The prophets spoke for God when no one else would. They stood alone in the face of opposition and persecution. They wept and prayed over sin. They embraced the unpopular reception of their preaching. Yet the prophet that most of us are familiar with is the one who ran from God, and he ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction. (Jonah 1:1-3)
Whether disobedient or obedient, Jonah couldn’t get it right. He was compassionate to sailors taking him away from the will of God (1:4-16), and he was angry because the Ninevites repented when he warned them to (3:3-10). In both cases, God used him as a catalyst for deliverance, but in each case it was obvious that he could not take the credit.
In the belly of the fish, Jonah found himself in a place of confinement, a restricted place with apparent inescapable limits. His experience was intensified as a result of that compression. He concentrated, he focused, and he was attentive. He prayed! His prayer was translated to hope. Illusion was translated to reality. And death was translated to resurrection. Notice that his prayer was not spontaneous… it is a psalm. The Psalms are prayers that are adequate for the complexities of living. They teach us an adoration of God, and they direct us on pilgrimage to God.
Jonah’s story ends with him being angry and quarreling with God (4:1-9). God surprised him by acting in a way that Jonah had not prescribed. There seems to be no proper end to this story. Perhaps it is for the reader or the hearer to respond with a personal answer. (4:10-11) Perhaps it is the same today?