I bet that is just the word Jonah said, as his breath bubbled up to the surface. Finally, the end has come.
There are a couple of ways to picture the prophet Jonah in the little vignettes of his life. The story can be read as sort-of a sandwich of rebellion, obedience and rebellion- first, Jonah runs, then he comes to his senses on the boat, praises the Lord for his obedience, goes to Ninevah directly upon vomitation and preaches the word of God before he finally falls back into his rebellion to God and hatred of humanity. You could legitimately (perhaps) read the story as a story of a good prophet gone bad- of only twice. If this is true, then he immediately recognizes the salvation of God Chordatic form and he means every vampy word of his hymn of praise. Finally, he would say to himself, finally the end of my disobedience and rebellion against the Lord has come. Maybe. I doubt it.
It would be much easier for me to imagine Jonah as a man filled with self-pity. He has been defeated in his battle against the Lord, sure enough, but the fight is not quite over. Think about Jonah on the ship, as he tells the sailors to cast him overboard. He has been found out in his sin. Should he fear the Lord, offer a sacrifice and make his mind up to take the next ship back in the direction of Ninevah? Should he pray, like Moses, on behalf of the innocent mariners whose lives he has jeopardized- or better, like Jesus, they know not what they do! What I mean to ask is, do you really think the only way to Jonah’s redemption was to ask for his own execution? And what about that?
Was Jonah incapable of jumping out of the boat on his own? Were his legs broken?
No. It was more important for Jonah to be in the right than to own up to his own faults and fight for the good of those around him. He knew he would be in the wrong to jump out of the boat, but what if a bunch of useless mariners tossed him over? Well, their standing with the Lord could not possibly count for much, right?
And we have arrived at Jonah’s basic problem. He was a self-righteous man, above all else. Think about the last verse to his little ditty to the Lord, upon being eaten by a gigantic fish:
Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.
But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you;
What I have vowed I will pay.
For a refresher, who, in this story is struggling with idol-worship? Two groups: the useless mariners and the wicked Ninevites. And who is on the Lord’s side? One man. Jonah, the grace-hoarding prophet who has caused the sea to be turned upside down and who finds himself in the belly of a fish. Jonah may be one step closer to understanding God’s heart but he still has light-years to go before he can take a kernel of truth from his own tale. In this story, the mariners have become the God-fearers and the prophet has become useless, vain, idolatrous and hopeless. Jonah’s story sounds all too familiar to my own.
Every day I substitute self-righteousness for responsible living. I measure myself against the jerks I work with. Just like the Pharisee in the story Jesus told, I find myself thanking God that I am not like them. I see Jonah’s reflection when I look in the mirror.
Our call is not so much to sinlessness as it is to love one another; to bear one another’s burdens. We agree when the Lord call us rebels, haters and prodigals. We live lives of repentance. We seek ways to love those around us. And we rest in the one true thing Jonah says in his vampy little tune:
Salvation belongs to the Lord.
He is for us, even when we are working against him.
Finally the end can come- the end of hating God and neighbor. With every end comes a new beginning. He calls again to us to join in his work of love, burden-bearing and humility.