Prayer from the Belly of a Fish

Southern_right_whale_caudal_fin-2_no_skyJonah was the hesitant prophet. He had a hard time wanting the Ninevites to be saved. The Ninevites were Assyrians, and Jonah doubtless knew that God’s prophets had foretold that the Assyrians would take Israel captive (see Isaiah 7:17; Hosea 9:3; 10:6,7; 11:5; cf. Nahum 3:1-4). Jonah had no interest in the Ninevites repenting and avoiding God’s just wrath, so he ran from God. To summarize the events that led to Jonah’s prayer, we may simply say that Jonah underwent a drastic attitude adjustment as he was thrown into the sea and swallowed by a giant fish.

How does a man pray when he is in the belly of a fish and facing the fear of immediate doom? In many respects, he prays precisely as we should pray if we are penitent before God. Consider the following characteristics of Jonah’s prayer, i.e., characteristics of faithful prayer:

  1. Jonah acknowledged God’s supremacy. Jonah prayed, “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me. . . . 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” (2:2-3). Jonah finally saw that he was as nothing before God, that his life was temporary (how could he deny this, in the belly of a fish?), saying that “waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me. . . . I went down into the land whose bars closed upon me forever” (2:5, 6). Similarly, our prayers must reflect this same humility and dependence on God (Matthew 6:11; John 15:1-10; Acts 17:28; Philippians 4:13).
  2. Jonah asked for God’s blessing. Jonah prayed, “‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’ . . . . [Y]ou brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God. . . . Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (2:4, 6, 9). Similarly, our prayers must seek God’s aid (1 Kings 9:3; Philippians 4:6; James 5:16). God wants to give us the best He has to offer, but we must ask (Matthew 6:6; James 4:3).
  3. Jonah promised to do God’s will. Jonah prayed, “But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay” (2:3). Similarly, our prayers must reflect our commitment to God’s purpose (John 15:7; 1 John 5:14-15).

At the conclusion of Jonah’s prayer, the fish vomited him out onto dry land (2:10). This is exactly what Jonah wanted, and allowed the truth to reach the Gentile Ninevites, who repented and were spared (3:6-10). The results of Jonah’s prayer were marvelous. His life was saved, and his plans aligned with God’s plans. Who knows what wonders God may work as a result of our penitent prayers?

- 2017