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Jonah, in the School of Affliction
When we think of Jonah in the whale's belly, we are thinking of the Lord in the heart of the earth. When we think of Christ in the heart of the earth, we think of the "underworld"; the abode of the wicked, and the former "paradise" of the saved of Old Testament fame.
A brief study of these things will furnish us a profitable theme for the introduction of today's study.
1. The abode of the righteous dead in the Old Testament. In thinking over this matter, our danger will be in a failure to take God at His Word, without seeking to change it to meet our own conceptions of things. We have never been into the heart of the earth, and know but little of what is down there. Scientific men tell us that the solid crust of the earth is comparatively thin, and that there is molten fire deeper in. Still deeper down, they cannot go.
Let us turn, therefore, to the Bible, the Word made sure in Heaven.
When Abraham and Jacob and Aaron died they were, in each case, gathered to their fathers (Genesis 25:8 ; Genesis 37:35 ; Genesis 49:33 ; Numbers 20:26 ). When David lost his child, born unto him by Bathsheba, he cried that he could not bring him back: He said, "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me."
What do these things mean? Certainly there is not one word in them about departing to be "with the Lord." The fact is that the saints of old went into a place prepared, a paradise. This is the meaning of the words of Christ on the Cross, when He said to the repentant thief: "To day shalt thou be with me in paradise."
On this same line we read that Christ "also descended first into the lower parts of the earth." He went to paradise; He went into the lower parts of the earth; therefore "paradise" was in the lower parts of the earth.
It was there that the Old Testament saints gathered to await the resurrection of the Lord, and His victorious ascent into Heaven.
2. The abode of the wicked dead, prior to and since the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
Relative to Korah and those connected with him in his rebellion, Moses said, Let "the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up." Thus it was, that, as Moses spake, "The earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, * * and all * * went down alive into the pit."
In Isaiah we read, "Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming." In Ezekiel we read, "They are all delivered unto death, to the nether parts of the earth, in the midst of the children of men, with them that go down to the pit."
3. Wherein the Old Testament saints were translated into Heaven. Here it is in the Bible, "Wherefore He saith, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." This should have been enough; however, the Lord made it more positive, when the Word of God added, "(Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things)."
4. Paradise as it now is. We have seen paradise in the lower parts of the earth. We now see it in the third heaven. Hear the Word of the Lord: Paul is speaking: "Such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) how that he was caught up into paradise." The preceding verse says, "Such an one caught up to the third heaven."
One thing is established: Paradise is now with Christ in the Glory. Of this Paul wrote, "Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better." Thank God for such a wonderful future for us, and for such a glorious position for all of the redeemed, who have died in Christ.
I. PRAYING IN THE HOUR OF TROUBLE (Jonah 2:1 )
1. There are some men who never pray, except in trouble. You will all be willing to grant me that men ought always to pray. They should pray in the time of joy, of success, and also in the time of difficulty. He who prays only when he is besieged by engulfing waters can never pray victoriously. The reason Abraham and David and Moses had power in prayer when the waters of trouble overthrew them, was because they always prayed. They lived with God and walked with God, and as a result they talked with God.
He who waits until he is sick and about to die can never pray the prayer of faith, as can he who has known the power of prayer in his daily experiences. Prayer should not be like mountain peaks, with great valleys lying between. Prayer should rather be a high plateau where one is always on the mountain tops.
2. There are some men who pray in the hour of need with a victorious faith, because they learned how to pray in the hours of no special crisis. Thank God we have One who can hear us in our need. He is able not only to hear, but to undertake.
"The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, tho' all hell should endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no, never, no, never forsake!"
God heard Jonah out of the belly of the great fish, and He will hear us, when we are carried deep down into the waters of despair.
Our Lord prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed with supplications, with strong crying, and tears, "Unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared."
Our Lord prayed again from Calvary's Cross. He said, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" He certainly was heard. God had been well-pleased to bruise Him. He had made His soul an offering for sin, but now that the shadows were passing, and He once more saw His Father's face, He shouted one great, victorious cry, "It is finished!" Then into His Father's hands He commended His spirit and gave up the ghost.
II. JONAH'S DEEP AFFLICTION (Jonah 2:2 )
Our key verse says, "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."
1. The afflictions of the righteous often come from their perverse ways. That Jonah was afflicted, we have no doubt; but he was afflicted because he had fled from the presence of the Lord.
We must guard our statements here, and remember that all afflictions do not come because of the believer's sin. This was the conception which the friends of Job tried to place upon him. They said that he suffered because he was a hypocrite, and a sinner.
While suffering and sickness may not be a result of our sins, it is also true that many of our afflictions are because of our sin. It is whom the Lord loveth that He chasteneth. The story of the Bible is a story relative to stumbling saints.
Even the best of men, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Moses, sinned, and sinned terribly. Each of them, in turn, was chastened by the Lord who loved them. We can even now hear David crying to God for mercy. He too, like Jonah, felt that he was cast off from God. The 51st Psalm voices his prayer. He said, "Hide Thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities." He also said, "Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me."
We can imagine something of the terrible grief that had been David's. Now, however, he was coming forth into the place of restored joy and service. When the Book of James tells saints who are sick, to pray; it also says, "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed." James further says, "If he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him."
2. The afflictions of the Lord come from our perverse ways. When we think of Christ upon the Cross going down, as it were, into the belly of hell, as Jonah went; we do not think of His death as due to His fleeing from the presence of the Lord. When Christ died, He who knew no sin, was made sin for us.
Jonah suffered for his own sins. Christ suffered for our sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God. His sufferings, therefore, were for us. Jonah's sufferings were personal, for his own perverseness. The sufferings of Jonah, however, typically set forth the sufferings of Christ, inasmuch as the substitute suffers on an equality with the sinner for whom he suffers.
III. GOD, THE INSTIGATOR OF JUDGMENT (Jonah 2:3 )
1. Jonah acknowledged God as the Author of his trouble. He said, "For Thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas." The fact of the matter was that Jonah had been cast into the sea by the sailors aboard the ship. Jonah, however, threw this to one side. He knew that the wind which followed him, had been sent of God. He knew that the waves which were about to engulf the ship, were God's waves. He knew that the hands which lifted him up, and cast him overboard were God's hands.
Blessed is that man who, in the hour of his afflictions, can see the hand of God in it all.
Let us not, for one moment, complain to God, for we know what Jonah soon learned, that the wind, the waves, and the casting overboard were all done in love. God was seeking to bring back a disobedient child.
In other words, God was casting Jonah into the deep, in order that He might lift Nineveh out of the deep. Jonah was being carried down into the throes of death, in order that Nineveh might be brought up to the joys of light. We can almost hear the Prophet saying, "With His stripes we are healed." Christ died that we might live; He suffered that we might sing.
In all this was fulfilled that which is written (Hebrews 12:11 ).
2. God was the Author of Christ's troubles. We are seeking to bring the comparison between Jonah and Christ. We are doing this under the authority of Christ's own statement: "As Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
Since it is true that God cast Jonah into the deep, it is also true that God cast Christ into the deep. Have you not read Psalms 69:1-36 ? There we find a parallel to Jonah, chapter 2, and 3 John 1:2; 3 John 1:23 John 1:2 :3 says, "The floods compassed me about: all Thy billows and Thy waves passed over me." Psalms 69:15 says, "Let not the waterflood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me!"
Three things are similar: The waters which overflowed the earth in the days of the Flood; the waters that overflowed Jonah in the days of his disobedience, and the waters which overflowed Christ in the days of His sufferings upon the Cross.
When the waters of baptism also overflow, and sweep across the face of a believer, he is baptized, joining in with the flood, and with Jonah, in setting forth the anguish of Calvary.
IV. JONAH'S FAITH IN THE HOUR OF HIS PASSION (Jonah 2:4 )
1. An expression of Jonah's confidence. Here is the way our key verse reads: "Then I said, I am cast out of Thy sight; yet I will look again toward Thy Holy Temple." The breathing of this prayer shows the depth of Jonah's confidence in God.
When Jonah was first approached by the seamen on the fateful ship, they asked him, saying, "Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou?" With these questions upon him, Jonah replied, "I am an Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of Heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land."
Now, Jonah, in the belly of the fish, continues to demonstrate his faith, Abroad ship we might say he set forth his creed; from the whale's belly, he set forth his confidence in the One in whom his creed was centered.
Jonah cried, "Yet I will look again toward Thy Holy Temple." This is almost as epochal as was the great faith-cry of Job, when, in the hour of his sore trials and afflictions, he cried, "Though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, * * and not another."
2. An expression of Christ's confidence as He hung upon the Cross. There is a remarkable Scripture in Psalms 22:1-31 . We believe that the very words of this Psalm were quoted upon the Cross. We know the 1st verse was quoted, because Christ said, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Whether the later verses were actually quoted or not, they do at least express the triumphant trust of the Son of God as He hung upon the Cross. Here are the words which He said, "I will declare Thy Name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee." Thus the Psalmist, Job, and Jonah, in their victorious shouts of faith, expressed the same spirit of confidence and the same far-flung vision of faith which Christ Himself expressed on the Cross.
V. THE ANGUISH OF THE PROPHET (Jonah 2:5-6 )
1. The depth of bitterness, which encompassed Jonah. He said, "The depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever." There is no bitterness comparable to that which fills the soul of one who is cast off from the sight of God.
Let us think of Jeremiah, of his anguish, and of what he said (Jeremiah 4:23-26 ).
In line with the above quotations, Jonah felt that he, too, was cast off forever. Everything was cut off from him, and he was cut off from everything. Such anguish cannot be weighed in the scales of human reckoning.
2. The depth of bitterness which encompassed Christ. Wrapped up in the words, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" are contained all the miseries and anguish of hell. It was not the physical anguish, it was not the mocking crowd, that brought to Christ the depth of His sufferings. It was the fact that He was left, by the Father, to travel His weary way around the cycle of His sufferings.
In the Book of Jude is this expression, relative to the angels, who left their own habitation: "He hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day." Of the "certain men" who crept in unawares, God said, "Wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever."
Let us make these comparisons: The great sorrows and anguish of Jonah was the blackness of the darkness which shrouded him in the whale's belly, as he felt himself cast off from God forever! The great sorrow which befell the certain angels who sinned was that they were put into everlasting chains of darkness. The great punishment which lies ahead of all unbelievers is that there is reserved unto them the blackness of darkness forever.
Such a darkness as that which befell Jonah, as that which befell the angels who sinned, as that which befalls the apostate deniers of the faith, was the darkness that fell upon the Lord Jesus Christ as He suffered, the Just for the unjust.
VI. THE WONDERFUL JOY THAT FOLLOWS SORROW (Jonah 2:9 )
1. The sacrifice of thanksgiving. Jonah said, from the whale's belly, "I will sacrifice unto Thee with the voice of thanksgiving." Thus it was, in the hour of his darkness, he saw the possibility of light. He knew that God could and would turn his sorrows into songs of joy and into laughter.
Blessed is the saint who can turn his clouds about! Blessed is the saint who can see the silver lining to the dark clouds.
In the days of Nehemiah, and of Ezra, their sorrow was turned into singing. We read that they "Kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the Lord had made them joyful." Is it not true that, "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing"?
In the 126th Psalm, it is written, "When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing." Thus it was that Jonah, from the depth of despair, foresaw himself lifted up into the heights of glory.
2. The experience of our Lord. The Prophet wrote, "He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied." What joy will be our Lord's when He receives unto Himself the raptured hosts of the redeemed! It is no wonder that He comes with a shout.
What joy will it be to our Lord when, in His Kingdom, He sits in the midst of His redeemed. The Book of Zephaniah, so describes that hour: "The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing."
3. The experience of all saints. Christ said to us, "Ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice." Truly our sorrow shall be turned into joy! If Christ shall rejoice when He sees the raptured saints coming up to meet Him, will we not also rejoice when we see raptured saints whom we have led to Christ? Perhaps Paul had this in mind when he wrote: "What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord?"
VII. SALVATION IS OF THE LORD (Jonah 2:9 b)
1. When David was pursued by Absalom, he passed over the Brook Kedron and went up by the way of the Mount of Olives. Quickly he sought the Lord in prayer. His memorable petition is set forth in Psalms 3:1-8 : "Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me." Then David said, "But Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and He heard me out of His Holy Hill." Then, with exultant faith, David cried, "I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about." Finally, David said, "Thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; * * Salvation belongeth unto the Lord."
Thus did Jonah, in the hour of his anguish, cry out, " Salvation is of the Lord." With this final statement from Jonah, this cry of faith, we read, "And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land."
2. The Psalmist David said in prophetic language concerning Christ, mid the anguish of His suffering, "I am poor and sorrowful: let Thy salvation, O God, set Me up on high!" Then He added, "I will praise the Name of God with a song, and will magnify Him with thanksgiving. * * For God will save Zion, and will build the cities of Judah."
Thus it was that Christ saw what David saw, and what Jonah saw; He saw that the fruitage of His death would be salvation. How happy are we to know that "there is none other name under Heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." Truly salvation is of the Lord, not for David only, nor yet for Jonah; salvation is the lot of every one who believes on Christ.
That salvation, however, is not to be found in the Christ of Nazareth, but in the Christ of Calvary. It is not obtained by the marvelous ministry of our Lord, as He moved among men. Salvation comes to us through the bitterness of the cup which He drank upon the Cross. It was there that He suffered, and it was there that He sang.
All Heaven shall yet be ablaze with the glory of the Christ of Calvary. To Him will be ascribed all honor, and glory, and might, and power, because He was the Lamb that was slain.
An experience never to be forgotten is that of those who have encountered prairie fires on the western plains. In the distance they have seen the clouds of smoke, and have smelled the burning grass. If the winds be blowing from the direction of the fire, their position is one of extreme danger. The swiftest horse can scarcely outrun the flames. On they sweep with the fury of the hurricane, consuming everything in their path. In such circumstances, the only safety is to set fire to the grass at one's feet and when it has burned an open space, stand where the fire had been. The surging waves of flame must cease at the border of the newly-burnt zone.
Now, says a writer, in a very graphic way this illustrates the work of Christ, He interposes Himself between the sinner and the waves of destruction that were bearing down upon Him, In His own body He bore the penalty of sin. Sin, so to speak, burnt over Him; and in the Gospel He is calling men to come to Him for safety. Having spent its fury upon Him, it cannot harm those who stand with Him.
It was on the Cross of Calvary that the fire burnt fiercest. It was the hour of the prince of darkness. The fury of Satan exhausted itself on the "Sinless Sufferer" there. And "there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus." Standing where the flames have been, the sinner need not fear the fires of sin. They have no power over him. He has a life that is hid with Christ in God. No power on earth or in hell can pluck him out of the Father's hands. What an assurance of safety! How gladly ought men to avail themselves of it! Publisher Unknown.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Jonah 2". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30