Jonah 1:17-2:10 | Deep Devotion - Deeper Mercy

May 28, 2017 Speaker: Nate Greenland Series: JONAH | Deeper Mercy

Topic: Old Testament Passage: Jonah 1:17–2:10

Deep Devotion
Nate Greenland
May 28, 2017 


Welcome! If you would, turn with me to Jonah 1:17, which is where our primary text for today is. If you’re newer to our family of families, our sermons every Sunday morning are typically focused on working through books of the Bible from start to finish, trying to bounce back and forth between books from the Old and New Testaments. We do that because we believe this is the living and active Word of the living and active God, and we want to submit ourselves to everything God has to say in His Word, including the uncomfortable or unpleasant things, believing that all of it is profitable for our growth.

So we’re in the 3rd week of preaching through the short book of Jonah. As a quick recap, Jonah was a prophet of God who lived and prophesied in the mid-700’s BC. This book is satire through and through, that is, it’s an exposure of human folly. In that satirical sense, I see a lot of commonality with it and the story Jesus tells of the good Samaritan in that with both stories there’s a complete role-reversal, a complete up-ending of who we think the “good guys” and the “bad guys” are. Our assumptions and expectations get completely overturned.

So far in chapter one, God told Jonah to go to Nineveh. Jonah rebelled and boarded a ship on the Mediterranean and went in the opposite direction. God hurled a great storm upon the ship such that it threatened to break apart. The pagan sailors figured out that Jonah was the reason for their distress and after exhausting other attempts at self-rescue, reluctantly tossed him into the sea. Which is where we pick up our text today.

Before we turn to Jonah 1:17, would you pray with me and ask for God’s help?

All right. Jonah 1:17 through the end of chapter 2 reads as follows:

And the Lord appointed4 a great fish to swallow up Jonah. wAnd Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Jonah's Prayer

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying,

x“I called out to the Lord, out of my distress,

and he answered me;

yout of the belly of Sheol I cried,

zand you heard my voice.

aFor you cast me into the deep,

into the heart of the seas,

and the flood surrounded me;

ball your waves and your billows

passed over me.

cThen I said, ‘I am driven away

from your sight;

dyet I shall again look

upon your holy temple.’

eThe waters closed in over me fto take my life;

the deep surrounded me;

weeds were wrapped about my head

at the roots of the mountains.

I went down to the land

whose bars closed upon me forever;

yet you brought up my life from the pit,

O Lord my God.

When my life was fainting away,

I remembered the Lord,

gand my prayer came to you,

into your holy temple.

hThose who pay regard to vain idols

iforsake their hope of steadfast love.

jBut I with the voice of thanksgiving

will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed I will pay.

kSalvation belongs to the Lord!”

10 And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.

This is God’s word.


I think if you were to ask someone on the street who is over 30 or 40 years old what the story of Jonah in the Bible is about, if they’re able to come up with anything, I think it’d be that he was swallowed by a whale.

If you ever attended Sunday school as a kid or if you’ve ever watched a veggie tales episode, there’s a good chance you’ve heard this part of the story about Jonah because it’s a great story. We all know the characterization of fisherman, right? How they’re always exaggerating the size of the one they caught and released. Jonah’s story puts all other fish stories to shame because of the fact that it wasn’t the fish, but Jonah, who got away. It’s a great story b/c of its grand proportions, its larger-than-life visuals. Almost too big to believe in fact.

And that’s what I wanted to address first this morning so that we could move past it. This isn’t just a Sunday school story to teach a moral lesson or entertain kids. It’s not a fairy tale. It’s a real, unexaggerated account of God’s dealings with Jonah, which included his sovereignly causing a giant fish to swallow Jonah up and keep him alive for three days.

Now I’m not going to dive into the physiology of whales and other large sea creatures and how physically this could be a possibility. That’s be a very engaging discussion, to be sure, but we’d be missing the main point of this narrative.

I love how one commentator I read this week put it. He said, “I was so obsessed with the drama going on inside the fish that I missed seeing the drama going on inside of Jonah.” REPEAT.

And more important than debating about how it’d be physically possible for Jonah to live in a great fish for 3 days, the main reason we can’t treat this is an entertaining fictional story is that Jesus didn’t treat it that way. He treated it as history. In Matt 12:38-41

[38] Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” [39] But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. [40] For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. [41] The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

If this is just a fairy tale, then Jesus looks like a fool here. He’s citing Jonah and the men of Nineveh not as an allegory or metaphor but as a historical example that the Scribes and Pharisees would be familiar with and likely offended by.

I believe the historical evidence is astounding for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The way I look at it is if the Triune God can figure out the physics details of the incarnation and the resurrection, I’m pretty sure he can figure out how to keep a dude alive inside a huge fish for 3 days. So put that aside on the shelf for the rest of today and let’s focus on what I think God actually wants us to focus on.

The three broad areas I want to focus on this morning are the Presence of God, the repentance of God and the Salvation of God. Let’s deal first with the Presence of God.


Chris has already touched on this over the past two sermons, but one of the especially satirical aspects of Jonah’s story and decision making is the idea he has that he can run from the presence of God. On the one hand, I’m going to be plenty hard on Jonah this morning but I don’t want to be too hard on him here. He’s just doing what his great grandparents did generations ago in a place called Eden when they rebelled against the voice of God. Genesis 3:8 says,

[8] And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

So Jonah in one sense is just walking in the pattern laid down for him by our first parents. But on the flipside, though Jonah knows lots of wonderful intellectual ideas about who God is, FUNCTIONALLY, His God is very small. Jonah tells the sailors he fears the God of heaven, that is, the God who is over ALL the earth, but in reality, Jonah’s God is a teeny-tiny national God only concerned with and watching over the nation of Israel. If he can just hop on a boat to Tarshish, there’s a good chance he can escape the narrowly focused notice of this God.

Jonah has quickly learned that he was mistaken to pursue the rebellious and impossible task of fleeing the presence of God and the author makes that abundantly clear if you pay attention to the repeated words in the book thus far. Over and over we see the word “down” repeated, giving us a clue that things aren’t going to go well for Jonah.

Chapter 1:3 Jonah goes DOWN to Tarshish, pays for passage on a ship and goes DOWN into the boat. V5, the storm arises and Jonah goes DOWN deeper into the inner part of the ship and goes one step further and lays DOWN to go to sleep. And then today we read that after being thrown down into the water he’s swallowed deep-down in the belly of fish.  In fleeing the presence of God, Jonah is going down hard – headed for the grave.

You and I can see this as objective observers. As Monday Morning quarterbacks, right. But Jonah seems completely blind to his massive part in his going down. Look at verses 3 and 4

          [3] For you cast me into the deep,

                    into the heart of the seas,

                    and the flood surrounded me;

          all your waves and your billows

                    passed over me.

          [4] Then I said, ‘I am driven away

                    from your sight;…

Do you hear the passive language used by Jonah. – I was driven away; you cast me into the deep. In one sense, yes, that’s true. God is sovereign over all creation and he hurled the storm upon the ship. Yes and Amen.

But Jonah’s stated purpose in all this was to flee God’s presence. To get out of His sight. You weren’t driven from God’s sight Jonah. You fled! You cast yourself away from His goodness and into the deep. Vain idols?

Jonah takes no ownership for his circumstances whatsoever.Church, Scripture is clear. We cannot escape God’s presence, nor should we want to. The Psalmist declares in Psalm 139:7-10

          [7] Where shall I go from your Spirit?

                    Or where shall I flee from your presence?

          [8] If I ascend to heaven, you are there!

                    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

          [9] If I take the wings of the morning

                    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

          [10] even there your hand shall lead me,

                    and your right hand shall hold me.

And then in Psalm 16:11 David writes:

You make known to me the path of life;

in your presence there is fullness of joy;

at your right hand are pleasures forevermore

If you’re in Christ, you’ll either experience His presence in discipline and chastisement for your sin OR you’ll experience His presence in His favor and sweet fellowship, and that depends in large measure on us. He’s made know to us the path of life. My campus pastor in college would sometimes say we all walk 1 of 2 paths in life – either the path of humility or the path of humiliation, the choice is up to us.

As Chris pointed out last week, like a good parent, God will often mercifully let the fruit of our sin and rebellion work itself out so that we experience the vanity and the lifelessness of it for ourselves so that we’ll grow in wisdom and humility. Jonah says in v7: When my life was fainting away,   I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you.

God will mercifully let us get to that point of desperation where we realize what we are pursuing to find life is actually producing death. What we thought was going to provide fulfilling, steadfast love is actually a vain, lifeless idol.

We’ve ragged on Jonah for a bit now, but where are you fleeing His unfleeable presence? What’s your ship to Tarshish? Where is God impressing upon your heart that he wants you to be sharing His truth and grace with your kids or spouse or neighbors or co-workers more, but your pursuing a hobby or greater work responsibilities, or binge watching Netflix or consumed with social media because all those things seem to bring more pleasure and joy, or they don’t require as much effort.

I’ll just share for myself that one of my ships can be entertainment. During sermon prep weeks like this past week, there isn’t a lot of surplus time. I’m a frugal dude, it’s just the way God made me, so with that, if I’m going to watch a movie I check it out from the library. I have 3 movies from the library at home, one of them being Hacksaw Ridge, that I’ve had for over a week from the library, but there’s just no time during sermon prep week.

But I can tell you with the demand of sermon prep lifted, I’ll be tempted not so much to flee God’s presence but just to hop in the entertainment/veg boat and drift from His presence in terms of setting aside time to pursue Him through reading and prayer. Watching a movie, checking facebook…all these things aren’t bad…but are we heeding His voice and waiting on Him and enjoying His presence.

The worship team recently introduced a new song to us called Relent and the bridge of that song has just been haunting me in a great way this week. The lyrics are,

I just want to live in peace
But I'm struggling to believe
That letting go will bring me peace
Can I sit here at your feet?
'Cause this is right where I belong
Yeah, I can feel it in my soul
You say I'm right where I belong
And I know that I belong

I don’t know about you, but I hear the Savior speaking to me in those words. “Nate, you know that in my presence is fullness of joy and all the pleasure you’re seeking. Stop fleeing. Stop drifting. Sit here at my feet and enjoy my presence.”


And that brings us to a second big idea we see in Jonah 2 today, which is the repentance that is a gift from God. We see this here in chapter 2 not in its presence but in its astounding absence of repentance in the words of Jonah.

On the face of it, Jonah’s prayer to God sounds like a lot of the psalms we’d read written by David. If you presented me with these words on there own, know book or chapter references, that’s what I would have said. So in that sense, it seems like a perfectly fine, prayer that very much fits in the Bible. He prays and says some amazing, solid truths in here.

But we know the context of this prayer, we know the events in Jonah’s life that surround it in chapters 1, 3 and 4, and with that context the prayer rings hollow. There’s a glaring absence of godly sorrow. Yes, he’s sorrowful as he feels the bars of death closing around him, but where’s the contrition and personal accountability?

Nowhere in his heart or mind is an acknowledgement of the fact that he’s rebelled against the Living God  -  all while telling the sailors, mind you, that he fears and reveres that same God. Nor is there an acknowledgement of the fact that , as Chris pointed out last week, his sin had a ripple effect of potentially grave consequences and almost cost the sailors their lives. There’s no confession of these realities, only an effort to escape the consequences of his sin.

Just one example I’ll sight of this lack of repentance is in verses 8 and 9 – “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. 9  But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you.” I read that and hear a complete externalizing of the problem. He has his blinders on big time. He seems to be thinking back to the sailors, “God – did you hear how they were calling out to this false god and to that false god trying to save their bacon. What morons! Not me. Nope. I know who the one-true God is and I, with a voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you.”

Jonah is blind to his own vain idols. What about his vain idol of sinful independence? Or his vain idol of justice at all costs for Israel’s arch enemies, the Ninevites rather than their salvation?

Because Jonah has concluded that the problem is outside himself, he’s incapable of doing the necessary work of repentance. One commentator I read put it this way, “The clear and painful truth which emerges out of Jonah’s supplication to God is this: Restoration to fellowship with God must begin in the very areas where rebellion formerly existed. That is what repentance basically involves.”

Repentance is not a redoubling of efforts and trying harder. Chris made the point last week that the sailors sacrificed to God, but it was AFTER they’d been saved, not in an effort to earn their salvation. Jonah, in contrast, seems to fall into religious ritual rut and BEFORE he’s saved he and pledges to pay his vows and do more, not recognizing that he’s done enough already. Further effort will only make things worse by blinding him from the fact that his heart is the problem that God is trying to address through this storm and the great fish.

Lest we confuse godly sorrow and repentance with self-loathing, self-harm or being burdened with regret, Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 7:8-10 about what godly sorry looks like and produces in us as contrasted with worldly sorrow. Paul deeply cares for the church at Corinth and he’d written them a separate letter about some areas where they were out of line. This second letter to the Corinthians comes after that and Paul writes them saying,

[8] For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. [9] As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.[10] For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

Worldly grief is only sorry when we get caught. It’s focused on addressing the symptoms not the sin. It’s focused on self and not the Savior.It’s concerned with minimizing the consequences that negatively impact our lifestyle, but it has no regard for God’s glory and the peace that comes from being right with him.

That’s the complete opposite of godly sorrow. Godly sorrow doesn’t isn’t concerned with whether or not anyone has seen our brokenness or been affected by our sinful actions and attitudes, it’s a response to the work of the Holy Spirit as He identifies areas of wickedness in our heart. No matter what the consequences, no matter who has or who hasn’t seen our sin, godly grief wants to make things right with God and others.

David is one of the best examples of godly sorrow and repentance. He slept with a woman who was not his wife and then put her husband on the front lines of battle so that he’d die. As a result of his sin, David’s young son dies. Devastation and carnage lie in the wake of David’s actions, but after the prophet Nathan confronts him about his sin, he writes Psalm 51, and we see a profound example of repentance. Read verses 1-10 with me:

          [1] Have mercy on me, O God,

                    according to your steadfast love;

          according to your abundant mercy

                    blot out my transgressions.

          [2] Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

                    and cleanse me from my sin!

          [3] For I know my transgressions,

                    and my sin is ever before me.

          [4] Against you, you only, have I sinned

                    and done what is evil in your sight,

          so that you may be justified in your words

                    and blameless in your judgment.

          [5] Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,

                    and in sin did my mother conceive me.

          [6] Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,

                    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

          [7] Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

                    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

          [8] Let me hear joy and gladness;

                    let the bones that you have broken rejoice.

          [9] Hide your face from my sins,

                    and blot out all my iniquities.

          [10] Create in me a clean heart, O God,

                    and renew a right spirit within me.

One thing to highlight in David’s psalm of repentance is his robust use of biblical language. When we’ve sinned against someone and against God, it’s so tempting to downplay the offense by saying, “I screwed up sorry; I dropped the ball. My bad. That was dumb of me.”

I’d encourage you to call sin for what it is – sin. David doesn’t sugar coat it. He confesses iniquity, sin, evil, transgression…etc. You could add wickedness to the list.

EX: confessing pornography

And when you’re apologizing to someone and pursuing reconciliation, know that it’s not enough to say you’re sorry. You need to go the extra step and ask forgiveness. It’s a relational thing. It’s good to say you’re sorry, but it’s also too easy to just say that. It doesn’t require you or me to truly invest in the relationship and understand the depth of pain or hurt we’ve caused the other.

Just saying you’re sorry somewhat puts an end to the conversation. At that point, it seems justifiable to move on. But when you ask a question, “will you forgive me?” you have to wait for a response. You can’t walk away at that point, much as we might want to for fear of what we might hear in response. But we need to hear it. That’s part of that godly sorrow that produces repentance that leads to a salvation without regret – it’s making sure the wound is completely cleaned out so it can heal and not get re-infected.

Where might God, this morning, be calling you to repentance with Himself or with another person in your life. Even when I mention that other person, what face comes to mind? There’s a good chance that relationship needs some mending and some repentance.


Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

That brings us to the third and final main idea today which is perhaps the most beautiful and theologically powerful verse in the whole book – verse 9b – “Salvation belongs to the LORD.”

So much could be unpacked and said about this half of a verse. We could talk about how salvation DOES belong to the LORD, so why does Jonah, why do you, why do I, why do we keep our mouths shut and run the other direction when He puts it on our heart to share the hope of his gospel with our family, neighbors, coworkers, or even strangers?

But the one simple point I want to make from this verse is this: praise God that salvation does not belong to Nate or to Chris or to Fred or to Peter or to any one of us. Praise God that he is sovereign and effective and mighty in salvation. This is the good news we need this morning because the reality is we fail time and again to pursue and enjoy his presence. And time and again we fail to own up to our sin and repent as we ought to. If all we had this morning from Jonah 2 was a message of “don’t be as screwed up and as blind and hard hearted as this prophet of God” that’s just a message or moralism leading to despair.

But that’s not all we have this morning. We have the greater Jonah, who is Jesus. In Matt 12:38-41 that we read at the beginning, Jesus was arguing from the lesser, Jonah, to the greater, Himself. Jesus is the prophet of God who when the Father said, “rise and go”, He fully obeyed.

And when the storm of God’s just wrath for our rebellion raged and howled, he wasn’t like Jonah, a guilty man who put it upon innocent men to throw him overboard into the grave. No, Christ the completely innocent man, of His own accord offered Himself up to a guilty race of humankind to be crucified and buried. And when the grave released him, he didn’t smell of rot and decay, but was raised in glory, power and mercy for all the nations.

This Jesus, infinitely greatly than Jonah, is the one who sovereignly saves you and me and anyone else whom He pleases. He doesn’t wait for us to realize we’re in dead in our sin and plunge our hands out of the depths to choose and grab on to Him. We’re dead. We’re trapped in a watery grave of our rebellion and in mercy, He reaches out and regenerates our hearts so that they call out in repentance to call on His name and trust in Him. He grabs hold of us. That’s good news b/c we’re going to fail at seeking His face. We’re going to fail at forsaking sin and repenting. But we fail forward, remembering that Jesus has perfectly obeyed in our place and paid our debt.

And we aren’t forgiven just to be forgiven and reconciled, but also to be empowered on mission. I said earlier that ever since our first parents Adam and Eve, this whole world, in its guilt, has been trying to escape His presence. But Christ has come and established His kingdom, through us, His church. I don’t believe he’s called us to stand on street corners with megaphones yelling at people, “repent or perish!”

The Holy Spirit who dwells in every person empowers us to boldly to call people to repent because the kingdom of God is at hand, but I believe His primary means of doing that is as His church, in His power, practices repenting and asking forgiveness of those around us. There’s hardly a clearer presentation of the gospel than a solid, sincere confession of sin and seeking of forgiveness.

That’s why it’s one of my greatest joys, once God has softened my heart, is to repent to my boys when I’ve sinned. My hope and confident expectation is that Christ will use those experience and memories to take the gospel deeper and wider in them because it’s such a rare thing to experience in our culture.

?? EX – Ethan and Bryce hike ?? – 2 Photos??

In closing, I’ve been hard on Jonah this morning and I want to let him off the hook a little…but really moreso to celebrate God’s mercy. Jonah is not a man to emulate. This book doesn’t end pretty for Jonah. He’s sulking and asking God to kill him. Nowhere IN the text of this book do we really see any solid evidence of humility, compassion, full-hearted obedience or repentance. But if we step back and don’t look IN the text but look AT it, we have to ask ourselves, “wait a minute, how is it that we have this story of Jonah?” How  is it that we have the account of 1 man who was by himself inside a giant fish?

It seems most likely that Jonah retold this highly unflattering story himself to others sometime after Nineveh. It would seem that God’s patient mercy had finally so changed him that rather than just put this whole episode behind him, he wanted to let his self-righteous impenitence be the backdrop for the grace of God to shine. That gives me great hope for me and for you.