Psalm of Jonah

Normally, when we think of psalms, or even in the modern day when we think of songs, a person composes it in a tranquil setting of contemplative thought; that’s not the case with Jonah. Jonah is geographically challenged. Perhaps hundreds of feet below the surface of the water, he is being sovereignly transported, from where he was going, to where God sovereignly wants to take him. The great fish is that vehicle of transport. Actually, though I don’t think Jonah is trying to write a top-40 song; he is simply communicating, from a gut-level, a more repentant heart, or at least for the moment, a sober heart.

So, he composes a psalm, and he has less than 3 days to do it.

The psalm here is going to describe his life–I see that very clearly. But it’s also going to describe the immediate predicament, and salvation by the fish, God’s sovereign act of salvation using the fish. Remember, it’s a great fish; it is not a whale, but it’s a great fish.

We find this psalm in Chapter 2 of his eponymous book. We see in verses 2 and 3 that he acknowledges God’s sovereignty. And we see in verses 4 through 9, that he submits to God’s sovereignty.

Verse 2, “And he said ‘I called out of my distress to the Lord and He answered me. I cried for a help from the depths of Sheol. You heard my voice.'” He talked about crying out from the depths of Sheol, the depths of the belly. He is engulfed in the possibility of death, and he will not actually die, but he comes really close to it. And he says, “You heard my voice.” He’s addressing God. He’s finally facing in the right direction.

Verse 3, “For you had cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas and the current engulfed me. All your breakers and billows passed over me.” He recognizes that God is the one sovereignly responsible. He says God has tossed him in and “your breaker’s, your waves, your waters, have passed over me.” He describes the circumstances as a judgment from the sovereign Lord.

His response is in verse 4, “So I said I have been expelled from your sight. Nevertheless, I will look again toward Your holy temple.” Is Jonah here a little bit fuzzy? Maybe he’s not quite recovered. Maybe, he’s forgetting who was trying to get away from whom. Remember in verse three of chapter one, Jonah is trying to get away from the presence of the Lord. Jonah is trying to get away from the presence of the Lord two times in that verse–Jonah initiated that expulsion. God, for the moment had merely honored that choice.

Jonah sought to flee from the sight of God; he is trying to run in the opposite direction. He says, “I have been expelled from your sight. Nevertheless, I will look again toward your holy temple.” He announces that he will once again face God. This idea is one of repentance, that rather than focusing on his will, he is going to focus on God’s will. This is the whole idea of restoration, the idea of a restored relationship with God. God truly never lost sight of him.

Verses 5 and 6, “Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, weeds were wrapped around my head. I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever, but you have brought up my life from the pit, Oh Lord my God.” He focuses here on the situations that were surrounding him. He focuses on the absolute hopelessness that was his as he was sinking through the water. There is an implicit recognition of the sovereignty of God. Because he says, “You have brought up my life from the pit, from the grave. You have done this.” Here is the understanding that God still has a plan. Jonah doesn’t know what it is yet, he doesn’t know if he’s going to die in 20 minutes, or an hour; he doesn’t know where he’s going. But he says, “You have brought up my life from the pit, Oh Yahweh, My God.” He once again identifies Yahweh as his Lord as his God.

Verse 7, “While I was fainting away, I remembered Yahweh. And my prayer came to You into Your holy temple.” As he is thrown in to the tumultuous waves he breaks the surface, he begins to sink. There is a lack of oxygen. He begins to drown. And this is while he was fainting away. As he is losing consciousness he remembers the Lord, and he begins to pray. From the deep, from the belly of the fish, the prayer ascended through the water to the throne room of the Almighty where God rules from His sovereign throne.

No matter where we are. No matter what conditions we are in, a true and sincere prayer is a hot line to the throne room of God. Jonah recognizes that, and I’m going to suggest that this prayer is not one of simple desperation, but of sincerity, at least true repentance for the moment. And his prayer is not just facing the Holy Temple, is not just facing God, but the prayer is making it in to the throne room of God.

Verse 8 is a little bit odd; I had to work through it. It says, “Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness.” “Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness.” Now, color me simple, but if I’m sinking down and am a couple hundred feet below the depths of the water. I’m probably not in all that philosophical state of mind where I’m going to be throwing out some kind of proverb like this. “Aha! Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness.” It’s a little difficult for us to understand, but that word here for “vain” is also “empty,” or “false.” We say, “Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness.” Our response is, “huh?” But Jonah is saying those who regard false idols, those you regard empty idols, forsake their faithfulness. I would suggest that Jonah is speaking of himself. He is his own false idol. He is his own empty idol because an idol is something that you place before God. An idol is something that you placed before the will of God. Jonah is sinking down, and yet he understands that he has been the person of primary importance in his life; way above God. And in doing that, he forsook the righteousness of God.

Verse 9. “But I will sacrifice to you with the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed to pay. Salvation is from the Lord.” Jonah is submitting here, and though it’s difficult to ascertain the level of joy he has in doing this; he is at least surrendering. Does he think that he’s going to get out alive? I really don’t know. I don’t think so, but I really don’t know. But at this point in time he’s rededicating his life. He’s got the sovereignty of God stuff figured out, but things look pretty bleak. Perhaps, his skin is continuing to burn. Maybe his eyes are irritated. He is in the dark. He is unsure of his future. He says, “that which I have vowed I will pay.”

We don’t know specifically what Jonah has vowed to do but he is rededicating himself to the vow that he had made previously. I would surmise that that means he is going to fulfill his calling as a prophet however long that he has. He is willing to do what God has called him to do. And part of that is this interesting little statement that he makes at the very end, “Salvation is from the Lord.” “Salvation is from Yahweh,” which is actually the primary message of any prophet. It’s actually the primary message of any believer in God. “Salvation is from the Lord.”

Though his zeal will wane, he will faithfully deliver this great truth to the people of Nineveh–mmm, well, sort of–the Spirit makes sure the message is understood.

Most of us are on a journey from where we thought we were going, to where God is taking us. Though we may judge Jonah, we would do better to identify the level of sovereignty of our God in our lives and surrender to it.

In that (gulp), Jonah has something pretty important to teach us!

“I called out of my distress to the LORD,
And He answered me.
I cried for help from the depth of Sheol;
You heard my voice.
“For You had cast me into the deep,
Into the heart of the seas,
And the current engulfed me.
All Your breakers and billows passed over me.
“So I said, ‘I have been expelled from Your sight.
Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.’
“Water encompassed me to the point of death.
The great deep engulfed me,
Weeds were wrapped around my head.
“I descended to the roots of the mountains.
The earth with its bars was around me forever,
But You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.
“While I was fainting away,
I remembered the LORD,
And my prayer came to You,
Into Your holy temple.
“Those who regard vain idols
Forsake their faithfulness,
But I will sacrifice to You
With the voice of thanksgiving.
That which I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation is from the LORD.”