From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God,
in loc.). And now the prophet realizes that God, after all, is his Friend. He is bringing life out of the jaws of death, converting the voracious seamonster into a kind protector. And thus, by judgment and mercy in turn, the obdurate heart is broken, and the sturdy apostate brought to his knees and the praise song of the restored. We see here
I. HOW AFFLICTION OPENS THE MOUTH WHICH SIN HAD SHUT. Jonah's defection was deliberate and persistent. Not for a trifle would be cry, Peccavi! Not by an ordinary obstacle would he be arrested in his course. He seceded most determinedly. He kept his purpose in unabated strength, through a forty-mile tramp on foot. He overcame difficulty with resourceful energy. He slept calmly, going on his way, amidst the crash of an appalling hurricane. He sat sullen and made no sign when even heathen sailors called upon their gods, and wondered at his self-composure. But flesh is flesh, and at length the word came true, "In their affliction will they seek me early." God has weapons that pierce even armour of proof. The invasion of fiery serpents did it for incorrigible Israel (Numbers 21:7). The cut of the Assyrian slave lash did it for graceless Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:12, 13). The death of Bathsheba's child did it for David, after a great crime and a whole year of impenitent hardness (2 Samuel 12:13, 16). The Babylonish exile did it for Israel, as Isaiah expresses, "Lord, in trouble they have visited thee; they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them." And the experiences of a shark's interior did it for Jonah. He would not surrender sooner, but resistance is out of the question now. The victory rests with God. The fires of his judgment have softened the apostate's iron will. Yet not the Divine severity only, but severity and goodness together have operated here as "the medicine of the mind." It was not imminent death alone but this with miraculous life out of death that broke the hideous spell, and opened the lips so stubbornly scaled. It is a wrong way of looking at things to contrast, where both have operated, the value of severity and goodness as motive powers in the religious sphere. Neither probably would be effective by itself. The severity before the goodness did not conquer, and neither, probably, would the goodness, had not the severity gone before. The effect does not flow from the last of the series of its causes, but from the series as a whole.
II. HOW A REVIVING FAITH CAN TRIUMPH OVER SENSE. To sense the prophet's was desperate. On the platform of natural laws the circumstances forbid hope, and would logically shut the mouth of prayer. Yet their effect is directly the reverse. The prophet only begins to pray at the moment when all seems past praying for. And this is the paradoxical but characteristic way of faith. It triumphs over sense, reverses its verdict, overbears its testimony, realizes in actual possession its theoretic impossibility. "Take the case of Abraham and the character and commendation of his faith. 'Against hope he believed in hope.' Appearances were all against him. Sensible realities all contradicted, and in themselves alone destroyed, his expectation. Had his hope rested on sense, on reason, on nature, on time, it must have failed and sunk forever. But he did not rest on nature. He did not argue. He believed; and his faith destroyed the hope-destroying power of sense" (Rev. Hugh Martin, D.D., in loc.). It is the business of your faith and mine to do likewise. We are surrounded by influences and circumstances altogether adverse to the attainment of our soul's salvation. Lusts are strong. Tempers are violent. Habits are tenacious. Example is corrupting. Toil is engrossing. Pleasure is ensnaring. The world, alike when it smiles and frowns, is our soul's foe. But faith is there - keen-eyed conquering faith. It sees through opacity and discovers the invisible. And it knows things very different from what they seem. Beneath the currents of sense, whose trend is away out to sea, it discerns the tidal wave of unseen influence moving in steady flow toward the celestial shores (2 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Corinthians 4:8-11). God, in his wise and stimulative dealing, "may clothe all circumstances and all his dispensations towards us with appearances of opposition and hostility, in order that we may flee to the anchor of his pure and simple Word, and lean on it without any other help, or rather against all adverse power" (Martin).
III. HOW NATURALLY PRAYER CLOTHES ITSELF IN THE WORDS OF SCRIPTURE. Jonah's prayer was original in the sense that the thoughts called forth the words. But the words themselves are largely borrowed from the Psalms. Most of these had then been written, and, as the Church's Psalter, would be familiar to a prophet of God. And naturally his devotional feelings appropriate their inspired and so fitting words. His prayer "is the simple and natural utterance of a man versed in Holy Scripture, and living in the Word of God" (Keil). What Scripture says is best said. It contains at once the warrant and the definition of prayer, and the actual words in which it was offered by holy men of old. What more natural or fitting than that a man should use these for himself as at once unerring and appropriate! "Let the Word of God dwell in you richly." There is nothing else can support faith, or so well formulate its prayer. And then as to the Psalms, where in Scripture is there to be found such a concentrated wealth of devotional matter as there? "They appear to me a mirror of the soul of every one who sings them" (Athanasius). "The Psalter deserves to be called the praise of God, the glory of man, the voice of the Church, and the most beneficial confession of faith" (Ambrose). "Not without good grounds am I wont to call this book an anatomy of all parts of the soul, since no one can experience emotions whose portrait he could not behold reflected in its mirror" (Calvin). The artist goes to the Louvre, and the scholar or antiquarian to the British Museum, because he finds there the objects he studies in greatest variety and profusion. And so the pious, in search of devotional materials of the most precious kind, resorts inevitably to the Book of Psalms. There are found portrayed, as from the life, the hopes and fears, the moods and frames, the faith and ardour, of their own soul. There they find words that interpret their case and express the very spirit of their aspiration. And so in all time, and over all the world, the saintly praise and pray and vow "with the words of David and Asaph the seer."
IV. HOW POINTEDLY GOD PUNISHES DEFECTION BY ENDORSING IT. Jonah was a spiritual deserter. He struck work, abandoned his post, and so practically vacated his office and abjured God's service. He seemed resolved to have done with the whole thing. And he succeeded but too well, as now to his cost he feels. God has taken him at his word. Figuratively speaking, he has got the "Chiltern Hundreds." He is no longer prophet of God, or servant, or companion. His punishment rises on him in the likeness of his sin. He has fled from God, and now he complains of the separation. "I am cast out of thy sight," i.e. banished from covenant territory, the sphere of God's protection and care. So with Peter. He says, "I know not the Man," and he is virtually and formally a stranger from that moment. Only after three times confessing the Lord whom he had three times denied is he spiritually reinstated, restored to forfeited office, and authorized to feed the sheep. This is a terrible aspect of spiritual renegadism. God accepts it as an accomplished fact. You break away, and are let go. You forsake God, and he casts you off. It is a fearful power this you have of putting a whole infinity between yourself and God, between your sin and his righteousness, between your want and his gifts, between your desolate heart and his everlasting consolations. Yet it is a power proper to a moral being, a power it is of the insignia of your manhood to have, and yet an utter renunciation of it to use.
V. HOW THE REMINISCENCE OF A FORMER FELLOWSHIP HELPS TO DRAW BACK TO GOD. Jonah could look back to a gracious state and consciousness. He had walked in the light of God's countenance. He knew the joy of his presence and the life in his favour. As part of the thought, "I am cast out frown before thine eyes," these things would come up to mind. He must remember their quality in bewailing their loss. And they were a fragrant memory, the very cream and flower of the goodness he had tasted. Would they not hulk large among the influences drawing the wanderer back? "As newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the Word,... if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious." Yes! there is the secret. If a man has come and tasted, he will be moved to come back and feast. The final apostasy from God of a true believer would be against the nature of things. "His seed remaineth in him." The life that has had God in it once can never be without him again. The void would be intolerable. And so, like the child that for a time has left its mother's knee, the backslider has survivals of precious memories that bring him back to God.
VI. HOW THE TEMPLE IS THE CENTRE OF THE RETURNING PENITENT'S REGARDS. (Ver. 4.) The temple was the national meeting place with God the spot which "he had chosen to place his Name there." "There was the mercy seat, the ark of the covenant, and the Divine presence; there the tribes of Israel met to worship the Lord, and there the God of Israel came to meet and bless his people. No wonder Jonah's eyes should be fixed on this house, which was the glory of all lands, the sun in the world of mercy, and the centre of true worship" (Jones, in loc.). In the spiritual sphere worship underlies work. When Jonah ceased to labour, he had already ceased to pray. As in every case of suspended animation, it was failure of the heart's action that had paralyzed his hand. And now the converse process begins, and first of all pulsation is re-established. The heart resumes its normal action and beats for God. To approach him in worship, and resume fellowship with him in his holy ordinances, is the first sacred exercise to which his hope springs. It is so always. The stay at home Christian is never a worker for God. No heart for the sanctuary, no hand for the plough. The very breath of the religious life is to say, "My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God?"
1. Wherever you are, God has placed you. Jonah says, "Thou hast cast me into the deep... thy billows and thy waves passed over me." Privilege and calamity are both God's. He sends them, and bounds them, and is revealed in them. Judgments viewed as accidents have no disciplinary value and no moral aspect. The rod is reforming only when we see it in our Father's hand.
2. You cannot be in anyplace where it is not fitting you should seek God. Jonah cried out of "the belly of hell." What pit, then, is so deep, what lull so low, what evil case so desperate, that in it and from it we may not call on God? "Is any afflicted, let him pray; Whosoever shall call on the Name of the Lord shall be saved."
3. God is again "my God in the thought of the returning penitent. (Ver. 1.) With the child's reawakened love comes back the revived filial instinct. God is my Father" to the prodigal from the moment he comes to himself. Blessed be his gracious Name, that such things can be! If you have renounced the life for self, you may call God your own this hour. The thought is a new backbone to faith. God "waits to be gracious." He is with you the moment you wish it, and for you the moment you submit, and yours in present possession the moment the soul's appropriating hand is stretched forth.
"O Saviour, precious Saviour, Whom yet unseen we love;
1. Objectively, the prophet's experience was that of one in the belly of hell, in the midst of the seas, entangled in the weeds, and among the caverns worn by the waves beneath the mountains on the coast. Jonah was in the belly of hell — Sheol, the region of the dead. He was in the heart of the seas. He sank at once when cast into the sea. He was entangled with the sea-weeds. Entangled with the weeds which gathered about his head, the prophet drifted towards the coast, and was presently carried into some of its submarine caverns by the current, and there he must have perished but for the Divine mercy.
And Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God, out of the fish's belly.
1. We see here an act of purest faith. There is a faith of a soft and easy kind, when everything goes smooth, and we have no anxiety, no fear or distress darkening the path of life. How glibly then do men speak of having their hope in God. There is another kind of faith, which produces resignation, patience, willingness to endure and be brave, and even willing to suffer. But yet it may not be faith that cheers the soul, — not a "rejoicing in the Lord," not the triumph of a trustful soul. The real saving faith is seen when the soul finds God working in the storm and tempest, and reads the handwriting on the wall, speaking even in the midst of death and terror, and yet can calmly look on the Redeemer on the Cross, and see in the future the immortality beyond the grave, see the brightness of the glory that will one day be" to the faithful the heritage of boundless joy, and so be comforted and gladdened even in sorrow and pain, — it is such faith we see realised in the repentant Jonah.
2. We may learn the reason of trials and troubles which so often disturb the currents of our life. What would it be if we were always in the sunshine, always prosperous? Would there not be, even to the most faithful, a risk of too great confidence of a false assurance?
(T. T. Carter.)
2. The subjective experience of Jonah beneath the waves was that of a living, conscious, suffering, and suppliant person. It was a miraculous circumstance that the prophet remained alive in such a position. Jonah was not only alive, but conscious while under the sea. The distress he experienced beneath the water appears to have been spiritual rather than physical. His soul was overwhelmed with the consciousness that he was cast out of God's sight. Jonah was saved from despair by the suppliant mood which possessed him. We need despair of no man while he prays. His prayer was accompanied by a look toward the temple of Jehovah. It was prompted by his remembrance of the Lord. "I remembered Jehovah." It was accompanied by a vow. It was answered in a remarkable manner.Observe his reflections when in the fish.
1. "Thou hast brought up my life from destruction, O Lord my God!"
2. "My prayer came in unto Thee, into Thine holy temple."
3. "They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy."
4. "Salvation is of the Lord."
(S. C. Burn.)
1. There was a great and sudden quickening of consciousness.
2. Rapidly this new consciousness became distressful. The reserved sorrow of long sinning comes all at once.
3. Then he began to "look" — upwards to earth, eastwards to the temple where he knew that the lost presence was richly manifested.
4. The look soon became a cry. It may have been an audible cry. But evidently the soul of the cry was this, that it was tim cry of the soul.
5. He began to be grateful.
6. The final state of his mind is a state of entire dependence.
(A. Raleigh, D. D.)
1. It is the usual lot of the Lord's children to have not only outward afflictions to wrestle with, but spiritual temptations and sad conclusions, gathered from their troubles, which are sorer to endure than many simple afflictions. For so was it with Jonah when he was in the sea.
2. The children of the Lord in their troubles may be so tossed and divided betwixt hope and despair that faith and unbelief will be talking word about, for so doth Jonah's experience teach. "I said, I am cast out; yet will I look again."
3. In a time of temptation, unbelief's word is generally first out, till faith come and correct it; ordinarily what is said in haste is unbelief's language, and to be unsaid again, for this comes first out, I am cast out of Thy sight.
4. A child of God may not only be assaulted with fits of despair, but for a time be overcome with it, and yield to it; and yet, for all that, recover his feet again.
5. As it is ordinary under temptation to judge of all God's respect, care, and love by our sense of His present dealing, so to be cast off by God, as one that He will not favour nor care for nor take notice of, is the sorest of trials, especially to the child of God, who lives by God's favour, and is made up in all his afflictions when he finds that God thinks on him, and that his troubles endear him to God's care.
6. It is no new thing to see a child of God, and vessel of mercy, apprehending reprobation and rejection from God, in his sad and dark hour, for this also is Jonah's temptation.
7. Nor is it strange to see the children of God exercised and sadly afflicted with that which hath never been, nor will be, save in their own fearful apprehensions; for so is Jonah with "casting off." When we reckon by our own deservings, and by probabilities in a strait, and not by God's love and all-sufficiency, we cannot but draw sad conclusions, and our own spirits will make us work enough.
8. Temptations, even when they have overcome for a season, are not to be lien with, and given way to, by the children of God, but ought to be resisted and set against, though they should (if it were possible) perish in the attempt, this being the way to honour God and get deliverance, — for vanquished Jonah will not quit it so; "Yet will I look again."
9. That whereby the children of the Lord must oppose all troubles inward and outward, and resist temptations, is naked faith closely adhering to the covenant of grace made in Christ, and gathering hope of better dealing This is imported in his "looking again toward the holy Temple," or eyeing God in His covenant, whereof that was a sign. To cast away confidence as useless in a strait, or not to essay faith until we are hired by sense, or to lie by in wilful unbelief, think that is the way to get sense to loose our doubts; or to seek any footing for faith but in God's covenant and free grace in Christ, is the height of folly.
10. The weakest act of faith may do much good in a day of greatest need; for in all this extremity Jonah had no more but a "looking again" as a poor banished man.
11. Faith in a time of need will find a way through many a dark impediment to find God.
12. It speaks much to God's praise that when His people are laid by with their temptations yet He will not lose them, but recover them out of their deepest swoons, and make vanquished faith yet again to triumph over difficulties which they had judged insuperable. For this is also recorded to His praise: that not only Jonah persevered crying when his trouble was great, but that he was strengthened, after he had once yielded to the temptation, to believe and "look again."
1. The depth of the prophet's misery. The prophet was in the utmost jeopardy. He knew not but that death might speedily be his portion. His misery arose chiefly from the agony of his soul — the conviction that he had been arrested in an act of wilful disobedience, — in the attempt, vain as that of the first fallen pair, to escape from the presence of the Lord. Many of his expressions are similar to those of the psalmist. David felt the bitterness which is the invariable result of a departure from the living God, — the intolerable anguish which arises from a consciousness of guilt when the conscience, by habitual transgression, has not been seared, and reverential fear of God not rooted out from the heart. When we contemplate the prophet in his dark hours of terror and agony, and behold the inevitable wretchedness which is the natural consequence of disobedience, we cannot but admire the wisdom, while we should seek to follow the example, of that apostle who declared, in the presence of Felix, that he exercised himself to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men. Though depressed and desponding, Jonah did not give way to despair. He called to mind former mercies. His prayer ascended with the incense to heaven. And to whom should we betake ourselves in the hour of affliction, but to that God who dwelleth not in temples made with hands? We should not look to other sources for that comfort which Jehovah alone can bestow. As Jonah looked to the temple, and thought upon the legal sacrifices there offered, so must we, in all our addresses to the throne of grace, have respect to the meritorious efficacy of that great sacrifice by which the Lord Jesus hath averted the Father's displeasure, and opened a way of access through His blood. The prayer of Jonah was not in vain. He was speedily delivered from his prison-house. No doubt can be entertained of the sincerity of the prophet's repentance — of the deep humiliation of his soul, of his heartfelt contrition for having disobeyed the Divine command. No sooner was the prophet restored than, like the mariners, he offered praise and thanksgiving, and paid his vows unto the Lord. How overwhelming must have been his feelings on this miraculous deliverance from his strange and fearful prison-house. His soul must have been transported with gratitude and amazement, and his vows were doubtless poured forth with a fervour proportioned to a sense of deliverance. But how often are pious resolutions forgotten when the time of danger is past. "Salvation is of the Lord." What truth more important to be habitually realised than this, — that all our temporal, spiritual, and eternal blessings proceed from God. What have we that we have not received? Our worldly success we are tempted to ascribe to our prudence and skilful management. We refer to second causes that which should be referred to the great First Cause of all. And we are apt to forget that it is "by grace we are saved." The great practical lesson for us to learn is — the value and importance of prayer.
(Thomas Bissland, M. A.)
1. The spiritual exercises with which the prophet's prayer is identified. It is impossible to conceive of a more critical or distressing condition than that to which the servant of God was reduced.
2. The conclusion of unbelief. "Then I said, I am cast out of Thy sight." An outcast from Divine favour.
3. The victory of faith. "Yet will I look again towards Thy holy temple." See faith's realised triumph, "Yet hast Thou brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God."
4. The ardour of Jonah's gratitude.
5. His emphatic ascription. "Salvation is of the Lord." Notice also the evidence of spiritual reclamation which the prophet's prayer supplies. This is seen in his altered feeling towards God. In the rekindling of the spirit of devotion. In the vigorous action of faith. In the expression of this faith Jonah embodied the sentiments of former saints. The prophet's mind was evidently richly stored with the Word of God.
I. VIEW JONAH'S POSITION FROM THE SIDE OF SENSE. Was ever a case so fitted to call forth utter despair? Mark —
1. The case in which Jonah finds himself.
2. The hand to which he traces it.
3. The immediate effects produced on his mind by it.He felt to be cast out of God's sight. His soul fainted in him. Outwardly he was begirt with terrors unspeakable. These to him were tokens of an angry God. His soul was brought to the very verge of despair.
II. JONAH'S FAITH ROSE IN ITS STRENGTH AND TRIUMPH. What can stand us in any stead in such an hour but the prayer of faith?
1. We see the truth and power of Jonah's faith in that he betook himself to prayer at all.
2. He set before himself the certainty of Jehovah's reconcilableness, His promised forgiveness, His sure accessibility.
3. He did not do this in vain. He was answered in the progressive strengthening of his faith, even while his trial lasts.
4. Jonah offers the sacrifice of thanksgiving. He cometh unto God — unto God his exceeding joy.
(Hugh Martin, M. A.)
1. The moral significance of adverse circumstances. Circumstances make or unmake, mould or mar us for future usefulness and distinction, according to the spirit in which they are received and utilised. Adverse circumstances are morally advantageous when rightly understood, patiently borne, and rightly used. Adversity ever has a spiritual significance. Whether it be guidance judicial or disciplinary, we cannot do better than acknowledge with reverence the hand that strikes, and supplicate His mercy.
2. The important part prayer plays in the adversities of life. It is indispensable in the trying and troublous experiences of our moral and physical being. Jonah's prayer was a necessity. He was borne on the wings of strong moral impulses.
3. That the hearer or receiver of prayer is always within reach and approachable. Time, circumstances, con dition, place are no hindrances in themselves to drawing near to God. From every point in the compass of life He is accessible.
(1) (2) 4. That our prayers to a great extent are moulded by our experience. As the countenance indexes the mind, the eye, the health, so prayer is a pretty sure indicator of the soul's attitude Godward, its condition in grace, its experience in the faith-life. This chapter teaches the prevalency of prayer. It was answered in complete salvation. Note here, amazing Divine condescension. Great deviation from the Divine habitude. Prompt and perfect deliverance. Prayer is omnipotent, for it prevails with, it conquers God. There is no dilemma in Christian experience that prayer cannot deliver from. (J. O. Keen, D. D.) (S. S. Chronicle.) (Christian Herald.)
(2) 4. That our prayers to a great extent are moulded by our experience. As the countenance indexes the mind, the eye, the health, so prayer is a pretty sure indicator of the soul's attitude Godward, its condition in grace, its experience in the faith-life. This chapter teaches the prevalency of prayer. It was answered in complete salvation. Note here, amazing Divine condescension. Great deviation from the Divine habitude. Prompt and perfect deliverance. Prayer is omnipotent, for it prevails with, it conquers God. There is no dilemma in Christian experience that prayer cannot deliver from. (J. O. Keen, D. D.) (S. S. Chronicle.) (Christian Herald.)
4. That our prayers to a great extent are moulded by our experience. As the countenance indexes the mind, the eye, the health, so prayer is a pretty sure indicator of the soul's attitude Godward, its condition in grace, its experience in the faith-life. This chapter teaches the prevalency of prayer. It was answered in complete salvation. Note here, amazing Divine condescension. Great deviation from the Divine habitude. Prompt and perfect deliverance. Prayer is omnipotent, for it prevails with, it conquers God. There is no dilemma in Christian experience that prayer cannot deliver from.
(J. O. Keen, D. D.)
(S. S. Chronicle.)