8 Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.
9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the Lord!”
The prayer above is from Jonah. This is no major surprise. Jonah ran from God and was caught by God. Jonah was brought to a place where he realized that God was in control and that no idols have any power at all.
What is surprising, however, is the state of Jonah when he prayed the wonderful words recorded above. Jonah was in the belly of a fish in the sea. Jonah should have been dead. He had forsaken God. He had refused the command of the Lord. He had run, hoping to avoid any responsibility to obey God. He had run, hoping that God would judge the Assyrians.
Jonah, in the heart of the sea, in the stomach of a fish, realized that any attempt to pay homage to anything that is not God is futile. Jonah understood that trying to do things his way did not work. Jonah understood that nothing and no one could stand in God’s place.
Then Jonah prayed something odder still. He declared his expectation to keep his vows. He expected to offer to God things that he had promised God. He expected to worship God with a heart of thanksgiving. How? How could a man in the tummy of a sea creature think that he was going to get the chance to honor God through obedience?
The last line tells us. Jonah knew that salvation is from God. Jonah could have simply drown. God did not choose to let that happen. God was not going to let Jonah escape his duty simply by dying in the sea. No, God had a plan for Jonah. God was not going to lose—he never does. God chose to save Jonah by having a fish swallow him.
And once Jonah understood that idols are worthless, that God is worthy, and that the Lord is the source of all salvation, the fish swam to shore, vomited Jonah out, and swam away. The prophet, for his part, had a job to do. He was going to obey God and offer right praise to the Lord over all the earth.
Of course Jonah misses much in the remainder of the book. But his prayer in chapter 2 is right on. If we pay heed, if we give homage, if we serve anything other than God, we act as fools. We must not treasure that which is not God—at least not in the same way or to the same degree that we treasure God. Anything that is not God must be infinitely lower in our estimation than our Creator. He is worthy of our worship. He is worthy of our obedience. And one reason why God is so worthy is that he is the sovereign source of our salvation just as he was the sovereign source of Jonah’s salvation at sea.