The Runaway (Part Two)
Please read Jonah 2 in your favorite Bible, then you'll be set up to read this article.
In an article posted to Guideposts.com a year ago, North Dakotan Raylene Nickel wrote her testimony of answered prayer. I want to share the highlights with you: “Three weeks into this time of social distancing and my emotions were melting down.
“Since my husband John’s death from cancer seven years ago. How I longed for John’s companionship, his hardy strength and clear-headed wisdom. “Lord, please let me hear his voice!” I said out loud during my morning prayer time. It was an unusually bold prayer. Was it presumptuous to ask for something so direct?
“I passed the room where John had kept his own desk and saw that the two-foot rustic cross on his desk had somehow fallen facedown. I went in to set the cross back in place.
“I noticed some papers on the floor, which was odd because I knew those papers hadn’t been there before. Maybe they slipped off when the cross fell. Six yellowed sheets were filled with John’s scrawl.
“I rushed downstairs to the dining room to lay the pages on the table and decipher John’s writing, which was never easy to read. I sat at the table with these tangible memories of my husband spread before me.
“The more I read, the more peaceful I felt. Here in these pages was the voice I had been longing to hear. God had answered my prayer in his own time and way.”
This lady’s prayer was answered by a simple but unexpected means that had a profound effect on her ability to endure the pandemic. She turned to God and prayed boldly in the extremity of her feelings, and He answered with words of comfort direct from the heart of her dead husband! May we pray as boldly & be answered as sweetly.
Desperate times require faithful prayers.
1. In desperation Jonah turned to God. (2:1-7)
While he was stuck inside the fish, Jonah prayed. As it is expressed in the past tense, Jonah wrote or spoke later about his experience in the fish. Jonah’s poem/song artfully expresses both his desperation and his confidence in God.
His desperation is indicated in the various expressions he used to describe his situation.
First, the GRAVE. In verse two he wrote about his DISTRESS…FROM THE DEPTHS OF THE GRAVE. The Jews believed the dead existed in a twilight kind of state, awaiting the coming of the Messiah in a place called Sheol. Does this imply Jonah died in the belly of the GREAT FISH? That is unlikely. A more likely explanation is that as this is a poem, he used poetic license to show how desperate his situation had become. In verse six the references TO THE ROOTS OF THE MOUNTAINS and THE EARTH having BARRED him IN FOREVER and THE PIT are parallel statements, also describing a deep hole in the ground.
Second, in verse three, the deeps of the sea: INTO THE DEEP, INTO THE VERY HEART OF THE SEAS, THE CURRENTS SWIRLED ABOUT ME; ALL YOUR WAVES AND BREAKERS SWEPT OVER ME (this last phrase also appears in Psalm 42:7, a similar kind of song). Jonah clearly understood this calamity was God’s doing. This imagery is picked up again in verse five: THE ENGULFING WATERS THREATENED ME, THE DEEP SURROUNDED ME; SEAWEED CIRCLED MY HEAD. Where the GRAVE is an image of being buried under the earth, these references to deep waters are references to being “buried” underwater.
Related to this image of deep waters, verses three and five indicate that Jonah feared drowning. It may seem strange to think of it this way, but the fact is that the GREAT FISH saved Jonah from drowning! Miraculously, the prophet was preserved in the fish and thereby not saved from the water only to become “fish food,” but as God’s means of getting him where God wanted Jonah to be.
Third, in verse four Jonah indicated he feared isolation from God: he felt he had BEEN BANISHED FROM God’s SIGHT. This is an ironic contrast to 1:3, where he wanted to FLEE FROM THE LORD! This phrase describes Jonah’s feelings, not a theological reality; he felt isolation from God even though God was with him.
Jonah’s situation was hopeless from a human point of view; it would have been easy to give in to panic and despair. To his eternal credit, Jonah’s confidence was in God, and so he turned to prayer instead of despair. This poem or song is a description of his prayer more than a quotation of it.
In verse four Jonah wrote, YET I WILL LOOK AGAIN TOWARD YOUR TEMPLE. This is probably not a reference to the temple in Jerusalem but is a figure of speech for God’s presence and Jonah’s determination to be in God’s presence by means of prayer. The phrases I CALLED TO THE LORD and I CALLED FOR HELP (v. 2) are clearly indicative of prayer.
Looking back on the harrowing experience, Jonah was grateful God BROUGHT MY LIFE UP FROM THE PIT (6). The PIT is another reference to Sheol.
You can understand how being in the belly of the GREAT FISH would feel like being buried alive.
Jonah held no doubts that God heard his prayers. In verse seven he testified, MY PRAYER ROSE TO YOU, TO YOUR HOLY TEMPLE (v. 7). In Revelation 8:3-5, John used similar imagery to describe the prayers of the saints: there the prayers of the saints rose to God as the smoke of incense rises. Looking back at his time in the whale, Jonah was confident God heard his prayers: YOU LISTENED TO MY CRY and that HE ANSWERED them (v. 2).
2. Applications of Jonah’s faith. (2:8-9)
#1 = Idol-worship is a forfeiture of GRACE (v. 8) because they are WORTHLESS (Psalm 31:6). We’re not used to seeing the word GRACE in the Old Testament, so this verse stands out on that basis alone. This reminds us of 1:5, where the sailors on the boat were all praying to their gods for deliverance from the storm but got none. They were only saved when Jonah finally acted in obedience to God.
#2 = The words THANKSGIVING and SACRIFICE, and the reference to keeping one’s vows in verse nine remind us of the reaction of the sailors aboard the ship when the sea became CALM (1:16). At that moment, they became believers and accepting the Lord’s SALVATION (v. 9).
3. Outcomes of Jonah’s faith. (2:10)
The immediate outcome was that the GREAT FISH exceeded “expectorations.” That is, it spit Jonah out on the beach. It was a unique method of transport God employed to put Jonah exactly where He wanted him.
Nineveh was an inland city, so we should not picture Jonah as having landed just outside the city gates. In fact, it would be physically impossible for the fish to transport Jonah from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf in THREE DAYS AND NIGHTS (1:17). We are not told where Jonah was deposited, only that it was DRY LAND. The fish may have taken the prophet back to Joppa, where he had boarded the boat in the first place.
As a result of this experience, Jonah became obedient to God and went to Nineveh. At Nineveh, Jonah exceeded his own expectations as we shall see in chapter three - next time.
Desperate times require faithful prayers.
Jonah’s desperate prayers are expressed in this poem/song of worship. The prophet used a lot of images to describe his time within the fish: the GRAVE, the DEEP, the depths of the EARTH, the PIT. Jonah admitted his disobedience had got him in “deep trouble.” Indeed, he believed his life was EBBING AWAY, yet another reference to the sea.
But then he cried out to God. In his prayer he expressed both the desperation of his situation and his firm expectation to see God and be saved.
His miraculous experience confirmed Jonah’s faith in the one true God and resulted in his deliverance. It not only got him physically back to where he needed to be, but it also got him spiritually to where he needed to be.
In chapter two, Jonah serves us as a good role model. We should pray always, but especially when difficulties arise. As troubles pile up, we need to maintain our focus on God’s presence and His promises. Both are perfectly reliable. Trusting in Him is the only way we can be saved.
Zondervan Bible Commentary, One-volume Illustrated Edition, Jonah, Michael C. Griffiths
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, Jonah, H.L. Ellison