A few years ago, our family had to make a sudden move back to our country of origin. We packed up a few suitcases full of belongings and said goodbye to the place we were calling home, where we had planned on raising our children.
It hurt to have our hopes taken away, and I fell into despair. Like Jonah, I felt as if God had “hurled me into the depths” (Jonah 2:3), and I did not know how to claw my way back out to a normal life.
It can be hard to trust and rely on God when we feel as if our lives have been turned upside down. Whether due to our own disobedience or for other reasons, we come into these moments when we feel abandoned by God, banished from His sight (2:4).
Today’s passage shows Jonah in a similar predicament. Having been tossed overboard by his shipmates, Jonah must have been expecting to die at this point. The prayers he uttered reflect this despair: “The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head” (2:5).
The chances of survival in the middle of a stormy sea would be close to nonexistent. But instead of consigning Jonah to death, God sends a big fish to swallow him (1:17).
Whenever I read this passage in the past, I always saw Jonah being thrown into the sea and swallowed by a fish as punishment for disobedience. But the fish was not a punishment! It was God’s act of mercy to preserve Jonah from death.
It was also perhaps God’s means of getting Jonah’s full attention, because it was in this darkest moment that Jonah turns back to God, realising that only God could save him. “In my distress I called to the Lord,” he says, then confidently proclaims that “[the Lord] answered me” (2:1).
Knowing well God’s gracious and compassionate nature (Jonah 4:2) allowed Jonah, in his bleakest moment, to proclaim faith in God’s goodness. “I have been banished from your sight;” he says, “yet I will look again toward your holy temple” (2:4).
For many different reasons, difficult seasons of life will come to all of us, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless in these times. Unlike Jonah, we may not know why we are going through such suffering; but like Jonah, we can call out to God, knowing that whatever the circumstances, He is the God who saves.
Though in the moment, it might feel like God has abandoned us to painful or punishing circumstances, the Bible reminds us that God is continually at work in our lives (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). If He disciplines us, it is because we are loved (Hebrews 12:4-11); He intervenes so that we can be brought back to the right path—of becoming like Christ.
It was in the belly of the fish that Jonah cast himself on God’s mercies. In the season after our move, I found myself repeating daily, “God is good.” When I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning, when I burst into tears for no apparent reason, when I could not grab hold of the joy or peace or goodness He promised, I reminded myself, “God is good.” Even though I could not feel God’s goodness, I knew He was present, I knew He was working, and I knew He would carry me through (2:6).
Like Jonah, let us then boldly proclaim, “Salvation comes from the Lord” (2:9), believing fully that even in our difficulties God is working tirelessly to save us and draw us closer to Him.
— Christine Emmert, United States
Questions for reflection
Return to YMI Reading Jonah Homepage