If there’s one thing reading the Bible has taught me, it’s the limits of the human mind. I often read a passage and ask myself, “Now where have I heard that before?” Sometimes I’m able to come up with an answer. Sometimes I’m not. And sometimes my mind makes up a wrong answer out of whole cloth. But today we’ve got just such a rabbit hole of recollection, all incited by Jesus’ mention of the sign of Jonah.
We’re not done with you yet, Jonah. Astute readers may have noticed the word “thanksgiving” at the end of Jonah’s poetic prayer in chapter two, so for this installment of Totally Hip Gratitude, we’re rewinding back into the belly of the big fish. Jonah was pleased with the shade-plant that God provided in chapter four, but he’s actually grateful for his divinely-appointed piscine rescuer. What can Jonah’s words tell us about thankfulness?
I’m pretty sure it wasn’t until I was in junior high that I discovered there was more Jonah after Nineveh’s repentance. You may have had a different experience, but it seemed children’s Bible stories always stopped short of the scene where Jonah gets bent out of shape over Nineveh’s non-destruction. Then again, I may be misremembering, or perhaps I somehow never realized that the guy in the picture books grousing about his dead plant was still Jonah. Either way, I’ve got my intro paragraph, so let’s look at the actual text.
You don’t have to ask me twice, as the saying goes. Unless you’re God, and I’m Jonah, and what you’re asking me is to go to Nineveh and deliver your message to them. But after the whole incident with the disobedience and the sea storm and the huge fish, when God tells Jonah it’s time to give Nineveh the prophetic business, Jonah doesn’t have to be told a third time. He gets up and goes.
As the previous chapter tells us, Jonah was stuck in the giant fish for three days. Of course, he didn’t know it at the time, with no way of seeing the sun, moon, and other markers of the passage of time. Had it been three hours? Three weeks? For Jonah, one guess was as good as another. And for something in the neighborhood of seventy-two hours, Jonah was left to chill in the dark of the fish.
If there’s one minor prophet you’re already familiar with, it’s probably Jonah. While the bulk of the minor prophets comprises divine messages of judgment, mercy, and calls to repentance, Jonah is largely historical narrative. When you add that it requires very little background knowledge to understand, you’ve got a prime candidate for a children’s Bible story lesson. Plus, it’s got a big ol’ miracle fish.