QUADS Content: Session 2, Week 2
Before reading the passage referencing the fish swallowing up Jonah and then spitting him out three days later, let me first say something about miracles...
"God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth (catechism)." Because of this, He can break into the material world He created and change it as He pleases. The stories of God doing this in the Old Testament are absolutely thrilling. Here are some examples you should definitely go read on your own:
- God creates something out of nothing (Genesis 1)
- God creates man from the dust and woman from the man (Gen. 2:7, 20-22)
- God parts the LITERAL sea so the Israelites can walk across the sea floor to get to the other side (Exodus 14:15-18)
- The ground opens, swallows up a whole city, and closes again (Numbers 16:31-33)
- Joshua marches the Israelites around a city with huge walls, they blow some horns, and the walls literally just fall over (Joshua 7:12-20)
- Elijah prays, the Lord sends fire from heaven that consumes an offering, the wet firewood, the stones on the ground, the dust, and a pool of water (1 Kings 18:36-39)
- *Bethany's favorite: a disembodied hand writes on a wall (Daniel 5:5)
Can you think of any others? The list goes on...
In the Old Testament, the Lord God moved in ways that attested to His holiness, His glory, and His power. In the New Testament, the Lord God was born of a virgin (miracle) and performed many miracles (feeding of the 5,000, healing the lame and sick, walking on water, resurrecting from the dead! etc, etc.) which attested to his divine nature, that he was God, equal in glory and power with the Father and the Spirit. Today, we see miracles like these as uncommon (God still works miracles, but not in the same way and not as regularly), because the revelation of God has been fully revealed to us in Christ.
Again, all throughout Scripture we see God doing with HIS material world whatever He pleases. He sends storms and calms them (Jonah & Matthew). He controls the seas (Noah & Moses) and animals (10 plagues & Daniel)...later in Jonah, we even see God in control of the plants. Therefore, we don't think it is ridiculous to claim that God appointed a giant fish (whale) to swallow up Jonah and sustain his life in its belly for three days before being vomited out.
All that said, the story of Jonah IS NOT about the fish. If after reading and research, you still aren't convinced it actually happened, that's okay. Many faithful Christians understand it as an allegory, and whether it is historically true or not (personally, I believe it is), the allegory is real, and there is a lot in the story of Jonah that represents both Israel and Jesus. Therefore, it is a story we need to know and can grow in godliness from.
Side note: I don't think the miracle of Jonah even touches the miracle of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. The Apostle Paul says, "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9)." Regardless of whether or not you are convinced that a man named Jonah was actually swallowed and sustained in the belly of a fish, faithful Christians MUST hold onto the miraculous claims of Jesus and see them as (physically and spiritually) true. Jesus truly died. Jesus truly was buried in a tomb and his body was dead for three days. And Jesus' body was truly raised where he visited his disciples and many other witnesses. All four Gospels give witness to this story, and not only that but the Apostle Paul sees the historical and physical resurrection of Jesus as the biggest deal (see 1 Corinthians 15:12-18).
Now on to this week in Jonah...
Read Jonah 1:17-2:10
17 And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. 1 Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, 2 saying, “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. 3 For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. 4 Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’ 5 The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head 6 at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God. 7 When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. 8 Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. 9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!” 10 And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.
1. Discuss the claims of miracles. Where do you stand? Is it silly to believe that Jonah actually lived in the belly of a fish for three whole days?
2. Many people say that chapters 1-2 represent the story of the younger prodigal son in Luke 15, and that chapters 3-4 represent the older prodigal son. Read Luke 15:11-24. What similarities do you see? Any differences?
3. Many people believe this story is allegory. Here's why: Unlike Jonah, most prophets spoke words to Israel of God's judgment, exile, and restoration. Jonah didn't speak to Israel, but his life is seen as a depiction and representation of Israel. He was commanded to bless his neighbors, he rebelled, God brought him into exile (in the belly of a fish), his life was spared, and he was sent back to land to accomplish his purpose (to bless his neighbor). When speaking of Israel's exile into Assyria, the prophet Hosea says, "Israel is swallowed up; already they are among the nations as a useless vessel..." When speaking of Judah's exile into Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah says, "Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon has devoured me; he has crushed me; he has made me an empty vessel; he has swallowed me like a monster."
Do you see the allegory in the story of Jonah? How does he compare and contrast to the story of Israel?
4. Read again chapter 2:1-9. In your own words, how has Jonah changed from Chapter 1 to Chapter 2? The storm and swallowing up has done something to Jonah. What has happened in Jonah’s heart?
5. Our catechism states this of repentance:
Q: What is repentance unto life?
A:Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience.
Do you think Jonah was truly repentant? Why or why not? (Psalm 51 is a good reference)
6. Do you think God sends “storms” in your life? Why or why not?
7. How is God’s mercy on display in this passage? How did God’s mercy affect Jonah? Think of a time (past or present) when you, like Jonah, felt lost because of your own sin.
8. Lastly, while knowing how this story ends, act like you don't :) Do you think Jonah will go out and "do great things for God?"
It you want to watch a fantastic talk/debate on Miracles, you can do so BY CLICKING HERE (a debate with Dr. John Lennox of Oxford). Another great reference is this website called BioLogos, which explores the intermingling of Science and Faith, particularly around Evolution and miraculous claims.