Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fishJonah 2:1
When you find yourself stuck in a trap of your own making, what is your usual first response? Do you blame someone else, perhaps even the devil? Do you sit and wallow in the mud like a half-satisfied pig? Do you find yourself seeking ingenious methods of getting yourself out of your situation, only to become frustrated when your own understanding provides zero results? Or do you cry out for help and learn from your mistake?
I can assure you, all of us at one time or another have fallen into some muck or mire as a result of our own poor decisions and sinful choices. And more often than not, our usual response is to either blame someone else or just sit paralyzed in the midst of the filth. It usually isn’t until we have tried to claw our way out of the stickiness only to find ourselves even more stuck than before that we finally give up and cry out for help. It’s human nature. However, Jonah recognized that the direness of his situation was due to his own disobedience and that God not only brought about judgment to get his attention, but provided a miraculous safe haven to protect him in the midst of his rebellion. Yes, Jonah was trapped in the belly of a large fish, likely very cramped and squeezed inside with little room to move or even squirm. Yet, Jonah “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.” (Jonah 2:2)
Jonah recognized that not only was he in big trouble, but he also recognized who put him there.
For you cast me into the deep,Jonah 2:3
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
Jonah recognized that God Himself put him in the belly of that fish as judgment for his sin of rebellion and disobedience. All too often from today’s modern populist pulpits, I hear theology espoused that not only disavows the reality of God’s judgment, but outright denies His holiness in favor of His mercy and grace and love. Anything “bad” (by our own selfish definitions) is a product of Satan or is demonic in origin. It denies the reality of sin and its resulting consequences.
Mercy and grace by definition require that we deserve judgment. Mercy means we don’t receive the judgment that we deserve. Grace means we receive favor when we deserve judgment and punishment for our actions. To deny the reality of the God’s holiness and righteousness as far superior to our own is to recreate God into our own image, which is the very definition of idolatry.
Discernment of your situation and how you got there can often be tricky, but discernment begins with humility. Humility is not humiliation, but rather it is a sort of controlled strength that allows you to see yourself in the big picture. Discernment requires first to look at ourselves and our situation with a different set of lenses that expose the truth of who we are in the light of who He is.
But I with the voice of thanksgivingJonah 2:9
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the LORD!
Jonah recognized that His current predicament and suffering were a result of His own sin and rebellion. He also recognized the Father’s grace and mercy in capturing him and protecting him in the belly of this fish. As dark and smelly as the case may be, it was better than drowning in the sea of his own wasted life and time. And that is a cause for a sacrifice of thanksgiving.
Interestingly, a great theology truth is also revealed in the last line of Jonah’s prayer: “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” Salvation is not ours to give or to take. It is God’s and God’s alone. He alone has the power to save. We can’t save ourselves by the works of our hands, the power of our confession, or even our own faith. That is the exclusive domain of the sovereign Lord Almighty. He alone has the authority to save us. He alone has the authority to condemn. He alone is righteous and holy. Thus He alone is worthy of our worship and worthy to be praised.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter made the bold proclamation of the exclusivity of Jesus’ authority to save: “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11, 12) Just as Jonah had rejected God’s command to go to Nineveh and preach repentance, the Jews of Jesus’ day rejected Jesus and His message of repentance. However, it was His sacrifice on Calvary that provides salvation. His sacrifice alone makes Him worthy of our worship and praise. And it is by His name and His authority alone that we might be saved.