Quarantined in the Belly of a Fish

“Who did? Who did?

Who did? Who did?

Who did swallow Jo-Jo-Jonah?”

Even non-believers or those not raised on a steady diet of VBS and Sunday school songs could name Jonah, the runaway prophet who was swallowed by a whale. BUT, just for fun, let’s do a quick recap:

God commanded Jonah, one of His prophets, to go to the city of Ninevah and “preach against it, because its wickedness has come up against me.” (Jonah 1:1) The Ninevites were enemies of Israel, and it’s likely that some of Jonah’s family and friends had been at the wrong end of a Ninevite weapon at some point or another. So he did exactly as you and I might have done in the situation: he ran.

Rather than going to Ninevah, he boarded a ship for Tarshish. Once aboard, “the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.” (Jonah 1:4). The sailors were afraid and, knowing that Jonah was running from God, begged him “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” (Jonah 1:11). 

And here, I’ll give Jonah credit: he confesses. He knows the storm was his fault; he tells the men to throw him overboard. They did…and immediately the sea grew calm once more. Slowly sinking, alone in the middle of an ocean…it should have spelt the end for God’s wayward prophet but instead, “the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah 1:17)

Chapter two begins with Jonah’s prayer of repentance. It’s powerful, beautiful, and really showcases the longing of a man who knows he has been disobedient to God.

But I want to know what happened between chapters 1 and 2.

I want to know how long it took Jonah to start praying. Did he cry out immediately, relieved at being saved from the depths of the sea? Or was he angry because now he was stuck in the dark, smelly, belly of a fish?

Quarantined, if you will.

We know that eventually he repented and prayed…but how long did it take him to view his current situation as a rescue and not retribution?

Friends, I am confident enough to say that we are ALL currently in the belly of a fish. This global pandemic has most of us confined to our homes. Like Jonah, it is a time of fear, uncertainty, and perhaps anger. It’s dark, uncomfortable, scary, and smelly (or maybe that’s just my house with two sweaty boys in it 24/7).

But what if this is also our rescue?

I don’t know you or your personal situation. I don’t know your relationship with God, your sin, or your shame, any more than you know mine. But I do know this:

“…we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28).

Even the belly of a fish.

Even a global pandemic.

In this time of a world pause, many of us have nothing left to distract us. We can longer run. We can no longer hide. Like Jonah, we have nothing to do but come face to face with God.

And ourselves.

It may be awkward. It may be tense. It may be painful. But it may also be necessary.

What is God calling you to face during this quarantine? Is it an area of disobedience? A particular sin? An idol? Maybe it is a time of discipline during which God isn’t seeking to bring you down, but bring you back. 

Because maybe, like Jonah, it’s a call to reconnect with the One who created you, loves you, and died for you.

During Jonah’s prayer, we hear him say, “when my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you…” (Jonah 2:7a).

I don’t know how long it took Jonah to reach the point where he could lift those words up to heaven. But I do know that, locked up in a dark, sticky, smelly fish, he remembered God once more–who He was, is, and will forever be. Those three days weren’t pleasant, and they didn’t fix all the sin in Jonah’s heart (see the rest of the Book of Jonah for more information), but they did realign him with God and give him the faith to move forward in obedience once more.

Those black, scary days rescued him.

And maybe these days will rescue us too…if we let them.

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