The Book of Jonah is one of the most unusual books ever written whether inside or outside the Scriptures. The story of the Sea monster swallowing Jonah and him living in the belly of that monster for three days and nights then being spit out on the land where God offered him the call once more, challenges our faith. Many have tried hard to get around the difficult parts of the book by pleading that it is not literal, but just a made up story to make a point. But to turn this book into an imaginary story or fable violates reason on several ground. Back in 2 Kings 14:25 Jonah is mentioned as a servant of the Lord the God of Israel and calls him a prophet of God. Much more significant is the fact that Jesus on two occasions refers to the work of Jonah and made no effort to move away from Jonah as being real, but declared that he would offer no sign except the sign of the prophet Jonah who was in the belly of the great fish for three days and nights just as Jesus would be in the heart of the earth for three days and nights. If Jonah is just a story made up to make a point Jesus didn’t know it and made his own comparison weak by laying out the comparison between the two.
When we hear people talk about Jonah it seems to run along this road. Some declare that there is no whale that has ever been seen which could have swallowed Jonah whole and him live in his belly for three days and still be healthy. When this type reasoning is done it completely ignores what the text really says. In chapter one and verse 17 when Jonah had been thrown overboard by the sailors it says, “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Most of the time those who want to ridicule the text go back to the King James Translation where the “Great fish” is referred to as a “Whale.” Whale was never a good translation. But even if it had been correct it was clear that whatever kind of fish it was it was one especially appointed by the Lord God to house His prophet for three days. This wasn’t the run of the meal whale, but a great fish appointed by the Lord for a powerful mission. When one realizes the fish was one appointed by God as a specially prepared fish to take care of His prophet the difficulty is gone. God could prepare a fish of any size, shape or ability that he wanted. Imagine someone with very special needs because of some illness or disease. An expert carpenter is brought in to prepare their house for the man with his special needs. Could the carpenter prepare the house so that its appointments fit the needs of the man in every way? Certainly, because it is being specially made for the individual. So it is with Jonah and the great fish.
The Book of Jonah has a lot more to recommend it than just the fact it has a great sea monster that could swallow the prophet, house him for three days and nights and spit him out on land where he could have another opportunity to do what God told him to do. It was during the days of Israel and Judah being divided and the ten tribes were being taunted all along by the Assyrians who would eventually take the ten tribes captive and scatter them among the people of the world. Assyria was a cruel, ungodly, immoral and dishonest nation. Since the people of Israel of the day were being told by their prophets all along that if they didn’t repent of their sins and idolatry that God would allow Assyria to take them captive and destroy them as a nation. In the minds of the Israelites Assyria was a hated nation. They thought that because they hated Assyria, God did as well. What an amazing shock when God spoke to Jonah to command him to “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria. Since Israel was God’s chosen people and Assyria was their most horrible enemy, why would God want to send a prophet to them to give them any kind of warning? Why wouldn’t he simply destroy the city.
Jonah and the Israelites hadn’t understood the extreme grace, mercy and compassion of God. In their minds what God was concerned about was what was best for them. The little Book of Jonah opens a window for us to see how great the amazing grace of God really is. He was gracious with Nineveh. When we are near the end of the book we learn from Jonah the great reason why Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh was because he knew the grace of God that if they repented of their sins, he would relent on what he was promising and would forgive them. Jonah didn’t want them to repent and he certainly didn’t want God to forgive them and extend their time on earth.
Perhaps more significant in the short Book of the Bible is the amazing demonstration of grace offered to the man who ran away from the Lord. It was God’s amazing grace that sent the sea monster specially equipped to take care of him. It was his great mercy that led to giving Jonah another chance to go out to preach to the people of Nineveh as God commanded. It also shows his wonderful grace with Jonah when he is angry with God for showing them mercy.
Two huge lessons should shine out for us. First God’s mercy and grace is for all people. He never wants anyone to perish but all to come to repentance. Second God’s mercy and grace is there for us as God’s people when we fail him and have wrong attitudes. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”