Jonah, chapter 2
This week at King of Grace we are continuing our study of the book of Jonah. In chapter 1 we saw Jonah asleep at the wheel, headed down, down, down in his flight from God. But we also saw God’s merciful pursuit of Jonah, trying to wake him up.
In chapter 2 we find out that it worked! Finally Jonah is awake and praying to his God. The literary style changes in this chapter from narrative story-telling to poetry. The language of poetry isn’t very useful to make an argument, but it is ideally suited to reveal character. Chapter 2 is an invitation to the reader to participate in Jonah’s experience of prayer in the midst of suffering. Jonah didn’t know it, but God was already bringing him back to life in the midst of his death.
God foiled Jonah’s plans to escape Nineveh by providing a strange, watery tomb for him—the stomach of a large fish. Under normal circumstances this would mean certain death, but in this story everything is upside down. Jonah’s submarine death became his passage back to life. Cramped within the stomach of the beast, Jonah uttered a prayer. He never technically said that he was sorry, but he did thank God for not abandoning him and promised that he would obey his God from that point on, no matter what. God’s response was comical, the fish vomited Jonah out back onto dry land.
Jonah’s prayer wasn’t perfect; his repentance was shallow and he didn’t seem to understand the depths of his sin. But God has never told us that our prayers must be perfect before we can come to him. In fact, the Holy Spirit is there to help us in all those circumstances when we don’t know the words that we should use (Romans 8:26). Jonah cried out to God in his emotion and grief, and looked to the hotspot of God’s presence among the people in his holy temple.
That temple in Jerusalem is long gone today, but the hotspot of God’s presence is still available to us in the person of Jesus, who said, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19). He was speaking of his human body, just as he also did when he said, “For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights” (Matthew 12:40). There’s no further rebellion than killing God himself. Yet somehow, the vehicle of death became a bizarre instrument of grace. And Jesus didn’t just make his grave nauseous so that he was vomited out, Jesus swallowed death itself! Truly salvation comes only from the Lord.