At the beginning of his talk Liam confessed to his love of 24, which I share. At risk of making him as pleased as punch, I can report that people twittering from the event reckon he actually looks a bit like Jack Bauer! As soon as Jonah hit the water, the storm ended, and the sailors were safe. His God must be powerful, so they worshipped him. We see God’s salvation in operation in action in Jonah’s life.
Salvation of Jonah
Introduction of the big fish, and mentioned in the conclusion. In between there is a theological reflection: salvation belongs to the Lord. Jonah had no hand in it. Salvation is always a sovereign act of God. It is God who appointed the fish. God is in control of the whole of creation, see for example Psalm 147 where it is the stars God appoints. God is over all in creation and in redemption. Nothing that happens is outside of the control of God. Whatever comes to pass is in his hands. We could spend a lot of time looking at the arguments how people could be swallowed by a fish. For example people have been swallowed by a sperm whale. Word fish is a general word for any aquatic beast. Jesus uses a word of an indefinite but huge sea creature. Jonah did not know that there was going to be any rescue. He has no guarantee. He is disobedience to God. The storm demonstrates God is chasing him. He surrenders to the judgment he so richly deserves. But God is not finished with him. We should have no problem believing this if we believe in the God of the Bible. God wanted to underline that salvation is all of God.
Song of Jonah
The water is the fear of death. The fish is the place of refuge. The prayer is the plea for help. By verse 9 he is still not safe. He is thanking God even though the odds might seem that he would live in the belly of the fish for the rest of his life. He knows that God still loves him. He bursts into a new song. The Bible has lots of new songs. The new songs always describe the salvation of God.
There is genuine thanksgiving. Something is happening in the heart of the prophet. He describes the act of drowning. Suddenly he is able to breathe. In his desperation and distress he realizes the fish has been provided by God. He knows he didn’t deserve to be answered by God. His freedom has gone. God is in the driving seat. He could contribute nothing to his saving. Has God hemmed you in and stopped you in your tracks. Has something happened to you that has made you cry out “where is God in this?” Having heard the voice of God we can respond in different ways. The central feature of the Christian life is that the heart of our Christian lives is a relationship rather than merely an experience. God reveals himself to us in Christ and by his word. We hear God speaking to us by the word, and respond to him in prayer, shaped by the Word. Bible prayers are shaped by the language of the Bible. We should pray the Bible, sing the Bible because it is God’s voice. He takes the initiative. God was demolishing all his props and comforts.
God is the one who takes the initiative. There is something else in this prayer. There is an undercurrent of self-righteousness. There is quite a lot of “I” there. Then says those who cling to idols, forsake the hope of steadfast love. Jonah dislikes pagan sailors and Ninevites. Verse 8 There is no “we” there. There is no recognition of his need full repentance. It is a theologically correct statement, but is not applying it to himself. He didn’t pray for the salvation of the sailors, or the Ninevites. If I fear lonliness, I worship relationships. If I fear not fitting in, I worship others approval. If you want to know what is your idol, ask what it is that if it was taken away it would be the end of life for you. In chapter 4 he wants to die because something was taken away. Its to do with his attitude to people outside the covenant of God. He is eager to underline the difference between a pagan and a believer. He doesn’t realise the sailors have already repented. We are curved in on ourselves. We cannot see beyond ourselves. God is dealing with him.
Sign of Jonah
We must look at the New Testament input into our understanding of this book. Jesus uses this as an analogy of his own death and resurrection. In God’s name the gentiles will hope is the background to Jesus saying that the sign of Jonah was coming. The symbolic death of Jonah points to the real death of Jesus. The virtual resurrection of Jonah points to the real resurrection of Jesus. We need to move from a knowledge of the truth to a knowledge of the power of the truth. What I need is God to do something that is a God thing. I need God to be active in my life, and he is because he is the King. The King is coming. He is not safe. But salvation is from him.