Archive for December 20th, 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011 – Jonah 2 – In the Belly of the Whale

When the Pharisees and teachers of the law challenge Jesus in Matthew 12 and Luke 11 about his authority and ask him for a sign, Jesus points out the wickedness of this demanding approach to miracles, and he says that the only sign they will receive is the sign of Jonah.  Today we look at an interesting point in the story of the man who lived in the belly of a whale for three days to be delivered in order to do God’s work.  Commentary tells us that Jesus refers to his own three days between death and life that he will experience in order to save the world.  Further commentary tells us why the psalm we read today is so important to us.

The story of the great fish is miraculous only in the sense that God supernaturally provided a whale to swallow Jonah.  There are three critical issues here:

  •       The great fish may indeed have been a large whale, which would not normally have been found in the eastern Mediterranean, but the provision of the whale so far from its usual habitat is the miraculous part of the account.
  •       The word for “belly” . . . in Hebrew is imprecise and does not necessarily mean “stomach”.  Jonah may have been in the oral cavity of a large-mouthed whale. 
  •       A whale, being a mammal, is a warm-blooded air breather that periodically resurfaces for air.  It therefore would have provided Jonah with oxygen, while its body heat would have prevented hypothermia.

Jonah’s psalm (ch.2) makes no sense in context.  The prophet is depicted praising God for his salvation while still inside the fish . . . The psalm is intelligible if we reconstruct events as follows: (1) Jonah, cast overboard during a storm and unable to swim, sank immediately (2:6).  (2) A whale scooped him up and carried him to the surface, allowing him to breathe.  (3) When the whale kept Jonah near the surface, the prophet recognized God’s provision and was able to praise him.  (Zondervan 1474)


When placed in this context, the story of Jonah has special importance for us as we traverse the last days of Advent. 

Jonah is called by God to do something he does not want to do and so he flees.  Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. (Jonah 1:3)  We may also want to reject a task God has laid out for us. 

 Once on board, Jonah admits to the sailors that he has indeed fled the Lord.  They try to save him but the storm is too great for them and Jonah volunteers to go overboard.  But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah. (Jonah 1:17)

On dry land, Jonah goes to Nineveh to do as the Lord has asked.  When the people have a change of heart and heed the prophecy Jonah delivers, the Lord has compassion on them for turning from their evil ways.  (Jonah 3:10)

The dialog between Jonah and Yahweh continues in chapter 4 where we see a push-pull relationship between the two.  The conversion in Nineveh greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry; (Jonah 4:1) still, God abides with his servant and continues to present to him his own pathway for conversion.  God continues to provide a journey away from anger toward compassion. God might be speaking to us when he says to Jonah: Do you have a right to be angry?

Jonah runs from the Lord and finds that he has come up against an obstacle too large to overcome.  Leaping into the raging storm he expects death . . . and yet he is saved. 

Tomorrow’s Noontime will be a Prayer from the Belly of the Whale . . .

ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE (NIV). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005. 1474. Print.

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