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)
Doug Stuart writes:
God is sovereign in this chapter, as elsewhere in the book. He designates the fish. He effects by it the rescue celebrated in the psalm Jonah prays. He tells the fish to put Jonah ashore. Neither Jonah nor the fish had any control over events. And God has used His sovereignty to rescue a disobedient prophet! He will accomplish what He intends and His intention, it is becoming clear, is that Jonah should be taught a lesson about grace. If Jonah himself experienced deliverance from a deserved death, maybe then he will have some ability to commiserate with the citizens of the city and nation to whom he has been called to preach.
This chapter is, in a way, the happiest part of the story. Full of rescue and thanksgiving, miracle and praise, it allows Jonah to see that God’s determination to do good can mercifully benefit even those who deserve punishment. Consider only what the hearer/reader knows about the story so far, this time without reference to the remainder of the events as described in chaps. 3 and 4. Jonah has tried to disobey Yahweh’s word and yet has failed to get away from it. He has been committed to death yet has survived it. He was in an impossible predicament and has been rescued by completely unexpected, serendipitous means. Will not good now come? Will not the story end happily, with an obedient prophet, grateful to God for sparing his own life, preaching faithfully to Nineveh as it should have been all along? The story so far allows for just such an ending, and therefore the actual (contrary) ending is effectively heightened. Jonah’s stubborn resentment expressed in chapter 4 is all the more a warning to the audience not to do likewise. As a parable highlights by contrast an attitude or a practice so that the hearer, if he too shares that attitude or practice, is caught short by it, so Jonah’s situation does the same for the audience. He had every reason to empathize with Nineveh now. That he would later fail to be concerned for their situation is its own indictment on his stubborn, narrow nationalism.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 54
Q. 54. What is required in the third commandment?
A. The third commandment requireth the holy and reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, word and works.