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Jonah 2

Jonah  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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We persevere through hardship by remembering God's mercy in Jesus.

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Most of us have come to Jonah through children’s books and children’s stories that make the story about a man surviving in the belly of a whale; but as we said last week, Jonah is not a children’s story. It is a rich and sophisticated story that is meant to punch us in the gut as it holds a mirror up to our lives and forces us to struggle with the uncomfortable thought that our vision for our life is often in competition with God’s vision.

Now to really understand what’s going on in this second chapter and with the whole being swallowed up by a giant fish, we have to take a step back and remember the context of Jonah. Jonah begins with, “The word of the LORD came to Jonah...” which clearly indicates that this book belongs with all the other books in the Old Testament that begin that way, books that are known as prophet books: think Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and all those tiny books that we struggle to remember the order.

Jonah cries out to God.

Jonah sees God’s involvement in his hardship.

So Jonah is a prophetic book. Now if you read through the prophets of the Old Testament, you’ll pick up on an overarching theme. God’s people were rescued out of slavery in Egypt. They were shown how to live as God’s representative, God’s covenantal people, to the nations around them, and they were given a land - the promised land. But they weren’t very good at living as God’s people. They weren’t faithful to God. They kept turning to other gods or relying on their own strength and wealth. So the prophets come in to call the people to account, to confront them with their faithlessness, and to warn them that if Israel continued on their present course, they’d have to face the consequences of their sinful choices. And the ultimate consequence was that the great nation of Babylon would come and lay waste to Jerusalem and haul off the people of God into exile. But, because God’s promises are always greater than the people’s faithlessness, the prophets would also look forward to the day on the other side of Babylon, when God would preserve a remnant and continue Israel’s story by giving her a new and brighter future on the other end of exile.

And what’s fascinating is that many of the prophets in the Old Testament use the metaphor of being swallowed up by a great beast to speak about the consequences of Israel’s sin and faithlessness. In Hosea, one of the earliest prophets, chapter 8 we se this:

2 Israel cries out to me,

‘Our God, we acknowledge you!’

3 But Israel has rejected what is good;

an enemy will pursue him.

4 They set up kings without my consent;

they choose princes without my approval.

With their silver and gold

they make idols for themselves

to their own destruction.

8 Israel is swallowed up;

now she is among the nations

like something no one wants.

34 “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has devoured us,

he has thrown us into confusion,

he has made us an empty jar.

Like a serpent he has swallowed us

and filled his stomach with our delicacies,

and then has spewed us out.

1  If it had not been the LORD who was on our side—

let Israel now say—

2  if it had not been the LORD who was on our side

when people rose up against us,

3  then they would have swallowed us up alive,

when their anger was kindled against us;

4  then the flood would have swept us away,

the torrent would have gone over us;

5  then over us would have gone

the raging waters.

So a common way to describe Israel’s sin and faithlessness and the consequences that they suffer as a result is to use the metaphor of being swallowed up by a great beast. And Jonah comes along and we see this metaphor become a full story, and the original readers would have seen that the story of Jonah was their own story - their own faithlessness; their own suffering the consequences; and the big question mark then is will God redeem them on the other side.
And that’s what we’re looking at this morning, because Jonah finds himself in the belly of the beast as a result of his own faithlessness. He thought he’d find freedom and the good life by running from God to Tarshish, but what he found instead is that journey away from God led him down, down, down until he now finds himself at the very bottom of the sea, in a dark, cramped, smelly place. So this morning we have an invitation to learn from Jonah, specifically, how do we pray in the dark, cramped places, in the hardships, whether they are of our own doing, like Jonah, or simply a part of life. How do we process through the hardships we face when we’re in the belly of the beast. Let’s look at verse 1.

2 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, 2 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.

3  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.

All of Jonah’s choices have finally caught up to him and his faithlessness and sin have brought him to a dark, confined space, that he is now trapped in, and we see that he cries out to God. Jonah knows that he is trapped and he does not have the ability or the resources or the strength to get out, and so the only thing he has left to do is to cry out.
Crying out is always our last option, isn’t it? We only cry out for help when we’ve exhausted all other options and nothing has worked, and when you’re in that place, when you finally do cry out, there is no shame in it. Anyone who’s been in that position where the only thing left for you to do is to cry out for help knows that the one who cries out is not ashamed of it in the least.
I’ve spoken to a lot of parents of young children and the one thing everyone says is to not be afraid to ask for help, because it is straight chaos when you bring your bundle of joy home, and it will bring you to the end of yourself in hours, and there is no shame in asking for help.
So Jonah shamelessly cries out to God and what do we see God is doing? God’s listening. Now, this is so opposite to how we typically think about times of hardship and dark places of life, isn’t it. We tend to think that in those times and seasons of hardship, isolation, and confusion, we think that God has abandoned us. He’s not listening because he’s no where to be seen.
But Jonah comes to the opposite conclusion. He sees God very much present and involved in his circumstance. This harrowing experience has awakened Jonah to the presence of God all around him. Remember when he was on the boat, it was the pagan sailors who were aware of God’s involvement, and it was Jonah who was just sleep walking through it all. But now he’s reached rock bottom and suddenly he is vividly aware that God is present and involved and with him in the belly of the fish.
But how is God present? Notice what he says:
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.
into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.
and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.
all your waves and your billows passed over me.
Jonah sees God’s hand in bringing him to this dark and uncomfortable place. Now, we know that ultimately, God is not responsible for Jonah being where he is. God is not responsible for the sins and choices that Jonah made that brought him to rock bottom, but we also know that God is not surprised by it. he is not caught off-guard, and in fact, in Jonah’s case, this dark, uncomfortable place is a part of God’s plan.
passed over me.
God is very much with Jonah, but in a way that we may not always be comfortable with, especially if we think that by inviting God into our lives, we’ve secured for ourselves a safe, secure, and comfortable passage to our eternal destination. All to often we come to think that being part of God’s people means that God’s highest priority is to see us safely and unharmed through this life to the next.
But that is not the picture we get from Scripture. According to the Scriptures, God’s highest priority is to call his people to himself and to shape and mold them into the image of Christ. To awaken their recognition that they are his people, that they belong to him, that they are not god’s themselves, in fact that they would make terrible gods, but that they belong to a God who is utterly commited to them and to giving them everything they need to live according to his vision of life.
That is God’s greatest priority, and therefore, God may deal with us in ways that bring us to the end of ourselves, where we’ve exhausted every fiber of strength and every resource we can muster, God may bring us to the belly of the fish - but that it isn’t God abandoning us, but rather, it is actually a great mercy and quite possibly the best thing that could happen to us, because we discover the truth that the way we’ve been conducting our lives leads only to ruin for myself and for others, and it brings us to a place of dependency and humility.
God is not responsible for the choices that Jonah has made that have brought him to this time of hardship, but he’s also not surprised, and there is no sin that Jonah or that we can commit and consequence that we bear that God cannot use to mold and shape us for our benefit. We are not always spared the hard consequences of sin in our lives or in the world - but our God is imminently present with us, redeeming that dark place to become a birthplace of new life for us. It’s a mercy from God. A difficult mercy, but a mercy nonetheless.
Let’s continue:

Then I said, ‘I am driven away

from your sight;

yet I shall again look

upon your holy temple.’

5  The waters closed in over me to take my life;

the deep surrounded me;

weeds were wrapped about my head

6  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.

We can see what this dark place has done for Jonah. Jonah wanted nothing more than to be as far as possible away from God. He fled to Tarshish to go as far as humanly possible away from God and God’s vision for his life. When that wasn’t far enough, he wanted to die, so that maybe in death he could escape God. And that journey took him to the end of himself, and he now thinks to himself, that for a moment, at the bottom of the sea, he thought that he got what he wanted. He thought that he had escaped the sight of God; and sitting at the bottom, with no hope for rescue, no way out, he recognized how terrible a thing that would be.
This thing he was chasing, that was ruining his life, he now loses all taste for it, and what does he crave instead? He craves the presence of God - a presence that is seen and experienced so clearly in the temple.
You know this feeling. You finally get what you want, and you find that it’s not satisfying, it doesn’t deliver, and suddenly you have no taste for it. Jonah has lost all taste for his former life and now all he wants is the presence of God.
What’s happened in Jonah? What’s happening inside Jonah as a result of this severe mercy that has been dealt to him? He’s been brought to the end of himself and he’s realized not only that he needs God but that the only thing he has, the only thing going for him is the commitment that his God has for him.
When we are in trying season of life, seasons of significant hardship, what usually happens is that the clutter in our life kind of falls away, and we can see clearly what’s most important in life. And that’s what Jonah is experiencing here. The only thing that Jonah really has in life is that his God is committed to him. And this is a frightening realization, and yet it’s also a beautiful and freeing place to be.
And with that thought firmly in his mind, he closes out the prayer with thanksgiving and worship. Verse 7:

7  When my life was fainting away,

I remembered the LORD,

and my prayer came to you,

into your holy temple.

8  Those who pay regard to vain idols

forsake their hope of steadfast love.

9  But I with the voice of thanksgiving

will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed I will pay.

Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

God is not responsible for the hardship, but he’s not surprised, and sometimes it’s been a part of his redemptive plan all along.
Again, Jonah turns his attention to the temple - he remembers God, remembers all the blessings and goodness and gifts that God had given him throughout his life, all those things that he had ignored or forgotten as he fled to Tarshish, and he turns his attention to the temple - the center of God’s presence, the primary revelation of God’s presence in the world.
God is with Jonah in a way that some of us are not comfortable with.
This dark place is a mercy for Jonah - v4 - he has a taste only for God.
He turns his attention to the temple, the center of God’s presence. - We turn to Jesus. Because that is all we have going for us - and that is a wonderful place to be.
When you’re in that space, it doesn’t matter what goes down in your life, you know who you belong to, you know that every hardship that comes your way will be used for your benefit.
So Jonah is grateful, while in the belly of the fish.
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