Is That Seaweed on Your Face?
Feb 11, 2019 01:56PM
● By Bonnie Lyn Smith
Ever find yourself in a dark, pungent space of something-gone-wrong while you wait for next steps?
You may not think you have, but chances are, we’re not—any of us—all that different from Jonah.
When I was growing up, we vacationed at the New Jersey Shore almost every summer. If my family didn’t go, I usually found a way to go with a friend’s family. And many times we would schlep all our beach gear to the hot sand only to find seaweed washed up all over the beach. It was as if the ocean projectile-vomited all night long. The grossest part for me personally was walking into that amazing water to find green kelp grabbing and tangling up my toes. Or coming up from a good wave ride on my belly to pull my head out of the water with ocean plant life hanging off me in all directions. Truly the only thing more disgusting to me was jellyfish overpopulation. I spent some summers paranoid about that, too. (I have issues.)
Whether you like seaweed or you don’t, one thing is for sure: Time spent in the belly of a whale marinating in digestive juices alongside sea life would not be a fun three days. And while Jonah has become infamous for his time inside that "big fish," his story isn’t actually about the fish—not really.
Many people think Jonah was punished by God being inside that whale. The truth is, he was spared via the fish. Knowing Jonah had displeased God by trying to escape an assignment God gave him, his fellow sailors, after some deliberation and Jonah’s cooperation, threw him overboard to calm the seas. It worked! But God still needed Jonah for His purposes, so He gave him some time preserved in some nice whale blubber, or fish gut, to get quiet, be still, and hear His God.
It’s an interesting three days of faith-deepening for our friend Jonah the prophet. Read some of the statements Jonah makes when God finally has his attention.
Jonah 2:1-2 (ESV)
Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying, "I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.
Jonah’s prayers to God begin once inside the fish. That’s interesting, right?
He also acknowledges that he is calling out and praying from a position of need: distress. He tells us that God answered him because He was listening for Jonah. He heard his voice.
My takeaway from this is that God has His ears perked up ready to hear from us. He welcomes it, expects it, and engages with us when we speak, get this—even if we speak from a place of distress, when we need something.
Jonah 2:3 (ESV)
For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.
Jonah clearly has no problem telling it like it is. He gives God credit for casting him into the water where the fish swallowed him. He doesn’t blame the sailors. I’m not really sure he is even blaming God. It seems, anyway, that he is stating under whose authority and sovereignty he ended up where he was.
The end of Chapter 1 confirms this:
Jonah 1:17 (ESV)
And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
The LORD appointed. Hmmm.
Jonah 2:4 (ESV)
Then I said, 'I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.'
I love how in the middle of this scary time, Jonah stops to make a statement of faith. I wonder to myself, how on earth does he know this to be true: yet I shall again look upon your holy temple?
That completely fascinates me. And even if we don’t take it as assurance that he will ever leave the fish, he is definitely clear God will never leave Him. He believes being with God, God’s presence (the holy temple was where God dwelled), is a given. I love that! I’m sure the stench of death and acid around him must have been incredible. And yet, while he had not come up for air, he declared what he knew to be true about his God.
Jonah 2:5-6 (ESV)
The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God [emphasis mine].
Jonah doesn’t sugarcoat his experience. He wants us to know the real account. He didn’t take a joyride after he was tossed off the boat. He had weeds wrapped around his head! He gives God credit for the rescue…one not yet fully fulfilled at this part of the book of Jonah. While he sat in the whale (Part 1 of rescue mission), Jonah already declares Part 2.
I want that kind of faith!
Jonah 2:7-8 (ESV)
When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.
Jonah still had some bad moments ahead of him. His story was not over, but in this most vulnerable place, he remembers the LORD, and God hears him. I love how Jonah correlates steadfast love to a God who hears him! He directly acknowledges vain idols (man-configured gods) as non-relational and a waste of time. Wow! He also states that worshipping those idols means they have given up the true, relational God. They can't have steadfast love from idols.
Jonah 2:9-10 (ESV)
But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!" And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.
As Jonah ends his prayer with thanksgiving, sacrifice, and a vow, he also offers this declaration: “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” That is quite a witness and statement of faith.
Again, we see God’s sovereignty in telling the fish to spit Jonah out.
One of the interesting observations we can make in this chapter is that between Jonah being swallowed by the fish and God releasing him from it, Jonah is the only one speaking. We don’t really know if God spoke in those moments, as the author only recorded Jonah’s side in this chapter, but it is clear that Jonah knew God and His Holy Word and believed it to be true.
Now let’s consider our own whale time. Do we need to sit in partial rescue, seaweed hanging off our ears, to become still long enough to engage God in conversation?
Do you currently feel you are in that kind of transition, one where you cling to the current pit you are in (either one you delivered yourself to or cirumstances put you there through no fault of your own)? From there do you declare to God His goodness, His provision, and His affection for you (steadfast love)?
How would it make a difference in your level of hope, perseverance, and strength if you did this while waiting for rescue Part 2?
The greater rescue has come in Jesus Christ who died for your sins and offers you eternal life with Him. Cling to this truth as you wait to surface like Jonah. God will never fail you or forsake you.
I can say this because the Bible says it, but I have loved and followed Jesus for 38 years through abandonment, losses, suffering, and much brokenness, and, like Jonah—whether currently inside or outside my personal whale of the moment—I know this to be unfailingly true.
Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.She is the author of Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day and the founder and editor-in-chief of Ground Truth Press, a book publishing company.