“Salvation Comes From the LORD”

Jonah 1:17-2:10

We are reading through the prophet book of Jonah. This book is not made up of words God gave to Jonah for him to share with the Israelites. Instead, we are reading a story about Jonah. The author of Jonah has set up this story using a well known character, in a parable format to teach us. The author has decided to use satire within a comic style of over the top descriptions to catch our attention. 

For example, was Jonah a good guy or a bad guy? 

Sort of both, however by the end of the first chapter of this book we come to see Jonah as a bad guy, choosing not to follow God’s command. Which is ironic. He’s the prophet, a man of God, whom God has chosen to take His message to the people of the city of Nineveh.

Okay, the city of Nineveh, made of good guys or bad guys?

Definitely bad guys. In fact, Nineveh was notorious for some of the most horrific atrocities ever committed. Yet, God is doggedly committed to them and is determined to send His prophet with His message. 

Right from the start we read that everything in this book is upside down. The prophet of God was told by God to preach a message against Nineveh but he chooses to go in the opposite direction, as far from Nineveh as humanly possible, in rebellion. Jonah could have gone in the opposite direction out of fear, the Ninevites were known for ripping off the skin of humans while they were alive. But more than that we discover that Jonah chooses to go in the opposite direction because of his hatred for the Ninevites. Rightfully so, they were a gruesome lot. 

However, Jonah knows the LORD well enough that if Jonah were to preach God’s message of repentance, God would actually offer it to them, and Jonah couldn’t see himself willingly being a part of that. Jonah believed the Ninevites did not deserve God’s gift of mercy. 

Last week we read that in Jonah’s attempt to escape, God stirs up an enormous storm that even the seasoned sailors were afraid of and they attempt to survive by throwing their cargo overboard, but to no avail. In the  meantime, Jonah was below deck, fast asleep, blissfully unaware. The storm has an interesting impact, not on Jonah, he still refuses to do what God asked him to do, but through the storm the pagan sailors come to faith in Yahweh. They come to realize that Jonah was the reason for the storm. So the sailors ask him what they should do. 

Instead of Jonah saying, “Okay, take me back so I can do what God said, I’ll go to Nineveh.” Jonah tells them to throw him overboard. We are led to believe that Jonah would rather drown than take God’s message to this city that he hates. 

The sailors do what Jonah tells them, against their better judgment. The storm stops and they end up believing in Yahweh and following Him. Jonah ends up in the sea  swallowed by a huge fish. 

In God’s mercy, He provided a big fish to swallow Jonah where we read he stayed for three days and three nights. Such fun!


And what we discover is Jonah was miraculously not digested, but instead, he was creating a beautiful poetic prayer. 

According to this prayer, Jonah realized he was in distress and he cried out to the Lord, low and behold, God answered him. While sinking to the bottom of the sea Jonah cried out for help and God listened. 

Jonah gets what he asked for he found himself hurled into the depths of the sea and it was at this point he changed his mind. He called out to God for help. Notice Jonah had to get to the bottom of the pit, seaweed wrapped around his head, to the roots of the mountains, how low could he go?

At this point, death was surrounding him, it was imminent and unavoidable. 

Basically, God gave him what he wanted. 

Jonah didn’t want the plans God had given him and so he had chosen to die and now he was experiencing exactly what he had asked for. 

What just happened? 

Jonah asked to die. But now that he gets his choice something kicks in. The fear of death and what it actually means causes Jonah to change his mind. Maybe doing what God asks wasn’t so terrible? Maybe Jonah’s hatred for the Ninevites isn’t greater than his desire to live? Whatever it is, Jonah has a change of heart and calls out to the LORD.

Look at verse 7, at the last moment Jonah thinks, 

“When my life was ebbing away,
    I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
    to your holy temple.

How crazy is this? One minute Jonah was telling the sailors to throw him in the water. Which had only one outcome, death, which the sailors recognized right away. Jonah seemed oblivious. Until he’s tossed in and sinking to the bottom, when he takes a 180 degree turn and is pleading to live. 

This is an excellent depiction of humanity. How often do humans have to get what they think they want before they choose what is best for them? 

If any of you have children, you know what I am talking about. 

How many of us have a story where our child, or maybe it was you, that dug in their heels and refused to do what you told them to do? Only to discover that if we were strong enough to let them experience their choice it was not what they expected?

Sometimes we need to experience a little stress or fear for ourselves before we wake up to the fact that God has a better plan for us. When we look at this story of Jonah we can see that the storm and the sinking down to the depths of the sea weren’t acts of cruelty from God, but acts of mercy. Many commentators have called it a “severe mercy,” but it is an act of mercy nonetheless. 

It took the severity of drowning for Jonah, for the first time in this book, to pray to God. Even when the pagan sailors urged Jonah to pray to his God so He would help them, we do not read that Jonah prayed. 

Sadly it took Jonah having to be sit in the belly of a fish, at the end of his rope for him to realize he was not the master of his own life and that he needed God. It was at this point Jonah recognized that God had been providing him mercy all along, and he had taken it for granted. 

Let’s check in – 

I am sure that many of you can relate to Jonah right now. I know I can. When I look back over my life and review the storms I have been through, whether they were storms I created for myself or storms created by others in my life, or just natural storms, I can often see God’s hand in using them to draw me closer to Him. 

For Jonah, it was the storm and sinking and sitting in the belly of a fish, that led to desperation and in desperation it led him to prayer and his pleading to God led to his salvation, through God’s grace. 

Chapter two has Jonah creating a prayer, from the belly of a whale. Right there we need to step back and think about what was really happening. 

If you were to go to the commentaries and read what this means you will discover two different opinions. Both valid and both come from people who love the Lord and are following Him with all their might and soul and strength. 

One view is that the author is writing a parable and using the real person of Jonah as a character and humor and satire to teach a lesson. Just like Jesus did when He told the parable of the Good Samaritan. Did that actually happen? No, but was it true, yes and contains some of the deepest truths of the Christian faith. 

The other view is that the author is telling a story that actually happened. Jonah told this story and it has a deeper message to give. Like the times Jesus actually healed people from blindness that also connected to our spiritual blindness. 

Should you go with option one, don’t go there because you don’t believe God couldn’t do this. We already believe in a God who created the universe with His voice. We already believe in a God who raised Jesus after publicly being crucified, from the grave. Jesus then appeared to hundreds of people and ascended to the Father. So keeping someone alive in the belly of a fish for three days, although it is weird, is easy for God.

We should make our choices of Jonah based on the literary devices of the book, not that God can’t do something. 

As we look at the prayer Jonah provided we see that he was reflecting on the salvation God provided through the fish that swallowed Jonah up. When we look at the fish, we realize it is not an act of judgment or punishment. It is the first act of grace and salvation Jonah experiences in the book. God takes the big fish who was part of the deep waters and uses it as a means of deliverance. 

What is Jonah’s response?         Grateful praise. 

Another literary feature in Jonah’s prayer is that each phrase was taken directly from the Psalms. In Jonah’s deepest distress his memory returns to the Word of God he has memorized. For all of Jonah’s faults, one thing he did do well was to spend time in the Psalms so that he was able to call upon them in his deepest need. 

Check in time. This is instructive for all of us. 

If you struggle to pray, which most of us do from time to time. Whenever your prayer life seems dry or boring, take Jonah’s example to heart. Read through the Psalms and lift them back up to God in relation to your own life. If you have read the Psalms you will remember that not all of them are beautiful and sweet. David has some Psalms that are down right angry at God and say it like it is. God could take it from David, He can take it from us. The Psalms are a collection of prayers including every part of life, good and bad, from a variety of writers who knew that the safest place to share what is going on in your life is prayer. If you are like me, sometimes you are so strung out in life that you don’t even have the words to pray. That is when we pick up the words of others. We do this every Sunday when we pray the prayer Jesus taught His disciples. The most important part of prayer is not the words, but the fact that we are having a conversation with God our maker. 

Let’s hear the prayer of Jonah, one more time, as you listen consider the Psalms, 

“In trouble, deep trouble, I prayed to God.

    He answered me.

From the belly of the grave I cried, ‘Help!’

    You heard my cry.

You threw me into ocean’s depths,

    into a watery grave,

With ocean waves, ocean breakers

    crashing over me.

I said, ‘I’ve been thrown away,

    thrown out, out of your sight.

I’ll never again lay eyes

    on your Holy Temple.’

Ocean gripped me by the throat.

    The ancient Abyss grabbed me and held tight.

My head was all tangled in seaweed

    at the bottom of the sea where the mountains take root.

I was as far down as a body can go,

    and the gates were slamming shut behind me forever—

Yet you pulled me up from that grave alive,

    O God, my God!

When my life was slipping away,

    I remembered God,

And my prayer got through to you,

    made it all the way to your Holy Temple.

Those who worship hollow gods, god-frauds,

    walk away from their only true love.

But I’m worshiping you, God,

    calling out in thanksgiving!

And I’ll do what I promised I’d do!

    Salvation belongs to God!”

One of the important things I think we need to take from this prayer is the sense of humility in which Jonah is writing. He genuinely hit rock bottom. He has come face to face with his rebellion against God and his own limitations. He has come to the realization that he is unable to save himself. He has been shown that he too is in need of the graciousness of God. Humanity is well describe in verse 7, 

Those who worship hollow gods, god-frauds,

    walk away from their only true love.

Jonah recognizes that was what he had done. From the belly of a fish Jonah turns and says, 

But I’m worshiping you, God,

    calling out in thanksgiving!

And I’ll do what I promised I’d do!

The next verse is what many theologians call the center of the Scriptures, 

    Salvation belongs to God!”

There we have it, this mercy that Jonah is experiencing is severe and humiliating. For us humans, it is humiliating to call out and say, “I can’t do anything! I am helpless. There is nothing I can do to save myself.”

But it is also a dignifying mercy. This experience not only exposes Jonah’s complete inability and need, but it has also shown Jonah that God has not forgotten him. God has not abandoned him, even though Jonah had ditched God. God’s love follows him, even to the bottom of the sea, out of the pit. 

It’s not just that Jonah had great need, 

it’s that God has such mercy and patience and steadfast love for him that gives us hope. 

Tim Keller puts it this way in his book on Jonah, The Prodigal Prophet.

“God’s grace becomes wondrous, endlessly consoling, beautiful and humbling, only when we fully believe, grasp and remind ourselves of all three of these background truths:

That we deserve nothing but condemnation.

That we are utterly incapable of saving ourselves and 

That God has saved us despite our sin, at an infinite cost to Himself.”

The author of Jonah didn’t know the specifics of what would happen with Jesus. 

He had no idea that God was going to take on human flesh, enter humanity, in the person of Jesus. That He was going to live the life we cannot live and die the death we deserve to die, in order to rescue us. He had no idea the infinite depths God would go with His love. But we do. When we read that
Salvation comes from God.  

Post resurrection of Jesus we understand that this means more than a miracle of being vomited by a fish, but that God entered the depths of the pit Himself. 

That is the love of God.

This is the Good News that Jesus commanded His disciples to go into the world and share. 

Have you done that lately? When was the last time you talked with someone about the love of God? 

I am going to take us back to chapter two of Jonah and the idea of prayer. We are unable to save ourselves and we are unable to save others. Jonah found himself humbled and desperate and he chose to pray. 

That is where I suggest you start in your call to “Go.” Begin with prayer. 

There is no time like the present. Right now, I will close us in prayer and I want you to ask God to put the name of someone on your heart to commit to prayer to come to the Lord. Then I encourage you to lift that person up to the Lord every time you remember. 

Write the person’s name somewhere you will see it daily. Maybe the bathroom mirror? 

In your prayer, ask for the opportunity to share with that person just how much God loves them. 

Don’t be surprised when God answers. 

Remember, God cares more about that person than you do. 

Let’s pray.