The book of Jonah is about a gracious God trying to save his rebellious, stubborn prophet named Jonah. Jonah was told to get up and go to Nineveh to preach judgment to them. Jonah has rejected the word of the Lord and is determined to quit being God’s prophet. He goes down to Joppa, pays the fare, and goes to sleep in the lowest part of the ship. God sends a storm to spiritually awaken his wayward prophet. However, Jonah ignores the storm, ignores the message of the storm, and ignores the solution to the storm. The sailors challenge Jonah for running from the presence of the Lord. Jonah’s solution is not to repent, confess his sin, pray, or lift any finger toward God. Rather, Jonah instructs the sailors to throw him into the sea. Jonah would rather die by drowning in the sea than return to the Lord. So the sailors throw Jonah into the sea. This brings us to the end of Jonah 1. Open your copies of God’s word to the last verse in Jonah 1.
Relentless Grace (1:17)
Now Jonah has repeatedly indicated that he would rather die than return to the Lord. Jonah does not want to proclaim God’s word. He is ready to drown in the sea. But look at what the Lord does in Jonah 1:17. The Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah. Even though Jonah would rather die, God does not give up on Jonah still. I want us to see the hand of God throughout these events. First, the Lord sends the storm (1:4). Now the Lord appoints a great fish to go and swallow Jonah. God is Lord over all creation and can tell a great fish to swallow Jonah, not to kill him, but to let him sit in that fish for 3 days and nights.
It is important to take a moment to talk about the historical truth of this event. There are a lot of people who cannot believe that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish and survived. People have gone to great lengths to try to prove that it is possible for a human to be swallowed by a large fish and survive. It is important to remember that Jesus confirms that this did happen. In Matthew 12:39-40 Jesus says that this did happen. So this is not a fish story but actually happened to Jonah by God’s power. But there is no need to explain this by natural means either. If you need to try to explain how Jonah survived by natural means, then you will never believe that Jesus rose from the dead. If you believe Jesus rose from the dead, then you have no problem believing that God can swallow his prophet with a fish and survive.
Jonah’s Prayer (2:1-7)
I want us to notice what we are told at the start of chapter 2. Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish. The rest of chapter 2 records what Jonah prayed. What is interesting about his prayer is that he goes about explaining what happened when he was thrown into the sea. Now do not forget that Jonah was the one who told the sailors to throw him into the sea. Jonah was the one who would rather drown than repent. But look at what happens.
In verse 2 Jonah says that he called out to the Lord in his distress and the Lord answered him. If you have ever questioned whether the Lord will listen to you in your distress, Jonah can confirm that he does. This is the amazing character of God. God will listen to us even when we are at our worst. It is not too late to call out to the Lord. This should make sense because God’s purpose in sending the storm is so that we would call out to him. So we should never look at our trials and think that we should not call out to the Lord because we have been refusing to listen to the Lord. Rather, the trial is doing what God wants it to do. In fact, what Jonah does is a typical response for us. We ignore the storm until the distress becomes so great that we finally break and consider the Lord again. Jonah is drowning in the sea and now finally calls out to the Lord his God.
Notice what Jonah confesses in verse 3. He says that the Lord cast him into the heart of the sea. Jonah is able to see God’s hand at work. He confesses that God is the reason that he was thrown into the depths of the sea. Jonah says, “All your waves and your billows passed over me.” Jonah draws a conclusion from this in verse 4. “I am driven away from your sight.” Jonah realizes the weight of his sinning. Jonah now has a crisis of faith. He sees himself as unable to return to the Lord. He feels driven away from God. We can feel this way when we are going through the storm. We can feel this way when we have been running from God. We can feel like we have been driven far from God and do not have any opportunity to return.
But I want us to know what Jonah does. Even though he feels driven away from the Lord and thinks he cannot return, he still calls out to the Lord in his distress and the Lord responded. Jonah says in verse 4 that he would look to God’s holy temple. I believe Jonah is speaking symbolically. I do not think he tried to look toward the actual physical temple as he was sinking in the depths of the sea. Looking toward the temple is an expression for repentance and seeking the Lord (cf. 1 Kings 8). Jonah is turning himself to the presence of the Lord. He is saying that he will not run from God’s presence but wants to go to God’s presence. So this truly represents the crisis of faith. He wants to return but does not think he can return. He is ready to come back to God but does not see how that is possible as he sinks in the water.
This problem is expressed even further in verses 5-6. The waters overcame Jonah. The seaweed wrapped around his head. Jonah sinks all the way down the land. A complete feeling of doom passes over Jonah. We might visualize that as soon as Jonah hit the sea that the great fish that the Lord appointed swallowed him. But that is not what Jonah says happened. Jonah says that he sank all the way to the ground under the sea. The weeds wrapped around his head. In verse 6 Jonah says that he was swallowed up by death. The earth began to swallow him like a grave.
Verse 7 shows the timing of what happened in the sea. Jonah says that his life was fading away as he lay on the sea floor. But he remembered the Lord and his prayer came into God’s holy temple. Jonah is having his prodigal son moment that we read about in Luke 15. Jonah appears to come to his senses after his life sinks to the sea floor. Jonah appears to literally hit bottom with his life. Then the Lord brought his life from the pit (2:6). It appears that it is when Jonah turned his heart toward the temple and remembered the Lord in prayer that the large fish comes and swallows Jonah. In fact, you will notice that Jonah describes the Lord resurrecting his life in verse 6. “Yet your brought up my life from the pit.” Even though it looks like he has been rejected by the Lord as he was cast into the sea and swallowed up by the waters, the Lord has not abandoned Jonah to a watery grave. Jonah was not left to sink into the depths of the earth. The Lord appointed a resurrection for Jonah through a great fish. God gave Jonah a new life when he turned to the Lord.
Friends, I hope that we are seeing that even when you have a crisis of faith, it is not too late to turn the Lord. When you are swallowed up in the sea, remember the Lord! Too often we exclude ourselves from God’s grace because we have been swallowed up by the storm. But God did not tell you that you are excluded from his offer of grace. The purpose of the storm was to bring Jonah to see his need for God who will rescue him and give him new life. In fact, Jesus came and was buried in the earth for three days and three nights so that he could be our savior and rescuer. The apostle Paul proclaims the same picture to us in Romans.
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:4–5 ESV)
Jesus came to save sinners and God is working to give us a new life. But sometimes we need to hit bottom. We even have a saying in our culture about sometimes you need to hit rock bottom. We noted last time that the Lord will send a storm, wreck our boat, and let us be swallowed up in the sea to wake us up. Now I want us to see that it might take till you hit rock bottom before you turn your eyes up. But that does not mean it is too late to reach toward God. The Father is still looking for you to return when you come to your senses and seek him. When Jonah cried to the Lord, the Lord heard his voice.
Rescue Response (2:8-10)
Now look at Jonah’s response in verses 8-10. In verse 8 Jonah has learned something that he proclaims. Those who cling to their worthless idols are throwing away God’s steadfast love. Don’t throw away God’s mercy and grace because you cling to your worthless idols. Now I want us to think for a moment about what Jonah’s worthless idols were. We are going to learn about some of them in chapters 3-4. But for now we have learned that refusing the will of the Lord is worthless and foolishness. When we stubbornly run from God and stubbornly refuse to hear God in the storm, then we are throwing away God’s steadfast love. We are throwing away our only hope for life. We are missing out on the life that could be ours. God’s rescue is to cause us to cast our every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us (cf. Hebrews 12:1). Friends, since God is in the charge of the storm then it does not make any sense to run to the worthless idols. We see that the sailors called out to their gods in the first chapter and nothing happened. Idols are worthless. Turning to anything or anyone but God will not help you at all. Don’t throw away God’s love by running to something else. Run to God in the storm.
Second, Jonah says that he will offer sacrifices of thanksgiving to the Lord (2:9). God’s rescue should make us thankful people. Jonah has been saved from drowning in the sea and he knows he needs to give God thanks. When we are not thankful, then we are not remembering our rescue. You have experienced undeserved mercy after running from God. Praise him. Thank him. Worship him. If we do not desire to worship him, then we have forgotten what he has done for us. If we do not desire to praise him, then we are not recognizing that we are Jonah, sinking in the sea and God has saved us. Jonah understood that he would even be saying these words if it wasn’t for the grace of God. The same is true for us. The only reason we can worship is because of God’s grace toward us. We move, live, and breath only by God’s grace (cf. Acts 17:28).
Finally, Jonah recognizes that this is God’s salvation model. Jonah ends his prayer with these words: “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (2:9). When we stop running from God and see the worthlessness of ignoring the storm, God has appointed his Son to save. When you are ready to look to God, God is ready to raise us to a new life. You see this truth pictured in verse 10. Once Jonah gets it, the Lord speaks to the fish and fish vomits Jonah on to the land. To state this another way, the first half of this prophecy ends by showing God’s sovereign power again. The fish does what the Lord tells it to do. Now Jonah is ready to do what the Lord tells him to do. Are you ready to do what the Lord tells you to do so that you can have a new life and a new start? Are you ready to praise him and worship him with your whole life because he has saved you from drowning in the sea of our sins?