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)
We have looked at this passage from the text itself, and as one of the sailors. 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.
Today, let’s see this passage as if we were in Jonah’s place.
God had told you to go to Nineveh, but you hated the Ninevites. They were barbarians, evil and cruel to the core. You would rather see them go up in flames like Sodom and Gomorrah rather than see them repent.
You buy a ticket headed in the opposite direction, as far away from Nineveh as you can imagine. You love God but have given up your calling as a prophet. Nobody ever warned you that it would be this hard, and that God would expect you to go to the capital city of your most hated and feared enemy.
Mentally exhausted, you go below deck and find some large bags of grain. You quickly arrange them into a semi-flat surface, curl up, and promptly fall asleep.
The next thing you know, the ship captain is yelling at you to wake up and pray to your god. The ship is tossing violently, and you hear the wind howling. The wooden ship creaks and groans with every wave. The crew yells to one other above deck.
As the fog lifts from your sleepy mind, your thoughts quickly form:
This is all my fault.
My disobedience to the Lord has brought God’s judgment on me and this ship and crew.
I am not going back to Nineveh.
I am a dead man.
The crew has cast lots, and the lot points to you. When they ask what you have done, you tell them everything: You are running away from God, and the only solution is to throw you overboard. The crew is afraid of the storm, and even more terrified of God, the God of the Hebrews. They know His reputation and power extends beyond Israel to the whole world.
As the crew reluctantly picks you up and tosses you over the side of the ship, you suddenly realize how your emotions have carried you away to a very bad decision. As soon as you hit the water, your natural instincts of survival kick in.
You sink below the surface of the raging sea, then resurface briefly for just a second, gasping for air. The wind has stopped, but the waves are still crashing around an over you. With all your clothes on, you begin to sink below the surface again.
You think to yourself – “This is it – I am going to die here. This is my watery grave.”
Out of desperation, you cry out: “Lord, save me! I have no right to ask, but I beg of You, rescue me! I only desire to serve You once again in Your temple, in Your house!”
You surface one more time, just for a moment. Coughing up sea water and gasping for air, you see the boat a little ways off. As you quickly turn around, you see the open mouth of a giant sea creature of some kind, and it’s right behind you.
Terrified, you duck below the surface of the water, hoping to miss it. But it’s too late – you are swallowed up inside the fish’s mouth, along with other fish, seaweed, and everything else in its path.
In a heartbeat, all goes dark as the fish closes its mouth. Your ribs feel like they will break as the fish pushes all the water out its gills and swallows you and the remaining contents in its mouth.
You cry out to God again, knowing that He is fully justified to let you stay right here and perish. You beg God for mercy, the same mercy that you know he would show to the Ninevites if they turned from their wicked ways and acknowledged Him. Strangely, you sense His presence in this living Sheol, deep in the belly of this sea beast.
The utter darkness, the burning of the beast’s stomach acid on your skin, the limited air, the smell and the heat are all overwhelming. You wonder how long you will survive. You count the time with each heartbeat, with each breath. The seconds tick by into minutes, the minutes trickle by into days. You drift in and out of consciousness.
You wonder, “am I alive, or am I dead? Is this the belly of the beast, or is this Sheol, the place of the dead?”
Then suddenly, the great beast lurches to a stop. Everything in the belly of the beast, including you, are ejected out on the shore. You squint to adjust to the sunlight – you have been in total darkness for three days.
Your only thought is to worship God for His rescue and redemption.
Wherever God chooses to use you again, even going to Nineveh, you will go, no questions asked.
Over and over, you praise the name and might hand of God Most High.
It’s not your one thought, it’s your only thought.
May we be like Jonah with our praise today.