This week we started a series on the book of Jonah. I love everything about Jonah’s story because, well, it has everything: faith, fear, defiance, salvation, redemption, and that’s just to name a few.
A quick recap of the story in case you might not remember: God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach to them, but the people of Nineveh were so wicked and vile that Jonah feared for his life. Instead of going to Nineveh, he ran away as far as he could in completely the opposite direction. He actually tried to hide from God, which of course, never works. In the midst of a great storm that would likely destroy the ship he and other men were on, he fessed up that he was the cause of the storm because he disobeyed God. Then, the men threw him overboard to save their lives and left him in the sea to die.
There is much more to the story, but my focus is on what happens next. When we think of Jonah, we typically think of the big fish. I remember hearing that story when I was younger, and it was always stressed how awful it had to have been living inside the belly of a fish for 3 days and nights. I was taught this was his punishment, his consequence, for going against God and that the fish finally vomited him out (yeah gross) after he repented. This teaching implied that he would have stayed longer had he not repented.
Perspective Changes Everything
Now, there may be truth to the teaching above, but that’s not the whole story. The fish isn’t necessarily a negative part of the story. Jonah’s time in the fish’s belly could very well be viewed as a “time out” that he had to stay in until he decided to apologize to God, but let’s look from a different vantage point.
Before Jonah was thrown from the ship, he admitted what he had done wrong. He is even the one who suggested that he be thrown into the sea. He felt remorse. His heart felt regret, and he saw that his decision was hurting other people as well. Before being thrown from the ship, Jonah actually led the other men to Christ.
What would have happened to Jonah if it weren’t for that rather large fish? We can guess that he would have drowned or would have been killed by a sea creature, but he didn’t. Jonah 1:17 says God provided a great fish to swallow him. It could have said, “God made a great fish swallow Jonah to give him time to think about his actions,” but it doesn’t say that. It says the fish was provided for Jonah.
That fish wasn’t so much a “time out” punishment for Jonah as it was God’s saving grace that gave Jonah another chance to do what God initially called him to do. It was redemption at its finest. I mean, seriously, how did Jonah even survive the trip down into the belly, much less hang out there for 3 days and nights only to make that trip back up and onto dry land nonetheless? It was God’s saving grace.
God can make possible what is impossible and unexplainable for us, and he did that very thing in this story. Yes, this was a consequence for what he had done, but at the same time, it was God’s loving hand providing a way out and a way back to safety. I think this part is too easily forgotten, and the focus on the purpose of the fish has become more of a negative than a positive.
Jonah was probably not too happy about his situation, but I believe he understood he was the only one to blame for where his life ended up. However, I’m willing to bet he was incredibly thankful for that fish once he was back on dry land and realized the only reason he was still alive was because of that fish.
Doesn’t that happen to us when we find ourselves in difficult times? We get angry and wonder why God is doing this to us, but once it’s over, and we find ourselves on the other side, we realize what God was doing during that time. We see how we were being protected the whole time. Sometimes the situations we curse day in and day out are actually there to save us and get us to dry land.
In the midst of your most difficult times, it’s easy to go straight to the fear and doubt, but that’s the time to trust that God’s perspective is far greater than ours. Draw close to God during those times, and trust that it’s very likely you are being protected from something you may not even realize is out there.