Taking it In
Finally, Jonah prays. The verb and the noun for prayer in Hebrew take their meaning from normal, everyday life as terms that apply to pleading with a judge who will make a decision in your favor, or at least that’s what you hope for. This almost reads as a psalm and it is structured in a very similar manner. It is structured like a thanksgiving psalm which tend to tell the story of how a person writing, praying, or singing the psalm experienced a life-threatening situation. Psalms of this nature always move from that traumatic event to how the person is praying, how God is listening and answering the prayer, and then praising God for it and making a vow or pledge for the future based on what God has done. This prayer of Jonah is a gold mine of references to other verses mostly from the Psalms (imagine that!). One of the most ironic ones comes from Psalm 120:1 which says, “To Yahweh in my trouble I called, and he answered me.” It’s interesting that Jonah claims to have called to Yahweh and heard Yahweh answer because it’s basically the exact opposite of what happened in chapter one, where Yahweh called Jonah to Nineveh (but Jonah didn’t go) and where the captain told Jonah to call to his God (but we don’t see Jonah do it), and where the sailors did call to Yahweh. In 2:2 we get a really good line from Jonah that says he cried out from the belly of Sheol, that is, the underworld and was cast into the depths of the sea. Vivid imagery there that really sings as we’ll see when we work this section out.
Working it Out
1:17 can be seen as the opening remark for the beginning of chapter two. Four important words open this new section of the story and introduce Jonah’s prayer: “But the Lord provided.” When Jonah went overboard into the sea, our expectation might have been (if we didn’t know the rest of the story or we’re seeing it from the eyes of the rescued sailors) that Jonah is dead or in the process of drowning. But, there is a major difference between our expectations and what God is actually up to. God tends to continue to pursue us even when we have quit or are running away from God. After all that Jonah had done, and after the threat of being thrown into the sea, the Lord provided by having a big ol’ fish swallow Jonah… in order to save him. Instead of starting his prayer with a “sorry,” or a “help,” Jonah starts his prayer with a “thank you.” Jonah, the guy who we just witnessed reject and run from God’s call, and possibly even tried to remove himself from the call and thus the opportunity for Nineveh to hear about God, finally and intentionally receives God’s kindness and grace. The one who by all accounts shouldn’t have received such a grace, did. Jonah acknowledges and responds to the grace of God. What about us? Because we can be, at times, just as undeserving as Jonah and many of us know it and can’t bring ourselves to accept it. “God would never want me back after what I’ve done.” “I’ve ran too far to be redeemed by God.” Whether we’re trying to punish ourselves with guilt or we legitimately believe we are beyond saving, God says otherwise. God will chase you to the end of the earth, to the highest heights, and as we see with Jonah, the deepest depths. God’s grace is free, but sometimes the hardest thing is to accept it and receive it.