Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God out of the fish's belly,…
Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish's belly, etc. Unexampled position of Jonah - no details given, and hints somewhat obscure; evidently he retained measure of consciousness, but for how long we know not - seems to have been conscious of moving through the water before being swallowed by the fish - miracle of his preservation corresponds to that of the three Hebrews in the furnace (Daniel 3:27), or of the burning bush (Exodus 3:2, 3) - element of apparent destruction becomes supernaturally element of preservation - this record of his feelings composed after his deliverance - a record of the conflict of sight and faith - to sight, the situation desperate - faith pierces to the unseen, finds support, and finally triumphs. The prayer is a singular combination of midnight darkness and noonday light.
I. THE SITUATION. Described in many expressions, some of awful intensity: "By reason of mine affliction;" "out of the belly of hell;" "in the deep, in the midst of the seas;" "The floods compassed me about, all thy billows and thy waves passed over me;" "out of thy sight;" "The depths closed me round about, the weeds were wrapt about my head;" "I went down to the bottom of the mountains, the earth with her bars were about me forever." Situation seemed absolutely hopeless - physical surroundings the most frightful ever known - each, too, appeared a token of Divine displeasure - apparently as little hope for the soul as for the body.
II. ITS SOURCE - FROM GOD. For it was not a chance that had befallen Jonah; it was all God's doing: "Thou hadst cast me into the deep; all thy billows and thy waves passed over me." God had pursued him ever since he turned his back on him; raised the storm against him; caused the lot to fall on him; cast him into the deep; entombed him in the fish; shut him up, as it were, in despair. Yet he utters no word of reproach; God is justified when he speaks, and clear when he judges (Psalm 51:4).
III. CONSTERNATION OF HIS SOUL. The first effect was to paralyze him. "I said, I am cast out of thy sight;" "My soul fainted within me." Horrors of his situation unexampled, escape impossible; shut up a helpless prey to the most appalling forms of destruction - Omnipotence itself crushing him: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
IV. THE DAWN. "When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord." The darkest hour of night is that which precedes the dawn - out of the very depths of helplessness and desolation faith begins to rise. Far more beautiful than the fabled sight when the goddess of beauty rose from the ocean foam is the sight of Jonah's faith rising from the depths, both literal and spiritual. The moment of utter helplessness is often the turning point in spiritual experience - at first, in justification (Romans 3:19, 21), afterwards in recovery from backsliding (Hosea 2:14), and in sanctification (Romans 5:20).
"Nothing in my hand I bring;
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die!"
1. In "remembering God," Jonah recognized him as "the Lord his God;" his by national covenant, by personal choice (the fruit of Divine grace), and by his prophetic call and consecration; his, though he had attempted to flee from his presence, for does he not say, "Turn, O backsliding Israel, and I will heal your backsliding" (Jeremiah 3:12, 22)? The God who first chose him in all his unworthiness must have an interest in him still. So the psalmist cried; so Jesus afterwards in the like spirit, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
2. He looked towards God's temple. Why? Because of the promise virtually given to Solomon (1 Kings 8:38). He builds on God's word, "Remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope" (Psalm 119:49). He thinks of the temple, the sacred ark, the mercy seat, the overshadowing cherubims, the promise to Moses, "There I will meet with you, and I will commune with you from above the mercy seat" (Exodus 25:22). He takes hold of this - steadies his soul upon it - shaking off the impression of his horrible surroundings, and enters into peace. What a change! - the belly of hell turned into the gate of heaven, the how! of despair changed into the hallelujah of delight. See here an encouragement to spirit of faith - in Jonah all lights extinguished except faith - in lowest depths, "let Israel hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption." Even when we are the authors of our own troubles, when we are in the depths by reason of sin, nil desperandum! "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thy help." - W.G.B.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly,