“I called to the Lord in my distress, and he answered me. I cried out for help from deep inside Sheol; you heard my voice.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Are you the kind of person who calls for help before you break something or after it’s already shattered into pieces? It’s not just a matter of pride that determines how far you go into something you can’t do before you wave the help flag. Sometimes it’s a matter of information. For Jonah here, it was a simple matter of the fact that he didn’t have any other options. The question is, though, did he really mean it?
When it comes to asking for help personally, sometimes I’m better than others. It depends on whether I feel like I know what I’m doing or not and whether there is anyone around I want to try and impress.
The other night we bought a new TV stand for our living room. I knew for sure that I would need some help getting it out of the car and into the house. So, I set up to have a friend meet me at the house as I drove it home. I thought for sure the two of us would be able to handle it. Earlier that afternoon, though, I had thought the box that filled the entire vehicle might fit in the back of the van with two kids and groceries in there as well, so my powers of estimation weren’t working really well. The two of us started to unload the box, got it lifted, realized quickly that over 300 pounds was more than we could handle, got out our phones, and both called someone to come and help.
Sometimes, even when we are willing to admit our need for help, we don’t realize just how much help we actually need. Fortunately, I didn’t have a little pride fit that night and try to break both of our backs!
Once Jonah got where he had a bit of time to think after being thrown overboard—what else are you going to do in the belly of a giant fish?—he composed a little prayer. And like the events of the first chapter, at first read, this prayer sounds really good. It sounds like the words of someone who had been afflicted by God and overwhelmed by life nonetheless digging down deep and finding a little flame of faithfulness still burning in his heart. He fanned this little flame into a fire and the Lord responded graciously with compassion and mercy. Woe to those who turn from this faith to false idols for help. Jonah cried out for help when he had hit the bottom and the Lord heard and gave grace. Amen and let’s go home.
And that read would be good if it weren’t for the events of the first chapter and Jonah’s behavior in the next couple of chapters. Remember, Jonah is in the position he’s in because he was running from God. He’s in the belly of the fish because God wouldn’t let him kill himself to avoid doing what He had called Jonah to do. He’s not some persecuted but righteous saint, he’s a disobedient and disciplined jerk. When you keep that in mind all of a sudden every line of this prayer sounds hollow and self-righteous. Jonah is not the tale of a prophet gradually doing God’s work. It’s a tale of how gracious God is in spite of how faithless and disobedient we can be.
We see that played out beautifully in this chapter. Jonah was a scoundrel who, even in the belly of the fish, still didn’t really want to do what God had commanded. He was self-righteous and cried out to God from out of that awful place…and God still listened and showed Him grace. God saw something genuine in Jonah’s plea, genuine enough to give him a second chance to do what He had been commanded to do in the first place. Our faithful God will take even the smallest movement of faith and show us His amazing grace.
No matter where you are in your journey, whether you are trying to run toward or even away from God, if you will pause and turn toward Him, you will find His arms open wide, ready to receive you. If He was willing to give Jonah another chance, you haven’t run so far that He won’t give you a second chance too. Cry out to Him from the depths of wherever you find yourself and get moving in the right direction once again.