I think most of us are familiar with the story of Jonah. You know-disobedient prophet runs away rather than obey God and go to Nineveh, and winds up in the belly of the great fish as a result. After three days of , shall we say, great unpleasantness, he is spewed out on shore, and with attitude properly adjusted (at least for the moment) goes on to obey God, preach to the Ninevites, who respond with repentance. (Jonah is ticked off at that, too, but that is a topic for another day.)
How many of us upon hearing the story thought that getting swallowed up by that fish was Jonah’s punishment for disobedience? Well, yes, in one sense, of course it was. If he’d done what God told him to do the first time none of it would have happened….but, let’s go back and take a look at the story one more time, shall we?
Setting the scene, Jonah is asleep down in the hold of the ship he has taken passage in. God had sent a massive storm and the crewmen were casting the cargo overboard-and each was praying to his (pagan) god. They finally went down and woke Jonah up, and to make a long story short he explains that he is the reason for the storm, since he’s running from God and all, and that they should throw him overboard ….well, let’s take it up from chapter 1, verse 13:
13 However, the men rowed desperately to return to land but they could not, for the sea was becoming even stormier against them. 14 Then they called on the LORD and said, “We earnestly pray, O LORD, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood on us; for You, O LORD, have done as You have pleased.”
15 So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. 16 Then the men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.
17 And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.” (NASV)
So, here we have this hardheaded disobedient prophet, who would rather be thrown into the sea and DROWN rather than repent to God, and what does God do?
He appoints the great fish. In other words, He arranges a circumstance to RESCUE His rebellious servant. The Fish Gut Hilton might not have been the most pleasant place to spend three days-I’m certainly not planning to make a reservation!-but it accomplished a purpose in God’s plan both for Jonah and eventually for the people of Nineveh. So, Jonah has three days to think about how he could have handled things differently and the Bible even records the magnificent prayer he prays there, in the belly of the fish. Eventually, God commands the fish to spit up Jonah, and we know the rest of the story.
Why did I bother to type this all out? Well, some of us are going through, have gone through, or will go through circumstances in life that will seem just about as much fun as Jonah’s three day experience. We will cry, we will pray, we will wonder why on earth God is making us go through what surely feels like hell on earth (I can’t imagine Jonah feeling differently.) My question to you is this:
Could our circumstance be meant, not for destruction, but for our salvation? Could our time in the belly of the great fish be a provision of our loving Father who sees the end from the beginning, who loves us with an everlasting love, and whose plan we don’t always have an explanation for? Could it be that, horrible and terrible and no-good and stinky as our experience is, that God is using it to rescue us and not to punish us?
Just a thought.
Oh, and PS. Notice that God did not let Jonah off the hook regarding Nineveh.