I have heard many times the story of Jonah and the whale, or at least I thought I had. I knew that he was swallowed by a whale and God helped him escape after 3 days and 3 nights. But apparently I missed much of the story. Today the Bible opened to the book of Jonah. And I read the book of Jonah — it is only 2 pages, so don’t be too impressed. What I did not know, or never paid attention to before, was how Jonah got into the water (and eventually into the whale’s stomach). Apparently Jonah was traveling in a boat with others when a great storm arose:
Now the men were seized with great fear and said to him, “How could you do such a thing!”—They knew that he was fleeing from the LORD, because he had told them. They asked, “What shall we do with you, that the sea may calm down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more stormy. Jonah responded, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea and then the sea will calm down for you. For I know that this great storm has come upon you because of me.”
Still the men rowed hard to return to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy. Then they cried to the LORD: “Please, O LORD, do not let us perish for taking this man’s life; do not charge us with shedding innocent blood, for you, LORD, have accomplished what you desired.” Then they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea stopped raging. Seized with great fear of the LORD, the men offered sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.
Jonah was running from the Lord. He was physically turning away from God. And what did God do? He didn’t kill him, although the other sailors thought that was what God wanted, He didn’t harm Jonah at all. He called him back — He sent Jonah a wake up call. Jonah answered the wake up call:
From the womb of Sheol I cried for help, and you heard my voice. You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the sea, and the flood enveloped me; All your breakers and your billows passed over me. Then I said, “I am banished from your sight! How will I again look upon your holy temple?” The waters surged around me up to my neck; the deep enveloped me; seaweed wrapped around my head. I went down to the roots of the mountains; to the land whose bars closed behind me forever, But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD, my God.
Jonah went down to the depths, and God brought him back. He returned him to dry land. He returned him to safety. Jonah ran from God, told God no, and God called him back and brought him to safety. It’s a whale of a story. It’s our story. Maybe we don’t physically run from God, but we sometimes (maybe more times than we like to admit) turn our backs on God, we choose to make our own plans rather than follow God’s plan. God still calls us back. He is waiting to return us to dry land no matter how far down we go.
Thank you God!