Summary: An analysis of Jonah’s prayer while in the belly of great fish. What people pray about when their under great stress.
The God of Second Chances
Text: Jonah 1:17-2:10
Introduction: In the late winter of 1891, the whale-ship Star of the East was in the vicinity of the Falkland Islands when it came within sight of a whale. Two boats were dispatched with harpoons to snare and kill the beast, but the lashing of its tail capsized one of the launches, spilling the crew into the sea. All were accounted for except for a single sailor, James Bartley. Ultimately the whale was killed and the carcass drawn alongside the vessel to begin the process of salvaging valuable resources. By the next day good progress had been made in removing the layers of blubber from the beast, so a tackle was attached to its stomach to hoist it on deck. Sailors were startled by spasmodic life within the belly of the whale, and upon further inspection the missing sailor was found. Bartley was quite mad for two weeks, but upon recovering his senses he recounted what little he could recall of being dragged under the water. Struggling for his life he had been drawn into darkness within which he felt a terrible and oppressive heat. He found slimy walls that gave slightly to his touch, but could find no exit. When his situation finally dawned on him Bartley lost his senses completely and lapsed into a catatonic state. During his time inside the whale the gastric juices affected his exposed skin. His face, neck and hands were bleached a deathly white with a texture like parchment, a condition from which the skin never recovered. Bartley believed that he would probably have lived inside his house of flesh until he starved, as breathing was not a problem.
To be fair, though this story was confirmed by Sir Francis Fox and two French scientists, others have disputed Bartley’s claim. This shouldn’t surprise us. Many skeptics have argued the impossibility of the story of Jonah as well! I’ve often wonder why some Bible scholars find this so hard to accept. Even some conservative scholars argue that is nothing more than a parable meant to make a point, rather than provide us an accurate account of an historical event. Why is it that people can believe the Bible when it speaks of the incarnation of the Son of God, His miracles and His resurrection from the dead, but they cannot believe that God could cause a large fish to swallow a reluctant prophet and spit him back out again alive three days later? Jesus believed it and used this incident with Jonah as a sign to explain the events surrounding His death, burial and resurrection (See Matthew 12:39-41).
There is a common parallel between these two events that I would like us to consider this morning. Just as Christ brought salvation to us by going to the belly of the earth and rising again in three days, having conquered death and brought life to those who believe, so Jonah went down in the belly of a fish and was raised to new life three days later. The similarities between the two stories is no accident! Don’t miss the message that God has for us in this passage: Salvation is available to everyone. What we learn from Jonah is that it is only a prayer away! Let’s take a few moments and break down the prayer of Jonah so that we can have a better understanding of how salvation comes to us.
I. The reason for Jonah’s prayer (See Jonah 1:17-2:2). Jonah uses the word "distress" to describe his emotional state inside the whale. The verb form of the word actually is used to refer to the pain that a woman experiences while giving birth (See Jeremiah 49:22). The reluctant prophet was obviously going through a pretty difficult time, and it was his pain that drove Jonah to his knees. Application: I don’t know if this is what you have seen, but it has been my observation that people often come to Christ when their lives are coming apart. God seems to use adversity to draw us to Himself (See Job 36:15-16). I cannot tell you how many opportunities I have had to share the Gospel (the foundation for our hope) with those who are suffering intense personal pain. It is natural that when people go through adversity they look for someone or something that can bring relief. Consider how many people came to Jesus in but two chapters of the Gospel of Matthew for this very reason...people who were inflicted with disease and physical infirmity (See Matthew 8:1-2; 5-6, 9:1-2, 9:27); others who were in danger from nature (See Matthew 8:23-25); some were the victims of spiritual conflict (See Matthew 8:28); and still others who faced the stinging pain of the death of a loved one (See Matthew 9:18). There’s nothing quite so effective as distress and adversity to cause us to look to heaven! It worked for Jonah. He had been running away from God’s divine purpose for his life, but as a result of being swallowed by a great fish things were changing.