Journey to the Inside of A Giant Fish:
How Rebellion Gets You Thrown Overboard
There are four journeys that Jonah goes on in the book of Jonah. Over the next several weeks we are going to go on these journeys with Jonah. As a prophet he has to learn to understand, or at least love the world as God does. The first week we will look at Jonah’s Journey to the Inside of a Giant Fish.
For just about every Christmas when my children were around 6 to 12 we would get them several LEGO playsets. The most elaborate was the millennium falcon from Star Wars. It had over five separate bags that you opened in sequence as you built the ship. It has was about 2.5 feet around and took hours to put together. All LEGO kits have an instruction booklet that shows you where every piece goes in the order you have to place the brick.
But every time we would put a kit together, something would go wrong. The kit just didn’t look right, and we would have to back track step by step to figure out where we missed a block, put it in the wrong place, or just skipped a page all together.
The story of Jonah is known as the Bible character that was swallowed by a giant fish – but the story doesn’t begin there – there are steps that he went through to end up in the belly of a giant fish. Sometimes in life we find ourselves in situations that we don’t like – and its’ our own doing. Today let’s look at Jonah and see how he ended up there and his journey find his way out.
Step One: Run Away From Difficulty (vv. 1-3)
“Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me. 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.”
There are several ways that scholars have looked at the book of Jonah. Some see it as allegory, where the whale represents one thing, Jonah represents, another, the storm, etc. Or was it a parable, where there is a moral that we are to get from the 4 chapters?
Jesus references Jonah in Matthew 12:39-41.“But he [Jesus]answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”
Jonah is also mentioned as a historical person in 2 Kings 14:25. He would have ministered around 786-746 BC during the reign of Jeroboam II. He would have been well known to the Israelite people.
Jesus makes it clear that there was a literal real man named Jonah, who was swallowed by a real and literal giant fish, and it was a foreshadowing of Jesus’ eventual burial and resurrection.
Nineveh is described as “that great city.” Nineveh is mentioned in Genesis 10:11-12, right after the flood, where the sons of Noah spread out and begin to build cities. In the Genesis passage the city is described as “that great city.” In Jonah’s day it was the capital of the Assyrian empire, and was the most powerful nation on the planet.
So, a well-known and established prophet is commanded to go and preach a message of judgement to a well-known, powerful, and old city, but he arose and went in the exact opposite direction.
Why Did Jonah Run?
Jonah is the only prophet that is sent with a message to a foreign country. All other prophets talk about others nations, their future judgment, etc. but they do not actually go there.
God placed his people in Israel at the crossroads of three different cotenants (Asia, Africa, and Europe. The temple was built and the world would go through Israel to conduct its’ business. As the world passed through Israel, they would see God’s people, and watch their worship of the one true God, and many would become followers of our God.
This method of evangelism would continue for many years, until the time of Christ, when Jesus says in Acts 1:8, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
God was doing something unprecedented. How many times have you heard the word unprecedented last year? The pandemic, the protests, civil unrest, the presidential election, extreme climate episodes. It was the 2020 word of the Year.
Who would have guessed that we would be having church over Facebook, that as families, we would huddle around a computer to attend a worship service? My dental hygienist told me, “I like going to church in my pajamas. I think we will do that more often now.”
The message didn’t change, but the method of sharing that message sure did. The churches that embraced these changes managed to survive the crisis a little worn for wear, but those that refused to change just disappeared for a year.
Illustration – Kodak was never in the photo paper, film, and chemical business; they were in the capturing memories business.
I believe that this unwillingness to change is why God allowed the temple to be destroyed in 70AD. If the temple were still there, there would be Jewish Christians who refused to alter how they worshipped and would be trying to merge animal sacrifice with what Jesus did on the cross.
In Jonah 4:1-2: “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly,1 and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and are relenting from disaster.”
Jonah could not believe that God would shower his grace on the Gentiles (non-Jews), especially those who had been so ruthless with the Jews. According to Jonah, God’s love should not extend to people that he did not deem worthy of forgiveness.
Luke 15:28 – the prodigal son returns home and the brother “became angry and refused to go in”
The Presence of the Lord
Jonah is trying to go “away from the presence of the LORD” because he doesn’t agree with what God is doing.
Where can you go, to flee the presence of the Lord? Psalm 139:7 says, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! 9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall blead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” The answer is nowhere. God is omnipresent – everywhere at the same time.
In Genesis the Garden of Eden was a place where Adam and Eve had a perfect relationship with God, they “were in His presence.” When they rebelled, they had to leave the garden and could not return. So, they had broken the relationship with God.
When Cain killed his brother Abel, it says in Genesis 4:16 “Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD and settled in the land of Nod,6 east of Eden.” He was cast out. So here we have Jonah, running as fast as he can away from God and his presence.
So you have God’s omnipresence where He is everywhere, and you have his manifest presence where we can encounter Him, and interact with our Creator. But Jonah does not want to have anything to do with God, so he runs.
There is an intimacy to be in the Lord’s presence – there is a relational aspect. Jonah was rebelling against God, by not doing what he was clearly told to do. To be in right relationship with God is directly tied to obedience to the Word of God.
Step Two: Don’t Do Anything When Those Around You Are Hurting (vv.4-6)
“4 But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. 6 So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”
Jonah is a story of highs and lows – there is a great fish, exceedingly afraid, great wind, mighty tempest, etc. 13 superlatives points to Jonah’s highs and lows. The author wants us to feel the way Jonah’s life is moving from security and safety to disaster.
4 gives us one of these examples of where the “Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea.” A mighty tempest,
There are eight questions within the book of Jonah, the first one of the eight is where the captain asks Jonah, “What do you mean, you sleeper?” – There are different ways to translate this question, “How can you sleep?’, or “What are you doing sound asleep?”
When you break fellowship with God, you also begin to lose awareness of destruction of the world around you. You could care less that the people around you are perishing, and you stop hearing their cries for help. You go to sleep.
The captain asks this stranger to pray. Imagine the irony, in this situation here was a prophet, from God’s chosen people (his job and calling was to pray and lead the world to God), This pagan captain knows to pray, but the prophet, who should be praying was sleeping instead.
The lost world is begging the believers to do something. The lost men on the ship fumble through praying to their gods (gods made of stone, wood, and metal), but the one who knows the one true God who is alive, has gone to sleep.
The captains words echo “Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” The captain understands some things about God instinctively – He is bigger than us, It would be merciful for God to consider us, and God is the only means of salvation. The one who had the means for them to avoid destruction was sleeping and his heart was far from the Lord.
2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise vas some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” What is the means for a lost world to avoid perishing? They must have a saving relationship with their Creator. The one who has the message of salvation, the prophet of the Lord, is rebelling and asleep in the storm.
Step Three: Don’t Concern Yourself With How Your Actions Affect Others (vv. 7-10)
7 And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” 9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because had told them.
Here we see series of more questions – “What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” and for the first time Jonah speaks in the book, and tells them the truth. The lot casting has exposed him as the reason for the storm.
He confesses that he is a prophet of the Lord, and he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Doesn’t this just ring false? The prophet of God who has lost all credibility. You fear God so you rebel against Him? You believe that he is the God of the sea, so you try to escape his presence by going to sea? You are a prophet but during the storm you sleep instead of helping those crying out? You are asked to pray by the captain but you don’t pray.
The men were exceedingly afraid and they said, “What is this that you have done!”
Step Four: Stay the Same, Even When Those Around You Are Growing (vv. 11-16)
“11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” 13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard2 to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. 14 Therefore they called out to the LORD, “O LORD, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.”
The Lord will be praised and honored through the life of Jonah – Both in his faithfulness and in his rebellion. At the end of the day, God’s name will be lifted up. We get to choose if we will be on board with God or seeking to work against Him.
Couldn’t Jonah have said, take me back to Joppa, from there I will go to Nineveh? In other words take me back to shore, turn this ship around and return to port. He could have prayed to God a prayer of repentance. But he would rather be tossed into the sea in some vain attempt to continue toward Tarshish, then simply admit that was wrong.
The sailors did want to harm Jonah so they tried to row to shore, but the storm on the sea was too great. The sailors, these lost men, are doing all they can to save Jonah. Jonah does nothing. The sailors prayed for a second time, “they called out to the LORD.” Jonah, still has shown no remorse or repentance for his actions that has put the sailor’s lives in jeopardy.
The sailors made vows, had a sacrifice – they are doing all that they can think of to be right with God, while Jonah won’t even throw himself into the sea, he tries to pull them into trouble with him. Jonah won’t go where is supposed to go, he won’t act when he needs to act, instead he sleeps. He won’t pray when asked to pray, and he won’t even jump into the sea to save the ships and it’s crew – Jonah’s rebellion is one of inaction.
He just stands there (or sleeps there) while the world around him is splintered and destroyed.
This morning the word around us is being torn apart. Just watch the news. Racial unrest, political divisions, natural disasters, the effects of living in a pandemic for over a year.
With my LEGO kit, I had to back through the steps to see where I went wrong. If you are far from the Lord, I ask you to pray, and ask God to back you through the steps you have taken and seek to be in His presence and ask for forgiveness.
 J. Vernon McGee, Jonah & Micah (Thru The Bible Books; Pasadena, California, 1984) 19.
 James Limburg, The Old Testament Library, Jonah (John Knox Press; Louisville, KY, 1993) 22.
 Limburg, 27.
 Billy Smith & Frank Page, The New American Commentary, Vol. 19B (Broadman and Hollman, Nashville, Tennessee, 1995) 231.