January 11, 2018

Jonah 2
Running to God

Jonah 1:17-2:5

This part of Jonah’s story is one reason why some interpreters say the book is a work of fiction or a parable that has a spiritual meaning. Indeed, this book does have deep, spiritual meaning.

So, is the experience of Jonah fact or fiction? I take it at face value—Jonah was thrown overboard and was swallowed not by a whale, but by a big fish. The best rendering of the Hebrew word is “fish,” not whale.

There have been various, so-called documented cases where a person was swallowed by a large fish and lived to tell about it. Most of these accounts have credibility issues.

Jonah’s experience does have the validation of a very reliable source—Jesus. In Matthew 12:39-41, Jesus refers to the “sign of Jonah.” He appeals to this event as genuine history: “Whereas Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

As in so many other instances, the miraculous is either accepted or rejected by the listener. If you deny the possibility of a miracle here, then you will have a difficult time seeing it as nothing more than a symbolic lesson.

If you allow for miracles, then God arranged for an existing fish (whale, shark, or whatever) to swallow up Jonah.

We should not be surprised by Jonah’s immediate response to his situation—he prayed.

The people who lived in these days did not have a clear view of heaven and eternal life. We are fortunate to have a very detailed understanding of these things from the books of our New Testament. “Sheol” was the abode of the dead. In this shadowy, dark existence, Jonah cried out to God and God heard him.

All of his circumstances—the water, the weeds, and the terror of the fish itself forced Jonah to examine his plight. He felt “expelled” from God’s sight (2:4) not because God had turned away from him, but because Jonah had turned away from God.