The story of Jonah and the whale makes a great children's book, but it is much more than that. It is a story about Jonah and his heart toward the Lord. For Jonah, "whale belly wisdom" was not enough to change his heart to reflect God's character.
The story opens with the Lord asking Jonah to go to Nineveh to deliver a message of judgment over the city. Jonah refuses because he knows God's heart, and knows that if Nineveh would repent, God would relent concerning the calamity. This possibility did not meet with Jonah's approval.
Jonah is a picture of a prophet who hears from God, but does not have God's heart. He is an angry man who wants judgment, not mercy. Because Jonah could not agree with the Lord's way of compassion, grace, abundant love, and mercy, he took offense at God and fled from His presence - which brought Jonah into the belly of the whale.
In the belly of the whale, Jonah begins to reflect on God's nature. He realizes that his own strong will is a vain idol, so he changes his mind and repents, and the whale spits him up unto the dry land.
As the Lord speaks to him a second time, Jonah now gets another chance to be God's messenger with God's heart. However, even though Jonah appealed to God's mercy for himself in the belly of the whale, he is again offended at God for relenting concerning the calamity that was foretold for Nineveh. Jonah is "displeased" and "angry" that God spares Nineveh. The very salvation that Jonah had prayed to the Lord for, for himself, is the very thing he wanted God to withhold from the city he wanted to see destroyed.
Poor Jonah! On both occasions that the Lord wanted to use him as His messenger, Jonah blew it. "Whale belly wisdom" was not enough. The man who had heard from God refused to obey because of the hardness of his own heart. When he finally did deliver the message and the city repented, Jonah took offense, was angry, and felt sorry for himself.
Finally in one last attempt to reach Jonah, God comforts him with a shade plant as he is sitting looking over the city, waiting to see what would happen to it. Jonah was very happy about the plant, but the next day God destroyed the plant and Jonah became faint because of the scorching heat and begged to die. He was angry about the plant, and felt he had good reason to be angry with God, because of the plant's destruction. Jonah had compassion for himself and for the plant, but no compassion for the people who lived in Nineveh.
Jonah's last recorded words were, "I have good reason to be angry, even unto death." His judgments, offenses, self-righteousness, and self-pity are in sharp contrast to the spirit and words of Jesus who also spoke to a city. "Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent here. How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wing, and you were unwilling."(Mt. 23:37) Jesus shows the compassion, grace, and mercy of the Father for those He must correct and judge. The Lord showed Jonah his own need for mercy in the belly of the whale, hopefully now Jonah would have God's heart of mercy for this city as well.
Jonah never understood the heart and sovereignty of God, and never saw Nineveh from God's perspective. "Whale belly wisdom" saved Jonah, but it didn't change him. He missed the whole point of being a messenger from God because he really did not understand the God of the message.
I wonder how many of us also resent God's loving and using the very people we do not approve of. Do we, like Jonah, become angry with God because He does not do things our way? God does not need to ask for our approval because He is God. It is up to Him whether or not He will spit us out of the belly of the whale unto dry land and give us a second chance. Even though many of us have spent three days in the belly of the whale ourselves, "whale belly wisdom" is not enough. We are being challenged to cry out to our merciful Heavenly Father not only for our own rescue, but also for the rescue of our own wicked cities.
Help us Father as we hear from you, to obey and speak Your word in love with Your heart of compassion, grace, and mercy. Amen.