For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2002 James Melough 

2:1.  “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.”

2:2.  “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 deliverance.

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 repeated sins!

“... 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.”

2:3.  “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.

2:4.  “Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.”

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.

2:5.  “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.

2:6.  “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,” Heb 12:2.

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 door. 

Grave, in the present context, is believed by some to be a better translation of “corruption.”

2:7.  “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.

2:8.  “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.

2:9.  “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.

2:10.  “And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.”

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 Millennium.

[Jonah 3]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough