There is no history of any other person who had prayed from the belly of a big fish and survived to narrate the experience, except for Jonah.
Preachers have belittled Jonah in the altar of self-righteousness, stating that he was not of the standard of Abraham, who obeyed God even to the extent of taking his only legitimate son Isaac to the mount for sacrifice.
Obedience to the extent of putting one’s own life and property in line is distinctly different from being obedient to the Word of God in matters concerning directions to prophesy against peoples and kings. It really did not go down well with Isaiah when he prophesied against Manasseh.
Elijah, despite his tremendous zeal after a point, could NOT withstand the onslaught of the political hounding let loose by Jezebel and Ahab. Elijah’s prayer is no less diffident than Jonah’s, towards the end. Yet Elijah’s chutzpah in challenging the worshippers of Baal, knowing fully well the unstinted patronage of the de facto ruler of Israel, Jezebel, is unparalleled.
Yet, Jonah, though classified as a ‘minor prophet’ by the writers for easy slotting, have led the Bible reading public to relegate Jonah to the sidelines of the prophets.
Had not Jesus mentioned Jonah in those two significant instances conveyed in the Gospels, Jonah would have remained a footnote to the Christian understanding of the Hebraic tradition of prophets.
Yet, Jonah’s testimony had a ring of truth to whatever he said.
Firstly, Jonah was chosen by God himself and no substitute was nominated, like in the case of Elijah. God tells the disgruntled Elijah to anoint his successor Elisha; but here Jonah was nominated and God pursued Jonah and made Jonah accomplish the mission to the great satisfaction of God. Maybe Jonah’s attempted truancy, diffidence and reluctance might be a stumbling block for humans to set him up as an example, but we should also consider why God did not relent and made only Jonah complete the task?
I’m sure that Jonah had the skills of an eminent speaker who could bring out the immediacy of the impending calamity and also make the people to repent, otherwise Jesus would not have compared Himself and said that one greater than Jonah was there about Jesus himself. Almighty God, in the flesh as Jesus, who was before Abraham was, certifies of Jonah – a no mean certification.
Besides this comparison, rather a contrast, Jesus says that there would be no sign given except that the Son of Man would be in the hades for three days and three nights like Jonah was in the belly of the fish.
The sanctification of Jonah was complete. So why did Jesus exalt the stay of Jonah in the belly of the fish?
When Jonah was swallowed up by the big fish, the finality through Death, which Jonah preferred to the travel to Nineveh, did not happen. Jonah was swallowed whole. Jonah was in a situation where death could be preferred – Jonah did not faint but was fully conscious. For a human being, the most terrible situation is when – one doesn’t know where one is; one doesn’t know any way out; one doesn’t have any Hope for anything and the only Hope could be a long drawn out death or a remote possibility of divine intervention for relief. Jonah finally faced a situation where his preferred destination of Death was not only denied to him but he had to experience the ordeal with full consciousness, solitarily and hopelessly.
It is at this moment that Jonah prays to God and comes up with gems distilled for mankind.
No man could have been distressed to that extent that Jonah was. Jesus, who would have seen that, while still with the Father, compares His stay in the Hades for those three days and nights with that of the stay of Jonah – and we belittle Jonah’s experience by denominating him derogatorily as a ‘minor’ prophet? Who are we to judge Jonah, he was another man’s servant and he rose in the estimation of his Master.
I am compelled to repeat portions of the prayer of Jonah:
“I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.
They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.
(Pl. read my blog : https://movid.wordpress.com/2018/05/17/lying-vanities/ )
But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.”
Today, this world that we know and still continue to think we know, is confronted with COVID 19 and we are all locked down. Yet we have human interaction, electronic connectivity, hope that a cure would be invented, fervent hope that a vaccine would be concocted for future protection; but Jonah had NO ASSURANCE WHATSOEVER. Jonah was locked down not knowing where he was, whether he would live, if so how long; would he ever get back to where he once was… and the hopeless fears were endless. Those three days would have been the most endless passage of Time in Jonah’s consciousness.
It is in those circumstances that Jonah understands many distilled Truths and embedded it in his prayer. There could not have been a more authentic prayer in distress except for the prayers of Jesus Christ both in the cross as well as in the Gethsemane.
The greatest realisation of human existence is realisation of his own insignificance; followed by an AFFIRMATION that one will follow God and BE obedient to His will.
Jonah’s second excerpted passage relates to Human Understanding and the paradigms with which one lives in the comfort of those perceptions. Jonah recognises the falsity of it. Man needs Mercy and not vain formulae.
The third excerpted portion relates to a PERSONAL ASSERTION that one would Praise God; perform the vows with a RESOLUTE BELIEF that Salvation CAN come only from God.
These prayers of Jonah are totally relevant for us in today’s scenario. There might be over-beliefs like :THIS TOO SHALL PASS, but we should be conscious of the unknown time limit each mortal is subjected to and therefore should not be dragged into all these nice little pithy sayings, which are Timeless.
Therefore, it is time to seek His Mercy and stop following the Lying Vanities from the assumed comfort of our flawed perceptions.