A whale of a tale to swallow

Published 7:38 pm Monday, October 21, 2019

We’ve, for the past few weeks, been looking at the story of Jonah in the Old Testament. In that rather strange story, Jonah is swallowed by a “whale,” or more accurately, a “great fish.” And don’t you always wonder how a fish, even a “great fish,” might swallow a man, even a little man? And then spit him out after three days —­­­ alive!

The mouth is not the question. There are lots of fish mouths that might hold a man, and I should think the stomach wouldn’t be the problem. It would be the throat that determined how large an object any particular fish might be able to swallow. In any case, the whole fish story is hard to swallow that President Thomas Jefferson, who cut all the supernatural references out of his Bible, cut out this story of Jonah.

The Hebrew fish in the story of Jonah was a “dag” or a “great fish.” The Greek fish in the same story was a “ketos” or a “sea monster.” The King James Version of the Bible uses “whale,” because that would have been the largest fish known to them.

Dr. Harry Rimmer tells the story of a sailor who fell overboard from a trawler in the English Channel. He was swallowed ­— or eaten — by a large whale shark, and the entire fleet hunted down the shark, killed it with a deck gun and towed it to shore. Intending to give their friend a proper burial, they found him unconscious but alive. Rushed to the hospital, he was in shock, but otherwise fine. If you’d lived then, you could have, for a shilling, seen him as the “Jonah of the 20th Century,” in a London museum.

In any case, we can’t prove whether or not Jonah was swallowed by a “fish” or a “whale” or a “sea monster,” and the English Channel story doesn’t “prove” the Jonah story. We do know Jonah was a real man and a prophet of God. We know that later Jesus would compare Jonah’s three days in the belly of the whale to his own three days in the tomb.

Now, we’re talking about faith, and there are lots of stories on the line between truth and myth. None of us can prove that Jonah was swallowed by a whale and none of us can prove that Jonah was not swallowed by a whale. Some people will believe the story and some people won’t, and that’s fine. It’s really not a story to be believed or doubted or argued about. 

It’s a story intended to teach people a lesson, and the key is in the tenth verse of chapter two: “Then the Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah up on the beach, and it did.” (Jonah 2:10) 

So, the story of Jonah asks, “When God says it, do you believe it, and will you obey it?”