Jonah 2: Jonah Prays

Jonah 2  •  22 min. read  •  grade level: 7
“And Jonah prayed unto Jehovah his God out of the fish’s belly.” v.1. We noticed, when we were considering the first chapter of Jonah, that even when the shipmaster wakened Jonah out of his sleep and told him to call on his God, that Jonah made no attempt to pray. He was fleeing from the presence of Jehovah, and that is no time to pray unto Him. We saw that he even made a frank confession of his sin to the whole ship’s company, but still he did not pray. We have watched that solemn scene on deck, as the seamen reluctantly took up Jonah and cast him forth into the sea. It is amazing that even as Jonah was about to die, he apparently made not the slightest attempt to come to God in prayer, though surely there had been a beginning of the restoration of his soul. It often takes some time to bring about full restoration. (See Num. 19:1919And the clean person shall sprinkle upon the unclean on the third day, and on the seventh day: and on the seventh day he shall purify himself, and wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and shall be clean at even. (Numbers 19:19).)
Do not think, dear reader, that Jonah was any worse than we are today. The story before us is only an illustration of how very far from God even a saint and a prophet, one who has been used of God to do His work, may get. Even the sight of death itself did not break down the barrier that Jonah’s sin and pride had raised between God and his heart. True, the barrier was all on his part, but he would not humble himself to turn to God and cry for mercy.
How wonderful are the ways of God. What the storm, the raging waves, what even death itself could not accomplish, God now brought about by His own ways. Alone in the belly of the fish amidst that awful darkness and that deathly silence, utterly without hope of deliverance by the hand of man—Jonah prayed. “Out of the belly of Sheol [or, the grave] cried I.” v.2. This is the way Jonah described that moment. Worse, far worse to Jonah, than a few short moments under the stormy waves and then death, were those long hours, three days and three nights, in “the belly of Sheol.” The proud, rebellious spirit bowed at last, and Jonah prayed.
Should one of my readers be following Jonah in a course of rebellion and self-will, too proud and too far from God to pray, just take note of the ways of God with man. Just bear in mind that God can make the proudest spirit bow and can bring a prayer from the hardest heart. Jonah said: “I cried by reason of my distress unto Jehovah.” v.2. Honest Jonah—he frankly confessed that it was by reason of his distress that he was finally compelled to cry to God. He could face death without a tremble but there are worse things than death, as he found out. Now such distress came upon him that there was nothing else for it; he must pray. Listen to another (or, indeed, could it be Jonah speaking again?) in Psa. 116:3-43The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. 4Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul. (Psalm 116:3‑4) JND Trans.: “The bands [or, pangs] of death encompassed me, and the anguish [or, distresses] of Sheol took hold of me; I found trouble and sorrow: then called I upon the name of Jehovah: I beseech Thee, Jehovah, deliver my soul.” If we persist in walking in the paths of rebellion and self-will, we may be quite sure that we also will find “trouble and sorrow,” such trouble and such sorrow that it will force us to our knees. O, dear Christian, you who have turned away from the presence of the Lord, who have grown cold and hard, you who have ceased to pray, you who have lost the joys you once possessed in Christ—take warning, and take heart, from Jonah. Listen to the 5th verse of that lovely 116th Psalm, following immediately after the verses quoted above: “Gracious is Jehovah and righteous; and our God is merciful.” Does it not remind you of the very character that Jonah gave of God? Such, you and I, dear reader, will find our God to be; if we will but return, He will “abundantly pardon.” Isa. 55:77Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:7).
Listen again to those words of Jonah: his whole soul seemed filled with wonder that God should have heard and answered such as he, and from such a place!
“I cried by reason of my distress unto Jehovah, and He answered me; out of the belly of Sheol cried I: Thou heardest my voice.” v.2. Yes, wonder of wonders, God is ever ready to hear and ever ready to forgive. The cloud and the darkness are all on our side: our God has not changed. One can but watch with adoring wonder to see the patience and wisdom of God in dealing with His erring servant. Time and again He gave him warning and opportunity to cry to Him for pardon and help. God does not give him up, even when the sight of death itself will not force him to yield. This God is our God; how much better for us to fall at His feet and pour out the whole story of our sin and failure, and cry to Him for mercy and forgiveness. We will surely find that, like the writer of Psa. 116 (who had found trouble and sorrow), we too, may exclaim with adoring wonder, “I love Jehovah, for He hath heard my voice and my supplications; for He hath inclined His ear unto me, and I will call upon Him during all my days.” Psa. 116:1-21I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. 2Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live. (Psalm 116:1‑2) JND Trans.
But let us listen further to Jonah’s prayer. What an immense privilege to be able to stand by and hear this prayer out of the fish’s belly: “For Thou didst cast me into the depth, into the heart of the seas.” v.3. There is not a suggestion that it was the sailors who cast him into the sea: No, Jonah knew better than that. It was God, and God only, who had cast Jonah into the sea, and he acknowledged it. Why would God do such a thing as this? Was it cruel on His part to do so? Oh, no! This was the way home, and the only way home, for this particular prodigal son. It was not till he got inside the fish, and had been there for three days and nights, that “he came to himself.” Luke 15:1717And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! (Luke 15:17). Whether it is the pigs or whether it is the fish, God has ways to make His people come to themselves.
“And the flood was round about me: all Thy breakers and Thy billows are gone over me.” v.3. How these words remind us of the words of our Lord (spoken prophetically, it is true, but yet His words), in Psa. 69:1-21<<To the chief Musician upon Shoshannim, A Psalm of David.>> Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. 2I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. (Psalm 69:1‑2) JND Trans., “The waters are come in unto My soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing; I am come into the depths of waters, and the flood overfloweth Me.” We need to ever bear in mind that the Lord Himself tells us that Jonah is a sign, or type, of Himself. The flood was wilder about Him, and there were deeper, darker, more terrible breakers and billows that rolled over His holy soul, as He suffered for sins not His own, but mine and yours.
“And I said, I am cast out from before Thine eyes.” v.4. Three times in chapter one we read about Jonah fleeing from the presence of Jehovah; but this is a very different thing. As long as he had his own free choice, Jonah fled from the presence of Jehovah, or sought to do so. Now, alone in the darkness and horror of his awful grave, Jonah said, “I am cast out from before Thine eyes.” He had gotten, so he believed, away from the presence of Jehovah at last, he had found the place he was seeking, but oh, how awful was that place! This was not Jonah deliberately leaving Jehovah, as he fully intended doing; this was, as he thought, Jehovah deliberately leaving him. It is a solemn thing to think that the day is coming when multitudes around us will be compelled to cry with truth, “I am cast out from before Thine eyes.” They do not want the Lord now, and the day is speedily coming when they will be cast out from His presence into outer darkness, into weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. May none of our readers ever share that awful fate. It is worse by far than Jonah’s position: instead of three days and three nights, it will be eternal.
Do not those words remind us of that darkest scene of all eternity when our adorable Lord cried, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Matt. 27:4646And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46). God had truly forsaken the One who always did His will, because our sins were laid upon Him, and God is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity.”
“I said, I am cast out from before Thine eyes, yet will I look again toward Thy holy temple.” v.4. Thank God, it was not true of Jonah. He was not cast out from before the eyes of God. On the contrary, we may plainly see that God’s eyes were intently watching His poor servant, even in the belly of that fish, and when the right moment came we will see that immediately the command went forth to deliver him from his awful prison. Jonah thought he was cast out from before God’s eyes. He well knew he deserved to be, but thank God, He does not give His servants their deserts, when they are of this nature.
What is the significance of those words, “I will look again toward Thy holy temple”? Surely Jonah’s mind turned back to Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of that temple, recorded in 2 Chron. 6, and no doubt well known to him. Read, for example, verses 38 and 39: “If they return to Thee with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their captivity... and pray toward their land... and toward the city which Thou hast chosen, and toward the house which I have built for Thy name: then hear Thou from the heavens... and forgive Thy people which have sinned against Thee.” It was on the ground of words such as these that Jonah had authority from the Lord Himself to count on the mercy of God to forgive his sin and deliver him.
Jonah’s eye had been westward to Tarshish, but now, down in the belly of Sheol there is true repentance, real turning round, and his eyes looked eastward back to the holy temple that he had lately, so wickedly forsaken. That is just what repentance means. Men often think it means great sorrow for sin. That may, and probably will, be included, but that is not the real meaning of the word. It is turning round, the literal meaning is “thinking again.” Jonah “thought again.” Instead of looking west, he looked east. Instead of turning his back to God’s holy temple, he turned his face to it. Instead of fleeing from the presence of Jehovah, he was seeking His presence. Instead of there being the old, proud, rebellious self that would not pray, even in the most solemn moment—now, he delights to pray; he finds his only comfort and relief in prayer. That tells us of repentance, real, true repentance. I have little doubt that Jonah had very deep sorrow for his sinful course, but he repented when he turned round, with his back on Tarshish, and his face toward God’s holy temple.
“The waters encompassed me, to the soul: the deep was round about me, the weeds were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the bars of the earth closed upon me forever.” vv.5-6.
Here we find desperate reality. It was not only the waters about him externally, but those dark waters of death entered into his very soul. Once again we are reminded that Jonah is a type of our Lord Jesus Christ; and do not the verses just quoted tell us something of the sufferings of our blessed Lord, as set forth in Psa. 22? We have noted that the billows and the breakers that went over Him remind us of Psa. 69. In this Psalm the Lord’s sufferings from the hand of man seem to be set before us: the external sufferings, so to speak. “Thou hast known My reproach, and My shame, and My dishonor: Mine adversaries are all before Thee. Reproach hath broken My heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. They gave Me also gall for My meat; and in My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink.” Psa. 69:19-2119Thou hast known my reproach, and my shame, and my dishonor: mine adversaries are all before thee. 20Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. 21They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. (Psalm 69:19‑21). All these sufferings were caused by men. As we ponder Jonah 2:5-65The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. 6I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God. (Jonah 2:5‑6), we realize that such words as, “The waters encompassed me, to the soul,” tell forth an even deeper suffering than those external sufferings from man’s hand. It reminds us of Joseph (also a wonderful type of our Lord) in Psa. 105:1818Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron: (Psalm 105:18) JND Trans.: “They afflicted his feet with fetters; his soul came into irons.” We see in the first half of the verse the external suffering that Joseph endured, but in the last half of the verse we find a deeper and keener suffering that went into the inmost part of his being.
Is it not this side of the suffering of our adorable Lord that we find so wonderfully set before us in Psa. 22? “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Psa. 22:11<<To the chief Musician upon Aijeleth Shahar, A Psalm of David.>> My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? (Psalm 22:1). This, the deepest suffering of all, came from God, not from men, though caused by our sins. Some people would tell us that the Lord Jesus only thought that God had forsaken Him, as in Jonah’s case: “I said, I am cast out from before Thine eyes.” v.4. It was, however, very different in the case of our Lord and Savior. There on the cross He bore our sins; and with all those mountains of sins upon Him, God must turn away from Him, and it was in very truth that He uttered that awful cry, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” We may, to some small extent (never fully), enter into what it meant to our pure and holy Savior to bear those external sufferings and shame and reproach from man; but no human mind can ever fathom the depth of suffering contained in that terrible cry, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” Matt. 27:4646And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46). Here, indeed, the waters compassed Him about to the soul. It was then He took that awful cup of the wrath of a holy God against sin (the cup you and I deserved to drink) and drank it to its very dregs.
“The depth of all Thy suffering
No heart could e’er conceive;
The cup of wrath o’erflowing
For us Thou didst receive.”
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We must notice one more step down for poor Jonah. He had gone down of his own accord, down to Joppa, down into the ship, down into the sides of the ship: three sad steps down, God had brought him down into the sea, then down into the fish, and now God brings him down further still: “I went down to the bottoms of the mountains.” v.6. Now Jonah was down about as far as he could go. It is well for us when we are down. Referring once more to that beautiful 116th Psalm (v.6 JND Trans.), we read, “I was brought low, and He saved me.” It is when we are brought down, when our pride is brought low, that He is able to save us. As soon as Jonah got down to the very bottom, he said, “I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the bars of the earth closed upon me forever;” then, immediately we read, “But Thou hast brought up my life from the pit, O Jehovah my God.” v.6. Jonah’s pride was broken; he was just as low as he could get. It was then Jehovah, his God, brought up his life from the pit. You, dear Christian reader, have very probably experienced something of this yourself, for “lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man.” Job 33:2929Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man, (Job 33:29). May the Lord help us to humble ourselves truly before Him, so that He may bring us up!
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“When my soul fainted within me, I remembered Jehovah; and my prayer came in unto Thee, into Thy holy temple.” v.7.
In the days of his prosperity, his pride and his self-will, Jonah had forgotten Jehovah, or perhaps we should say, had disregarded Jehovah, but now, when the billows and the breakers were going over him, the waters encompassing him, even to the soul; now when he was down at the bottoms of the mountains, when he was utterly without hope, he said, “the bars of the earth closed upon me forever.” Now his soul fainted. He had no resource, no hope in man, there was not one to whom he could turn. Now he remembered Jehovah, and he prayed. There was no other hope, no other way, nothing else he could do, so he prayed. Not only did he pray, but faith rose from that strange “prayer room” and by faith he could see right into “Thy holy temple” towards which he had looked, and he saw that his prayer had entered in, right inside the veil, to the very presence of God.
Perhaps we all have tasted a bit of this experience of Jonah. Which of us has not tried to manage our own affairs, and when everything went wrong and we were at our wits’ end, when our soul fainted within us and we had no way, no hope, no plan, then we “remembered Jehovah.” Then we prayed. We did not deserve to get a hearing for our prayer when it was forced from us in such extremities, but, thank God, we have found like Jonah that even then it “came in unto Thee, into Thy holy temple.”
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“They that observe lying vanities [or, vain idols], forsake their own mercy.” v.8. It may be that Jonah had watched the sailors as they called every man upon his god, bowing down to vain idols, seeking help from them, and offering prayer to them. It may not have affected him much at the time. One gets accustomed to these things. We sing, “The heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone,” and it does not trouble us in the least. Now, in the very presence of Jehovah his God, the very thought of such a thing was utterly abhorrent to Jonah’s soul. He saw it all in its true light. He did not say, “It is no matter how they worship, provided they are sincere.” No, indeed! He knew full well the awfulness of it, and he cried, “They that observe vain idols forsake their own mercy.” Jonah had received such mercy that the thought of the contrast of those who observe vain idols, instead of remembering the true God, made him realize how very different is the result. Mercy there is for all, provided they turn to Jehovah, but let not any deceive himself by thinking that vain idols, no matter how sincere the worshipper of them, can ever bring mercy to the sinner. What a book of mercy is the book of Jonah! Mercy to Jonah himself, mercy on more than one occasion! Mercy to the seamen, and mercy to man and beast in Nineveh! We can truly say:
“Nothing but mercy will do for me,
Nothing but mercy—full and free;
Of sinners chief—what but the blood
Can calm my soul before my God?”
“But I will sacrifice unto Thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that which I have vowed.” v.9.
Faith grew bolder; now Jonah could say that he would yet sacrifice to Jehovah with the voice of thanksgiving. How could he possibly have hoped for this while he was still in the belly of the fish? Only by faith. This sacrifice of thanksgiving is the “peace offering,” though it is also called the “thanksgiving offering.” It was a voluntary offering of a sweet savor to Jehovah. We read of it in Lev. 3, and 7:11-21, 28-36, where in 7:12 we find it is called “the sacrifice of thanksgiving.” It is a peculiarly beautiful aspect of the sacrifice of Christ. We find that in this sacrifice God had first His own special share. The priest that offered it had his own share. Aaron had his own share, and there was a share for Aaron’s sons, and the man who offered the sacrifice also had his share. When we offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving, not only does God Himself find sweetness and fragrance in it, having a special portion in it for Himself; but Christ as the High Priest, and Christ as the One who offered Himself, has a portion in that sacrifice also. The family of Aaron, the saints of God down here—they get a portion, too; and the one who has offered the sacrifice of thanksgiving also has a portion in that sacrifice. May we each one be found much more often offering the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving!
Jonah could say with triumph, even while still down in the belly of the fish, “I will pay that which I have vowed.” That is real faith. The sailors also made vows, so that there was a special portion for the Lord both from Jonah and from them; and so the Lord once more made the wrath of man to praise Him. (Psa. 76:1010Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain. (Psalm 76:10).) Once again, out of the eater He brought forth meat, and out of the strong He brought forth sweetness. (Judg. 14:1414And he said unto them, Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness. And they could not in three days expound the riddle. (Judges 14:14).)
There is something peculiarly beautiful in seeing Jonah’s faith grow while he prayed. Is it not often so? We enter the Lord’s presence in prayer often so sad and burdened we can only come with groanings that cannot be uttered, but as we pray, and the eye of faith turns upward and pierces through all the waves and billows and storms down here, we can see right into the bright sunshine of His own presence. How many a saint whose soul has been cast down, when he prayed, has been able to fling back in the teeth of the enemy, “I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” Psa. 42:1111Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God. (Psalm 42:11). Then comes the climax, so to speak, of the whole prayer. One grand short cry,
“SALVATION IS OF JEHOVAH.”
It is a great thing when we learn this. Then we cease from man whose breath is in his nostrils. (Isa. 2:2222Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of? (Isaiah 2:22).) Shut up to God, without a ray of hope from any other source, there alone in the dark and the stillness, Jonah learned one of the deepest and greatest lessons that any man ever can learn—that is, “Salvation is of Jehovah.” v.9. May the Lord graciously help you and me, dear reader, to know more, and ever more, of this great lesson: as better and better we learn to know Himself.
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What followed this grand and joyful exclamation? What followed when the lesson was learned, and the eye was off self, off man, and turned to Jehovah alone?
“And Jehovah commanded the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.” v.10. As soon as Jonah really learned that salvation is of Jehovah, then Jehovah brought salvation. And how did He accomplish this salvation? By a word. He spoke and the fish obeyed. We have already seen the stormy wind obeying His word, both in rising and in being still. Now we find the great fish equally obedient. The only disobedient one in this book was Jonah, a man, God’s highest creation, a man who was God’s servant and His prophet; and yet he ventured to disobey. Now Jehovah commanded the fish and it obeyed. It all reminds us of when Jehovah, as a man upon earth, could say to the storm, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:3939And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. (Mark 4:39)), or could bring an abundance of fish into Peter’s net (Luke 5:4-64Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. 5And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. 6And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. (Luke 5:4‑6)), or one fish with a piece of money in its mouth onto Peter’s hook. (Matt. 17:2727Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee. (Matthew 17:27).) His glories shine forth in the Old Testament and New alike. He is the same-wondrous grace that He, whose glories are so bright and so great, should stoop so low for us!
This word to the fish reminds us of the 29th Psalm, a Psalm with which Jonah was, no doubt, familiar. Perhaps it brought comfort and hope to his soul, when down at the bottoms of those mountains he recalled that “Jehovah sitteth upon the flood; yea, Jehovah sitteth as King forever.” Psa. 29:1010The Lord sitteth upon the flood; yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever. (Psalm 29:10) JND Trans. Perhaps we cannot bring our meditations on this wondrous chapter to a close in any more fitting manner than by quoting a few verses from this majestic Psalm: “The voice of Jehovah is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth,—Jehovah upon great waters. The voice of Jehovah is powerful; the voice of Jehovah is full of majesty. The voice of Jehovah breaketh cedars; yea, Jehovah breaketh the cedars of Lebanon: And He maketh them to skip like a calf, Lebanon and Sirion like a young buffalo. The voice of Jehovah cleaveth out flames of fire. The voice of Jehovah shaketh the wilderness; Jehovah shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of Jehovah maketh the hinds to calve, and layeth bare the forests; and in His temple doth every one say, Glory! Jehovah sitteth upon the flood; yea, Jehovah sitteth as King forever. Jehovah will give strength unto His people; Jehovah will bless His people with peace.” Psa. 29:3-113The voice of the Lord is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the Lord is upon many waters. 4The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. 5The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars; yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon. 6He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn. 7The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire. 8The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness; the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh. 9The voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to calve, and discovereth the forests: and in his temple doth every one speak of his glory. 10The Lord sitteth upon the flood; yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever. 11The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace. (Psalm 29:3‑11) JND Trans.
It is the voice of this glorious One—His voice as the Good Shepherd—that we have learned to know and love. Help us, Good Shepherd, to ever follow Thee, to ever hear Thy voice!