Posts Tagged ‘Jonah’

The narrative of the great fish sent by the Lord nicely brackets the odd prophet Jonah’s lament. In the first verse of the second chapter of the book that describes this prophet’s mishap by bearing his name, the great fish sent by the Lord swallows Jonah up. In the last verse of the same chapter, the fish spews the remarkably undigested Jonah out onto dry ground.

In between and from the stomach of a fish, Jonah looses a lament that settles comfortably into the contours of lived distress, whether that of an individual sufferer or of an exiled nation:

Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying, ‘I called to the LORD out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. 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; how shall I look again upon your holy temple?’ The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around 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. As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the LORD; and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who worship vain idols forsake their true loyalty. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the LORD!’ Then the LORD spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land. (Jonah 2:1–10 NRSV)

Jonah’s complaint takes into account both divine protagonism in his calamity and the unthinkable tragedy of separation from the divine.

The lament, for all its unsettling interweaving of realism and poignance, does not go unanswered. Though majoring on his own incapacity, Jonah also registers two divine movements: the Lord hears and the Lord brings his life up from the pit.

So do the laments—and so does Jonah—provide a ray of hope to the suffering person and the exiled people: First, God may hear again. Second, the Lord may lift this other life up from its pit, turning despair into sacrifice and weeping to thanksgiving.

Biblical prophetism makes uncommon cause with a saying that nearly achieves the status of a folk proverb: you just never know.


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