Jonah and the "Big Fish."

Fact? or Fiction? Don’t Miss the Meaning!
Jonah and the Big Fish was it an actual historical event or was it a “whale of a tale?” A real “Whopper” of a story?

Do you find it hard to believe that Jonah was actually swallowed by a Big Fish? (The Bible never actually calls the big fish a whale!) Do you think that Jonah and the Big Fish is just a “Big Fish” story that is hard to swallow?

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Jonah and the Big Fish

When we look at Jonah and the Big Fish as Fact? Or Fiction we are missing the most important point – The “MEANING” of the Scripture! There are great lessons to be learned from this Scripture that is often dismissed as a children’s story without any relevance to us today.
When we reduce Jonah and the Big Fish to a fanciful children’s fairytale we are missing the “Meanings.” There are lessons and meanings on many different levels: From Jonah we receive lessons on the forgiving Nature of God, God’s Rehabilitative Grace, Man’s disobedience and disobedience, and of Man trying to place limits on God’s Love and Grace.

What is the story about?
God’s Calling.

Jonah is told by the LORD to go to the sinful people of Nineveh to bring the people to repent of their sins, to bring the people of Nineveh back into a right relationship with God – “Salvation!”

A Lesson in Man’s Disobedience
But Jonah did not want to bring God’s restorative Grace to the people of Nineveh because the Ninevites were the enemies of the Jewish people. Jonah knew that if he brought the Word of God to Ninevites, and if they repented, they would be forgiven by the forgiving Love and Grace from God.

Jonah did not want the Ninevites to share in God’s Grace because
1.) To Jonah they were his enemy. But they were NOT the enemies of God. God Loves ALL of His people.
2.) Jonah felt that the Ninevites were not worthy to receive God’s Love, Mercy, and Grace. Jonah felt that the Ninevites did not deserve, did not earn, and did not merit God’s Love and Grace. (Who are we or Jonah to place limits on God’s Love and Grace?)
3.) Not only that – Jonah wanted the Ninevites to suffer – to be punished by God.
4.) And not uncommon for us today Jonah was self-righteousness; Jonah felt that he/the Jewish nation were superior and better than the Ninevites.

And again, Jonah wanted the Ninevites to suffer and to be punished for their disobedience to God. This “they don’t deserve it,” “but I do deserve it because I have worked hard for it” condemning attitude is quite similar to the older brother in the Parable of the Lost Son – But the Father’s reply (God):
” ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "
Luke 15:31-32

Jonah was angry at Nineveh’s disobedience while at the same time Jonah was oblivious to his disobedience to God! God had told Jonah to go to Nineveh and Jonah went in the opposite direction! Opposition to God is sin!

“Do not be confident of your own righteousness
and look down on other people.”

Luke 18:9 NIV

If we claim to be without sin,
we deceive ourselves
and the truth is not in us.

1 John 1:8-9 NIV

For whoever keeps the whole law
and yet stumbles at just one point
is guilty of breaking all of it.

James 2:10 NIV

“Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
Matthew 7:1-3 NIV

Jonah’s self-righteous attitude of superiority is similar to the attitude of the Pharisee in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9-14

A Lesson in Obedience:
Another Important Level of Understanding….

God told Jonah to go to Nineveh. Jonah did not like God’s plan; Jonah liked his plan better! So Jonah went off in the opposite direction!
· Opposition to God is sin.
· Disobedience to God is sin.
· Walking away from God is walking into darkness.

Being tempted is NOT a sin; for we are all tempted at one time or another. Even Jesus was tempted by satan:

The Temptation of Jesus:
Matthew 4:1-11
Mark 1:9-13
Luke 4:1-13

Jonah 1
Jonah Flees From the LORD

1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me."

3 But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD.

4 Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.

But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, "How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish."

7 Then the sailors said to each other, "Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity." They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.

8 So they asked him, "Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?"

9 He answered, "I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land."

10 This terrified them and they asked, "What have you done?" (They knew he was running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.)

11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, "What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?"

12 "Pick me up and throw me into the sea," he replied, "and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you."

13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried to the LORD, "O LORD, please do not let us die for taking this man's life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O LORD, have done as you pleased." 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him.

17 But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.

There are always consequences for running away from God; not obeying God. Jonah went in his own direction to flee from the LORD, (How can we possibly think that we run away from God; Creator of Heaven and Earth?) but he was met with many obstacles and problems! Jonah was trapped into a ferocious storm and was tossed into a Sea of Problems. Running away from God is only hurting yourself AND All of the People Around You – Friends and Love-Ones!

· Opposition to God is sin.
· Opposition to God is being in darkness.
· Opposition to God is being in turmoil and isolation.

Opposition to God you could say is like being swallowed by a Big Fish – a place of darkness, isolation, turmoil, a time of temptation in the wilderness (or in the belly of a whale), a deep-dark cave where there is No Way Out – Except through God’s Mercy and Grace!

Being inside a “Big Fish” for three days and three nights gives you plenty of time to think things over! This three days and three nights is very similar to Saul in the Conversion of Saul/Paul.

In this dark isolation, you are swallowed by remorse, you honestly and sincerely repent, and through the Grace of God, the old behavior that you now despise… your disobedience makes you sick! In fact your disobedience to God is so distasteful that even a whale or a “Big Fish” that had swallowed you, would vomit and expel you out!

In my distress I called to the LORD,
and he answered me.
From the depths of the grave I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.

Jonah 2:2

Jonah was in distress; Jonah was in trouble but Jonah cried out to the LORD. God hears the cries of His people; God answered.

Jonah 2
Jonah's Prayer

1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. 2 He said:
"In my distress I called to the LORD,
and he answered me.
From the depths of the grave I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.

3 You hurled me into the deep,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.

4 I said, 'I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.'

5 The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.

6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you brought my life up from the pit,
O LORD my God.

7 "When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, LORD,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.

8 "Those who cling to worthless idols
forfeit the grace that could be theirs.

9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
Salvation comes from the LORD."

10 And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

Later, begrudgingly, Jonah went to Nineveh to proclaim God’s message. And much to Jonah’s displeasure the Ninevites repented. When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.

Again, Jonah was dissatisfied with the outcome. Jonah did not believe that the Ninevites deserved, earned, or merited God’s Restorative Love and Grace.

Again, Similar to the older son in The Parable of the Lost Son The Parable of the Lost Son (The Prodigal Son) and similar to The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard where the early workers grumble against the generosity and Grace of the Landowner (God).

Why is it that man often wants to place limits on God’s Love,
Grace, and Salvation?

God wants the “LOST” found! The Lost Son, Lost Coin, Lost Sheep, “You” Found and brought back into the fold; back into a loving right-relationship with God. Salvation!

· Why do we think we deserve God’s Grace more than others’ and that other people are not worthy of God’s Grace?

· Why does Man want the “Lost” to suffer and to be punished by God?

· Why does Man place obstacles to the “Lost” seeking God’s Grace?

· Why do we place Limits and Preconditions on God’s Love, Mercy, Forgiveness, and Grace. That the “Lost” must jump through hoops, that the “Lost” must earn, deserve, and merit God’s Grace?


All of us fall short of the Kingdom of God.
Salvation is a “Gift from God”
That we do NOT deserve, earn, or merit!

There are these “Meanings” and there is always more to be learned from Jonah and a Big Fish!

· Have you ever been tossed into a raging storm, tossed into a “Sea of Problems”?

· Have you ever been over your head, drowning in despair, swallowed by overwhelming problems?

· Have you ever been all-alone, in isolation, in darkness?

· Have you ever been swallowed by a “Big Fish?”

Pray to God.
Give all of your problems, your worries, your burdens to God.

Turn all your troubles over to him,
because he cares for you and is watching over you.

1 Peter 5:7 Worldwide English

Jonah 3
Jonah Goes to Nineveh

1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: 2 "Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you."

3 Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city—a visit required three days. 4 On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned." 5 The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:
"By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish."

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.

Jonah 4
Jonah's Anger at the Lord 's Compassion

1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee 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. 3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."

4 But the LORD replied, "Have you any right to be angry?"

5 Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine.

7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, "It would be better for me to die than to live."

9 But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?"

"I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die." 10 But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?"

Matthew Henry's Bible Commentary:
The Book of Jonah

YouTube Video: An illustrated story of the book of Jonah
Jonah Illustrated Preview Nancy Jakubik

A Lesson in the Nature of God
God’s Restorative Grace

Jonah sat down to see what would happen to the city. The LORD provided a vine to give Jonah shade. Jonah was happy was overjoyed to have the vine for shade and comfort. But the next day God provided a worm to chew the vine so that it withered. When the scorching east wind and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head that Jonah became faint. Jonah was angry and wanted to die because the vine withered.

10 But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?"

Sometimes we are more interested in our own agenda, our plans, our way instead on following God’s Agenda, God’s Plans, God’s Way!

How can we be so grandiose in presuming the Powers of God by condemning other people to eternal damnation when we can be more interested in our own trivial pursuits, matters, and problems?

If God ever wanted to take a some time off for a well-deserved vacation; there are many people who believe (falsely) that they are qualified to take God’s place, to sit in judgement of other people!

A Lesson in God’s Grace:
God’s Restorative Justice

If a person commits a heinous crime, we want Justice! We want the criminal to be caught and punished justly; for the punishment to be equal to the crime. (And sometimes we want the criminal to suffer even more.)

God’s Restorative Justice goes far beyond our sense of justice, our sense of fairness, further than our comprehension and understanding.

God’s Restorative Justice pays back “evil” with “goodness.” We all fall short of the Kingdom of God, and God loves even the criminal. That doesn’t mean that God loves the criminals words, actions, and deeds, and in no way does it suggest or imply “Universal Forgiveness” even though that is God’s prerogative. And in no way does it suggest or imply that there are not consequences for disobedience and sin. But it is suggesting and implying that God’s Love transcends and surpasses all understanding. Thanks be to God.

But God does NOT want the criminal (the sinner/us) separated from Him by sin. God woos, calls, and beckons us back to Him. Coaxing and encouraging us to repentance. When and if we make our free-choice to honestly and sincerely with all our heart repent (convicted of our sins) and ask God for forgiveness – we are forgiven (Saved) and we are shaped into a right-relationship with God - Salvation! Salvation through the Loving, Forgiving, Restorative Grace from God that we do NOT deserve, that we did NOT earn, and that we did NOT merit!

Love, Forgiveness, Grace, and Salvation are ALL FREE GIFTS FROM GOD that we do not deserve, earn, or merit.

The worst example of being judgmental is when we become self-righteous and condemn others!

Jonah and the Parable of the Lost Son (The Prodigal Son) and Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard all explore the theme of God’s abundant overflowing Love, Forgiveness, and Grace. But in each story there is always someone who wants to deny God’s Love, Forgiveness, and Grace. In the Parable of the Lost Son the older brother and the grumbling early workers in the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard want to place limits and restrictions on God’s Love and Grace!

Why do we easily accept God’s blessings for ourselves and at the same time we would deny blessings for others – Gifts that God wants to give to the people that we believe to be too unworthy to deserve God’s Grace! It’s like if God gave us millions and millions of dollars and yet we don’t want this other lost soul to receive from God not one cent!

This is the same unforgiving attitude in The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant:

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant
Matthew 18:21-35 NIV

21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"

22Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[a]

23"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents[b] was brought to him. 25Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26"The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' 27The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii.[c] He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.

29"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'

30"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' 34In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
a. Matthew 18:22 Or seventy times seven
b. Matthew 18:24 That is, millions of dollars
c. Matthew 18:28 That is, a few dollars

Jonah and the Whale

A little girl was talking to her teacher about whales.

The teacher said it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human because even though they were a very large mammal their throat was very small.

The little girl stated Jonah was swallowed by a whale.

The teacher reiterated a whale could not swallow a human; it was impossible.

The little girl said, "When I get to heaven I will ask Jonah."

The teacher asked, "What if Jonah went to hell?"

The little girl replied, "Then you ask him."

Was Jonah literally swallowed by a “Big Fish?” Does it really even matter? The “Meaning” of the Scripture far outweighs any historical value of did it actually, literally, happen this way. The metaphorical “Meanings” and “Lessons” are of the greater importance. Having said that, I understand the impossibilities of Jonah actually being swallowed by a “Big Fish.”

Why didn’t Jonah drown, suffocate, or was killed by the stomach acids of the “Big Fish?”

When you think about it, this story is difficult to believe as an actual historical factual event.

I am NOT a Fundamentalist – I do not insist that the Story of Jonah is a historical – factual- literal event that HAD to have happened for the meaning to be true. Or that it HAD to be a historical – factual - literally true or somehow the Bible and Scripture becomes less True and less Holy!

When we have endless debate, (and each side is entrenched in their beliefs and will not budge) asking the question: “Did this event historically, factually, and literally happen this way?” We are missing the “Meaning” of the Holy Scriptures – The Word of God!

Which is more important to you?
How big the fish was?
Or the “Meaning” of the Scripture and its’ valuable lessons.

I am NOT trying to tell you what to Think!
But I am encouraging you to Think!

If you believe that Jonah was actually – factually - literally- physically swallowed by a “Big Fish”.... If you believe this in your heart – Don’t let anyone take that away from you! In my heart I believe that Jonah and the “Big Fish” is based historically on a true event as impossible and improbable as it may seem! But I do not know how factual and literally true.
My Heart Believes...
My Mind has difficulty believing!

"I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"
Mark 9:24

I am NOT a Fundamentalist, and yet I Believe in things Unseen
and Walk by Faith – Not by Sight.

Being swallowed by a “Big Fish” is having a “Big Problem” in turbulent, troubled waters, where Jonah is thrashing helplessly against a huge powerful problem (the “Big Fish”) And Jonah is helpless to fight against it. In fact this “Big Fish” will chew Jonah up and spit him out!

Has “Life” ever chewed you up and spit you out?
Have you ever been swallowed up by a “Big Problem?”
Have you ever been distraught, all alone in the wilderness,
all alone in the darkness in isolation?
Have you ever been swallowed by a “Big Fish” and spit out?

In my distress I called to the LORD,
and he answered me.
From the depths of the grave I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.

Jonah 2:2