Moving on from Jonah 1, today (7/15/12), we looked at Jonah 2. Let’s jump right in and start with Jonah 1:17-2:1:
“Now the Lord had prepared and appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly.” (Amp)
Now, I concede that all translations do not contain the “Then” at the beginning of verse 1, but its inclusion prompts an interesting question. Then is a when kind of word. “Then Jonah prayed …” When did he pray? Read 1:17-2:1 again, paying attention to “Then” …
…”Then” appears to refer to after three days and nights in the belly of the fish. I don’t really know that Jonah was in the fish’s belly for that long of time before he prayed to God, but I do find it possible that his level of stubbornness (shown in chapter 1) may have taken more than a few moments to subside.
Regardless of when he began to speak, Jonah’s first recorded words of prayer were not his own; rather they were quotes from various Psalms. As I mentioned in one of last week’s posts, if we’ve been in church or read the Bible at all, we’ve come across words that at the time were just that – words on a page. Jonah did not have copies of sacred scrolls to read and recite in the fish’s belly. All he had were the words that had been imprinted on his mind … and were about to be imprinted on his heart:
“I cried out of my distress to the Lord, and He heard me; …” see Psalm 120:1
“…out of the belly of Sheol cried I, …” see Psalm 130:1
“…and You heard my voice.” see Psalm 142:1
Isn’t it awesome when one day God opens our eyes, and familiar words take on personal meaning?! Jonah’s repetition of memorized Scripture continues through verse 3 (Ps 42:7) and the beginning of 4 (Ps 31:22). His words seemed to resonate with himself because, in the second half of verse 4, Jonah prays something spontaneously (i.e. his own words out of his own mouth).
Let’s look at the words immediately before this inspiration: “I have been cast out of Your presence and Your sight; …” Remember that in chapter 1, Jonah had been “fleeing from the presence of the Lord” (Jon 1:3), and he himself had told the mariners to cast him out of the ship and into the sea (Jon 1:12). Now, he remembers this verse, and he sees that it wasn’t his choice at all. Like David in Psalm 31, God had run Jonah out of His presence. The NIV uses the word “banished” instead of “cast out” in Jonah 1:4; this wording adds another layer to consider. If Jonah had been banished this would mean, he could never return even if he wanted to. Isn’t it funny how we often don’t want something until we’re told we can’t have it? We aren’t told if Jonah planned to stay in Tarshish forever or only for a time (maybe until Nineveh had been dealt with – one way or another). Regardless, in the same breath as Jonah remembered this verse – thinking he’d been cast out instead of fleeing possibly with no invitation to return – he changed his tune. In the second half of verse 4, Jonah himself declares, “yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.” With the exception of the beginning of verse 5, the rest of Jonah’s prayer (as recorded in Jonah 2) was original – divinely inspired (yes), God-breathed (definitely) … but exhaled using the mouth of Jonah (2 Tim 3:16).
As always there’s so much more to look at and talk about, but the main take away of today’s lesson is this: No matter where we are, God is there. Ready and waiting to answer our prayers – if we will only open our mouths and cry out to Him. Maybe the first and best words to come out are not our own but His; as our faith is bolstered by hearing His words (Rom 10:17), our own hearts will be inspired to sing a new song … even from the belly of a fish.