Today, I’m participating in the She Reads Truth devotional-writing project. You can read more about the project and check out other SRT readers’ devotionals here.
What are the chances we’ll find ourselves in the belly of a whale? Slim to none? Whew. Let’s move on, then. Deuteronomy, anyone?
In all honesty, I approached the book of Jonah skeptically, thinking, “Well, this will be somewhat interesting. I’ll read it and then I can move on to some other Biblical figure I’ll identify with better than this guy.” But the more I read and reread Jonah, the more I noticed we have in common with him.
The truth is that we find ourselves in whales’ bellies more often than we realize.
Okay, not literal whale bellies. But consider how Jonah ended up there: “he fled from the presence of the Lord” (1:10, KJV). Don’t we do that all the time? And ending up in that whale was no mistake, as “the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah” (1:17, KJV). The whale was part of God’s plan for Jonah after he fled.
My first interpretation–after reading only chapter 1–was that Jonah fled and God punished him by putting him in a whale’s belly for three days. We hear about that angry Old Testament God pretty often, don’t we? I figured this was His actions-have-consequences parenting tactic for Jonah.
But then I read Jonah’s prayer in chapter 2, and I realized I had it all wrong.
I don’t believe God prepared that fish as punishment. I believe he prepared that fish out of love for Jonah.
Jonah describes himself as being cast out of God’s sight, surrounded by water even to his soul, at the bottoms of mountains, and counting on God to save him from his despair.
Maybe I’ve never been where Jonah is in a literal sense, but I can still read this and say, “I’ve been there before.”
I’ve felt as though my very soul was drowning in a situation. I’ve been at the bottoms of those mountains. I’ve begged God for help and believed He could save me.
And if I’m being honest with myself, I realize that what led to feeling that way was fleeing from God in the first place. But when I found myself in that whale belly, it wasn’t a punishment from God.
It was an act of love.
God loves us so much that he plans these whales’ bellies for us so that we turn to Him. He has assured us time and time again that He is there for us and will never forsake us–Deuteronomy 31:6, Joshua 1:5, 1 Chronicles 28:20, etc.–and when we flee from Him, He loves us so much that He plans a way for us to return.
Can you imagine?
It’s like running away from home, experiencing despair, and receiving a return train ticket from your parents. Better yet, it’s like your parents are waiting in the car right outside to bring you home again.
This is the love He has for us. And when we find ourselves in whales’ bellies, we aren’t being punished. All we have to do is turn back to Him, and He’ll save us, time and time again.