Summary: The Book of Jonah, like the Story of Good Samaritan, is designed to remind us who we are; sinners saved by the grace of God, in need of repentance from our willfulness and obedience to the Heavenly Father by sharing the Good News.
THE SIGN OF JONAH Jonah 2__1-9
Jonah 2__1-9 I called out to the Lord he answered me Proper 14(A)
The Psalm of Jonah
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!”
English Standard Version
We have all heard the story of Jonah and the whale since childhood. The reading from Jonah chapter 2 is a Psalm. Echoes of Psalm 18 and others of the Psalms of David are to be found in this song of praise and thanksgiving for salvation.
This is rather a strange story, isn’t it? Here is Jonah deep in the ocean, inside a whale’s belly and he, being a proper Jew, has a synagogue service in which he chants a Psalm, “I called to the Lord out of my distress and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol (the Pit) I cried and you heard my voice. 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; how shall I look again upon your holy temple? The waters closed in over me, the deep surrounded me.”
You too have faced times when you were drowning, you were overwhelmed and felt, you were sinking. We easily associate our lives with sermons that follow that line in introducing the story of Jonah.
Jonah ‘s prayer ends with thanksgiving, “. . .Yet you brought up my life from the Pit, O Lord my God. As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord and my prayer came to you. . . .I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the Lord!”
You have heard sermons on this subject; I have read many. The story is always the same. Jonah was the prophet who rebelled against God. God told him to go to Nineveh, he decided to go a 180 degrees in the opposite direction. While he is on this excursion God sent a storm that threatened the ship. Jonah was thrown overboard but saved by a whale. He thanks God and goes on to complete his mission.
Most sermons attempt to make it a salvation story, implying a happy ending.
The Psalm Sounds great, a happy ending? Jonah was saved by the God who watched over Israel. End of the story? No. And the sermons and lessons that teach it so, I feel have missed the whole point of the story. At this point, we have not heard the rest of the story.
The ancient Jewish scholars divided their holy writings that we call the Old Testament into 3 sections – The law, being the first 5 books of Moses, The Prophets and The Holy Writings.
The prophets give the history of Israel/Judah from the death of Moses until a few centuries before the birth of Jesus.
The Holy writings were a different kind of literature. The Psalms were verses that were sung or chanted in the Jerusalem temple. The Proverbs were wise sayings, a sort of primer on morality and understanding God’s ways with men. Job is a morality play designed to illustrate the way God deals with us; at the heart of Job is the question of the purpose of suffering; the problem of evil.
What Kind of literature is Jonah?
Jonah is not like Isaiah or the other prophets though it has a strong prophetic message. It is different in that the message is not directly preached as does Isaiah and the others. The writer of Jonah so arranges his story that it is the audience who must give the final lines.