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Friday, June 18, 2010

Jonah's Prayer

Now the LORD had prepared a greta fish to swallow up JOnah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly, and said,
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.
For thous hast 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.
Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight;
Yet will I look again towards thy holy tmeple.
The waters compassed me about, even to the soul;
And the depth closed me round about,
The weeds were wrapped about my head.
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.
When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD:
And my prayer came in unto thee,
Into thine holy temple.
They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy,
But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving;
I will pay that which I have vowed.
Salvation is of the LORD.

And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.
(Jonah 1:17-2:10)

In the Gospel (Matthew 12:40), Jesus speaks of how an evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign, but no sign would be given save the sign of Jonah: as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, so would the Messiah be in the earth three days--in short, Jesus promised the sign of his death and burial.

In the last posting, we observed how Jonah accepted his responsibility for the storm and subsequent loss of property that overtook the ship on which he was sailing along with its crew. Jesus, however, did not lay down his life as a penalty for his own sin, but on behalf of sinners.

This typology is all the more interesting in liht of Jonah's prayer from the belly of the fish. Jonah gives vent to his despair and fear of death; yet in so doing, he also expresses hope. Was this because Jonah thought he would die in the sea for his disobedience in seeking to go to Tarshish rather than Nineveh? Certainly our disobedience to divine commands--even if we do not have the prophetic gift enjoyed (or thrust upon?) Jonah--renders us worthy of death. If so, Jonah's prayer can be seen as expressing the hope of resurrection.

Indeed, God was merciful to Jonah in having the fish vomit him out onto the dry land. But it is also a reminder of how God is generally merciful to us. We may scoff at those who suddenly "get religion" when they are in danger; or note that whereas there are no atheists in foxholes, many seem to be made when soldiers discharged from their service. Yet Jacques Ellul once observed that in both this chapter and the preceding one, we see how God takes the fears, anxieties, and terrors faced by his elect with the utmost seriousness.

But our passage also speaks of a stubborn faith that does not give up even in the most hopeless of situations (such as being eaten alive by some great sea creature). "Hope maketh not ashamed", Paul wrote to the Roman Christians (Rom. 5:5). Indeed, because of the resurrection of Christ which Jonah's rescue typifies, we know that there is one more powerful even than death itself, and we are invited to put our trust in him.

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