Thursday, March 24, 2016

Jonah 2:2-9

Jonah 2:2-9
2:2 - and he said,
“I called out of my distress to the Lord,
And He answered me.
I cried for help from the depth of Sheol;
You heard my voice.

Psalm 18 comes back to Jonah. He knows that God can hear him from the belly of a fish in the deep. He is also well aware that it is impossible to flee from the presence of the Lord (Psalm 139).

Psalm 18:6 - In my distress I called upon the Lord,
And cried to my God for help;
He heard my voice out of His temple,
And my cry for help before Him came into His ears.

Psalm 139:7-12 - Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
10 Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
12 Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.
As noted before, the belly of the fish would have been as close to a real instance of Sheol that anyone could have experienced: total darkness, the smell of death everywhere, probably cold, definitely wet, perhaps burning from the stomach acid. Truly, Jonah's isolation seemed complete.

2:3 - “For You had cast me into the deep,
Into the heart of the seas,
And the current engulfed me.
All Your breakers and billows passed over me.

Jonah recognizes that this isolation is from the LORD. He has been separated from the only life he knows on the earth and is now in the deeps of the sea.

2:4 - “So I said, ‘I have been expelled from Your sight.
Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.’

In the belly of the fish, Jonah feels cut off from God as He allowed him to languish for three days and nights, but despite this act of what seems to be abandonment, Jonah insists that he will look to God for help. Once again, another Psalm comes to Jonah's mind:

Psalm 31:22 - As for me, I said in my alarm,
“I am cut off from before Your eyes”;
Nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications
When I cried to You.

2:5 - “Water encompassed me to the point of death.
The great deep engulfed me,
Weeds were wrapped around my head.

This echoes Psalm 69:1-2
Save me, O God,
For the waters have threatened my life.
I have sunk in deep mire, and there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters, and a flood overflows me.

2:6 - “I descended to the roots of the mountains.
The earth with its bars was around me forever,
But You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.

Jonah's description of his imprisonment in Sheol is complete with total and utter isolation behind the bars of the very earth itself. It is no wonder that some commentators think that Jonah actually died and was raised again to life for God's purpose. There is no indication of this in the text, however, Jonah shows that he has been brought very low by the Lord.

This verse can also support that God refused to allow him to die as Jonah recognizes that the LORD has sustained his life in the midst of the pit, or Sheol. Psalm 18:5 comes to mind: The cords of Sheol surrounded me; The snares of death confronted me.

2:7 - “While I was fainting away,
I remembered the Lord,
And my prayer came to You,
Into Your holy temple.

Very near death, Jonah "remembers" the Lord and cries out in prayer. Imagine your utter helplessness if, in the middle of Sheol as described by Jonah, you cannot even die so as to escape the situation. What ever the end of the rope that Jonah thought he was at and that death would soon take him proved to be false. Three days and nights of waiting for the end to come was fruitless, so now Jonah resigns himself to turn to the Lord.

Once again, Psalm 18:6 comes to mind:
- In my distress I called upon the Lord,
And cried to my God for help;
He heard my voice out of His temple,
And my cry for help before Him came into His ears.

2:8 - “Those who regard vain idols
Forsake their faithfulness,

This can be a difficult verse to interpret. It could be read "Those who worship useless idols forsake the only faithful God (who can do anything for them)."

Once again, the Psalms provide additional help in 31:6 - I hate those who regard vain idols, But I trust in the Lord. The next verse adds some more context.

2:9 - But I will sacrifice to You
With the voice of thanksgiving.
That which I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation is from the Lord.”

Jonah declares his devotion to God and recognizes that salvation is from the Lord. Does this imply that Jonah admits that God can do as He wishes with who He chooses for salvation? Or is it focused on Jonah's personal salvation from the "depths of Sheol"? It is both/and.

The answer is found in Jonah's declaration to "pay what he has vowed" and so bring God's message to Nineveh; in addition to that, he will sacrifice with the voice of thanksgiving for his personal deliverance.

Psalms related to this verse include:
Psalm 50:14 - “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving
And pay your vows to the Most High;

Psalm 50:23 - “He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me;
And to him who orders his way aright
I shall show the salvation of God.”

Psalm 3:8a - Salvation belongs to the Lord;

Paragraph Summary
This is the end of Jonah's prayer. At this point it appears that the prophet has had a change of heart, but his actions in the next two chapters tells a different story. Relentance, not repentance has come to Jonah; his obedience stems from external motivators rather than from a humble and contrite heart.

Nowhere in this prayer does Jonah turn from his hardened heart or even recognize his wrongful ways. He describes God's heavy hand of discipline, his cries for deliverance, and his final turning to obedience. The rest of the book will bear this out.

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