The Smelly Belly

“And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land. . . . 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.” (Jonah 1:9, 17)

Jonah had not counted on the fish.
His decision had been made some time before arriving at the Joppa seaport. He had caught a whiff of divine mercy in the assignment and simply was not going to Nineveh to preach. So he purchased the passage and settled down for the journey across the Mediterranean. About the time a few dark clouds began to roll in, Jonah was starting to yawn. Soon he was sound asleep.

That was until the shouts of the incredulous captain burst into his dreams, rebuking him for such gross negligence, and ordering him to join the rest of them in their pleas for supernatural help. When the sailors’ lots sniffed him out as the culprit, Jonah was hit with a torrent of desperate questions. His blunt answer made their blood freeze.

He was a Hebrew, running from the God of heaven, the One who had made the sea and land.

Notice that there was nothing wrong with Jonah’s theology. He was absolutely right. But his attitude remained one of defiance, determination, and resignation. That’s why he calmly suggested that they sacrifice him to the waves. He was totally ready to die in his stubbornness. So, against their desire but desperate to save their lives, they picked him up and heaved him overboard.

Jonah thought it was over. He expected a few seconds of flight, then the splash and shock of cold water, followed by the natural struggle to breathe . . . But wait! Yuck! What was this? Why wasn’t he dead? What was this nasty slime and putrefying stench?!

He was inside God’s surprise.

Actually, Jonah didn’t really dwell on the nauseous odor in his submarine room, but it doesn’t take very deep logic to imagine how it was. The Lord was making sure Jonah’s return to the mission was also a lesson on how miserable life can get for rebellious children.

Yes, the prophet knew a lot of truth about Jehovah. He knew that He created the world and chose Abraham to father the nation of Israel. Yet his Biblical knowledge had not made him wise, which is why he never expected to survive the dive. He still thought he could challenge the will of God and get away with it, refusing to be drawn into the fragrance of God’s grace towards the wicked city.

His smelly experience is graphic instruction for us. With online search engines, digital libraries, and audio sermons at our fingertips, we live surrounded by more Bible information than any generation before us. But we all have Jonah’s stubborn heart beating in our chests, along with the smooth skill of deceiving ourselves to sleep while going away from God’s will for our lives.

May the Lord help us to honestly seek His will.

Dear Father, please give me a heart that obeys Your desires, not just a mind that knows Your attributes. May the aroma of Your goodness always be enough to move me in whatever direction You lead. Amen.