From the Belly of the Whale

Years ago I attended a Bible study at a friend’s church. The study was about Jonah and the whale. The group leader made some opening statements that revealed her belief that this story was just ‘fiction,’ the other ladies nodding in agreement.

I didn’t protest, but just smiled at the leader, feigning agreement, while my conservative church background screamed in my head ‘blasphemy, blasphemy, get behind me Satan!’

I saw everything as black and white then. Rigid to a fault.

Over the years I have become much gentler in my orthodoxy – more easily looking past differences in how others look at Scripture. Most often it’s simply because I am not sure, having Jesus as my only non-negotiable. I don’t agree universally, but I choose not to so readily label any difference as Satanic (;o)!

Back to Jonah…

Over the years I have been exposed to all kinds of teaching of this ‘fiction.’ Every time I come away with the same reply that I gave that day when the leader asked, ‘how does this story make you feel?’

My answer: SAFE!

This ‘story’ makes me feel safe in the hands of a merciful God. Always has. The other women did not agree, as they moved the discussion into punishment for disobedience. But I was comfortable with my answer. Still am.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. ~Psalm 46:1 {ESV}

Fiction or real, the story continues to provide a picture of a faithful God in whom we are safe from the world, safe from our own foibles and failings. We are safe even when, to our human eyes and emotions, it may not feel that way sometimes.

Being in the belly of a whale could not possibly have felt safe, but just think of the bigger story. God led him down this seemingly irrational path, Jonah kicking and screaming all the way. He could have let him drown. Instead he put him the safety of a whale’s belly to think about things. For three days. Did Jonah pray the first day? Second day? Or did it take him all three days before he figured it out? No matter how many days, eventually, Jonah repented and God was right there to rescue him.

God will use us for His purpose – that’s a fact. But it’s in the ‘how’ that so fascinates in its often irrational, illogical, improbable, yet protective ways. Reflecting on my life, I can easily see in so many instances how God worked in my life to keep me safe in spite of my failings and my disobedience and my wanting to do it my way – or not to do it at all!

I believe the story of Jonah was real, because I naively believe that God can talk to a fish and tell it what to do. But even more so, I believe that God can save stubborn yet repentant people because He understands our fickle hearts.

Jonah was witness to miracles, even if he grumbled his way through it.

Jonah’s disobedience on the boat led to the sailors turning to God.

Jonah’s repentance in the whale’s belly led to salvation for 120,000 Ninevites.

Yet, Jonah still did not see the bigger picture.

God loved disobedient, vindictive Jonah enough to provide him the shade of a plant in the heat of the day ‘to save him from his discomfort.’ Even as Jonah was angry about God saving the city. Even as Jonah failed to be even a little bit thankful for God’s provision of shade. It seemed he was angry because he had lost his comfortable front row seat to the destruction of a city!

God still stayed. Even as Jonah refused to see Ninevah as a reflection of his own life – deserving of wrath, yet receiving the grace of God; deserving to die in the belly of a whale, yet being saved by the God who loved him.

Fiction or not, the story of Jonah is the story of Me. My story is often improbable, often impossible, just as Jonah’s. And, I can be just as arrogant and prideful as our Jonah, completely ignoring God’s provision much too often.

I wonder if Jonah ever really got it. I wonder if I have.

Dear God, thank you for protecting me – from the world and from myself! Please help me see the blind spots of disobedience and arrogance that I ignore or rationalize away. Guide me into the refuge and safety of your love. Always. ~Amen


Grace & Such strives to advance Christian growth among women. While we believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, we also recognize human interpretations are imperfect. Grace & Such encourages our readers to open their Bibles, pray for wisdom and study for themselves what the Word says. For more about who we are, please visit the About Us page.
Diane Karchner
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  1. Ruth on September 18, 2019 at 10:52 AM

    Yes!!! Yes!!! I just had a long conversation with Danny about this yesterday. God is so amazing when He underlines and makes BOLD the love and long suffering He has for us!

    • DianeK on September 20, 2019 at 7:35 AM

      He really does make it so plain and we miss it so often, Ruth!

  2. Cole // Cole Smith Writes on October 12, 2019 at 10:22 AM

    I love the story. Every time I’m tempted to shake my head over Jonah’s attitude, I’m reminded of when I behaved the same way. Maybe on a smaller scale–a whole city wasn’t at stake. Or was it? Are the individuals I neglect of less value to God than a whole city? Whoa. Jonah was ridiculous. (I am Jonah.) It gets me every time. <3

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