Jonah 2: the Rebellious Prophet

Posted on 02 September 2008

Jonah: 2

If the book of Jonah were primarily intended to teach that we should not run away from God, it could happily have concluded at the end of chapter 1. However, we would still be left with the question, ‘Why did he run?’ and that question still remains at the end of the present chapter: a chapter that is itself leaves a lot of loose ends that anticipate further developments in the story.

The obvious thing that we note is that, in the jaws of hell, the mute Jonah becomes a fluent poet and composes a Psalm!: though much of what he says in fact quotes from existing psalms (except for 5b-6 which express the realities of his own situation).

Yet, beyond these obvious facts, much is unclear. For example,
• when did he say this prayer? Is there a suggestion that it was only after ‘three days and nights’ (compare 1:17 and 2:1)? Was it ‘forced’ out of him?
• Jonah nowhere says ‘Sorry’: so does this song represent a real or deep change of heart or the words of one with their fingers caught in the sweet tin? Might the latter view be supported by his use of ‘borrowed words’?
• Jonah could be seen to view his deleiverance as down to his prayers, rather than the grace of God: he certainly emphasises what ‘he’ did (1,2,7).
• Verses 8,9 are true, in and of themselves, but can read as a rather ‘hidden’ justification for his flight and deeply ironic in the light of 1:16.
• While we are told that the LORD commanded the fish to deposit Jonah ashore, does the fish vomit up Jonah because it is literally sick of his hypocrisy (10)?

In other words, it appears that Jonah has woken up to the fact that life is better than the death he had sought in chapter 1 and that death would bring to an end the possibility of fellowship with the LORD (3-6). He is also grateful that the LORD answered his prayer (1,2,7). Yet we look in vain for clear evidence of willing submission to the LORD and a deep repentance for his act of brazen disobedience: indeed we continue to witness (apparently) an element of self-justication for his earlier actions. His response to the LORD is partial at best!

Notwithstanding this, the LORD saves, keeps and delivers him… and this is, surely, the main lesson of the chapter. The LORD will simply not abandon Jonah to his fate (1:17), he will not allow him to experience the death he deserves in the big fish (2:1-9) and he has every intention to deliver him (2:10). For what and why we are not yet told!


Jonah does not come out of this story well! Only due to the undeserved love and grace of God is he delivered. Even in the experience of grace, his thoughts are primarily fixed upon himself and his arrogant self-righteous superiority over others. So why should the LORD bestow such grace upon the reluctant prophet?…we look for answers in the chapters that follow. Meanwhile, we too are reminded that none of us deserve the grace of God: for there are elements of Jonah in us all. Such is both challenging and comforting. How easy is it for us to presume upon the divine mercy and to view that generosity as something that we have deserved. But how easy, too, to conclude we are beyond the reach of such grace. The book of Jonah and the life and death of Jesus give the lie to both!

An outline by Stephen Dray
Ferndale Baptist Church, North Avenue,
Southend-on-Sea, Essex, SS2 4ET. A recording of the spoken message may be obtained at: