February 10, 2019
Gil McConnell (North Campus) | | Jonah 2
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.—Jonah 2:1–10
We saw last week that God is a God of relentless mercy. God’s mercy goes so far as to use a prodigal prophet to carry his message of judgment to an evil people so that he might save them. God appointed Jonah to go and preach to the people of Nineveh, but Jonah didn’t. God appointed a great storm to come up on Jonah’s escape boat and it did. Jonah could’ve repented, but he didn’t. So God appointed sailors to throw Jonah overboard and into the sea, and they did. God said “Shhh…” to the sea and it did. God appointed a great fish to go and swallow up Jonah, and it did. You go, fish! Obey the will of your Creator! And that is where we pick up the story today—with an obedient sea, obedient sailors, an obedient fish, and a disobedient prophet. Jonah keeps us on our toes. And we wonder, “What is this guy going to do next?” That’s what we’ll find out after we pray.
Dear Father, thank you for this remarkable story. It is your word and we stand in awe of it. Reveal yourself to us through your word so that we stand in awe of you. As we see you more clearly help us to respond to you in a way that is fitting. Help us not to run from you and run from your word like Jonah did. But help us to run to you. We ask in Jesus’ name.
Since I’m the children’s pastor, let me tell you something about kids. One thing I know about kids is that they absolutely love to clean their rooms. They long to hear those words roll off of their parents’ tongues: “Okay, time to clean your room.” They enjoy those words so much that it’s like they hear them in slow-motion, “T-i-m-e to c-l-e-a-n your r-o-o-m.” They love those words so much, and they love cleaning their rooms so much, that they often respond in slow-motion too. And kids you tell me, isn’t that because you just love it so much that you want to savor it?
Okay, the truth is this: Some of you kids like to clean your rooms. But you are a rare breed. Most kids do not like to do it. They put it off as long as possible. Sometimes it gets so bad that you are knee-deep in legos and other things so that it’s hard to do anything in there. It might even be dangerous to go in. But kids, you know what?
Adults are like that too. Sometimes there are things we don’t want to do. We put them off. We even do that sometimes when it’s something we know God wants us to do. And it causes us to be not just knee-deep—but in over our heads—in our problems and pains.
Let’s see if we can learn something from Jonah. Look with me at Jonah, chapter 2, verse 1.
Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish…
Then verses 2–9 is Jonah’s prayer. You might notice that the way Jonah’s prayer is written here is in the form of a Psalm of Thanksgiving. There’s a summary of his situation in verses 2–3. There’s a retelling of his trouble in verses 4–7. Then there’s a cry for help. There’s deliverance. There are vows. And finally, a word of praise. All the makings of a thanksgiving Psalm.
Whether Jonah crafted this psalm in the belly of the fish or sometime later, or whether the author of this book did that (if it wasn’t Jonah) doesn’t really matter. It is an accurate retelling of what happened in the deep waters of the sea. We learn what God did and learn how Jonah responded. We also learn how we should respond when we find ourselves in deep waters of other kinds—when we find ourselves in over our heads.
We learn from Jonah to remember, pray, and worship. I think we can see a summary of these three instructive notes in verse 7. Look with me there:
When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the Lord, [remember]
and my prayer came to you, [pray]
into your holy temple. [the place of worship]
1. The Location of Jonah’s Remembering
We might think that Jonah only began to pray in the belly of the fish. But he started praying before that. Look at verse 2:
Jonah says, “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress.” And this phrase is parallel to the next statement, “Out of the belly of Sheol, I cried.”
So Jonah cried out to the LORD in his distress from where? The belly of Sheol. Now, where is that? Sheol is another word for the grave. So Jonah thinks he is about to die. Look at his retelling of the situation in verse 5–6.
So the sea becomes a death sentence for Jonah. He is at the roots of the mountains, he says. Jonah’s location is at the bottom of the sea and he as good as dead. That’s what he thought. He says in verse 7, “My life was fainting away.”
But it was right there. In that place, near to death and no one to save him, that Jonah was in a mess of his own making. No contingency plan. No rescue helicopter. No life boat. No life jacket. And almost no life at all. And it was from THAT place that Jonah finally remembered the LORD.
He says “When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD.”
2. The Lord of Jonah’s Remembering
This situation Jonah finds himself in is terrifying, but it is not at all surprising. Jonah knows his disobedience and he knows the LORD’s discipline. Chapter 1 tells us the sailors threw Jonah into the sea, but in verse 3 here Jonah says, “LORD, 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.
So Jonah knows that the LORD has brought him to this deep, dark place. The LORD brought Jonah down so low so that he would look up. And he did. He even went as far in verse 4 as to express the hope of looking upon the LORD’s temple. From the lowest point in Jonah’s life, he looked toward the highest place of Israelite worship. God was at work here!
So, Jonah remembered the LORD in his deep waters. And the LORD was the decisive actor in Jonah’s remembering, there in that deep, dark place.
So there Jonah was in the depths of the Mediterranean Sea. We don’t know how deep the Mediterranean Sea was back then. But today it averages almost 5,000 feet deep. Have you ever seen how dark it is down that deep? Experts say that there is hardly any light at all that travels beyond 656 feet down into the water. We don’t know how deep it was where Jonah sank down, but on the bottom it was likely very dark.
And there’s a lot of pressure under the water down deep. We are under air pressure all the time even above water. But below the water’s surface as you go deeper and deeper into it the pressure builds to the point where it could squeeze the air right out of you and literally crush you.
But deep waters are not always in the water. We know this.
What deep waters are you going through right now?
Some of you are walking through deep waters as a result of the discipline of the Lord because of the depth of your sin. Maybe …
When Jonah was sinking down, down, down in deep waters and the depths of his sin, he remembered the Lord. If that’s you today, remember the LORD!
Now, some of you are walking through deep waters as result of the fallen world we live in.
I know that many among us are fighting various forms of cancer. Some are dealing with severe chronic pain. Some of you have just experienced a miscarriage. Others have lost a spouse or another loved one. Some of you are students and all your projects and tests are coming due in the same week. For some of you, everything’s breaking down at the same time: your car, your furnace, and now a pipe burst. And some of you just have a thousand little things all mounting up at once. Some of you are distressed over yourself because you don’t like who you are, and you struggle to get out of bed in the morning on a good day. Now it’s even worse, given the week you’ve had.
And the list goes on and on. This life is filled with deep waters, friends. What do you do? Remember the Lord. Remember what about the Lord? Turn your mind around to thinking about the Lord and who he is and how he operates. Like Jeremiah in Lamentations 3:21–23:
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
When Jonah was at the bottom, when it seemed his life was fainting away, he remembered the LORD. If that is you, remember the LORD. And …
When Jonah remembered the Lord, he prayed.
Verse 2 says Jonah called out the LORD, and he cried out to the LORD. Verse 7 says, “My prayer came to you.” But we don’t exactly know what that prayer included. Maybe it was mostly “Help!” I mean, he’s sinking down pretty fast. That would be a good prayer! In verse 4, we have this line, “I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.” So we at least know that Jonah understands how far away he is from the Lord and how he hopes to be close again.
But when Jonah is rescued and the rest of the prayer comes out, we see something very interesting. What would you have expected Jonah to pray? He’s as far down as he can go, and as a means to save his life God sends a great fish to swallow him whole. He wakes up and realizes, “I’m alive! I’m alive!” I would have expected Jonah to pray something like: “Thank you! Thank you, LORD!” And he does. This whole Psalm is his way of saying thank you to the Lord for saving him from the deep waters. But wouldn’t you have expected more? What about, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry, LORD! Please forgive me! I’ve been such a rebellious child. I surrender.” But does Jonah say that? No!
Instead Jonah spends more time talking about himself and his situation than he does about God and God’s salvation. Just skim down through the chapter as I’m talking. He says…
And in verse 7 ends with…
What you see here is that Jonah is in every verse. Recounting his experience, concern for his life, his prayer, his sacrifices, his vows, and even comparing himself to others.
Once upon a time …
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”—Luke 18:9–14
We want to say, “Oh Jonah, you might have made a better Pharisee than a prophet.” Oh Gilbert (the name my Grandma used when I was in trouble), the same is sometimes true of you. We long for Jonah to be more like the repentant tax collector. Do we long for the same humble resemblance in ourselves?
Dear friends, when we are caught in the depths our sin, and it feels like the waters are closing in around us, do we really want to pray like the Pharisee? Is this really the time to hold on to our pride and try to justify ourselves? Is this really the time to stand before our maker and tell him all the things we have done or vow to do? Is it really the time to compare ourselves to others? “If you, oh LORD, should count iniquities, oh LORD, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3). Not one.
No, friends, it’s time to pray like the tax collector. It’s time to humble yourself before your Maker. Confess your sin. Turn away from your sin. Pray, “God be merciful to me, a sinner. I am not deserving of the gift of salvation. But you are a God who is merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. You are God, and I am not. I’m sorry for getting it so wrong. Thank you for Jesus, who died to pay the penalty for my sin and save me from your wrath and save me to his glory. Please forgive me. Come and make me new.”
But what if the deep waters are not a result of personal sin, but the pains, anxieties, and sorrows of life rolling like sea billows over us? We might still be tempted to justify ourselves. To say, “I’ve been a good person. This shouldn’t be happening to me!” And that’s when it’s time to lament. To pray with the Psalmist, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). It’s time to weep over our brokenness and the brokenness of our world.
And then remember the Lord. Turn your mind to who he is and pray with the Psalmist, “I lift my eyes up to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1–2).
Cry out from Psalm 130, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!”
Then, wait for the Lord and pray, “I wait for you LORD, my soul waits, and in your word I hope; my soul will wait for you, Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning… because with you, LORD there is steadfast love and with you there is plentiful redemption” (Psalm 130:1–2, 7).
As you are waiting, if you feel you might lose your grip, cling to the Lord and pray, “My soul clings to you, Lord, your right hand upholds me” (Psalm 63:8). And remember that nothing can ever separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39). God is greater than all, and no one can ever snatch you out of his hand (John 10:29).
And, in your clinging, keep preaching to your soul from Psalm 25:8, “Good and upright is the LORD.” And Psalm 107:1, “Oh give thanks to the LORD for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
And remembering his steadfast love for you in Jesus, pray again with the Psalmist, “Why are you in despair, Oh my soul? Hope in God! For I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:11). And sometimes pray with Job, “The LORD gives and the LORD takes away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).
Even out of the depths you can begin to praise the LORD and bless the LORD. So we see here that deep waters can actually even lead us to worship.
I believe that’s what God wanted to do for Jonah. God cast him into deep waters so Jonah would remember him, so that Jonah would pray to him and repent, and ultimately so that Jonah would worship him on his way to Nineveh.
And we see here that Jonah does offer up words of worship.
We get the first glimpse of Jonah’s idea of worship from verse 4 when he says, “I shall again look upon your holy temple.” He mentions the temple again in verse 7. This makes sense because the temple was central to Hebrew worship, and Jonah was a Hebrew. So, it’s good that from the depths Jonah hopes to be back in that place. But then look what he says in verses 8–9:
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!”
Now we remember that the sailors did exactly what Jonah is saying here back in chapter 1, verse 16: “Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.”
It’s hard to know exactly what the sailors believed about God, but it appears that they are changed men, that they are truly fearing the LORD and worshipping him. And from that fear and heart felt worship they offer sacrifices and make vows.
Jonah on the other hand talks about doing these things. And in chapter 3 we will find that he does go to Nineveh and preach, like God told him to do. But then we’ll see in chapter 4 that he goes right back to who he was before the deep waters. So here, even though Jonah is saying some good things, I think he is taking part in exactly what he condemns in verse 8. He is paying regard to a vain idol: the idol of self.
Jonah praises God. He offers up words of worship. He declares, “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” And that is exactly right. But the words seem a bit shallow. They ring a bit hollow, given what we know about Jonah. It’s like he’s got one foot in and one foot out. He is straddling the fence. He’s half-hearted in his worship. His worship is hindered because of his lack of repentance and submission to God. He is satisfied with the preservation of self rather than in the exaltation of God. We see a much different picture in the life of the Psalmist, David.
When David is found in the deep waters of hideous sin with Bathsheba and Uriah in Psalm 51, he confesses his sin before God, he repents, he asks God to purge him of his sin and create in him a clean heart. And then, after confession and repentance and restoration David says in verse 15–17:
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
As he comes clean before God in prayer, David is set free to worship his God. And we just long for something like this with Jonah. But he does not go there. David opens his heart wide to God and then he opens his lips. Whereas Jonah opens his lips and keeps his heart mostly closed.
The remarkable thing is that even though God knows this is how Jonah will respond, he still saves him. Verse 2 says the Lord answered Jonah and heard his voice. Verse 6 says the LORD pulled him out of the pit. Salvation does belong to the LORD! And he saves his prophet, even when he knows he will stay half-hearted. And this just serves to highlight God’s relentless mercy all the more.
We know what half-hearted worship is like. You might have just experienced it this morning. It is so easy in the throes and busyness of life to get up late, skip our Bible time, yell at the kids, kick the dog, rush out the door, speed to church, rush in, see Ron & Cathy, smile and say “Hi, how are you? Isn’t the snow crazy?” And then walk into worship and mouth the songs. Or maybe we even sing them out long and strong, all the while planning to leave this place unchanged.
Dear friends, it is so easy to praise God with our lips when our hearts are far from him. I’m not condemning you. There are mornings when I am the one I just described (except that we don’t have a dog). I’m just trying to bring to our attention to how easy it is to be “Jonahs” in our journey here on earth. It’s hard here. We sin. We fail. Troubles surround us. Things hurt. It’s easy to get callous and go through the motions. Sometimes it’s because of our personal sin. Sometimes it’s because of the sin of others. Sometimes it’s because it just is. The whole world is in deep waters.
If you feel half-hearted in your worship, what can you do? Well, you can take a page from Jonah’s book and begin to utter words of worship. But that’s not the end of the story. We need to turn the page and go farther up and farther into the story. We need to move on to more like the way David worships. In fact, you can even borrow his words. Read the Psalms. Read them again and again. Pray the Psalms. Worship the LORD through the Psalms. Or… the gospels, or Paul’s prayers in his letters, or God’s promises in the writings of Peter.
Land on some phrase or some paragraph that speaks of God’s character and reveals his glorious nature. Turn it over and over again in your mind. Say it out loud again and again. Begin to pray those words back to God. As you do, your mind and your heart begin to be changed. The waters seem to subside. You begin to look up to God the Father and to his Son Jesus, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, you might even begin to sing. Affection for God rises up in your heart because you see his worth and you worship.
So dear friends, what do you do in deep waters? Remember the Lord. Pray to him. Even worship him. In other words, surrender to the Lord who has saved you.
Today we’ve seen that the prophet Jonah gets us going on this path. But he falls short. So we turn to King David and get more help. But if we were to look at David’s whole life, we would see that he’s not a perfect example to follow either. God’s prophets are not perfect people. Neither are his priests and kings … until we get to Jesus!
What’s so striking about what Jonah did in deep waters is what he didn’t do. He did not surrender. Even lying breathless in the belly of a fish, he did not lay down his arms. God had saved him from death, not only to be on his mission, but to melt his heart. To help him say with the Psalmist, “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Psalm 31:5). And still Jonah doesn’t do it.
But, oh praise the Lord, dear friends: Jesus did! Jesus lived his life always remembering the words of his Father and being careful to do them. He went prostrate alone on the Mount of Olives and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). And after he had been mocked, and beaten, and spit upon, and humiliated, and after he had been hung on a criminal’s stake, he called out with a loud voice, and said, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
Jesus surrendered his will to the Father so he could become the LORD who saves. Jesus entered the deepest waters the world has ever known so that in your deep waters you could know him!
Sometimes we make life about clean rooms and clean looks and clean words and clean actions. When what God wants most is a clean heart. That in the depths of our sin we would cry out to him, knowing that his word tells us that if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). That in the depths of our sorrows, we would cry out to him, “Our Father, in heaven, hallowed be your name, your will be done, your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:7). That in our deep waters, we would plead for God to swallow us up in his great mercy and satisfy us in Christ.
If you are not a believer in Jesus, you don’t have to wait until God brings you to the bottom. Come to the end of yourself today. Stop fighting God today. Turn from your sin. Cry out to God! Surrender to the LORD Jesus. He will save you!
If you are a believer, and God’s waves and billows are washing over you, cry out to him.
If you are running from God in open rebellion as a believer, you are in danger of drowning in the depths of your sin. Remember the Lord. Pray to him and turn from your sin. Return to right worship before your God.
If you are crushed by the waves of this life, (and I know so many of you are) remember the LORD. Pray, “Be still my soul, the waves and winds still know, the voice that ruled them while he dwelt below.” And you can find a place of worship right there where you are.
How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.—Psalm 36:7–9
We are all in deep waters of some kind today. Out of the depths, help us to cry out to you and drink from the river of your delights. And help us to remember that one day, all those who have surrendered to Jesus will join with a great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. And we will stand before the throne and before Jesus, the Lamb who was slain for us, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in our hands, crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9–10).
Hasten that day, Lord Jesus. And until that day, help us to humble ourselves under your mighty hand, so that at the proper time you may exalt us, casting all our anxieties on you, because you care for us (1 Peter 5:6–7). We pray in your name. Amen.