By Dr. Mark Scott
God is so high that he can help us when we feel so low. In fact only God can help us when we are in what John Bunyan called the “slough of despond” (Pilgrim’s Progress). The preserving love of God is what came to the rescue of Jonah at his literal and figurative lowest point in life. Jonah 2 gives voice to Jonah’s prayerful thoughts from inside the fish.
Earnest prayer is often borne in desperation. When Peter was sinking he prayed, “Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30). When Simon the sorcerer had backslidden he said, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me” (Acts 8:24). Even when Jesus was in Gethsemane, “he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears” (Hebrews 5:7). When earnest prayer meets a gracious God, the result is preserving love.
God Took Me Down
Jonah recognized that God was totally justified in bringing judgment upon him. He knew that he deserved death for his disobedience of running from his Nineveh commission. The parallelism in his poetry when he later wrote about the experience is obvious. He was in distress because he was in the deep in the realm of the dead (the grave). He called to the Lord, and he called for help. God answered him and listened to his cry.
Jonah connected the dots between what the sailors did to him and God punishing him. He acknowledged that, at the end of the day, God was really the one who hurled him into the depths. Verse 3 is terribly descriptive. When we read it we can actually see Jonah sinking into the Mediterranean Sea. As he plunged into the very heart of the seas the currents, waves, and breakers really did a number on him. Verses 5 and 6 are even more descriptive. The waters engulfed him to the point that seaweed was wrapped around his head. Yuck! He sank so low he was aware of the roots of the mountains. He felt truly trapped—no escape—were it not for preserving love.
Sometimes other people sin, and that sin has negative consequences for us. But sometimes we have no one to blame for our plight but ourselves. Jonah finally got to the point of emotionally owning his own sin. He stated, I have been banished from God’s sight. He felt God’s judgment on his life. However, he recalled this terrible experience later. The love of God had preserved him. So he had the courage to pray, “Yet” (see also Habakkuk 3:18). Yet I will look again toward your holy temple.
God Brought Me Up
In contrast to Jonah’s sin is God’s rescue. Notice the phrase, But you, Lord my God. Jonah may not have fully appreciated the wide embrace of God (see chapter 4). But he did speak in gratitude and praise for God’s answer to his prayer for deliverance. He pictured this rescue as a resurrection of sorts (see Matthew 12:40). God brought his life up from the pit (also Psalm 30:3).
In verse 7 Jonah was either carrying himself a bit strong (boasting on his dynamic prayer life) or he was admitting that he had only a prayer between himself and death. It is probably the latter. Jonah’s life was ebbing away. He really thought he was going to die. But he remembered to pray. He took his concern to the highest court of Heaven (temple here means Heaven, as opposed to verse 4, where it probably refers to the literal Jerusalem temple).
Verses 8 and 9 could also be a bit grandiose. But taken at face value they need not be interpreted to put Jonah in a bad light. He knew that idol worshippers turned from God. While Jonah ran from God, he still worshipped Yahweh. And as a worshipper of Yahweh, he would offer shouts of grateful praise while sacrificing to God. In addition to his sacrifice he would fulfill what he vowed (keeping his word with maybe a thank offering). Finally he burst into a bold declaration: Salvation comes from the Lord. This declaration is really the rhetorical and theological centerpiece of the book of Jonah. Nineveh needed that. Israel needed that. Jonah needed that.
Dr. Barry Black, current United States Senate Chaplain, said concerning verse 10, “Even a large fish can’t stand a bellyaching preacher.” Preserving love gave Jonah another chance. Would he make good on it?
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.