A Whale of a Tale

“Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (John 1:17).

On June 12, 2021, Fox News Flash broke the story of a Massachusetts lobster diver who survived being swallowed whole by a whale. On Friday, June 11, 2021, Michael Packard, 56, of Wellfleet, was brought to a Cape Cod hospital following his encounter with a whale. When interviewed by WBZ-TV, Packard said he was 45 feet deep in the waters off Provincetown when the incident occurred. Suddenly, he found him totally engulfed by a sea creature. “I felt this huge shove and the next thing I knew it was completely black.” Packard thought he was going to die. Then, the whale began shaking its head. The whale surfaced and ejected him.  The whale “spit me out”, said Packard, who escaped with bruises but no broken bones.

When Jooke Robbins, director of Humpback Whale Studies at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown was asked about the incident he commented that, “Based on what was described, this would have to be a mistake and an accident on the part of the humpback.” Experts agree that humpback whales are not aggressive animals, and humans, fortunately, are not part of their diet. This whale of a tale appears to be documented by Josiah Mayo, Packard’s mate on that day, a medical report, with photos, and Captain Joe Francis, who was leading a fishing charter nearby. He testifies that he saw “Mike come flying out of the water, feet first, with his flippers on and land back in the water.”

The temptation will come for some Christians who come across this story to go to their non-Christian friends with evidence that the idea of a person being swallowed by a whale, surviving inside that watery tomb, and being spit, out confirms the Biblical narrative about Jonah and his experience with a great fish which God had prepared for him. Josh Mcdowell would say that it is evidence that demands a verdict.

While these anecdotal stories are fun to discuss, for the true believer in God, in Christ, and in the Bible, they are not necessary for the Christian is to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). God has spoken, that settles the matter whether or not a particular person believes. It is enough to read that Jesus believed the story of Jonah and the whale, and used it as a sign of His own death, burial, and resurrection.

When the scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus one day demanding a sign from Him to authenticate His ministry and message, Jesus “answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: 40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:39-40).

The Biblical story of Jonah is not an interesting anecdote to chuckle over, or a debate for maritime scholars, or a challenge to incredulity. The Biblical story of Jonah is a story of God’s redeeming love, mercy, and grace. What does Jonah have to say about his experience? “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9).

To date, Michael Packard has no gospel message to give to people. He does have an amazing experience to share. In contrast, Jonah’s experience is designed to lead people to placing their faith in God, and to understand, salvation is of the Lord.

For those who need a sign on which to base their faith, Jesus said in essence, “Look to Jonah. Consider the man who survived being swallowed by a great fish, and then consider my death, my burial, and my resurrection.” May God help you to do that today. Go now, and read, or reread the Biblical story of Jonah.

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