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Saved from the Deep

A Word for Today | Jonah 2:6-9

Earlier this week, I wrote of Jonah’s prayer from inside the whale, when his life had gone down into the deep. With no other place to turn, Jonah found grace to pray. Jonah 2:6-9, the final verses of Jonah’s prayer, are worth considering further. Here, we learn about what happens in us when we pray and realize that God has heard us. There are some in our congregation who have likely had this experience during the coronavirus emergency. They realized that they needed God to help them, they prayed, and they knew that God heard and answered their prayer.

Jonah chapter 2 is not precisely the prophet’s prayer, but rather his reflection on it afterward. It begins, “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me” (Jon. 2:1). With seaweed wrapped around his head – one can only imagine the inside of a whale! – he prayed, and Jonah recalls, “you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God” (Jon. 2:6). The key to this verse is to realize that Jonah was still inside the great fish; literally speaking, he had not yet been “brought up” from the deep. So to what does he refer? The clear answer is that he is talking about God’s deliverance from his unbelief and despair. He says, “When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you” (Jon. 2:7). But how did Jonah know that his prayer was answered, when he was still deep in the ocean inside the whale? Because he “remembered the Lord.” Perhaps you have likewise been in despair and distress, and when you prayed you realized that prayer itself is proof that God has not abandoned you. Dear friends, when you remember the Lord and pray, it is only because God is with you to uphold your spirit in order to pray. Prayer, then, is itself proof that God is saving us.

But why would God be so ready to hear our prayers, especially if we have been like Jonah, who had hardly been a paragon of faith? He answers that his prayer came “into your holy temple” (Jon. 2:7). The temple was the place where the atoning sacrifices were offered. To leap forward from Jonah to the Gospels, we understand that God heard Jonah’s prayer because Jesus was going to die for his sins. We, too, can know that our prayers are heard if offered in Jesus’ name: his atoning blood has secured our acceptance into the love and grace of the Father.

Finally, Jonah starts praising God even before he is released from his cold and wet prison. He realizes how blessed he is to have a God who answers prayer, and thinks with compassion on those who cannot pray: “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love” (Jon. 2:8). Simply by being able to pray, he wants to give thanks to God, before the results of his COVID-19 test have been learned or before the medicines have taken effect: “But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you” (Jon. 2:9). It was this experience that made Jonah into the evangelist God had wanted him to be all along. We may only wonder what transformation God is intending for us through the trial we now face. But, with Jonah, we know we have a message to share with others about the sovereign grace of a redeeming God. His final words form both his conviction and his testimony: “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (Jon. 2:9).

In Christ’s Love,

Pastor Phillips

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