We do not enjoy distress. We avoid situations in which we are out of control, so that distress will not multiply. Naturally, we might view Jonah’s time in the whale as a dark and frightening judgment. We can totally miss that the whale was the very agent God appointed to save Jonah from destruction and get him back on course. Jonah was sinking “into the heart of the seas,” and he “descended to the roots of the mountains” (Jonah 2:3, 6). He must have nearly drowned, because he wrote, “Water encompassed me to the point of death…weeds were wrapped around my head” (2:5). Face-to-face with death and the threatening elements, this God-appointed fish was like a life-raft. It was a revelation of God’s power to save.
So, what do we find so distasteful about Jonah’s 3-day stay in this underwater hotel? Well, to start, there are no real amenities to speak of, unless you like slimy darkness and the smell of half-digested seafood. Yet, it is hard to complain if you have been saved from drowning! There is no maid service or room service or early check-out option at the Big Fish Hotel. Yet, there is great peace if you embrace the proven fact that you are in the faithful hand of God. If He saved you from the storm and He saved you from drowning, He can keep you faithfully, even inside a fish.
What was God looking for? Why did He keep Jonah checked into that hotel for three nights? I believe God was waiting for Jonah’s prayer. After the third night, Jonah raised his thanksgiving to the LORD (1:17, 2:1). He was in that fish, sorting it out, thinking it through, unable to run anymore. His conclusion? “You have brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God” (2:6). He changes his attitude, saying, “That which I have vowed I will pay” (2:9). We have no record of Jonah paying any vows or visiting the temple at all. But, as a prophet, he had vowed to give his life to obey God. The vow Jonah had held back, he is now committed to pay again. When Jonah prays, he is saying, “God, you saved my life. It belongs to you, so I will lay it down to serve you…even in Nineveh.” When God saw surrender, and a heart willing to obey, then and only then did He “command the fish” so that “it vomited Jonah up onto the dry ground” (2:10).
If God sends an experience into your life that feels like “the belly of the fish,” remember that He is working to save you from destruction. He is working to birth in you a new surrender to His will. He wants to shape in you a heart that is ready for obedience. And so, the wisest thing you and I can do in the belly of the fish is to lay down our lives to Jesus one more time. Begin to say, “What I vowed, I will pay.” Commit your way completely to the Lord, entrust your soul into the hands of a faithful Creator as you do what is right (1 Peter 4:19). That fish is a useful tool in God’s hand to get you back on dry ground and following His voice.
The Rock Church