17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. 2 1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. 2 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.
3 You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.
4 I said, ‘I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.’
5 The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.
7 “When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
8 “Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”
10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
(Jonah 1:17-2:10 NIV)
As a quick recap:
God calls Jonah – Jonah runs away.
God brings the storm to get Jonah’s attention – Jonah is still unrepentant.
Jonah tells the crew to throw him overboard to calm the storm – the crew follows God; Jonah does not.
As we begin today’s text, I began with the last verse of Chapter 1, as it is the first verse of Chapter 2 in the Hebrew text and it fits together well as a logical block of thought. As we read today’s text, we see 1:17 and 2:10 as bookends of the story, with 2:1 – 2:9 being Jonah’s prayer, the contents of the story.
Today, we’ll take a look at the text of the story; the next time, we’ll experience the story with Jonah.
In verse 2, we see Jonah crying out for help from the “realm of the dead”. The Hebrew word Jonah uses is “Sheol”, the place of the dead. And what happens? God hears Jonah and answers. Truly God is the God of the living and the dead!
In verse 3, Jonah acknowledges God’s judgment for his disobedience as he sinks beneath the waves. In verse 4, Jonah knows he has been expelled from God’s sight, but yet he still turns to the Lord for rescue, because he knows the power and goodness of God.
In verses 5 – 7, Jonah describes his descent into his watery grave. Just when Jonah felt like death’s door had slammed shut behind him, he realizes God’s rescue and redemption. Once again, Jonah prays to the Lord for help, as he knows the goodness and love of God.
In verses 8 – 9, Jonah confesses both his idolatry (in the form of self-reliance as he runs from God) as well as the idolatry of the sailors (as they prayed to their gods to no avail back in chapter 1). Both Jonah and the sailors turned to the One True God, the God of Israel, who heard their pleas and rescued both Jonah and the sailors.
Jonah vows to sacrifice to the Lord when he gets out of the fish’s belly; for now, Jonah will offer a sacrifice of praise with his voice. Just as the sailors experienced a miracle above the sea, Jonah experienced a miracle below the sea. God has clearly been their rescuer, and in thanksgiving, both Jonah and the sailors make vows to the Lord.
Three days and three nights later, God commands the fish to swim to shore and expel its indigestible stomach contents onto the shore. The fish is relieved of its sour stomach, and Jonah is restored to life once again. Both feel much better.
There are two schools of thought for those who believe that the story of Jonah is real.
One school of thought says that Jonah was alive in the belly of the fish for three days. This is entirely plausible, as in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, there were documented cases of men falling overboard and being swallowed by great sea creatures (whales and sharks). The fishing boats pursued and captured these great sea creatures after a couple of days, and found their shipmates unconscious but still alive in the belly of these creatures. They were hospitalized and later restored to full health.
Another school of thought is that Jonah died in the belly of the fish. All the talk in Jonah’s prayer is real – he did go to Sheol, the place of the dead and the experience was real. And that means that God raised Jonah from the dead.
I don’t have a particular position on these two schools of thought – either is plausible. The only question I have – which one brings God the most glory?
In today’s text, we see the meta-narrative of God’s story, the “big picture” of what God has done, is doing, and will do: Creation, the fall (sin), redemption, and restoration.
May we have confidence that what God has done in the larger story, He is actively doing in our life and the lives of those around us, even when we run away from what God is calling us to be and to do.