15 September 2021Jonah 2:1-10
Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying, 'I called to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me.' (vs 1-2)
In hymn 461 of Singing the Faith 'Come, O thou Traveller unknown' which is set to a tune called 'Wrestling Jacob', Charles Wesley sets out in verse form the way Jacob, another Old Testament character, struggles to do the work God intends for him. It has 12 verses and I have never been in a service where we have been called upon to sing it all, but it came to mind as I was reflecting on this second chapter of Jonah. In Genesis chapter 32 we can read the story and how Jacob having gone through the struggles is left lame but aware of God’s presence. In the hymn, Wesley writes in verse form of the struggles that Jacob – and I suspect he himself is having – with what God is calling him to do. It is in this second chapter of Jonah which is the focus for our worship this Sunday.
Here in this second chapter we can hear Jonah reflecting on what has happened to him and the way in which God has rescued him from the depths. Using words from many of the psalmists, he calls to God in a spirit of confession, acknowledging his faults and that he has tried to escape from God's calling. He realises just as the psalmist in Psalm 139 writes “Where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heavens you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me.”(vs 7-10) In Hebrew thinking Sheol is like a cosmic black hole that swallows everything, and here we hear how God can even enter this underworld not to punish but to extract and save those who have been lost within the situation.
Here Jonah is praying, having been saved it would seem from drowning in the depths of the sea or, if you see the story of the big fish as a fact rather than a myth, from dying as part of its dinner. He is thanking God that despite his disobedience and turning his back on God, God has been merciful and has rescued him from the depths – from the depths of despair and from the depths of the sea. The prayer, like Wesley’s hymn, is in verse form. It reflects the work of the psalmists Jonah would have known from childhood, but it is not just a calling out to God using the Scripture he knows. He also adds something of his own pain as he describes the predicament he finds himself in with seaweed wrapped about his head, entangled and enmeshed as he sinks down into the water to what he imagines will be his grave. But then in verse 10 resurrection comes: “Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.”
- When we are going through difficult times, do we sometimes feel that we have been sent into isolation from the pain and call out to God to be given a reprieve like that of Jonah?
- Thinking of Jonah being thrown into the sea, can you imagine what it must have felt when he hit the water? Would the fish feel like salvation?
- Does the story have anything to say to us in the dark times we have been living through?
Lord, when we feel that we are drowning in the pain of the moment, send your spirit to give us the space we need to see the light beyond the darkness and then give us the strength to continue your work. Amen.