We’d be in the pool together, I’d be holding him. He thought he could do it on his own, without my help. He’d push away from my arms, so I’d let him go, and then watch as he’d slowly sink below the water, with a surprised look on his face.
I’d leave it a couple of seconds to teach him a lesson, then pull him up again, spluttering and coughing. This time, he’d be clinging firmly to my arms – the same arms he’d pushed away a moment earlier.
Jonah’s like THAT. He wants to be independent from God. He thinks he doesn’t need to submit to God’s command. God ends him EAST, Jonah heads WEST. God says, GET UP, Jonah goes DOWN. God says PROCLAIM, Jonah says NOTHING.
And in the end, he asks to be thrown into the boiling ocean, and he starts to sink. Just like Lachlan. He’d rather DROWN, than do things God’s way.
But as he sinks below the waves, as everything goes quiet, it seems like Jonah has A CHANGE OF HEART. He realises he’s NOT independent. And he calls out to God. He reaches out to the God who’d reached out to him. But it’s taken the threat of DEATH for him to respond.
And Chapter one finishes with God providing a great fish to swallow Jonah, and SOMEHOW Jonah’s ALIVE, rather than FISH FOOD.
And then in Ch 2 we get to listen in on Jonah’s prayer. It’s a prayer that reminds us of a psalm. In fact, it’s like a giant mishmash, or collage, of bits and pieces of about THIRTY psalms.
And the FIRST thing to notice is that it’s A PSALM in the middle of NARRATIVE. A POEM. And it’s very different from the PROSE style of writing before and after it.
A bit like songs in musicals. I’ve got a confession to make – I quite like musicals. I love the music, and the emotion, and the story telling. Daniel thinks they’re WEIRD. Characters just burst into song at the most inappropriate times. The scene is the middle of a deadly warzone, or a greasy garage or a vicious street fight. And an orchestra suddenly starts playing from somewhere and everyone begins singing. There’s a jarring juxtaposition. It’s a contradictory combination.
And that’s what it’s like here. A strange, unrealistic setting. Jonah sloshing around in the dark, in the belly of a fish. And he’s praying POETRY.
And at first reading, it sounds like a GOOD prayer. But I reckon when you look a little closer, the writer’s making FUN of Jonah. He’s MOCKING him. It’s a PARODY of a prayer. Satirical. And we learn as much about Jonah from what he DOESN’T say as what he DOES.
Let’s look at the START of the prayer. V2.
“In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. 3 You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me.
Jonah’s remembering what happened when he was thrown out of the boat. He was about to drown, when he decided that perhaps he didn’t WANT to drown. And so he CALLED OUT to God.
It’s a word we’ve seen a few times already in Ch 1. Right back in Ch 1v2 God commanded Jonah to CALL OUT to Nineveh – same word. But Jonah DIDN’T.
Then down in v6, the ship captain told him to CALL OUT to his God, but he STILL didn’t. He’s God’s prophet, but he won’t PRAY to him. Everyone ELSE on the ship is praying – but not JONAH.
But NOW, FINALLY, with his life on the line. Jonah decides to CALL OUT. He doesn’t care enough about NINEVEH to call out for THEM. He doesn’t care enough about the SAILORS to call out for THEM. But he cares enough for his own miserable skin.
And so he PRAYS. And it seems like he borrows bits from every Psalm he can remember. It’s a FRANKENSTEIN Psalm. Bits of this-and-that all stuck together to make a MONSTER.
It’s almost like he can’t think of anything to pray for himself. He’s praying from the textbook. Like people who pray the Lord’s Prayer, or the 23rd Psalm, or a Hail Mary as if the words have some magical power of their own. Does he know God WELL ENOUGH to pray his own words?
For example, there’s bits of Psalm 69 in there.
Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. 2 I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. 3 I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.
Or Ps 130.
Out of the DEPTHS I cry to you, O LORD; 2 O Lord, hear my voice.
The Psalmist is struggling with the enemies of life, and it’s LIKE he’s drowning in water. It’s a METAPHOR. But for Jonah, the drowning IS REAL.
And even though Jonah’s hardly praying his OWN words. And even though he’s a hypocrite who cares more for himself than anyone ELSE. The amazing thing is God HEARS his prayer. And DELIVERS him. Jonah says “You LISTENED to my cry! (v2) I don’t DESERVE it, but you LISTENED!”
Jonah continues remembering what he’d gone through. V4. Most people, when they’re faced with death, say their LIFE flashes before their eyes. But as Jonah sinks down, it’s the TEMPLE he’s thinking about.
4 I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’
As Jonah’s about to die, it’s not HIS OWN SIN he’s concerned about. Repenting. It’s not the salvation of the foreign nation of Assyria. It’s not zeal for God’s glory, or a desire to obey him. He wants to be back in Jerusalem. In the temple.
It’s like the reluctant traveller. When everything’s going wrong, the roof leaks, the car’s broken down, the luggage is lost. He’s a long way from home, uncomfortable and upset. And he says, “I just want to be home, in my own bed, with a nice cup of tea.”
Jonah just wants to be back at the temple. Home. Close to God. Which is ironic, really. Since Jonah’s the one who’s run AWAY!
But perhaps now he realises his mistake. And he’s making a fresh start. Perhaps he’s thinking of Ps 65. It’s ALSO about the holy temple. Like V4.
4 Blessed are THOSE YOU CHOOSE and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of YOUR HOLY TEMPLE.
The temple’s a great place to be. God give his people wonderful things – forgiveness and blessings. Who wouldn’t want to be there!?
It’s like Jonah’s completely forgotten the REASON HE’S WHERE HE IS. Because he’s RUN AWAY from God. There’s no recognition of his own sin. He just wants everything to go back to the way it was.
Or maybe Jonah’s thinking of Psalm 5. ALSO about the holy temple. Perhaps it reveals a little more about what Jonah REALLY thinks. Psalm 5 begins
Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing. 2 Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.
Right where Jonah’s at. And then it goes on to talk about what God thinks about SINNERS. V4.
4 You are not a God who takes pleasure in EVIL; with you the WICKED CANNOT DWELL. 5 The ARROGANT cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. 6 You DESTROY those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD ABHORS.
Is THAT what Jonah’s hoping God will do to Nineveh? We only find out when we get to Chapter 4.
But the Psalm continues. And this is where Jonah sees HIMSELF fitting in.
7 But I, by your great MERCY, will come into your house; in reverence will I bow down toward your HOLY TEMPLE.
Is Jonah so focused on the temple because it’s what will SEPARATE him from the WICKED GENTILES? From the Ninevites? Is that where HE belongs, but not the people God’s sending him to?
There’s certainly no indication yet that he’s changed his mind about God’s mission for him.
He continues with his prayer in v5. More colourful descriptive language. Engulfing waters threatening. Seaweed wrapped around his head. Sinking down to the roots of the mountain. As low as you can go.
And then, v7, he recalls how, when his life was fading, he REMEMBERED God, and he finally PRAYED.
It all SOUNDS fine. It SOUNDS like he’s had a change of heart. That he’s willing to get back on the job of delivering God’s message to Nineveh. That he recognizes they DESERVE a chance. But then we get to v8.
8 “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
The word for GRACE is HESED – God’s covenant faithfulness to his people. And Jonah’s saying that Gentiles – those who worship idols – those like the sailors who tried so hard to SAVE him- have made their choice. They’ve chosen their path. And they don’t deserve anything of the faithfulness God shows to his people.
Verse 8 shows Jonah STILL doesn’t understand God’s mercy to the nations.
And it’s THEN we realize what Jonah HASN’T said. There’s NO REPENTANCE. There’s no mention AT ALL about Jonah’s actions that resulted in him being here in the FIRST place. That he’s ignored God, and is running hard in the other direction.
He’s praying as if he’s a righteous saint bearing the scorns of wicked men!
It’s like the apology that’s not an apology. “I’m sorry, BUT you…” “I’m sorry that you’re angry at my behavior” They’re not APOLOGIES!
And our suspicions about Jonah are confirmed when we get to v9. What Jonah plans to do NEXT.
9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.”
Sinners deserve judgment. But not JONAH. His prayers been answered, so he’ll offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Not a sacrifice of SIN OFFERING, mind you. He doesn’t think he NEEDS to repent.
He’s going to make good his vow. But what’s his vow? Is it to go to Nineveh? I don’t think so. He hasn’t shown ANY inclination to go THERE yet. But he HAS vowed to go back to God’s holy temple! (There in v4) That’s what he REALLY wants.
And his plan seems to be to head straight back to Jerusalem to offer his thank sacrifice at the temple. And everything can go back to NORMAL!
It’s laughable! A prayer that’s not a prayer. A confession that’s not a confession.
So what does God think of Jonah’s prayer? He doesn’t even need WORDS. V10.
10 And the LORD commanded the fish, and it VOMITED Jonah onto dry land.
God’s CALLED him, he’s CHASED him. He’s TURNED things UPSIDE DOWN to turn Jonah around. And Jonah STILL thinks he’s right, and everyone else is wrong. Still thinks he can just head back home and everything can go back to the way it was before.
Jonah’s ALIVE, but he’s still a long way from God, a long way from Nineveh, and a long way from HOME.
And we’ll see how the story unfolds NEXT WEEK.
The difference between Knowing It & Living It
So what lessons do we learn from Jonah?
Jonah’s a little bit like looking in the mirror. It’s meant to be humorous and satirical. As we chuckle at Jonah’s hypocritical blindness. At his unrepentant self-centredness, at his blatant judgmentalism. We’re forced to recognise something of those characteristics in OURSELVES.
We’re forced to ask ourselves whether WE’RE more interested in our own self-protection, than with growing God’s kingdom.
More interested in being COMFORTABLE among the SAINTS/ than being CONFRONTED by the LOST.
Particularly, in Ch 2, we learn there’s a huge difference between KNOWING the truth and LIVING the truth. Between TALKING THE TALK, and WALKING THE WALK.
Jonah knew the vocabulary. The Psalms and the temple. He knew the right things to SAY. He knew what God was LIKE. But it didn’t seem like his HEART WAS REALLY IN IT.
He KNEW it, but he didn’t LIVE it. Even though he KNEW that God was merciful and compassionate and forgiving, it still didn’t stop him running away from God. He talked the talk, but wasn’t walking the walk.
And there’s a bit of that in ALL of us. We KNOW that God is the God of the whole world. That he deserves the loyalty of people EVERYWHERE. Yet, we ACT as if he’s only interested in OUR LITTLE GROUP. And we’re not willing to look outside.
We KNOW that God so loved THE WORLD that he gave his only Son that WHOEVER believes in him won’t perish but have eternal life. But we ACT as if God only loves THE ELECT, and that he wants to keep his message to himself.
We KNOW that God forgives ANY sin. That his capacity for patience and mercy are far greater than our human capacity for SIN. But we ACT as if some people are too far gone for God to reach. We walk around them, pretend they don’t exist. Or don’t bother with them, because we feel we’ve got nothing to offer them.
We SING and SPEAK of God’s powerful mercy. We REJOICE in his forgiveness of US, while we sit COMFORTABLY in our little Christian ghetto. As people all around us continue blindly living in rebellion against God.
Jonah wanted to head back to the temple to offer his sacrifice of thanksgiving. But what God wanted was the sacrifice of OBEDIENCE INSTEAD.
How are WE like THAT? How do we prefer to be WARM and COMFORTABLE and CONTROLLED, rather than OBEDIENT and UNCOMFORTABLE, and just a little bit OUT of control?
Just sit back for a moment. This won’t hurt a bit. I want to take a spiritual thermometer to measure your spiritual temperature. This spiritual thermometer is called RICHARD. You may have noticed him. He’s the homeless guy who’s been camped out in our grounds for the last couple of months.
What’s your REACTION been as you’ve seen him? Has it been to go and TALK to him? To find out how you can HELP him? Or is it to secretly wish he’d quietly move on, so things could go back to normal – neat and tidy and comfortable?
And what’s your MOTIVE for that? Is it for RICHARD’S benefit, or YOURS?
Now, I’m not sure WHAT the SOLUTION is for Richard. I’d love any ideas you’ve got. He says he’s LOOKING for accommodation. But he’s struggling to FIND any in his price range.
But perhaps we need to ask what JESUS would do? What’s the wise, loving, compassionate thing to do? The thing that will help RICHARD the most, rather than the solution that will make OUR LIFE EASIER.
And what about what Richard means AS A TEST CASE? What SHOULD our relationship be to the needy people around us here at Ashfield?
I think I know what JONAH would do. But what does GOD want us to do?
Jonah was content with offering a sacrifice of THANKS. But God wanted FAR MORE than that. He wanted a LIFE of sacrifice. He wanted Deeds. Not just words of songs and prayers and amens.
It was to people like Jonah that God spoke these words through Hosea. Hosea 6:6.
6 For I desire MERCY, not SACRIFICE, and ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF GOD rather than BURNT OFFERINGS.
God’s not interested in dispensing mercy to US/ while we’re not interested in showing mercy to OTHERS. Mercy that has HANDS and FEET, and not just EASY WORDS.
God went to great lengths to bring Jonah to Nineveh. God has gone to even GREATER lengths to bring salvation TO US. It cost him the LIFE of HIS ONLY SON. He loves the lost THAT MUCH.
Do you long for the lost as much as God does?
John Ch 4. Jesus is speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well. A rejected, shamed sinner. But Jesus offers her living water. The true life of forgiveness and restoration.
She goes into town, tells everyone, “Come and see the man who told me everything I ever did.” They come out of town, and head towards the well, where Jesus and his disciples are waiting.
Jesus looks at the crowds heading towards him, and says, (Jn 4:35)
I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.
Are OUR eyes open to the fields ripe for harvest? Do we KNOW the people out there in Ashfield? Do we TALK to our neighbours, or the other dads on the soccer sideline, or the people in the supermarket queue.
When we SEE them, we’ll begin to KNOW them. When we begin to KNOW them, we’ll see that they’re RIPE FOR HARVEST.
Matthew records ANOTHER occasion Jesus spoke about the same topic. About what we DO about ripe harvest fields. Mt 9:36.
36 When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is PLENTIFUL … but the workers are FEW. 38 ASK the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out WORKERS into his harvest field.”
Jonah didn’t pray. He didn’t want to KNOW. He didn’t want to GO.
God calls us. Jesus calls us. To Open our eyes and SEE. Then he calls us to PRAY. Then he calls us to GO.
Will you LISTEN? Will you GO?