Heroes of the Bible

Jonah and the Whale: Stories Beyond the Flannel Board


Remember the flannel boards and hand puppets of yesteryear? (Boy am I showing my age here…) Yes, I’m talking about going way back… to Sunday school. These were the times where we would all leave our parents and join other children to hear about the cutesy biblical stories of David and Goliath, Noah’s Ark, and one of my favorites, Jonah and the Whale. As I was reading my Bible this week I just so happen to come across my favorite story in Jonah 2. As I read, I began to wonder just how many of us have taken the time to go beyond these great childhood explanations and see how they can now be applied to our adult lives.

Jonah 2 is one of the most widely used and most recognized stories in the Bible. What I love about the story of Jonah and the Whale is that it goes way beyond the flannel board and cute plastic figurines of our childhood; and even more so, the more technological DVD movies our children are watching today. This account, while seemingly simplistic, provides a diverse approach to man’s comprehension of the comfort, strength, hope, and unfailing love God provides to us in times of need.

Jonah 2 begins with, “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God” (Jonah 2:1). This passage brings the reader to understand immediately that we are witnessing a miracle. To fully understand this point, its best to reflect back on Jonah 1:17 where God had arranged for a fish to swallow up Jonah after the sailors who he had been sailing with became frightened at the raging seas and threw him overboard. A good assumption could be that now that Jonah had been swallowed up, he seemed as if he was forced to repent and pray before the Lord as referenced by verse 2:2 that states, “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me” (Jonah 2:2). Yet, this verse also conveys that while Jonah was still in the fish’s belly, he was reassured that the Lord had heard him cry out, “You listened to my cry” (Jonah 2:2). This is the first sign of Jonah’s faith being used, for he knew that despite his current situation, he would be delivered. This shows that Jonah not only had faith, but he was also a man capable of receiving God’s reassurance and peace; a point that proves that sometimes our prayers are answered before the resolution actually occurs.

As the passage continues we get the impression that Jonah was a man who was familiar with God’s Word. Through his writing he uses many words and phrases that are associated with the Psalms. Not only does this strike me as important, but what stands out is that Jonah knew these phrases by heart because he recited them while laying inside the dark belly of a fish. As the passage proceeds, verses 3-7 seems to be one of recounting the dilemma Jonah finds himself in while crying out to God in humility. Jonah’s exclamation in verse 3 regarding, “You hurled me into the depths” (Jonah 2:3) brings forth an understanding that it was not the sailors that were responsible for Jonah’s plight; it was God who threw him overboard. This thought brought me to realize that just like man today, Jonah was never out of God’s loving hands even though he tried to run from him. Moreover, when Jonah states, “I have been banished from your sight” (Jonah 2:4), he was not doing so because of the situation he was in, but the realization that he had separated himself from God. Yet, with all that seems to be going on in these few passages, Jonah shows the resolve to turn back to God and his temple as proof in his words, “Yet I will look again toward your holy temple” (Jonah 2:4).

At this point in the passage Jonah seems overwhelmed with the situation that he found himself in. “But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit” (Jonah 2:6) shows once again that Jonah is showing praise to God even though the answer to his prayers had not occurred yet. As I read these passages, I began to think to myself that there must have been a time where Jonah lived a life where he would do whatever he was asked from God. Unfortunately, Jonah was now in a spiritual mind frame where he realized it was time to stop resisting God and start following His Word. For it seems clear that Jonah realized that resisting God was comparable to being an idolater as found in his own words, “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them” (Jonah 2:8). Ironically, he came to find clarity inside the belly of that fish and repents for running from God with proclamations of, “But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you” (Jonah 2:9). At the end, it is clear Jonah had not only repented, but humbled himself before the Lord. Jonah had spent three days and three nights in the belly of a fish and on three separate occasions he called out to God for help and forgiveness (Jonah 2:2, 2:4, and 2:7). Oddly, while God controlled the fish that first swallowed Jonah, He now summoned the fish to, “vomit Jonah onto dry land” (Jonah 2:10).

So how can we use this lesson and apply it to our daily lives? It is in these short verses of Jonah 2 that we come to identify with the important message concerning the sovereignty of God, and what happens if we disobey what God has intended for us. Jonah’s deliverance after three days and nights affords us an amazing example of what it means to lay one’s life down, and a reminiscent foreshadowing of Christ resurrection. The remarkable point that we can take from this passage is that Jonah was not just repentant for what he had done, he had now returned to trusting God as before. This begs each of us to ask, “What things in our lives are we still not repentant for and are still struggling to place our trust in God hands instead of our own?”

Building HIS Kingdom One Soul at a Time…

Pastor Steve

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