Jonah 2, A Prayer from the Belly of a Fish

Intro: Turn your bible to Jonah, chapter 2

I. Reviewing the Event: Last week we studied from Jonah chapter 1. Jonah, a prophet of God had been commanded to go and preach to the wicked city of Nineveh. Although Jonah was truly a man of God’s Spirit, he refused to go, and boarded a ship headed for Tarshish (the opposite direction of Nineveh).

  • A great storm was sent by God (v. 4) In peril of sinking, the sailors of this ship, prayed to their gods, and cast lots to find out who was the cause of this trouble. The lot fell on Jonah, who was asleep in the bottom of the ship. At Jonah’s command the sailors eventually threw him overboard. The sea immediately became calm, and the sailors became believers. They were safe. But Jonah was sinking to floor of the Mediterranean Sea at the end of chapter one. What would happen to Jonah?
  • Jonah 1:17Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. 2:1Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly.

II. Where was Jonah? The text says “the fish’s belly”. First recognize that this is a miracle. Jesus called it a sign. Matt 12:39-41 – “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.

A. Jonah was in the belly of the fish for 3 days and 3 nights. This seems much too for the skeptics and modernists to “swallow” (pardon the pun). How can a person survive in a fish’s belly for 3 days? But it was not a big deal for God to prepare a great fish and command him to not to chew or process the prophet. But also we recognize that this fish’s belly was not accommodating for Jonah. (Not like in Pinocchio where he is floating on a raft and builds a fire to keep warm.) Jonah’s physical position was not comfortable. He is just alive.

1. There are some who conclude that Jonah actually died was physically brought back to life. I do not think that Jesus’ use of Jonah’s experience as a symbol of His resurrection demands that position. What happened to Jonah became a true sign to the people of Nineveh and they repented. So Jesus’ resurrection would be a life-changing sign to His own generation.

2. But the “fish’s belly” elicits the prayer of Jonah recorded here.

III. Praying from the Fish’s Belly: [Three ministers were talking about prayer in general and the appropriate and effective positions for prayer. Above them a telephone repairman was working on the lines. One minister said that the key to effective prayer was in the hands. (hand pointing upward) The second said true prayer was from one’s knees. The third suggested the only position truly effective was stretched out flat on your face. The telephone repairman spoke up. He interjected, “I found that the most powerful prayer I ever made was while I was dangling upside down by my heels from a power pole, suspended forty feet above the ground.” He had a point. I suspect that the most fervent and powerful prayer Jonah ever prayed was from the belly of a fish.]

  • Read Jonah’s prayerJonah 2:1-9Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly. 2 And he said: “I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, And He answered me.”Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice. 3 For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me. 4 Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ 5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head. 6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God. 7 “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple. 8 “Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy. 9 But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.” God does not just tell us that Jonah prayed. He records the prayer itself. This much to learn from this prayer.

IV. A Closer Look at Jonah’s Prayer: Consider some things we learn from this poetic prayer: First notice that Jonah is praying. In chapter 1, we do not see Jonah praying.

  • When the LORD told him to go to Nineveh, Jonah apparently did not pray (1:1, 2).
  • When Jonah disobeyed God and tried “to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD,” he did not pray (1:3).
  • When Jonah “went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish,” he did not think to pray.
  •  When “the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken,” Jonah did not pray. In fact, he was sleeping through the storm while the mariners prayed to their pagan gods (1:5).
  • When the shipmaster came to Jonah, and said unto him, “What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God,” there is no indication that Jonah prayed (1:6). Interestingly, Jonah 1:14 tells us that the heathen mariners “cried unto the LORD,” but there is no record of Jonah praying. But now, from the belly of the fish he is ready to pray. There is a real sense in which we must be brought to the practice of prayer by the events of life. For some it takes severe circumstances – life or death.

A. A Prayer of Thanksgiving: It seems evident that this is more of a prayer of thanksgiving than a petition for help. Let me suggest at this point that the belly of the fish is God’s rescue. God prepared the fish, not to destroy Jonah, but to save him. It was from this “tomb” of slime and water that God resurrected Jonah to a renewed mind; a renewed commitment. Notice the use of the past tense in vs. 2“I cried out… He answered me.” It seems that Jonah is recalling the words (thoughts) of his prayer while in the belly of the fish, and at that point he was giving thanks for the deliverance of God from the sea. He realized while inside the fish that he was still alive – God had delivered him into the belly of the fish!

    • Notice how Jonah describes his descent to the bottom of the sea in v. 5-6: The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head. 6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; There was no way he could save himself.

1. v. 2 – “out of the belly of sheol I cried – the term sheol is literally the realm of the unseen, the grave (beneath). The Hebrews viewed it as being down below (at the root of the mountains – v. 6) Thus Jonah, initially desiring to hide from the view of God, found himself in the most hidden place anyone could imagine: in the heart of the seas… floods surrounding me… billows and waves over me… out of your sight. (v. 3-4) As he was sinking down, down God could still hear his cry, and answered him. How far down must some folks go before they seek God?

2. For You cast me into the deep… All Your billows and Your waves passed over me”Jonah has recognized that God brought him into this great danger. He realized the spiritual significance of this life threatening circumstance. His acknowledgment that God had brought him to this point was crucial to his repentance and the reception of God’s mercy. David reached a similar conclusion in his remorse over his sin with Bathsheba as recorded in Ps 32:4-5 – For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Selah 5 I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I have not hidden.

3. Jonah’s prayer incorporates many phrases and figures of speech from the Psalms.

      • In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple (Psalm 18:6) Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and billows have gone over me (Psalm 42:7) For I said in my haste, “I am cut off from before Your eyes”; nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications when I cried out to You (Psalm 31:22) Most agree that this shows that Jonah was a man who knew God’s Word, and knew it by heart, because there was no Bible and no candle in the fish’s belly. Athanasius wrote “Most of the scripture speaks to us; the Psalms speak for us.” God gave Jonah the words that he needed to express himself to God.

4. Jonah acknowledged that it was God who had saved him. Jonah 2:6 – …Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God. The “pit” is synonymous with “sheol” mentioned earlier. God had saved his life. Again we notice that this is not the prayer he offered from the shoreline later on, but form the core of the fish’s belly. He was alive! Homer Hailey commentsThe fact that he was yet alive in the belly of the fish assured him that he would again look toward the holy temple of God’s presence. True penitence is always rewarded by hope.

      • Just when it looked as though Jonah was a goner, he remembered the Lord (v. 7) and God responded. The imagery here is impressive, Jonah prayer from the pit, as far down and away from god as you can get, and his words ascended to the temple of God; to the inner sanctuary where God resided.
      • 2 Peter 3:14-1514 Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; 15 and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation. Why are you still alive?

B. A Prayer of Repentance: vs. 4 ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ This statement indicates not only Jonah’s desire to undo what has happened to him (“oh, to be back in Jerusalem and see the Temple again”) But also his confidence that God will make that happen. The phrase “I will look again” is emphatic. In vs. 7 he again mentions the holy temple as where God is, and where his prayer is directed. Once again, only God can save him.

1. Some suggest that Jonah’s desire to look toward the temple again, is a desire to offer a sacrifice for his transgressions. He wants to seek his own forgiveness in the way God had commanded.

2. Jonah 2:9 – But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. This is the voice of penitence. Jonah was ready to run with God, not away from Him. The sacrifices he promises are according to God’s law. True repentance seeks God’s forgiveness in God’s way and in not reluctant to respond.

3. Notice Jonah’s statement in vs. 8 – “Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy. To whom was Jonah referring in this conclusion? Some say the idol worshippers of Nineveh or the sailors on the ship – truly idol worshippers. But it may be that Jonah was including himself in this thought – he had acted as though he was not a servant of the True God. He acted like a heathen and thus ignored the only one who would show him mercy.

      • Adam Clarke state… They that trust in idols, follow vain predictions, permit themselves to be influenced with foolish fears, so as to induce them to leave the path of obvious duty, forsake their own mercy. In leaving that God who is the Fountain of mercy, they abandon that measure of mercy which he had treasured up for them.

Conclusion: What can we learn from Jonah’s prayer? The same thing Jonah learned in the belly of the fish. Salvation is of the Lord (v. 9). Salvation is what God is all about.

  • Micah 7:18-20 – Who is a God like You, Pardoning iniquity And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in mercy. 19 He will again have compassion on us, And will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins Into the depths of the sea. 20 You will give truth to Jacob And mercy to Abraham, Which You have sworn to our fathers From days of old.
  • Have you been running away from God? Have you abandoned your previous commitment as a believer? Seek Him again and pray for forgiveness.

If you have never been baptized into Christ you are lost outside of Christ. He that believes and is baptized will be saved. 

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