Jonah 2

  • 29 June 2022
  • Stuart Robinson

Jonah. SHAP 2022.

I realised this week, as I was preparing this homily, just how much my image of Jonah being ingested by the great fish is influenced by the 1940 Disney Film, ‘Pinocchio’, where the wooden puppet, Pinocchio, is reunited with his ‘father’, Geppetto and his cat, ‘Figaro’, in the belly of the giant sea creature, ‘Monstro’.

The fact is that unlike the Pinocchio story which depicts the occupants of the whale fully conscious and mobile, and getting on with life in an albeit enclosed space, in the account of Jonah and the great fish, all we are told is that Jonah was swallowed alive, and for three days and three nights his only activity was prayer.

Indeed, the focus is not on the great fish in Chapter II (apart from it expelling Jonah onto dry land)– but rather on Jonah’s understanding of the character of God, expressed in his pleas and his prayers.

The great 19th century English Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon once famously remarked,

Some people are brought to God by gentle means—they are drawn by soft but mighty bonds. Still, a much larger class of persons remains. They must not be handled softly but must be dealt with heavily. The picklock will never open their hearts—there must be the crowbar, or even the battering ram. Some hearts can never be captured for God and for truth, except by storm.

Whist that might not be our choice of language in 2022, Spurgeon’s point is a valid one, as that is exactly the case here in the book of Jonah.

You will recall that in chapter 1, the sailors with whom Jonah spoke concerning the authority and power of the great creator God (Jonah 1:9), only turned to God and repented of their sins when all else had failed.

We read this, “the men did their best to row back to land, but they could not for the sea grew even wilder than before…then they cried out to the Lord…’ (Jonah 1:13-14).

And Jonah, whose head was filled with the knowledge of God and whose heart was cold and indifferent, is only pulled up short when faced with a great tumult; a literal one.

Yes, Jonah’s grasp of theology is first rate.

It seems a person can know all about God, without an intimate and vital relationship with him.

Or if the ‘fire’ once burned brightly, it can be reduced to embers through poor choices, or through a distrust in God’s ordering of one’s life.

So, God intervened in Jonah son of Amittai’s rebellious flight:

First the storm;

Then, the boiling seas into which Jonah is helplessly cast;

And third, the great fish – through which Jonah is saved, and within which Jonah repents (kind of…).

So having spurned God’s call and God’s love (despite his training and call), in his very great distress, Jonah now calls out to his Heavenly Father.

And the good news is that ours is the God of the second chance.

Do you believe that?

Through his servant Jeremiah, our Lord made this promise: “Call to me and I will answer you, and I will teach you great and unsearchable things”. Jeremiah 33:3.

Jonah is certainly learning (or rehearsing) much about himself and the character of God.

Having been cast into the wild seas, Jonah’s utter helplessness becomes immediately apparent.

The once wilful prophet is, on his own admission, now distressed and despairing for life itself – he is completely out of his depth – literally (verse2); he has no control over his circumstances (verse 3 and 4); all is chaotic and overwhelming (verse 4-6); his life is ebbing away, death is imminent (v 7); Jonah feels ‘barred-in’, trapped forever (verse 6).

You may resonate with Jonah’s condition.

Now, the great fish we begin to see – is a means of grace, an expression of God’s love and kindness.

Jonah perceives and acknowledges God’s hand in delivering him from death through the fish when he prays, ‘but you, Lord, brought my life up from the pit’ (verse 6).

And his response is now one of prayer and praise.

Though submerged and subdued, Jonah knows that his prayers are being heard (verse 7); that God is listening to his cry (verse 2); that his is indeed the God of salvation (verse 9).

So, not only does Jonah praise God in gratitude and thanksgiving (verse 9), Jonah also repents of his sin (it seems).

Yes, Jonah says he will worship the Lord (verse 9), that he will make good on his promises to serve the Lord (verse 9), and that he will preach the gospel of salvation (v. 9), to people just like the Ninevites, who cling to worthless idols and who have turned away from God’s love (verse 8).

At that, God intervenes once again.

Here’s verse 10 – the ‘earthy’ version from the old Revised Standard Version, ‘then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land’.

An unceremonious evacuation, and a fresh start for Jonah, right?

In passing, I mentioned that ours is a God of second chances.

We also saw that in our gospel reading from John 21 where St. Peter, after his deserting and denying our Lord Jesus, is recommissioned to follow Christ, and to lead and serve his people.

A second chance for St. Peter.

And I should add that forgiveness and restoration for Peter, and for Jonah, and for each one of us, is only made possible through God’s intervention.

For it was God-in-Christ, the Lord Jesus, who spent three days in darkness and death.

Our sin ‘barred him in’ (Jonah 2:6); he was ‘banished from the Lord’s sight’ (Jonah 2:4) – in our stead.

And in is mercy and grace, God brought his life up from the pit (Jonah 2:6).

Yes, in raising Jesus from death, our Lord paved the way for sinners like me to be restored, and refreshed in God’s presence now, and into eternity.

Now like me, Jonah is a complex character.

He really is!

I said earlier that it ‘seemed’ like Jonah repented.

As we’ll discover, Jonah did indeed go to Nineveh, and, yes, he did proclaim the word of the Lord, but unlike our Lord Jesus, Jonah did it grudgingly and dispassionately (contemptuously, even).

God’s great love and kindness for and to Jonah, was not reproduced in Jonah’s attitude to the Ninevites.

Indeed, Jonah’s focus returned to his agenda: his needs, his sensibilities, and his view of people’s worth.  More of that next time ☹.

Beloved, we can know a whole lot about God but fall short of embracing his priorities – which put simply and succinctly are these – Luke 19:10.

Jesus said, “for the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost”.


May we pray?

Lord, we thank you for your intervention in our lives; that Jesus surmounted the grave – for us.

And we thank you for the forgiveness that his ministry secures, for the second (and ongoing) chances that you lavish upon us.

Please keep us from cold, hard, and indifferent hearts.

Please rekindle in us a desire to see the lost saved.

And may our lives be conduits of grace and mercy in this glorious endeavour.

Through Jesus, our Saviour.


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