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Out Of The Depths
When the scribes and the Pharisees hypocritically requested a sign that they might know for certain of the Lord’s Messiahship, He significantly replied: “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish; so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise up in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here” (Matthew 12:39-41). In these solemn words He does two important things for us. He authenticates the story of Jonah, and He unfolds a marvelous typical line of truth set forth in that record, which we might otherwise have overlooked. Jonah’s experience is sober history. We have the word of the Son of God for it. Moreover, the prophet’s entombment in the great fish and his subsequent deliverance were intended as a sign to the Ninevites, and a type of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is true that Jonah found his suffering in the path of disobedience, and in Christ we contemplate with adoration the ever-faithful One who suffered to accomplish all His Father’s will; but this is only a proof of the fact that God ever causes the wrath of man to praise Him, and what would not do so He restrains. To the Ninevites Jonah was a man who had passed through death and resurrection. In this he portrays the glorious mystery of the gospel. He who is now set forth as the object of faith, is the One who was delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification. He went into death, but could not be holden of it. In a fuller sense than Jonah ever knew, He could say, “The waters encompassed Me about, even to the soul.” But God has raised Him from the dead, thereby testifying His satisfaction in the work of His Son. This is the only sign now set before men. All who trust in the risen Saviour are forever delivered from wrath and judgment-that judgment so rightfully theirs.
But in Jonah’s experiences we likewise have to trace God’s dealings with his own soul; and this has a moral lesson of the deepest importance for us. There is also, as previously intimated, the fact that Israel, the unfaithful witness-bearer, refusing the thought of grace going out to the Gentiles, is here pictured. Their present condition answers to this second chapter, as declared by the apostle Paul when he writes of “the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men; forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). By and by their deliverance shall come, when they are ready to own that salvation is of the Lord, all undeserved by them. In that day they will become the messengers of the same boundless grace to heathen millions, once hated and despised.
But we turn now to trace out, as intimated above, the exercises of the prophet’s soul when in his living tomb.
In his affliction he cries to Him from whom he had been seeking to hide. Divine life, like water, seeks its proper level, or sphere. Because, whatever his failings, Jonah is a child of God still, he turns instinctively to the very One he had been grieving, in the hour that he is brought to realize that he is the subject of divine discipline. A man is a long way on the road to recovery when he is ready to own the righteousness of his chastening, and when he sees that he is under the hand of God. Having already acknowledged to the mariners that such is the case, he now cries to Him who hears him even “out of the belly of hell.”
The floods have compassed him about, even to the soul; the weeds are wrapped about his head; all God’s waves and billows have gone over him; yet he will look again toward Jehovah’s holy temple (vers. 1-5). It is blessed indeed when the soul does not faint beneath the discipline of the Lord, nor yet despise it, but looks up to God and counts upon His grace, however the sense of merited affliction may press upon the conscience.
But for deliverance there must be more than this, and for a time Jonah seems to fail to attain to it. He goes down to the bottoms of the mountains, but is able in the anticipation of faith to say, “Yet hast Thou brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God.” His soul would have fainted within him, but he remembers the Lord, and is assured that his prayers shall be heard, and shall penetrate His holy temple. He is here in the place that the future remnant of Israel shall be in, in their experience, when the blindness of the present condition has passed away; afar off, yet, in accordance with the prayer of Solomon, looking toward the temple of Jehovah, though in ruins, as in the day that Daniel opened his windows toward Jerusalem (vers. 6, 7).
He exclaims, “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.” He had forsaken his own mercy when he sought to flee from the presence of the Lord. He knows therefore the condition of the heathen by his own experience. Now, however, he is confident that he will wander no more; though, as we well know, his confidence was as yet misplaced. His heart was no more to be trusted in after he had been in the belly of the fish than before. When he cries, “I will sacrifice unto Thee with the voice of thanksgiving,” and when he adds, “I will pay that that I have vowed,” there is still no response on the part of God. He is not yet at the end of himself. As in the conversion of a sinner, so it is with the restoration of a saint: he must get to the end of himself before the Lord will undertake his case. The sinner must learn that he is without strength, and the erring saint must learn that in himself he is not a whit better or stronger than other men, ere God can manifest His grace.
So it is here, that after prayers, pledges and vows have availed nothing, the crisis is reached when he simply owns, “Salvation is of the Lord!” Then, and not till then, “the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah on the dry land” (vers. 8-10). Jonah has thus, in figure, passed through death and resurrection. He is now ready to go to the great and godless city of the Ninevites and declare the word of God to them.
That he has not yet fully done with self is evident later on; but he is now in God’s school, and he will have a patient and gracious Teacher.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Jonah 2". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29