I’m probably in the minority in thinking this, but I think whales are the scariest creatures on the face of the earth. They’re huge. They’re scary. We’re so small in comparison, that they could kill you on accident, and probably not even know they killed you. If the movie Pinocchio teaches us anything, it’s that whales have no regard for human, or wooden, or cricket life.
Which is why it’s so strange that the whale is the good guy in the book of Jonah.
We don’t usually talk about Jonah in terms of the whale. The whale seems kind of incidental to the overall story. He’s swallowed by a whale because he ran from God. God could have just as easily used some other animal or force of nature to get Jonah to go to Ninevah.
But God didn’t. He appointed the whale. And that’s actually what the whole book of Jonah is about.
The book of Jonah is a series of divine appointments:
· God appoints Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach against it. (1:2)
· God appoints a whale to swallow Jonah when Jonah doesn’t listen. (1:17)
· God appoints Jonah to go to Nineveh again. (3:2)
· God appoints a plant to protect Jonah from the sun (4:6)
· God appoints a worm to kill the plant (4:7)
· God appoints a hot eastern wind to make Jonah miserable (4:8)
What is interesting about the story of Jonah is that of all the appointments that God makes, Jonah is the only one who rejects his appointment. Only Jonah says, “Forget that. I’m doing my thing.”
Which is what makes the whale the good guy.
Not counting the Jonah and Pinocchio stories, humans don’t tend to be a part of the typical diet of whales. But God had the whale swallow Jonah anyway. And the whale listened. He swallowed Jonah up because that’s what God sent him to do.
Do you think the whale knew anything about the Ninevites? I somehow doubt it. He probably doesn’t know anything other than that he just ate a really weird looking fish. He was swimming along, minding his own business, when God sent him to swallow a Jonah. So he did it. And a few days later, God then had the whale throw Jonah back up and he did that to.
Really, probably none of the things God appointed in the book of Jonah knew what they were doing. They just knew that God had sent them to do something, and they did it. The whale probably had no idea who the Ninevites were. The plant probably didn’t know it was protecting anyone. The worm probably didn’t know someone was sitting under the plant he was eating. The wind probably had no idea who Jonah was. That’s not the important part.
The important thing is that a whale helped reconcile the Ninevites to God without even knowing who the Ninevites were.
And if God used a whale to reconcile the Ninevites, you have to wonder how God might use you in ways you don’t even know. You may experience hardships that make no sense to you, but that God is using to impact his kingdom in ways you’ll never ever hear about.
That doesn’t mean that all bad things are planned and approved of by God. It doesn’t mean that every hardship and bad situation is all just a part of God’s master plan. God probably didn’t plan on Jonah running away. But the story of the whale shows us that God is capable of using you in your situation in ways you’d never have thought possible.
We may never know the impact that our lives will have in the kingdom of God, but we can read stories like Jonah and know that whatever happens, our God is in control. We can respond to our situations like Jonah, rejecting what God is trying to do in us, or we can respond like the whale, or the plant, or the worm, or the wind, and let God do his work in us.
May we rejoice that we serve a God who reconciles creation to himself. And may we strive to join God in that plan, even if we can’t see the larger picture.
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Tyler is a youth minister at a Church of Christ in Texas. He enjoys hanging out with his wife, rock climbing, and writing about himself in the third person. He writes a weekly blog at tylerjarvis.wordpress.com, and you can follow him on Twitter at @tyler_jarvis.