea 6:2 – is one such instance. Let’s take a quick look at a few others…
Genesis 22:2-42Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”3So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off.
Of course, in this passage, Isaac (like Jonah) typifies Jesus, and foreshadows His sacrifice on the cross. By the way, this passage is also significant in its first mention of Mt. Moriah – the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
2 Kings 20:1-61In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death. And Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, went to him and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live.'”2Then he turned his face toward the wall, and prayed to the LORD, saying, 3“Remember now, O LORD, I pray, how I have walked before You in truth and with a loyal heart, and have done what was good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.4And it happened, before Isaiah had gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 5“Return and tell Hezekiah the leader of My people, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD. 6And I will add to your days fifteen years. I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake, and for the sake of My servant David.” ’ ”
When queen Esther’s uncle, Mordecai asked her to intervene on behalf of her people because of King Ahasuerus’ decree that all the jews in his empire were to be destroyed…
Esther 4:10-5:210Then Esther spoke to Hathach, and gave him a command for Mordecai: 11“All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that any man or woman who goes into the inner court to the king, who has not been called, he has but one law: put all to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter, that he may live. Yet I myself have not been called to go in to the king these thirty days.” 12So they told Mordecai Esther’s words.13And Mordecai told them to answer Esther: “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. 14For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”15Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai: 16“Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!”17So Mordecai went his way and did according to all that Esther commanded him.1Now it happened on the third day that Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, across from the king’s house, while the king sat on his royal throne in the royal house, facing the entrance of the house. 2So it was, when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, that she found favor in his sight, and the king held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther went near and touched the top of the scepter.
In the symbolic death of Saul, and his resurrection as Paul – a new creation in Christ Jesus…
Acts 9:1-9 & 17-181Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.3As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”5And he said, “Who are You, Lord?”Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”6So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”7And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. 8Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.…17And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.
Jonah 2:1-21Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly. 2And he said:“I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction,And He answered me.“Out of the belly of Sheol I cried,And You heard my voice.
God’s desire is for continual fellowship with us day-by-day, and moment-by-moment. As Hanani the seer said to King Asa…
2 Chronicles 16:9aFor the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.
Or as Paul admonished the Philippian church in…
Philippians 4:6-76Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Yet, like Jonah, we often turn toward God most earnestly only in times of desperation. Even when we cast ourselves into dire situations through our sins, God remains our faithful, loving Father…
2 Timothy 2:13If we are faithless,He remains faithful;He cannot deny Himself.
Deuteronomy 4:25-3125When you beget children and grandchildren and have grown old in the land, and act corruptly and make a carved image in the form of anything, and do evil in the sight of the LORD your God to provoke Him to anger, 26I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that you will soon utterly perish from the land which you cross over the Jordan to possess; you will not prolong your days in it, but will be utterly destroyed. 27And the LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD will drive you. 28And there you will serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. 29But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30When you are in distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the LORD your God and obey His voice 31(for the LORD your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them.
Indeed, as He did with Jonah, God sometimes brings affliction upon us in order to draw us near to Him and restore in us the desire to turn from our sins back toward our Abba in supplication, seeking his mercy and aid…
2 Corinthians 7-107And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Ideally, we would continually seek after God even and especially in the midst of God’s blessings, but we often fail in that. Still, God wants us to turn to Him in times of distress…
Psalm 46:1God is our refuge and strength,A very present help in trouble.
2 Chronicles 7:12-1512Then the LORD appeared to Solomon by night, and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. 13When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, 14if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 15Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to prayer made in this place.
Joel 2:12-1412“Now, therefore,” says the LORD,“Turn to Me with all your heart,With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”13So rend your heart, and not your garments;Return to the LORD your God,For He is gracious and merciful,Slow to anger, and of great kindness;And He relents from doing harm.14Who knows if He will turn and relent,And leave a blessing behind Him?A grain offering and a drink offeringFor the LORD your God?