The scene of Jonah and the Whale (some say it was a “big fish” but in this article, Iím going to refer to it as a whale) is often the part of the story of Jonah which we remember best. Perhaps that is because of the beloved childrenís story, Pinocchio, which also involves a “run-away” being swallowed by a whale. But the beginning part of the story, before the episode with the whale; and the ending part of the story, after Jonah leaves the beach and goes on to Nineveh; are often not what we remember. So let me quickly summarize the story of Jonah. (The Book of Jonah is in the Old Testament, and can be read at any of the Bible sites on the links page.)
It starts out with Godís request to Jonah to go to Nineveh and prophecy to the people about their destruction. They are a sinful people, and God has said that they will be destroyed. Jonah wants nothing to do with this job, so he flees and goes in the opposite direction. This leads to the part of the story we know so well. A terrible storm comes upon the boat Jonah has boarded, and even the usual tactics of lightening the ship by throwing cargo overboard, donít work. Jonah knows that God has caused the storm, because of his flight from responsibility, so the shipís crew throws Jonah overboard. It is at this point that Jonah is swallowed by the whale, which takes him to the shore and spits him out on the beach. Jonah then goes to Nineveh and makes a half-hearted attempt to proclaim Godís prophecy of their destruction. Nineveh repents, and God seems to change his mind (just as Jonah knew he would, from the start) and He does not destroy the people of the city of Nineveh. It would seem that the prophecy went unfulfilled. But that is only because this is a good example of how we often misunderstand Godís prophecies.
Jonah misunderstood the prophecy as well. Thus, after God relented from destroying the people of Nineveh, we find Jonah off outside of town pouting. Whether he was disappointed because he was looking forward to ďSodom and GomorrahĒ style fireworks, or for some other reason, we arenít told. But the story comes to a close with God telling Jonah that he really doesnít have any right to be upset with God, just because God didnít destroy the people of Nineveh.
But, appearances can be deceiving, so we should take another look at Godís prophecy regarding the people of Nineveh. Given our vantage point of hind sight, perhaps we can see more clearly, what happened following Jonahís trip to the great city. The people of Nineveh were not good people, and God had said that they would be destroyed. I say that this is exactly what happened!
Wait! Ė you say, the book of Jonah tells us that the people of Nineveh listened to Jonahís half-hearted preaching attempts and repented, didnít they? Yes, they did. But in doing so, they themselves destroyed the sinful people that they had once been. When prophesying their destruction, God certainly didnít limit His options to fireworks and asteroids, He also gave the citizens of Nineveh the option to participate in the destruction of the sinful people that they had once been, themselves; and thatís exactly what they did!
So the next time you read or hear one of the prophecies of God, remember that the fulfillment of these prophecies may not meet our human expectations, but God doesnít leave them unfulfilled.
Grace and peace to you all,