Contend Earnestly: Mostest Weirdest Bible Stories: No. 9

Friday, January 22, 2010

Mostest Weirdest Bible Stories: No. 9

Coming in at number 9 is a story very familiar with most of us. I have to include it, because it is really odd. I will say that it is only at number 9 because it is so well known. If it wasn’t its own book and if Christ had not mentioned it in the New Testament, it might be a little less known and a little more shocking for its weirdness.

It’s Jonah being swallowed by the great fish.

Most know the story, and that is probably the only reason we don’t turn our head at it like a bad accident on the freeway. But, let me repeat. There is a story where a dude gets swallowed by a big fish, lives in the fish’s belly for three days and three nights, while in the fish, has time to contemplate his sin, prays to God while sitting in a stomach filled with who knows what, and then gets thrown up on the beach. Seriously. Again, if it wasn’t in all our children’s Bible’s with nice pictures of Jonah having a great time in the belly, with a ton of room to move around in, we would honestly scratch our heads a little more at this one.

There is much mystery in how this could possibly be true, but the fact is, it happened. Not only was it put forth as being from the mouth of God in the Old Testament to the Jewish faith, but Jesus uses it as an analogy of how he will be in the belly of the earth, as Jonah was in the belly of the whale. Jesus is the greater Jonah
(Matthew 12:40; Luke 11:32).

I’ll give a quick synopsis of the story and then try and show why we are to still preach the story today to show off the glory of God.

A prophet of God, named Jonah, which ironically means “dove” in the Hebrew, that would connotate peace and reconciliation, is called to go to the worst of the nations, the Ninevites. When thinking of those in Ninevah, think of the people you hate the most, that you find the most repulsive. For a lot of people today, this would be homosexuals, prostitutes, terrorists, transvestites, bums, rapists, and Republicans. Jonah, the dove, refuses to extend an olive branch and preach redemption to Ninevah and instead flees to Tarshish. God, who controls everything, decides (remember this is a synopsis, so don’t get caught up in me skipping a lot of details) that His Dove started to fly the wrong way and it says that God “appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.” After Jonah repents, and remembers that he is a dove instead of a chicken, God humorously has the huge fish vomit him up on a beach. Jonah then goes (note: probably a long walk and he has been in a belly where decomposing fish and other sea life are. This is probably to give Jonah insight of what it means to be repulsive) to the Republicans, I mean Ninevites, and preaches redemption. Ninevah repents and is saved from the wrath of God. Jonah gets pissed that God showed mercy, like any good Pharisee would, and we never learn that happens in the end in regards to Jonah.

But, the best part is that God has the last word and simply asks, “Should I not have compassion on Ninevah…?”

If you’ve only read the book of Jonah while seeing it in an illustrated kid’s Bible, I would recommend you put on big boy pants, stop playing video games, put down the popsicle and read the Bible without pictures. The reason is that many truths are found in this short book of 4 chapters.

We see in the book of Jonah:

- God’s ultimate sovereignty
- God’s desire for all nations and all peoples to be saved
- God’s humor
- Man’s responsibility
- Reconciliation
- God’s grace
- God’s mercy
- God’s love for his enemies
- A shadow of the greater Prophet and Redeemer; Jesus

I have had heard some of the worst preaching points on this short book. I have heard that this book is about obeying God. I have actually had conversations, err…arguments, over this. This book is NOT about obeying God. Preachers love to use this book as an illustration of:

Don’t be like Jonah or bad things happen and God doesn’t love you. But, if obey God and do what he says, God is pleased and you are showing your sanctification.

There is a word for this kind of preaching and teaching. Paul uses this same word in Philippians 3:8 and I’ll let you translate the term how you want. But, this preaching is “skubalon”. What we need to glean from this Old Testament story, is the truth of God’s revelation, both in narrative and normative formats, that God has a plan of redemption for all peoples through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for His glory. This story isn’t about how you shouldn’t be like Jonah. If anyone preaches like this, please run away to save your soul.

What is interesting is that this whole story of Jonah is a parallel to the story of Jesus, the greater Jonah.

As Jonah is called to go from his home and preach reconciliation to the sinners, but first must go into the belly of the whale for three days and three nights, so is Jesus.

Jesus, left his home to incarnate himself among the peoples of the earth. Jesus is greater because he does not disobey God, nor does he show resistance, but he gladly chooses to leave his heavenly home and come down to us.

Jesus, unlike Jonah, willingly goes to the cross and death for three days and three nights. Like Jonah, Jesus is resurrected from death. Unlike Jonah, Jesus does it by HIS power, which is the power of God the Father (Acts 2:24-32), God the Son (John 2:19) and God the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11; 1 Peter 3:18). Meaning, Jesus raises himself by his power, by his willingness.

Like Jonah, Jesus is called to go to the sinner and preach the Gospel for redemption for the glory of God. Unlike Jonah, Jesus loves the sinner and can’t wait for them to repent and come to him. Unlike Jonah, Jesus loves even when one sinner repents, much less 120,000.

As one can see, although the story of Jonah being swallowed by the great fish is an odd one, the truths and foreshadowing found in the story is astonishing. This small book, points to the larger theme of the Bible. The fact that: God redeems to himself a people, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit, for His glory. This story shows what Jesus says to be true in Luke 11:32, that Jesus is the greater Jonah.

“The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
Luke 11:32


Pete Williamson said...

what do you think about the perspective that Jonah might be an allegory?

Seth McBee said...

Probably the same feeling I would if someone said that they felt Jesus dying on the cross was an allegory


Pete Williamson said...

could you explain your answer a bit more? why is it necessary for Jonah to have actually happened?

Seth McBee said...

Of course my answer was a little tongue and cheek. But, the main reason I feel it is "necessary" is the use of the story to show forth what was going to be happening with the life of Jesus.

Also, we have nothing that would connotate that it was an allegory within the Scriptures themselves and Jesus uses the story as actually happened to show forth what will actually happen within his own ministry on earth and eternity for our redemption.

Jesus used different aspects of the story as truth to explain some of his modern day ideas...

i.e. resurrection and the repentance of the Ninevites.

I see nothing within the Scriptures that would cause it to be allegory.

Not only did Jesus refer to it as actually happening, but 2 Kings 14:25 also points out that Jonah was an actual prophet of God.

Those are my quick thoughts on the subject.

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