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Fish Faith

Jonah  2

The prophets of the Old Testament were a rather rugged lot. Perhaps God selected them for their stubbornness. If he did select Jonah for that, we should also note that he honored Jonah by using his experience as a type of the Resurrection.

As you read through this lesson, there are two points you should keep in mind:

  1. Whom the Lord loves, he disciplines.
  2. Sometimes he has to discipline us very loudly – because we’re just not listening.

So it is with Jonah.

Jonah 2

1From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. 2He said:

“In my distress I called to the LORD,

and he answered me.

From the depths of the grave£ I called for help,

and you listened to my cry.

3 You hurled me into the deep,

into the very heart of the seas,

and the currents swirled about me;

all your waves and breakers

swept over me.

4 I said, ‘I have been banished

from your sight;

yet I will look again

toward your holy temple.’

5 The engulfing waters threatened me,£

the deep surrounded me;

seaweed was wrapped around my head.

6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;

the earth beneath barred me in forever.

But you brought my life up from the pit,

O LORD my God.

7 “When my life was ebbing away,

I remembered you, LORD,

and my prayer rose to you,

to your holy temple.

8 “Those who cling to worthless idols

forfeit the grace that could be theirs.

9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving,

will sacrifice to you.

What I have vowed I will make good.

Salvation comes from the LORD.”

10And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

“In my distress…”

It is of first importance: Jonah was motivated to pray. He was in deep (pun intended) trouble. It took a little arranging, but God has gotten the man’s attention.

Once that happens, we look to the reaction of Jonah. He could have whined and complained; he could have said a lot of things. But when we examine his prayer, we see he has put his words on the most important problem he has: his relationship with God.

Acknowledgment: God is responsible

Jonah does not place the blame on “bad luck.” He doesn’t suppose that God is being capricious about this; instead, he begins with his confession.

  1. First, that he knows that God is responsible for his present circumstance. Most of us don’t do that. We start off with “God, I’ve had a bad day and …” Jonah knows exactly who put him in this mess.
  2. He also knows why: his own sin. He’s the one running away.
  3. So, he implicitly recognizes the justice of God.

How often we miss that last point! We can be very eloquent on the subject of how God is not fair to us. How could he miss our prayers the way He does? Could it possibly be that He is righteous, and is waiting for us to repent?

Acknowledgement: I’m desperate

Jonah, at least, has the press of physical circumstances to make the point. The sailor’s handbook has no section on what to do when swallowed by a fish. Keep calm – and light a fire?

This is not as common as our usual desperate end: in our emotional and spiritual circumstances. Is it not the case that we exhaust all means but God before we give up – and tell God the obvious?

Acknowledgment: I feel like I lost God

This is the depth of despair – to carry the feeling that God no longer cares for you, that he is indifferent to your fate. Sometimes the weight of our problems drives us to this. We begin to say that God could never forgive me for what I’ve done. This is not depression – this is despair.

But take heart, Christian. God is not through with you yet.

Job’s Prayer

…for God’s presence

To those who know the Lord, there is no feeling so bad as the thought that the Lord has left you; no assurance so grand as his presence. Stripped of his pride, Job wants only one thing: to be restored to God’s fellowship. For Job, that would mean the worship of God in his temple. To Christians of all times, the presence of God has been described as “sweet.” It is an adjective which fails to describe it, for there are no words high enough to describe that fellowship.


Jonah’s prayer lacks some of the features of our own. For example, there is no word of advice to God – no instructions on just how to get out of this mess. Indeed, Jonah seems to assume that God, having got him in this mess, is just as capable of getting him out. The real question is, does He want to?

Another lack in Jonah’s prayer is that of reproach. Those who are evangelical Christians often assume a familiarity with God which would have stunned Christians of earlier time. How shocked they would be when they heard us telling God that He’s wrong!

Perhaps Jonah had read of an earlier man’s encounter with God; that of Job:

4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?

Tell me, if you understand.

5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!

Who stretched a measuring line across it?

6 On what were its footings set,

or who laid its cornerstone—

7 while the morning stars sang together

and all the angels£ shouted for joy?

8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors

when it burst forth from the womb,

9 when I made the clouds its garment

and wrapped it in thick darkness,

10 when I fixed limits for it

and set its doors and bars in place,

11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;

here is where your proud waves halt’?

(Job 38)

The Temple

Job directs his prayers at the Temple, where God’s Name is. It is well beyond the scope of this lesson to deal with the Name of God – but one thought might be permitted. God knows that we need material, tangible things to deal with. We are uncomfortable with a God who is so “other-worldly.” But since the coming of Jesus, we know that God understands that; he came to us as one of us.

God Answers

One of the great proofs of God’s amazing grace comes in answer to prayer. Not the answer which comes to those with clean hands; the answer that comes to us who are guilty. Despite our guilt, despite his judgment of our sins, he answers.


God answers our prayers:

  • In all circumstances – the possible and the impossible. It’s just that when we get to the impossible circumstances, we notice it a bit more clearly.
  • He answers just in time. How often we have had his deliverance at the last hour!
  • He answers us piece by piece – as if we could take only so much.

God’s actions seem irrational to some; this is because they do not understand his purpose. His purpose is not to show us “who’s God around here.” No, he does these things for other reasons:

  • It is his desire to have fellowship with us; his answers to prayer tend to restore us to that fellowship.;
  • He also desires that we be merciful, just as he is merciful. Some of us do know how to learn from example.

The Picture of God’s Grace

In Job’s prayer we see some aspects of God’s grace.

Open to all

In his prayer Job tells us that those who worship idols “forfeit the grace of God.” In our time we see very little of idols, but they were commonplace then. In our time, the cares of this world have taken the place of idols. If you would understand why you can’t hear God’s answer, take a look at your cares and worries. Perhaps you hear them so much that you cannot hear God.

Our response

Job also gives us a model here – when we need to respond to God’s salvation.

  • First, we should not keep this quiet – rather, we should tell others how thankful we are for what God has done for us.
  • Next, Jonah promises sacrifice to the Lord. Look at it this way: even for a small gift you should send a thank-you card. How much more so when God has pulled you out of trouble?
  • Finally, he will perform his vows. He’s telling God (and us) that the promises he made in the belly of that fish are binding – even if the fish coughs him up. How many of us can say we kept our promises that way?
Salvation comes from the Lord

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? We all know this. But hear what one of the great preachers said about this:

Salvation is the work of God. It is He alone who quickens the soul "dead in trespasses and sins," and it is He also who maintains the soul in its spiritual life. He is both "Alpha and Omega." "Salvation is of the Lord." If I am prayerful, God makes me prayerful; if I have graces, they are God's gifts to me; if I hold on in a consistent life, it is because He upholds me with His hand. I do nothing whatever towards my own preservation, except what God Himself first does in me. Whatever I have, all my goodness is of the Lord alone. Wherein I sin, that is my own; but wherein I act rightly, that is of God, wholly and completely. If I have repulsed a spiritual enemy, the Lord's strength nerved my arm. Do I live before men a consecrated life? It is not I, but Christ who liveth in me. Am I sanctified? I did not cleanse myself: God's Holy Spirit sanctifies me. Am I weaned from the world? I am weaned by God's chastisements sanctified to my good. Do I grow in knowledge? The great Instructor teaches me. All my jewels were fashioned by heavenly art. I find in God all that I want; but I find in myself nothing but sin and misery. "He only is my rock and my salvation." Do I feed on the Word? That Word would be no food for me unless the Lord made it food for my soul, and helped me to feed upon it. Do I live on the manna which comes down from heaven? What is that manna but Jesus Christ himself incarnate, whose body and whose blood I eat and drink? Am I continually receiving fresh increase of strength? Where do I gather my might? My help cometh from heaven's hills: without Jesus I can do nothing. As a branch cannot bring forth fruit except it abide in the vine, no more can I, except I abide in Him. What Jonah learned in the great deep, let me learn this morning in my closet: "Salvation is of the Lord."

Let’s remember just who is God, and who is not.

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