This is part of a 7-day series on Jonah in the Lent 2016 reading plan.
Though I doubt anyone has done time in the belly of a whale, I think most of us can recall circumstances that have driven us to the end of ourselves. My greatest trials have driven me to ask: How will I recover? How could there ever again be light and hope?
Sometimes it is my own foolishness and sin that drive me to such circumstances. In such times, I do not feel confident. I struggle to walk in a spirit of thanksgiving. More often than not, this is because I have set my eyes only on the depths of darkness, and I have asked, “Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you?” (Ps 88:10).
When I first sat down and read this passage, the images that struck me most were the heart of the seas, the current which overcomes, and the billows that overwhelm (Jonah 2:3). My eyes are naturally drawn to the depths. Of course, Jonah’s prayer is not actually about the depths themselves, but about God’s great mercy and rescue from them.
Jonah was in the depths because of his sin and folly. He had rejected his own calling, and fled from God’s presence. Until he found himself swallowed by the sea, his eyes were turned away from God. Ironically, it was God’s judgment that rescued Jonah.
“You threw me into the depths, into the heart of the seas,” Jonah declared. “But You raised my life from the pit, Lord my God! As my life was fading away, I remembered Yahweh” (Jonah 2:3-7).
I tend to have a fearful and negative view of God’s judgement. Yet mercifully, even God’s judgment calls us to Himself. In His wrath, He remembers mercy (Hab. 3:2). It is precisely this great mercy that Jonah sees as he is finally brought to the end of himself.
Does God work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise Him? Yes. The Messianic imagery of Psalm 88 reminds us of this very truth: God has worked wonders for the dead: His work of salvation is a work of wonder for those who are dead in their trespasses (Eph. 2:5).
Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25), and “even if I make my bed in Sheol, He will find me” (Ps 139:8). For this reason we, like Jonah, can respond to God’s judgement with a voice of thanksgiving. Yet how quickly I neglect thanksgiving! How quickly I fall to despair, instead of crying out to God! How often I run to my own feeble strength, instead of confessing my weakness and my need of Him. How foolishly I run to worthless idols and forsake His faithful love, which reaches even to the depths of Sheol!
Jonah’s prayer is a remarkable reminder to us of the great grace of God and the great hope we have in Him, even in the darkest of hours when the billows have overwhelmed us because of our own sin and folly. Because of His great mercy, we may “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace” (O what great grace!), “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need!” (Heb 4:16).
Are you weary, overwhelmed, and thrown into the depths? Have the billows swept over you? Has your folly overtaken you? Is your life fading away? Remember Yahweh. Salvation is from the Lord!
Written By Caleb Faires