Before the Fish

a big fish

Jonah 2
From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said:
“In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.
You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me.
I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’
The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit.
“When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.
“Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”
And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

When we read about Jonah, we seem to have this idea that as soon as he was thrown out of the boat, the fish came up and swallowed him. But after reading his prayer in chapter 2, I have to wonder if it was more like: They threw him in, the waves were rapid and high for it was a storm, rocking the boat to the point where it frightened even the experienced sailors to death.

Imagine, Jonah’s in the water with these waves coming up over him. His prayer says that the seaweed from the bottom wrapped around his head. He sank down and felt the earth burying in around him. But then, as his life was fading away, he remembered the Lord. He prayed to Him, and I wonder if THAT’s when the Lord sent the fish to swallow him up.

Have you ever come near to drowning? I have. In my freshman year of High School, we were beginning “pool week” for P.E. Now, I know how to swim, but I was never one swam like a fish…you know those people who are totally comfortable in the water. Yeah, that’s never been me (rain, yes, swimming, no).  So anyway, one day, I was near the wall and this one guy thought it would be funny to “dunk” me. I tried to ask him if I could first put on my goggles, but he said, “Nope!” as he pushed me down. I didn’t even get a breath before going under. I remember trying to get away and back up to get a breath, but his grip was too tight. Soon, I stopped fighting.

As I looked to the deep end, I could see a few bodies swimming around, but mostly just calm as my body became numb. I felt like I was almost able to breathe under the water! It was very peaceful…and quiet. My body felt numb…unable to move, I saw my arms float out in front of me, in the blue-surrounding underwater.  Just then, I felt his hands leave the top of my head, I regained awareness, struggled to get back to the wall, jumped out coughing, and with tears, rebuked him for almost killing me. He never even knew how close he came to actually drowning me.

Jonah said in verse 7, “As my life was slipping away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your Holy Temple.” It sounds to me like this experience was Jonah’s turning point…it was what made him realize his need for God and to submit to God’s will/mission for him.

I wonder if sometimes we need to come close to losing our lives before realizing our need for God (?)  You know what I mean?  I also think that sometimes God needs to take something away from us to realize our need for him.  But at the same time, this isn’t only about Jonah’s salvation, but realizing his calling.

And not just his calling, but ours, for we often try to run away from our calling. Don’t we?
Jesus said in Matthew 28:19 to “go and make disciples among all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” How many of us are making disciples among our friends? Our co-workers? People on the street? People we meet each day? Our relatives? Our children/parents?  How about among our enemies? Outcasts? Are you holding ill feelings (or grudges) for anybody?

“But I, with a voice of praise and thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you.” (“Everything I have vowed, I will deliver. Salvation/Deliverance belongs to the Lord!” (LXX)).

Jonah’s been humbled. I mean, you have to figure, Jonah was a prophet of the Lord’s. He prophesied to Jeroboam II, one of the most evil kings of the Northern Kingdom, Israel. Jonah also saw the way that the Assyrians treated the Israelites during the takeover. So after all this, God tells him to go to Nineveh (modern-day northern Iraq), preach to them about repenting so that they might be spared.  ‘Huh?! Them!? After what they did to us? Are you crazy? I’m not going to do that! For all I care, they can all burn in hell!’  And now to have become humbled to the point of saying, ‘OK Lord, you know what you’re doing. I said I’d serve you, and I will.’

Scripture says that once Jonah humbled and submitted to the Lord, God commanded the fish to cough him up on the beach. (“Vomit”: Greek says “cast out, drive out”  “The Lord commanded the large fish/sea monster to force Jonah out onto dry land.” I’m guessing “vomit” is the best explanation). Not the cleanest way of getting out of a fish, I’m sure. But at least he was near the water where he could wash up.

OK, so get this:

  • Jonah holds a grudge against his enemies.
  • The Lord tells him to go to bring salvation to his enemies.
  • Jonah’s grudge fights against the Lord.
  • In the midst of his grudge, the Lord pursues him.
  • The Lord sends a mighty storm.
  • Jonah hits rock (the sea’s) bottom
  • Jonah’s severely humbled (took 3 days/nights to arrive here though…time to wrestle through it?)
  • Jonah submits fully to the Lord, leading the Lord to have him coughed up to safety.
  • Jonah’s still dirty from the experience.
  • Jonah begins to move forward in serving the Lord, putting his personal prejudices aside, and the Lord’s will, first.

Is something holding you back from submitting to the Lord’s call, and if so, what is it?

Sometimes when you think things can’t get any worse, a fish/sea monster comes and swallows you up. And at first, you think you’re completely doomed, but later it turns out that it’s actually the Lord stepping in with a blessing.  Maybe you hit rock bottom, and something that seems worse than before has happened. Wrestle with it some. Could this actually be the Lord’s blessing? Or maybe He’s waiting for you to call upon Him before He can give you His blessing. So I’ve gotta ask, “Have you been swallowed up yet by God’s fish/sea monster?”

You’ve heard of the 2-second rule. When a piece of food falls on the ground, it’s thought that you have up until 2 seconds to pick it up before the germs begin to settle in. Well, with Jonah, it was more of a 3-days and 3-nights rule, for it took him that long to get over his grudge and fully submit to the Lord. And once out, he was covered with fish smell. So the longer you stay in your grudge, or before fully submitting to Jesus, the more chance the smell of your disobedience has to set in. Do you really want to take that long?


  1. Matthew 24:44–“So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him”. This verse sums up all of our little unexpected situations (including Jonah’s) into one big picture–when you said when you’ve “hit rock bottom” and “you think you’re completely doomed, but later it turns out that it’s actually the Lord stepping in with a blessing”. When this earth/this world system hits rock bottom and looks completely doomed (the signs of the times and the end of the age in Matthew 24), the Lord will step in with the ultimate blessing (for those who trust in Him).

  2. We are not human beings going through a temporary spiritual experience; We are spiritual beings going through a temporary human experience.

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