New Living Translation (NLT)
|Whale Shark by Jon Hanson, cc-by-sa-2.0|
Jonah’s Anger at the Lord’s Mercy
This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. 2 So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. 3 Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.”
We've all heard of Jonah, right? The guy that gets swallowed by a whale and lives to tell about it? Yeah, well a lot of people don't believe such a thing could have happened, so let's get the elephant out of the room first, or the whale, if you will, and then we'll talk about the important stuff.
Whether you believe the Bible to be literal, figurative, or a mix of both, you've probably wondered just how a person could have survived a whale's stomach. I should point out that the Bible doesn't specifically call it a whale. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. Maybe whatever it was no longer exists all these thousands of years later. That's irrelevant. Could it have happened?
Yeah, it could have. There are whales that still exist who are capable of swallowing a human being (and even larger creatures). Some of these whales are even toothless. And they're huge animals! The whale shark, for example, can reach 30,000 lbs (that's 15 thousand tons!) and 45 feet in length. So here's how it happens. They open their mouths and take in whatever floats their way. Then somehow or other they spew the water back out. I'm not real knowledgeable about whale anatomy, but I did glance over some material about their digestive system.
Some of these toothless whales, maybe all of them, have multiple chambers in their stomach, some as large as a decent sized bedroom. In at least one of these whales there is even a 'storage chamber' of sorts located in the sinus cavity, where there are no digestive enzymes, so there isn't any decomposition going on. If the contents in the storage chamber cause distress, they can be emptied. Put another way, the whale can sneeze out anything that tickles its nose.
The big issue seems to be whether or not a human would fit down the esophagus. I don't know much about the anatomy of a 450 lb giant squid, either, but those are a favorite meal for some whales. There have been rumors of humans and animals being found alive in the carcasses of whales, but I haven't found anything to substantiate those claims. Still, it does seem as though it could be remotely possible, even if unlikely. In any event, nothing is too big for God, even a whale. He can make anything happen.
So now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's forget the whale for a minute. This event takes place somewhere around 750 years before Christ came along. Nineveh was the thriving capital city of Assyria. It was such a big city that it would take three days to see it all. They didn't have cars back then, so I'm thinking it would probably take three days to walk around a city the size of, say, Las Vegas. That's if you didn't stop to have fun along the tour. So it's a pretty big city, with an impressive population. God didn't like what was going on in the city, and told Jonah to go do something about it. Jonah didn't want to do as he was told though, and instead bought a ticket and boarded a ship headed in the opposite direction.
That night, Jonah was sleeping soundly in his room on the ship, when a terrible storm came up totally out of nowhere. The captain and crew had never experienced anything quite so severe, and were more than a little scared. They started pointing fingers at each other, accusing each other of doing something to anger the gods. They all swore to their own innocence though, and finally they cast lots to see who was to blame. Casting lots is kind of like rolling the dice, or drawing straws. What a thing to leave to chance. Seems about as reliable as shaking a Crazy 8 ball. But however they played this game of chance that they took so seriously, they were all convinced it pointed to Jonah as the culprit.
So the captain goes and wakes Jonah up from his sleep. It's a wonder he hadn't woken up already! The captain and crew weren't very happy with him, and started bombarding him with questions.
Who are you? What god do you serve? What could you have possibly done to make your god so angry? Most importantly, what can you do to fix it?
Jonah admitted he was guilty as charged. He was the one at whom God was directing His anger. What god? The God of heaven and earth, the one true, living God. Why? Because Jonah didn't want to go where God told him to go, didn't want to do what God told him to do, so he was headed for Tarshish instead. The only hope for everyone else was to throw Jonah overboard.
Yikes! The ship's crew had heard of the God of the Israelites, and knew He was a force to be reckoned with. They were afraid to throw Jonah overboard for fear that his God would turn His anger back on them. So they tried everything they could to get the boat to shore. The storm kept getting worse, though, and finally they agreed to throw Jonah into the raging waters; But not before they prayed to God! They pleaded with God not to make them die for Jonah's sin, and with that, they threw him into the abyss.
Much to their amazement, the storm ceased immediately. They fell to their knees and thanked God for having spared them, and from that day on, they served and worshiped only the one true God.
Meanwhile, Jonah was sinking deeper and deeper into the sea. He described the water closing in over him, seaweed wrapping around his head and body, and sinking deep, deeper, and ever deeper. He may have been hallucinating when he said he sank to the roots of the mountains and was trapped in the earth. He remembered being aware that his life was slipping away from him. It was at that very moment as he was losing his grip on reality, that a some sort of great fish, probably a whale but maybe some other huge sea animal, swallowed him up. Barely able to form a single thought, from somewhere deep inside of him Jonah began praying. He didn't pray for himself, he prayed for those who worshiped false gods and turned their backs on the Lord's tender mercies. I can imagine he spent the next three days drifting in and out of consciousness. I'm sure he spent a lot of time praying even when he wasn't fully awake. I've done that, so it's easy to picture him doing it too. At some point he said his prayers became earnest and he promised to answer the call, and fulfill his vow to God.
Out came Jonah, sneezed out onto the beach. He must have dipped himself into the sea to bathe off the slime and whale-snot before he set off towards the great city of Nineveh. As soon as he arrived, he began shouting as loud as he could.
In forty days, God is going to destroy this city!
In a world where nobody much cared what real prophets had to say, people stopped and took notice of Jonah. God had already prepared their hearts to be receptive, I guess, because instead of running him out of town or trying to kill him, they began to fast and pray, truly repentant. Even the king got off his thrown, changed from royal robes to a burlap sackcloth garment, and put ashes on his head in sorrow. He sent out a decree that nobody was allowed to eat or drink, and both human and animals had to be draped in burlap. No more violence or bloodshed was going to be tolerated. He demanded everybody repent and stop their wicked ways.
God was pleased with their response to His warning, and relented. Because they were sorry, He wasn't going to destroy them after all. That should have been cause for rejoicing, right? You'd think Jonah would have been happy that they'd just diverted tragedy.
But instead he got angry and threw a tantrum worthy of a two year old.
See, God, this is why I didn't want to come here! From the minute you said to come warn the Nenevites,I knew you'd change your mind! You always do! You forgive too easily! That's why I got on the ship and set sail for Tarshish, I knew you'd make a fool of me! God, I'm going to have to live with the embarrassment of having a failed prophecy on my head! Just kill me now, it would be better than living with this shame!
Pretty selfish, huh? Yeah, God thought so too. Thousands of people had just been spared their lives because they repented, and all Jonah could think about was how it affected him. He could have, should have praised the Lord for the opportunity to have been a part of reconciling the people to God. Either way, he would never be forgotten for his role in the situation. But instead of going down in history as the whiny, selfish coward who would rather see a whole city of people perish than to be perceived as a false prophet, he could have been remembered as the man whom God used to bring salvation (of sorts) to a nation.
So what is the point here? I suppose it is this; No matter how weak, scared, cowardly, or stupid we are, God can use us to accomplish His will. Sometimes, just to prove a point, He will even use our rebellion to do double duty, as was the case with Jonah. Not only did the Ninevites live because they heard the message God sent through Jonah, but a whole boat load of people from different nations and religious backgrounds surrendered their faith to our heavenly Father.
Pretty darn cool, if you ask me.