The Message of Jonah – Part 2

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) was a Christian missionary and founder of the China Inland Mission. When he was sailing to China to begin his missionary work, his ship was in dangerous proximity to the north of New Guinea.

The wind had ceased, and a four-knot current was carrying them rapidly toward sunken reefs. As they drifted nearer to the shore, they were alarmed to see the natives building multiple fires. The captain’s hornbook informed him that the natives were cannibals. The crew had earlier released the long boat in an attempt to direct the ship from the shore. Everything they tried was to no avail. In his journal, Taylor recorded what occurred next (Hudson Taylor in Early Years, 2nd ed. [1911; reprint, London: China Inland Mission, 1923] 197-98).

After standing together on the deck for some time in silence, the captain said to me: “Well, we have done everything that can be done. We can only await the result.”

A thought occurred to me, and I replied, “No, there is one thing we have not done yet.”

“What is that?” he queried.

“Four of us on board are Christians. Let us each retire to our own cabin, and in agreed prayer ask the Lord to give us immediately a breeze. He can as easily send it now as at sunset.”

Taylor prayed briefly and did not continue to beseech God, because he felt assured that the Lord would grant the appeal for Him to send wind. Certain that the answer was coming, Taylor ventured again on deck and asked the first officer to lower the sails.

“What would be the good of that?” he answered roughly.

I told him we had been asking a wind from God; that it was coming immediately; and we were so near the reef by this time that there was not a minute to lose.

Within minutes, the wind did begin to blow, and it carried them safely past the reefs. Taylor wrote:

Thus God encouraged me ere landing on China’s shores, to bring every variety of need to Him in prayer, and to expect that He would honour the name of the Lord Jesus and give the help each emergency required.

God’s people should know that “our Father who is in heaven” is a loving, prayer-hearing and prayer-answering Lord. God can satisfy any need, and when praying to Him, His people have confidence that He will hear and answer. Jonah 2 is only one example of answered prayers. Not only did the prophet pray for deliverance from his distress, but also promised to worship once the Lord answered. Jonah’s prayer of thanksgiving—from a most unusual place—is a guide for praying to God in any circumstance, location, or for any reason.

The Need to Pray
The reality that Jonah could pray “to the LORD his God from the stomach of the fish” (Jon 2:1), emphasizes the truth that the Lord is omnipresent (present everywhere) and one can pray to Him from anywhere (cf. Ps 139:7-12).  There is no need to pray superstitiously from a particular location, nor should one assume that circumstances are so distressful that prayer is extraneous and needless. Jesus taught to pray “at all times” and “not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Similarly, Ephesians 6:18 exhorts, “pray at all times in the Spirit,” and 1 Thessalonians 5:17 encourages prayer “without ceasing.”

What is also noteworthy regarding prayer, is that people mistakenly believe that God only hears and answers those who are “good people,” and refuses those whose life is characterized by rebelliousness or weakness. Certainly, it is true that the heavens may “be bronze” (Deut 28:23; cf. Jer 14:11) for persistent failure to heed God’s Word, yet the Lord is gracious and compassionate toward anyone who will express humility toward Him. Jesus said, “‘In the same way, 

I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents’” (Luke 15:10).

Proverbs 28:13 declares, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.” Scripture also promises, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). God desires “truth in the innermost being” (Ps 51:6). Many people struggle to be transparent in their actions, especially when sin is involved. Consequently, God will often compel people to admit the consequences of sinful choices (something Jonah learned the difficult way).

While the sailors could not make Jonah pray in chapter 1, the fish was able to accomplish this in chapter 2. The Hebrew verb for “prayed” means “to intervene,” in the sense of intercessory prayer (Gen 20:7, 17; Numb 11:2; 21:7; Deut 9:20, 26; 1 Sam 2:25; 7:5; 12:23; Job 42:8; Jer 29:7). Being in “the stomach of the fish” was an entirely unexpected place to pray, yet Jonah expressed his thankfulness to God for preserving his life. Jonah did not regard his being swallowed by the fish as divine punishment; rather, he understood it to be divine deliverance from drowning.

Jonah’s distress was so intense that he felt he was in the depths of the grave (v. 2). There was no boasting in his prayer, for he knew God was his only means of deliverance. The first dynamic for that rescue was a renewed relationship with God. Interestingly enough, there may be a parallel between Jonah’s experience and that of Israel. For instance, Israel “has been cast into the sea of the Gentiles” as a consequence of “their failure as God’s witnesses in the earth.” Nevertheless, “despite all of their vicissitudes, the Lord has marvelously preserved them, and they are yet to become His testimony bearers to the whole world” (H. A. Ironside, The Minor Prophets [1904; reprint, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004] 136).

Notice that Jonah did not blame the sailors for tossing him into the sea, nor did he fault the storm or the great fish. Jonah described his trouble with extremely personal expressions. He confessed that God cast him “into the deep” (v. 3), which was the Lord’s domain: “Your breakers and billows” (v. 3). Jonah knew he needed to answer to God alone. People make great progress spiritually when they cease blaming others for their problems.

Jonah expressed a tremendous confession of faith in the midst of his desperate circumstance (v. 4). Jonah sought to flee “from the presence of the LORD” (1:3), and it appeared he was indeed expelled from God’s sight (2:4). He realized now how awful it is to be separated from the Lord’s presence. Jonah was engulfed by the deep (v. 5) and seemed to be in the grip of death, as opposed to God’s hold. Though human deliverance was hopeless, God was able to deliver Jonah “from the pit” (v. 6; cf. Ps 49:15; 56:13; 103:4). Even though a person has rebelled against God and is fleeing from His presence, it is still possible to pray in desperation and seek the Lord’s deliverance.

Jonah’s disobedience made his circumstances progressively worse. His downward journey began when he “went down to Joppa” and “went down” into the ship (1:3), and then went “below into the hold of the ship” (v. 5). He eventually was plunged “into the deep” (2:3), which was as low as he could go, having “descended to the roots of the mountains” (v. 6a). His journey downward that began in chapter 1 was completed. Jonah would be there “forever” (v. 6b) unless God brought him “up . . . from the pit” (v. 6c).

Jonah “remembered the Lord” even as he “was fainting away” (Jon 2:7; cf. Ps 107:5-6; 142:3-7). Remembrance of God and His past works resulted in hope. Picturing God in His “holy temple,” Jonah prayed to the Lord and found Him listening. No matter how desperate a situation may appear, remember that failure to pray is to deprive oneself of any hope that God will bestow His grace.

Everyone who trusts in “vain idols” forsakes the Lord’s grace (Jon 2:8). “Vain idols” (literally “empty worthlessness” or “worthless vanities”) refers to anything that has greater precedence in one’s life than the worship due God (cf. Ps 31:6; 1 John 5:21). The expression concerns what is “vanities of emptiness” or “worthlessness of nothingness.” Unlike those who cling to what is worthless, Jonah promised to sacrifice to God “with the voice of thanksgiving” (Jon 2:9).

The climax of Jonah’s prayer of personal confession, faith, and hope was his affirmation: “Salvation is from the LORD.” Whether it is physical or spiritual, salvation is ultimately from God and only from Him (cf. Ps 3:8; 37:39). The prophet’s statement also recognizes that God has the power to save whomever He will. What is ironic is that it was God’s sovereign grace in salvation that angered Jonah.

In response to Jonah’s prayer, God commanded the great fish to vomit the prophet “onto the dry land” (Jon 2:10). The only creature that disobeys God is fallen humanity (cf. Isa 1:2-3). No matter how desperate one’s circumstances might be, it is crucial to know that God hears and answers prayer, and He alone can bring deliverance.

Midnight Call - 01/2021

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