Are You Ready for the Fish?

Jonah is known for being God’s stubborn prophet who runs away from the task God set before him. He is swallowed by a great fish that God had specially prepared for this purpose, and after praying in repentance, he is delivered from the fish and has a second chance at following God’s command. Many people are familiar with this part of the story, but the ending of the book takes a lot of people by surprise. Was Jonah truly that petty, to wish destruction on a city of people who had turned from their sin? It’s easy to write off Jonah as an awful role model, but his character and story are much more complicated than his impetuous actions might suggest. Jonah 2 reveals a man who loves the Lord and knows Him. In Jonah’s beautiful poem and prayer, we learn from this surprisingly “bad role model” how to survive the fish in our own lives.

God’s faithful fish swallowed God’s unfaithful prophet. Jonah knew that he was there in that darkness, in that literal depth of despair, because of his own actions. He had run away from God and God had pursued him via a great and terrible storm (Jonah 1:4-5). The sailors cast lots to find whose guilt had brought the storm upon them “and the lot fell on Jonah” (1:7). When the men asked Jonah who he was and how to stop the storm, Jonah told them to throw him overboard, admitting that “I know that this great tempest is because of me” (1:12). He probably believed that going overboard would mean the end of his life, but God was not finished with Jonah.

Now, as Jonah sat in the murky, squishy darkness, he had absolutely nothing to draw comfort from. No warm fire, no dry clothes. No comfort food, or any food at all. He did not have a sunrise to bring hope to a new day, or even a flicker of a candle to make the darkness shrink. He had no copy of the Scriptures with him. Even if God had provided a miraculously water-proof scroll for him, he could not have read it in total darkness. He had no one with him, no one even to wonder about him and hope that he lived. The sailors all surely believed that Jonah had drowned beneath the waves. What was it that kept Jonah from curling up into a ball and giving in to despair?

Jonah seemed to be alone but did not find himself truly alone. Jonah’s prayer is filled with faith in a faithful God. He speaks as if his rescue has already happened in the same way prophets would declare a future event as a certainty by speaking as if it had already occurred. “. . .You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God” (2:6). He speaks with a knowledge of God’s sovereignty, of His hand in all these events, and of Jonah’s accountability to Him. “For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; all Your billows and Your waves passed over me” (2:3). Jonah knows exactly what he must do, which is to repent and submit to the Lord and seek His salvation. “. . . I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving, I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD” (2:9). This is all evidence of a relationship with God that Jonah had pursued before he entered the fish. Jonah still had hope in the darkness because he knew that God was with him, just as He had always been with him.

So often it is only when we enter a heavy trial that we seek the Lord earnestly. It always seems as if there will be another day to focus on such things, another day to spend more time in prayer and more time studying the Scriptures. But we have no control over the future. Trials are part of our earthly lives — trials both unearned and earned through our own sin. After the fall, trials of all kinds were guaranteed. It is the nature of life on this fallen earth. We can have hope that God will use trials for our good, just as the fish was also God’s mode of rescue for Jonah (James 1:2-4). We can also learn from Jonah’s experience that the best way to make it through trials is to seek the Lord during the trial and to seek the Lord before the trial comes.

In Jonah’s prayer, we can also see that the way he sought the Lord before the fish was through Scripture memorization. Jonah 2 includes several references to other Scripture passages, some of them almost direct quotations.1,2 Here are four examples:

In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry came before Him, even to His ears.” (Psalm 18:6)

For I said in my haste, ‘I am cut off from before Your eyes’; nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications when I cried out to You.” (Psalm 31:22)

Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and billows have gone over me.” (Psalm 42:7)

I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows to the LORD now in the presence of all His people.” (Psalm 116:17-18)

These quotations show us that Jonah was meditating in the Scriptures while he was in the fish, but as mentioned before, Jonah did not have a scroll or a light with him. No, for Jonah to meditate on the Scriptures in that darkness he had to have these Scriptures memorized. This meant he had spent significant time in God’s Word before his escapades had landed him in this situation.

What can we learn from this impetuous prophet Jonah? Certainly, one of the greatest lessons we can draw from him is the importance of memorizing Scripture. Time spent in God’s Word in any way is very valuable and prepares us for the fish of our lives by cultivating our relationship with God. But actually memorizing Scripture in addition to studying it will make a tremendous difference in our preparation. When a physical Bible is inaccessible to us, our heart’s library of Scripture will still be available for our meditation, giving us hope and strength and an opportunity to communicate with our God in the darkness that faces us.

Will any of us really be swallowed by a fish, and so face the same darkness that made Jonah’s memorized Scripture so valuable? Probably not. But we will face situations where the Scriptures are inaccessible. A lot of people like to point to the possibility of Bibles being banned and taken away. Such an extreme could happen, even in our lifetime. But there are more common events than these.

For the Scriptures to be inaccessible, we simply need our ability to access them to be impaired. There are moments like these all throughout our day. Whenever you are driving the car, you cannot pick up your phone and use your Bible app. Simply forget to charge the device, and your access to Scripture will be cut off the entire time you are away from your house where your Bible sits on the shelf. Any time the devil gets your heart distracted by the cares of this world, the worries of your heart, or your desire for entertainment, your ability to reach out and pick up the Bible for yourself becomes impaired.

Jonah himself might have been impaired in his access to Scripture within the fish by more than darkness. It’s possible he did not choose to think of Scripture on his own when he was sitting in the fish, but began his meditation and subsequent prayer because the Holy Spirit brought it to his mind. He knew it was his own guilt that had brought him to that place of darkness, and perhaps his guilt was crushing in on him until the Scriptures in his heart gave him hope again. It has also been suggested that the stubborn prophet may have been in the fish for three days because he didn’t pray until the third day. Guilt, stubbornness, and despair could have crippled him except for the fact that he could not escape God’s hand and he could not escape God’s Word. You cannot run from Scripture when it is written in your heart.

By memorizing Scripture, you bring with you a powerful part of God’s living Word that cannot be taken away or made inaccessible to you by anyone, including yourself. Even when it is depression that keeps you from turning to the Lord and His Bible, the Holy Spirit can come alongside and whisper the memorized words to your heart. Oh, how often the Lord has reached me with memorized Scripture when I was unable to reach for Him in my own strength!

Trials of all kinds face us every day, and some of them can crash upon us so mightily that we compare them to the fish that Jonah faced. If you want to be prepared for the fish and all the trials that face us, pursue the Lord now before the trial comes! Learn from the example of Jonah the puzzling prophet and memorize Scripture for the battles ahead so that God’s living Word can never be taken from you. A great place to start would be to memorize the same Psalms that comforted Jonah when he was sitting in the fish. Or you could memorize the whole book of Jonah and learn more from this surprisingly deep story. Scripture Memory Fellowship has a wonderful memory guide just for Jonah that will help you dive into the story as you memorize. SMF also publishes a variety topical memory courses such as Songs in the Night: Bible Verses for Hard Times and Peace. Whatever Scriptures you choose to memorize, you can be certain that the Lord will bless your efforts, and with them, you will find yourself ready for the fish.
Rachel Eernisse is the founder of Scripture Speakers. In this ministry, she recites Scripture dramatically and teaches others to do the same for God’s glory and the church’s edification. She is also the author of "Speaking Scripture: How to Memorize and Recite with Purpose and Delight." You can learn more about her book and ministry at

1Guzik, D. (n.d.). Study Guide for Jonah 2. Blue Letter Bible.


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