A Bible Exposition of Jonah 1:17-2:10
In February 1891 off the Falkland Islands a whale-ship, the Star of the East was in pursuit of a large sperm whale. As the ship drew near to kill the whale two men were thrown overboard. The first man drowned and the second, a man by the name of James Bartley disappeared and was presumed dead.
Eventually the whale was captured, killed, and butchered. As the sailors were cutting through chunks of the dead carcass, making their way to the stomach, they were startled when they encountered signs of life from within.
Cutting further into the flesh of the giant mammal they found the sailor, James Bartley, curled up unconscious.
After removing Bartley from the whale he was revived by splashing cold seawater on him. For several weeks after the incident he was not himself. In fact, he was so terrified and out of his mind, that he struggled to adjust to normal life afterward.
Bartley recounted the experience of being inside the whale as hot, slimy and dark. From the experience, Bartley’s skin became ghostly white due to contact with the gastric juices from the whale’s stomach.
In the later details of the incident Bartley stated that he could have survived inside the whale until he starved for he passed out as a result of sheer terror rather than a lack of oxygen.
Though this story gained wide recognition it is most likely an urban legend. There is a little fact to prove the validity of the account and there is more data proving the contrary.
Although it is physically possible for a sperm whale, or a whale shark, or possibly a great white to swallow a person whole, there is almost no oxygen in the stomach caverns. About the only thing someone could breather would be methane gas, which does a person no good—what we need is oxygen.
This morning in our study Jonah we have reached the point in the prophetic narrative where Jonah has taken God to the wall, and God pins Jonah down. He makes his prayer to his God. The account tells us that it takes place from the belly of a great fish.
Whether James Bartley did or didn’t get swallowed by a sperm whale an live should make little difference to you. Sometimes we can fall into the trap of wanting something that will make it easier to prove the biblical account, or will be more convincing.
But my hope and yours rests not in finding some additional story to corroborate the book of Jonah and bolster our faith in the validity of the account. Our faith rests in the Creator and Sustainer of all things who is able to do whatever pleases Him.
This was supernatural. There is simply no way for this to happen according to natural laws that God has put in place.
Please turn in your Bibles to the book of Jonah. We are going to pick up where we left off last week in v. 17 of chapter 1. This marks a turn in plot. Jonah has been running for the past two weeks, and now we will see him returning to the Lord.
Before we jump into Jonah’s repentance allow me to set the stage for you. As you remember if you have been with us before, Jonah was a prophet of the Lord who served during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C.). Jeroboam was king over the Northern tribes of Israel.
To align ourselves in the timeline of Israel, the nation will get dominated and captured by Assyria in 722 B.C. so our story takes place just thirty to seventy years prior to this.
In relation to King Solomon, the height of the monarchy, Jonah is living 150 to 200 years after Solomon’s death. During that time period the Northern kingdom had many years of wicked kings ruling.
To put this in perspective, the distance from Jonah to Solomon is the same distance we are from James Madison or John Quincy Adams as American presidents. A lot can happen and a lot has changed since Solomon.
Commissioned by God to speak to Nineveh, a notoriously wicked and the largest city in the ancient near east, Jonah decides that he prefers for God to judge the wicked rather than show them grace and mercy. In hard-hearted rebellion he flees from his duty and jumped into a ship to sail away.
Yet the Lord causes a great storm to come upon the water, so great, in fact, that the Phoenician sailors accustomed to sea storms are terrified. As the sailors attempt to determine who among them has angered the gods and brought about this great storm they cast a lot and it providentially lands on Jonah.
With much reluctance the sailors eventually throw Jonah overboard and the storm subsides. The miracle of the hurricane instantly stopping marks a huge change for the sailors as they turn to YHWH in repentance.
They recognized the storm had a Divine origin, that this god (whose proper name in Hebrew was YHWH) was holding his prophet Jonah accountable and that this YHWH had the power to immediately calm the storm. The men feared God and offered a sacrifice to him and made vows.
The great mercy of God bestowed on these sailors is only a small part of a larger theme that we are going to see put on display in our short time together this morning. We will see that YHWH (the Lord) is sovereign, he is merciful and ultimately that salvation is something that belongs to God and God alone.
This morning we are going to listen in on the prayer Jonah made to God from the belly of the fish. There is little that you and Jonah have in common.
He was Jewish, called by God as a prophet, and lived in antiquity.
You are a Gentile, called by God as a Christian, and live in post-modernity.
Though this story happened to a rather obscure prophet nearly 3,000 years ago you and I have much to learn from Jonah. Jonah is (as a saved man) is rejecting God’s Word.
Jonah’s prayer is full of valuable theology… valuable teaching about who God is and what he does. And because God is unchangeable what we learn about Jonah’s God benefits us in our knowledge of the Holy One today.
You can be biblically informed, and yet rebellious to truth.
Jonah 1:17–2:10—17 And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights. 1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the stomach of the fish, 2 and he said, “I called out of my distress to the LORD, And He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice. 3 “For You had cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the current engulfed me. All Your breakers and billows passed over me. 4 “So I said, ‘I have been expelled from Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ 5 “Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, Weeds were wrapped around my head. 6 “I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever, But You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. 7 “While I was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, And my prayer came to You, Into Your holy temple. 8 “Those who regard vain idols Forsake their faithfulness, 9 But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD.” 10 Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.
Three steps the Lord takes in shaping Jonah:
- The Lord confines him (1:17)
- The Lord chastens him (2:1-9)
- The Lord commissions him (2:10)