The Great Deliverer Day 4: Deliverance from a Fish
And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying, “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.
When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple… Salvation belongs to the LORD!”
And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land (Jonah 1:17; 2:1-3, 7, 9-10, ESV).
Knowingly choosing the wrong path in life often leads us to heartache and disappointment. I can recall specific times when God was opening up a door for me, but I made excuses why I planned to disregard that opening. The excuses made me temporarily feel better, but there was always a cost associated with the choice to take my own way while ignoring His.
Jonah was given clear direction from God, yet he chose to not only ignore Him but to run and try to hide. God had asked him to take a message to the people in Nineveh, but Jonah didn’t want to obey, seeing it as a waste of his time. He took off and boarded a ship bound for Tarshish. But God sent a terrible storm. The terrified sailors searched for the reason behind it, and decided the storm must be a form of punishment for the sin of one of their passengers. Jonah had no doubt that passenger was himself, and he volunteered to be cast into the sea in order to save the ship and the other passengers.
Being thrown overboard into a violent sea was one consequence of not heeding God’s command, but it was just the beginning. As Jonah floundered around in the overwhelming waves, a large fish came and swallowed him whole. This was a special fish prepared by God to house the body of Jonah, preserving him while he was called to repentance. The norm would be that after the fish swallowed a human, the skin would burn as the stomach acids attacked it, and the fish would digest the human. Not so in Jonah’s case—which reveals the miraculous hand of God in this story.
For three days and three nights God kept Jonah in the depths of this fish’s belly. He speaks of seaweed, and came into contact, I’m sure, with other gross stomach contents. It would be dark and smelly and pretty terrifying, to say the least. When we find ourselves in seemingly impossible situations, what is our attitude? Jonah’s was one of prayer. It doesn’t say he cursed the LORD for his punishment, but that he repented and asked for salvation from his situation.
Humanly speaking, we often think that when someone messes up they should suffer the consequences of bad decisions. We like to play judge and jury in those moments. But if the tables are turned and we are the guilty one, we long for grace to be given. Jonah was also seeking forgiveness, even as he understood his error of running away from what God had commanded him to do.
Bad decisions made in light of proper understanding and knowledge lead us to a point of reckoning. Either we acknowledge our sin and ask for forgiveness and grace, or we become bitter and cynical toward God. Just as Jonah learned a hard lesson in the belly of that fish, I’ve also learned plenty of lessons in my own life’s journey—I bet you have too.
Isn’t it wonderful that God offers us grace when we knowingly disobey Him and find ourselves in trouble? He would have every right to let us crash and burn, yet as we come back to Him, crying out for mercy, we find Him with open arms. Jonah was delivered from that fish as it spit him up on the shore, and he then went on to the share the message in Nineveh as God had first instructed him.
When we obey God and take the path He has laid out for us, He uses us to fulfill His purposes. Once Nineveh received the message from Jonah, they repented and turned to God for mercy. What has God done in your life in your moments of reckoning? Have you seen Him step in and redeem the lost years or lost opportunities? I have, and in them, I feel such a sense of wonder at God’s loving mercy toward us fallible, sinful humans. It’s perhaps in those situations I find God has blessed me beyond comprehension in ways that humble me and fill me anew with praise and thanksgiving. If you’ve wandered from the plan God has for you, may you turn back and embrace His mercy as you repent and pour out your heart to our gracious God. He always welcomes us back—every single time.