What if the Great Fish said, “No”?

Sometimes when I’m reading my Bible my brain pulls up some interesting thoughts. During my quiet time this week, I read through the book of Jonah and came upon this verse. “Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah.” (Jonah 1:17 NLT)

Of course, we all know about the great fish in which Jonah lived for three days but let’s look back for a moment to the beginning of the chapter. The Lord said to Jonah, “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.” But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord.” (Jonah 1:2-3a NLT) My immediate thought when reading about the arrangement God had with the great fish was, “What if the fish had said ‘no’? What if the fish had said, ‘I don’t want that disobedient prophet inside of me! He’s bound to taste rancid. Forget it! I’m swimming the other direction.’”?

If the fish had been as disobedient as Jonah, Jonah would have been up a creek without a paddle, or at the bottom of the sea, as the case may be. Personally, I can’t decide which would be worse. I mean, it can’t have been pleasant inside that giant fish, but perhaps more pleasant than drowning. Like I said, my brain goes in some interesting directions sometimes. My best guess here is that fish don’t have the same free will that people do, but keep in mind, I’m not a theologian. Maybe that’s obvious.

That obedient ‘great fish’ made me think about how God’s plans work perfectly when we all do whatever he asks of us. I’m not saying God’s plans don’t work when someone like Jonah comes along and does the exact opposite of what God requests. I’ve no doubt God’s plans always come to fruition. He’s God after all, and he’s used to his children messing up. No doubt, he’s always got a back up plan.

There are some other great truths in the book of Jonah, too. First off, the reason Jonah didn’t want to go to Ninevah to warn them of God’s wrath is because he knew God. He knew that if he warned them, and they repented, God would save them because of his great mercy. And Jonah hated the people of Ninevah. They were bitter enemies of the Israelites. Jonah wanted to be their judge and jury, not the deliverer of God’s mercy.

And then, when the Ninevites repented and were spared, Jonah was angry with God. He basically said, “I knew you’d spare them because that’s the kind of God you are, full of compassion and mercy.” (Seriously, who gets angry about God being compassionate and merciful?) After that, Jonah went to a spot outside the city from which he could watch to see what happened to the Ninevites . . . and to pout. It’s a good thing God is more patient than I am. When my kids would pout, I’d send them to their room to get their act together. But God, patiently talked with Jonah. I can just picture it. God’s soothing parent voice saying, “Come on, Jonah, did you really think I should destroy them after they repented?” But when God spared the people of Ninevah, it made Jonah’s prophecy look incorrect, and apparently Jonah wasn’t fond of being wrong.

As Jonah was busy pouting, God used a visual to show Jonah why he’s so merciful. He provided a large-leafed plant that quickly grew and covered Jonah’s shelter. For this,  Jonah finally has enough sense to be grateful. But, then God sent a worm to destroy the plant and Jonah got hot . . . and went back to being angry. Jonah let God know about his anger but, once again, God patiently answered Jonah’s tirade. “Jonah, you didn’t even make that plant and yet you were upset when it died. I made each one of those Ninevites and it would make me sad to destroy them.” God loved the Ninevites, just not their sin.

Isn’t is awesome that God is so patient with us? I’m so grateful for his grace, mercy and compassion. There’s so much more to glean from the story of Jonah. Why not spend some time today in God’s word and see what he shows to you?