Jonah 2:1-2

Last time, we considered how God prepared the great fish to preserve and protect Jonah, as He began dealing with Jonah’s rebellion, and we took a look at what Jesus called “the sign of the prophet Jonah” – the period of 3 days and 3 nights that Jonah spent in the belly of the fish – by looking at other instances in God’s Word where the period of 3 days is symbolic of rebirth and restoration. We saw that, in his desperation, Jonah cried out to the Lord in repentance from the belly of the fish.
 
Let’s continue now through Jonah’s prayer of repentance…
Jonah 2:1-2
1Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly. 2And he said:
“I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction,
And He answered me.
“Out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
And You heard my voice.
Last time when we started looking at Jonah’s prayer of repentance in chapter 2, we talked about how we, like Jonah often seek God most fervently when we’re in trouble. We talked about God’s desire for continual fellowship with us. But even if we neglect our relationship with God, and then cry out to him in our affliction, like Jonah, God remains faithful even when we are not. He will hear and answer our prayer of desperation just as he does Jonah’s here in verse 2. In fact, many times God himself will cast us into affliction, as He did Jonah, in order to bring us back into fellowship and obedience.
 
Most of us have encountered seasons in our lives during which it seemed that God was not paying attention to our prayers. At times, God seems to be silent. We lack His strong hand guiding us. We start to doubt whether He even loves us at all, because He seems so distant…
 
Or is it just me?
 
The key to God’s attention is our humility, contrition, and repentance. While we continue in pride and rebellion, God will not hear or answer our prayers…
Isaiah 59:1-2
1Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened,
That it cannot save;
Nor His ear heavy,
That it cannot hear.
2But your iniquities have separated you from your God;
And your sins have hidden His face from you,
So that He will not hear.
Yet if we repent of our rebellion and pride, and seek Him in humility, contrition, and repentance, He will hear and show Himself powerful. We looked at God’s admonition of the people on the occasion of the dedication of Solomon’s temple last time, but it’s worthy of a quick review…
2 Chronicles 7:14
“if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
Psalm 4:3-5
3But know that the LORD has set apart for Himself him who is godly;
The LORD will hear when I call to Him.
4Be angry, and do not sin.
Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Selah
5Offer the sacrifices of righteousness,
And put your trust in the LORD.
Psalm 145
17The LORD is righteous in all His ways,
Gracious in all His works.
18The LORD is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
19He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;
He also will hear their cry and save them.
20The LORD preserves all who love Him,
But all the wicked He will destroy.
21My mouth shall speak the praise of the LORD,
And all flesh shall bless His holy name
Forever and ever.
Psalm 66:16-19
16Come and hear, all you who fear God,
And I will declare what He has done for my soul.
17I cried to Him with my mouth,
And He was extolled with my tongue.
18If I regard iniquity in my heart,
The Lord will not hear.
19But certainly God has heard me;
He has attended to the voice of my prayer.
20Blessed be God,
Who has not turned away my prayer,
Nor His mercy from me!
Micah 7:7
Therefore I will look to the LORD;
I will wait for the God of my salvation;
My God will hear me.
_____________________________
 
Before we continue through Jonah’s prayer let’s consider Sheol – שְׁאוֹל shĕ’owl. Here in Jonah 2:2, the King James translates this Hebrew name as “hell.” The New International Version and New Living Translation render it as “the grave.” Most other English translations, including the New King James Version simply leave the Hebrew name as it is in this particular verse. It is the Hebrew name for the abode of the dead, or the underworld, and is translated in various verses as hell, the grave, or the pit. It is found 65 times in the Old Testament. Here are some examples…
 
The first mention of Sheol is in connection with the story of Joseph when his brothers (falsely) reported to their father, Jacob (Israel), that Joseph was dead…
Genesis 37:34-35
34Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. 35And all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and he said, “For I shall go down into the grave [שְׁאוֹל shĕ’owl] to my son in mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.
It is called “the pit” in the story of Korah’s rebellion against Moses…
Numbers 16:31-33
31Now it came to pass, as he finished speaking all these words, that the ground split apart under them, 32and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods. 33So they and all those with them went down alive into the pit; [שְׁאוֹל shĕ’owl] the earth closed over them, and they perished from among the assembly.
Moses also refers to this place in his farewell speech to the Israelites…
Deuteronomy 32:22
For a fire is kindled in My anger,
And shall burn to the lowest hell; [שְׁאוֹל shĕ’owl]
It shall consume the earth with her increase,
And set on fire the foundations of the mountains.
Proverbs 27:20
Hell [שְׁאוֹל shĕ’owl] and Destruction are never full;
So the eyes of man are never satisfied.
In the New Testament, this place or state is known by its Greek name, ᾅδης – hadēs. In Acts 2, when Peter was preaching on the day of Pentecost, he referred to Psalm 16…
Acts 2:25-28
25For David says concerning Him:
‘I foresaw the LORD always before my face,
For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken.
26Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad;
Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope.
27For You will not leave my soul in Hades,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
28You have made known to me the ways of life;
You will make me full of joy in Your presence.’
Psalm 16:8-11
8I have set the LORD always before me;
Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.
9Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will rest in hope.
10For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
11You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Perhaps Jesus’ most famous teaching on the subject of Hades (a.k.a. Sheol) is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, from which we are taught that unbelievers who died before Jesus’ advent await the final judgment in Sheol (Hades) while Old Testament believers await their resurrection and reward in a place Jesus called “Abraham’s Bosom.” We looked at this parable during our Philippians study when we examined the subject of resurrection. It’s worth considering again…
Luke 16:19-31
19There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ 25But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. 26And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
27Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’
Before we leave the subject of שְׁאוֹל shĕ’owl let’s talk for a minute about Jesus’ time “in the heart of the earth.” Recall from Matthew 12:40 that Jesus compared His time in the Earth, to the time Jonah was inside the great fish…
Matthew 12:40
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
Paul alludes to this time in…
Ephesians 4:8-10
8Therefore He says:
“When He ascended on high,
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men.”
9(Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)
In this passage, Paul is quoting…
Psalm 68:18-20
18You have ascended on high,
You have led captivity captive;
You have received gifts among men,
Even from the rebellious,
That the LORD God might dwell there.
19Blessed be the Lord,
Who daily loads us with benefits,
The God of our salvation! Selah
20Our God is the God of salvation;
And to GOD the Lord belong escapes from death.
From these passages, many have deduced that Jesus descended into Hades during the period between His death on the cross, and the time His resurrection was discovered by Mary Magdalene and Mary, James’ mother, and Salome, who had gone to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea where Jesus had been lain, early on the third morning after the crucifixion to anoint Jesus’ body with burial spices (not done on the day of the crucifixion itself due to the urgency to put Jesus’ body into the grave before the sunset that marked the beginning of the Sabbath). But upon arrival, the ladies found the stone rolled away, and Jesus’ body not there.
 
The common presumption is that Jesus descended to Hades during this time to Abraham’s bosom, and led the Old Testament believers who awaited the Messiah there after their deaths into their eternal life in Christ Jesus. While this interpretation of these passages seems reasonable, what’s not clear is the exact timing. All that can really be determined Biblically, is that Christ’s descent into the heart of the Earth took place sometime between the time the stone was rolled into place at the tomb, and the time it was discovered by the ladies to have been rolled away.
 
Before we leave the subject, though, we need to make one thing crystal clear. Over the intervening two millennia, some have put forth the idea that Jesus never really died on the cross, but that He just passed out. This so-called “swoon theory” has gained traction in liberal theological circles over the past hundred years or so, mainly because it gives a very convenient way to avoid the issue of sin, and the necessary blood sacrifice in atonement for it. This is wholly unbiblical, and is in fact a lie of the evil one straight out of the pit of Hades (his temporary abode while he awaits his final end when Jesus casts him forever into the lake of fire).
 
The swoon theory is so full of holes, it’s hard to believe anyone could actually believe it, but we need to remember Peter’s admonition…
1 Peter 3:15
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;
So let’s take a quick look at the faults in the swoon theory, and why it matters, before we move on.
Consider the story of the crucifixion of Jesus…
John 19:28-37
28After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” 29Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. 30So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.

31Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. 33But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. 34But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. 36For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of His bones shall be broken.” 37And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”

The breaking of the legs of the crucified was meant to hasten death. Remember that crucifixion wasn’t simply a means of execution. It was specifically designed to prolong the suffering of the condemned for as long as possible. The process sometimes took days. For as long as the condemned man’s strength held out, he could push himself up by the nail or cord attaching his ankle to the cross. This would relieve the pressure on his thorax enough to allow him to take a few breaths. Once he dropped back down again, the tension on the chest from the arms being pulled up and out against the weight of the body would allow only very shallow breathing not deep enough to sustain life for long.
 
But it is just possible that Jesus only lost consciousness after proclaiming “It is finished.” But even supposing that was true, though, having a spear shoved through His heart would certainly have finished Him off. No. Jesus most certainly didn’t just pass out. But even if He had, it is certain that all those who cared about Him believed He was dead. In fact, the Bible says that after He was crucified, all of them scattered into hiding. In His weakened state (ignoring for a moment the fact that Jesus is God and is able to do anything) how could He possibly have rolled away the stone by Himself, when it always took several strong, healthy men using levers to roll the stone into place even though the channels the grave seal stones were carried in were always carved so that the stone would roll slightly downhill when being rolled into place, and would come to rest against a stop block?
 
But before we leave the subject, let’s ask why any of this matters. This is the heart of the Gospel, and absolutely critical to our ability to give an answer as Peter tells us we must. God is a perfect and holy God. He cannot abide the presence of sin. God’s standard for fellowship is absolute perfection in adherence to His Law laid out for us in His Word – something we are absolutely incapable of in ourselves. Furthermore, the rightful punishment laid out by God for our imperfection – no matter how slight – is death and eternal separation from the living God.
 
In order for us to be reconciled to God, and not have to face death and separation from Him, a sacrifice was needed. A human being had to die to bring about salvation for all mankind. But it couldn’t be just any human being giving his life for all the others. The atoning sacrifice had to be absolutely perfect and completely free from any of the sins God defines in His Word. But we already know that such perfection is impossible for us.
 
Therefore God Himself had to come to Earth in the form of the man Jesus, and live the perfect life God requires of every man. But for Jesus to live a perfect life as a man was not enough to gain salvation for mankind. In order to fulfill the requirement, the atoning sacrifice had to die – which Jesus most certainly did on the cross of Calvary. If Jesus just swooned, and then somehow escaped from the tomb where they laid Him, then Jesus isn’t resurrected, and our sins still separate us from God. As Paul says…
1 Corinthians 15:12-19
12Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
But praise God, Paul goes on…
1 Corinthians 15:20-28
20But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 27For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.

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