Jonah’s Prayer

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Turn with me in your Bibles to the Book of Jonah. I love the Book of Jonah. Some believe that Jonah is only a fairy-tale. After all, how can a whale swallow a man? But Jesus didn’t consider Jonah to be a fairy-tale. Jesus used Jonah to describe His death, burial, and resurrection. Our Lord said:

Matthew 12:40 For as {Jonah} was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

The King James translation of the whale’s belly is unfortunate. This is the Greek κῆτος κοιλία kētos koilia, which means “a sea monster’s belly, the belly of a great fish”. Jesus never said Jonah was in a whale. Our Lord knew the Scripture, and knew that the Book of Jonah says:

Jonah 1:17 Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Word Study: a great fish is the Hebrewגָּדוֹל דָּג gâdôwl, {pronounced gaw-dole’} dâg, {pronounced dawg} or GREAT FISH. Whales are not carnivorous, feeding only on small plankton in the ocean water. The Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.

Why did Jonah get swallowed? He got swallowed because he allowed anger and a desire for revenge on his enemies to consume him.

People Need To Read Their Bibles

I often have people tell me, “God doesn’t make us do anything. He has given us free will!”. If you agree with this, you need to read your Bible. Our God, He is Lord. He is in control of all things, and decides what will be. This is what we call sovereignty. Our God “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). If God is NOT sovereign, then how can the Scripture promise:

Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

There is no “working together for good” if God is not in control. “By Christ Jesus all things consist or are held together” (Colossians 1:17). God said in

Isaiah 45:5-7 I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: 6 That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the Lord, and there is none else. 7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create {calamity}: I the Lord do all these things.

And the Psalmist said in 115:3 (ESV), “Our God is in Heaven; He does whatever pleases Him”. King Solomon wrote in Proverbs 19:21 (ESV), “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails”. The stepbrother of Jesus, James said in 4:14-15 (ESV), “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that”.

Our God is in control. Yes, He has given us free will, but HIS WILL will triumph. God does not bow to us, but we bow to HIM. He is God. He is the Potter, and we are the clay. He is the Shepherd, and we the sheep.

Are you at Jonah? Let’s start at verse 1:

Jonah 1:1-2 Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.

God chose Jonah to go to Ninevah, the capital city of Assyria, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me”. The Bible says that God “makes nations great and destroys them” (Job 12:23, NIV). Ninevah’s wickedness {has} come up before God. It’s wickedness is out of control. God does NOT have to warn Ninevah. When the world became so wicked and,

Genesis 6:5-7 … God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. 7 And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.

God did not send a messenger to the world to warn it to repent. He told Noah to build a boat. I’m sure Noah told people what he was doing, and why – but God did not have to warn anyone. When God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah He sent angels to evacuate Lot’s family (see Genesis 19). The angels warned no one about the impending destruction that God was going to bring.

God didn’t have to warn Ninevah. But He did. He wanted Jonah to go and tell Ninevah about the impending destruction. Now, God didn’t tell Jonah why He wanted to give Ninevah a chance. He just told Jonah to go. It is only at the end of the book of Jonah that we are told why God gave Ninevah a chance to repent. God tells Jonah at the end of this book:

Jonah 4:11 And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?

A “score” is twenty, so six score thousand persons is 120,000 people that God wanted to spare destruction. Who were these people? They were those who don’t know their right hand from their left. Who is that? God is speaking of little children. There are 120,000 little children in Ninevah. Jesus loves the little children. When the disciples tried to keep the little children from coming to Jesus, the Bible says:

Mark 10:13-15 And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, {Allow} the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.

God loves little children. He wants the little children to come to Him, to be saved. God is sparing Ninevah because there are 120,000 little children, children that do not know their right hand from their left.

But Jonah …

God told Jonah to go. What did Jonah do? We read:

Jonah 1:3 But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.

Jonah was foolish. He thought he could hide from God. God is not only omnipotent, all powerful, but God is also omnipresent, everywhere. You cannot hide from God. The Bible says no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of {God}” (Hebrews 4:13, ESV). Jonah thought that by running to Tarshish (about 2500 miles from Ninevah) he would be far enough away to where God could not make him go to Ninevah. Jonah wanted Ninevah destroyed, not saved. But God wanted Ninevah saved. God had been working in the hearts of those people, and needed Jonah to tell them to repent.

Jonah 1:4 But the Lord sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.

You can’t run away from God. God said in Jeremiah 23:24, “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? Declares the Lord. Do I not fill Heaven and earth?

God is everywhere. Jonah is not hiding from God. The ship begins to toss about on the waves, but Jonah is napping. His crew mates first woke Jonah up:

Jonah 1:6 So the ship master came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.

People get very religious when death comes near. The ship master had a multi-faith prayer meeting to ask whatever god there is to spare them. He demanded Jonah’s prayers, too. Then they began to think, “Let’s cast lots, and see if we can find out who God is mad at” (my paraphrase). The lot landed on Jonah. The Bible says:

Proverbs 16:33 The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.

God controls the outcome of the lot. And the lot falls on Jonah. Jonah tells them to throw him in the ocean (verse 12), and let him perish. This will calm the waters. Jonah thought he was dead. But God had other plans for Jonah.

Jonah’s Pain Brought Out Jonah’s Prayer

Jonah is in the belly of a great fish that God specifically prepared to swallow him. This isn’t like the cartoons, where Jonah is sitting in a boat with a lantern to keep the darkness at bay. No, Jonah is swallowed, but nothing else. Jonah is having to struggle to breath, and in pitch black darkness. The smell of rotted fish is thick in the air. Jonah is in a worst state than any have ever been in. Samson was blinded, and tied to pillars to be mocked. Joseph was cast in a pit, then sold into slavery by his brothers. Daniel was carried off into Babylonian captivity, losing family and lands. Jonah is in a worst place. He can’t run. He can’t move about. He can’t see. But Jonah can pray. Jonah cries out:

Jonah 2:2 I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.

Jonah is in the belly of hell, but he knows that God can still hear him. When he was running from God, he was doing something that only an insane person would do. But now that he is in the belly of hell, he comes to himself. Jonah is much like the Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. The Prodigal Son takes his inheritance, leaves home, and squanders all he owns. When he is out of money, and can only find work as a hog farmer, trapped by his sin, the Prodigal …

Luke 15:17-20 (ESV) … came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father.

When the Prodigal got home, he found out that his Father is merciful. Jonah is counting on the mercy of God for himself.

Psalm 130:2 (ESV) O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

Jonah 2:3-4 For Thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all Thy billows and Thy waves passed over me. 4 Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward Thy holy temple.

Jonah acknowledges that it is GOD Who had him cast overboard. It is GOD Who caused Jonah to be swallowed by a great fish. Jonah acknowledged his foolishness, and promised tolook again toward Thy holy temple. When the Prophet Daniel was taken away in captivity by Babylon, the Bible says that

Daniel 6:10 … {Daniel} went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God

Jonah repenting, promised that he would pray toward Jerusalem again.

Jonah 2:5-7 The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. 6 I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God. 7 When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.

As Jonah prays, he repents and acknowledges the great Grace of God. Jonah closes his prayer with:

Jonah 2:8-9 They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. 9 But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.

Jonah promises to live as a believer, to obey God as a good servant should. In his misery I believe Jonah was sincere. But once God released Jonah, Jonah did the bare minimum in telling the Ninevites about repenting. Though Jonah prayed, Salvation is of the Lord, he didn’t really believe it. But salvation IS of the Lord. The Lord can use broken creatures like Jonah – and like us. Praise God that salvation does not rely on us, but on God the Holy Spirit and the Holy Word of God. Pastor Steven Lee, North Campus of Bethlehem Baptist Church wrote:

Be persistent in prayer, knowing your God is even more persistent in mercy. … Of all the people who shouldn’t have expected their prayers to be answered, it was Jonah. He openly rebelled against God. When God called, he ran in the opposite direction. He jumped aboard a ship and tried to flee the Sovereign of the seas. Even when the storms raged, he refused to pray for deliverance. He would have rather drowned than repented. And yet, out of this watery grave, he comes to his senses and cries out — and wonder of wonders, God listens and answers.”

Our God is merciful and loving. He not only wanted to save Ninevah for the sake of 120,000 children, but He wanted to use a broken vessel like Jonah to do it. Why? Because salvation is of the Lord. Though Jonah does a pitiful job of preaching to the Ninevites, that great city does get saved.

Jonah 3:5-9 … the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. 6 For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. 9 Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?

Does Jonah rejoice at their salvation? No, he doesn’t. In fact, Jonah gets mad at God for being so merciful. Jonah prays once more unto God:

Jonah 4:2-3 … I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. 3 Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.

The fact that God IS gracious, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, is the very reason that Jonah did not get digested by that fish. God is gracious, and merciful, slow to anger, and kind. He loves everyone, and gives whosoever will an opportunity to repent and run into His arms.

Would that we all understand this great truth. Let us pray! Amen and Amen!

About bibleteacherorg

A searching Pastor, I am looking for a people who love the Lord and love one another. Daily I pray for the Church. Most of what the world sees today is not the Church, but clubs pretending to be the Church. God is calling to Himself a people willing to be righteous, not self righteous, serving not served. I am called to pastor God's people, those who want to change the world by willingly and willfully following Jesus Christ. Only God is able to change the world, and we must follow His Christ. He is able! Praise His Name! Come quickly Lord Jesus!
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