Jonah 2 – Prayer from a Dark Place

Jonah 2 Bible with Chocolove Dark Chocolate Coffee Crunch

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Today’s PassageJonah 2

As the previous chapter tells us, Jonah was stuck in the giant fish for three days. Of course, he didn’t know it at the time, with no way of seeing the sun, moon, and other markers of the passage of time. Had it been three hours? Three weeks? For Jonah, one guess was as good as another. And for somewhere in the neighborhood of seventy-two hours, Jonah was left to chill in the dark belly of the fish.

What did he do with that time? Probably slept. He may have eaten as well, but if he did, let’s try not to think too much about where his food came from. It’s conceivable he took a three-day fast. But, with no idea how long he’d be in there, Jonah was left alone with himself, the ichthyoid’s inward parts, and God. And it would seem somewhere along the line he experienced a shift in his thinking, because he composed a prayer in the form of a poem, and that’s chapter two.

Jonah has gone from fleeing the presence of the Lord to praying to him. It’s not a hash-out-your-anger prayer like you see in Job. And it’s not an asking-for-things prayer, because apparently for Jonah that came earlier. Jonah begins his prayer, “I called out of my distress to the Lord, and He answered me” (2). It’s a thank-you-for-the-fish prayer of the kind that you might pray before you are about to eat a fish, except that you almost certainly prayed yours from outside the fish.

Jonah acknowledges God’s kindness to him in rescuing him from drowning, from the depths of the ocean, and in a sense from God himself. He describes the ocean’s depths in many deep, black, harrowing terms, but perhaps the most to-the-point is “the depth of Sheol” (2). The ocean is a grave; its surface a gate to the underworld; its waves hands that pull you under and never let you return. Jonah must have supposed himself as good as dead, tangled in seaweed and sinking into the black. He was deep in the guts of Sheol, but then he found himself in the guts of a living being, life itself, the Rescue Fish.

I recall one time I was watching the whales at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago when it crossed my mind: what’s it like to be a whale? What’s it like to be in the middle of the ocean, miles of black water between you and solid earth, a dark expanse of space? It would be absolutely terrifying to transpose my mind into the body of a whale. Psychologically and physiologically, we humans aren’t made to live down there. Jonah’s prayer is the prayer of a man who saw things from a whale’s point of view, a man who almost drowned.

Jonah recognizes God’s hand in all these events. It would seem he recognized it even as he was sinking into the ocean, and he may well have supposed God meant to kill him. He prays, “You had cast me into the deep…All Your breakers and billows passed over me” (3). God made the sailors who threw Jonah into the sea; before he created the universe, he knew these men would finally accede to Jonah’s requests to pitch him overboard. He made the waters, set them in their place, coordinated every wave. At the end of the day, God put Jonah in the water, and he put him in the fish.

At the end of the day–the third day, as it were–Jonah praises God for saving him (Jonah) from himself (God). I’ll let you guys unpack that can of Theodicy Worms, because as the chapter closes, the fish barfs Jonah out onto a beach, and it’s time to move on to Nineveh.

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