So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows. Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:15-17)
In The Belly Of A Fish
The story of Jonah is one of the most familiar in scripture. Often told as Jonah and the whale (note is only says “a great fish”) it has volumes of lessons for the people of God. He was told to go preach to a Gentile city but refused. Trying to flee to the farthest place on earth he found himself the object of God’s wrath spending three days and three nights in the belly of a fish. Praying to the Lord for deliverance God spoke to the fish and the reluctant prophet was vomited up on shore (that had to be an experience for both fish and Jonah). Told a second time to preach to Nineveh the prophet brought the whole city to repentance calming the destruction from the Lord. The book closes with Jonah’s displeasure at God saving the city.
Being swallowed by a fish and surviving three days was a miracle. It is impossible to understand the impact this would have on any man. Jonah’s prayer speaks of his despair as the deep closed around him. There is a way of looking at the story as God’s punishment on Jonah in being swallowed by a fish but as Tom Hamilton pointed out in a lesson about the tomb of Jesus the prophet’s redemption was in the belly of the fish. When the sailors threw Jonah into the sea he should have drowned. He could have treaded water for some time but to stay afloat for any length of time would have been impossible. Death faced Jonah in the deep. The fish was Jonah’s salvation. His tomb became his deliverance. Remember when God spoke to the fish it vomited Jonah on dry land.
The tomb of Jesus is our redemption. The sting of death and the victory of Hades is not in the tomb of the righteous. Death is not feared for the child of God because we know our physical burial is not the end but the beginning of our life. Jesus tomb was empty showing our hope of an empty tomb. What man sees as a horrible pit of darkness the Christian sees as a portal of light to bring us to God. The fish was not punishment but salvation. Death is no longer to be feared but embraced as our redemption. Jesus died and was buried so that we can die and be raised up to everlasting life. Now that is a great story.
When we come to realize that death that crushes is but the tender clasp of God that loves, it loses all its terrors. (Vincent McNabb, Joy In Believing, 1939)