If ever the phrase "steals the show" was appropriate, it applies to the fish in the book of Jonah. There are only three verses in the entire book that mention the fish. In 1:17 God sends a fish to swallow Jonah; in 2:1 Jonah is inside the fish when he prays "The Song of Jonah;" and in 2:10 the fish spits Jonah out. That's it. Yet, as bit parts go, it has to be one of the most memorable in history.
These songs referenced in the Canon of St. Andrew are variations on the theme of salvation. Here, there is an interesting double rescue of both Jonah and the people of Nineveh. A quick recap of the story... God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and proclaim a message of repentance and salvation. Jonah, who was not particularly fond of the Ninevites and would just as soon see them perish, hopped a boat in the opposite direction. When a vicious storm tosses the boat around, Jonah admits to the sailors that it's his fault and sacrifices himself for the others in spite of their great reluctance to throw him overboard. Next comes the fish (often upgraded to a whale) incident. Afterwards, Jonah gives up and goes to Nineveh where he preaches a truly uninspired sermon -- all judgment, no hope -- yet the people respond. In a lovely ironic twist, God uses the man who cannot repent of his prejudice against the Ninevites to bring about their repentance on a national scale. We're told that everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth and humbled himself before God and experienced salvation.
Jonah, like all of us, is an interesting mix of righteousness and selfishness. He was willing to give his life to save the Gentile sailors, but couldn't bear the thought that God could save the Gentiles in Nineveh. In fact, Jonah is so angry over God's mercy towards Nineveh that he says he'd rather be dead than see it. I once heard someone sum up the Civil Rights struggle as follows: White people in the South hate black people as a whole, but like them as individuals. White people outside the South do just the opposite. That's obviously an oversimplification, but it's exactly the situation in which we find Jonah. He couldn't hate the sailors as individuals. As difficult as I find all the "wrath of God" passages in the Old Testament, I must admit that sometimes it's easier to think about God hating our enemies than loving them. When Jesus said that we should love our enemies, too, well no wonder that caused problems! God's mercy is not limited by our prejudices. Thank goodness.