In-person worship services will be held as scheduled this Sunday. Please use discretion when determining whether roads are safe for your personal travel.
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1 Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish:
2 “I called out to the LORD in my distress, and he answered me.
From the belly of the underworld [Hebrew Sheol] I cried out for help;
you have heard my voice.
3 You had cast me into the depths in the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounds me.
All your strong waves and rushing water passed over me.
4 So I said, ‘I have been driven away from your sight.
Will I ever again look on your holy temple?
5 Waters have grasped me to the point of death;
the deep surrounds me.
Seaweed is wrapped around my head
6 at the base of the undersea mountains.
I have sunk down to the underworld;
its bars held me with no end in sight.
But you brought me out of the pit.’
7 When my endurance [Endurance here renders the same Hebrew word as life in 1:14 and death in 2:5] was weakening,
I remembered the LORD,
and my prayer came to you,
to your holy temple.
8 Those deceived by worthless things lose their chance for mercy.
9 But me, I will offer a sacrifice to you with a voice of thanks.
That which I have promised, I will pay.
Deliverance belongs to the LORD!”
10 Then the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto the dry land.
We sometimes debate if a person could survive three days in a “great fish” (Hebrew had no word for “whale”). But Jonah knew a person couldn’t survive three days in the storm-tossed Mediterranean, so he saw the fish as a miraculous rescue from death! “Sheol…(v. 2) is the general term for the netherworld—the abode of the dead. Tehom (“deep,” v. 5) is a reference to the primordial waters of the chaos sea….shahat (“pit,” v. 6) is given as yet another synonym for the netherworld.” *
Lord Jesus, keep me willing to pray “sorry” when I mess up, “help” when I face problems beyond my strength, and yes, “thank you” when you once again walk with me. Amen.
It’s hard to imagine a place in life where getting swallowed by a giant fish would be a step up. But that’s kind of the point here: Jonah was at that place. He was in such a hopeless situation that the mere fact that he was still alive was a small miracle worthy of praise.
I’m reminded of a story of the Piper Alpha, an oil platform in the North Sea in 1988. Conditions on that platform were brutal. The cold alone was dangerous, but a plunge into that icy water below was almost certainly a death sentence. In what was later determined to be a massive series of mistakes, the platform caught fire. Workers evacuated, but one unlucky worker found himself with a fire between him and the evacuation route. He knew when the fire reached the oil tanks, there would be a massive explosion, and that would be his death. Given the choice between certain death and nearly certain death, he did the unthinkable: he jumped into the icy water, where he was fortunately rescued.
In organizational management, this is known as a platform fire. When an organization has avoided doing something because it’s too risky, but then the situation changes and that super-risky endeavor becomes the only chance for success, that organization must adapt quickly or die. It’s a concept that I had to learn and understand as a manager, but I think it applies to all of us just as well.
Jonah saw going to Nineveh much like the icy waters around the Piper Alpha: nearly certain death. To be fair, this was a pretty realistic assessment—the Assyrians were not known for their friendliness. If his life continued as normal, this would have been a dangerous move. But in trying to avoid this situation, Jonah encountered a platform fire, and the unthinkable—being swallowed by a great beast and delivered to the place he was trying to avoid—became his only chance for survival.
In organizational management, the goal, of course, is not to have a platform fire. We want to see the need for vital change before it becomes an emergency. But hindsight is 20/20, and these things aren’t always easy to spot, even for professionals. They’re especially hard to spot when we don’t want them to be true. Sometimes change is easy, but sometimes it can feel impossible, and when it becomes that overwhelming to consider, it’s much easier to believe that it’s simply an objectively bad idea rather than just tough and scary. As a society, we tend to devalue emotional decisions, but every decision is an emotional decision, and we have to acknowledge the role that our emotions play in the decisions we make.
Anyway, all that to say that sometimes change is easy and sometimes it’s not; sometimes change is necessary and sometimes it’s not; sometimes change is obvious and sometimes it’s not; but being willing to consider the scariest but ultimately necessary opportunities for change is a good way to avoid a platform fire like that giant fish. If we ignore change solely because the cost is too great, we may find ourselves paying that cost whether we’re ready for it or not.
* NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook (Kindle Locations 206840-206847). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
** John Goldingay, Daniel and The Twelve Prophets for Everyone. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016, p. 155. *** Ibid