Yahweh Appoints a Fish (Bible Study)

Yahweh Appoints a Fish (Bible Study)

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Warning: dad joke coming. Have you heard the one about the man stranded on his rooftop following a flood? He prayed that God would save him and believed that he would. So along came a man in a rowboat who told him to get in the boat. The man said, no, God would save him. Next there came a speedboat followed by a helicopter. Each time the man was invited to safety, each time his response was the same . . . he had faith in the Lord and the Lord would save him! When the flood continued to rise, the man eventually drowned. When he arrived before the Lord, the man asked why God hadn’t saved him. The Lord responded: “I sent you two boats and a helicopter. What more did you expect?”

Into the Book

We ended yesterday’s study with Jonah in the open sea, most likely expecting to drown. In today’s reading we will see God send the most unexpected lifeguard of all time to rescue his wayward prophet. We will also look at passages from Genesis and Job that give us an idea of exactly how powerful Jonah’s God is.

20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
(Genesis 1:20–21 NRSV)

  • What do you learn about God’s relationship to his creation in this verse?

17 And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17 NASB)

  • Read this verse in the following translations. Underline the ways in which these versions translate the word “appointed.”
  • What do you learn about God’s relationship to his creation in this verse?

One sea creature notorious in the ancient world was also apparently somewhat mythological. Take a listen as God chastises Job for his hubris by speaking of this very scary inhabitant of the seas.

1 “Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook or tie down its tongue with a rope? 2 Can you put a cord through its nose or pierce its jaw with a hook? 3 Will it keep begging you for mercy? Will it speak to you with gentle words? 4 Will it make an agreement with you for you to take it as your slave for life? 5 Can you make a pet of it like a bird or put it on a leash for the young women in your house? 6 Will traders barter for it? Will they divide it up among the merchants? 7 Can you fill its hide with harpoons or its head with fishing spears? 8If you lay a hand on it, you will remember the struggle and never do it again! 9 Any hope of subduing it is false; the mere sight of it is overpowering. 10No one is fierce enough to rouse it. Who then is able to stand against me? 11 Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.
12 “I will not fail to speak of Leviathan’s limbs, its strength and its graceful form. 13 Who can strip off its outer coat? Who can penetrate its double coat of armor? 14 Who dares open the doors of its mouth, ringed about with fearsome teeth? 15 Its back has rows of shields tightly sealed together; 16each is so close to the next that no air can pass between. 17 They are joined fast to one another; they cling together and cannot be parted. 18 Its snorting throws out flashes of light; its eyes are like the rays of dawn. 19 Flames stream from its mouth; sparks of fire shoot out. 20 Smoke pours from its nostrils as from a boiling pot over burning reeds. 21 Its breath sets coals ablaze, and flames dart from its mouth. 22 Strength resides in its neck; dismay goes before it. 23 The folds of its flesh are tightly joined; they are firm and immovable. 24 Its chest is hard as rock, hard as a lower millstone. 25 When it rises up, the mighty are terrified; they retreat before its thrashing. 26 The sword that reaches it has no effect, nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin. 27 Iron it treats like straw and bronze like rotten wood. 28 Arrows do not make it flee; sling stones are like chaff to it. 29 A club seems to it but a piece of straw; it laughs at the rattling of the lance. 30 Its undersides are jagged potsherds, leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing sledge. 31 It makes the depths churn like a boiling caldron and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment. 32 It leaves a glistening wake behind it; one would think the deep had white hair. 33 Nothing on earth is its equal—a creature without fear. 34 It looks down on all that are haughty; it is king over all that are proud.”
(Job 41:1–34 NIV)

  • What do you learn about God and his relationship to his creation (specifically Leviathan) from these verses?
  • As you read through the description of Leviathan, what creatures of your own experience (or the mythologies of our culture) come to mind? If you came face-to-face with this creature, what emotions do you think you would experience?

Real People, Real Places, Real Faith

As we heard in the opening lecture, many people view the book of Jonah as a children’s story, an allegory, or a popular legend. Why? Because there is a guy swallowed by a whale in here! So one of the questions that the book of Jonah requires is the obvious one: “Is that possible?” In this session’s lecture you will learn everything you ever wanted to know about large aquatic creatures that populate the Mediterranean Sea as we attempt to investigate this question via marine biology.

But we are also interested in the biblical character known as Leviathan. Leviathan is spoken of six times in the Old Testament: Job 3:8; 41:1–34; Amos 9:3; Psalm 74:13–23; Psalm 104:26; and Isaiah 27:1. Whereas in Job and the Psalms, Leviathan is understood as a beyond-belief creature that lives in the sea, and God is praised for having made something so amazing, in Isaiah 27:1, this same creature is transformed into a “tortuous (or twisted) serpent” who Yahweh must slay to bring peace to the planet. Most concur that this character (especially as described in Isaiah 27:1) emerges in part from the polytheistic mythology of Israel’s neighbors. The creature is most clearly described in the Ugaritic Baal cycle. Here Baal (the lord of Canaan) is understood to have slain Leviathan, “the fleeing serpent . . . the tyrant with the seven heads”; just as Yahweh will slay Leviathan at the end of all time in Isaiah 27:1. The language parallels between the two passages are too close to ignore. And when Psalm 74:13–14 is brought into play: “You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the [dragons] sea monsters on the waters” (ESV), it is obvious that there is overlap here. Yahweh is apparently doing battle with an evil serpent known to Israel’s broader world, just like Baal did.

So what is this monster doing in the book of Jonah? And why is he now the submissive Labrador Retriever of the Most High? I would argue that once again our biblical authors are making an argument for Yahweh’s supremacy over all the deities of their world. Just as Yahweh can command the sea to be quiet, he can whistle for Leviathan and Leviathan comes. Moreover, the Leviathan who is feared by all because of his violence, carefully swallows the prophet such that he does no harm. And rather than tearing Jonah to pieces as we would expect, gently delivers him to the shore so that the prophet can complete his calling. Essentially, what we hear from this passage from every angle is that Yahweh reigns supreme—over the sea, over Leviathan, and even over one very stubborn prophet.

Our People, Our Places, Our Faith

Like Jonah’s story, our story doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We are surrounded by circumstances and people and assumptions that are in constant conflict with our faith. As a result, attempting to be an obedient believer often leaves us swimming upstream. It also leaves us looking like the odd man out among our peers. The revelation of God’s character we call “the Bible” speaks of this reality regularly. It is nothing new that God’s people are living according to a different set of rules, answering to a different authority, building their lives on what appears to be an alien value system. And yet our God calls us (and Jonah) to trust him in the midst of his redefinition of the world we think we see. Much like the famous movie The Matrix, what we think we see is not necessarily what really is. Is Leviathan a monster of mythic proportions that will swallow us up if we take a false step? Or is he the lap dog of the Almighty, awaiting his instructions just like the rest of us? As you close down this study today, remind yourself that you, too, are a creature, and that the Creator has all things in hand. You cannot make one hair on your head black or white (Matt. 5:36) and you don’t have to. Let’s not spend our best energy worrying about the things we cannot control. Let’s take a lesson from Leviathan and simply come when we’re called.

This entry is an excerpt from The Epic of Eden: Jonah. Are you interested in a Bible study on the book of Jonah? In the book of Jonah we find a professional holy man, a lifer in the faith who is about to have the God he thinks he understands challenge him with an assignment that he can hardly get his brain around. In The Epic of Eden: Jonah, Dr. Sandra Richter takes us on a journey through Jonah’s life that leads us all to the place where we realize that our God is way bigger than we thought. Not only will we learn everything we ever wanted to know about the brutal Assyrians of Nineveh, ancient seafaring ships, and large aquatic creatures, but we will also be challenged with the same message that confronted Jonah. Are we willing to let God be God, to move us out of our comfort zones, and embrace a calling that might just take us to the edges of the world we know? Get Epic of Eden: Jonah from our store here.