Tuesday, October 06, 2009

In The Belly Of The Beast

Yesterday we left Jonah as he took a dip in the sea. Man overboard, as the sailors hoisted him over the side of the ship, and the stormy sea became still. Imagine you've never read or heard Jonah before - is this it? Jonah is destined for a watery grave and the story is finished?

The story is far from finished. As Jonah sinks, something has been appointed to meet him. 'And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.' (1:17). The LORD God who made the sea and the dry land (1:9) made everything in them too, and commands his creatures. Notice that here the fish, and also the plant (4:6) and the worm (4:7) are more obedient to the command of their Creator than the Lord's prophet is! The fish, plant, and worm were all appointed, and they do their job. Jonah, however is reluctant and rebellious.

Jonah spends three days and nights in the belly of the fish, the first person to ride in a submarine, albeit a horrible smelly one, amongst the fish guts. And eventually, Jonah prays to 'the LORD his God' - is Jonah on the upward rise now that he remembers to pray to his God?

In his prayer, which is like a Psalm, he tells his story of how he had been cast into the deep, into the belly of Sheol (the grave), and as he cries out to God he has heard him. His situation was bleak - 'For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.' (2:3). 'The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains.' (2:5-6).

Yet in the midst of all this, there is a glimmer of faith and hope:

'Then I said, "I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple... I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple... Salvation belongs to the LORD!' (2:4, 6-7, 9)

Despite his rebellion, having seen the power of his God, Jonah seems to be coming right. He's crying out to the Lord, he's aligning himself with the Lord, he's experiencing the salvation of the Lord, and as the fish vomits him out onto the dry land, he's returning to the Lord.

Jonah was a dead man. There was no RNLI lifeboat to go and rescue him from the water. He was as good as dead as he sank. In his moment of need, he cries to the Lord and experiences a great salvation through the fishy submarine. Jonah has been given new life and a living hope through his figurative resurrection, which points forward to the great resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, three days not in the belly of a fish but in the belly of the ground, in the new rock tomb. (Matthew 12:40) How will he use his God-given life?

What about us, who have also been saved by the Lord from our rebellion, changed from being dead in our sins to alive in Christ, also saved by grace (Ephesians 2:1-10), with good works prepared for us to walk in. Can we yet resist the call of the Lord to speak and act and think for him? We will never be the same again, when we taste the goodness of the Lord, and experience his great salvation.

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