by Tad Lindley
In recent days, God prepared a great fish to swim up the Kuskokwim. You have to say, “Amen,” to that, because that’s exactly what happened. A 37 foot long grey whale left the ocean and swam up the Kuskokwim. Near Napaskiak it was harvested, cut up, and now it’s in our bellies and in our freezers. God opened the windows of heaven and poured out a blessing that could not be contained even by a single village. If you had told someone at this time last year, “God’s going to prepare a grey whale to swim 60 miles upriver from the ocean to be harvested by the men of Oscarville and Napaskiak,” they would have looked at you and smiled politely. In their heads they would have been thinking, “Right, Sally, maybe a beluga, but not a 37 foot long 20,000 pound grey whale.”
Saved by the whale
When we think about whales or other large ocean animals, it’s hard not to go in our minds immediately to the prophet Jonah. Jonah was a preacher who got far away from the will of God and God settled it by sending a storm and preparing a great fish to save Jonah from the consequences of his sin. If you don’t think that the words “great fish” can be applied to whales (which are actually mammals), take it up with Jesus who in Matthew 12:40 identifies the great fish as a whale.
Jonah: the short version
Imagine that God told you to go to a nearby village and walk around the village telling people, “Knock off the bingo, the homebrew and the dope, or else God is going to destroy you!” But you’re scared to do it, so instead, you get on Alaska Airlines and book a one way ticket to the farthest place you can think of, Miami, Florida. This is what Jonah did, except there were no planes in those days, so instead he hopped on a freight barge headed all the way across the Mediterranean Sea. While the freighter was under sail, God sent a terrible storm. Just to keep the boat afloat the sailors threw the cargo overboard. Eventually Jonah confessed that he was the cause of the storm and told them to throw him overboard as well.
Whale, save the human
Now this should have been the end of the story of Jonah. He should have struggled to stay afloat in the spray and the foam and eventually slipped beneath the surface never to come up again. In fact, that is exactly what happened (all except the never coming up again, see Jonah’s prayer, 2:1-9). Jonah was drowning. His body was descending down through the water column towards the crabs’ dinner table. What nobody on the planet knew is that God had been preparing a great fish. And God spoke to this whale and said, “Save the human!”
3 days and 3 nights
Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights…And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry ground. (Jonah 1:17, 2:10) Now after the storm and after 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of a whale, Jonah had no doubt that God was for real. After the fish spit Jonah out on dry ground he did exactly what God had ordered him to do in the first place, which was to go to Nineveh (which wasn’t a village, but actually a great big city) and tell them to get right with God.
When you face impossibilities
Jonah’s storm was lethal. It looked like his shipmates might be saved, but only if he drowned. And so they cast him overboard to certain death. In the minds of men his only hope might have been to grab ahold of something floating in the water and kick his way toward North Africa. But God operates outside the realm of our limited minds. Jonah’s salvation actually was found in the deep. In all of this, the only ones unafraid were God and the whale. Sometimes when we are afraid and our life might be blowing up and seem wildly out of control, it is actually just God trying to bring us into a place of vulnerability and impossibility so that we can truly say had it not been for Him, we never would have made it.
If you find yourself out of the will of God and in the midst of a storm of your own making, God has a way out for you. Read again the prayer of Jonah in chapter 2. Now pray it with your own heart. Our salvation is found only when we surrender to him and turn back in obedience to his will.
The rest of the story
Jonah, having surrendered to God, cleaned the seaweed out of his hair, and headed straight for Nineveh. Although he was once grossly out of God’s will, now he had repented. He stepped into that great city and preached a message of repentance and as a direct result of his preaching, the entire city was saved from the wrath of God!
Tad Lindley is a minister at the United Pentecostal Church in Bethel, Alaska.