17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow 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 fish’s belly.
2 And he said: “I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, And He answered me. “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice.
3 For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.
4 Then I said,`I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’
5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head.
6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God.
7 “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple.
8 “Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy.
9 But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.”
God knows how we will respond both to favorable as well as adverse conditions. Nothing takes Him by surprise; in fact, He allows things to happen far more often with the intent of showing us what’s inside of us. In his book “A Grief Observed,” C.S. Lewis wrote these words as he reflected on his grief in the loss of his wife:
“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.” Lewis, C. S. (2001). A Grief Observed. United Kingdom: HarperCollins, p. 52.
Today’s passage shows a quite different person as it comes to Jonah from the man we saw in chapter one. It’s a man held in the grasp of death, whose greatest concern in the book of Jonah tends to highlight his own preservation but here is also humbled before God. Compare how he responds to nearly dying with seeing people respond in repentance throughout the book and you may soon begin seeing that Jonah’s reluctance had much to do with the focus of his life: his life! This of all things on Jonah’s behalf was more than likely something God was working out of him in directly calling him to the task of preaching to the Ninevites (and the rest of this ordeal for that matter).
Let’s look at this passage positively, though, for the heart expressed in words shows a side of Jonah that has a relationship with God and reverence for Him. What we do when we come to very difficult circumstances says much about who we are, which is why Jonah’s prayer tells us more about him than simply his reluctance as well as his sulking at the end of the book.
What this book shows us is that not all of Jonah was out of sorts, but there were certainly parts of him that God was performing surgery on out of love for Jonah. It is inevitable for every believer that no matter the calling and positioning of our paths, we will have elements of our character that are being beautified as well as those painful places where character is being buffed out or idols of the heart are being removed. The path of transformation will always be a path of pleasure mixed with pain.
All of this being said, let’s take a moment to highlight a handful of points to be made about today’s passage:
1.There was no question that the events unfolding were from the Lord. Jonah knew God controlled the circumstances and even that (v.2) the Lord used affliction to move him to cry out. Jonah was unmoved and attempting to isolate himself from God in chapter one; in chapter two, he could clearly see God pulling him back into Himself. “All your waves and billows passed over me.” Think about that–Jonah recognized the calamity at hand not in isolation from God but in submission to Him. All things that come to pass, in the hands of God, are either determined or permitted but nothing happens outside of God’s sovereignty.
2. One of the marks of having a true relationship with God is a spiritual sensitivity. In saying that, what I refer to is the awareness that God is at work. It is quite possible to be a religious person but to completely lack spiritual sensitivity; in this “setting,” all Christian events happen as a matter of education and duty (not that that’s bad, but there’s more to it than just head knowledge and service). Spiritual sensitivity happens, for example, when we are confronted with sin and convicted or confronted with truth and gripped by it, and other happenings of the like. Really, though, it’s the awareness that God has caused the conviction, the gripping of truth and the circumstances that move us back into Him. Jesus says in John 10:27, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Consider spiritual sensitivity from the words of Jonah: he was highly sensitive to God in the belly of the fish.
3. The mercy of God is on great display in our text today. Mercy moved the storm; mercy sent the fish; mercy made it impossible for Jonah to not be thrown overboard. Mercy allowed Jonah to be swallowed whole and kept alive miraculously in order that repentance might take place in the most unlikely of places. Mercy moved Jonah to remember the Lord as his “soul fainted” (v. 7). Mercy also moved God to allow Jonah to be used even after he tried to abandon God and His plans.
4. Repentance is the heart of this portion of Jonah. Jonah did not just give lip service to God in hopes that God would bail him out. There was an awareness of his failure, an awareness of God’s righteousness and sovereignty, and a forsaking of his ways as he called upon the Lord. In a play on words, Jonah’s prayer in the belly of the fish was deep; in his most vulnerable of moments, Jonah prayed in a manner that reflected sound theology. God is found even in the moving of Jonah’s thoughts in this passage, for the things Jonah knew about God came to the surface of his mind in the depths of the sea. He was not alone and he knew it. Once again, let me tie mercy, #3, to repentance, #4. Repentance and mercy are deeply intertwined.
Paul writes in Romans 2:4, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” The goodness of God leads us to repentance; a true believer will look at their repentance and not pat themselves on the back, but look to God as the cause of their repentance before Him. In looking over Jonah 2, it would be very safe to say that Jonah, too, saw that he needed correction and that the correction that came was from the loving hand of God, to whom He submitted.
Remember that when God has us where He wants us, and He’s working upon us, the proper response is always worship!
I hope you have enjoyed this brief portion of Scripture; go over it again and just read through it, seeing if there’s anything else you might take note of. Jonah 2 is very applicable to gaining insight into repentance and whether we’ve truly done so, as well as God’s hand in the circumstances we face. Take a moment to thank Him for His goodness on a personal level, as well as the sensitivity to Himself that He gives in His grace.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
Blessings to you–
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.