Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2002 James Melough
“Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish’s belly.”
Jonah continues to be a double
type here: of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of Israel, both of them suffering
under the judgment of God: the Lord suffering for our sins; disobedient
Israel, for her own transgressions.
As Jonah prayed unto God out
of the fish’s belly, so did the Lord from the depths of Calvary’s anguish,
“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” Lk 23:34; “My God, my
God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Mt 27:46; “It is finished,” Jn 19:30;
“Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” Lk 23:46.
Through the long centuries of
her disobedience Israel too has cried to God as His stroke of judgment has
fallen upon her, but there has never been lasting repentant obedience, nor
will there be until the fast approaching terrible Tribulation judgments will
have brought her into the last extremity of desperation, and she confesses her
terrible sin of having crucified God’s Son, that repentance being typified
here in Jonah’s prayer. Only then, when delivered from destruction by that
same Son returned to earth in power and glory, will she too be able to say,
“It is finished,” as she passes into the bliss of the millennial kingdom.
Malcolm Horlock has made the
following very appropriate comments that, “Adverse circumstances sharpen our
prayer lives. On board the ship Jonah had been exhorted to pray to his God,
1:6; in the stomach of the fish he needed no exhortation. Jonah’s prayer was
saturated with the word of God.... (He) was able to call upon a memory stored
with God’s truth.... Jonah was able to relate his knowledge of Scripture to
his own experience and to employ it intelligently when praying - in effect
taking arrows from God’s own quiver to aim heavenward.”
“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.”
It is clear that verses two
through nine are not the exact words of Jonah’s prayer while still in the
fish’s belly, but rather his paraphrased rehearsal of them some time after his
We can’t begin to imagine what
it must have been like for Jonah to be in the belly of that fish, or to
understand the terror that gripped him as he imagined himself to be in the
belly of hell itself; still less can we fathom what it meant for the Lord
Jesus Christ to sink into the darkness enveloped in the dreadful waters of
Divine judgment against sin. Look, for example at just a few of the symbolic
descriptions of His terrible experience when He Who was holy was made sin,
“Save me, O God; for 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.... Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink.... Let not
the waterflood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up, and let not
the pit shut her mouth upon me,” Ps 69:1,2,14,15; “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.... Thy fierce wrath goeth over
me; thy terrors have cut me off,” Ps 88:6,7,16.
How many times in the course
of her long history may not Israel’s anguish have been expressed in virtually
the same language, as she has lain under the just judgment of God against her
“... and thou heardest my
voice.” God is of very great mercy. He heard the voice of His rebellious
prophet, and delivered him; and countless times he has responded to the pleas
of rebellious Israel, only to have her quickly forget, and repeat the sins so
lately lamented. But in a quickly approaching day the type of Jonah will be
fulfilled in her: her repentance will also be genuine and lasting, so that God
can bestow upon her all the blessings so long forfeited by her disobedience.
And to the Lord also came
deliverance, not in His being saved from death, but in His being raised up out
of it, emerging from the tomb as Death’s Conqueror, declaring to John in Re
1:17-18, “Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was
dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell
and of death.”
“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.”
This is virtually the same
language as has been used by the Psalmist to describe Christ’s experience at
Calvary, see the Psalms quoted in verse 2 above, and leaving only wilful
ignorance unable to see in Jonah’s experience a type of Christ’s; and also of
Israel’s, though in infinitely less degree. She has suffered, and continues
to suffer, for her own sins. Christ has suffered for ours, and for hers, for
all the suffering she might ever endure couldn’t make atonement for her sins.
Only Christ could accomplish that great work of making atonement for the sins
of the whole world, His precious blood alone making it possible for God to pardon them and bestow
His priceless gift of eternal life.
“Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy
The account of Jonah’s
experience begins with his own attempt to flee from God’s presence, and now to
his unutterable horror he finds the position reversed: it is God Who has cast
him out of His sight. But because of God’s great mercy it was only a
temporary casting out - a necessary part of the chastisement that would end
with the prophet’s restoration to his proper place in God’s presence again.
God’s chastisement of His own is always for His own glory and their ultimate
blessing. And in spite of all her sin, Israel is still God’s people, and with
her chastisement having accomplished its intended purpose in the coming
Tribulation, she too will “look again towards (God’s) holy temple” as directed
by Solomon, see 2 Chr 6:26, 34, 38, and be pardoned, cleansed, restored, and
brought into millennial blessing.
She too will look again in
worship toward God’s holy temple.
And for the Lord the time
came, when having completed the great work given Him to do, His sufferings
also ended; and now in resurrection glory He doesn’t just look towards God’s
holy temple: He dwells there, seated at the Father’s right hand on the throne
of heaven, crowned with glory and honor.
“The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round
about, the weeds were wrapped about my head.”
The prophet’s experience
continues to be anticipative of Christ’s when He assumed
responsibility for our sins, and expiated them by His death. The very
contemplation of sinking into dark weed-choked waters of unfathomable depth
strikes fear into the heart. We can’t begin to understand what it meant for
the Lord to experience what is only faintly portrayed in such a descent.
Nor can we properly measure
the suffering Israel has brought upon herself through succeeding generations,
as she has been carried captive into distant lands, to live in slavery, seeing
her children dashed to pieces before her eyes, enduring the heartbreak of
husbands and wives, parents and children, separated never to see each other
again. She too, though in a lesser measure than Christ, has known the
equivalent of sinking into the depths of bottomless waters, being choked in
the weeds, but as just retribution for her refusal to look towards God’s holy
temple, that is, to repent and cast herself on His mercy.
“I went down to the bottom 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.”
This describes Jonah’s descent
into the deepest parts of the ocean, and seems to portray the Lord’s
experience when He went down into the heart of the earth, to hell, (Heb
Sheol; Gr Hades.)
It must be realized, however,
that until His resurrection, hell was in two parts separated by a great gulf,
Lk 16:26, one part, the place of torment occupied by the souls of those who
had died in unbelief; the other, paradise, occupied by the souls of those who
had died in faith. It was into paradise that the Lord descended, taking with
him to heaven at the moment of His own resurrection the souls that had been
resting there in anticipation of that moment. Since paradise is now in
heaven, the only part of hell now occupied is the place of torment where the
souls of those who died in unbelief await the resurrection of damnation, and
final consignment to the eternal torment of the lake of fire.
The only thing in Israel’s
experience that could correspond to this would be the sorrow and suffering she
has had to endure in the course of her long career because of her refusal to
repent and abandon her rebellion against God.
At the end of his chastisement
Jonah could worship God for granting him deliverance. And the Lord too
rejoiced when He was brought up from death, and saved from corruption, as it
is written, “... who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross,
despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God,”
And the day is coming when
Israel too will rejoice in her deliverance from death and corruption.
“... the bottoms of the
mountains” is generally understood to refer to the fact that the foundations
of the mountains lie below the ocean floor.
Relative to the bars of the
earth, the word “bar” refers to a bar used for shutting a door, many
understanding it in the present context to be used figuratively in the sense
that life on earth is the bar holding shut the door through which the soul is
carried at death into the netherworld: hell (see comments above). It seems
that Jonah felt at that moment that he was about to be carried through that
Grave, in the present
context, is believed by some to be a better translation of “corruption.”
“When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in
unto thee, into thine holy temple.”
“... fainted” is related to
the idea of being shrouded in darkness: overwhelmed: without hope, and
describes Jonah’s state of mind as he was carried in the belly of the fish
down into the depths of the sea. The figure is of the Lord’s experience at
Calvary; and of Israel’s on the many occasions when her rebellion had brought
her into the overwhelming waters of Divine chastisement. In his agony Jonah
remembered the God from Whom he had sought to flee, and he prayed unto Him.
The type was fulfilled when the Lord also prayed while He hung on the cross;
and will be also fulfilled by Israel, when out of the anguish of the
Tribulation judgments, she too will cry out to God in repentant confession.
Prayer, as the genuine
expression of the soul’s deepest need, is the resource of every man, saint and
sinner alike, for it will bring peace and eventual deliverance to the saint;
and salvation to every repentant sinner.
“... thine holy temple” is the
antithesis of the dark weed-choked waters into which Jonah had been carried.
It is the very epitome of peace, purity, light, love, and glory, far above all
the turmoil, filth, darkness, hatred, misery, and sin of earth. And by
transcendent grace it is the eternal home of each believer, having been made
available to him through the sufferings and death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.”
“... lying vanities” means
empty worthless things, idols such as this world’s wealth, education,
pleasure, fame, etc., - anything that a man may foolishly value more than
fellowship with God.
From the contemplation of the
misery into which rebellion had brought him, Jonah here warns others against
the folly that brings men into judgment, and carries them away from the One
Who is the very Source of mercy and peace. It was only as he experienced the
misery which accompanies departure from God, that he learned the inestimable
worth of fellowship with God.
“But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay
that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.”
This makes it clear that while
in the belly of the fish Jonah had vowed that if he were delivered he would
never cease to thank God with his lips, and reveal the reality of that verbal
worship by walking in obedience before Him. Few will have difficulty seeing
in Jonah’s deliverance a symbolic picture of the conversion of a sinner, and a
practical lesson to be learned from the prophet’s vow is that we who have
experienced a greater deliverance ought to express our thanksgiving in the
same fashion: not only in verbal worship, but in a fearless testimony to
others, an obedient life confirming the reality of our words.
There is no thought here of
Jonah’s offering sacrifice in an attempt to appease God’s anger. There was no
ulterior motive. His sacrifice would be the voluntary, willing, expression of
his heartfelt gratitude for God’s gracious deliverance.
“And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry
As noted already, it is the
Lord Himself Who has declared this to be a figure of His Own resurrection, see
Mt 12:39-40. Nor is it difficult to see in it also a figure of Israel’s
ultimate deliverance at the end of the Tribulation, and her blessing in the