… the pain is a deep dark sea in which I would drown …

~ Anne Rice, The Vampire Lestat

photo by Piranka, courtesy of iStockphoto

Water scared me. It didn’t have to be deep or dark. A shallow creek. Even a tub. Any body of water instilled a painful fear that gripped me.

When I was three years old, an older boy had held me underwater. Although I was young, it has remained as one of my earliest memories.

The bully laughed as he watched me flail for air. I still remember seeing his devilish grin through those sloshing waves above me. I’m not sure what would’ve happened if an adult hadn’t rescued me from his clutches when she did.

I wouldn’t go near a pool for two years due to that traumatic experience. Any collection of water flooded my mind with terror. I feared drowning.

And I had a good reason for my phobia.

Jonah shared it as well. His rebellious pride held him under. He’d determined that he’d rather die than to submit to God’s will. He almost succeeded.

But God’s grace saved him.

Listen to his experience:

For You cast me into the deep,

Into the heart of the seas,

And the floods surrounded me;

All Your billows and Your waves passed over me …

The waters surrounded me, even to my soul;

The deep closed around me …

I went down to the moorings of the mountains;

The earth with its bars closed behind me forever …

~ Jonah 2:3, 5, 6, NKJV

  • Jonah left no doubt as to his fate.

He was at the bottom of the raging sea – even at the base of the mountains. The dark waters closed over him.

  • The prophet knew his life was over.

As if for emphasis, Jonah twice commented that the sea encompassed his entire being – even to his soul (Hebrew: nephesh). Nephesh was a comprehensive term that included the physical and the emotional being, meaning that everything in his life suffered at that moment. (If you read other posts in this section, you’ll see just how extensive his affliction was.)

  • Jonah proclaimed he was about to take his last breath.

The literal meaning of nephesh is a breathing creature. Repeatedly, the prophet decried how the deep surrounded him, passed over him, closed behind him forever. His soul fainted (‘ataph) within him, indicating his circumstances had overtaken him.

Oxygen deprivation brought him to the point of unconsciousness … and sure death.

  • But God extended His grace to Jonah.

It’s interesting that God provided a means of salvation before he repented. Jonah didn’t confess his sin, nor did he have a change of heart until after the fish had swallowed him. It was from his misery in the fish’s belly that Jonah cried out for forgiveness. Not until then did he desire reconciliation with the Lord.

  • Before Jonah called, God answered.

The fish had saved Jonah’s life. The Lord preserved the wayward prophet before he repented … just as the Savior died for our sins before we ever lived.

  • Now, in that provision, we recognize that the prophet still suffered.

When someone holds his breath at great depths, some water seeps in through his mouth and his nose. If he’s not able to breathe, he’ll drown.

Once he can inspire, these fluids produce gagging coughs, forcing the drowning man to vomit up the water and whatever has gotten into the back of his throat. No doubt Jonah had such emesis.

  • What else happens to a human who holds his breath for as long as he can?

When he finally opens his mouth, he gasps for air. Jonah would’ve done the same.

  • What happens when the air we breathe in is filled with toxic fumes?

The acids from the fish’s digestive system burned his airways. These caustic chemicals irritated his nose, mouth, throat, bronchial tubes, and lungs, having a corrosive effect. Such damage produces pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), which only compounds the difficulty breathing.

Add to this dilemma the high pressures of the deep. Such stress made breathing difficult.

  • Thus, Jonah still suffered the consequences of his sin.

Even though God saved the wayward prophet, He didn’t remove all of his sin’s consequences. Jonah most likely suffered from pulmonary edema for days to come.

These effects made it difficult for him to breathe, much less speak. And yet God used his damaged voice to preach His message to those whom He intended it.