As chapter one in the book of Jonah comes to a close, it separates verse 17 under the heading; A Great Fish Swallows Jonah.
If you read my last post on Jonah, I talked about the impracticality of Jonah surviving for any time in the ocean. Keep in mind that Jonah is written in the third person. So, although it may have been written by Jonah, it is apparent that it was written after the incidents transpired.
So, let’s deal with reality for a moment.
The crew that threw Jonah overboard did not consider the possibility of Jonah surviving. And, they did not think for a second that a massive fish would swallow him whole. They anticipated that he would drown; what motivated that thought in them? The ocean conditions themselves.
Falling overboard in violent storm conditions, or being thrown in does not matter. You should have drowned. When you do a little research on how the human body dies, you find that after 30 to 40 seconds without air you lose consciousness. After three minutes without oxygen, the brain typically suffers irreparable brain damage and stops working. The medical consensus is that a lack of brain function is the marker for death.
Considering the clothing that we typically see the Jews wearing in those days, there was little chance of him swimming, even if he could.
The crew could not make it to shore under the weather conditions they were experiencing, and neither would Jonah.
Alright, Jonah is now in the water. However, God is not the least bit concerned with circumstances or reality, for immediately we are dealt this piece of information.
Jonah 1:17 NASB And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.
We have no witnesses. If we do, where are they? If Jonah is conscious, I can assure you that he never saw what was coming. As we ponder what kind of fish is large enough to swallow a man whole, three possibilities come to mind, but one can be eliminated rather quickly.
A giant grouper (Black Sea Bass.) While their mouths can open wide enough, they do not have the length necessary to accommodate a full grown man.
Great White sharks seem to be high on the list, but then there is that nasty habit they have of ripping things in half.
The last one I read about talk of the Sperm whale’s ability to take in man whole, and, they don’t have teeth per-say. What they do have is a multiple stomach system, much like a cow. The highest probability is that you would be crushed in that first stomach, and there would be no oxygen.
The practicality of Jonah’s survival so far is none.
We are rarely shown or told how much time passes in most of these biblical events. In this case, I think we are looking at something under 40 seconds. At the longest, almost four minutes. Why do I think that?
Look at these verses in chapter two of Jonah.
Jonah 2:1-5 NASB Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the stomach of the fish, 2) and he said, “I called out of my distress to the LORD, And He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice. 3) “For You had cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the current engulfed me. All Your breakers and billows passed over me. 4) “So I said, ‘I have been expelled from Your sight. Nevertheless, I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ 5) “Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me; Weeds were wrapped around my head.
Jonah prayed to God from the stomach of the fish.
All of us do it, we wait until we are going under, and then we cry out to God. Jonah is no different. Logic tells you, you are not making it out of this situation. Oddly, he is aware of his thoughts, predicament, and that there is seaweed wrapped around his head.
It sounds like there is hope. And, there is nothing here that tells us conclusively, that he is dead.
I thought I would avoid this aspect, but why hold back. If you survive, the religious will condemn you for not turning to God earlier. So let’s think this through for a moment. Is it possible that Jonah could have avoided all this? Sure; the answer would have been to comply with what God told him to do. How many of us does it right the first time? Very few.
Why then, did he not just go to Nineveh instead of killing himself.
I did it again, didn’t I? One, I am pushing the belief that he is now dead, and two, I leaned toward that suicide idea. That bothers you doesn’t it? It bothers many at the morning Bible study as well. Why? Because, the religious see suicide as the ultimate murder of oneself, therefore leaving no space for repentance. God’s only recourse then is to punish you forever in the eternal flames of hell. If what I am saying is true, then why do we have this book, and why did Jonah go on to give the message to Nineveh? Apparently, because God is not driven to despair over the things we get wrapped up in, and His plans supersede, not only our methods but death itself.
Without background information, which I made a note of in chapter one, you would not know what motivated the man.
One commentary referred to Jonah as a bigoted man. In other words, he wanted the Assyrians dead. However, he instinctively knew God would show them mercy, and he was right. But again, you don’t learn that until chapter four of Jonah’s book. This has overwhelming implications, as most of do not realize that the nature and character of God is mercy.
Think of this story as though someone is telling you a preposterous tale, and, it is keeping your attention. Quickly, many questions are running through your mind, and then the storyteller adds the dimension of a giant fish swallowing the man whole. If you have not said it aloud, then your mind is screaming it, no one survives these environments. And, no one looks back on it, as Jonah did, and recounts, not only the story but details he would not have known.
I said to my wife; Jonah was dead! I expected nothing less than the response I got, as she said, how do you know that? My response came with just a few seconds of thought. Jesus, in response to the hostility and doubting of the scribes and Pharisees, said,
Matthew 12:39-40 NASB But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign, and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; 40) for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
To those that listened, the words, Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a great fish meant nothing less than human death. But, Jesus added this into the mix, “so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”This statement may have been a mystery concerning Jesus predicting the details of His death, but NO ONE, buried for that length of time, comes back to life.
Why would this be such a startling statement to the Jewish crowd standing there?
As scribes and Pharisees, they would have studied Jonah’s prophetic actions intensively; they would also understand the tradition that says the soul leaves the body after three days. Jesus’ words to them were blatantly indicative of death, with no option of a comeback, short of God’s intervention.
Now, did they have an example of that kind of intervention on behalf of a dead man, absolutely, as Jesus caused His friend Lazarus to come forth out of the grave after three days? Can you see how intentional His actions were when He took His time going to Bethany where Lazarus was buried? How did the Pharisees react to Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead?
John 12:9-11 NASB The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. 10) But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; 11) because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.
So, if I have not made myself clear on whether Jonah was expired or not, let me do so now; Jonah was dead. Jonah, in his own words, describes the bars of Sheol, as he adds, you have brought up my life from the pit.
Jonah 2:6 MKJV I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was around me forever, yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Jehovah my God.
What other evidence do we have, such as associations with Jesus that prove Jonah’s death?
Psalms 16:10 MKJV For You will not leave My soul in hell; You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
Isaiah 38:17 MKJV Behold, I had great bitterness for peace; but You loved my soul from the pit of destruction. You have cast all my sins behind Your back.
Job 17:16 MKJV They shall go down to the bars of the pit, when our descent together is in the dust.
Revelation 1:18 MKJV and the Living One, and I became dead, and behold, I am alive forever and ever, Amen. And I have the keys of hell and of death.
Jonah says the most amazing thing just before he blacks out.
Jonah 2:7-9 KJV “When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple. 8) They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. 9) But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.”
“They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.”
Most will read this and say, what does that mean? To observe is to pay attention to, but there seems to be something more profound here. The Hastings Bible dictionary indicates that this old English word means to reverence. The ISBE expresses the idea of giving heed to, and yet, both of these references suggest an action that is more than a casual look; this is taking in the surroundings and letting them determine your outcome.
The Hebrew word for lying (shâv’) carries the ideas of desolation; evil (as in destructive), we can perceive (shâv’) as (ruin); however, It can also imply idolatry (as something subjectively false,) or uselessness (as deceptive.)
Dying because of stupidity, within the belly of a fish, could easily be seen as the ruin.
What if Jonah is telling us that he realizes that the circumstance he is in is a lie?
What if Jonah suddenly understands that to give this situation ownership of his mind and spirit would be to forsake an opportunity for God’s mercy?
In the position he now finds himself, his options are limited. But, God, much like a baseball manager, says, it isn’t over until I say its over.
Although this interaction, like so many other biblical events, comes across as though everything happening is mere seconds apart, that is not the case. Jonah’s “prayer” and the response from God, may have been three full days.
This revelation should be eye-opening. Keep in mind, that even though it seems that this entire skewed event had everything to do with Jonah. God had a plan all along to use Jonah’s death as a teaching moment before a bunch of skeptical Pharisees. Look once again at Matthew 12:39-40, if you miss my meaning.
You see, we all have those twists and turns in our lives. Some, however, are not so dramatic. For the most part, as you think about it, it seems that it was all your idea or a response you had to some selfishness. For example, my first marriage was based upon me showing the world that I could have a beautiful blond for a wife. I prayed “earnestly” for, and over that situation, and, I got what I wanted. Marrying her turned out to be a nightmare that pulled me away from God. As I look back on all of it, there is no doubt that God was directing me to where I am now. At this moment, I am sitting in front of a computer screen typing away, about the God I have come to understand. That would have only happened if I experienced life the way I did (no matter how uncomfortable it got.)
Let’s finish for the moment with a bit of good news.
Jonah 2:10 MKJV And Jehovah spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out on the dry land.
While I have demonstrated how and why Jonah would be Dead; Now what? Apparently, God
raised him back to life, and we will see what happens next in chapter three.
Before I move on, I want to show you something else about Jonah that few ever see. Jonah, the man who committed suicide, a game-ending action in most people’s minds, is still alive, for a least a few seconds inside that fish. During that time we learn, in Jonah 2:3, that he cried for help from the depth of Sheol; and, he tells us that God listened.
How would Jonah know that God heard, and forgave him? In the same way, he heard the directive to go to Nineveh, through the spirit within; a spirit made in the image of God. That human spirit is the thing that calls out to the living God and longs to be reunited with its maker. There is nothing but our own lousy decisions and actions that separate us from God’s love. And, God’s love, is ever and always being poured out toward us. Jesus, on that cross, is the most heroic evidence of that love we could ever imagine.