What I find utterly fascinating about the book of Jonah is that everyone and everything else in the story obeys God except his prophet. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, which is east of Israel. So Jonah decided to go to Tarshish, which is roughly modern Gibraltar, or as far west as anyone at the time could think to go. If he’d been able to find a boat going to New York and change to one bound for Buffalo, he would have bought a ticket there.
And so a storm came up. The weather obeyed God. The sailors, figuring some god was up to something, cast lots to find out whom to blame. The lots obeyed God and pointed to Jonah. So Jonah confessed and said the weather would be just fine if they tossed him overboard. Actually, he could have told them to turn around and take him back home, but he still didn’t want to go to Nineveh.
The sailors did everything they could think of to keep from tossing one of their passengers overboard, even at the risk of their own lives, but eventually they gave in and threw him, they supposed, to his death. So the sailors obeyed God in trying to be merciful. The weather obeyed God again and the seas became calm. God didn’t intend for Jonah to drown, so he got a big fish to obey him and swallow Jonah.
Now here’s where people get all bent out of shape. Some folks call that fish a whale, which isn’t a fish, but a mammal. If bickering about that isn’t enough mischief, other folks argue that if a fish swallowed a man and didn’t digest him, that would be a miracle, and they don’t believe in miracles. So we get a bunch of tiresome arguments about whether the book of Jonah is a true story or fiction.
Now, if God can figure out how to be born as a sinless human being, get himself killed, and then rise from the dead, he can figure out how to do any of the other miracle stories in the Bible. People who doubt that either aren’t Christian or aren’t thinking. But since God can get his message out through a tall tale as easily as he can use a historical narrative, it really doesn’t matter.
But since the fish story is part of the book, it’s kind of fun to look at it for a while from the fish’s point of view. Imagine a fish swallowing something it can’t eat and not spitting it out for three days! And then only in water shallow enough to be dangerous to the fish, but safe for the man to get to shore.
I can’t tell how far from port the boat was when the storm came up, but surely any fish large enough to swallow a man can swim faster than any ancient boat could. Why did it take three days to get back to land? Could it be that it took Jonah that long to get around to praying?
History or folk tale, it’s starting to feel like someone has stopped telling a good story and started in to meddling. Is anyone else beginning to take it personally?