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.
(Jonah 1:17 ESV)
Here, we have Jonah, God’s prophet to Israel, who has recently been given an assignment of which he cannot stand the thought. God sent him to prophesy to the gentile city of Nineveh. Later in the book, we’ll discover that Jonah didn’t want mercy for the Ninevites, and so that’s why he ran away from God’s call to minister to them. He gets onto a boat with a bunch of pagans. Then, God sends a storm their way. The others on the ship come to find out that Jonah is the reason for the storm, and so Jonah suggests that they throw him overboard. Can you believe that? His hatred for the Ninevites was so deep that he would’ve rather been thrown into a stormy sea than have gone to them.
This all brings us to the verse above. The word translated “fish” in the Hebrew can mean a variety of possible aquatic creatures. It may have been a giant fish as we know it, or perhaps a whale, or perhaps something else entirely. This “fish” swallowed up Jonah. Miraculously, Jonah was in the belly of this fish for three days and three nights. I realize that for some, this is unbelievable, but He who created the universe can certainly cause a man to survive for three days in a fish.
The three days and three nights, by the way, we know is a shadow and a type of Jesus’ resurrection after three days in the grave.
What really jumps out in this verse is the word, “appointed”. This is the first of four times that the word “appointed” is used in Jonah to describe God’s sovereignty over His creation. God didn’t merely allow a nearby hungry fish to swallow Jonah, saying, “I can work with this.” God sent the fish to Jonah. He ensured that the fish existed long before Jonah even set foot on the ship, and He ensured that the fish would be at the right place at the right time for this to happen. He then ensured that the insides of the creature wouldn’t destroy Jonah.
O how sovereign is our Lord! Any of us who are tempted to think that God isn’t in complete control of all things in this world would do well to revisit the book of Jonah. Praise God for His infinite wisdom and sovereignty!