What a Difference Three Days Makes

Brad Horton

body of water under sky

“And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17). Well, the story continues concerning Jonah’s fleeing, landing him in the belly of a fish. This isn’t imagery; it’s a literal fish. I can’t imagine the smell, or presence, of who-knows-what inside this fish. Aside from that, why is he there? Disobedience. Yes, being disobedient lands you in places you likely won’t be fond of. 

“Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish” (Jonah 2:1). Well, wouldn’t you? Frankly, there are times when all we can do is pray. We may have gotten ourselves into a pickle by not obeying God. Once we have exhausted all our own efforts, we find ourselves in the belly of a fish. Nowhere to go. No boat to catch. Nowhere to run to. 

There are two thoughts to this chapter that I think are worthy to consider. First, we see the pursuit and kindness of God. Yes, being in the stomach of a great fish is a merciful act. God put the great fish exactly where Jonah was thrown over. Talk about sovereign providence. Yet, many times we don’t see the mercy of God in our trials. But it’s the mercy of God in trials that puts us where all we can do is pray. We have nothing else left.

Second, we know God is our only help. It takes a storm, swallowed by a great fish and other trials for us to sometimes see this. Why? Because we are stubborn even as redeemed believers. Let’s not miss the vital truth of God’s mercy to Jonah, and to us. The mercy was in the storm and the great fish. It was there Jonah prayed. It was when he couldn’t do anything else that he looked to his only hope. His prayer says a lot. Chapter two is devoted to his prayer, from which we can learn much.

I Called Out

Jonah was in no position to work out a deal. He called out to God in his predicament, “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice” (Jonah 2:2). His first response was to run, but now his only response is to pray. Have you ever been there? Have you exhausted all options on your own? There are desperate times in our life where we call out because we have no other options. I don’t mean to sound faithless, but we at times exhaust all human measures first, which we shouldn’t do. It is then God puts us in a place where we can only call on Him.

God Did This

Jonah acknowledged God put him in the belly of the fish, “For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me” (Jonah 2:3). It was God who created the fish, put this fish where Jonah was to be thrown in, and now Jonah acknowledges that. What we miss in our lives today are trials that are often sent by God. If it’s our disobedience that has brought that trial or a trial for growth, it is God who has done it. 

Jonah describes what it was like to be in a distant place from the will of God (Jonah 2:4-6). At the lowest point of his life, he knew God was the only hope for him, “But You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God” (Jonah 2:6). After knowing where he was at and who brought him there, it was Jonah’s knowledge that God was the one who can bring him up. 

God’s Purpose In Trials

I would not compare Jonah’s trial with ones we may be more familiar with in the New Testament times of Christian persecution, but certainly, it was a trial to Jonah. It was there, and when he could not do anything on his own, he prayed and acknowledged God. A trial, even in the midst of being purposely disobedient, God uses to accomplish His will. In his closing prayer, Jonah said he would pay what he has vowed. And no, this isn’t a prosperity gospel, seed-sewing message. He said he would keep his word. He would do what God wanted him to do . . . now. His closing line in his prayer—“Salvation is from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9)—is the realization we all must come to know if we are to be obedient to His will. 

It wasn’t until Jonah realized what he had done, what he hadn’t done and what he was going to do that God commanded the fish, and the fish obeyed. “Then the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land” (Jonah 2:10). It was “then” when Jonah would be obedient to God’s command that God vomited him up to do the work he was commanded to do. 

I suppose now, I can draw the conclusion that you will do what God wills, sooner or later. It’s much easier to be obedient to His word at first, rather than suffering through painful lessons. What a gracious, merciful, long-suffering God we have who would create a great fish, save sailors, and hear Jonah in the midst of willful disobedience. Oh, that I would listen faithfully at first. 

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