Jonah Lesson Two: Jonah 2:1-10 – Jonah’s Prayer
Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from inside the fish:
2 I called to the Lord in my distress,
and He answered me.
I cried out for help in the belly of Sheol;
You heard my voice.
3 You threw me into the depths,
into the heart of the seas,
and the current overcame me.
All Your breakers and Your billows swept over me.
4 But I said: I have been banished
from Your sight,
yet I will look once more
toward Your holy temple.
5 The waters engulfed me up to the neck;
the watery depths overcame me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
6 I sank to the foundations of the mountains;
the earth with its prison bars closed behind me forever!
But You raised my life from the Pit, Lord my God!
7 As my life was fading away,
I remembered Yahweh.
My prayer came to You,
to Your holy temple.
8 Those who cling to worthless idols
forsake faithful love,
9 but as for me, I will sacrifice to You
with a voice of thanksgiving.
I will fulfill what I have vowed.
Salvation is from the Lord!
10 Then the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. (HCSB)
Before we start this lesson, let’s take a quick look at the ending of the first chapter. The sailors followed Jonah’s instructions to throw him into the sea. It’s safe to say that Jonah expected to die at that point. Instead, a huge fish swallowed Jonah, and instead of drowning in the sea, he finds himself in a most uncomfortable location. At the same time, Jonah may have started to rejoice in the fact he was alive and able to breathe. It would appear that at this point, Jonah sees a divine intervention in the fact that he didn’t drown and is now alive in a giant fish. Because of God’s intervention in this event, Jonah prays to God in a format that reminds us of a thanksgiving Psalm or prayer. The prayer contains four parts.
- A summary of answered prayer – verse 2.
- Details of his personal crises – verses 3-6a.
- His divine rescue – verses 6b-8.
- A vow of praise – verse 9.
Now, let’s take a closer look at this passage.
- As Jonah comes to the realization he is alive, he prays to “his” God.
- We could skim over the first verse without realizing the significance in the context of Jonah’s prayer.
- Jonah acknowledges Yahweh’s position as Jonah’s God.
- Jonah now prays to God as he is going through this trial, admittedly brought on by his own disobedience.
- Jonah cries for help from “the belly of Sheol.”
- In Hebrew thinking, it was a place of the dead, located under the earth and separated from God.
- It was an expression signifying “being in the grave.”
- Sheol was often thought to be under the floor of the ocean, and Jonah’s current location would place him close to Sheol.
- The Old Testament understanding of death was close to a process instead of a single event. Jonah was undergoing a death process in the belly of the fish.
- Jonah believed he was as good as dead as he began his prayer.
- Jonah then recognizes God’s sovereignty in the event in verse three.
- God is the one responsible for throwing Jonah into the sea, not the sailors.
- The waves and breakers belonged to God.
- In verse four, Jonah expresses both the depths of his despair and the heights of his hope.
- Jonah has been banished from God.
- The term “banished” is the same one used in Leviticus 21:7 to illustrate a woman whose husband has divorced her.
- Jonah was out of favor with Yahweh.
- However, Jonah had faith his relationship with Yahweh would be restored.
- The expression “look once more toward your holy temple” may not refer to Jonah visiting the temple in Jerusalem, but Jonah’s intention to pray and his prayers reaching God.
- It is also an indication Jonah will turn from running from God and accept the commission to take Yahweh’s message to Nineveh.
- Jonah has been banished from God.
- Verses five and six are connected to each other, representing Jonah’s current circumstances.
- Verse five has similarities to Psalm 18:4 and 69:1. As Jonah contemplated his situation in the belly of the fish, he continued to reflect on his miraculous deliverance from drowning. Not only was he in the ocean depths, but his head was also wrapped in seaweed. The Hebrew word used for the neck is often translated in the Old Testament as “soul.” The wording should be interpreted as a reference to Jonah’s life.
- In verse six, the phrase “sank to the foundations of the mountains” should be understood as the painful event of descending into his grave.
- During the time of Jonah, it was a common belief the foundations of the mountains were in the depths of the oceans, covered by water.
- Jonah was expressing the feeling of being as far removed as possible from other people. He was in the deepest part of the ocean, with help out of reach.
- The term “prison bars” is difficult to interpret accurately.
- It could refer to being in the depths of the ocean.
- It could be a reference to Sheol, which was believed to be a fortified city in the underworld. Once the gates were closed behind a human soul, there was no leaving.
- Once again, Jonah is expressing the deepness of his despair.
- However, the last phrase in verse six is the turning point in Jonah’s prayer.
- Jonah acknowledges Yahweh’s sovereign power.
- It’s a reference to the fish rescuing Jonah from the depths of the sea.
- Jonah had been rescued from a hopeless situation by the power and grace of God.
- Jonah is overcome with praise for God’s grace and mercy.
- Up until this point, we can draw a general conclusion about Jonah’s spiritual maturity; it wasn’t very good. However, through the four short chapters in the book, we do see him experiencing spiritual growth. In one aspect, Jonah is an Old Testament prodigal. Here verse seven is an example of where Jonah undergoes some spiritual growth.
- In what Jonah may have thought were his last moments alive, he returns to God, who is the only avenue for salvation.
- The understanding of the Hebrew word translated to “remembered” is talking about the mental act of focusing attention on something and is almost exclusively used as a basis for taking action.
- Just as in verse four, the temple does not mean the physical temple in Jerusalem. Jonah understood that his prayer had reached God’s heart.
- Verses eight and nine conclude Jonah’s prayer, much like many psalms, with words of thanksgiving and praise.
- A literal translation of the first part of verse eight would read, “those who guard/serve vanities of worthlessness.” The vanities refer to idols. In Old Testament times, these overwhelmingly referred to carved images that depicted some “god.” Today, those idols are anything that takes us away from focusing on God. Some examples are cell phones, social media, celebrities, and material possessions. One could argue there are more idols today than in Jonah’s day.
- The second part of verse eight refers to idol worshippers missing out on the mercy and grace of God. Just as Jonah received mercy and grace once he turned back to God, idolaters could receive the same grace if they repented.
- Just as chapter one ended with a sacrifice by the sailors and thanksgiving to God, here Jonah ends his prayer with a sacrifice by his voice of thanksgiving.
- Jonah repents and says that he will fulfill what he has vowed. The vow was most likely connected to his role as a prophet, which he had walked away from when he tried to run to Tarshish.
- The chapter ends with God commanding the fish to vomit Jonah onto land.
- We could view chapter two as the happiest section of the book.
- Jonah comes to a decision of repentance for his act of running away.
- Jonah affirms God’s sovereignty over creation.
- Jonah is the recipient of mercy and grace in his deliverance.
- He praises God with a spirit of thanksgiving.
As we look back on chapter two, we can summarize it with a few points.
- In the first part, Jonah is deals with his own life and failings. He is indicating a willingness to repent.
- At the same time, when we look at the book in its entirety, we see that Jonah hasn’t come to the point of complete repentance yet.
- However, he is reflecting on the correct path, knowing that idols are worthless and only God is faithful.
- Never lose sight of the fact that no matter how big our sin, whether before or after proclaiming Christ as our Lord, we can always restore the relationship if we are willing to reflect on our actions and repent.
- No matter our circumstances, God can rescue us from them. It doesn’t always mean He will. Sometimes, we get ourselves in a bad situation through bad decisions, and we expect God to “rescue” us. It doesn’t always happen.
- Never forget that God is sovereign over all creation. He is the creator, and we are the created.