One Big Fish Story

Isn’t That A Whale of A Tale

There are many who have called the book of Jonah, nothing but a “Big Fish Story.” Others have said that is just a “Whale of a Tale!” Meaning that the Book of Jonah is no more than a fairy tale, causing many, to miss the truths God wants them to grasp. This folklore myth approach to understanding the Book of Jonah has cause many to distrust the whole concept, there is a God in heaven who can do all things for His purpose and He is the Lord who is “gracious and compassionate… slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:2; Exodus 34:6)    

Now reason with me, what is the first thing that comes to your mind when someone begins to tell you about his fishing trip – especially, if it was a really good fishing trip.  What comes to your mind when someone does a teaching and he begins with this statement, “Let me tell you a fairy tale, a parable or allegory if you will?”  All Satan has to do is draw question about the truths in Book of Jonah, just a little, so people can miss out on the foundational truths of God’s redemptive love for those who are bound by the world view they live in. 

I would propose to you there are truths in the Book of Jonah that are worth fishing for.  Truths that the whole world needs to hear.  Truths that should make us faithful to the call God has on our lives.

Just what does God, the original author of the Bible, have for you and me as we live in a world that is influenced and controlled by a philosophy that breaks His heart every day? What is to be our attitude as we live among a people who live a life we know is wrong, which is leading most astray and bringing our nation under the chastisements of God? 

What Swallowed Jonah / Point People to God and Jesus Christ

Let us begin with that passage of Scripture that causes people to question the historical authenticity on how God dealt with His disobedient prophet.  The Bible says, in the Book of Jonah, “Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.”   When people state a reason for not believing the Bible this passage of Scripture is often brought up.  However, Jesus did not see the story of Jonah as being a fairy tale, a parable, or as folklore. When teaching about His death and the length of time His body was going to be in the ground, He referred back to it in saying, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish…”  (Matthew 12:40)

Jesus takes it seriously we should to. And Christians do not need to be arguing over rather Jonah was swallowed by a fish or whale.  This is why, the Hebrew word for fish (דָּג dāg̱) here is a general term and not a particular species.  Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) The creek word for fish (κῆτος kḗtos) as used by Jesus can refer to any large fish or sea creature, sea monster or whale – this particular word is a common parlance for any kind of aquatic creature.  (Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers; Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.; Newman, B. M., Jr. (1993). A Concise Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament. (p. 100). Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft; United Bible Societies.;  Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 47). New York: United Bible Societies.; Thomas, R. L. (1998). New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek dictionaries : updated edition. Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc.)  The conclusion to be drawn from the linguistic data that is available for us, “Both the Hebrew and Greek languages lack the precision to identify with a specific identity of the sea creature that swallowed Jonah.” Lewis writes, “According to the Hebrew “dahg” and the Creek “ketos” words for fish – it was an undefined species.”

One of the arguments made by the world opinion is – the different translations of Bibles give different descriptions of the sea creature that swallowed up Jonah.  It is a weak argument causing many to miss the Biblical truth – God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing… that moves about in it, according to their kind.” (Genesis 1:21)     People disputing over which Bible translations has the best description is a waste of time and fuels an unbelieving fire that brings doubt on the authenticity of the Bible.

We are called to the highest standard that goes beyond arguing whale, fish, or sea monster to pointing people to the God of heaven and earth who created it and everything in it. (Hebrews 11:3) We are to point people to Jesus Christ who “upholds the universe by the word of His power.” (Hebrews 1:3)

The focus should be on “the Lord provided..” Provided (מְנָא me) is best translated as “appointed” in the ESV Bible, used four times in the Book of Jonah, always pointing to the Lord’s power to accomplish His will. (Smith, B. K., & Page, F. S. (1995). Amos, Obadiah, Jonah (Vol. 19B, p. 239). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.) We should also point out – the sea creature was an instrument of God’s grace, instead of God letting the sea swallow up disobedient Jonah and take his life – God saves him.

Why God Had to Send A Sea Creature 

The Bible says, “Jonah ran away from the Lord… boarded [the ship] and sailed…” away from the place were he was to proclaim God’s message to the Ninevites.

While at sea, on the journey to Tarshish, a great wind and violent storm arose. The Bible says, “all the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god…”

          Now Jonah, “had gone down below deck… and fell into a deep sleep.  The captain went to [Jonah] and said, ‘How can you sleep. Get up and call on your god! Maybe, he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.'”

          “Then the sailors said, ‘Let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.’ …the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, ‘Tell us, what have you done…’ He answered, ‘I am a Hebrew, and worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.'” 

          The Bible says, “This terrified them… they knew that he was running form the Lord, because he had already told them.”

The Bible says the sea got even rougher, the sailors asked Jonah, what should we do? Jonah says, “…throw me into the sea.  The Bible says the men did their best to row back to land, “but could not.”  …they cried out to the Lord – ‘Please, Lord, do not hold us accountable for killing…'” Jonah.

The Bible says as soon as they threw Jonah overboard, the raging sea grew calm.  “At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they …made vows to Him.”  (Jonah 1)

Jonah’s honesty led men who prayed to other gods – to make vows to the One True God.  Let the Holy Spirit awaken your heart – Can you find and teach the spiritual truths in the fish tale story in the Book of Jonah?

Nineveh One Wicked Town

The opening verse in the Book of Jonah, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah…”  (Jonah 1:1  ) The message, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2)  “…forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4)

While all sin is offensive to God, in some instances a nations sin becomes so wicked, the Lord calls a localized judgment – like Sodom and Gomorrah.  Archaeology confirms the Biblical witness to the wickedness of the Assyrians. They were well known in the ancient world for brutality and cruelty. Ashurbanipal, the grandson of Sennacherib, was accustomed to tearing off the lips and hands of his victims. Tiglath-Pileser flayed victims alive and made great piles of their skulls. Jonah’s reluctance to travel to Nineveh may have been due to its infamous violence.  (Smith, B. K., & Page, F. S. (1995). Amos, Obadiah, Jonah (Vol. 19B, pp. 225–226). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.)  The natural man in him wanted justice – not repentance and forgiveness for the Ninevites. (Jonah 4:2)

Let me tell you more about the people in Nineveh: The people were relentless and persistent in their sins, just like some people in America.  Their king acknowledged that the people were “evil” and characterized by “violence.” (Jonah 3:8)  The people were “carefree” (Zephaniah 2:15)  thinking themselves as invincible.  The prophet Nahum wrote about their several crimes. (Nahum 3:1, 4, 16)   The Ninevites also worship Ishtar, a goddess of love and war. Two aspects of the character of Ishtar were prominent: eroticism and belligerence. She is taunted a being a faithless lover. (Achtemeier, P. J., Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature. (1985). In Harper’s Bible dictionary (1st ed., p. 433). San Francisco: Harper & Row.)  This goddess of love and war was worshiped with explicit sexual activity. (Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1997). The Nelson Study Bible: New King James Version (Je 44:18). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.)

The name Nineveh struck terror into the hearts of all those living in western Asia in this period.  The Assyrian records bear testimony against them.  This writing from the annals of Ashur-nasirpal ll says:

“I stormed the mountain peaks and took them. In the midst of the mighty mountains I slaughtered them; with their blood I dyed the mountain red like wool. With the rest of them I darkened the gullies and precipices of the mountains. I carried off their spoil and their possessions. The heads of their warriors I cut off, and I formed them into a pillar over against their city; their young men and their maidens I burned in the fire!… I built a pillar over against the city gates, and I flayed all the chief men who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up within the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes, and others I bound to stakes round about the pillar.” – (Smith, J. E. (1994). The Minor Prophets (Jon 1:1–3). Joplin, MO: College Press.)

Let the Holy Spirit do the work of a modern day prophet. Could it be the worship of Ishtar is going on today? Sexuality being use to sell, attract, and draw people in the business world.  According to Wikipedia Pornography is a 100 million dollar a year business, soft porn is acceptable.

Could the mindset of the Ninevites be on the heart of many in America?  In 2011 the Center for Disease Control 730,322 abortions were reported.  When people feel they have been mistreated in some way. The news is filled with violence in the streets. If we can not get our way, lets just get violent!

The question is – What ship has the modern day prophets (Ephesians 4:11-12) gotten on, running from the Lord’s call? – the Lord wants everyone to come to repentance! Jesus said, “…repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed to all nations.” (Luke 24:27)

The Prophet Nahum was sent to talk to the Ninevites, He starts his message with, “God is serious business. He won’t be trifled with. He avenges His foes. He stands against His enemies, fierce and raging. But God doesn’t lose His temper. He’s powerful, but it’s a patient power. Still, no one gets by with anything.  Sooner or later, everyone pays.  Tornadoes and hurricanes are the wake of His passage. Storm clouds are the dust He shakes off His feet.” (Nahum 1:2-3; Peterson E. H. 2005 The Message: the Bible in contemporary language Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress)   

The great news – real men of God are not running from there callings, Baltimore Raven’s Benjamin Watson said, “Obama can’t save us. Mrs. Clinton can’t save us. Mr. Trump can’t save us. The only one who can change the heart of man is the Lord.” Benjamin went on to say, “America can only move forward with a nationwide change of heart. God tells us He alone can do that “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit with in you.” (Ezekiel 36:26) Franklin Graham asked, “Join me in praying for hearts to change across this country as people turn to God for help and put their faith in God’s [one and only] Son, Jesus Christ.”

A Modern Day Message to America 

Once we stop arguing over the species of the sea creature that swallowed up Joan, learn to point people to God and Christ, take an honest look at the present state of the Unite States of America, we then can take God’s message to America. That message, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, …The Lord looks down from heaven, He sees all the children of man.  …He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth…  The king is not saved by His great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.  The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His steadfast love, that He may deliver their soul from death…” (Psalm 33:12 – 18) America is not blessed because of her own efforts, God has blessed this nation.

When Jonah’s warning reached the King of Nineveh, the king issued a proclamation, “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.” (Jonah 3:8) The Bible says, When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened.” (Jonah 3:10)    

Here, we see the true heart of a king who has grasped the truth of this teaching, God is able to overthrow a nation that continues to walk in disobedience.  This king, unlike the presidents we have seen and the candidates laid before us now – lays down a decree which was to be followed by every individual, produce the fruit of repentance, turn from evil ways and violence.  (Smith, B. K., & Page, F. S. (1995). Amos, Obadiah, Jonah (Vol. 19B, p. 267). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.)  Prayer without reformation is a mockery of God. (Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 1, p. 686). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) We are to have the heart of the Psalmist who wrote, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer.” (Psalm 66:18-19)

Any nation that has the genuine change of heart like the Ninevites did, the Bible says, “they turned from their evil ways,”  can enjoy God’s hand of judgment or chastisements be taken from them.  (Smith, J. E. (1994). The Minor Prophets (Jon 3:10). Joplin, MO: College Press)

Do Not Have Jonah’s Heart 

We must remember we are only to give the message from the Lord, we are to do it in obedience, and we are certainly not to have the same attitude of heart that Jonah had.  Jonah’s heart is revealed to us in Jonah 4:1-3, “…he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish.  I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:1-3)

Are we reading about a prophet of God, that has a disregard for human life or are we seeing a prophet who had no revelation of God’s mercy for all of mankind.  Or is Jonah a representation of many Christians today, who miss the joy of being involved in the work of redemption, because they fail to see that it is God’s love for all mankind to save them from their sins, just as he had saved them and intervenes in their lives.  We need not be like Jonah, failing to recognize God’s Sovereign plan and not enjoy the situation and circumstance we are in.

There is no doubt in my mind, Jonah would had been trilled to see God do a great redemptive work among the Jewish people, just like we would love to see God do a redemptive work in our families, among our friends and co-workers, and in our country.

In Jonah chapter four we read of God dealing with Jonah’s heart attitude in a unique way.  “The Lord God provide a leafy plant and made it grow over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provide a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint.” The Bible says, [Jonah] wanted to die, and said, ‘It would be better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:5-9)

The Bible says, “But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?'” Let me remind you, God is speaking to Jonah, and Jonah’s response, “..I am so angry, I wish I were dead.” (Jonah 4:9)  

As we take a look at God’s response to Jonah, keep in mind the wickedness of the Ninevites, God said to Jonah, “…You have been so concern about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. …Should I not be concerned for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left – and also many animals.” (Jonah 4:10-11

The question God asked was, “Is it right for you?” Jonah’s response was about how he felt – like most responses you would hear today, in the church and the world view.  Jonah had grown completely indifferent to the fate of God’s highest creation, human beings and the animals they have been given stewardship over.  God has created every human being, and he wanted to extend His hand of mercy to them.

Let the Holy Spirit put your heart right with God’s view of the lost, even those who have committed the most wicked of deeds.  What is your heart response to the child molester and killer, the murder, the drunken driver who kills an entire family in a drunken car wreck.  What is our heart in regard to nations who do horrible things to good people. Are we willing – if called – to proclaim a message of repentance or face the final judgment to such a wicked society? Rest assured, those who fail to repent will face the God of Justice, and justice will be done. Those who do such crimes will face His justice here and in the here-after.

Nahum spoke to Nineveh about the nature of God when the city returned to its old practices, “Woe to you city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder… many casualties piles of dead bodies… I am against you declares the Lord.” (Nahum 3)  

What a whale of a tale – to think of God’s patients, putting up with a disobedient prophet, His grace in sending a message of warning to a city of blood, false worship and brutality, then forgiving wicked, wicked people who produce the fruit of repentance.

God’s call to the watchman, (his church) is, When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.”  (Ezekiel 3:18)  

There are three heart attitudes that keep us from being a disobedient child of God: 1.) When God gives us message for a people, then deliver the message in a timely manner. 2.) Let God take care and responsibility for the response of the message proclaimed. And 3.) Grasp the heart of God in regard to the people you are sent to proclaim His message to.