A great fish story ∙
For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. – Matthew 12:40
3 But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the LORD. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the LORD by sailing to Tarshish.
4 But the LORD hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart.
5 Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help.
7 Then the crew cast lots to see which of them had offended the gods and caused the terrible storm. When they did this, the lots identified Jonah as the culprit.
8 “Why has this awful storm come down on us?” they demanded. “Who are you? What is your line of work? What country are you from? What is your nationality?”
9 Jonah answered, “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
10 The sailors were terrified when they heard this, for he had already told them he was running away from the LORD. “Oh, why did you do it?” they groaned.
14 Then they cried out to the LORD, Jonah’s God. “O LORD,” they pleaded, “don’t make us die for this man’s sin. And don’t hold us responsible for his death. O LORD, you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons.”
15 Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once!
16 The sailors were awestruck by the LORD’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.
17 Now the LORD had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.
Probably Jonah is one of the best-known yet least understood books in the Bible. From the world’s point of view, Jonah and the Whale is no more than a fairy tale fit only for children. The book is looked upon with ridicule and disbelief and is laughed out of the Bible. It is not taken seriously. It is certainly not taken historically (Steadman).
However, it is noteworthy that the Lord Jesus Christ believed the story of Jonah. He never questioned its authenticity.
Further, He explained that Jonah’s three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish was a prophecy regarding His coming resurrection three days after His death and burial. The sign of Jonah was that He would be crucified and buried for “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” After the third day, the Lord Jesus Christ would then be raised from the dead (Matthew 12:40, Matthew 16:21).
Certainly, the Lord Jesus Christ knew the difference between fables and myths, and actual history. If He accepted the story of Jonah as historical, we are in good company when we do also.
Is it possible for someone to be swallowed by a whale and come out alive?
The records of the British Admiralty tell the story of James Bartley, an apprentice seaman on a whaler, who was swallowed by a whale in February 1891. He survived the ordeal.
Historical records report that James Bartley was in a longboat in pursuit of a whale. Suddenly the longboat surged, and he was thrown into the water apparently lost at sea.
The whale was eventually caught, and crewmen removed its stomach. They were startled when they saw movement. Out slid Bartley alive but unconscious. He regained consciousness but babbled incoherently. Within a month he regained his senses and told his tale.
After he was flung into the sea, the last thing he saw was a tremendous mouth open over him and engulf him. He was swept over the teeth and slid down a slimy tube into the stomach of the whale. He could breathe but the hot fetid odor rendered him unconscious. He was trapped in the stomach of the whale for over 15 hours.
Although he was relatively healthy, Bartley lost all the hair on his body and his skin was bleached to an unnatural whiteness. He was blind for the rest of his life.
He died eighteen years after his terrifying adventure and remarkable survival. On his tombstone in the churchyard at Gloucester is a brief account of his experience at sea and a footnote, which says: James Bartley -1870-1909 – A Modern Jonah.
REFLECT & PRAY
No matter how hard we try, there is no way we can get away from the Father.
Psalms 139:7 I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence!
Father I do not want to be a reluctant servant, yet I see so much of myself in Jonah, defiant and disobedient. Father encourage me to listen and heed Your instructions.
The Father commissioned Jonah as a prophet, to be one of His spokesmen. He ordered him to go to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh and pronounce judgment against it for its wickedness. Jonah probably muttered under his breath, “no way, I’m outta here!”
Nineveh and Tarshish were then at opposite ends of the known world. Rather than obeying the Father, Jonah fled in the opposite direction. He was supposed to go East but instead, he went West. It was rather simple for the Father to track him down and get him moving in the right direction. The Father has power over all of nature. He prepared a great storm and a great fish. In retrospect, to get Jonah where He wanted him to be, He provided a living submarine.
When the great storm came up, the pagan sailors were terrified. They screamed out to their gods in prayer and tried to lighten the load. But nothing helped. They confronted Jonah. They knew that he was running away from God. When they found out that he was a Hebrew and worshiped the God of heaven Who was responsible for the creation of the sea and the land, they became hysterical.
As a reluctant Jewish prophet, how could he possibly run away from the living God? They realized that the Father was in fast pursuit of Jonah. The terrifying storm was part of the Father’s plan to get him turned around. They now saw Jonah as a threat. Somebody was going to die. Regrettably, they realized, “it was him or us.” Reluctantly they threw Jonah into the sea and the storm immediately ceased.
The pagans immediately repented and walked the aisle. From then on, they would serve the Father, the Lord God of Israel.
Jonah on the other hand found himself in the pitch black, hot, fetid belly of the great fish. Yet he was still defiant. Objectively speaking, this is really a bad idea. Jonah repents, but not with his whole heart, he holds back. But that’s a story for another day.
A word about whales and great fish. Undoubtedly people who lived in the land of Israel 2700 years ago had little experience with British whalers. They probably had never seen a whale. When Jonah wrote, he called the creature simply a great fish, in Hebrew dag gadol.
Long before the book of Jonah, the Father created all of the animals, land, air, and sea. It does not take much reflection to realize that the Father anticipated coming events. The Father knowing in advance of Jonah’s future defiance and attempt to flee His will by ship, created a unique creature for the upcoming occasion.
He made an animal that was perfectly designed to capture Jonah in the open sea, save him from drowning, and get him moving in the right direction. The Father engineered and created the first underwater human transportation system, aka a great fish. Which great fish was it? The Scriptures do not say for sure. But there is one animal that perfectly meets the requirements.
Sperm whales are different from all other creatures. They are up to 60 feet long. Sperm whales have the largest head of any animal. It can be about 20 feet long, 10 feet high, and 7 feet across, and is about one-third of the whale’s body length. Just the right size to swallow a man in one gulp. The stomach was large enough to easily hold him and provide the oxygen needed.
Of course, it was no problem for the Father who is omniscient and omnipotent to position the sperm whale in just the right place, at the right time to catch the reluctant prophet and transport him alive to shore. Jonah spent three days and three nights in the Father’s intelligently designed traveling accommodations. Jonah did not drown nor suffocate. He was not digested. Jonah came out alive. He was finally ready and willing to fulfill his commission.
A miracle is by definition something seemingly impossible that nonetheless happens. The story of Jonah is replete with miracles.