Jonah 1:17a – Now the Lord had prepared a great fish. (KJV)
Do you find the biblical account of Jonah and the fish hard to swallow? If so, you're not alone. Those who are shaped by western secularism naturally find it hard to swallow. In such an environment, God's people are tempted to avoid this story; it's a rather embarrassing faith claim.
Yet, when we examine the book of Jonah, we discover something even harder to swallow — at least it was for Jonah, and it's been for God's people since those ancient times. Because the Fish Story presents challenges for non-Christian and Christian alike, it deserves a spotlight. But first, the fish:
In biblical use, a "fish" was any water-dwelling creature. It could be called a sea creature, whale, or great fish. We don't need a scientific category for Jonah's fish; we need a theological category. We need to grasp God's purposes. After all, this sea creature was appointed by God:
Jonah 1:17 – Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (KJV)
Surely, God could have accomplished this feat! If humans can use natural elements to preserve life underwater, as a submarine, why couldn't the great God of the universe use natural elements to save Jonah?
Clearly, the difficulty is not with the fish, but with God. What's hard to swallow is the reality of a sovereign, almighty God. Furthermore, those who are not convinced that God could save Jonah with a fish face some probing questions: Could this God have raised Jesus from the dead? Can this God today restore sinners through Christ?
You see, if we dismiss the Fish Story, we topple the foundation of our hope, and we undermine the very essence of God: His redemptive love extended to all humanity. This is exactly what Jonah could not swallow!
Jonah knew that God planned to spare the Ninevites from a well-deserved punishment. Jonah knew that God was patient, compassionate, and eager to withhold judgment. But Jonah also remembered the savage brutalities inflicted by the Assyrian empire. Jonah was in no mood for mercy and repentance. That was just too hard to swallow. It's still hard to accept even today.
So let's not forget the Fish Story! It inspires us to reflect on our own values: Do we, like Jonah, have trouble swallowing God's redemptive passion? Consider how we view our modern day "Assyrians": zealous jihadists, brutal dictatorships, and those who seek to exploit us or undermine our faith in God. Do our longings for such sinners lean towards judgment or mercy — obliteration or salvation? That will determine the direction that we are running: away from God, or towards God.
Prayer: Great God of the universe, thank You for the "fish" that You have ordained for us in those times of need, when we have lost our hunger for Your mercy toward undeserving sinners. We plead for You to keep pulling us into Your heart for humanity — whatever the means. Thy kingdom come! Amen.
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