Jonah Meets Death in the Belly of the Fish
Jonah's Punishment is to be saved!
Jonah meets Death in the belly of the great fish.
God's will is for Jonah to be saved!--Amazing!
He may have thought of escape from the just demands of a righteous God, but there is no escape.
He may have thought that as a last resort he could have the sailors throw him overboard and thereby die.
That would be his escape.
But death is not an escape from God, God is master over death. (Psalm 139)
He may have wished that his final refusal to God was his suicide at the hands of the sailors
but God is prepared for Jonah's warped values.
The point of God's pursuit is not to hurt or destroy Jonah. Rather, it is to get Jonah to carry
out the mission of preaching to the Ninevites in order that by that preaching they may repent and be saved.
The story of Jonah shows us that God's will and humankinds salvation are on the same level.
God created humankind and God wants us to succeed. God is caring and care-ful toward the things and the
people that God has created.
Human good is God's will.
God had prepared a great fish to capture Jonah.
Jonah's experience inside the great fish is important. It is a critical part of the story because during this time
Jonah experiences a "death" and eventually a "resurrection".
Jonah may not care that the Ninevites are going to die. He may not have wanted to save them. But God did.
So when Jonah is finally thrown over board by the sailors he experiences death.
Think of the wonderful image of Jonah inside the hollow chamber of the great fish. Outside is certain death. Inside is the experience of being in the tomb of the sea and yet remaining alive.
One could argue that if death is extinction then we do not experience death. We merely pass out of life. This extinction
of our consciousness at the end of life would not be known because we would be dead and the dead cannot "know" anything.
Jonah's poem in Chapter Two is a telling of his experience.
[Read it slowly, listening for the poetry and the message. Put yourself in Jonah's place. Fantasize about how it must have felt:]
You hurled me into the deep...
and the current swirled around me
all your waves and breakers swept over me.
the engulfing waters threatened me
the deep surrounded me
seaweed was wrapped around my head
Outside the body of the great fish is the silent darkness of the deep.
Outside is destruction. Jonah knew that the "outside" wanted very much to get inside.
With our imagination we can picture the threat of instant death. It is a threat looming all around Jonah.
He is encased in a bubble of life but the bubble is surround by the powerful sea and the death it carries.
And then these poignant words...
When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.
Jonah prays because he has hope.
He knows that his behavior deserves death but he doesn't die.
He even wants to die because of his warped sense of values. But the death he seeks does not come.
Jonah hopes because, "Salvation comes from the Lord."
Jonah's call to the Lord is answered. He is saved by the great fish.
In the prison of the fish Jonah experiences death. He seems to understand the meaning of the Bible passage that "Salvation is of the Lord." Chapter 2 verse 9.
His experiences are meant to teach him about God's intention regarding life and death.
What Jonah needs to internalize is that inside the fish is salvation. A salvation provided by God's direct intervention. This salvation is life for himself and others.
In his previous life he was surrounded by death, symbolized by the sea outside the fish.
This imagery allows for a great deal of interpretation. For instance, the sea is filled with life yet it also is a constant source of danger and death.
One could argue that the sea, as such, does not want to kill anyone but the nature of its existence creates the potential for death. The need for the sea is to get inside where (of course) it will bring death. (natural law)
This whole experience of death and life is an illustration to Jonah of the plight of the Ninevites- a plight he is being sent to alleviate.
But sadly, Jonah's true theology remains intact. He expresses it in Chapter 2 verse 8:
"Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit God's love for them.
Nonetheless, there is still hope, as our story moves to its conclusion. Perhaps Jonah will finally understand his role?
As a God fearing person, his role is to bring light and life and salvation to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.