Last time we started examining Jonah’s prayer of repentance from inside the belly of the great fish, and considered שְׁאוֹל shĕ’owl and its Greek analog ᾅδης hadēs in detail. Let’s continue now making our way through Jonah’s prayer…
Jonah 2:3-73For You cast me into the deep,Into the heart of the seas,And the floods surrounded me;All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.4Then I said, “I have been cast out of Your sight;Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.”5The waters surrounded me, even to my soul;The deep closed around me;Weeds were wrapped around my head.6I went down to the moorings of the mountains;The earth with its bars closed behind me forever;Yet You have brought up my life from the pit,O LORD, my God.7“When my soul fainted within me,I remembered the LORD;And my prayer went up to You,Into Your holy temple.
I find it extremely interesting that Jonah says here that God cast him into the deep. I suppose in a certain sense he is right in saying so, since God knows and directs all things…
Isaiah 45:11-1311Thus says the LORD,The Holy One of Israel, and his Maker:“Ask Me of things to come concerning My sons;And concerning the work of My hands, you command Me.12I have made the earth,And created man on it.I—My hands—stretched out the heavens,And all their host I have commanded.13I have raised him up in righteousness,And I will direct all his ways;He shall build My cityAnd let My exiles go free,Not for price nor reward,”
Says the LORD of hosts.
Jeremiah 10:23O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself;
It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.
Nevertheless, it seems to me that Jonah in this verse has forgotten, for the time being at least, that it was his own rebellion and disobedience that eventually brought him to the belly of the fish in which he found himself. Jonah neglects the clear Biblical truth that God has given us our own free will, which we may exercise however we like – either unto God or unto condemnation. Yet, how typical Jonah is of mankind in general, to lay upon God rather than himself the responsibility for the circumstances his own sins landed him into. It’s a time-honored human tradition that goes all the way back to the first man – Adam – when he first rebelled against the command of God…
Genesis 3:9-129Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” 10So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” 12Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”
How humbling it is to read things like this in God’s Word, and contemplate our own self-righteousness, then realize that God loves us anyway, even so much that He was willing to sacrifice Himself on the cross to restore us to Him out of our rebellion against Him. Praise the Lord!
Not being trapped inside the great fish like Jonah, and having the whole story before us as we read through Jonah’s prayer of repentance, it is easy for us to forget how desperate the situation must have seemed to Jonah. Indeed it must have seemed to him, that He had been cast completely out of God’s presence. In this, too, we see Jonah as a type of Christ…
Mark 15:34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Inside the fish, Jonah truly believed that God had cast him away forever. He remembered his sin in disobeying God’s command to prophesy against Nineveh, and he assumed that God was therefore finished with him, and had disposed of him in the depths.
This is the same sense of abandonment and shame voiced by David…
Psalm 89:38-4538But You have cast off and abhorred,You have been furious with Your anointed.39You have renounced the covenant of Your servant;You have profaned his crown by casting it to the ground.40You have broken down all his hedges;You have brought his strongholds to ruin.41All who pass by the way plunder him;He is a reproach to his neighbors.42You have exalted the right hand of his adversaries;You have made all his enemies rejoice.43You have also turned back the edge of his sword,And have not sustained him in the battle.44You have made his glory cease,And cast his throne down to the ground.45The days of his youth You have shortened;
You have covered him with shame.
Yet, although He is holy, righteous, and just, our God is a God of mercy and forgiveness. This is the very heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and is demonstrated in the fact that after God placed on Jesus the condemnation for the sins of all mankind from the fall to the end of the age, God did not cast Him aside forever, but raised Him up on the third day. This is the hope we have in the nature of God, just as we see in Jonah at the end of verse 4 – Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.
This contrast of despair turned to hope and repentance is brought out crystal clear by David in repentance for his sins concerning Bathsheba…
Psalm 511Have mercy upon me, O God,According to Your lovingkindness;According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,Blot out my transgressions.2Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,And cleanse me from my sin.3For I acknowledge my transgressions,And my sin is always before me.4Against You, You only, have I sinned,And done this evil in Your sight—That You may be found just when You speak,And blameless when You judge.5Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,And in sin my mother conceived me.6Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts,And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.8Make me hear joy and gladness,That the bones You have broken may rejoice.9Hide Your face from my sins,And blot out all my iniquities.10Create in me a clean heart, O God,And renew a steadfast spirit within me.11Do not cast me away from Your presence,And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.12Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.13Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,And sinners shall be converted to You.14Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,The God of my salvation,And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.15O Lord, open my lips,And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.16For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;You do not delight in burnt offering.17The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise.18Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion;Build the walls of Jerusalem.19Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness,With burnt offering and whole burnt offering;Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.
As we’ve seen, God can’t abide our pride and rebellion. In fact, “…a proud look” heads up the list of things God says He hates in Proverbs 6:16-17. Following on the heels of pride come obstinacy and rebellion. Then when we are convicted of these, we are often cast into despair like Jonah, believing rightfully that God can’t make use of us in our rebellion, and will not listen to our prayers until we come to a place of contrition and repentance.
Yet God promises…
1 John 1:9If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
I realized this week one of the reasons I’ve been having such difficulty parsing Jonah’s prayer for this study is because of something that happened in Iraq. I need to confess this rebellion before we can press forward with Jonah’s prayer.
My habit when I was assigned in Iraq was to pray with the patrol teams who were sent out from our base into the city, and out along the roads. Whenever I saw a team preparing to go out, I would ask them if I could pray with them. Without exception, even the non-believers welcomed the prayers.
One late night I was heading back to my tent at about 2:30AM after working all day. The walk from the operations center was just under a mile, and along the way, I saw a team on the other side of the road making their preparations to go out on patrol. As I came by, the team leader was giving the soldiers his briefing on the upcoming mission. It was all part of their day-to-day routine, but I didn’t want to interrupt. I decided to just stay across the road and pray for them rather than barging in and asking to pray with them.
As I was praying, I felt a compulsion from God to go over and pray with them which felt like someone physically nudging me. I knew what God wanted me to do, but I was tired, and if the truth be told, embarrassed at the idea of just barging into their circle, and frankly I didn’t really believe any of the prayers really did any good. I resisted God’s direction, finished my prayer from across the road, and continued on my way to my cot.
Twelve hours later, two of those men were dead from an IED explosion under their vehicle. After learning what had happened I was plunged into a deep despair for many days in the belief that God would never call me again to serve Him in ministry to His children.
Furthermore, the enemy seized on that time of despair to bring to my remembrance passages like the parable of the talents…
Matthew 25:30…cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Like Jonah, I believed that God would cast me aside because of my rebellion, forgetting for the moment that God reigns in all things, and that…
Romans 8:28…all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
I’m not telling you this story because I’m looking for some sort of absolution, or to get you to feel sorry for me. Such things from people are pointless. In the final analysis, the absolution for my rebellion, and any penance due must come from the Lord. In the meantime…
Philippians 3:13-1413Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Now with that out in the open, let’s press on with Jonah’s prayer…
Jonah 2:4Then I said, “I have been cast out of Your sight;
Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.”
In the midst of his despair, even believing that God has abandoned him, Jonah realizes that his only hope is in the Lord. When he says “I will look again toward Your holy temple,” it is, of course, a figurative expression of his desire to turn away from his rebellion, and back toward serving the Lord his God. The phrase – Your holy temple – appears only in Psalms, and twice here in Jonah 2. Jonah’s use of this expression here is reminiscent of Solomon’s magnificent prayer at the time of the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem.
1 Kings 8:22-5322Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands toward heaven; 23and he said: “LORD God of Israel, there is no God in heaven above or on earth below like You, who keep Your covenant and mercy with Your servants who walk before You with all their hearts. 24You have kept what You promised Your servant David my father; You have both spoken with Your mouth and fulfilled it with Your hand, as it is this day. 25Therefore, LORD God of Israel, now keep what You promised Your servant David my father, saying, ‘You shall not fail to have a man sit before Me on the throne of Israel, only if your sons take heed to their way, that they walk before Me as you have walked before Me.’ 26And now I pray, O God of Israel, let Your word come true, which You have spoken to Your servant David my father.27“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built! 28Yet regard the prayer of Your servant and his supplication, O LORD my God, and listen to the cry and the prayer which Your servant is praying before You today: 29that Your eyes may be open toward this temple night and day, toward the place of which You said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that You may hear the prayer which Your servant makes toward this place. 30And may You hear the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. Hear in heaven Your dwelling place; and when You hear, forgive.31“When anyone sins against his neighbor, and is forced to take an oath, and comes and takes an oath before Your altar in this temple, 32then hear in heaven, and act, and judge Your servants, condemning the wicked, bringing his way on his head, and justifying the righteous by giving him according to his righteousness.33“When Your people Israel are defeated before an enemy because they have sinned against You, and when they turn back to You and confess Your name, and pray and make supplication to You in this temple, 34then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of Your people Israel, and bring them back to the land which You gave to their fathers.35“When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against You, when they pray toward this place and confess Your name, and turn from their sin because You afflict them, 36then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of Your servants, Your people Israel, that You may teach them the good way in which they should walk; and send rain on Your land which You have given to Your people as an inheritance.37“When there is famine in the land, pestilence or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers; when their enemy besieges them in the land of their cities; whatever plague or whatever sickness there is; 38whatever prayer, whatever supplication is made by anyone, or by all Your people Israel, when each one knows the plague of his own heart, and spreads out his hands toward this temple: 39then hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive, and act, and give to everyone according to all his ways, whose heart You know (for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men), 40that they may fear You all the days that they live in the land which You gave to our fathers.41“Moreover, concerning a foreigner, who is not of Your people Israel, but has come from a far country for Your name’s sake 42(for they will hear of Your great name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this temple, 43hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, that all peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this temple which I have built is called by Your name.44“When Your people go out to battle against their enemy, wherever You send them, and when they pray to the LORD toward the city which You have chosen and the temple which I have built for Your name, 45then hear in heaven their prayer and their supplication, and maintain their cause.46“When they sin against You (for there is no one who does not sin), and You become angry with them and deliver them to the enemy, and they take them captive to the land of the enemy, far or near; 47yet when they come to themselves in the land where they were carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to You in the land of those who took them captive, saying, ‘We have sinned and done wrong, we have committed wickedness’; 48and when they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies who led them away captive, and pray to You toward their land which You gave to their fathers, the city which You have chosen and the temple which I have built for Your name: 49then hear in heaven Your dwelling place their prayer and their supplication, and maintain their cause, 50and forgive Your people who have sinned against You, and all their transgressions which they have transgressed against You; and grant them compassion before those who took them captive, that they may have compassion on them 51(for they are Your people and Your inheritance, whom You brought out of Egypt, out of the iron furnace), 52that Your eyes may be open to the supplication of Your servant and the supplication of Your people Israel, to listen to them whenever they call to You. 53For You separated them from among all the peoples of the earth to be Your inheritance, as You spoke by Your servant Moses, when You brought our fathers out of Egypt, O Lord GOD.”
Jonah 2:5-75The waters surrounded me, even to my soul;The deep closed around me;Weeds were wrapped around my head.6I went down to the moorings of the mountains;The earth with its bars closed behind me forever;Yet You have brought up my life from the pit,O LORD, my God.7“When my soul fainted within me,I remembered the LORD;And my prayer went up to You,Into Your holy temple.
Once more we are reminded of the depth of Jonah’s despair, He truly believed that he had been lost forever in the depths. Here in verse 5, he repeats once more the details of the desperate situation in which he finds himself. In fact, the entire prayer of Jonah that we see here in Jonah 2 takes less than a minute to pray out loud, yet we know that Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights. It may well be that the words we see here recounting this prayer are only a few of many words that Jonah prayed in desperation while he was inside the fish.
Yet with those who humble themselves before Him, our God is a God of redemption and salvation. Job’s friends were indeed miserable counselors just as Job himself said, yet there is truth in some of their advice. The youngest one, Elihu, had it right, for example, when he said of the repentant man who, like Jonah, seeks God earnestly…
Job 33:26-3026He shall pray to God, and He will delight in him,He shall see His face with joy,For He restores to man His righteousness.27Then he looks at men and says,“I have sinned, and perverted what was right,And it did not profit me.?28He will redeem his soul from going down to the Pit,And his life shall see the light.29“Behold, God works all these things,Twice, in fact, three times with a man,30To bring back his soul from the Pit,
That he may be enlightened with the light of life.
Psalm 121A Song of Ascents.1I will lift up my eyes to the hills—From whence comes my help?2My help comes from the LORD,Who made heaven and earth.3He will not allow your foot to be moved;He who keeps you will not slumber.4Behold, He who keeps IsraelShall neither slumber nor sleep.5The LORD is your keeper;The LORD is your shade at your right hand.6The sun shall not strike you by day,Nor the moon by night.7The LORD shall preserve you from all evil;He shall preserve your soul.8The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming inFrom this time forth, and even forevermore.