Summary: The purpose of adversities in life and how faith deals with them.
Charles W. Holt
Your comments are appreciated
Community of Grace
Vinton, LA 3-2-08
INSIDE THE WHALE’S BELLY
Let me define what I mean when I use the phrase Inside the Whale’s Belly. If you immediately think of the prophet Jonah, whose story is found in the Old Testament book of Jonah, you will be correct.
The story itself is simple to follow and readily lends itself to storytellers who easily adapt its many moral illustrations to real-life circumstances and situations. I want to use Jonah’s Inside the Whale’s Belly event as a modern day parable to explain some of our struggles which the apostle Peter calls, “fiery trials;” that he says acts as “though some strange thing has happened to you” (1 Peter 4:12).
First, however, I want to take just a few moments to defend the accuracy of the Bible’s account of Jonah. Let me begin with this little story (Note: this is one of many versions that have circulated on the Internet. The author is unknown.)
Little Sally was transferred from Christian school to public school. On her first day in the class the teacher introduced herself as "Mrs. Crump" and then said, "Today we’re going to study in Zoology and the first subject in Zoology we’re going to study will be whales. Does anyone know anything about whales?" At first no one raised their hand. Then Sally raised her hand. Mrs. Crump said, "What do you know about whales Sally?" Sally said, "Jonah was swallowed by a whale!" Mrs. Crump said, "That’s nonsense! The throat of the whale is too narrow to swallow a man! Where did you get that foolish belief?" Sally said, "That’s what my Bible says!" Mrs. Crump said, "Your Bible is wrong!
As I said, a whale’s throat is too narrow to swallow a man. What do you think now?" Sally thought for a minute and then said, "I guess I’ll have to wait until I get to heaven and ask Jonah himself what happened." Mrs. Crump thought she’d be smart and asked Sally, "What happens if Jonah isn’t there to ask?" Again Sally thought for a minute and then said, "Then I guess YOU will have to ask him."
Jonah was a very real Old Testament prophet. He is first mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25-27 as performing his ministry during the reign of Jeroboam II. He probably lived at the same time as the prophets Hosea and Amos. It would be interesting to know if these three knew each other, lived close to each other.
It is a true story. Jesus validated and endorsed its genuineness when he said of Himself, “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (KJV). It is a reference to His death and resurrection.
On another occasion Jesus used the experience of Jonah—which was undoubtedly well known to His audience—to warn against their sign-seeking obsession saying, “there shall no sign by given it (an evil generation), but the sign of Jonas the prophet” (Luke 11:29-32 and see Mt. 16:4 KJV).
Finally, let me make a statement about the use of the word “whale.” Everyone says a whale swallowed Jonah. As you know that statement is open to criticism from all sides. In the original Jonah story the scripture says, “Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah (and he) was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights“ (Jonah 1:17 KJV).
The New Testament verses already quoted use the word, “whale.” Is that a correct rendering? I don’t think so. In the original Hebrew and Greek the word translates “sea-serpent or “sea-monster.” Without a doubt the 56 godly men who worked to compile and compose the original King James Version of the Bible chose the word “whale” because it would more readily be understood and accepted. This was one of their intended goals for preparing this Bible.
There is one more thing to consider. No whales have ever been found in the Mediterranean Sea where the Jonah incident takes place. I am satisfied to take the word of Jonah 1:17 that it was a “great” i.e., huge fish.
But wait! Don’t get lost in all these trivial details. One thing is important. Whatever kind of fish you wish to swallow the prophet write the word MIRACLE over it. What happened to Jonah was a miracle. We serve a God of miracles. And He often works a miracle when we find ourselves in our own Inside the Whale’s Belly experience.
Now you can see what I am about to do with this story. I am going to switch from the “literal” to the “figurative” or what is sometimes called the “spiritual.” Actually I will use the entire story as a metaphor. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another. Jesus used this in much of his preaching. They are called “parables.” A parable is a simple story illustrating a moral or religious lesson. Jesus referred to flowers, trees, fields, etc., and gave them a spiritual or moral twist to make His point.