“The Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish..” (Jonah 1:17-2:1)
There are times in life, tiny moments, where I feel like I am in the belly of a fish. I am aware that it is a very dramatic statement, though I wouldn’t doubt that many people have felt something similar to my complaint. There are days when everything seems dark, stinky, and whatever you try to touch leaves a slimy mucus on your hand.

No doubt, Jonah’s scenario was much worse and much scarier. Jonah had been called by God to “call out against the evil” of the city of Nineveh. Jonah receives his orders and flees to the land of Tarnish to escape the presence of the Lord. While on the boat, the Lord causes a great wind to rock the ship and knowing that Jonah was running from God, the sailors throw him into the sea. Then, he is swallowed by a fish.

It must have been the most frightening experience. It wasn’t like the fish in our picture books in Sunday school. It didn’t come up to him with a smile and smooth blue skin. It was probably scarier than when Nemo and Dori are swallowed by a whale, because Jonah didn’t speak whale. He didn’t know God appointed that whale to swallow him in order that he might be delivered to Ninevah. Jonah didn’t have any idea what was going to happen.

So there in that dark belly, he must have been sticky and wet and cold and hungry and thirsty and needing oxygen and so he does something any desperate person would do-he prays.

He prays:
“I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.
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.
Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
yet I shall again look
upon your holy temple.’
The waters closed in over me to 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,
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
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.
Salvation belongs to the LORD!”
(Jonah 2:2-9 ESV)

I have never been swallowed by a whale. I have never been in any danger for my life. I have never lived in poverty. I have never gone a day hungry. I have never been deserted. I have never been utterly alone.

And yet, there are many people in the world who are in the “fish’s belly”, although the fish may be many different things. It could be sickness, poverty, divorce, loneliness, betrayal, fear, etc. But there are three hopeful lessons from the prayer of Jonah.

1) “out of the belly of Sheol, he heard my voice”. Jonah was trying to run away from the presence of God and thought that getting on a boat to distant land would be the solution. So, it is not surprising that the first part of his prayer reveals the lesson his heart has learned: God is everywhere.

For the first time, he understood what the psalmist says in Psalm 139:
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
(7-12 ESV)

So, banking on that truth, he prays with confidence that God will hear him.
No matter where you might find yourself standing today, God can hear. But if Jonah had not prayed, I do not think he would have ever escaped the belly of that fish. The prayer of a broken and a contrite heart that is humbled before the Almighty will never be despised by Him.

2) It is God that does it. Notice the artist creating all the props in this scene of Jonah’s life:  “you cast me”, “your waves”, “your billows”. God is clearly the one creating the storm. How is this a comforting truth?
If it is God who controls the storm, who can keep him from stopping it?
If it is God who creates the wave, who can keep him from calming them?
If it is God that makes the wind, who can keep him from stilling it?

3) That leads to the third point Jonah makes: “The waters closed in over me to 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.” (v. 5-6)
God has the strength, the authority, and the compassion to bring his life up from the pit.
O that we would, when our life is fainting away, along with Jonah, remember the Lord and raise our voice to the Most High God with confidence that he can and will answer even in the belly of a fish.

“Salvation belongs to the Lord.” -Jonah