Updated: Oct 31, 2019
Swallowed by a large fish, in the fish's stomach for three days and then vomited out on the shore. That is what we remember about Jonah. How is it possible that could have happened? The study I did on Jonah says "History records a number of instances of men being swallowed by large fish and living to tell about it!" But then my study doesn't elaborate on that point. I've never heard of that happening in my many decades.
(The biblical account doesn't say Jonah was swallowed by a whale. It says "great fish.")
One of the first Bible study small groups I was in a guy was telling us that his son learned about Jonah and the fish. His son asked him if it happened and he told his son no it was just a made-up story. I cocked my head. This man was a PK (preacher's kid) and so I thought he had some wisdom I didn't have. I was a believer, but I knew very little about the Bible and its accounts. I asked the group, "If we don't believe Jonah and the fish happened, then why do we believe the virgin birth and resurrection happened?" I really was just asking. But it probably came out snarky. Awkward silence. Everyone looked at me. Kind of like, 'Wow, who invited her?' Then one of the ladies said that was a very good question. And yes God can do the seemingly impossible. That memory has stuck with me. It is amazing how people influence you and your thinking.
I believe it happened. But I believe the Red Sea parted and the earth flooded and God created the world too. And that my Savior was born of a virgin, was crucified to atone for my sins, rose from the dead on the third day, and will one day return.
We focus way too much on the fish swallowing Jonah. There is more to the account.
Jonah probably wrote the book of Jonah and he didn't portray himself in a very good light. If you read through the book and I hope you do, notice the positive and negative things Jonah tells us about himself. He was disobedient to God. He was angry with God. In the last three verses of the book of Jonah we realize he finally gets it because he recorded it. He understood. He had a spiritual "aha" moment. Jonah recorded his messed up spiritual journey. It was not a straight line. Just like ours isn't.
The book of Jonah is a minor prophetical book. The last 17 books of the Old Testament are the prophetical books. Five are called major prophets and the last twelve are called minor prophets. Minor doesn't mean less important, just shorter books.
Jonah was an eighth-century B.C. prophet and this account took place during the reign of King Jereboam II of Israel (793-753 B.C.)
Jonah was from the hometown of Gath-hepher. We don't know this from the book of Jonah, but we learn this in 2 Kings 14:25. Gath-hepher was fifteen miles west of the Sea of Galilee and three miles north of Nazareth. God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh. What does Jonah do? He goes to Joppa and boards a ship to Tarshish.
Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, located on the outskirts of Mosul in modern-day Iraq. The Assyrians were the enemies of the Israelites. Brutal enemies. Later in 722 B.C. God uses the Assyrians to judge the northern kingdom of Israel.
Jonah gets on a ship in Joppa that is going to Tarshish. It was in Spain about 2500 miles west of Joppa! Nineveh was east. Tarshish was way west of where God wanted Jonah to go. Jonah wasn't sort of disobeying. He was getting as far away as he could!
(Source: The Early Minor Prophets, The Amazing Collection, Set 6 Workbook, copyright 2005 by Big Dream Ministries, Inc., page 120.)
A great storm comes up. Jonah interacts with the sailors and captain and finally they throw him overboard to save themselves.
Jonah gets swallowed by the fish. Three days and three nights Jonah is slopping around in that belly of the fish. Gross. Terrifying. Jonah cries out to the LORD his God and the fish pukes Jonah onto dry land.
God again tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and this time he obeys. The prophetical book of Jonah only contains eight words of prophesy! (Jonah 3:4b) Jonah gives them God's message and the wicked people of Nineveh believed in God!
You would think Jonah would be happy about that since his mission was a success. But no. We find out instead that Jonah was angry. And here is the reason Jonah didn't want to go to Nineveh. The Assyrians were his enemy and were very brutal and wicked. In Jonah's mind, they did not deserve God's compassion. He knows God is a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. (Jonah 4:2b) Jonah fled his calling from God because he didn't want the evil people of Nineveh to be spared.
COMPASSION is defined as a feeling for another's suffering or misery; pity combined with an urgent desire to aid or to spare. We see throughout the Bible that God is a God of compassion.
Jonah thought the people of Nineveh should be ineligible for forgiveness.
Do we ever think of anyone like that? Who has crushed your heart? Who has done the unspeakable to you? Who in your life should be ineligible for your forgiveness or God's compassion?
The answer is no one.
God has the right to show compassion to anyone He chooses. This is a difficult thing for us to accept when it comes to someone who has hurt us deeply. We want our enemies to experience justice not mercy. We don't want God to spare them.
The Bible tells us over and over to forgive others. We often don't want to forgive.
Oh, but for ourselves we want God to have mercy and compassion, not judgment. We think our evil isn't as evil as their evil. We think we aren't quite as bad as they are. But we are and that is also hard to come to terms with.
How do we get our hearts to change?
First, pray for your enemies. I've heard it is impossible to hate someone you pray for.
Second, ask God to help you to forgive others. Remember -
...just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. (Colossians 3:13b)
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)
"And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." (Matthew 6:12)
"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven." (Luke 6:37)
God's compassion is limitless. God is a God of second chances. For Jonah. For Nineveh. For our enemies. And thankfully for us.
No one is ineligible for forgiveness.