Cramped quarters

neuschwanstein-castle-467116_1280The story of the Old Testament prophet, Jonah, is an intriguing one, and is not without a mild undercurrent of a Providential sense of humor.  Not to poke fun at Jonah’s dire straits, but he did, after all, open himself wide to at least some form of discipline.  Interestingly, as the story unfolds, Jonah never denies that he worships the God of the Hebrew people; he just persistently argues with Him, at least concerning God’s intended task for His wayward prophet.  I have to wonder what brought the man to this extreme—maybe someone from Nineveh had harmed his family somehow, causing a hatred so intense that it created a prejudice toward the whole town (along the lines of the comment about Jesus: “can anything good come out of Nazareth”.)  Maybe Jonah considered God to be unjust in His patient treatment of anyone “not Jewish”. 

Or maybe he was just having a bad day…?

Regardless, a massive storm blows up to buffet the ship carrying our hero, (by choice), in the opposite direction from where God has instructed, thus putting everyone else on board in peril.  (Now, that’s a big lesson to be learned on our behalf right there, but it’s not where I’m headed.)

As the drama intensifies, Jonah is cast out of the boat to calm the sea, and ends up in the belly of a big fish.  For three days.  Have you ever seen what something looks like after being in a fish stomach for a couple of days??   And I doubt that he exactly had much room in there, like to sit up or stroll around.  Not quite like the old Sunday school flannel-graph pieces from the ‘60s.

So here’s what really got my attention:

“Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from inside the fish. He said, ‘I cried out to the LORD in my great trouble, and he answered me.’”

Jonah’s saying that God’s answer to his cry for help was… to be swallowed up by a fish?  AND, Jonah is thanking God, while he’s still on the INSIDE of the fish?!?  Somehow, it would be challenging to consider Jonah’s circumstances at this part of his story as an answered prayer for rescue.  Maybe still part of the discipline for running away, okay, but not an answered prayer, by a long shot.  One of the figures of speech here in America is “out of the frying pan and into the fire.”  That’s howI would see this scenario, anyway.

Therefore, before I’m quick to criticize Jonah’s misadventure, I need to take a serious look at his perspective. 

First, he recognized (“my fault”) and took full responsibility (“throw me over”) for his disobedience.  Secondly, even while he was flailing in the waves, he knew enough about his God to call for mercy and help, which speaks highly of his opinion of God despite seemingly harsh reproof.  Finally, (I totally love this one), though the solution was not the most accommodating, he accepted it as God’s provision for this time period (which, in this case, “only” lasted for three days.)

So the question is: what provision of God I have interpreted as merely sticky, oozy guts inside of a fish, rather than supernatural transport for me to His next mission?

Jonah 1:1,2  Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Author: dawnlizjones

Tends toward TMI, so here's the short list: guitar and banjo (both of which have been much neglected as of late), bicycling (ibid), dogs, very black tea, and contemplating and commenting on deep philosophical thoughts about which I have had no academic or professional training. Oh, also reading, writing, but I shy away from arithmetic.

10 thoughts on “Cramped quarters”

  1. The story of Jonah is fascinating, and you have captured its essence beautifully. I like the series of things God “provides”: a storm, a fish, a vine, and a worm. Also, I’m sure that you are right that the stomach of the fish was not much bigger than Jonah. Some years ago a shark was captured, and an entire person was found in the shark’s stomach (but of course that person did not survive the experience). Jonah tried to die in order to save the lives of the people on the ship, but God did not let him die. I wonder how long he was in the fish’s stomach before it occurred to him that God was not allowing him to die. Both in facing death on behalf of others, and in returning on the third day, Jonah became a picture of Jesus, as Jesus himself said. J.

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  2. I love the question you posed at the end. How many times do we miss God’s answers when they don’t fit our expectations of “how” He will answer? What a loving, gentle Father we serve! Thanks for this reminder.

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  3. I think the book of Jonah shows the humor of God; in fact sometimes I wonder if the book of Jonah has the most largest concentration of literary devices than any other book in the Old Testament. For instance Jonah is a prophet, but in the beginning is being asked more questions of him than instances of him preaching. There’s also a sense where it seems God is humoring Jonah’s rebellion too. In chapter one Jonah “went down to Joppa” (v.3b). He further goes “down” where in the Hebrew it is literally recorded that he “went down into” the hold of the ship (v.3b). What does God do? The Lord gets “down:” The LORD hurls down a big wind (v.4) which forces the sailors to hurl cargoes into the sea (v.5). Meanwhile Jonah slept “down” in the hold of the ship (v.5) and when a sailor went “down” and found Jonah we see Jonah suggested they hurl him “down” into the sea (v.12). They weren’t really “down” for it, but eventually they broke “down” and hurled Jonah “down” into the sea (v.15) where he went down into the belly of a sea creature and has a prayer that mentioned that he’s even “down” to “hell.”

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