A sermon on Jonah 3, published in the Baptist Times on December 10th 2009

The sermon outline 

Pitched headlong into the waves, leaving behind nothing more than a trace of bubbles on the water and a group of terrified sailors above it, Jonah appeared to be heading into the very mouth of hell.  From this lowest point, which he describes as the ‘roots of the mountains’ he lifts his voice in prayer.  There, in that worst of all places, a psalm is born. 

Many people feel trapped, either by circumstances without or depression within.  When we pitch headlong into depression, there comes a point where we feel so trapped that we move from feeling helpless to hopeless.  What hope can be found, in such a moment?  For Jonah there were only two saving graces – honesty and faith. 

In his honesty he blamed God for every calamity which had befallen him, even though we might see it very differently. This is how he felt and so this is how it was told.  His is a good example of the lesson that we must pray honestly…or pray pointlessly. 

However, it is not only the content but the tense of his prayers which we should note.  Again and again he uses the future tense, describing a day when his relationship with God will be restored.  He points his prayers to an unseen God, like a man stranded in the desert pointing his sat-phone at an unseen satellite passing miles ahead.

In the end it is these two things – honesty and faith, which save him.

Scriptural issues 

  • Although we don’t often look at the Apocryphal works, it is worth comparing the description in v.6 with Ecclesiasticus 16 v. 19 ‘foundations of the continents’
  • Jonah’s original readers would have been torn between siding with him in his unwillingness to take God’s word outside Israel, and siding against him in his rebellion against God.
  • Is the description of Jonah in 2 Kings 14 v.25 overly generous or graciously accurate? 

Current issues 

  • There is no doubt that Jonah was trapped as a result of his own folly and sin.  Are we prepared to admit that people are sometimes trapped through their own fault, rather than circumstances around them?
  • Do our prayers reflect Jonah’s mix of honesty and faith?

“Old habits die hard, and even a failed prophet knew the psalms from the temple.  In the sightless void he spoke aloud in words he’d learned from the temple, weaving as he went, the ancient with the modern and the words of others with his own anxious cry.  And there in the squelching darkness a psalm was born.”