“Now the LORD had appointed a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17, NIV).
Many of us are familiar with the Old Testament story of Jonah. If you’re like me, you heard it as a child in Sunday School or read about it in a picture book. There’s something about a man being swallowed by a giant fish that fascinates children and adults alike.
Some people say that the story of Jonah is literal truth, that a man actually spent three days in the stomach of a fish and lived to tell about it. They reason that, with God, anything is possible, all the while taking to heart Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:40. Others believe that the story of Jonah is symbolic truth, that it didn’t really happen in the way we read it, but that it is merely symbolic of the grander story of God and man. While, personally, I tend to take more of a literal view of Scripture, I respect the opinions of other thoughtful folks. Regardless of how we might view the story of Jonah, literally or symbolically, I think we can all say that it tells great truth about the rebellion of people and God’s pursuing grace.
Let’s face it. Jonah was a rebel toward God. He was a runaway. Jonah was commanded by God to preach a message of repentance to the wicked people of Ninevah, but instead, got on a boat for Tarshish, about as far away from Ninevah and God’s Call as he could get. To make a long story short, God sent a mighty storm, and the men on the ship tossed Jonah overboard. If not for the grace of God, and the appetite of a huge, hungry fish, Jonah would have been a goner.
One of the things I learn from the story of Jonah is that God is passionate about his relationship with each of us, and that he will pursue us to the very ends of the Earth. Perhaps, God knew that the only way he could return Jonah to his good graces was to do the unthinkable act of commissioning a fish to gobble him up. While that may seem a bit extreme to some of us, I know there have been times in my life where God had to intervene in supernatural ways to restore me.
We’ll look more at the story of Jonah shortly. In the meantime, thank God for his unconditional love and his radical grace, and remember to be careful in the water!