12 June 2007

Something to remember when you are swallowed by a big fish

by Phil Johnson
"My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth" (Hebrews 12:5).

ometimes—all the time, if you are a Christian—the worst things that happen turn out to be great blessings in disguise. Whatever disaster befalls you, if you are a believer, you can be certain God will use it for good.

Consider Jonah's experience inside the fish. To the human eye, that whole episode might look like an expression of divine wrath against Jonah: The Lord hurled a great wind at the ship Jonah was using (sinfully) to try to flee the will of God. The whole ship was about to sink, the entire crew's lives were in danger, and finally in desperation (and at Jonah's own behest), they threw him overboard. Every aspect of it might look (to the human eye) like an utter and unmitigated disaster.

But it was not a disaster. There was far more divine love and mercy (rather than divine wrath) evidenced in that storm and the subsequent events. In fact, the goodness of God is a thousand times more profound and lasting than His displeasure—if you see this whole event from His perspective. A tremendous amount of immediate benefits came from the discipline God lovingly meted out to Jonah.

Take, for example, the ship's crew. Not only were their lives spared, but their souls were also saved. They turned to Jehovah in faith (Jonah 1:16).

And Jonah—he was thrown overboard at the very peak of the storm. From the perspective of the sailors, Jonah was a dead man. There's no way a man can survive a raging sea like that. But as soon as Jonah was thrown overboard, the sea was calmed (Jonah 1:15). The sailors sacrificed to God and worshiped. Nothing suggests they saw the fish swallow Jonah. I suppose it's possible that they saw the fish swallow him. But more likely, from their perspective, he just disappeared into the deep. Either way, from where the sailors stood, Jonah was a dead man, a victim of divine wrath.

From Jonah's perspective things looked pretty bleak, too. He knew he had displeased God, and that he fully deserved what was happening to him. If he had been digested by the fish and that had been the end of him, it would have been just.

But the fish turned out to be a vehicle for Jonah's salvation, not his destruction. The fish also returned Jonah to where he should have been, and multitudes in Nineveh were saved because of Jonah's preaching.

Remember those things the next time you feel as if you have been thrown into the sea in the midst of a raging storm—then swallowed by a giant fish and taken even further ionto the depths. Even if your circumstances are the consequences of your own sin; and especially if you are a believer whom God is chastening for your own disobedience: This is all for your good, and that means it is already more of a blessing than a curse. Look beyond the earthly circumstances of the calamity, and you'll probably see it.

Phil's signature


David said...

Not that Jonah saw it in a positive light,mind you. We may not either - perhaps ever. It is easy to look back on someone elses life and see the providence of God. It is not so easy to see it in our own lives.

Jim V. said...

This is a very good word for me, personally, brother. I happen to be in the belly of a fish as we speak. And I must admit that it is for a very similar reason that Jonah found himself there. I appreciate your encouraging comments, particularly where you state that "...the fish turned out to be a vehicle for Jonah's salvation, not his destruction."

It's very easy, while in the fish, to believe that this is the end. That God's just judgment for your own disobedience has been visited upon you and this is the best it's going to be until you die. Yet we must also take comfort in the promise given: He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.

I am truly being broken during this time but am confident that if I heed the Spirit and where He is leading, I will be led safely on the narrow path through this dark pit and out the other side. And in that time I will be transformed and further conformed to the image of Him who saved me.

Thanks again for this post. It was a timely word of encouragement for a suffering brother.

Jon Nunley said...



Doug E. said...

Great words. They truly are an encouragement. I recently did a post on spiritual sluggishness, and how the Lord will get his children to move one way or another. It seems to fit with God's grace in using, what seemed like disaster, to get Jonah to move.


Thanks for the encouragement,


Sewing said...

Thank you, Phil, for God's reassuring words through you, especially today.

Between when the Lord showed me that Christ is the only way and when I surrendered to Him over two years later, the Lord chastened me for my disobedience and tested me severely—and I thank Him for it, for the fruit of my troubles was rebirth in Christ.

Right now, the Lord seems to be both blessing and testing my wife and me simultaneously in different areas. I thank the Lord for his blessings, and also for his testings, for while I cannot yet fully discern the purpose of his actions, I trust Him and His will, that he is training me in my discipleship and sanctifying my wife, and that it is all for the sake of His glorification.

Ebeth said...

As I am reading Spurgeon's THE SUFFERING OF MAN & THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD, I cannot help but think of Job, also.

Doug said...

Thank you, Phil, for this very timely post. I, too, am with Jim V. in the belly of a big fish (due, of course to my own sin). Although, I didn't see anyone else down here...

Anyway, it is good to hear someone who doesn't know me tell me exactly what I need to hear directly from God's Word.

Cindy said...

What are you supposed to do when you have CONSTANT harassment in your life? Spiritually speaking, it has to come ultimately from God's hands through the conduit of people under Satan's control.

This has been my contant complaint to the Lord and there is only so much the human spirit can take before the light is burned out and you don't care anymore...........I mean isn't that the way Job felt. OH, and Jeremiah felt that way too, as did David at times when Saul was contantly harassing him. Some of these men didn't want to live anymore, like Job......he wished he never came out of his mother's womb. He cursed the day he was born. Elijah said, "it is enough now oh Lord, just take my life, for I am not better than my father"

I feel like no matter where I go, whether I go to a new geographical location or a new job or a new landlady or a new family.......it makes no difference because there is always someone harassing me. Even a so-called Christian man who I BEFRIENDED, not romantically, harassed me so bad that I had to call the police and have him arrested because he wouldn't take no for an answer. The judge found him guilty of harassment at the trial. My own flesh and blood mother harassed me for years before I finally ended the relationship completely. My oldest brother thinks I have mafia connections. Totally bazarre, inconceivable junk...........this is what happens to me so much.

This has been the sum total of my life since I can remember and I afraid it ain't gonna get any better until I go live with my Lord in Paradise!

It's very difficult to see the positive in circumstances that make you a toilet for people to dump on. And that has been the sum total of my life starting with own flesh and blood family to perfect strangers and everywhere in between.

And the worst part about it is when people minimize your feelings or lamentations. But I do know that certainly the Lord Jesus knows intimately and personally what it feels like to be a carpet mat and to be trashed on.

Ultimately, you begin to feel like you have no purpose but to suffer.

joey said...

thank you very much Phil, for this reminder, and encouragement to think biblically.

ezekiel said...


Psalms 3 helps me when the tunnel looks long with no light at the end. I hope this helps. Peace and Love.....

Jim V. said...

You stated, " I didn't see anyone else down here..." That is exactly what the Enemy wants you to think. You are never in any situation where you are truly alone, it just seems like it at the time.

Lance M. Roberts said...

Sounds similar to what the Lord has allowed us to go through in our ministry. Four years of being beat up and now we are hopefully of better use to the Lord. Just as the children's song says though, "He's still work'in on me!"

Sewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sewing said...

Jim V., Doug: Praise the Lord for your humility and discernment. May the Lord lift you up out of your suffering.

Cindy: Praise the Lord for your tenacious perseverance. May the Lord reveal His will to you and lift you up as one of his saints.

One Salient Oversight said...

I think it is important to realise that, even though the ultimate result is the glorification of God and our benefit, that oftentimes the reason and result of our suffering will not be made plain to us while we live on earth.

Think of the thief on the cross who is now in paradise. The worst moment of his life ended up being the one that made eternal difference to him. Yet his suffering only ended and the good of God's plan for his life occurred when he physically died.

It may be the same for us. We may continue to suffer, and we may even die, without knowing the reason or the good of our suffering.

But, once in paradise, that meaning will be made clear.

lordodamanor said...

Another thing to keep in mind was Johah's apparent disgruntledness at the Lord's dealings with Nineveh. We do not always like the way that the Lord works out our disobedience and even further "instruction" does not alway satisfy our desires.

One thing that we can take comfort from the Lord's dealing with Johah is the graciousness and long suffering that He shows forth. And, that even in our disobedience there are lessons to be learned in future generations. It was Johah who, unknown by him, would by his obstinance provide the prophetic picture of the resurrection. Incredible grace.

Cindy said...

Psalm 3 is perfect now for me and actually reading the Psalms through the years has been my only comfort besides a nice bowl of ice cream.....but I do know that if it had not been for the many afflictions in my life, I would not have pursued God and read so much scripture on my own (this is why I get so upset with some Christian men who feel women should not know scripture or be speaking about God in a depth that they do not understand) It is in affliction, that David said, that I have learned Your statues. So as a result, I have come to know scripture so much better and have appreciated it much more than I did years ago. And furthermore, I have come to know God so much more intimately, although lately, (over the last several years), I have been so discouraged that the afflictions are actually driving me away from intimacy with God......alone time with God. I find myself complaining and using foul words more than I am thankful and that is why I proposed the question: "how much adversity is one supposed to handle.......when is enough, enough?"

Through all my problems....and there have been so many incredible challenges.....from where my next meal was coming from, to where am I going to be sleeping tonight......I have always found God to be FAITHFUL. So if that is another thing He has wanted me to learn through the years, no doubt, I have learned, but contentment I have yet to learn, like the Apostle Paul. He said, "I have LEARNED to be content", so I guess contentment took awhile for Paul to learn and perhaps that is where I am.

KristineThraen said...

Thank you. Unfortunately, living in the fallen world we live in, and being who we are by nature, this encouragement will be a much-needed one for many--myself, included.

What uncomprehensible comfort awaits the true child of God, in resting in their sweet salvation, secured by God Himself...regardless of whatever the world is throwing at them; or whatever pit (or raging sea) they've managed to stumble into.

Thank you for the post, brother.


donsands said...

Some excellent insight to the Word. And very encouraging. Thanks.

I thought of Joni when I read this, and how she said, "I love the Lord because of what happened to me, not in spite of it". (Paraphrased)

Ava said...

Phil's sermons on Jonah are excellent .. by the way.


pfg blogmatron said...

Blessed my heart ~ yes, indeed.

David said...

Jonah's "apparent" disgruntledness?

Thats pretty funny. Jonah was screaming raving mad at God. A literal translation in 4:1 would be it "burned him" that God did not destroy Ninevah.(NET Bible Commentary). Jonah was enraged at God. Jonah fled from God because he did not want to allow God's grace to be extend to the Assyrians (4:7) Jonah was evil in his own self interest. And in the end, he refuses to see God's sovrignity - he would rather die than put up with a capricous God who one day gave him shelter, and the next took it away.

It is not God's grace to Jonah that strikes me, but God's grace to the Assyrians - which Jonah worked to prevent. Yes, the Fish was Jonahs salvation - but it was also the Assyrians salvation.

The similarities between Jonah/Assyrians and the Jews and Gentiles in the early church are striking. God cares for the Jews (Jonah) but also the Gentiles (Sailors/Assyrians)

Another intersting point is that I don't believe Jonah ever repents - he does pray for deliverence from the whale - but does he ever confess his sin? The Sailors repent. The Assyrians repent. But Jonah - no repentance.

donsands said...

"does he ever confess his sin?"

Jonah says, "Take me up and cast me forth into the sea, so shall the sea become calm for you: for I know that for my sake the great tempest is upon you."

This seems like confession.

Also: "I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto You, into Your holy temple.
But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD."

His heart seems to be penitent to me. And he may have even prayed more than this over three days.

Just some quick thoughts.

janelle said...

THANK YOU for this timely insight. You have no idea how encouraging this was to me.

David said...

don sands-

To me it seems you are reading alot into Chapter two that is not in the text. Based on what is written, I dont see any confession of sin or repentance. Jonah certainly realizes he is rebelling against God - but he doesnt repent of it.

See chapter 4 where Jonah acknowledges his direct disobediane.
"Oh, Lord, this is just what I thought would happen when I was in my own country. This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish! "

Jonah recognizes God's power when he seeks salvation - but no repentance such as in Ch.3 with the assyrians.

And Chapter 4 things are left very ambigously (sp?). There is certainly no repentance there.

To me, Jonah is not one of the Bible's strong character examples - he is a very imperfect man used by God, completely against his own wishes.

Jonah is a great example of God accomplishing his will in the face of direct disobedience by his chosen people. But I would not hold Jonah up as a model of our behaviour. In fact, he is a great example of how not to act.

Daryl said...

"In fact, he is a great example of how not to act."

Just like pretty much every other person in Scripture (David, Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Isaac, Elijah, Solomon, Peter, James, John...) with a very few notable exceptions.

David said...

To a certain extent Daryl

You read Judges. you get to Gideon, you start wondering, just why did this guy get picked? And He was one of the good judges!

But all of those that you listed, while having lapses, all had redeeming periods, shall we say - including Gideon.

But Jonah? Almost none. Chapter 2, ok (although he never confesses his sin) But things end very abruptly with Jonah - Jonah has proclaimed that he acted in direct defiance of God, God is correcting/rebuking him - and it ends - with Jonah standing defiant before God.

Not the way any of those you listed did.

Daryl said...

Point taken. Although I'm not sure we can conclude that Jonah never did repent, only that we're not told. We're not really told that Solomon repented either (although prior to his kingship God did effectively promise his salvation) I'll take the fact the Jonah was a prophet of God as a fairly (although not iron-clad) sure indication that he perservered in the end like all of God's elect have/will.
We'll never know I suppose and your statement that we shouldn't emulate him is a fair one. If nothing else the book (Jonah) is a great reminder that it's not about us (or anyone) but it's about God and what he is doing.

donsands said...

"To me, Jonah is not one of the Bible's strong character examples - he is a very imperfect man used by God, completely against his own wishes."

I agree.

I do see repentance in Jonah saying, "Throw me in the sea, it's my disobedience that has caused this".
I imagine he was thinking he would most likely drown.
I don't think I would have been as honest as Jonah. But there's a lot of speculation on my part here.

I see your points, and they are good ones.
And perhaps it's not repentance.

Thanks for your thoughts. I'll be thinking on this.

Stephen Garrett said...

Very good homily my brother! I like these short "sermonettes."

God bless

Stephen Garrett

David said...

The more I have been delving into Jonah, the more I think that we as Christians miss the point.

The point is not God's provision for Jonah - it is God's provision for the Assyrians.

I am no historian of the period, and I cannot vouch for some of these materials, but if you go to



You can read the history of the Assyrians. The Assyrians, whom at one time were one of the most cruel and despotic peoples, actually became the first "Christian" nation - even before the Romans.

What is for God's good we may never see in our life. We may be like Jonah - mad at God for what he has done. But that is only because we do not have God's persepective. Which in the Assyrians case, was some 600 plus years after Jonah

Anyway, thats what strikes me about Jonah - Don't count on ever seeing God's provision in your lifetime. Just don't ever doubt that it is God's purpose and victory in the end.

Cindy said...

David that's a good point to make and actually encouraged my heart.

Kind of like Job who desperately wanted to present his case before God just like a defendent pleading his case before a judge in a court room. However, when God did finally answer Job in the whirlwind, He said to Job, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth" or better yet after Job poured out a litney of poetic eloquence of his "knowledge" of God in about 30 chapters, God says to Job, "Who is this that darkens my Counsel with words that have not knowledge, words that are empty and vain"...........wow, how's that for a dose of humble pie. Sure gave Job a new perspective.........that is God's perspective anyway.

I love the book of Job!

Anonymous said...

Phil - I'll chime in as well and say thanks for the thoughts. I've managed to foolishly stumble into some pits of my own as well.

Does anyone know of any good resources that deal with the subject of chastisement/discipline from God?