Down, But Not Out (Jonah 1:17-2:10)

How many times have you disobeyed the Lord and not received what you deserved? I am sure that if we all think long and hard, we will be amazed that we are still here! Why is that? God is merciful and gracious. There are many things that we have done that removed us from the pathway of obedience. We know what His Word says, but we selfishly reject it. Such acts of rebellion (both private or public) against God’s Word are damaging and can cause great devastation. When we deviate from God’s will it robs us of joy in the Lord and opportunity to be faithful and glorify His magnificence.

If we have miserably failed in living according to God’s will, what should our next steps be? Instead of becoming despondent or moving in a direction of deeper depravity, as children of God we must confess our sin to the Lord, seek His forgiveness and repent from our sin. It is then we will know the joy and freedom that repentance brings (cf. 1 John 1:9). The fact that the Lord has provided you an opportunity to know the seriousness of your sin and the occasion to seek His forgiveness reveals His wondrous grace and mercy toward you! He would be just in simply punishing us on the spot if he so desired.

This reminds me of Jonah. In my last message we learnt that due to his reluctance and rebellion, Jonah ran away from God’s will. Despite his selfish and rebellious act of running away from God, the Lord chased him and got his attention. The Lord sovereignly prepared a great fish to swallow him up (1:17). It was in the depths of the sea creature’s belly that Jonah saw the error of his way. He confessed his sin and repented. Despite his disobedience, in a merciful and miraculous way “the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land” (2:10). God then provided Jonah with another opportunity to obey Him (cf. 3:1-2). This says a lot concerning the character of God. What mercy and grace on display!

Notice that this section starts and ends with reference to God’s sovereign control of the situation. We read in 1:17, “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah” and in 2:10 “And the Lord spoke to the fish”. Let us be clear, this was a miracle. That is to say, the only explanation for what we read here is the supernatural hand of God.

In chapter 2 Jonah finds himself in a very low place and it is at this place where he turns to the Lord in prayer. An important observation to make as you examine this prayer of Jonah is that it is filled with Scripture. Jonah’s prayer is a passionate prayer that is a compilation of references from at least 10 different Psalms and other portions of Scripture. This tells me that he knew the Word of God and hid it in his heart. There is a very important lesson here concerning the importance of reading and internalizing the Word of God. When difficult times come, you are able to draw upon the Word of God for comfort and correction.

As we consider the prayer of Jonah, there are two characteristics of this prayer I would like for you to see: Dependence on God (2:2-6a) and Devotion to God (2:6b-9). These two should characterize all prayer.

1. DEPENDENCE ON GOD (2:2-6a)

In the first part of this prayer we see Jonah’s dependence on God. When it comes to prayer, this is an essential element. In-fact, a Christian who does not pray is living a prideful life. If we are not coming before the Lord and seeking His help in all that we do, clearly we think that we do not need Him. Neglect of prayer is prideful and detrimental to our spiritual walk. By means of God’s corrective hand, Jonah has come to the point where he depends on the Lord in prayer. Consider the first part of this 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.
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.
Then I said, “I am driven away from your sight;
yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.”
The waters closed in over me to take my life;
the deep surrounded me; 
weeds were wrapped about my head    at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever (2:2-6a)

 

Jonah’s dependence on God is first demonstrated with the words, “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress” (2:2a). When Jonah was humbled and all was helpless he prayed to the Lord. The words “out of the belly of Sheol I cried” (2:2b) reveal his near death experience. Despite the fact that the sailors threw him into the water, he understood that it was ultimately the Lord who did this (2:3). Notice that in the midst of this scary, humbling and dark time, Jonah says, “yet I shall again look upon your holy temple” (2:4b). This reveals a complete change (though not a perfect change) in Jonah. He previously attempted to flee from … now he is looking to the Lord.

2. DEVOTION TO GOD (2:6b-9)

Half way through verse 6, the prayer changes from dependence to devotion. It is evident that Jonah has seen the sinfulness of his actions, and he praises God for the preservation of his life. He says,

yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.
When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord,
and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.
Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.
But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord! (2:6b-9)

 

Notice that at this point, Jonah does not know what will become of him. All he knows is that he is alive. When we find ourselves in situations where things have become overwhelming, don’t despair and give up. Praise God that you are still here and devote yourself to Him.

 

CONCLUSION

If you have failed miserably in living according to God’s will, what should your next step be? Instead of becoming despondent or moving in a direction of deeper depravity, as children of God we must confess our sin to the Lord, seek His forgiveness and repent from our sin. It is then we will know the joy and freedom that repentance brings (cf. 1 John 1:9). The fact that the Lord has provided you an opportunity to know the seriousness of your sin and the occasion to seek His forgiveness reveals His wondrous grace and mercy toward you! He would be just in simply punishing us on the spot if he so desired.

Perhaps you are down and despondent as a result of your sin. Don’t despair, instead look unto the Lord God and seek His forgiveness. Be thankful to Him that He has provided you with an opportunity to do this! As He grants you occasion, seek His grace to be faithful and fervent in your service to Him. You may be down, but by His grace you don’t have to be out.

 

A greater than Jonah is here. Jesus went into the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. But He was not there because of His sinful rebellion. He was there because He came to do the will of His Father. Jesus died and was buried so that you and I might be forgiven. Where Jonah failed Jesus succeeded, and that is way we trust in Him alone for salvation.

 

Study Questions

  1. After Jonah disobeyed the Lord’s command, the Lord caused a series of events that got Jonah’s attention (a storm and a fish). List some other Biblical examples of different ways God has got an individual’s attention due to their sin (e.g. 2 Samuel 12:1-12). What are some other ways the Lord gets our attention?
  2. How can we understanding seemingly difficult situations in life as God’s corrective yet gracious hand?
  3. Describe how Jonah’s attitude changed when he was in the belly of the fish.
  4. Demonstrate from this passage the sovereignty of God. What does this mean for us?