And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying,
“I called out to the Lord, out of my distress,
and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.
For you cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
yet I shall again look
upon your holy temple.’
The waters closed in over me to take my life;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
O Lord my God.
When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the Lord,
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.
But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the Lord!”
And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. Jonah 1:17-2:10
We don’t always pay much attention to the formatting of our Bibles, but we should. Chapter one of Jonah ends with the declaration we have been waiting for since we started reading this familiar book, “the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Jonah was running from the Lord’s call to be a witness to evil Assyria. God used a terrible storm, some religious sailors, and Jonah’s own testimony to get Jonah thrown off the ship. Then God anointed a big fish for ministry—the ministry of prophet-swallowing!
Here is where the formatting comes into play. We are told that Jonah prayed, but his prayer is actually a Hebrew poem! Swallowed by a fish (yuck!), Jonah prays a poem to God. What does the rebellious prophet poetically pray? He declares his faith that God will rescue him from death and bring him again to the temple. He promises that when God does this, he will offer sacrifices of thanksgiving. Sure enough, God causes the anointed fish to vomit Jonah on the beach.
Look once more at Jonah’s prayer. Nowhere does he repent of his sin. There is something about this that is disappointing and all too familiar. Our prayers praise God for His majesty and His faithfulness. We declare our faith that He will deliver us from bad circumstances. Nonetheless, too often we avoid dealing with the elephant in the room: our sin. Jonah’s prayer needs a good dose of Psalm 38 or Psalm 51. The same can be said of many of our prayers. We come to God in our time of need, we ask for help and declare our faith that He will deliver. We even make promises. But we don’t dare look deep into our hearts and deal with our sin in confession and repentance. We are essentially saying, “The world is bad but God is good, so God will deliver me,” when we should also be saying, “I am a rebellious sinner. God forgive me.”
It is never fun to look at the darkness that remains in our hearts; not easy, but extremely beneficial. May we all learn to grieve more for our sin than our circumstances, “for godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” 2 Corinthians 7:10.
I am praying for you,