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Whale of a Tale or the Real Deal? March 31, 2005

Posted by mjtilley in Uncategorized.

A plain reading of the book of Jonah reveals a story filled with superhuman events.

The first chapter alone is enough to test even the most gullible. We listen in as God Himself speaks to a man, we see a storm raised and calmed by the whim of God and we watch in horror as a man is swallowed whole by a large fish.

The story only gets stranger as we see that same man alive, well and fully enveloped inside of a fish. The man isn’t complaining, in pain or struggling for breath. Instead, he’s praying to God and crediting God with his “salvation” that has come in the form of being inside of this belly.

Then we see a massive spiritual awakening in the ancient city of Nineveh as result of a warning of coming destruction. What’s more, the messenger – an apparent mad man, fresh from the bowels of a fish – delivered his message in hopes it would not be accepted. And that’s not to mention a very probable language barrier between this necessarily Jewish preacher and his Assyrian audience.

In the final scene of the story, God turns from giving directives to actually having a conversation with this man. And in an effort to teach a broader lesson, God causes a large shade plant to appear out of nowhere overnight, a worm to destroy the plant in a day and a hot wind to blast the man.

Reasonable people are skeptical about exactly how factual this story is. The most obvious point of contention is the fish: How could a fish swallow a man without severe injury to the man and the fish? How could a man survive in a digestive tract for three days? How could a man breathe under water?

A deeper analysis shows other issues: Why doesn’t history mention a king of Nineveh as referenced in chapter 3? Why are only the name of the prophet and the city specifically mentioned? How is it possible that Nineveh, while certainly a large city, took 3 days to walk through or around?

Certainly, the supernatural occurrences might be trusted as miracles from an all-powerful God. And there may be reasonable explanations for the apparent “contradictions” with history and other non-Biblical facts.

But are explanations even necessary? Is it possible that God allowed an extended parable to be part of the canon of Scriptures? Does the story lose its power or are its lessons diminished if we agree it’s not a literal account of an actual story?

This Sunday, after finishing an introduction of the two named characters of the book – Jonah and Nineveh – we’ll consider the historicity of the story and the implications of our opinion.

Please come prepared to discuss these questions:

  • Is the book of Jonah a literal record of actual events?
  • Is Jonah simply a moral tale, a fable built for the specific purpose of teaching a lesson?
  • Is Jonah a story with the facts embellished a bit for dramatic effect?
  • Did God really speak to Jonah? Does He do that today?
  • Why do you believe what you believe about this story?
  • What are the implications of your belief on the rest of the Bible?
  • Does your belief on Jonah have implications for your spiritual condition?


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