1Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, 2saying,
“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
6at 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.
7When 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!”
The prophet Jonah has tried to run away from God and now finds himself inside a fish (whale?) All that we have of what Jonah said while he was in the fish are the few words of chapter 2. We can be fairly certain that he spoke more than these.
Why are these particular words the ones that God preserved for us to see and read? There are at least ten Psalms quoted in this prayer that Jonah is uttering. We know that Jonah has a long way to go in his sanctification but we need to see here a man who had a good portion of the Psalms (at least) memorized. It is unlikely that he had a scroll while in the belly of the whale.
There is much that we can benefit from in just considering that truth, but let’s focus on this:
1) Memorize Scripture. One never knows when one is going to need to have to recall the Word of God without the benefit of having one available at the moment. When it came time for Jonah to repent, even though he did not have a Bible handy he was able to recall relevant passages to his situation.
2) Memorizing Scripture does not make one sanctified. Jonah had these verses memorized before he disobeyed God, before he ran away from God, before his seared conscience allowed him to sleep in the boat in peace when he should have been in prayer for his soul and the lives and souls of his fellow travellers. Many Christians think that their Bible knowledge is a guarantee of safety when temptation comes. It is not. People can know much Bible content and still be very far away from God Himself. This applies as well to those who go to church, serve on committee, preach, teach, lead ministries … . We must never think that our involvement is a replacement for Bible study, prayer, Christian fellowship, growing in the knowledge of God and cultivating a close walk with Him.
3) God shows great mercy to a sinner who has a long way to go. The story of Jonah is as much about the rescue of one wayward child of God as it is about the salvation of a whole city of needy souls getting saved. God chases us down and we should be glad for that too. If He did not, we would all be under His judgement.
4) Sometimes it takes a great calamity to get us back to God. We can be sure that Jonah was not quoting much Scripture before he ended up in the whale. We should thank God that He knows what to do to bring us back to Him, even when it includes things we do not like. We can be sure that Jonah did not like it where God had put him.
5) Jonah called to God from the belly of the fish. Repentance comes before rescue. We do not bargain with God. Jonah does not say “Get me out of here and I’ll serve you.”
6) A person can repent of sin and still not be fully committed to the purposes that God has for him. Jonah is now willing to obey, but we know from the rest of the story that he is far from willing to enjoy the works of God that God is using him to be a part of. God has more hardship in store for Jonah to get him where he needs to be. Rejoice that God never tires of doing what it takes to conform us to the image of Christ.