Jonah Prays to God
Then 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.” 10 So the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
A teacher once asked her class. “What is the moral of the story of Jonah and the fish?” A little boy answered, “it’s hard to keep a good man down.” Jonah was going down. He went down to Joppa. He went down into the ship. He went down into the water. He went down into the sea creature. And finally, he went down into the depths of the sea. However, no matter how far down Jonah went in his flight from God, God was always there.
What is the strangest place you have ever prayed? Jonah has you beat. He prayed in the belly of the sea beast while curled up in sea weed as it swam down into the depths of the sea. It is here the runaway prophet prayed his best prayer under the worst conditions. God heard Jonah’s cry just as he heard the cries of those suffering from the wickedness of the Ninevites. Jonah admitted God had the power to cast him away and the right to cast him out of His sight. He longed to return to the Temple and see it once more. Yet he was in a serious predicament. He is about as far from the Temple as he could get. He recognized the mercy of God in saving him from death in the sea creature. His soul or heart was softened and he was now willing to return and remember the Lord. He has faith that his prayers reached the heavenly temple. For a moment in his prayer he may be thinking of the city of Nineveh. They are without the mercy of God because they are given over to idols. He on the other hand will sacrifice with the voice of thanksgiving. It is possible Jonah vowed in his heart to go to Nineveh. If God will give him a second chance, he will speak His message. His prayer closes with the hope of salvation from the Lord. God disciplined the prophet. He accepted it. He had a change of heart and God forgave and rescued him.
▸ Universal Need for Prayer
Although Jonah had run away from God, in prayer he is running to God. Jonah’s prayer is not the longest in the Bible, however it is one of the most unique in that it comes from a reformed heart deep in the sea, deep inside a sea creature.
Jonah had several motivations for prayer. His afflictions in the belly of the sea creature moved him to turn to God in his darkest hour He prayed, “I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction” (2:1). As David prayed when he was suffering with the loss of his infant son, he had due to an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions” (Ps. 51:1). Another parallel is seen in the prayer of Nehemiah when he learned that the walls of Jerusalem still lay in disrepair (Neh. 1:4f). When Paul was afflicted with the “thorn in the flesh,” he prayed three times for God to remove it (2 Cor. 12:7-9). Jonah had faith that God would answer his prayers: “You heard my voice.” We must have faith God will answer our prayers. “And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:15). Remembering the Lord can be a strong motivator in praying. “I remembered the Lord; and my prayer went up to You” (2:7). Many have forgotten to pray because they fail to remember God who wants to hear from them. Finally, a thankful heart moves many to pray. Jonah prayed, “but I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving” (2:9). Like the tenth leper who returned to Jesus to give thanks (Luke 11).
Also learned from the prayer of Jonah, are the conditions of acceptable prayer. First, one can pray to God from everywhere. “Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly. And he said: Out of the belly of Sheol I cried” (2:1,2). Next, one must pray in faith. Of God, he said, “You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God” (2:6). He trusted in God not false gods. “Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy” (2:9b). Prayer should involve faithful obedience to God. Jonah promised, “I will look again toward Your holy temple… I will pay what I have vowed” (2:4,9). Jonah’s prayer was accompanied by sacrifice. “I will sacrifice to You” (2:9a).
The content of this prayer includes the most popular reason some pray: a request for help. He also confessed his sins. He said, “I have been cast out of Your sight.” His prayer also involved seeking salvation. Jonah knew that “Salvation is of the Lord” (2:9c). When he concluded his prayer “the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land” (2:10).
▸ Jonah a Type of Jesus
“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 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. 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’” (Matt. 12:38-41). The most obvious comparison is that both Jesus and Jonah were three days and nights in the depths and God restored them. But both were also willing to give their lives for others. Jonah was willing to be cast into the sea to save the sailors and Jesus willingly went to the cross to save all sinners. Both were on a mission to save Gentiles. Both were prophets from Galilee, despite what the Pharisees claim that no prophet came from Galilee (Jn. 7:52). Both came preaching repentance. Both were sound asleep in a boat during a strong storm where the sailors or fishermen try to in vain to row to shore. “For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation” (Luke 11:30). Yet Jesus is greater than Jonah, He was the perfect Son of God.
– Daniel R. Vess