Sunday, April 23, 2017

Jonah Does the Unequaled (Part 1)

Sermon:     GM17-151

Series:             Jonah: The Gospel of Grace

Subtitle:          Jonah Did the Unequaled (Part 1 of 2)

Scripture:       Jonah 1:17-2:1

Subject:          The Supplicating Prophet

Scope:             Jonah supplicated His God when he found himself still alive in the belly of the large fish

Scheme:          To provide God’s people hope of experiencing the graciousness of God when they are in desperate situations when disciplined by God

Scrutiny:        What did Jonah do that was so unequaled?

Solution:         The passage before us describes four (4) details of the unequaled actions of Jonah – the unequaled predicament of Jonah, the unequaled petition by Jonah, the unequaled problem of Jonah, the unequaled product for Jonah and the unequaled preservation of Jonah.

Main Idea:      In the most desperate situation of his life, Jonah supplicated, or prayed to his God.

Supporting idea #1 – The disciplining hand of God forced Jonah to prayer

Supporting idea #2 – God may determine to instigate desperate situations which often provide great opportunities for prayer of preservation.

Supporting idea #3 – Regardless of the desperation of a situation, prayer can be made; but failure to pray may forfeit hopes of experiencing God’s grace.

Supporting idea #4 – Desperate situations designed by God frequently result in humbling which is reflected in the activity of prayer.

Supporting idea #5 – Jonah’s prayer for deliverance from his desperate situation was answered resulting in his rescue onto dry land.


Jonah Did the Unequaled (Part 1)


Jonah 1:17-2:1 (Repeat)


Attention Getter

Richard James Verone lived in North Carolina. He was fifty-nine years old. Verone was suffering from several different health problems. He needed surgery on his back and on one of his feet. He also had a very painful lump on his chest that he desperately wanted to have diagnosed and treated.

Verone had been a Coca-Cola delivery driver for seventeen (17) years when he was laid off. For three (3) years he tried to find work. He could not find a steady job. He exhausted his savings and had to resort to food stamps to eat.

Unable to find steady work and now in unbearable pain. He stated that he had “hit a brick wall…” So, he devised a plan that he thought would obtain for him the healthcare that he needed.

At random, he chose to rob the Gastonia Bank. He planned to rob the bank of just one (1). Just before the day he had set to rob the bank he paid his last month’s rent, he donated his furniture to charity, and he moved into the Hampton Inn.

On the morning of the robbery, Verone mailed a letter to the Gaston Gazette. The letter read,

"When you receive this a bank robbery will have been committed by me. This robbery is being committed by me for one dollar," he wrote, wanting people to understand that the motive for his crime was medical, not monetary. "I am of sound mind but not so much sound body."

At 1:00 PM, Richard James Verone gave a note to the bank teller that demanded she had over a single dollar bill. He claimed to have a gun. And then, Verone sat down on the sofa in the lobby of the bank and waited for the local police to arrive.

Verone was later quoted as saying, "I didn't have any fears…If you don't have your health you don't have anything…at least in prison you get fed, you have a roof over your head and they will take care of your medical needs.”

Unbelievably, Verone caught a bad break. Rather than getting a three (3) year prison sentence that would have given him the healthcare he desperately wanted, he was only slapped with "larceny from a person," which carries a much shorter prison term.

Raise A Need

Richard James Verone was a desperate man in a very desperate situation. Most of us, if not all of us would never condone his plan or his actual carrying out of his plan. But let me ask you, have you ever been in a very desperate situation? I have!

Have you ever been in a place where you have never felt more lonely or scared? Have you ever felt that you were never more desperate for God? There are times it seems that no matter what you do God seems and far away. I have!

Orient The Theme

This morning I want to speak about what Jonah did when he found himself in the most desperate situation that he had ever found himself. Jonah prayed to his God.

It is almost universally known that if you kick or thrash about in quicksand you almost always sink faster than if you had remained calm and still. The best thing you can do in quicksand is to remain very, very still. BTW, you can actually float in quicksand.

Many times when we find ourselves in desperate situations our immediate reaction is to panic and “thrash around.” We run from one idea to the next looking for a “fix.”

The correct response is actually to initially get very still and quiet and pray. Cry out to God and seek Him and His direction. This is what Jonah did. He didn’t have much choice, but he chose to pray during the moment of his utmost desperation.

State The Purpose

Today I want to provide you with the all-consuming hope of experiencing the graciousness of God when you find yourselves in desperate situations through fervent prayer. You might not experience the same type of deliverance that Jonah experienced, but you can seek God as He did. Remember, faith is rewarded by our gracious God.


Announce the text under consideration

Jonah speaks of his prayer in Jonah chapter two (2). If you have not found today’s passage, please turn to it as we answer the question, ‘What do I do when I find myself in my most desperate situation?”

Review current sermon series

We are continuing in our series: Jonah: A Gospel of Grace. Today we want to consider 1:17-2:1.

Background to the Text

--historical background

Jonah wrote chapter two (2) long after the events had taken place. He had been delivered by God, went to Nineveh, proclaimed God’s word and had returned home where he wrote this account.

Jonah’s ministry took place during the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel (2 Kings 14:25) who reigned from 793 to 753 BC.

--textual background

Jonah’s prayer is poetic in form and has three movements, each beginning with a rehearsal of the prophet’s impossible situation, and each culminating in an expression of his faith in spite of his impossible circumstances.

·        The first movement is in verses 2-4.
·        The second movement is in verses 5-6
·        The third movement is in verses 7-9.

Also as far as the text and its background is concerned, let me point out a few things:

First of all, let me point out to you that the Hebrew Bible and the Greek LXX places verse 17 as the first verse of chapter two (2).

Remember there were no chapter divisions when Jonah wrote his book. The chapter divisions came along in the middle part of the thirteenth (13) century. The verse divisions were introduced in 1551 by a printer named Robert Stevens.

 Most of the divisions seem to be in the right place, but every now and then some of the divisions seem to be miscalculated, or out of place. This seems to be one of those times. And so verse seventeen is most likely verse one of chapter two.

Second of all, I want you to immediately notice two (2) important facts:

·        The sea did not magically or miraculously change in its nature of being “the sea.” In other words, the sea did not change from being a potentially hostile and deadly environment to anyone who might have fallen in or having been thrown into it. Jonah was still in danger of drowning.

·        Jonah did not magically or miraculously change in his nature of being a man. He did not develop gills. He didn’t change from an oxygen breathing mammal. He didn’t become a champion swimmer who could swim whatever the distant is was from where he was thrown in the sea and the shore.

Jonah was in immediate danger of drowning. As a matter of fact the sailors expected Jonah to drown. Look back to verse fourteen (14)

“Therefore they cried out to the LORD, and said, ‘We pray O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for you O LORD, have done as it pleased you.’”

The sailors did not put Jonah in a life boat and give him life-saving supplies. They threw him into raging, agitated waters fully expecting him to drown.

Even if Jonah could tread water he could only do so for a short time. It is hard enough to tread water in a pool of still water, let alone in the middle of a terrible storm.

When I was in Marine Corps boot camp we had to tread water (and survive) for at least an hour with nothing for flotation except our trousers. We were in doors and in a calm, warm, non-threatening swimming pool.

BTW, the record for treading water the longest is eighty five (85) hours set by two men in India named Ashish Singhvi and Neil D'Souza. This is just under four (4) days. Even if Jonah could last four (4) days at some point he would surely drown.

Thirdly – it is almost a real shame that verse seventeen (17) is included in our text. This verse may be the most known verse in this whole book. It has been a distraction or a major detractor for many people, particularly the lost & skeptics.

This verse has given so much notoriety to the story of Jonah. It has been a major distraction almost from the beginning. It seems so impossible that a fish would be right on the spot at the exact moment Jonah was thrown overboard and that this fish would swallow Jonah up in one piece, and that Jonah would survive three (3) days and nights in the fish’s belly.

Harry Rimmer wrote in his commentary, “This is the first of 2 verses which ‘ruin’ the narrative. If this verse and 2:10 were removed, then the prophecy would be plausible for modern readers.” [1]

Smith and Page wrote, “It probably is true but tragic that many point to this verse as their ‘reason’ for not believing God’s Word.” [2]

--literary background

Jonah is considered a prophecy. Jonah had prophesied prior to this making in a prophet. However, this “prophecy” does not contain any prophecy. It can be considered as a historical narrative. About 40 verses consist of narrative material. The rest of the book is in the form of a Psalm. This had led some to call Jonah a declarative praise Psalm.

--sermon series background

Last week we concluded the fourth part of a four part series on the actions of Jonah. This week we continue our study in the life of Jonah.

Our theme is Jonah does the unequaled.

We have to stop and ask ourselves what did Jonah do that was so unequaled?

The passage before us describes four (4) details of the unequaled actions of Jonah – the unequaled Petition of Jonah, the unequaled Psalm by Jonah, the unequaled problem of Jonah, the unequaled product for Jonah and the unequaled preservation of Jonah.

[So, let’s begin our examination of this second part of Jonah by looking at the first detail that describes the unequaled actions of Jonah, and that is…]


Jonah Prays in His great distress (Vs. 17a)

This section, what I call Part 2, The Supplicating Prophet, consists of Jonah’s prayer. This prayer actually resembles a psalm. Many people who find themselves in terrifying predicaments often quote all or portions of the Psalms, such as Ps. 23.

Apparently Jonah did the same thing. Parts of Jonah’s prayer correspond to parts of Psalm 42 (7); 69 (2, 14, 15); and Psalm 77 (1-3). For the record, Jonah did not pray or write this Psalm while he was inside the belly of this great fish.

So, let’s look at Jonah’s prayer:

[The first thing that we see is…]

1B     The Reason for Jonah’s Prayer (Vs. 17a)

kai proseetax Kurios khtei megalw katapein Iwnan. (Greek LXX)

(And the Lord prepared a great whale to swallow Jonah, LXX)

                    “Now the LORD had prepared…” (NKJV)

                    1C     Created or appointed?

First of all, we need to take a close look at the word “prepared.”              
This word means “to count, or to number.” It meant “to count up or to tally for one’s self or for someone else.

[For example:]

In Genesis 13 it is used to “tally up or to count or number the dust of the earth, Abram would be able to tally up or number his descendants.

In Numbers 23:10 it is used by Balaam to ask if anyone could tally up, or count, or number the dust of Jacob.

Then in 2 Samuel 24:10, it is used when God moved David to tally up, count, or to number Israel and Judah.

One more example, it is used in 2 Kings 12 to count, or tally up, the money that was given to the repair of the house of the LORD

The word then took on the sense of appointing or allotting something for some reason or purpose. Such as in Job 7:3 –
“So I have been allotted months of futility. And wearisome nights have been appointed to me.” (Job 7:3, NKJV)           

Job believed that his suffering was appointed, allotted, numbered to him by “someone” for a purpose.

In Daniel 1:5, And the king appointed, for them a daily provision of the king’s delicacies and of the wine which he drank…” (Dan 1:5, NKJV)

You can find this same word in several other OT or NT passages where it is used for allotting or appointing. (Ps 61:7-8; Job 7:3; John 1:17; John 4:6-8)

The KJV, NKJV translate this word as prepared.
The NASB & the ESV translate it as appointed
The NIV & the NRSV translate it as provided
The NLT translates it as arranged
The LXX (Greek translation of the Hebrew) translates it as commanded

You say, ‘What is the big deal? Why make so much from this word?” Because the King James and NKJV gives the idea that God specially created this fish in order to swallow Jonah.

There is no indication that God “specially created” this fish for this specific purpose, or for any other purpose for that matter. It is unfortunate that the English gives the idea that God might have created this fish on the spot.

The actual sense of the Hebrew word “manah” is found in the NASB – “appointed.” God as sovereign LORD over all of creation, including all the creatures in the sea, commanded this fish and appointed this fish to a specific purpose – that specific purpose was to swallow up Jonah.
In other words, God made sure that this fish was in the exact spot and at the exact time needed in order to swallow Jonah when he was thrown overboard. Jehovah ordained this fish for a specific purpose.

Next, let’s take a look at whether it was a…

2C     Great whale or great fish?

          “…a great fish…”

The Hebrew word is “dag.” It is used 20 times in the OT and it is always translated as “fish.”

The idea of this fish being a whale came from the LXX which translated the Hebrew word for large fish as whale. This word was used by the King James translators in Matthew 12:40.

The reason they decided to use whale rather than fish is unknown to us. No explanation is ever given or has been found. They might have decided that to explain the fish being able to swallow Jonah must be as big as a whale to be able to swallow him. But even the Greek word used by the LXX doesn’t mean whale, it means “sea-monster.”

Although knowing the animal’s exact identity is not necessary to understand the Jonah passages, its proper identification would add an element of historicity to the prophet’s traumatic experiences. Jonah 1:17, referenced as 2:1 in the Hebrew Bible, uses the Hebrew word dag to refer to a broad range of sea creatures. It had “great” (gadôl) size—large enough to swallow a whole man.

Just for the record, whales are very rare in the Mediterranean Sea.

The only reason that I mention it at all is for the fact that it has provided a great distraction to the overall message of this book.

As a matter of fact James Montgomery Boice wrote”

“It is almost a pity that the fish mentioned in Jonah has attracted so much attention, for in doing this it has detracted from the other very valuable lessons of this book.”  [3]

I think that we always need to be careful that we don’t get side-tracked from God’s message by sensationalizing even miracles.

[For example:]

Thomas John Carlisle wrote, “I was so obsessed with what was going on inside the whale that I missed seeing the drama inside Jonah.”  [4]

Finally, let’s look at his predicament:

                   3C     “…to swallow Jonah.”

                             We will finish on this point. I hope we have time to do it justice.

First – there are a number, a huge number of skeptics and doubters who do not believe that Jonah was swallowed up by a fish, regardless of its species or size. They refuse to accept the account as factual and possible.

After all, this is one of the Bible stories that is most ridiculed by people who consider themselves sophisticated and intellectual.

Skeptics say that no whale could swallow a man in the first place, and, even if he did, the man would certainly never survive three days and three nights in his belly, as the Bible claims.

Second – even if some of these doubters will allow the fact that a huge or large fish swallowed Jonah, they do not believe that he could have remained alive and ultimately survived having been swallowed.
Third – So called “Christian liberals” have attempted to avoid this problem by saying that the story of Jonah was only an allegory and was never meant to be understood as actual history.

 But, whenever the Bible writers used allegories or parables or other symbolic stories, they always either said so or else made it evident in the context. The book of Jonah is certainly written as though it were actual history.

Jonah we know was a real prophet who is mentioned also in II Kings 14:25. None of the ancient Jews or early Christians ever doubted the authenticity and historicity of the book of Jonah and its story.

Fourth, most importantly, the Lord Jesus Christ accepted the account as true. He said that the people of Nineveh repented of their sins as a consequence of his preaching (Matthew 12:41). He even said:

“…an evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given it but the sign of Jonah the prophet: for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold something greater than Jonah is here.” Matthew 12:39-41, NASB)

And so, the reason that Jonah prayed was that God ordained and commanded a great or large fish, or sea-monster to swallow Jonah when he had been thrown overboard into the Mediterranean Sea. If anyone had a reason to pray, it would have been Jonah!

[We will now move to the last phrase in this verse, and we will examine…] 

          2B     The Region of Jonah’s Prayer (17b – 2:1)

                   Where did Jonah pray from or at?

“And Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly.”

During the course of my life I have found myself in some pretty odd circumstances. At times they have seemed to be overwhelming and devastating. But I have to admit I have never had to pray from the inside of a huge fish. We need to take a very close look at this unequaled action by Jonah.

[First, let’s look at…]

1C     The Period of Reckoning

The text says, “three days and three nights.” There is no problem with this period of time being exactly 72 hours. It may have well been 72 hours. We can understand this to be just what it says in the English and do no harm to the Word, or to God, or to His sovereignty.

It is possible that Jonah reckoned the time frame as the Jews normally counted time. Any part of a day was considered a day. This could have been late one day, a full day, and then a couple of hours of the following day and still be considered three days and three nights.

Neither reckoning changes the facts and the point of the verse.

[Second, let’s look at…) 

                   2C     The Possibility of Recovery


As to whether a man could survive “three days and three nights” under such conditions, there are three possible answers that are often given or suggested to defend this biblical account.

·        NATURAL ANSWER - In the first place, it has been well established that the phrase “three days and three nights” in ancient Hebrew usage was an idiomatic expression meaning simply “three days,” and was applicable even if the beginning and ending days of the period were only partial days. Thus it could refer to a period as short as about 38 hours. There is always some air in the whale’s stomach, and, as long as the animal it has swallowed is still alive, digestive activity will not begin.

So, Jonah’s experience could possibly have happened within natural law.

·        MIRACULOUS ANSWER - It is much more likely, however, that the event involved a divine miracle, as the Scripture strongly implies. The “great fish” was appointed or commanded by God, as was the intense storm that threatened the ship on which Jonah was traveling. The storm ceased as soon as Jonah was cast overboard (Jonah 1:415).  In like manner, it was quite probable that God preserved Jonah’s life miraculously all through the horrifying experience.

·        RESURRECTION ANSWER - . A third possibility is that Jonah actually suffocated and died in the great fish and then God later brought him back from the dead. There are at least eight other such “resurrections” recorded in the Bible, as well as the glorious bodily resurrection of Christ—of which Jonah’s experience in particular was said by Christ to be a prophetic sign.

No harm would come to the text or to Jonah’s account of this event if he in fact died and then was resurrected by God.

              3C     The Practically of Reality
Naturally the unbelievers and skeptics doubt that this account could actually be true. They think that it is fantasy or a fairy tale. They might even reject the literalness of the account and consider it to be allegorical.

Their argument centers on two main issues:

·        That there are no sea-creatures that could swallow a man

·        That if it were possible for a man to be swallowed, he could not survive for any period of time
[So, with that in mind, let’s ask and answer a couple of really vial questions.]

First of all - Are there any monsters of the deep big enough to swallow a man?

It seems the answer is yes!

Grace W. Kellogg, in her book The Bible Today, describes a few. I am quoting this account from that book which was cited in J. Vernon McGee’s book, Jonah: Dead or Alive, pages 18-29. She states…

“There are at least 2 known monsters of the deep that could easily have swallowed Jonah.

·        the Balaenoptera Musculus or sulphur-bottom whale

·        the Rhinodon Typicus or whale shark.”

Neither monster has any teeth. They open their enormous jaws and take in water at an incredible speed, then strain out the water and swallow whatever is left.

She goes on to say that…

“In 1933 a sulphur-bottom whale was captured off Cape Cod. It was 100 ft. long with a mouth 10 or 12 ft. wide.

Kellogg goes on to say that, “these whales have 4 to 6 compartments in their stomachs, in any one of which a colony of men could find free lodging. They might even have a choice of rooms, for in the head of this whale is a wonderful air storage chamber, an enlargement of the nasal sinus, often measuring 7 ft. wide, by 14 ft. long.

If he has an unwelcome guest on board who gives him a headache, the whale swims to the nearest land and gets rid of the offender as he did Jonah.”

Second – Are there any occasions that demonstrate this is possible?

Kellogg also points out that the late Dr. Dixon:

·        “tells of a white shark of the Mediterranean which swallowed a whole horse

·        another swallowed a reindeer minus only it’s horns

·         In still another Mediterranean white shark was found a whole sea cow, about the size of an ox.”

·        The Cleveland Plain Dealer quoted an article by Dr. Ransom Harvey who said that a dog was lost overboard from a ship. The dog was found 6 days later alive and barking in the head of the whale.

Mind you, we do not heed these examples to accept the fact that Jonah was swallowed by a great or huge fish, a sea-monster and survived for three days and three nights. These accounts or stories do not prove the veracity of Jonah’s account.

          Third – Are there any accounts of any humans being swallowed?

          There are two accounts.

·        The first account is of a man named James Bartley -

The famous French scientist, M. De Parville, writes of James Bartley, who in the region of the Falkland Islands near South America, was supposed to have been drowned at sea.  Two days after his disappearance, the sailors made a catch of a whale.  When it was cut up, much to their surprise they found their missing friend alive but unconscious inside the whale. He revived and has been enjoying the best of health ever since his adventure.

This account has been researched and debunked. It does not seem to be a true event.

·        The second account is of an English Sailor

Dr. Harry Rimmer, President of the Research Science Bureau of Los Angeles, writes of another case. "In the Literary Digest we noticed an account of an English sailor who was swallowed by a gigantic Rhinodon in the English Channel.  Briefly, the account stated that in the attempt to harpoon one of these monstrous sharks, this sailor fell overboard, and before he could be picked up again, the shark turned and engulfed him.  

Forty-eight hours after the accident occurred, the fish was sighted and slain.  When the shark was opened by the sailors, they were amazed to find the man unconscious but alive! 

 He was rushed to the hospital where he was found to be suffering from shock alone, and a few hours later was discharged as being physically fit.

It doesn’t seem to those who investigated this “event” found it to be true either.

I am not giving you these examples to say that Jonah could not have been or was not swallowed by a great fish. I provide them to show you that there are those who feel the need to validate the scripture by looking for any kind of a “tale” to support the idea that Jonah could have been swallowed by a large fish, or sea-monster.

Listen, even if these accounts are false and there is no record or evidence ever found to show that men have been swallowed and survived we don’t need them. These things would not nor do not prove that the bible to be true.

God said through Jonah that this event happened. That settles it. Clearly there are monsters large enough and capable of swallowing a man, which only makes this story of Jonah plausible.

Well, Jonah is not only the sinning prophet by running from the presence of God, but Jonah is the supplicating or praying prophet.

Jonah does the unequaled – he prays when he finds himself in the belly of a great or large fish or sea-monster.

My purpose for bringing this message today is provide you will the hope of experiencing the graciousness of God when you find yourself in desperate situations, especially if your desperate situation is the result of God’s chastening hand. He is a gracious God –pray to him.

[What do you say we wrap this up?] 


Please allow me to conclude this message with a quote from Abraham Lincoln who said;

I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” (Abraham Lincoln)

Jonah had no nowhere else to go when he discovered he had not drowned and was trapped alive in the belly of the great fish – so he prayed.

Where do you go, when you discover you have nowhere else to go?

Let’s pray! J

Father, thank you for your Word. Thank you that it is more often than not clear and concise enabling us to see wonderful, marvelous, and even mysterious things.

Father, please, help us today to realize that you may have need to engineer some great and even desperate chastening or correction for us when we sin against you. But also help us to realize that you are longsuffering, kind, loving, and so gracious even to sinners such as us.

Father, help us to follow Jonah’s example of responding to his great affliction or chastisement through prayer. May you always remind us and enable us regardless of how dark, how desperate, or how devastating our situation is to always cry out to you through prayer.

Thank you for being so loving and so gracious to us! Thank you for Jonah and your great fish.


[1] H. Rimmer, The Harmony of Science and Scripture, 8th ed. (Berne, Ind.: The Berne Witness Company, 1939), 169

[2] Billy K. Smith & Frank S. Page, The New American Commentary, Vol. 19B, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 1995), p. 239

[3] James Montgomery Boice, Minor Prophets: Hosea-Jonah, Vol. 1, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), p. 282 

[4] Thomas John Carlisle, You! Jonah!, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), p. 21

1 comment:

nashvillecats2 said...

A great post Gregg, it took a time to read and digest all you written.
I especially liked the qoute from A braham Lincoln.
Keep up the good work and thanks for visiting my blog.