Little Prophet, Big Fish

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come before me.” But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord…

But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up…

The sailors said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah…Then they said, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so…

He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.” Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not…so they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging.

But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights…(Jonah 1-2, excerpts,NRSV)

Being a prophet isn’t easy. There’s no guarantee that people will listen to you; if they do, there’s no guarantee that they won’t kill you. Nineveh was Assyria’s capital city – not exactly the place that a Hebrew prophet wanted to go with a message of doom for foreigners who followed other gods. So Jonah ran away from his job and his Employer, clearly hoping that the prophet who runs away lives to preach another day.

Except Jonah forgot that the sea belongs to God. The sailors weren’t Hebrews, but they were God’s, too. The wind, the rain, even the fish: all God’s. You can’t run from God, because everywhere you can think of, and all the places you can’t, belong to God. A fierce storm, lost cargo, casting lots, a few prayers, and a toss overboard; the ship is safe but Jonah is lost.

Except Jonah forgot about God’s love and sense of humor. Out of the deep and into a fish – the most famous biblical time-out ever. When he’s ready to be who he is and bring God’s message to Nineveh, Jonah lands on dry land. I wonder who was happier: Jonah or the fish?

When I run away from who I am and who God is, I probably won’t get swallowed by a fish. At least I haven’t in the past. But I have found myself in a dark place with plenty of time to rethink my choice. Who’s to say that’s any less humorous or miraculous?

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Johnna

I am a Christian educator and writer.I have worked in churches, denominational offices, and seminaries. I have a PhD in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, with a focus on Practical Theology and educating in faith. In 2010, my book, "How the Other Half Lives: the challenges facing clergy spouses and partners," was published by Pilgrim Press. I believe that words can build doorways that lead to encounters with God through the Spirit.

2 thoughts on “Little Prophet, Big Fish”

  1. Evokes two of my favorite poems~~Ps. 139 and Francis Thompson’s “The Hound of Heaven”. Maybe God gave us free will, but God eventually “gets us”? Thanks for making me think, again.

    1. Hi Bill, I haven’t read Thompson’s poem, but will definitely do so. Psalm 139 is one of my favorites, too, bringing tears sometimes. Peace, Johnna

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