It is a form of salvation for Jonah when he is swallowed by the whale. Despite his sins of running from God’s directive and from His presence, God still provides a way for Jonah to live when he is tossed overboard by the sailors.
The Bible describes the whale as a great fish. We call it a whale today because we know it is the largest animal in the ocean and possibly capable of swallowing a man. It is possible that a now extinct mammalian fish capable of sustaining a human inside its body for three days swallowed Jonah and is now extinct. Whether a whale or something else large and extinct, Jonah was inside its body for three days.
While inside the belly of the great fish, Jonah recognized his extremely unlikely situation and gave thanksgiving to God for saving him. In this instance, Jonah is more like a prophet than we have heretofore seen him. He communes with Good in a prayer in this chapter that recognizes God’s providence, mercy and saving power.
Jonah’s expressions in his prayer are poetic and reveal that he is very much aware of the danger he is in, as well as God’s actions to save him:
“The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head. I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God.”
Jonah completely gives God His due and his words to the Lord are spoken like a true man of God, not like a man that has been running from Him. We can find some easy comparisons between Jonah and ourselves here. Are we ever more grateful to Him than just after we have escaped disaster or when we are most in need? Jonah was in denial on the ship, sleeping down below, but once it was evident that his actions brought the storm and he was thrown overboard, the consequences of thwarting the Lord instantly became real for Jonah.
I have acted this way in my life too. It can seem convenient to ignore what I know I need to do when there is no threat or danger to my comfort. I can even convince myself that things are still okay when the consequences of my inaction begin to pile up. But when my problems are suddenly too big to ignore, I seek help. I go to God in prayer, I lean on a friend, I ask for advice or just an open ear. We should not let situations in our lives get to this point, but we often do.
Better for us to be proactive about the creeping problems or the burgeoning responsibilities in our lives than to ignore them. Ignorance can be bliss until it explodes into a huge mess. This is what happened to Jonah. One moment peacefully asleep, and the next moment thrown into a thrashing sea to be swallowed by a whale. And all the while he knew in the back of his mind that he was doing wrong. Let this not be us!
But such was God’s grace and mercy to Jonah that when Jonah did cry out to God from the fish’s belly, God fixed it and Jonah ended up back on dry land. Thankfully, miraculously, such is God’s grace and mercy to us that when we reach out to Him with a penitent heart, he receives our prayers.
Let us pray to God tonight, as Jonah did, in thanks for our lives and for the deliverance from sin we receive through Jesus Christ.