Prayer of a Drowning Saint
In the Bible, the second chapter of Jonah is worthy of more study and consideration than it is often given. The chapter is entirely given to a recording of Jonah’s heartfelt prayer, delivered from a rather unusual locale.
Many are familiar with the account of Jonah and his experience in being swallowed by a fish, but the retelling is often done for the benefit of children, and many adult Christians forget the many powerful lessons of this great prophet who was humbled by God because of his lack of compassion upon his enemies. Often in the retelling of Jonah, the second chapter is almost completely glossed over, which is a shame, considering it forms a rather important part of the book, especially for Christians.
God wanted Jonah to preach to the city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. The Assyrians were cruel and wicked, and they had persecuted and tormented Israel. God had a message of judgment upon this awful people, and God chose Jonah as His messenger. (cf. Jonah 1:2)
But Jonah was afraid. Not afraid of the Assyrians. There is no indication that Jonah, bold prophet that he was, had a fear of his enemies. Rather he was afraid of success. Knowing the character of God, Jonah was afraid that if he preached, the people might repent and be saved, and Jonah did not want that. (cf. Jonah 4:2)
And so Jonah tried to flee from God, found out that he could not, and was subsequently swallowed by some enormous sea creature. Jonah was in the belly of that beast for three days and three nights (cf. Jonah 1:17)
And while in the fish, in the depths of the sea, Jonah did the most sensible thing that he could. He prayed.
Surprisingly, the prayer of Jonah is a prayer of hope. “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and He answered me,” says the prophet (Jonah 2:2a; ESV). Jonah said, “I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple..” (Jonah 2:4; ESV) Though he was buried in a fish, deep in the sea, Jonah had not given up on God. Jonah absolutely understood that God was a merciful and loving God, and though Jonah had messed up, he could still anticipate being given another chance. His prayer concludes, “But I with a voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!” Jonah 2:9; ESV)
The prayer of Jonah is noteworthy, not only for its upbeat, hopeful tone, but also for its messianic elements. Jesus once, being asked for a sign, told His listeners He would give them no sign, but the sign of Jonah. (cf. Matthew 12:39-40) Just as Jonah was in the fish three days and three nights, so too would Jesus be buried, and rise again on the third day. Jesus, in the tomb, could pray with Jonah, “I went down to the land, whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.” (Jonah 2:6; ESV)
Though Jonah was in the fish, he still had hope. Though Jesus was in the tomb, he still had hope. Because both knew and understood the loving and merciful nature of God, who would rescue them, and give them deliverance from their condition.
Sometimes in life, the saint of the Lord might feel like they are drowning in woe and trouble. At times like these, it is good to remember the drowning prophet, Jonah, and the hope he maintained, even in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation.
If we will trust in God, in full faith, God is faithful. It can never get so bad as to be without hope. The apostle Paul, who experienced shipwrecks, stonings, beatings, poverty, and hunger, and even, eventually, death wrote, while in prison, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12-13; ESV)
Elsewhere He encouraged saying, “For [God’s] sake we are being killed all the day long;… In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:36a, 37; ESV)
Christ had hope in the tomb, and He gives us reason to have hope in both life and death. He gives us reason to declare with Jonah, “Salvation belongs to the Lord!”