“You threw me into the depths, into the heart of the seas, and the current overcame me. All Your breakers and Your billows swept over me.” Jonah 2:3, CSB
My son received a new Bible for Christmas last year, and we have been reading it non-stop. One of his favorite stories is Jonah and the Whale, which he requests daily with unrestrained glee. As I’ve read this story so many times in the last months, I’ve been thinking of why a story like Jonah’s is included in the Bible. What does this story hold for me?
Jonah’s story is simple: God told Jonah to go preach His message of repentance in Nineveh. Instead of obeying, Jonah fled and tried to hide from the Lord. While on his getaway boat, God caused a great storm to come upon them, and the sailors threw Jonah into the sea to appease the God from whom Jonah hid. Jonah sank in the deep, and the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow him. Jonah stayed in the dark, smelly, cavernous belly of that fish for three days. While he was in the belly of the whale, Jonah cried to the Lord, acknowledging His hand in Jonah’s circumstances. He didn’t complain about how uncomfortable he was or ask for God to change his surroundings.
“But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise,
and I will fulfill all my vows.
For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.” Jonah 2:9, NLT
Jonah recognizes God as sovereign over his life, offers him prayers of thanksgiving and remembers that salvation comes from the Lord. It’s only after Jonah reaches this point of clarity about who God is that God commands the fish to spit Jonah out. Once back on dry land, God gives Jonah the same command a second time: Go and give my message of repentance to the people of Nineveh. This time, Jonah obeys.
I wonder how many times the circumstances in my life have been because of my disobedience. It’s easy to immediately complain when things don’t go my way or to ask God why he’s putting me through the struggle, but it’s rare that I take the time to consider how my own sin has consequences. Jonah shows us that when we disobey and try to hide from God we shouldn’t be surprised if He makes us sit in the belly of a whale for a few days, until we get our hearts right. It’ll stink and be uncomfortable, but sometimes that’s what it takes to remind us of the power and sovereignty and worthiness of the God we serve. When our hearts are set aright, God brings us back up to try again, to obey. Maybe my first prayer should be one of supplication, that the Lord would help me obey Him in all things, so that my times in the belly of the whale may be few and far between.