17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. 2 1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. 2 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.
3 You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.
4 I said, ‘I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.’
5 The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
6 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.
7 “When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
8 “Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
9 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.’”
10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
(Jonah 1:17 – 2:10 NIV)
The last time, we looked at this passage from the text itself, seeing what we can learn along the way. Today, let’s use our Biblically informed imaginations to drop into Jonah’s story, not as Jonah, but as ourselves. When I say “Biblically informed imagination”, I am saying we must stay true to the text of the Scripture passage while envisioning what it might have been like to go through this experience.
First of all, imagine being a sailor on the deck of the ship, completely drenched, the wind howling, the ship being tossed back and forth in the waves, holding on to whatever is nearby for fear of being swept off the boat. Jonah has just admitted his sin of running away from his god, and this storm is his god’s doing.
Jonah, in his stubbornness, will not repent and make peace with his god; instead, he tells you to just throw him overboard to halt the storm. Jonah won’t take action on his own to save the ship and crew; he puts the burden on your shoulders to take his life by throwing him overboard.
You have already prayed to your god, and there has been no answer. You know the stories of old about the God of the Hebrews – how He wiped out the entire Egyptian army and how He empowered a little kid to kill a Philistine giant then made that kid a king, and so many more tales of Jonah’s God intervening in history.
You and your fellow mates are in a terrible dilemma – if you don’t do what Jonah says, you will die in the sea as the storm destroys your boat; if you do what Jonah says, the Hebrew God will take your life for essentially killing Jonah by throwing him overboard. Either way, you’re a dead man. You cry out to this God of the Hebrews in desperation, asking Him to spare your life and not hold you accountable for Jonah’s death.
As you and your shipmates grab Jonah and throw him over the rail, and he splashes into the raging sea. As soon as Jonah hits the water, the wind subsides and the waves quickly dissipate. The sun begins to peek through the clouds, and you see Jonah bobbing in the water a little ways from the ship.
All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a great fish of epic proportions surfaces for just a second and lunges to where Jonah had been. With a flip of its mighty tail, the sea creature is gone, and so is Jonah.
This is overwhelming! You and your shipmates immediately fall to your knees and worship the God of the Hebrews. Jonah’s God has spared your life and Jonah’s life has been taken in place of yours. You make promises to Jonah’s God to worship Him and Him alone for the rest of your days.
May we remember that the same God who spared the lives of the shipmates is the same God who is engaged in our lives. He loves us too much to let us run away when He calls us to Himself, and will pursue us to the ends of the earth to wins us back.
May we, like the sailors, fall on our knees and worship Him today for all He has done, is doing, and will do.
The next time, we’ll look at this passage and experience the story in Jonah’s place.