Jonah’s “Time Out”

Today we discussed Jonah 2, Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the big fish.  Imagining the condition inside the big fish, we thought of Jonah’s possible reactions.  How could he breathe?  What would he eat?  Wouldn’t it be scary to be eaten by a big fish?

The tone of the poem, rather than fearful, struck a balance between despair and hope.  On the one hand, Jonah felt despair at the bottom of Sheol, the land of the dead, and the bottom of the deep, with bars closing in on him and seaweed in his hair.  On the other hand, Jonah believed that God would hear his prayer, that it would rise up to the Temple of the Lord.

God separated Jonah the farthest possible distance from himself.  When we picture the temple in the ancient Near East, it sits atop the highest point around.  (Imagine the Acropolis in Athens.)  Jonah lay in the bottom of the ocean, down at the base of the mountains.  While Jonah tried to escape the Lord by traveling to Tarshish, the Lord sent him even farther away from himself.  Jonah despaired.

Why would God send Jonah so far away from himself?  For most children, the answer was clear: to make Jonah think about why he had acted incorrectly.  When I read chapter 2, replacing every reference to the underworld and the bottom of the sea with references to time-out, the children giggled in recognition.  Just like the children sitting in time-out, Jonah sat deprived of everything except his own thoughts.  (We agreed that time-out in your room with all your toys is not time out like sitting in the corner or sitting on the stairs.)  God intended to separate Jonah from himself, forcing Jonah to sit alone.  Then the children’s strong desire for their parents to release them from time-out, paralleled Jonah’s desire to re-ascend.  Jonah called out to God, and he heard him.  We also saw that God does not “look out for” Jonah–he listens for him.

The children’s reactions to being let out of time out varied.  Some felt happy and relieved to be released; others felt angry at the one who sent them to time-out.  Nevertheless, like our last discussion, we agreed that obeying God out of love is preferable to obeying God out of fear.  Next time, we will see how Jonah reacts to being let out–vomitedout–of time-out.

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