Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Aquatic Prayer of Jonah 2

Nothing improves a person's prayer life better than getting swallowed by a great fish. Jonah is witness to this biblical truth.

With what one writer calls "intuitive perfection," Jonah crafts an artistic, even stunning prayer of thanksgiving. With a deep memory of the Psalms, Jonah writes his own, drawing on words and phrases from "the prayer book of Israel." I imagine this was quite challenging as he was being churned in the stomach of a large grupper and marinating in fishy, digestive juices. My heart goes out to Jonah because I have a hard time praying in a decent, comfortable room. Maybe I need to use the Jonah method of prayer.

The Prayer of Jonah. It has a faint, familiar ring to it. I can't quite put my finger on it. What is it? Do you think "The Prayer of Jonah" and its unusual Sitz im Leben* would make a really marketable little book?

Just as Yahweh--the God of Israel--is the real hero of chapter 1, so Yahweh captivates Jonah's mind as he shapes his prayer in chapter 2. Feel the impact of his resounding conclusion: "Salvation comes from the LORD!" Jonah doesn't just know this truth, he incarnates it. Jonah compresses the glorious, central message of the Bible into five English words (just two in the Hebrew).

Jonah, by his own admission, was snatched from the jaws of a watery death. On the verge of unconsciousness, Jonah prayed. Yahweh heard. Thinking that he would die from seaweed wrapped around his throat, he gets swallowed by a God-appointed fish. In the dark, slippery folds of the fish's gut Jonah begins to faint away. Perhaps the last conscious thought of this rebellious prophet was "Help!!" Yahweh helped him. God talks to the fish (2:10) and, blurp!, Jonah is deposited on dry land. Terra firma never felt so good to him, having been to hell (well, Sheol) and back.

Did Jonah first scrawl out his thanksgiving prayer in the sand on the beach near Joppa? Who knows? We do know there was one happy prophet with a whole new appreciation for God recuperating on the Mediterranean coast.

Pagan sailors cried out to God for help in chapter 1. A rebellious Jewish prophet called for help in chapter 2. Yahweh heard both. Human need and honest prayer get the attention and response of the God of the Bible. Yahweh is no respecter of persons.

Liberated from the fish's "bowels of mercy," Jonah wonders about Nineveh.


*Sitz im Leben means "setting in life."

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19 Comments:

At 7/19/2007 11:37 AM, Blogger Matt said...

Glad to find your blog through Jim Martin's. Keep up the good work.

 
At 7/19/2007 11:51 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Matt,
Thanks for stopping by. I like Jim Martin's encouraging blogspot, too.

 
At 7/19/2007 12:34 PM, Blogger watchman said...

John,

always loved the Jonah story. I'm really enjoying these posts.


Thanks,
Corey

 
At 7/19/2007 2:45 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

Corey,
Thanks back at you. I am enjoying working through Jonah again.

 
At 7/20/2007 6:01 PM, Blogger Cindy said...

john, i spent a good long while, once upon a time, looking at the continuing thread of the idea of "the deep" through the OT- inspired by a study of Jonah. Any thoughts on "the deep"?

 
At 7/21/2007 6:59 AM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

Yes, I believe this is so true. No matter what state or condition we're in, if we just honestly pray to God, and do seek to do so on God's terms, yet with all honesty before him, then he hears us.

I wish we would learn to practice this well, or more like it, at all, when things are going well, not just when our world seems shattered and we're in trouble.

 
At 7/21/2007 5:17 PM, Anonymous jeremy bouma said...

Man, how many times have I gotten myself in situations where the only thing I could cry out in exhaustion and humily, "Salvation comes from the LORD!"

And it is comforting that YHWH is no respector of persons and His grace abounds and extends even to the situations that we create for outselves!

-jeremy

 
At 7/22/2007 5:16 AM, Anonymous Stan said...

In looking back at the story of Jonah I see the great importance of having a God centered foundation, even if sometimes wavering. In Jonah’s self righteous indignation he may have wound up in the belly of a fish, but after a chance to digest it , or be digested in this case, he is humbled to the reality and the might and splendor of his Maker.
This struck me as I was thinking back to encounters in my volunteer counseling, when I try to bring comfort to those down on their knees, and have lived in ignorance of the Word, how I am challenged to be convincing that God loves them.

 
At 7/22/2007 6:43 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

Cindy,
Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I surfed over to "Run With It" and enjoy reading some of your posts.

All I recall about "the deep" is that the Jews greatly feared it. They were not given to the seafaring life. "The deep" was the place of chaos and conflict. I would imagine for Jonah to be hurled into "tay-yom" was a terrifying experience. Yet, God saved him from death in "the deep."

 
At 7/22/2007 6:44 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

Ted,
I agree with you thoughts. Thanks for stopping by.

 
At 7/22/2007 6:44 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

Jeremy,
What a great prayer---"Help!!"

 
At 7/22/2007 6:46 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

Stan,
As I said somewhere before, there's a "Jonah" in all of us. What an unusual missionary he was!

 
At 7/23/2007 7:35 AM, Blogger Gord said...

I am enjoying reading this blog. It makes me want to pick up the Bible and read with fresh vigor. Thanks for these last two studies on Jonah. Keep it up. God Bless.

Be sure to visit my blog at www.anonymousdiscipleship.blogspot.com
Thank-you

 
At 7/23/2007 10:06 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Gord,
I am pleased that the reflections about Jonah are encouraging to you. God bless!

 
At 7/23/2007 4:37 PM, Blogger Cindy said...

Thanks, John. "The deep" is one of those hanging questions for me- that I know I'll return to at some point. (I rather suspect that knowing the Hebrew myself would help immensely.) If you run across any other nuggets, please send them my way!

 
At 7/24/2007 6:22 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

Cindy,
You're surely welcome! And if any nuggets about "the deep" pop up, I'll send them your way.

 
At 7/29/2007 1:16 PM, Blogger Jim said...

John,

I've read a couple of your posts on Jonah. Very good! I look forward to the next post.

I love your posts when you retell some of the familiar biblical stories.

 
At 7/31/2007 8:45 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

jim,
I am glad you like the Jonah posts. It's fun to use a little humorous imagination to make the story come alive somewhat to us.

Thanks for visiting and commenting. Do come back.

 
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