And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying,
“I called out to the LORD, out of my distress,
and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.
For you cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
yet I shall again look
upon your holy temple.’
The waters closed in over me to take my life;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
O LORD my God.
When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the LORD,
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.
But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the LORD!”
And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. – Jonah 1:17-2:10 (ESV)
O. Palmer Robertson writes:
Try to imagine the terrors of being hurled from the deck of a ship into those massive, swirling waves. What would it be like to be pounded to the verge of unconsciousness while being submerged into the salty sea? Then you awaken in pitch blackness, in the slimy pit of the fish’s belly. You are heaved back and forth by the perpetual motion of the great sea creature. You know yourself to be among the damned at the bottom of the abyss, dwelling in outer darkness. Jonah had wanted to escape the presence of God. Now he experienced a slight taste of the fulfillment of his wish.
Having realized his situation, what does Jonah do? He recognizes that he has been banished from the presence of God. But he nonetheless turns to God’s most holy place.
What boldness! What audacity! Cannot he see that he is totally unworthy to approach the holy place of the LORD? Doesn’t the judgment of God on his life indicate that he ought to turn inward to himself rather than outward to the LORD?
If a sinning, selfish, loveless, disobedient servant of the LORD under the Old Testament has such boldness in approaching the very God he has offended, how much more should you approach the throne of grace with boldness? When you are suffering severe chastisement from the LORD, admit your wrong and return to Him. There you must leave your case. The last thing you want to do is turn inward on yourself in despair. Look up! Look far, far away to the dwelling-place of the LORD. Apply to the objective benefits that can be found in His sovereign mercy alone. …
Jonah’s look of hope from the pit has a very specific object. It is not God in the abstract to which he looks. It is not to the calculated odds that his fortunes will turn. It is to the holy temple of the LORD that he looks. During Jonah’s earlier ministry in the days of Jeroboam II, the northern kingdom had expanded its holdings back to the borders of the days of Solomon. But Jonah was wise enough not to equate material prosperity with acceptability by God. He looked not to Samaria, but to the temple in Jerusalem, the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah. There he saw the place of his hope.
Jonah knew of the sacrifices being offered in Jerusalem. Although he was a prophet of the northern kingdom, he knew that his hope was at the altar of that one place on earth designated by God for the reconciliation of sinners to himself.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 49
Q. 49. Which is the second commandment?
A. The second commandment is, Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.