It is in the belly of a fish, the ultimate “dark night of the soul,” that we find one of the most profound and heart-wrenching psalms of worship in Scripture. As I mentioned in our last study, Jonah fully expected to die as he was cast into the sea. What an unbelievable turn of events, then, when Jonah instead finds himself alive in the gut of some sort of sea creature! Although he is alive, Jonah does not find himself in a comfortable situation. (God could have saved Jonah via a luxury cruise, but He didn’t do that, did He?) Jonah’s physical situation is a reflection of the intense psychological, emotional struggle of his very soul. And now, for the first time in our story so far, Jonah finally reacts in the best way possible: “Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from inside the fish” (Jonah 2:1). I hope that we can remember to cry out to God from the depths of our struggles as well.
It is in this psalm of worship that we see Jonah as a representation of Christ. Jesus was also thrown into the sea of separation from God so that we might be saved. Jesus explicitly references Jonah in Matthew 12:38-41 and identifies His mission as our Savior with Jonah’s three-day experience. Jonah 2:1-9 is a song and prayer of trust in the face of seemingly irreversible separation from God. Notice how this passage ends with a triumphant cry of faith:
You threw me into the ocean depths,
and I sank down to the heart of the sea.
The mighty waters engulfed me;
I was buried beneath your wild and stormy waves.
Then I said, ‘O Lord, you have driven me from your presence.
Yet I will look once more toward your holy Temple.’
(Jonah 2:2-4, New Living Translation)
Jonah’s prayer is also one of repentance. He promises to fulfill his vow of obedience to God, while recognizing that salvation and forgiveness come from the LORD alone:
Those who worship false gods
turn their backs on all God’s mercies.
[Side note: Isn’t it interesting that Jonah compares
his stubborn rebellion from God’s will to the sin of idolatry?]
But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise,
and I will fulfill all my vows.
For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.
I love how the prayer ends. It doesn’t end with what Jonah will do for God, but it ends with what God has done for Jonah – and, by extension, what God has done for us: Salvation begins and ends with the LORD. I am reminded of Hebrews 12:2, where we remember that Christ endured the ultimate “Jonah experience” – Christ bore the cross, courageously facing its shame and humiliation. And now Christ reigns triumphantly in His Father’s throne where He is able to freely dispense the gift of salvation to all who care to ask for it:
“looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2, NKJV)