Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.
Jonah is an awesome and easily-completed book of The Bible to read. It should, I think, be read by every believer, especially since no person less than Jesus Christ Himself referred to the events of this book and the symbolism of what happens. Jonah being swallowed by the fish is noted as being a parallel to Christ being in the grave. And it is that parallel that caught my attention this morning.
First aspect of the parallel: Jonah and Jesus were both sent to people who were under condemnation. While Jonah was trying to get out of going to tell people — that is it, just tell them — that God’s judgment was looming over them, Jesus willing came to not only tell us that we were in trouble, but to give His own life to get us out of it. The parallel is the sending. It is an important note, because Jesus sent His followers out, too.
Second aspect of the parallel: Three days’ time. Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days. Jesus spent three days in the grave; the belly of the Earth. Why three? I do not know. There is probably a reason (I am not aware of anything that God does without a reason), but I am not privy to it.
Third aspect of the parallel: They both came back. Jonah was puked up on a beach, while Jesus seems to have just stood up and walked on out of the tomb. In both cases, it boils down to God’s power over everything being demonstrated. Since God can command a fish to vomit up what it has been digesting for three days and the fish does it, I can rest secure in God’s ability to deliver me from most anything. Since God can command the grave to give Jesus up, I can take seriously the contention of Paul that nothing, not even death, can separate me from the love of God.
Fourth aspect of the parallel: Neither one was the same as when he went in. During one time studying through the book of Jonah, I looked around online to see if there were accounts of other people having been swallowed by fish or whales or what-have-you and being vomited back up. Sure enough, they are there. The basics never really change in the story. The person is recognizable, but so changed as to really make one wonder. The person who was swallowed by the sea creature comes out hairless and bleached and looking for all the world like something out of a science-fiction show … or Voldemort. When Jesus came out of the grave, it was in a new body; a glorified body. He was still recognizable as Himself, but the difference was enough that people mistook Him for all sorts of other people — Mary thought He was a gardener and some disciples thought He was just some other guy on the road. Not only does Jesus’ resurrection demonstrate God’s power over death itself, but it also demonstrates what will happen to those who die in Christ and are resurrected. What comes out will not be the same as what goes in.
Last aspect of the parallel: The process of return can be rough. Jonah was puked up on a beach. Jesus’ exit from the tomb was heralded by an earthquake. Neither return was anything less than rough. One might even say violent. And that is at it should be. The natural order is that food goes in one end and out the other. Food returning the way it came is not natural. The natural order is for bodies to be put in the ground and stay there. Bodies coming back to life and getting up again is supernatural.
This is not an exhaustive list of the parallels between Jonah and Jesus, but just those thoughts that occurred to me this morning as I read. This morning’s verse most directly brought me to the reminder that neither Jesus nor Jonah was the same when He came back. Jonah, by all accounts, looked strange; alien, even. He was probably pale and hairless, wrapped with the remnants of clothes that had not yet digested and bits of kelp and whatnot. His was an appearance that would lead to disquiet and fear. Jesus, by all accounts, looked very much alive. So much so that people simply mistook Him for someone else. His appearance, however, led to comfort and assurance. The reminder is that as He is, so too shall I be one day. His post-grave body is glorified and different than my own. So, too, will my body be after passing through death. The comfort of this is that I will be resurrected to live with Him forever and that I will not do so in this body as it is. While this body has some things about it which I rather like, it also has things about it which I will not miss. And both will be swallowed up in whatever it will become.
There is also another reminder snuck into this verse. Jonah could have walked into Nineveh on his own two feet looking like a normal dude. The consequences of his disobedience left him changed. He did not have to be fish vomit. He could have obeyed the first time God told him to go to Nineveh. So, too, can I. I can choose to obey and remain as I am or I can disobey and it will change me.
Challenge and comfort this morning. Comfort in the knowledge that I will be changed when God resurrects me; that I will spend eternity in something infinitely better than the body I inhabit now. Challenge in the reminder that disobedience has consequences and that those consequences may change me.