The epic adventure of Jonah never disappoints. It continues to teach and challenge new generations of Followers on the themes of rebellion, repentance, grace, second-chances, and salvation - to name a few. It's the only place, as far as I know, that we have a documented prayer from the inside of a fish! Many circumstances are known to drive us to our knees, but Jonah's time in the fish trumps (no political reference intended :) them all.
For most of my life I viewed Jonah's days in the fish as his punishment for disobeying God. While there is some truth to that (if Jonah had obeyed he would not be in the fish), it is not the complete picture of God's handiwork in Jonah's life. If God had only been interested in punishing Jonah than He would have allowed him to drowned. But God saved him, a gracious response to Jonah's rebellious act.
Jonah's days in the fish were provision not punishment. Scripture records that God provided a great fish for Jonah. The fish was God's gracious provision for Jonah in the midst of his wayward run to Tarshish. God is famous for using a variety of places and situations to bring stillness to our lives. He does this to halt the madness and chaos and antics we are so prone to embrace. God loves us so much that He will, if necessary, put us in a jail cell or an empty house or a hospital room or a broken down car on the side of the road or a pigs' pen or the belly of a fish to stop us from resisting His pursuit of our souls. What we might deem as punishment, God has intended as provision. It's His way of looking us in the eye and saying, "Are you tired of running yet? If so, why don't you fall into my arms!"
Though the stench of the fish's belly was in Jonah's nostrils as he prayed, the smell of repentance was even stronger. God's presence has a way of transcending our circumstances, creating a greater hunger for Him than the things of this world. It's called the grace of God and is purposed to make us into the people we were created to be and for His glory.