Jonah and the Big Fish Tale

Posted on 06/30/2019 by Rev. Benjamin R. Faust D.D.

AUDIO: dialup - broadband - podcast

TRANSCRIPT: (does not contain everything found in the audio above)

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by Anonymous
addition lyrics by Benjamin Faust

Rejoice in the Lord always
and again I say rejoice!
Rejoice in the Lord always
and again I say rejoice!

Rejoice, rejoice
and again I say rejoice!
Rejoice, rejoice
and again I say rejoice!

This is the day that the Lord has made
I will rejoice and be glad today
In His Presence is the fullness of His Joy complete
so I come and I lay my troubles and cares at the Master's feet

Not height, not depth, not the shadow of death
can ever separate me from how He Loves me with
His Joy that's overflowing as it's bubbling up
Rejoicing is the wine of God that's filling my cup

lyrics by Horatio Spafford
music by Philip Bliss

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

lyrics by Munster Gesangbuch
music by Schlesische Volkslieder

Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nature,
O thou of God and man the Son,
Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor,
thou, my soul's glory, joy, and crown.

Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodlands,
robed in the blooming garb of spring:
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer
who makes the woeful heart to sing.

Fair is the sunshine, fairer still the moonlight,
and all the twinkling starry host:
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer
than all the angels heaven can boast.

Beautiful Savior! Lord of all the nations!
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor, praise, adoration,
now and forevermore be thine.

*** Choose your connection speed and listen to the audio to hear the introduction. ***

We give thanks for this time in which we can prepare ourselves to learn and grow, this time of inspiration, this time of rest.

And we ask that we would have open hearts and listening ears, so we can leave this place a little bit better than before.

You may be seated.

Well, summer seems to be here, at least where Mari and I live. But in the heat, we can be thankful that we have a sun that lights our days and causes the moon to glow at night; that enables plants to grow food; and that we don't live on Mercury.

Today, let's take a trip back in time and space, as we join an unknown writer as he sits at his table, parchment laid out and pen in hand.

He has a story he wants to tell, a message he wants to share. And he is searching for some sort of inspiration.

From somewhere outside, in drifts the odor of fish being roasted over a charcoal fire, and the sounds of someone boasting about the time he caught a fish that was SO big it would have swallowed a smaller man whole.

In the mind of the writer formed the image of a small man; not small in physical stature, but small in mind and in heart, being swallowed alive by a great fish, figuratively speaking.

And his pen starts moving, letter by letter, word by word, until he lays his pen down and smiles.

Let's read what he wrote, as we journey inside his imagination to a ship leaving a port with a man named Jonah.

Jonah Chapter 1, beginning with verse 1. (NIV)

1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai (ah-mih'-tie):
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 so that 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 kind of work 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 dry 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 out to the Lord, "Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man's life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, 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 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Okay. Good start. Lots of tension. And when they heard that Jonah's god would not destroy everyone on the ship if they threw Jonah overboard, these men who didn't worship the Hebrew god decided to follow the moral course of action and row to shore instead.

But safely going back to shore wouldn't work for the story. So God wouldn't let them row to safety. And instead, reluctantly, they agreed to throw Jonah overboard yelling out to Jonah's god,

“Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.”

In other words, “You were going to kill him, plus all of us innocent bystanders, so don't be mad at us for just carrying out the first part!”

They obviously did not know the god of Jonah. Although they were probably right that he would have killed them all for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But no time to fixate on the details now. Let's see what happens after the storm stops.

16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.

Good thing the one writing this story didn't mean for anyone to think JONAH was writing it. Because as we're about to read, Jonah was sinking fast and about to be swallowed alive, so he wasn't hanging around watching what happened next on the ship so he could write about it later.

In other words, the author obviously isn't in the story.

But that's okay. Let's just suppose it's a guy sitting at a table in his house smelling fish, hearing tall tales, and writing a story with hopes of sharing a moral at the end.

Let's keep reading.

In verse 17, God sent a huge fish to swallow Jonah whole. Thanks to our fun-loving neighbors for the awesome story idea!

“Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”

In an article published in the Smithsonian, they explore the issue of a large fish, specifically a sperm whale, swallowing a human whole. It can happen, and there have been reports that it has. However, they say this:

There's no air inside a (whale's) stomach... They do have gassy pockets, but it's not air... (There is) no air inside a fish, so ... if they (swallow you), you're basically doomed.

In addition to this, the stomachs of fish are full of digestive enzymes which immediately start dissolving whatever finds its way inside.

But our author isn't an expert in marine biology, and he doesn't need to be. We wouldn't tear apart any of Aasop's fables just because they couldn't have literally happened, so let's continue reading and see what we can learn from today's exciting work of fiction.


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 deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.
3 You hurled me into the depths,
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, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.

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
turn away from God's love for them.
9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, 'Salvation comes from the Lord.'"

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

Personally, I think the story of Pinnochio meeting up with Geppeddo and Jiminy Cricket in the whale and then building a fire that freed them all is more exciting than hearing about someone composing a poetic prayer that made the whale nauseous, but our author was going for something more spiritual than a wooden boy.


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 large city; it took three days to go through it.
4 Jonah began by going a day's journey into the city, proclaiming, "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown."
5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

6 When Jonah's warning 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 This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: "By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink.
8 But let people and animals 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 relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.


1 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry.
2 He prayed to the Lord, "Isn't this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing 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, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."

Perhaps our author hadn't read the stories of The Great Flood that killed all men, women, and children besides Noah and his family, or the many other times in which God destroyed countless people, but we instinctively know that a good god would be slow to anger and abounding in love, and would be a god who gladly relents from sending calamity, and would not have devised such brute force to begin with.

So our lead character's assessment of the god of the Bible is a welcome departure, and almost a breath of fresh air. Especially after being in a big, gassy fish for half a week.

4 But the Lord replied, "Is it right for you to be angry?"

5 Jonah had gone 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 leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant.
7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant 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, "Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?"

"It is," he said. "And I'm so angry I wish I were dead."

10 But the Lord said, "You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight.
11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left -- and also many animals?"

The end.

Strange ending, although I can't blame the author for ending his story like that. I have a hard time ending stories, which is probably why I never finish writing them.

But what can we learn from this tale?

Well, Jonah was quite a character. He was waiting with great anticipation for an enjoyable show of death and destruction.

The people obviously didn't treat him badly. In fact, not only were they open to hearing his message, but they believed every word he said and the king called for everyone in the nation to repent and worship Jonah's god.

But Jonah didn't seem to be a good person at all. On the contrary, he wanted them all to die.

His concept of God was that of someone who is compassionate, abounding in love, and unwilling to send disasters. And Jonah stated clearly that is why he didn't want to go to Nineveh.

So the moral of the story? Don't be like Jonah. If you have the opportunity to help someone, do it. And if you avoid helping someone because you want them to suffer and die, stop reading the Old Testament and go get professional help.

That and, if you're on a ship and you know you're the reason for a storm that will kill everyone, and the other people on the ship want you to draw a straw, just jump overboard and save everyone a lot of trouble.

Especially if you're a sociopathic narcissist like Jonah.

Instead, obey the inner voice of compassion, mercy, and second and third chances.

The story says the people of Nineveh didn't know their right hand from their left. In other words, they simply had a lack of knowledge.

Promote the wellbeing of others in society by sharing relevant facts. Combat ignorance with the light of knowledge. Defeat bigotry and condemnation with the power of empathy.

And never go sailing when you've obviously had too much to drink.

Let's end today's service with a time of reflection. If you'd like ministry, feel free to instant message one of us or, if you're listening outside of Second Life or later in the week, go to, click the prayer room or pastor's offices link, and contact us there.

Whenever you need to go, you're free to do so, and if you can stay until after this time at the altar, I hope you'll meet us in the room to your left for a time of fellowship.

But for now, let's make the decision to learn only patience, compassion, empathy, and love from the stories of the past.