Prayer of Thanksgiving and Dedication
In this record we see Jonah at his best. In direst peril, facing what seems sure to be certain death, the real depth of his character emerges. We see him as he is. There is no one to impress, no false face to put on. And he is presented before our gaze as a man of deepest faith in his God. More, we discern a man richly filled with theWord of his God. Jonah’s mind ranges expansively through the record of the Psalms, calling at will on those verses so appropriate to his needs. Could we emulate this facility?

1:17 Yahweh prepares a great fish that Jonah’s life might be preserved

Now Yahweh had prepared a great fish to swal­low up Jonah.”

This is the first of four things which Yahweh “pre­pared”: the fish, the gourd, the worm and the east wind. What could be more random in its movements than a violent storm, and the course of the vessel through it. Yet as that ship was being, like the waves about it, “driven with the wind and tossed”, in the depths below, the course of a great fish was being coordinated by a Divine hand with the course of the vessel to bring them together at just the right moment.

For every servant of God it surely is true that in the seemingly random events of life, the hand of God is there unseen, shepherding us towards the Kingdom, with our oft-times fitful co-operation.

God had prepared that fish to swallow up Jonah, and so the fish did exactly that. It was obedient where Jonah was not. It went where God directed it when Jonah did not. How fickle is foolish mankind, blessed with freewill, presumptuous. Bold to defy even Almighty God Himself. Yet God is merciful and patient, to Jonah and to each one of us.

So Jonah was in the grave (the belly of the fish) for three days and nights before a Divine providence caused the fish to “vomit out Jonah upon the dry land”, and his resurrection was accomplished. This incident became a potent enacted parable and sign, referred to by Jesus himself of his death, burial and resurrection in three days (Matt 12:38–40; 16:4). We shall return to consider the sign of the prophet Jonah in more detail in a later study.

2:1–10 Jonah’s prayer or psalm of thanksgiving.

From the belly of the fish he recalls his plea for sal­vation as he sank beneath the waves. He acknowl­edges the response of his God and re-dedicates himself to His service.

v1 “Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish’s belly.

By Divine grace Jonah has been saved. From his temporary haven “inside the fish” he offers a prayer of thanksgiving, calling to mind his feelings and reactions as he sank beneath the waves. Above, becalmed in the ship, the sailors watched anxiously to see if Jonah might emerge from the deep, but in vain. Jonah was surely dead. But far beneath, an­other “vessel” was being directed by God to return Jonah to his mission.

v2 “And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me: out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.

When Yahweh cried out to Jonah, declaring his appointed mission, the response was to ignore and defy his God. But how longsuffering and abundant in mercy the Father is. Jonah cries; Yahweh hears and responds with salvation! The message is twice repeated as Jonah is overwhelmed by this sense of the fullness of Divine mercy in the face of his unworthiness. Jonah’s words pick up the thoughts of David in extremity in Psalm 3:4, “I cried unto Yahweh with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill”. “Hear me when I call, O God of my right­eousness”, he continues in Psalm 4:1, and finally expressing his confidence in verse 3, “Yahweh will hear when I call unto him”.

Jonah’s thoughts stay with David in Psalm 3 and he concludes his thoughts in Jonah 2:9 by quoting the concluding verse of Psalm 3: “Salvation belongeth unto Yahweh”. Both David and Jonah realised, as we all must, that finally we must hand over our life to God. He is in control and we are not. He decides the issues of salvation, we do not. But Jonah must learn that if God can offer mercy and salvation to him, then He has the prerogative to offer mercy to wayward Nineveh also.

Jonah is as good as dead, so his wording is appro­priate: “Out of the belly of hell cried I”. Again Jonah’s mind is in the Psalms of David (Psalm 18:4–6). No less than three times Jonah alludes to this Messianic Psalm which speaks of the deliverance and resurrec­tion of God’s Son. Jonah appropriates this graphic terminology to his own circumstances: “the sorrows of hell compassed me about, the snares of death…”. The Psalm speaks of earthquake (v7) and darkness (v9,11) and the crucifixion of Christ was characterised by those circumstances (Matt 27:45,51,54). The light of the world is gone, why should the sun shine! Jonah is being saved from that turbulent darkness and, far more wonderfully, Almighty God would bring His Son again from the dead.

v3 “For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas: and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.

The fearful plight of Jonah is emphasised by graphic descriptive language: “the deep”, “the seas”, “the floods”, “thy billows”, “thy waves”. Five consecu­tive expressions to describe the experience of Jonah tumbling into the deep. We today are in the midst of turbulent sinful humanity. “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt” (Isa 57:20). No less than Jonah we have need to cry unto God every day for “Salvation is of Yahweh”.

Jonah is deep in the Psalms still. In his despair he recalls Psalm 88:6–8: “Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps. Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. Selah. Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me; thou hast made me an abomination unto them: I am shut up and I cannot come forth”. His desire now is to live and praise his God, for “Shall the dead arise and praise thee?” (Psalm 88:10)

As the “billows and waves” passed over poor Jonah (Psa 42:7) so his thoughts perhaps moved on to verse 8: “Yet Yahweh will command his loving­kindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life”. The billows and waves of life pass over us every day. Let us look to men like Paul and Silas, who “in the night” of a Philippian jail sent forth their songs and prayers to their God, who responded for them as He did for Jonah and will for us.

v4 “Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet will I look again toward thy holy temple.

We can feel for the prophet with this sentiment. Feeling lost to God, he yet yearns for Him. Nigh overcome in this world, yet he aches for His King­dom and the return of our Lord. Oh yes, this is familiar territory. Psalm 31:22 is Jonah’s starting point here: “I am cut off from before thine eyes”. Verse 5 of the Psalm, “Into thine hand I commit my spirit”, reminds us that again we are in the pres­ence of the mind of Christ. And in every passage of scripture that must surely be our first question: Where is Christ? And though the Psalm describes the terrible pressures that came upon our Lord, it is a passage full of trust and hope.

Again Jonah’s mind, so saturated with what to him are obviously very familiar texts, returns again to this Psalm in Jonah 2:8 as we shall see.

From fear and despair Jonah turns to his God with words that seem to draw on Psalm 5:7 “But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy: and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple”. Why? Because there is Yahweh’s dwelling place. Psalm 11:4 affirms: “Yahweh is in his holy temple, Yahweh’s throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men.” Jonah was keenly aware that he had failed under that Divine scrutiny. But he remembered with the Psalmist that “Yahweh trieth the righteous”.

v5 “The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head.

There is a progression in this psalm of Jonah as he sinks deeper and deeper into the sea. See the descrip­tive phrases in verses 3–6; he was cast into the deep, in the midst of the seas, the billows and waves passed over him, the waters compassed him about, the depth closed round about, weeds wrapped about his head, he went down to the bottom of the mountains: and the earth with her bars was about him.

Here is the progression of life towards the grave and its bars, inexorable unless God intervenes.

Jonah’s thoughts return to Psalm 18. He quotes from verse 4, “The sorrows of death compassed me”. Similar thoughts are found in Psalm 40:12, “For innumerable evils have compassed me about”. And Psalm 69:1–2, “the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire where there is no stand­ing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me”.

Since these are all Messianic Psalms there is both an acknowledgement of the reality of mortality and certain hope in God’s salvation. This demands a total commitment. David emphasises this in Psalm 40 by involving the whole body in all its parts in this dedication: feet (v2), mouth (v3), ears (v6), heart (v8, 10) and lips (v9). There is a simple choice, total commitment to our God or total oblivion for eternity. There was an immediacy to Jonah’s situ­ation which focussed his thoughts; death was not approaching gradually over some far horizon, it was moments away! And it is the way his thinking reveals a man who had made God’s Law and Word his life that outweighed the folly of this temporary defiance. There was too the matter of a task still to be performed. Yahweh was not going to let this man off lightly.

v6 “I 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 seems here to be alluding to the words of Job “… the grave is my house… I have said to corruption, Thou art my father… They shall go down to the bars of the pit, when our rest together is in the dust (Job 17:13–16). We are locked in mortality and death without our hope in Christ. And Jonah rejoices in the thoughts of Psalm 30:3: “O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave: thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit”.

As he slid inside that fish, Jonah realised that this was not to be just another step towards a ter­rible death, but that the merciful hand of God was being revealed. Surely he went in thought a little further in Psalm 30 to verse 11, “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness”. This theme of sin and death as prison recurs in Scripture, and with it the beautiful imagery of release for those bound in sin and death. Psalm 68:6; “He bringeth out those which are bound with chains”. Isaiah 61:1: “Yahweh hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the bro­kenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” .

v7 “When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.

Must it always be like this? Why do we have to reach the stage of utter desperation before we remember our God? What a world of calamity, of sorrow and loss occurs because we will not yield our will, and our pride to God. How simple we might say, if Jonah had just done as he was told right from the start. We berate our children with just this thought. If you had only done as you were told this misfortune would not have occurred. But we are no different. And we suffer so as a result.

Again Jonah reaches into the Psalms, inscribed on his heart, for his theme. Psalm 142:3 “When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path” (cp Psalm 107:4–7). It is not so much that God knows our path only when we are in despair and extremity, but that then we realise how much we need Him to know and direct our path. David seeks for God when no earthly help is at hand. And the prison theme is here too: “Bring my soul out of prison that I may praise thy name” (Psalm 142:7).

As Jonah, with life ebbing away remembers his God he returns to Psalm 18 (note also Psalm 3:4 and 5:7) quoting now from verse 6: “In my distress I called upon Yahweh, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears”. There is certainty here. God will hear faithful prayer. He is listening and He will act mercifully on behalf of His servants.

v8 “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.

Psalm 31:6 is the allusion here, “I have hated them that regard lying vanities…”, said David. The reference is to idols. One commentator translates the phrase, “the empty nothings”. Well, with Paul we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and we frankly find the whole concept of idol worship faintly amusing. We look at idol worshippers with condescension, and are familiar with and applaud those passages of scripture which sarcastically mock idol worship (Jer 10:1–5).

But lest we become smug and superior Paul tells us that one of those earthly attributes which we must “mortify” is “covetousness, which is idolatry”. We live in an age which one social com­mentator described as the first and only era in all recorded history in which men do not believe in anything. Except perhaps in covetousness. So by Paul’s definition, the world is awash with idolatry. Then let us beware.

To follow after idolatry is to forsake Yahweh, which is to abandon all hope, since He is mercy. “My goodness [lit mercy] and my fortress” (Psalm 144:2).

v9 “But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.

Jonah in his extremity has cried to his God, has received mercy and salvation, certain death averted by an overshadowing Divine hand. What response is appropriate to that? There is nothing material to give. All is God’s already. All that Jonah can offer, all that we can offer, is a heart overflowing with thanksgiving and praise. See how Jonah picks up the thoughts of the Psalmist again. “Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High; And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me” (Psa 50:13–15). So the sacrifice is the voice. And the voice the expression of the heart.

The final verse of the Psalm completes the thought: “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God”. That final phrase takes Jonah back to Psalm 3 and to verse 8: “Salvation belongeth unto Yahweh”. Here is the very name of Messiah, “Salvation of Yah”, or as Joseph was told: “thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). Paul alludes to these words in 1 Timothy 1:15: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”.

Salvation is of Yahweh: in other words it is His sovereign domain. Yahweh extends that offering of salvation to whomsoever He will and none can call Him in question. Jonah’s own statement and his own experience of mercy and salvation despite unworthiness challenge his attitudes to the core. He cannot now without the most blatant hypocrisy refuse to take God’s word to Nineveh. Salvation is of Yahweh!

v10 “And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited Jonah upon the dry ground.

So Jonah was “raised from the dead”, and his salva­tion became the basis for salvation of others. Surely we can see the type unfolding.

The prayer-psalm of Jonah is bounded by two statements: “Yahweh prepared a great fish”, and “Yahweh spoke to the fish”, which promptly regur­gitated Jonah onto land. Everything that took place was directed by God. Jonah was utterly helpless. His only contribution is to respond with thanksgiv­ing and praise. From beginning to end the whole proceedings were directed by Almighty God.

We need to take that fact to heart. From begin­ning to end our life and all life is in God’s hand. Though we have freewill to respond as we wish, the successful conclusion of God’s purpose is certain. Salvation is of Yahweh.