This month at IndiAanya is Bible Book Focus Month! We are journeying through the book of Jonah in a series of posts.
This fairly short chapter (only 10 verses) is loaded with gold. Verse 1 sets the stage - Jonah is inside the belly of the fish.
As we see in the last verse of the previous chapter, Jonah had already been inside the fish for three days and three nights. ‘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.' (Jonah 1:17) It is only after that much time has elapsed, that he begins to pray.
‘Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly.' Jonah 2:1 [emphasis mine]
I find that ‘Then’ very interesting. It shows how we always wait until we’ve exhausted all our resources and strength before we humble ourselves and turn to God. This is human nature. It was true in Jonah’s time and it is true today more than 2700 years later. Yet, despite Jonah’s reluctance to seek God as soon as possible, the Lord is described as being ‘his’ God. It’s so comforting to know that God still associates Himself with us even when we don’t associate ourselves with Him.
The rest of the chapter is a lovely glimpse at what repentance looks like.
Jonah says that he cried out to God because he was in trouble. ‘He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry’. (Jonah 2:2)
He was in the worst place imaginable but he called out for help. And there are two assurances that this verse gives us: i) God heard his cry and ii) God answered him.
To me, those assurances are the strength I need when I’m faced with despair and hopelessness, when I know I’ve screwed up and made a mess. It is the knowledge that when I cry out to God in desperation, He will hear and He will answer.
Verses 3 – 6 describe all that Jonah is facing. The depths to which he has fallen. The terrifying life-threatening situation he is forced to endure. And he makes an important statement, ‘You hurled me into the depths…’ (v 3). Jonah knew that God was allowing these things to happen to him. He knew that all the horror he was facing had been orchestrated by God.
And that’s probably why it took him three days inside the dark, dank, smelly fish before he humbled himself enough to call out to God.
I can so relate to Jonah at this moment. I too, when faced with the depths of depravity, death, and unrelenting pain around me, find it hard to turn to God. I know that He is sovereign, and it confounds me that there is no respite, no light at the end of this tunnel. So, in my anger, I want to wallow in the pain. I don’t want to talk to God.
Finally, when Jonah is almost giving up on life itself, he turns to God.
‘When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple’. (v 7)
Jonah turned to God as a last resort. He had no more plans left, no more options. And so as a last-ditch effort, he cried out to God. The beauty is that God accepted even that graceless appeal and answered.
We don’t know what exactly that conversation between Jonah and God entailed, but we know that Jonah was transformed to a certain extent. In v 6(b) Jonah says, ‘…you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit’. And verses 8 and 9 express all of his renewed joy and enthusiasm. He realises that holding on to anything other than God is a recipe for disaster (v 8). Holding on to pride, independence, and self-sufficiency automatically implies that I’m not holding on the God, rather I’m turning my back on Him and the mercy and love He offers. Jonah recognises that he’s been walking away from his ‘only true love’ (v 8. The Message) and he repents by offering a sacrifice of praise.
I don’t think it was easy for Jonah (nor did it come naturally to him) to worship God with ‘shouts of grateful praise’ (v 9) in that slimy dungeon, but that was the sacrifice he brought to God. And repentance includes that necessary step of humbling ourselves enough to do what we wouldn’t normally do, to surrender, submit, and return to God. We have to reach that point of acknowledging that we cannot save ourselves, only God can. Ultimately, Jonah declares that salvation and deliverance belong to God alone (v 9).
We know that later on in the book, Jonah forgets this important lesson and doesn’t comprehend God’s grace and love for all. And I’m sure God knew that was how Jonah would react. Yet, He still relents and commands the fish to vomit Jonah out onto dry land (v 10). This chapter is a lovely reminder that God accepts our prayers and repentance despite knowing how fickle we are. He knows our vacillating emotions and our inconsistent faith, yet He hears us and answers us.
Thankfully, we worship a God not merely of second chances, but several chances. What a hope we have!