Taking it In
Jonah prays that his “life” is “ebbing away.” The word used for “life” here is the same used for “soul” and can also be rendered as “neck” or “throat.” If you notice, these are the main parts of our bodies that eat and drink. We see elsewhere in the Bible authors often use language like the “soul becoming weary,” “thirsty” (Proverbs 25:25), or even “hungry” (Isaiah 29:8). Jonah’s soul has now sunk to the bottom of the ocean, under the weight of the mountains, and into the bellows of the fish close to Sheol. He traveled many a weary mile physically and metaphorically with nothing to keep him going or to sustain him. All he’s got now is God whether he likes it or not. V.7 is interesting, though, because the object of the verb “remembered” is present but the object is not. In other words, Yahweh is there in the present, but Jonah is gone. Jonah is among the dead and decides to remember that the Lord saves him. Then in v.9 Jonah switches to future tense, promising to give thanks for a redemption that has yet to take place. When we take communion at church every week, this is essentially what we do, too. In fact, the very word “eucharist” (used in other denominations for communion) is Greek for “thanksgiving.” When we give thanks in communion, we remember what is not yet in whole, but present in part. Christ has died, risen, and will come again. There are a number of twists and turns that have yet to play out in Jonah’s story, and his problems are far from over. So, even though he looks to the future in good taste, he still has a long way to go yet. Our text today ends with God speaking to the fish to vomit Jonah out. We should know by now when God speaks, things happen. God speaks the world into existence. God says “let there be light,” there is. In a way, when God speaks to the fish, Jonah is getting re-created. Still far from perfect as we can assume, but this is definitely a turning point of the story.
Working it Out
God does the best work when our souls are weary like Jonah’s in today’s text. After all resources run out, all strength has left, when we’re at the bottom of a place we can’t come back from. Yet, there is no place too far for the reach of God’s arm. Even when we are lifeless, God hears even our silence and answers. You think about what Jesus did with Lazarus in John 11:43-44. The guy was dead stiff, literally, but again… when God speaks, things happen. Lazarus hears the voice of Jesus and comes out of his tomb even as a corpse. We, ourselves, can feel lifeless in our souls but in God’s sight, when God remembers us in mercy, God’s beloved, we live. We are infused with the breath to breathe, be, and live well. We could come out of circumstances covered in fish guts and puke, stinking to high heaven. And we can think of Jonah, and we can think of Lazarus, and we can laugh. If the fish represents Sheol, then we can give hell indigestion because the word of the Lord is the power that defeats death and Jesus shows us this, precisely. Sheol, death, even came for Jesus “but God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24). When God has hold of us, death cannot. Like Jonah, we are made new and will be made new. But, we too still have many twists and turns to go. There is still plenty of work to do both on ourselves, and in the world.