The first great revival among the gentiles has been hi-jacked by a whale or a ‘great fish.’
Immediately you realise I’m talking about Jonah who was thrown overboard from a sailing craft and swallowed by a whale or ‘great fish’ as some versions of the Bible read.
Let’s be really honest - when we think of Jonah we just think about the whale (or ‘great fish’). We stop there and think of it as a fun story especially for children’s church.
It was a great story when I first heard it as a child only to be told some years later a whale can’t swallow a man whole. This immediately shook my belief in what was written in the Bible.
If this wasn’t true then what else wasn’t true?
Over the years I’ve come to realise the Bible is the written word of God and so every part of it is true. I decided to see if there was a whale or great fish capable of swallowing a man whole.
It didn’t take long to find there are several. The most likely, the Whale Shark, but there are others too.
James Bartley (1870–1909) is the central figure in a late nineteenth-century story according to which he was swallowed whole by a sperm whale. He was found still living days later in the stomach of the whale, which was dead from harpooning.
The story originated of an anonymous form, began to appear in American newspapers. The anonymous article appeared in the St. Louis Globe Democrat of Saint Louis, Missouri, then the note appeared in other newspapers with the title "A Modern Jonah" or something similar in multiple newspapers. http://dbpedia.org,
The largest fish known to man is the whale shark which could probably fit a man in its stomach, also the basking shark has the right kind of dimensions but both of these big fish eat plankton and small fish which could explain why Jonah was ‘spewed out.’
There have been reports of Great White Sharks and Groupers large enough to swallow a man whole.
So, we now see it is possible for a ‘great fish’ or whale to swallow a man whole although I doubt the Great White Shark would let him live.
Jonah and the whale, as kids, the story ended there. I was led to believe you couldn’t run from God; you’d be swallowed by a whale and spewed out on a beach and this is how the real story was ‘hijacked’ by the whale.
Jonah is a prophet during the reign of King Jeroboam II after the prophet Elijah but before Amos and Hosea.
Jonah is the only prophet in the Old Testament God flat out told to preach to a Gentile city and not just any gentiles but the people of Nineveh (The Assyrians).
These people were extremely cruel towards Israel and caused a lot of problems in the past. To top it off Nineveh is 800 miles (1287km) away.
Jonah would have to travel this by horse/donkey/camel. This would take him weeks if not months!
The Pony Express riders would travel around 75 miles a day, interchanging horses every 5-20 miles (8 to 32kms). So, you know for Jonah it would be a BIG deal to travel to Nineveh.
Could you imagine how many times you would hear your kids say…. “Are we there yet?” God have mercy!
Jonah, of course, tells God, “It ain’t going to happen!” and runs away in the polar opposite direction of Nineveh.
This blatant rebellion leads Jonah on a ‘not so fun’ boat ride. A bad storm happens and Jonah actually has the courage to let everyone know it’s his fault because he’s running away from God.
Long story short
They toss him overboard, but before doing so they ask God to forgive them.
“We pray, O Lord, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You.” Jonah 1:14
God then tells the whale to throw Jonah up. Jonah then goes to Nineveh, tells them to repent and the whole city believes Jonah and repents.
The first gentile revival just took place.
Oddly enough Jonah was not too happy about what happened. He’s actually ANGRY at God. He was hoping God was going to call down fire on everyone.
So, Jonah has a ‘pity me party’ and God tries to show and teach him His compassion towards mankind with a plant giving him shelter, and worm.
One of the overarching messages from the Book of Jonah is compassion. Jonah was a prophet, and even though he had let God down in numerous ways, he was still forgiven because God showed him unlimited love and compassion.
God also modelled forgiveness and mercy for Jonah in how God dealt with other people.
John Skinner served as an infantry soldier in Vietnam then the Tasmanian Police before taking up the position of CEO of the Australian Rough Riders Association (professional rodeo based in Warwick Qld). Before retirement to his small farm, he was a photo-journalist for 25 years. He is married with 3 children and 7 grandchildren.