Jonah 2:1-10 ESV
Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, 2 saying, “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, 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 flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. 4 Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; Yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’ 5 The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head 6 at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. 7 When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. 8 Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. 9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!” 10 And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.
This is the second in a series of 16 sermons based on messages from the writing prophets. The prophets are like a gold mine. They are filled with precious treasure, but getting to that treasure takes some digging and a lot of hard work. To understand the message of a prophet, you have to know the background of the prophet and the people he spoke to. You also have to a reasonable grasp of world history to know when a prophecy has begun to be fulfilled. You also need to know the LORD because the messages from the prophets are meant to be understood and applied by believers whether they have been fulfilled or not.
I place Jonah’s prophecies early, which is why I place it during the first time period. I think he prophesied after the time of Elisha, but before the fall of Nineveh. This was a time when Nineveh posed less of a threat to Israel than it would later. From Nineveh’s standpoint, it was a time when they would be more inclined to listen to a message of deliverance from a prophet from Israel. The date was about 760 BC.
Jonah was a reluctant prophet. God had called him to go to Nineveh. He knew the LORD and he knew the message, and he knew his audience. His problem was he didn’t want to do what God wanted him to do. So, chapter 1 of Jonah tells us:
Jonah 1:3-17 NLT
But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the LORD. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the LORD by sailing to Tarshish. 4 But the LORD hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. 5 Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship. But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold. 6 So the captain went down after him. “How can you sleep at a time like this?” he shouted. “Get up and pray to your god! Maybe he will pay attention to us and spare our lives.” 7 Then the crew cast lots to see which of them had offended the gods and caused the terrible storm. When they did this, the lots identified Jonah as the culprit. 8 “Why has this awful storm come down on us?” they demanded. “Who are you? What is your line of work? What country are you from? What is your nationality?” 9 Jonah answered, “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” 10 The sailors were terrified when they heard this, for he had already told them he was running away from the LORD. “Oh, why did you do it?” they groaned. 11 And since the storm was getting worse all the time, they asked him, “What should we do to you to stop this storm?” 12 “Throw me into the sea,” Jonah said, “and it will become calm again. I know that this terrible storm is all my fault.” 13 Instead, the sailors rowed even harder to get the ship to the land. But the stormy sea was too violent for them, and they couldn’t make it. 14 Then they cried out to the LORD, Jonah’s God. “O LORD,” they pleaded, “don’t make us die for this man’s sin. And don’t hold us responsible for his death. O LORD, you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons.” 15 Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once! 16 The sailors were awestruck by the LORD’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him. 17 Now the LORD had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.
Jonah prophesied to the city of Nineveh which was a great distance North and East of Israel and Judah. He was from Gath Hepher near Nazareth in the Northern kingdom of Israel. He did have a message for Nineveh, but most of the messages of Jonah were to Jonah.
Jonah had to get to the point of death before he would surrender to the LORD’s will. Verse 7 says “As my life was slipping away, I remembered the LORD. And my earnest prayer went out to you in your holy Temple.” He remembered who God is. He remembered the call of God on his life. He knew that he had failed God. Jonah recognized in one brief lucid moment that his will was not supreme, that he was not sovereign. God is.
Jonah repented. Verse 2 records his prayer “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.” Sheol is the place where dead people go to await the resurrection. Jonah was in the belly of Sheol before he was in the belly of the whale. What Jonah was saying was that he was in the ocean, about to drown. That is when he found time to pray.
The whale was actually God’s answer to Jonah’s prayer. Jonah said that God answered him (2). He rejoiced that God chose to rescue him. He rejoiced that God was giving him the chance to return to the center of God’s will. People do not always get that chance. Sometimes disaster strikes and God does not provide a miracle to rescue us. But when he does, suddenly all those reasons you once had to escape from his will do not seem sound anymore. The correct response to the challenges God has place before you is to rejoice that God has given you life to face those challenges.
Three days in a fish gave Jonah the chance to recommit his life to doing the LORD’s will. He thought about the unbelievers in Nineveh who were trapped in slavery to idol worship. He realized that they did not have hope in God’s steadfast love like he did (8). He decided to go back to God’s temple and rededicate himself to serving the LORD as a prophet (4, 9).
Jonah’s story is real. What happened to him really happened. God allowed it to happen because he loved the people of Nineveh and wanted Jonah to preach to them. God also allowed it to happened because he loved Jonah, and wanted to call him back to himself. The message also speaks to you and me, when we decide to turn our back on God’s call for our lives.
In times of great distress, God is there with an answer.
LORD. Help us to serve you with unwavering commitment. In times when we are reluctant to follow you, save us from ourselves, and turn us around. Help us to surrender to your will.