Jonah’s prayer in the belly of the whale goes from bad to worse.

While the first part blames God for his miseries (see our study here), the second (verses 5–10) extols Jonah’s his false godliness. The descriptions of this section are so rich, but for the sake of brevity we will focus on verses 7 and 9.

Jonah 2:7 begins with a profound statement: “I remembered the LORD”.

This phrase is a big one, and it would have reminded the original readers of its intertextual reference in Deuteronomy 8:2, 18. In this latter passage, Moses charges the Israelites to fulfill their covenantal duties by remembering the LORD. In the Hebrew mind, to remember was not to just recall certain facts. Rather, to remember was a form of action; it meant to meditate on God and what He has done and act worshipfully and obediently in response. In doing all this, the people would fulfill their end of the covenant with Yahweh. That’s a big deal!

The fact that Jonah makes this statement at all – let alone in the belly of a fish – is mind-boggling.

This is the only time that this phrase appears in the Bible! Indeed, this is the first and only time that the LORD is the direct object of “I remembered”.[1] For even though God has demanded remembrance from His people (cf. Ex 3:15) and even though the LORD is always faithful to remember (cf. Lev 26:45; Ps 115:12), the Israelites never fulfill this part of their covenant. The Israelites do not remember the LORD (cf. Judges 8:34; Ps 106:7). So here we now have Jonah, who having just committed a grave and disastrous act of disobedience against God, states that he is the most faithful (and thus the godliest) of all peoples to the covenant. What a pious and arrogant statement!

Jonah then continues his self-flattery in verse 9 by providing a supposed example of his godliness: his great worship to God.

Once again, he manipulates a biblical phrase for his own gain. The phrase, “salvation belongs to the LORD”, comes from Psalm 3:8. But what is significant is the placement of this phrase within Jonah’s prayer. It is the very last statement, whereas in Psalm 3:8 this phrase initiates the prayer. Jonah has spent his whole prayer talking about himself and only at the end does he say something praise-worthy about God. Jonah is clearly putting God second, revealing only his narcissism that this is his story, but also showing what place he sees God within his story. Is there even one example of repentance in this whole prayer? Absolutely not. For in Jonah’s mind, he doesn’t think he needs to confess any offenses against God.

So what does God think of Jonah’s little prayer? In verse 10, He makes the fish vomit and by extension God is vomiting too. We know this because throughout the Old Testament, people are vomited out for disobedience (cf. Lev. 18:25, 28; 20:22). Ironically, even as Jonah prays that he is undeserving of punishment because of his godliness, God judges him further. Jonah has a huge problem. His pride has not only gotten him into serious trouble (and others too, like the sailors), but he now makes himself look like a laughable fool.

Have you ever approached God thinking that you were entitled to something either because of your good deeds or your supposedly good character?

If that is true of us, then we are more like Jonah than we know, which is not good. In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus teaches us that our only legitimate posture before God in prayer is humility and repentance. We dare not think that God owes us anything or that we are sinless before God. Rather, our posture must declare, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Lk 18:13). This prayer is the antithesis to Jonah’s prayer.

[1] Ps 63:5-6; 119:55 is the closest statement to someone remembering the LORD, but the name of the LORD, YHWH, is not the grammatical direct object. The direct object is “Your name”.

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