Jonah 2

Sermon preached on February 6, 2005 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

In the 70's I had a lot of operations on my nose to remove nasal polyps. I had the first three done in eastern Canada and they didn't seem to work too well as I didn't get any lasting relief from them. So I decided to go to a specialist in Boston in the hope that he would be able to fix the problem once and for all. He told me that he thought that he could. When I met with him he told me that he was going to do something more drastic than the other doctors had done, that he was going to go deeper and try to get to the root of the problem. So I decided to go for it and I had the surgery. I remember when I woke up after the surgery I couldn't see anything. Everything was totally black. I tried to open my eyes as wide as I could but no matter what I did all I could see was this horrible blackness. I thought I was blind. I remember laying there in the recovery room thinking,

"This is not good. I'm blind. When he was operating he must have damaged my optic nerve and now I'm blind."

As I was contemplating that, a nurse came along, took the bag of ice off my face and suddenly I could see.

I didn't know that there was a bag of ice on my face. My face was so sore that I had no idea that it was there.
How quickly things changed. In a fraction of a second all was well. My blindness was gone.

The story of Jonah is something like that. Jonah had sinned against God. He had run away from his mission. He boarded a ship for Tarshish. But God sent the storm. When lots were cast to determine the one God was angry with, the lot fell on Jonah. The sailors tried to save him by rowing back to land but they could not. They threw him into the sea. His situation seemed hopeless. But then things got worse. Maybe it was Jonah who coined the sentiment,

"Just when I thought things couldn't get any worse, they got worse."

Can you imagine how he must have felt when he saw the fish coming? (If he did see it?) It must have been horrible. Can you imagine how he felt when the fish started to swallow him? He might have thought, "Oh, no. It can't possibly get any worse than this." Can you imagine how he felt when he found himself alive in the fish's belly? I wonder if he thought,

"Oh, no. I thought it was going to be quick. But I'm still alive. It's going to be a slow and horrible death."

I can hardly imagine what was going through his mind. Indeed, I think we have a disadvantage in trying to sympathize with Jonah. We know the end of the story. We know that he survived, that the fish vomited him up on dry land. But Jonah didn't know that he was going to survive.

So the first thing I want to do is to

consider Jonah's plight so that we can see how dark and horrible things were for him in the belly of the fish.

In verse 2 he describes his situation as,

'the depths of the grave'

The Hebrew word that he used there is 'sheol' and it is often translated, 'grave' or 'hell'. It seemed to Jonah that he was in the place of the dead. John Calvin writes,

"For God most rigidly handled him; Jonah was in a manner doomed to eternal ruin; the bowels of the fishÖ were indeed to him as it were hell or the grave."

His case seemed hopeless, especially in a spiritual sense. He knew he had sinned against God and offended Him. In verse 3 he says,

"You hurled me into the deep,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers swept over me.
I said,
I have been banished
from your sight

He had sinned directly against God. His sin was willful and deliberate. He ran away from him—seemingly trying to thwart God's purposes to have mercy in Nineveh. I can't think of another incident quite like it.

Perhaps the closest we have is the incident
of the man of God from Judah who was told by God to curse wicked King Jeroboam's altar in Bethel. (1 Kings 13) God told him that he was not to eat or drink anything there and to return home a different way. The prophet intended to do everything God told him. He cursed Jeroboam's altar. God greatly used him. Right after he cursed the altar King Jeroboam tried to have him arrested. He stretched out his hand to order them to seize him. But when he did so his hand withered up. King Jeroboam asked the prophet to intercede with God for him and the prophet prayed for him and his hand was restored. At that point Jeroboam wanted the prophet to stay with him awhile, have something to eat and received a gift. But the prophet told him that God had told him not to eat or drink anything and not to return home the same way. So he told King Jeroboam that even if he offered him half of his kingdom, he would not stay, he would not disobey God.

So he started home. But an old prophet from Bethel heard what had happened. He went after the prophet from Judah and tricked him. He met him and told him that an angel of the Lord had appeared to him and told him to bring him to his house and give him food and drink. It was a lie. But the prophet from Judah was deceived and went with him. When they were eating the word of the Lord came to the old prophet of Bethel and he spoke against the prophet from Judah. He told him that he had disobeyed God's word and that because of it his body would not be buried in the tomb of his fathers. After he finished eating he saddled his donkey and started home. But he never made it. A lion met him and killed him. Then the lion and the donkey both stood by the body. No one would go near. But the prophet who deceived him went retrieved his body and buried him in his own tomb.

What an end he met. It was because the prophet defied the word of the Lord.

Jonah's disobedience was much worse than that. The prophet from Judah's disobedience was not willful. He was deceived. But Jonah's disobedience was deliberate and willful. I would also imagine that the prophet from Judah was horrified at being deceived. He was probably filled with great regret. We read of no regret in Jonah. During the great storm we don't see him praying in the lower decks of the ship, pouring out his heart in sorrow to God. No, he's asleep.

Jonah's disobedience was
also worse in the fact that it was rooted in the fact that he did not want God to be merciful to the people of Nineveh. In a way Jonah reminds me of the unmerciful servant that Jesus spoke about in Matthew 18. God had had mercy on Jonah in revealing Himself to him and giving him life. Yet he did not want that for Nineveh.

I wonder when was cast into the sea or when he saw the fish about to eat him if he thought of the prophet from Judah?
He certainly deserved a fate worse than being killed by a lion. His sin was worse than the prophet from Judah.

Jonah was in a terrible situation. He felt banished from God's sight.
Verses 5-6 describe his thoughts.

"The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever."

Then in verse 6 he spoke about being in the pit and in verse 7 he tells what he thought about his situation,

"When my life was ebbing away,"

How hopeless it seemed. Jonah had sinned. God had sent the storm. The sailors threw him overboard. God had sent the fish to swallow him. Jonah knew what he deserved. He knew that he deserved worse that the prophet from Judah. He felt banished from God's presence. He felt that he was descending into hell itself. John Calvin writes,

"But how was it that he directed his petitions then to God, by whose hand he saw that he was so heavily pressed? For God most rigidly handled him; Jonah was in a manner doomed to eternal ruin; the bowels of the fish, as we shall hereafter see, were indeed to him as it were hell or the grave. But in this state of despair Jonah even gathered courage, and was able to retake himself directly to God. It was a wonderful and almost incredible example of faith. Let us then learn to weigh well what is here said; for when the Lord heavily afflicts us, it is then a legitimate and seasonable time for prayer."

Jonah looked to God for mercy and God did not disappoint him.

Jonah knew that he didn't deserve mercy, but he went to God anyway. In verse 2 Jonah said,

"In my distress I called to the LORD,
and he answered me.
From the depths of the grave
I called for help,
and you listened to my cry."

In verse 6f he said,

"To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you brought my life up from the pit,
O LORD my God.
When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, LORD,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple."

What does Jonah teach us here?

No matter how bad your situation, no matter how hopeless it seems, go to God and He will answer you.

Don't we learn the same thing from

the Canaanite woman whose daughter was demon possessed?

She was in desperate straits. She was not of the people of Israel. Her daughter was demon possessed. Can you imagine how horrible it must have been for her. She went to Jesus to ask Him to heal her daughter. But Jesus ignored her. In Matthew 15:23 we read,

"Jesus did not answer a word."

Did she give up? Did she say to herself,

"Well, Jesus won't even answer me. There's no hope for my daughter."

No. She persisted. When she saw that Jesus was ignoring her, she turned to His disciples and started pestering them. She pestered them so much that they went to Jesus and urged him saying,

"Send her away,
for she keeps crying out after us."

The disciples didn't help her either. Did she lose hope? Did she conclude,

"Well, there's no hope for my daughter."

No, not at all.

But then things got worse. Jesus said, (Matthew 15:24)

"I was sent
only to the lost sheep of Israel."

It is quite possible that He didn't even address her directly, but said it to His disciples.

Did that cause her to give up? No. She went and knelt before him and begged. She said, (verse 25)

"Lord, help me!"

But Jesus rebuffed her. He said,

"It is not right to take the children's bread
and toss it to their dogs."

Jesus referred to her and her daughter as 'dogs'. She was told that she could not be heard because she a dog. She was not an Israelite.

Did the woman lose all hope then? Did she despair? No. Not at all. She continued to look to Christ for mercy. She replied,

"Yes, Lord,
but even the dogs eat
the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."

Then she received what she desired. Jesus said to her,

"'Woman, you have great faith!
Your request is granted.'
And her daughter was healed from that very hour."

Jonah also teaches us that no matter how greatly we have sinned against Him, He will forgive us.

In verse 4 Jonah said,

"I have been banished from your sight;
yet I will look again toward your holy temple."

He knew that he had sinned against God. Yet he looked to the holy God, to His presence, for forgiveness and restoration.

We see the same thing in
verse 7f. Jonah said,

"When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, LORD,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
Those who cling to worthless idols
forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
But I, with a song of thanksgiving,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good."

Jonah mentioned God's holy temple twice. He wanted to be in God's presence again. God hheard him.

What does Jonah teach us here?

No matter what you have done against God, look to Him and He will save you.

How did Jonah conclude his prayer? With the declaration,

"Salvation comes from the LORD."

Doesn't the forgiveness that David received teach us the same thing?

David received mercy after his great sins. David was the King over God's people. He was the one who had defeated Goliath.

But how he sinned! He had committed adultery with Bathsheba and then murdered her husband Uriah the Hittite. Uriah was such a faithful soldier but David had him murdered.

David, this great hero of the Lord, sinned.
He gave the enemies of the Lord an opportunity to blaspheme. He was hardened in his sin. There was no sign of repentance or remorse. He tried to hide his sin and was attempting to go on as if it had not happened.

And remember
how Nathan the prophet set him up. (2 Samuel 12) Rather than going to David and immediately confronting him with his sin, he told him a story about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man had lots of sheep and cattle. But the poor man only had one little ewe lamb. That little lamb was so precious to him. As Nathan said, it shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

When a traveler came to the rich man, the rich man didn't take one of his own sheep or cattle to feed him, but took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man.

Remember how David reacted? We read that (2 Samuel 12:5-6)

"David burned with anger against the man
and said to Nathan,
'As surely as the LORD lives,
the man who did this deserves to die!
He must pay for that lamb four times over,
because he did such a thing and had no pity.'"

Then Nathan said,

"You are the man!"

You would think that would be the end of David. Nathan had delivered the coup de gr‚ce. David's sin and hypocrisy was exposed. One would think that the only thing left for David was, (Hebrews 10:27)

"a fearful expectation of judgment
and of raging fire
that will consume the enemies of God."

But no. There was grace for David. Nathan told him that God had put away his sin.

We see the same thing in the criminal on the cross.

At first, both criminals joined the chief priests and elders in mocking Jesus. (Matthew 27:44)

Can you imagine! What a great sin it was. Mocking Jesus when He was suffering so. You would think that such a sin was beyond forgiveness.

But no. When one of the criminals came to himself and asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His kingdom, Jesus replied, (Luke 23:43)

"I tell you the truth,
today you will be with me in paradise."

What a God we have! What a God of mercy and love.

Micah 7:18f,

"Who is a God like you,
who pardons sin
and forgives the transgression
of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever
but delight to show mercy.
You will again have compassion on us;
you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
You will be true to Jacob,
and show mercy to Abraham,
as you pledged on oath
to our fathers in days long ago."

If you're not a Christian, go to Jesus for forgiveness.

He loves sinners. No matter what you have done, if you go to Him He will receive you. Never think that your sins are too bad to be forgiven. Never think that you're too bad to be forgiven. One of the things that people need to realize about God and His forgiveness is that as long as you're alive and you have a desire to go to Jesus—there's hope for you. Go to Him.

If you are a Christian, open your eyes to the great forgiveness that is in Jesus.

In Him is full and free forgiveness. Rejoice in it. Psalm 103:10f,

"he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us."