Devotional: The Prayer of Jonah
Jonah 2:2-9 (NIV)
2 He said:
"In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.
3 You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.
4 I said, 'I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.'
5 The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.
7 "When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
8 "Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God's love for them.
9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, 'Salvation comes from the Lord.'"
(Olivet Assembly USA) - The passage by the prophet Jonah (Jonah 2:2-9) describes a moment of distress Jonah's life that concludes with his grateful praise to the Lord, a desire to keep his promise to God and ultimately Jonah's affirmation of the Lord's salvation.
The prayer as written comes at a critical moment for Jonah that is bordering life and death. But Jonah's words in the prayer are not only self-reflection about his own mortality. They are in verse two, a call to the Lord that God answers.
Jonah finds himself "deep in the realm of the dead" (NIV). To gain some further insight into this phrase we can see it translated as "the belly of hell" (KJV), "the depth of Sheol" (NASB), "the belly of Sheol" (ESV and NRSV) and "the land of the dead" (NLT).
Jonah is in a precarious circumstance both physically, inside a great fish, but also spiritually, finding himself at the point of death, among the dead.
The passage describes Jonah's physical circumstances in verse three of a storm of currents, waves and breakers. But Jonah also sees himself as "banished" from God's sight.
In the depths of the sea in verse 6, Jonah considers himself as "forever" barred in. This eternal separation from God presents the extent of Jonah's estrangement from his maker.
And yet at that moment is where Jonah is praying to God.
"But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit," Jonah says in verse six. This phrase is described as the Lord having "brought up my life from corruption" in the KJV.
Jonah's place among the dead, the pit of corruption and isolation comes into sharp contrast with God's presence as he prays in verse 7.
"I remembered you, Lord and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple," Jonah prays.
And here Jonah describes what misplaced attention in life leads to, a separation from the Lord.
"Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God's love for them," Jonah adds.
Jonah had been called by God for a special work, but Jonah had decided to run away from the Lord, imperiling himself and others before he allowed himself to be cast out of the ship on which he was sailing.
In the midst of death and despair he was able to recognize God's love and give "shouts of grateful praise" in verse 8. He resolves to carry out his vow to God and declare that "salvation comes from the Lord."
With this passage, his prayer concludes and God gives Jonah the opportunity to resume his calling to preach against the wickedness in the city of Nineveh, whose inhabitants ultimately repent and are spared from destruction in chapter 4 of the Book of Jonah.
Jonah's renewed commitment to God and decision to walk according to the Lord's calling is shaken, however when he misunderstands the Lord's mercy in sparing the lives of wicked people who repent.
Jonah's anger toward God's mercy is so strong that he said "I wish I were dead" in chapter four verse eleven. The book concludes by noting how God has cared for Jonah, and how he also cares for the many thousands of people in Nineveh.
The Book of Jonah gives us a glimpse of the extent of God's love and mercy for this world through the life of Jesus Christ, who died for us to save us from the consequences of our sin to give us eternal life. Jonah's prayer finds Jonah at a moment of great despair. God is doing something new in Jesus Christ today, giving hope for new life amid a perishing world to those who do not yet know him.
May today's passage help us to see God's love and mercy for us in Jesus Christ and help us to turn away from the wrong path that separates us and also many people in this world from the Lord.