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The Heart of God in the Heart of the Sea

Devotion Twelve

April 16, 2024

From the Belly of Death

Daniel Barta

Jonah, after being thrown overboard and swallowed by a fish, called out to the LORD, and the LORD answered him. God heard him and helped him.

Several aspects of Jonah's prayer stand out.

  1. God listened to Jonah, the one who fled from His presence. Jonah desired to be far from God. He rejected the LORD. Yet, after all his running, God was within earshot.

  2. God heard him from the "belly of Sheol" (Jon 2:2 ESV). According to the ESV Study Bible's note on Jonah 2:3, "Sheol refers to the realm of the dead." Though he had not physically died, Jonah had sunk so low that he associated himself with those who go down to death. No lower could Jonah have sunk. Yet, in the lowest place, God heard Jonah.

  3. God put him in Sheol. He used the wind, fear in man, the sailors, the casting of lots, and even the rebellion of Jonah. Over each God acted sovereignly with total freedom and control, so that it is right to say, "God 'threw [Jonah] into the depths'" (Jonah 2:3CSB). The waves which crashed over Jonah's head and the mighty waters in which Jonah sank belonged to the LORD (Jonah 2:3). God did not do so in order to drown Jonah. He did not orchestrate all the events with Jonah's destruction in mind. Instead, He sent Jonah into the sea for this very moment in which Jonah would call out for help.

Jonah ran from the presence of the LORD, but even in the depths He could not get away. God was there actively working on and in Jonah. He brought him to the depths. Pursued him in the depths. And heard him in the depths.

7 Where can I go to escape your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. - Psalm 139:7-8 (CSB)

God Hears Our Cries from the Depths

The depths or Sheol are characterized by judgment and hopelessness.

Judgment. Jonah was in the belly of Sheol with seaweed around his neck because God chased after him on account of his rebellion. So too God often brings us into a storm attached to our sin. We might know the painful long-term effects of a divorce brought on by our sinful failures as a spouse. Our web of lies might eventually bring us to public shame, unemployment, and the ruin of broken relationships. Though it is true that all our pains cannot be directly attributed to our own sin (see John 9), the pain, heartache, and trouble we know serve at least in part as a reminder - a teacher - that we all are under the judgment of God and in need of His forgiveness and mercy.

Hopelessness. What could Jonah do sunk to the bottom of the sea? In the place of the dead, one has no emergency device, materials and time to build a raft. No sufficient strength to swim up to the surface and back to the shore. Those in the depths, know a strong and right sense of helplessness. They perceive their own inability to save themselves. They know that the waves crash down on them with too great of force. They know despair. They know the point at which they stop frantically flailing their arms and chaotically kicking their legs. They know the sense of defeat and hopelessness which arrive with the conclusion, "My efforts are pointless."

It is those who sink down into the depths that are ready to hear the good news of the gospel. Those who have come to the end of themselves are the ones prepped for the word of God who comes near and invites, "Call out to Me! I see you. I have been with you all along. I hear your groanings. I have made record of all your tears. My heart longs to save you. Turn to me. Call out to me. I will lift you up out of the pit!"

Those who do call out will learn to say with the Psalmist,

4  The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me; 5  the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me. 6  In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. - Psalm 18:4-6 (CSB)

Call Out to God

Are you struggling today? Do you feel like you are drowning? Do you sense the waves of life's troubles have overtaken you? Do you know the hearts battle to hope? Do you know a sense of despair? Have you or are you on the verge of giving up? Does throwing in the towel in an act of quitting sound appealing?

Call out to the LORD. Pour out your heart to Him. Shed your tears on His shoulder. Plead with Him. Persistently cry out to Him.

He sees you. He cares for you. He loves you. He knows everything about you. The dark clouds that keep you from seeing any hope giving light do not prevent His eyes from looking upon you with caring compassion.

Though you may not know how our why He has brought you to this place, you can trust Him. Here in the depths, he continues to work His good purposes. He is ready to hear you and comfort you and strengthen you and ultimately to save you. Do not tarry or delay. Cry out to the LORD. Wait on Him. He will hear you and lift you up.

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