Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying,
“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;
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!”
And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.
It’s been said that distance makes the heart grow fonder. I can relate, especially when I travel for work. While I’m on the plane and think about my lovely wife, my heart warms. Then, distance-induced tears come as I long to be with her, even though I’d just left. I want to be home, spending time with my wife while the work-related journey seems to drag on too long.
Up to this point in Jonah’s story, we get the impression distance hasn’t unsettled Jonah’s relationship with God. Jonah was purposely distancing himself from God, heading in the opposite direction he was told to go. Now Jonah, in the belly of the fish, with all manner of stuff slurping and sloshing around, seemed as far away from God as he could be. He had the distance he wanted, but discovered it wasn’t what he needed. As I consider this, I recall many times in life where I’ve found what I wanted wasn’t what I needed. And, since life experiences can be the same in many ways, I’m sure you can recall these times, too.
Once the realization sets in for Jonah, in the belly of the fish, he bursts out in praise and worship to God. We’re not privy to when Jonah cried out to God, but I would venture a guess it wasn’t too long after he hit water. In reading Jonah’s prayer, it sounds like he was close to drowning. The amazing miracle is God had the fish there, ready to take care of Jonah. Jonah’s cry was heard and answered! While being swallowed by a fish almost certainly wasn’t Jonah’s expectation, it was appropriate and sufficient.
Despite the method used to save Jonah being unseemly, God heard his desperate cry and delivered him. Reread this prayer of Jonah several times, letting your experiences weave their way into the words as your eyes take them in. Remember your feelings during your desperate times and see if Jonah’s words mirror your own. When desperate times return, recall Jonah, his cry, and God’s answer and delivery.
By Rich Obrecht