This week we are walking through Jonah 2. Please read this chapter three times slowly – once from the point-of-view of Jonah, once from your own point-of-view, and a final time from the point-of-view of Jesus on Holy Saturday (the day between Good Friday and Easter).
In most telling’s of Jonah, the fish plays a central role. No children’s bible is complete without the story of “Jonah and the Whale.” The fish, however, has only a few brief mentions in 1:17, 2:1, and 2:10. The Hebrew used, dag, is a very generic word for fish and can almost mean any type of sea creature.
The importance of the fish lies in its purpose. God appointed the fish for a specific purpose. (1:17). As we looked at last week, Jonah flees from God’s presence and his life becomes tempestuous and chaotic. And eventually, the tempest and the chaos completely overwhelm him. But God appoints the fish for Jonah’s salvation.
It is in the fish in which Jonah finds his salvation. Jonah’s salvation, however, is not one of immediate restoration. Jonah is in the belly of the fish at the bottom of the sea. The chaos has ceased and peace has now come to Jonah, but he is still in darkness and his future is still uncertain.
As we imagine Jonah in the belly of the fish at the bottom of the ocean, think of those times and with those people that you have found refuge from the chaos and the tempest. A refuge is not a place of restoration and it may not even be a place of light, but it is a place of calm and of peace. Think about when you have been in the belly of the fish, and also think about when you may have been a fish to others. In many ways, Tuesday night is that place for me.
For the first time, the story tells us that Jonah prays. (2:2). Prayer is entering into a relationship with God, and we readily see this here. In the first line of the prayer, Jonah says “I called to the Lord, out of my distress and he answered me.” Notice that in Jonah’s cry to be rescued, he speaks of God in the third person. But once Jonah recognizes that God hears his voice, he switches to the second-person “you.” Prayer has established this personal relationship.
Our story begins with Jonah believing that he can physically run away from God, and yet Jonah discovers God’s presence at the very nadir of existence. In the very belly of Sheol (the place of the dead) (v.2) whose very gates closed behind him (v.6), God is still there. Like the psalmist, Jonah discovers that no matter where he goes, God is present. Psalm 139:7-11. We can almost hear the surprise in his voice.
As you read Jonah’s prayer, notice the absence of contrition. This is not a prayer of repentance like we see in Psalm 51 or the Prayer of Manasseh. Rather it is a prayer of thanksgiving for God rescuing him from death as we might see in Psalm 18. Nowhere in his prayer does Jonah ever acknowledge why he found himself in his predicament. Also, Jonah still appears to harbor a general disdain for non-Jews (v.8) and appears to understand his only obligation to God as worshipping at the Temple and offering sacrifices. (vv.4, 9). Despite Jonah’s failure to acknowledge his sin, God still redeems him from death.
As we read through Jonah’s prayer, it is a prayer that we can make our own. This prayer of deliverance and thanksgiving is said in the space between the chaos ending and restoration being obtained. When Jonah gives thanks to God, he is still in the darkness of the belly of the fish. The fish only regurgitates Jonah after the prayer has been completed. Jonah prays in anticipation of his salvation. This is our existence as well and why we too can give thanks for our anticipated salvation.
Where can I go then from your Spirit? *Psalm 139:6-8
where can I flee from your presence?
If I climb up to heaven, you are there; *
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
If I take the wings of the morning *
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there your hand will lead me *