The book of Jonah is a book about prayer; it is central to the story, message and structure. The structure follows what we call an ABAB pattern; Gentiles pray, Jonah prays, Gentiles pray, Jonah prays.

But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah 4:1-3

The first prayer we see comes from the sailors; they fearfully ask God to please deem it possible to forgive them for throwing Jonah overboard as he asked. The second is from Jonah, in the belly of the sea creature, praying in earnest belief that God will save him.

Third we see the Ninevites commanded to fast and pray and beg with fervent hearts for God’s forbearance and allow this calamity to pass. Fourth and finally, Jonah prays for himself to die because Nineveh has not been destroyed as he wished.

There isn’t a prayer in this book that doesn’t rely on God’s compassion and his kindness. Each hopes, for lack of a better word, to inspire pity from God and invites him to give relief. But where Jonah’s first prayer of the text asked for life, the last asked for death. What a sorry state! The ignorant, idolatrous sailors knew better than a prophet how to address the Lord. The violent and senseless Ninevites who “don’t know their right hand from their left” showed an ability to change their hearts.

Jonah, the pitiable prophet, was so hardened in his heart that he wanted to die from the lack of satisfaction from seeing his enemies survive rather than perish. Pray! Every day, in every situation. And when you do pray, examine your own heart. Pray for life and salvation and prosperity and mercy and abundance and second chances, not for self-satisfaction but for the glory of God.

Ethan Kirl