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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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A Whale of a Time | Jonah

‘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
turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, “Salvation comes from the LORD.”’

And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

Jonah 2:7-10


 

Whatever the origins of the phrase ‘having a whale of a time’, I’m willing to bet that, despite being trapped in the belly of a big fish, Jonah was, in fact, having the exact opposite.

To recap: Jonah, a (very) reluctant prophet, has been told by God to go to Nineveh. He has refused, and sailed away in the opposite direction. God sent a storm, and the sailors – after praying unsuccessfully to their pagan gods – turn to Jonah and ask him to pray to his God. Jonah acknowledges that he is the reason for the storm, and instructs the sailors to throw him overboard. They do, and he is swallowed by a big fish.

And here we find Jonah in the middle of a desperate prayer. His life is ‘ebbing away’, and he has nowhere to go. He has hit rock bottom. So he turns to the sovereign Lord, the God of Israel, the one from whom he had fled just days before.

And the Lord hears, as he always does.

‘My prayer rose to you’ – Jonah knows that even though he got himself into this mess through stubbornness, folly, and disobedience, those who turn to the Lord in prayer will not go unheard. Those who worship idols will be disappointed but the Lord, Jonah acknowledges, will not fail.

‘Salvation comes from the LORD’ – Jonah knows that he deserves no such salvation. But in the pit of his despair, in the belly of the big fish, he clings to the hope of God’s faithful promises, his loving kindness, his unfailing love.

There are many situations in life which may feel like the belly of a big fish – stinky, unwanted, and a nasty surprise. Perhaps they were brought on by our own folly or disobedience; perhaps they are just the result of living in a broken world.

Whatever our ‘big fish belly’ might be today, we can be encouraged by the example of Jonah – even when his life was ebbing away, even when any reasonable chance of hope seemed lost, he turned to the Lord, and the Lord heard his prayer.

Jonah – stubborn, disobedient, foolish Jonah – discovers that the Lord, the God of Israel, is the one from whom salvation comes. He is the one who is always ready and able to rescue despite our human stubbornness.

The same is true today. Praise God.

 

Nell Goddard

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Nell Goddard

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