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!” – Jonah 2:1-9 (ESV)
Rosemary Nixon writes:
In other stories we meet an ass more accustomed to recognizing God’s word than a prophet, birds serving as messengers of God, and lions being obedient to the heavenly messenger. In the book of Jonah the story-teller shows us a God who, in appointing the fish, the plant, the worm, and the wind, intends to remain in dialogue with his wayward creature, Jonah. In the depths of the fish’s belly, the belly of Sheol, Jonah is protected from the noise and clamor of all that had threatened him. His safe haven is not unlike the place he sought in the bowels of the ship, a place of refuge far away (he hoped) from the demands of the world and the call of God.
As we shall see, the wriggling prophet is not going to be let off the hook of God’s call. But might there be a reason why God chose a great fish to swallow him? Had he be rescued by a heavenly chariot, for example, such as the one in which Elijah had been taken to heaven, the wrong signal would have been given. We can see that Elijah’s circumstances at this point were entirely different from Jonah’s. The LORD could have appointed a great bird to transport him to dry land; instead he appointed a great fish. The LORD does not usually protect us from the consequences of our own choices and actions. In his faithfulness and graciousness towards us, Yahweh comes with us into the consequences of our choices in order to save us there. Jonah had chosen the sea as his escape route; it is there that the LORD awaits him. The narrator is careful to focus on Jonah’s command to be thrown headlong into the sea. His disobedience in the face of God’s call was guaranteed to propel him in a downward direction. This time, however, as if to indicate that his descent had been halted, he is not described as going ‘down’ but as being unceremoniously ‘swallowed’ by a mysterious fish. Jonah had lost the initiative and God had yet more cards to play. Jonah was to discover for himself the impossibility of escaping God’s presence. To learn this he needed to be in the place of human powerlessness, ultimately the place of death. Salvation is not, in the first instance, the LORD God taking us ‘out’ of our mess, but God meeting us ‘within’ it. Jonah will find salvation within his watery grave, for there, in the place which eloquently speaks of death, God will meet him.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 85
Q. 85. What doth God require of us that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us for sin?
A. To escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin, God requireth of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption.