When we last left our reluctant prophet Jonah, he had been rescued from the seas by God’s use of a great fish. We were told that he was kept there for three days and three nights. This period of being entombed in that large creature was compared by Christ to His time in the grave prior to His resurrection. Almost the entirety of the second chapter of Jonah comes to us from inside the fish. From there Jonah was praying to the Lord, not so much seeking release, but praising God for the deliverance that He had already received.
Jonah spoke in the opening of his prayer about crying out to the Lord from a different “belly,” the prison house of the land of death, called here “Sheol.” Jonah was effectively a dead man when he was cast into the sea. He had called out to God from the waters, and the Lord heard his cry.
Jonah remembered the waves that had passed over him, and despite the fact that it appeared that all hope was lost, the words that came out of his mouth were full of faith and an expectation of divine help. “I shall again look upon your holy temple.” What was his hope then? The Lord’s ambassador was looking for a better country. Expecting that his mortal life would be over in a matter of minutes, he knew that there was a heavenly temple where he would live in the presence of the Almighty. In what appeared to be the closing moments of his life, Jonah considered that Yahweh was the God of the living and not of the dead. He was going to the place of the patriarchs who were alive with Jehovah.
As Jonah’s life was fainting away, the Lord heard his prayer. Where was God when He listened to Jonah? The Lord was in His holy sanctuary above. Jonah made a vow, asking for more mortal life. He promised that if the Lord give him further years on this earth that he would pay give what he had committed to the Lord. “With the voice of thanksgiving” he would “sacrifice” to God. He kept his word right away when he gave this glorious testimony from his temporary place of rescue: “Salvation belongs to the Lord!”
When our Savior was facing the end of His earthly days on a Roman cross, He also cried out to God with the words of a vow. In quoting the opening of Psalm 22, Jesus was not merely pointing to His condition as one who had been forsaken by His Father. The psalm was a song of praise. It included a faithful expectation of deliverance, and a promised payment of worship yet to come.
God listened to Jonah when he was in the sea and He heard Jesus as He suffered on the cross. The fish was a place of praise for Jonah and the empty grave has become an astounding proof of the resurrection of our King. Salvation truly belongs to the Lord!
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Blessed Lord, Your Son called out to You from the belly of Sheol, and You heard His cry. He trusted You fully. Though He died for our sins, You brought up His life from the pit, for He had authority to lay down His life, and authority to pick it back up again. He has promised to give to You the fullness of Your Kingdom of grace. What He has vowed, He will surely pay.