Jonah – Rode in the Belly of a Fish
by John C. Westervelt
Jonah was a prophet living in Gath-hepher near present day Nazareth during the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel (793-753 B.C.). The Lord told Jonah to go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because of its wickedness. Not wanting to tell the people of Nineveh about their upcoming destruction, Jonah hurried sixty miles southwest to the port city of Joppa. Here he boarded a ship for Tarshish, Spain, where he hoped to hide from God.
Not long after the ship set sail, the Lord sent a great wind on the sea. Waves higher than the mainmast lifted the wooden ship like a cork, then dropped her into a trough before lifting her once again. Water from the top of the waves was blown in thin sheets parallel to the ocean. Everywhere the angry water churned itself into a white froth. The crew struggled with the oars to keep the vessel pointed into the waves, for they knew if the ship took a wave from the side they would surely capsize. Other sailors threw cargo overboard to lighten the ship.
Meanwhile, Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down, and fallen asleep. The ship’s captain approached Jonah and said, “How can you sleep when we may all perish together? Get up, call on your god, and ask him to save us.”
The sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this storm.” So they cast lots, and Jonah drew out the stone that marked him as the culprit. The spokesman asked Jonah, “Who is responsible for this storm? What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country?”
Jonah answered, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
Knowing that Jonah was fleeing from his god, the sailors said to him, “What must we do to calm the sea?”
Jonah replied, “Throw me into the sea, and it will become calm.”
The crew was reluctant to throw Jonah overboard, so they rowed even more desperately, trying to return to land. When the storm only worsened, they picked up a willing Jonah and threw him into the boiling water. As Jonah hit the water, the raging sea turned calm. At the sight of the sea’s sudden transformation, the men on the boat worshiped Jonah’s God in awe.
God must have created a special fish just for this occasion. As Jonah sank into the blue water, a great fish swallowed him. For three days the fish swam north along the eastern Mediterranean coast before spitting up Jonah on the shore. Eight hundred years later, Jesus answered the scribes and Pharisees’ request for a sign by saying, “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time telling him to go to Nineveh. Jonah’s next hurdle was a four hundred mile cross-country journey to Nineveh on the east bank of the Tigris River. Arriving on the outskirts of Nineveh, Jonah began a walk through the great metropolis. He estimated its size as requiring three days to walk around the outside of the city. As Jonah walked throughout the city, he cried out, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
The king and all the people believed God’s prophet. The king put on his coarse, dark sackcloth and sat down in ashes. Next, he issued a proclamation telling all the people to repent as he had. When God saw that all the people turned from their wicked ways, He had compassion and did not destroy them.
Jonah reminisced about the frightening three days in the belly of the great fish and the arduous journey overland to Nineveh. Like a child, he began to pout, thinking, “If the people were so evil that God sent me all this way, then He should kill them.” With this he stormed out of the city to the east. Here he built a shelter to protect himself from the elements while waiting for forty days, hoping that God would still destroy the city.
The Lord provided a fast-growing plant beside the waiting Jonah to give him additional shade from the hot sun. The next day the Lord sent a worm to feed on the stem, so the plant withered. This was followed by a scorching east wind. The wind and sun beat down on Jonah. He felt so depressed that he wished he could die.
Then God said, “Jonah, do you feel sad that the plant that shaded you died? Can you then imagine how sad I would feel if the 120,000 children of Nineveh were to die?” Through this experience, Jonah glimpsed the redemptive heart of God – a heart that does not desire that any should die without the knowledge of Him.
Jonah 2 Kings 14:25-27 Matthew 12:38-41
Copyright 2003 by John C. Westervelt
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