Jonah and the Belly of Sheol


“I called out to the Lord, out of my distress,

and he answered me;

out of the belly of Sheol I cried,

and you heard my voice.

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.

Then I said, ‘I am driven away

from your sight;

yet I shall again look

upon your holy temple.’

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.

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.

Those who pay regard to vain idols

forsake their hope of steadfast love.

But I with the voice of thanksgiving

will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed I will pay.

Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (Jonah 2:2-9)

Jonah had tried to flee from the presence of the Lord after being commanded to speak against the wicked Nineveh, so they might have the opportunity to repent and be saved of God’s impending wrath. Nineveh was a city of such horrible reputation and the people are condemned in Nahum (chapter 3) for being bloody, “full of lies and robbery”. Jonah was incensed at the notion that such a people deserved mercy and, while in mid-flight, he was tossed overboard to save a ship from a wrath the sailors did not deserve, at which time he was swallowed by a fish.

The future of his life became hopeless to death.  Though he was whole in the belly of the fish, this was not the appearance. The fish had become a grave, in which he would stay. To Jonah, he was locked away – forever – in the belly of Sheol or the “realm of the dead”. The waters of the sea had surrounded him on all sides, like a tomb, and there was no possibility of anything, besides his demise, yet, there, in the pit, Jonah’s heart was set upon the sovereignty of God. In prayer, he remembered that, though he ended up in this seemingly hopeless state through his disobedience, it was God who put him there. Just as God had placed him in such a hopeless circumstance, it was only God who could act as Savior to bring him out of the pit, in which his life was wasting away. He who delivered one to this demise could surely redeem him from such an end. Jonah held hope in hopelessness because of a trust in the One who could fulfill such a hope.

God desired mercy – not sacrifice – and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. Jonah tried the impossible and neglected what was known of God: one cannot flee from His presence, for,

“Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.” (Ps 139:7-10)

Jonah turned from this foolishness and remembered God’s sovereignty and, in thanksgiving, sacrificed that which he strongly believed (that the people of Nineveh did not deserve warning) or, ultimately, his own will for the will of his Savior who originally commanded him. In the end, he rightfully concludes that salvation belongs to the Lord.

There can be purpose in suffering. The world likes to believe that suffering is needless and, many times, when one comes to Jesus after hearing a call, the idea of difficulty or trials or suffering seems senseless and contradictory to the offer of hope itself. Life is suffering and, though, much of it can appear needless or excessive enough to justify believing that there is no God to look to, for the one whose faith rests upon the incarnate Son, the suffering acquires a purpose or multiple purposes. Jonah’s suffering is an example of this principal, wherein we see a man whose rebellious nature was to be broken. What is sin, if not pride, and what is suffering, if not first humbling?

For a Christian, suffering can seem doubly painful. The Christian’s existence is to be that of hope and separation as the chosen of God, but what could possibly be the advantage of poverty, loss, physical impairment? Paul wrote of the thorn in his flesh to the Corinthian church, wherein he describes this harassment as a means by which he would not become conceited in light of the revelations given to him, so that he would find a greater need to rely solely upon Christ Jesus. His [Jesus’] grace is sufficient for the Christian and His power is made perfect in weakness, therefore it is only the Savior in whom one should boast. Yes, when things become dark and hopeless to the point of death, remember that He who was sovereign in allowing such things to befall you, is sovereign enough to hold you. Whether you made your bed in Sheol or dwelled in the uttermost parts of the sea, His hand shall lead you.

To the glory of the Father, through the Son, our sole Savior Lord, let all praise be afforded. Amen.

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