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Part I. JONAH'S PRAYER AND DELIVERANCE.
1. Jonah, in the belly of the fish, offers a prayer of thanksgiving for his rescue from death by drowning, in which he sees a pledge of further deliverance.
Then Jonah prayed. These were his feelings when he sank in the waters and while he lay in his mysterious prison; he may have put them into their metrical form after his deliverance. The grammatical arrangement, and especially the language of verse 7, seem to speak of a deliverance already experienced rather than of one expected. As this "prayer" does not suit an allegory, and as no cue but Jonah could have known its substance, we have here an argument for his authorship. It is rather a thanksgiving than a prayer—like that of Hennas (1 Samuel 2:1). When he realizes that he was saved from drowning, he uttered his gratitude, and saw that he might hope for further rescue. How he passed the three days we cannot tell; some have thought he was unconscious; but thin is, perhaps, hardly consistent with the notice of his praying, and with the action of his great Antitype, who, during his sojourn in the unseen world, "preached to the spirits in prison" (1 Peter 3:19). His God. He acknowledges Jehovah as his God. He had proved himself his by inspiration, by chastisement, and now by mercy (Pusey). The following prayer contains ample reminiscences of the Psalms, which would be familiar to a devout Israelite. Those quoted are mostly what have been considered to belong to David's time. if their date is really ascertained. But it is a matter of controversy, incapable of settlement, whether Jonah or the psalmist is the original.
He introduces the prayer with the tact that he cried to God in distress and was heard. By reason of mine affliction; better, out of my affliction. This may be a reminiscence of Psalms 120:1 or Psalms 18:6; but from such coincidences nothing can be established concerning the date of the book. Like circumstances call forth like expressions; and the writers may have composed them quite independently of one another. Hell (Sheol). The unseen world (Ezekiel 32:21). He was as though dead when thus engulfed (comp. Psalms 18:5). Cried I (Psalms 28:1, Psalms 28:2). Thou heardest my voice (Psalms 130:1, Psalms 130:2).
He describes his danger and distress. Thou hadst cast; rather, thou didst cast, the sailors being the agents of the Divine will. Septuagint, ἀπέῤῥiψας. The deep; βάθη, "depths"; Exodus 15:8. In the midst; literally, in the heart; Septuagint, καρδίας θαλάσσης: galore, in corde maris. This defines more closely the previous expression. The floods; literally, the river. This may mean the current (as in Psalms 24:2), which in the Mediterranean Sea sets from west to east, and, impinging on the Syrian coast, turns north; or it may have reference to the notion, familiar to us in Homer. which regarded the ocean as a river. All thy billows and thy waves; πάντες οἱ μετεωρισμοί σου καὶ τὰ κύματά σου "all thy swellings and waves"; omnes gurgites tui, et fluctus tui (Vulgate). The former are "breakers," the latter "rolling billows." The clause is from Psalms 42:7, Jonah transferring what is there said metaphorically to his own literal experience, at the same time acknowledging God's hand in the punishment by speaking of "thy billows" (comp. Psalms 88:6, Psalms 88:7).
Jonah confesses that he at first fully expected death; but faith and hope soon triumphed over despondency. I am cast out of thy sight. This was his thought when what is mentioned in verse 3 happened unto him. The words are a reminiscence of Psalms 31:22, altered somewhat to suit Jonah's circumstances. The psalmist says, "I said in my haste." Jonah says simply, "I said," without any limitation; and for "I am cut off," Jonah uses, "I am cast out." Septuagint, ἀπῶσμαι—a strong term, implying banishment with violence. Out of thy sight; literally, frown before thine eyes; i.e. from thy protecting care. He who had fled from the presence of the Lord in Canaan fears that he has forfeited the favour of God. Yet I will look again toward thy holy temple. I will turn in prayer to that holy place where thou dost manifest thy presence. The Jews were wont to turn towards Jerusalem when they prayed. Some think that Jonah expresses a hope of worshipping again in the temple; but the turn of expression in the text hardly warrants this. Others refer the term to the heavenly temple, as they do in verse 7; Psalms 11:4; Psalms 18:6.
Jonah 2:5, Jonah 2:6
In parallel clauses, Jonah describes still more vividly the horrors that surrounded him.
Compassed me about. Not the same word as in Jonah 2:3. Septuagint, περιεχίθη μοι "was poured around me." Even to the soul; so as to reach his life (comp. Psalms 18:5; Psalms 69:1, Psalms 69:2; Lamentations 3:54). The depth closed me round about. The verb is the lame as in Jonah 2:3, translated there, "compassed me about" Vulgate, abyssus vallavit me. The weeds (suph); seaweed. Jonah sank to the bottom before he was swallowed by the fish. The LXX. omits the word. The Vulgate gives pelagus, which is probably derived from the fact of the Red Sea being called "the Sea of Suph," the term being thence applied to any sea.
The bottoms of the mountains; literally, the cuttings off, where the mountains seem to be cut off by the ocean floor; the roots of the mountains. Εἰς σχισμὰς ὀρέων, "the clefts of the mountains"; Psalms 18:15. The earth with her bars; as for the earth, her bars were about me; return to it was shut out for me; the gate by which I might return was locked behind me. He adds, forever, as it was to all appearance, because he had no power in himself of returning to earth and life. Yet; in spite of all, I am preserved. From corruption (shachath); as Job 17:14; de corruptione (Vulgate); so the Chaldee and Syriac; Septuagint, Ἀναβήτω ἐκ φθορᾶς ἡ ζωή μου (Alex), Ἀναβήτω φθορὰ ζωῆς μου (Vatican), "Let my life arise from destruction;" or, "Let the destruction of my life [i.e. my destroyed life] arise." Jerome refers the word to the digestive process in the fish's stomach; it is probably merely a synonym for "death." The marginal rendering, "the pit," i.e. Sheol, is also etymologically correct (comp. Psalms 30:3). My God. He thankfully acknowledges that Jehovah has proved himself a beneficent God to him.
His prayer was heard. When my soul fainted within me; literally, was covered—referring, says Pusey, to that physical exhaustion when a film comes over the eyes, and the brain is mantled over. The clause is from Psalms 142:3 or Psalms 143:4. I remembered the Lord. That was his salvation (Psalms 119:55). He turned in thought to thine holy temple (Psalms 143:4), the sanctuary where God's presence was most assured, like the psalmist in the wilderness (Psalms 63:2). or like the exiles by the waters of Babylon when they remembered Zion (Psalms 137:1-9).
Jonah contrasts the joy and comfort arising from the thought of God with the miserable fate of idolaters. They that observe (Psalms 31:6); court, pay deference to, reverence. Lying vanities; Septuagint, μάταια καὶ ψευδῆ, "vain things and false." Idom (comp. Jeremiah 18:15; Hosea 12:11; 1 Corinthians 8:4). Their own mercy; i.e. their state of favour with God—the mercy shown to them, as "the mercies of [shown to] David" (Isaiah 55:3); or God himself, the Fountain of mercy and goodness (Psalms 144:2). Henderson translates, "forsake their Benefactor."
But I—who know better than idolaters, and who have learned a new lesson of trust in God—I will sacrifice. Pusey notes that the Hebrew denotes rather, "I fain would sacrifice," as it depended, not on him, but on God, whether he was able to worship again in the Holy Land. His sacrifice of thanksgiving (Leviticus 7:12, etc) should be offered with prayer and praise (Psalms 42:5). That which I have vowed (Psa 1:1-6 :14; Psalms 66:13). Salvation is of the Lord. This is the conclusion to which his trial has brought him, the moral of the whole canticle (Psalms 3:8; Psalms 118:14, Psalms 118:21; Revelation 7:10). The LXX. and the Vulgate join this clause to the preceding, thus: "That which I have vowed I will pay to the Lord for my salvation." This is tame, and not in strict accordance with the Hebrew.
§ 2. The fish casts up Jonah alive on the shore
Spake unto the fish. The punishment having done its work, the fish is impelled by some secret influence to eject Jonah on the dry land, on the third day after he was swallowed (Jonah 1:17). Some, who regard the Book of Jonah as an historical allegory, see in these three days an adumbration of the period of the Babylonish captivity, during which Israel was buried in darkness, and from which she rose to a new and happier life. They compare, as referring to the same transaction, Jeremiah 51:34, Jeremiah 51:44 and Hosea 6:1, Hosea 6:2. Upon the dry land. Probably on the coast of Palestine, whence he had started.
Out of the depths.
Never surely was prayer offered in so strange a place as this! Men have often prayed upon the sea, but Jonah is represented as praying from the ocean depths.
I. NO PLACE IS UNSUITABLE FOR PRAYER. It is well to pray in stately cathedrals and in consecrated chapels, in the humble meeting house and at the "domestic altar." But the persecuted have prayed upon the remote hillside, and in "dens and caves of the earth." And let it be remembered, that God's will is that "men should pray everywhere, lifting holy hands" to heaven. In the thronged street, the busy market, the legislative hall, the court of justice, in the field of battle, and upon the island where the shipwrecked mariner finds a refuge,—in every place God may be sought and found. If Jonah cried "out of the fish's body," and was heard, is there reason for silence, for refraining from prayer, in any spot where we may find ourselves?
II. ACCEPTABLE PRAYER PROCEEDS FROM NECESSITY. There are those who have never prayed before, who have been driven to supplication by their needs. And many, whose prayers have often been formal, have learned to pray in earnest when they have been plunged into the overwhelming ocean of affliction. None ask so urgently as those who are in want; and one purpose of Providence in permitting men to suffer need may well be this—to call forth entreaties and supplications which shall be sincere, profound, and urgent.
III. ACCEPTABLE PRAYER IS THE OFFSPRING OF A SUBMISSIVE MIND. Rebellion, and even murmuring, are incompatible with a prayerful spirit. It proves that Jonah was not wholly bad that, in his affliction, he did not resent the Lord's treatment, he did not "kick against the goad." He rather behaved and quieted himself as "the weaned child." It is well to acknowledge that justice and mercy are in all the Lord's dealings with his people. Many have been taught by experience to say with the psalmist, "Before I was afflicted,! went astray;" "It is good for me that 1 have been afflicted." Trouble is not designed to lead God's people to cry against the Lord, but unto the Lord. To complain is both foolish and sinful; but they are happy who endure.
IV. ACCEPTABLE PRAYER IS THE UTTERANCE OF FAITH AND HOPE. Even in the depths of the sea Jonah did not lose his faith in the oversight, the care, the goodness of the Lord. He believed that the Lord had overwhelmed, and that the Lord could rescue him. He who brought him into the depths could bring him out of the depths. The believing prayer which the prophet is recorded to have offered in his extremity is a model to all those who because of their iniquities and transgressions have been afflicted. Have faith in God, and hope in his mercy—such is the lesson which this verse teaches.
V. PRAYER FROM THE DEPTHS IS HEARD IN THE HEIGHTS AND ANSWERED. Jonah's subterraneous, subaqueous dungeon became a temple. God was present when his servant prayed. When submission and faith took the place of disobedience and rebellion, the Most High was willing to deliver the captive, to pardon the sinner, to employ again the unfaithful fugitive.
Jonah 2:2, Jonah 2:3
Affliction and prayer.
Doubtless the language of this psalm of thanksgiving was the result of subsequent meditation, for it is evidently a studied composition, resembling in passages several of the sacred Hebrew odes. But the sentiments were those actually experienced by the prophet when in the most humiliating position. In his experience was much which may prove very instructive and helpful to ourselves.
I. DEEP AFFLICTION. The language of Jonah 2:3, literally descriptive of Jonah's state and sufferings, is tinged with poetical feeling, and, like similar passages in the Psalms, is emblematic of the afflictions which, at some periods of human life, are the appointed experience of God's people. The deep waters of trouble must be passed through; the mighty billows must roll over the spirit. Sorrow submerges and apparently overwhelms even the child of God; how much more the impenitent and disobedient!
II. EARNEST PRAYER. How, indeed, can prayer be other than earnest, if it be offered from "the belly of hell"? Those afflictions are, indeed, a blessing which prompt such supplications as those which came from Jonah's lips. Far from human succour, and perhaps from human pity, the afflicted lift their voice, and cry, by reason of their afflictions, unto the Lord. There is something very instructive in the language used by Jonah, attributing his affliction to the Being upon whom he was calling, "Thou hadst cast me into the deep,… thy billows and thy waves passed over me." In this way the distressed may learn the lesson which the wisdom and the love of God would teach.
III. GRACIOUS DELIVERANCE. When in Scripture it is said that God hears, we may usually understand more than is expressed. He hears to answer, to rescue, to save. The Omnipresent did not lose sight of his servant even when he was beneath the waves of the ocean; and the All-gracious was not inattentive to his supplication, though offered from the depths where weeds were about the suppliant's head. If there are those who fear lest their situation or their circumstances should shut them out from the regard and interest of the Supreme, they may well take courage when they think of the experience of the prophet, who called upon the Lord from the depths, and was heard and was delivered.
Looking toward the temple.
It is remarkable that in two passages of this prayer the prophet should allude to the temple. Although he was from Northern Palestine, and lived whilst Judah and Israel were distinct kingdoms, it does not seem open to question that his allusion is to the sacred edifice at Jerusalem, where Jehovah manifested his presence and favour, and received the worship of his people. Yet the temple must have been referred to, not so much as a material edifice, as in the light of the symbol of the manifestation of the presence and the favour of the Most High.
I. TO LOOK TOWARD THE TEMPLE IS TO BE REMINDED OF THE EXISTENCE OF GOD. As the sight of a house may remind us of the friend who dwells there, as the sight of a palace may lead us to think of the king,—so to look toward the temple is to look to God. Jonah may have been tempted to say, "There is no God;" or, "If there be a God, he regards not me." When he turned in heart to the temple, such thoughts vanished, and God's existence Became a reality to him.
II. TO LOOK TOWARD THE TEMPLE IS TO SEEK THE FAVOUR OF GOD. The temple was the place where sacrifices were offered and accepted; where God showed himself to be gracious to his covenant people, where sin was pardoned, and the penitent sinner was received into acceptance. And Jonah knew, even from the very commission he was unwilling to fulfil, that God delighted in mercy, and was long suffering and compassionate. He had incurred Divine displeasure, but he began to feel that he was not beyond the reach of Divine commiseration and help.
III. TO LOOK TOWARD THE TEMPLE IS TO EXPECT THE DIVINE INTERPOSITION AND DIRECTION. The pious Jews sought Jehovah in his house, consulted the oracle, invoked guidance, implored blessing. And when Jonah directed the gaze of his heart towards the dwelling place of his God, it was with the well formed expectation that, however impossible it was for him to make a way of escape for himself, God would surely do this upon his behalf. There is no depth from which he cannot lift us; no recess from which he cannot draw us forth; no sorrow of which he cannot relieve us; no sin which he cannot pardon. Of how many of God's people may it be said, "They looked unto him; and were lightened, and their faces were not ashamed"!
Remembering the Lord.
The circumstances in which Jonah was placed were such as give very peculiar value and interest to this declaration. And it appears that this act of recollection was the turning point in his experience; for hitherto his troubles had increased, whilst henceforth his prospects began to brighten.
I. THE OCCASION OF THIS REMEMBRANCE.
1. External adversity may have prompted him to a kind of remembrance which in his prosperity he had not cultivated.
2. Mental exhaustion and distress caused him to realize his helplessness, and the vanity of expecting human aid. When his "soul fainted within" him, then he called to mind the God whom he had disobeyed.
II. THE CHARACTER OF THIS REMEMBRANCE.
1. Jonah, no doubt, remembered God's commands and his own rebellion.
2. He must also have remembered the revelation of Divine mercy which had been vouchsafed him. And whilst the former recollection must have awakened penitence, this may well have shed into his soul a ray of hope.
III. THE FRUIT OF THIS REMEMBRANCE.
1. It prompted to prayer: They who forget God will not call upon God; but they who remember his promises may well lift up their hearts to him.
2. It was thus the means of securing the Divine regard and the Divine deliverance. God heard the prophet's cry, though uttered from the ocean's depths, and when he heard, he came to the rescue of his servant, "The Lord is mindful of his own." We may for a time forget his faithfulness, but when we call to mind his nearness and his grace, he remembers us even in our low estate.
The vanity of idolatry.
Jonah had been brought into association with idolaters in the person of the mariners of the ship but of which he had been cast. It may be that this fact accounts for the reference in this passage to those who worship other gods than the Lord. The more he experienced the faithfulness and goodness of Jehovah, the more was he convinced that there was none other entitled to reverence, confidence, and prayers.
I. THE DESCRIPTION HERE GIVEN OF IDOLATERS. They are such as "observe lying vanities." The Hebrews, whether pious or not, were monotheists, and regarded with contempt the idolatrous superstitions of their neighbours. The language of irony occurs in several places of Old Testament Scripture when allusion is made to the impotence of the gods of the nations. Yet it may be profitably remembered by ourselves, who may have no immediate connection with professed idolaters, that whatever men substitute for God, as the law of life and the object of devotion and trust, will surely deceive all those who put their faith therein.
II. THE FATE HERE FORETOLD OF IDOLATERS. Their "mercy," their "goodness," is the God whom they forget, and to whom they are so infatuated as to prefer the "lying vanities" here censured. They who quit the Lord prepare for themselves a terrible fate. In God is salvation; out of him is destruction. There is something appalling in the doom which is here described as overtaking those who, when the Saviour may be found, turn their back upon him, in order to seek and to serve other gods. Such are said to "forsake their own mercy." They act against their highest interests; they refuse the richest blessing; they abjure their truest Friend.
The remarkable fact connected with this sublime hymn of confidence and adoration is this—it was uttered while deliverance was yet in the future. The prophet sings of God's goodness while he is still experiencing God's chastisement, and promises offerings whilst the favour which they are to acknowledge is as yet in the future. In these closing words of the hymn there is a tone of exultation and of triumph, which evinces singular confidence and singular hope.
I. THANKSGIVING. There are some circumstances which render gratitude natural and easy. But it is a triumph of faith when the afflicted can acknowledge the good hand of God, when they can discern mercy in chastening, when they can see the hand of a Father in the hand that smites. One thing is certain—whatever be our position, our experience, we owe gratitude as a debt due to him who is ever forbearing and gracious.
II. SACRIFICE. According to the religious customs of his country and his age, the prophet vowed to offer an outward expression of his loyalty and gratitude to God, by presenting a sacrifice in the temple or at some consecrated altar. His life had been spared; his deliverance was near; he looked forward to an opportunity of "offering burnt offerings" upon the altar of Jehovah. The spiritual reality of which such an act is the symbol is the consecration of heart and life unto the God of all grace and salvation.
III. PRAISE. Thanksgiving looks mainly to the benefits received; praise, to the Bestower. "Salvation unto the Lord!" such is the joyful and adoring cry with which this hymn is brought to a close. It is well, when we have acknowledged favour and long suffering enjoyed, to turn away from ourselves, and to fix our thoughts, our sentiments of affectionate and adoring devotion, upon him whose attribute is mercy, and whose work is salvation.
HOMILIES BY J.E. HENRY
A unique oratory.
"Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God," etc. The keynote of this passage is struck in the first verse. It is the fish, by God's hand made Jonah's preserver instead of his destroyer, that inspires the praise prayer of the whole chapter. God did not come to help till the prophet had, in imagination, raced the worst; but still he came in time. In the very moment of imminent death he stepped in a Deliverer. And he delivered in his own inimitable way. Natural laws cannot serve his purpose, and he accomplishes it against them. "The ravens furnish Elijah's table; the lions are tame and quiet while Daniel is in the den; the violence of fire is gone when believers are in the furnace; the sea, which acts according to its nature towards Pharaoh and his host, is a wall on the right hand and on the left to Moses and to Israel; and the devouring shark preserves Jonah's life" (Rev. Thomas Jones, 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, 2 Chronicles 33:13). 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, 2 Samuel 12:16). 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". 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. (Verse 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. (Verse 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;
O Name of might end favour, All other names above:
We worship thee, we bless thee,
To thee alone we sing;
We praise thee and confess thee,
Our holy Lord and King."
Deliverance waiting on the assured hope of it.
It is an obvious remark that all men are ingenuous with God. There is no thought of trying to mislead his judgment or escape his lidless eye. They know that he knows them, knows them truly, knows them thoroughly. Accordingly, when religious profession is false and religious converse is suppressive, and other religious acts are hollow and formal, secret prayer, if it be, offered at all, is both honest and open. Only tell us what a man says into the secret ear of God, and you have told us all that is in his heart—have revealed what microscope could not detect, nor scalpel lay bare. It is in this way that our text is apocalyptic. It unveils for us the inner life of Jonah as this is done by no other portion of his book. And the revelation raises him not a little in our estimation. It shows him at bottom a regenerate and saintly man. It reveals a beaten path between his soul and God's throne, a path unused during a wayward hour, but resorted to instinctively when disaster has come and has sobered him into thought. Learn here—
I. THE ESSENTIAL SOLITUDE OF SUFFERING. (Verses 5, 6) We find matter around us of different degrees of density, from the light volcanic ash to the heavy metallic ore. But men of science tell us that no material substance is absolutely solid. In the closest-grained rock, in the diamond itself, the ultimate particles are not in actual contact. They approach each other inconceivably close, but when attraction has brought them thus far, a mysterious repulsion intervenes and forbids that they should altogether touch. This fact of the material world has, no doubt, its counterpart in the world of spirit. There is an individuality about the soul that cannot be destroyed. We may be united to others by the closest ties. We may be of one mind, and one heart, and one taste, and one aim. We may thus approach men and be approached by them on many sides, and feel in union, and, to many effects and purposes, be in union with each other. But it is plain that we never coalesce, never actually touch. The shock of personal disaster proves this. Then all ties seem loosened and fall away. Friends drift apart. We are thrown in upon ourselves. Others cannot follow us into the depths. We are in a relation to the event into which no one else can come. In the last appeal we have to meet it alone. It was so with Christ (John 16:31, John 16:32). Disciples, friends, kinsmen,—with none of them could the Redeemer share the pangs of death. He had to die alone. Even the earlier thought, "I am not alone, the Father is with me" gave way in the hour of mortal agony to the question of sore amaze, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" It was so with Jonah. He was pressed by a feeling of utter isolation. The depths closed over him. The earth with her bars Was about him. This he felt, and in proportion as he felt it did he realize that he was cut off from his kind, engulled in the horrors of a living grave, and left to face them all alone. "I shall die alone." "Yes; and alone you live. No soul touches another soul except at one or two points, and those chiefly external—a fearful and lonely thought, but one of the truest life. Death only realizes that which has been the fact all along. In the central deeps of our being we are alone" (F.W. Robertson).
II. THREE IS AN ANTICIPATIVE POWER IN ALL TRUE FAITH. (Verses 7, 9) Jonah's prayer has really no petition in it. It becomes in the offering a song of praise. Still m the shark's maw, with the sea grass around his head, and going down through the deep sea caves to the foundations of the mountains, he speaks as a man delivered, and knowing only occasion of thanks. This is the grand attitude and achievement of faith. It sees the end from the beginning. It expects the end because them has been a beginning. It anticipates the end at the beginning, and deals with it as an accomplished fact. "Thou hast brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God." "I know nothing more sublime in all the range of recorded human utterances. What could dictate assured and triumphant language like this, but marvellous, miraculous faith? His deliverance is not yet come; yet faith speaks of it as if it were. O noble faith! it is in thy power to bring in the deliverance that is still future, with the sweetness of that which is already present, and the sureness of that which is already past". This quality of Jonah's faith appeared also in that of Paul. Crying for deliverance from indwelling sin, he forestalls the event, and prepays the thanks (Romans 7:24, Romans 7:25). So surely is prayer answered, so infallibly does needed help accrue, that from an adequate faith the gratitude may go up when as yet the blessing has not come down. And there is this prophetic realizing power in all faith. It "is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." It carries in its head the jewel of hope; and where the one reaches the other shines. Faith trusts God that he can do all things, and hope looks for the doing of them. The potential deliverance seen by faith becomes actual deliverance in the eye of hope. And so to the believing soul "the things that shall be" already are, and the present is bright with the borrowed light of not yet risen suns.
III. IT IS JUST IN THE MOMENT OF REALIZED HELPLESSNESS THAT THE THOUGHT OF GOD COMES TO A SOUL. (Verse 7) Jonah, as is evident, had up till now forgotten God. Not only so, but he had deliberately driven and persistently kept him out of his thoughts. The bursting of a fearful storm impressed him so little that, if left alone, he would have slept it through. The rude piety of the sailors, calling every man upon his god, sent no responsive thrill through him. The captain's reproachful summons to arise and pray was disregarded or ignored. Even the ominous lot casting, on the issue of which his life hung, was watched with apparent calm. His self-possessed and iron obstinacy died hard. But it died. Angry Omnipotence will not be denied; and God took measures that not even Jonah's hardihood could survive. The prophet broke down. Flesh and heart failed together. And then he came back to first principles, and remembered God. God, if they knew it, is the one need of human hearts. "Every finite spirit is inherently related to the Infinite, in him to live, and move, and have its being. It wants the knowledge of God, the society of God, the approbation of God, the internal manifestation of God, a consciousness lighted up by his presence, to receive of his fulness, to be strong in his might, to rest in his love, and be centred everlastingly in his glory" (Horace Bushnell, D.D). But the natural man has no idea of this. Conscious of incompleteness, he knows not in what it consists. And he prescribes at random for his own case. He absorbs himself in business, he struggles up the path of ambition, he plunges into mad indulgence, he runs breathless from sensation to sensation, seeking rest and satisfaction, and finding none. Everything gets stale and tiresome, and the soul finds itself unprovided for and orphan still. Not seldom the man spends his days thus in feverish search of good, and dies unsatisfied and unfed at last. But sometimes, in the providence of God, disaster comes at this stage. He is losing his idol. He is being robbed of all he loved, or abandoned of all he trusted in. He is being brought to the grave's mouth by a resistless Providence. It becomes with him a question of God's help or none. And shut up to it thus, he chooses it, albeit only as a last resource. "I cried unto the Lord with my voice. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord" (Psalms 116:3, Psalms 116:4). This is the natural history of the soul's resort to God. It is the last resort. All other help has been tried and found wanting before the sinner turns to him. What grace, that he waits till then! that while every conceivable earthly nostrum is being tried, the Balm of Gilead is kept in store, and is available in the extremest hour! Truly a God "long suffering and slow to wrath, and plenteous in mercy," is our God, who wearies not at our long wandering, and welcomes even the latest return.
IV. THE SIGHT OF GOD AND THE SIGHT OF SIN INVOLVE EACH OTHER. (Verse 8) Jonah had lost sight of Cod and of his own guiltiness together. In his conduct up to this point we see the most astounding oblivion of both. And now the two matters come to mind together, suggesting a logical connection between them. And so there is. Sin is a conscious offence against God. Its antagonism to him is its essential element. Accordingly, the sense of it will come and go with the thought of God, and will be adequate as this is adequate. You cannot remember the offence and yet forget the offended Being. Neither can you realize God as near and cognizant without a consciousness of your moral attitude toward him. The thought of sin and the thought of God, in fact, bring up each other. And not only is the fact of sin, but the extent and evil of it are revealed in the revelation of God. Contact with the plumb line betrays the curve in the bowing wall. So, side by side with God's ideal holiness, sin looks itself and looks its worst (Job 42:5). When a man sees his sinfulness, he has also, as the condition of it, got a glimpse of God. To Jonah his late conduct seems nothing now but the pursuit of lying vanities. He had no fruit in It. Every promise of good it held out had been falsified. He had not escaped. He had not improved matters in any way. He had only intensified existing evils and involved himself and others in new troubles. And that is a true picture of sin the world over and all history through. It is a following of delusive phantasies, and a running away from our own mercies. Its prospective blessings burst like bubbles in our hands—the hands that, but for it, would have been full of the choicest gifts of God.
V. THE RECEIVING OF SPIRITUAL GOOD IS FOLLOWED BY A DESIRE TO MAKE SOME RETURN. (Verse 9) Gratitude is a universal duty, and ought to be a universal grace. All men receive blessing from God, and as a consequence owe him thanks. Of the gratitude due, however, they fall tar short. Some good things come incognito, and are thus received unthankfully. Other good things, God's free gifts, are traced to some earthly source, and so produce no thankful feeling. And then the multitude of life's mercies, so obviously Divine, are yet so common that their origin is forgotten, and they are received as a matter of course. But spiritual gifts can never be ungratefully received. They are too conspicuously gracious to be taken as a matter of right. They are too immeasurably great to be lightly deemed of. They involve the gift of a new heart itself, in which gratitude is a native growth, because grace has made it God-like. There are no thankless Christians. Ingratitude possibly means the spiritual nature absent or in abeyance, and points, where we find it, to previous spiritual deforcement. Such deforcement Jonah had suffered during the continuance of his rebellious freak. Now that religious principle had resumed the sway in his soul, the gratitude is restored that had been exiled during the spiritual interregnum. And everywhere and always the heart that has been blessed to saving effect is one in which infallibly is mooted the question of making grateful return.
VI. DIVINE DELIVERANCE IS ALWAYS TIMED TO ARRIVE WHEN THERE IS RIPENESS FOR IT. (Verse 10) Deliverance any sooner would have been too soon. It would have anticipated repentance, and so have left the erring prophet unreclaimed. It would, in fact, have defeated the object for which the entire disciplinary course had been adopted. It could not therefore occur in a divinely ordered life history. God's providence never counterworks his scheme of grace. The one is adjusted to the other. His backsliding Jonahs are converted before his disciplinary whales vomit them forth. See you to the repentance, and God will see to your relief. Refining silver, at a certain stage the molten metal becomes for an instant so still and bright that the refiner can see his image in it as in a glass. And this, it is said, is the moment to pour it out, to anticipate which or delay beyond it is to spoil the whole experiment. In the visitations of his hand, God sits, we read, "as a refiner and purifier of silver," to "purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver" (Ma Jonah 3:3). No fear that he will spoil the process by taking you out of the fire a single moment out of date. He will keep you under discipline till he sees his image in your purified soul, and in that moment precisely will remove his hand.
"He that from dross would win the precious ore,
Bends o'er the crucible an earnest eye,
The subtle searching process to explore,
Lest the one brilliant moment should pass by
When, in the molten silver's virgin mass,
He meets his pictured face as in a glass.
"Thus in God's furnace are his people tried,
Thrice happy they who to the end endure.
But who the fiery trial may abide?
Who from the crucible come forth so pure
That he whose eyes of flame look through the whole
May see his image perfect in the soul?"
HOMILIES BY W.G. BLAIKIE
De profundis: distress and prayer.
"Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish's belly," etc. Unexampled position of Jonah—no details given, and hints somewhat obscure; evidently he retained measure of consciousness, but for how long we know not—seems to have been conscious of moving through the water before being swallowed by the fish—miracle of his preservation corresponds to that of the three Hebrews in the furnace (Daniel 3:27), or of the burning bush (Exodus 3:2, Exodus 3:3)—element of apparent destruction becomes supernaturally element of preservation—this record of his feelings composed after his deliverance—a record of the conflict of sight and faith—to sight, the situation desperate—faith pierces to the unseen, finds support, and finally triumphs. The prayer is a singular combination of midnight darkness and noonday light.
I. THE SITUATION. Described in many expressions, some of awful intensity: "By reason of mine affliction;" "out of the belly of hell;" "in the deep, in the midst of the seas;" "The floods compassed me about, all thy billows and thy waves passed over me;" "out of thy sight;" "The depths closed me round about, the weeds were wrapt about my head;" "I went down to the bottom of the mountains, the earth with her bars were about me forever." Situation seemed absolutely hopeless—physical surroundings the most frightful ever known—each, too, appeared a token of Divine displeasure—apparently as little hope for the soul as for the body.
II. ITS SOURCE—FROM GOD. For it was not a chance that had befallen Jonah; it was all God's doing: "Thou hadst cast me into the deep; all thy billows and thy waves passed over me." God had pursued him ever since he turned his back on him; raised the storm against him; caused the lot to fall on him; cast him into the deep; entombed him in the fish; shut him up, as it were, in despair. Yet he utters no word of reproach; God is justified when he speaks, and clear when he judges (Psalms 51:4).
III. CONSTERNATION OF HIS SOUL. The first effect was to paralyze him. "I said, I am cast out of thy sight;" "My soul fainted within me." Horrors of his situation unexampled, escape impossible; shut up a helpless prey to the most appalling forms of destruction—Omnipotence itself crushing him: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
IV. THE DAWN. "When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord." The darkest hour of night is that which precedes the dawn—out of the very depths of helplessness and desolation faith begins to rise. Far more beautiful than the fabled sight when the goddess of beauty rose from the ocean foam is the sight of Jonah's faith rising from the depths, both literal and spiritual. The moment of utter helplessness is often the turning point in spiritual experience—at first, in justification (Romans 3:19, Romans 3:21), afterwards in recovery from backsliding (Hosea 2:14), and in sanctification (Romans 5:20).
"Nothing in my hand I bring;
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die!"
1. In "remembering God," Jonah recognized him as "the Lord his God;" his by national covenant, by personal choice (the fruit of Divine grace), and by his prophetic call and consecration; his, though he had attempted to flee from his presence, for does he not say, "Turn, O backsliding Israel, and I will heal your backsliding" (Jeremiah 3:12, Jeremiah 3:22)? The God who first chose him in all his unworthiness must have an interest in him still. So the psalmist cried; so Jesus afterwards in the like spirit, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
2. He looked towards God's temple. Why? Because of the promise virtually given to Solomon (1 Kings 8:38). He builds on God's word, "Remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope" (Psalms 119:49). He thinks of the temple, the sacred ark, the mercy seat, the overshadowing cherubims, the promise to Moses, "There I will meet with you, and I will commune with you from above the mercy seat" (Exodus 25:22). He takes hold of this—steadies his soul upon it—shaking off the impression of his horrible surroundings, and enters into peace. What a change!—the belly of hell turned into the gate of heaven, the how! of despair changed into the hallelujah of delight.
See here an encouragement to spirit of faith—in Jonah all lights extinguished except faith—in lowest depths, "let Israel hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption." Even when we are the authors of our own troubles, when we are in the depths by reason of sin, nil desperandum! "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thy help."—W.G.B.
"And said, 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," etc. This is one of the most striking instances in all Scripture of the benefit of believing prayer.
"Lord, what a change within us one short hour
Spent in thy presence will prevail to make!
What heavy burdens from our bosom take!
What parched lands refresh as with a shower!
We kneel, and all around us seems to lower;
We rise, and all, the distant and the near,
Stands forth in sunny outline, brave and clear.
We kneel, how weak; we rise, how full of power!
Why therefore should we do ourselves this wrong,
That we are ever overborne with care?
That we should ever weak or heartless be,
Anxious or troubled, when with us in prayer,
And joy, and strength, and courage, are with thee?"
In the brighter part of Jonah's prayer we notice his—
I. GRATEFUL RECOGNITION OF PRAYER AS ANSWERED. (Verses 2, 7) Happy effect of certainty as to this. There are grounds for such certainty:
1. When prayer is offered trustfully, poured as lute the ear of a Father, who has promised to hear such prayer. Answer to be expected, since God is true and never can deceive us.
2. When the evil dreaded is actually averted, or the benefit asked is sent. Unbelief says it would have been so at any rate; faith says, "My prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple."
3. When the heart is filled with a sense of the goodness and love of God and his trustworthiness even before the answer comes, it may be felt that the prayer is heard. Confidence in God as Hearer of prayer is a most valuable Christian grace ever associated with deep humility—infinitely removed from presumption and boasting.
II. HUMBLE ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF PAST GUILT AND FOLLY. (Verse 8) "They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy." This is what he had done. Human devices contrary to will of God are "lying vanities;" empty, they bring no satisfaction; lying, they promise peace and safety, but bring misery and horrible troubles. So Eve found, so Pharaoh, so Israel when they went after ways of heathen. So Jonah himself. So all who forsake Fountain of living waters and hew out to themselves broken cisterns that can hold no water. Worldly devices to get happiness apart from God are indeed "vanity of vanities." Soul of man cannot be satisfied with husks. For God's servants to follow them is to forsake their own mercy. It is for prodigal son to change father's house for society of rioters and harlots: "Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about" (Psalms 32:10). The way of duty is ever the way of safety, peace, and comfort; neglected duty is a sure forerunner of trouble; an evil conscience can never be the harbinger of sweet content.
III. PUBLIC EXPRESSION OF THANKSGIVING AND CONSECRATION. (Verse 9) Sacrifice—thanksgiving—vows. This is to be done openly and publicly at the proper place. No concealment by Jonah of what had taken place. He would at once proclaim his own guilt, and declare himself a monument of God's grace. Genuine repentance carries spirit of self-abasement, conscious indebtedness to God—eagerness to be more consecrated to him. The spring of this feeling—"salvation is of the Lord." God's saving mercy keeps alive in redeemed hearts the sense of infinite obligation, and prompts to every suitable recognition. No other spiritual dynamic like this—all active obedience, all the labour of love, all patient endurance spring from this; whatever our mercies, we have the duty of grateful remembrance of them. and active consecration to God in connection with them. Jonah is disentombed (verse 10). "And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land." At length the purpose of the chastisement is served, therefore it is removed. The great fish continues under God's control, and having carried Jonah safely through the deep, deposits him on the dry land. "As you see the foamy track the creature leaves behind gradually melting into the quiet green of the sea; as you turn and look at the prophet, washing himself from the filth of his living grave, and then standing upon the shore, inhaling the fresh breeze, rejoicing in heaven's blessed light, and—to prove and feel himself alive, to make sure that all was not a dream—shouting, perhaps, in a loud voice, 'Salvation is of the Lord,' say, 'God helping me, I shall never despair. Never. For! see that the heaviest judgment may ripen into mercy. The darkest night may have a morning. The deepest grave has a resurrection portal. A voyage wrapped in whirling storm, and horrible with engulfing dangers, may yet end in safety on a sunny shore'" (Raleigh). Jonah a sign:
1. To the Ninevites. His history a twofold picture lesson to them.
(1) Of the consequence of spurning the authority of the God of the Hebrews; for he is no local deity, but Lord of earth and sea, of all creatures and all their actions, and has showed he could signally punish and humble Jonah on the very element to which he had betaken himself for safety from this God. It was before this God the iniquities of Nineveh had come. How must he view these?
(2) Of the pardoning, restoring, and preserving mercy of God to the penitent—God not inexorable—if Nineveh should repent, it, like Jonah, would experience God's mercy.
2. To the men of Christ's generation.
(1) In his humiliation. The Jews asked of Christ a sign (Matthew 12:40)—some great display of power in the heavens. He refused; the only sign to be given would be precisely opposite, viz. that of Jonah—a sign not in heaven, but beneath the surface of the earth. As Jonah suffered humiliation for his own sin, so Jesus would suffer humiliation for the sin which he bore. Reality of his Messiahship was to be shown in his death and burial, and continuing for the same period as Jonah under the power of death. Divine, saving power of Jesus is connected with his humiliation as Sin bearer. As if Jesus had said, 'The signs which are to discover themselves in me are to grow darker, and not brighter: they are to be derived, not from the heavens above, but from the depths beneath—from the very chamber of the dead; yet am I not less on that account the Ambassador of Heaven; yea, surpassing Jonah in the depth of my humiliation, I still more surpass him in the dignity of my character; and the inhabitants of the heathen city, which repented at his preaching, will assuredly rise up in judgment to condemn the impenitent of this generation'" (Fairbairn).
(2) In his exaltation. This view is rather implied than expressed by our Lord. Jonah escaping from the fish is a type of Christ rising from the dead. The Ninevites were moved to repentance by means of the type; they must have heard Jonah's history and been greatly impressed by it. The Jews had the antitype—the literal resurrection of Christ from the dead, but were not moved by it. Herein is a great lesson for all—listen to the Divine Messenger, who liveth and was dead, and is alive forever, and hath the keys of hell and of death! "Though our Lord's pointing to the sign of Jonah, with the assurance that no other would be given them, might at first seem to betoken only trouble and disaster to his mission, yet the more thoughtful and discerning minds would not fail to discover, on further reflection, that there was also couched under it a promise of encouragement and success far beyond anything that had hitherto appeared. He was to become to the world the sign that Jonah was to Nineveh only when he entered on the resurrection life, and in his Name repentance and remission of sins were preached to the people. And hence the great stress laid upon the fact of the resurrection by the first heralds of the gospel, and the wonderful effect produced by it upon those who heard them, not simply on account of the proof it afforded of the truth of Christ's pretensions to be the Son of God, but also, and still more, for the impressive attestation, the living witness it gave of the placability of God, and of the holy earnestness of his desire that sinners would repent and live. Precisely as in the case of Jonah, though in a manner unspeakably more solemn and affecting, the things that had befallen Jesus and the condition in which he now presented himself through his ambassadors to the people, were seen to be a singular and most magnificent provision of love on the part of God to reach their consciences, and to avert, ere it might be too late, the doom of condemnation which Divine justice had suspended over their heads" (Fairbairn).—W.G.B.
HOMILIES BY G.T. COSTER
The value of affliction (as seen in Jonah's prayer).
1. Brings the man to himself. To soul consciousness, to God consciousness. When "in the shadow of a great affliction, the soul sits dumb." Chastened, he feels his need of chastisement, and knows from whom it comes. "Thy waves;" "thy billows."
2. Brings the consolation of Scripture to the man. From various psalms of sorrow (now remembered) Jonah quotes. By sorrow he enters into the sorrows of others. Affliction "opens up the mine of Scripture, before seen only on the surface."
3. Brings the man to God. He "cries" to him. He comes to him. He feels that "sorrow's crown of sorrow" is in being "cast out of God's sight."
4. Brings the assurance of salvation to the man. Thus, divinely blest, affliction is good. The soul, then, triumphant over trouble, can exclaim, "Salvation is of the Lord;" "O Lord my God."—G.T.C.
1. Vanities. Vanities are vain things—things that deceive. Such are idols. All things are idols that men trust out of God. Jonah had his idol—it was his false love for his country. How many idols!—ambition, pride, strength, wealth, influence, self, self-will. And men observe them as gods. But they are all "lying." They deceive. Their promises fail. One only is "faithful who has promised" us happiness.
2. The consequence of observing these lying vanities. Men who observe them "forsake their own mercy." How much they leave! Mercy! It is to all; but not to all alike. "Their own." In turning to any idol, men forsake God, "whose property is always to have mercy."—G.T.C.
"Thankfulness opens the door of mercy, sets God's goodness free to be good to us, prepares us to receive blessing." It should be cultivated. It should be expressed. "The voice of thanksgiving." Jonah was thankful. He had strong reason indeed to be. He paid the vows he had made. "Be ye thankful." Every mercy is an incentive to thankfulness. And God's mercies, "new every morning and repeated every evening," and pauseless in their coming, "cannot be reckoned up." And all crowned by the gift of Christ. "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable Gift." "Thanksgiving is thanksliving."
"Let never day nor night unhallow'd pass,
But still remember what the Lord hath done,"
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
The prophet's prayer.
The contrast which Jonah depicts between his own conduct and that of the heathen with whom he came in contact is very unfavourable to himself. He appears as a coward fleeing from his duty, and cruel enough to prefer that the Ninevites should be destroyed rather than that his accuracy should be impugned. But the idolatrous sailors prayed in the storm as best they could, and they were humane enough to try to save him, even after they had been told to cast him overboard (Jonah 1:13). It is not only noteworthy that Jonah wrote thus, but also that a book which compared a Jew so disadvantageously with the heathen should have been preserved by the Jewish people, who were notoriously proud and bigoted. Describe the event narrated in the preceding chapter. Point out the use our Lord made of it to typify his own death and resurrection. Pass on to apply the prophet's experience to what is represented by it among ourselves.
I. THE NEGLECT OF APPOINTED SERVICE IS A SIN. The command given to Jonah was plain enough, but he wilfully disobeyed it. Some of the excuses he may have made to conscience may be profitably suggested.
1. "I have already done my share of service; let another undertake this." He had faithfully conveyed his message to King Amaziah, and had doubtless proved his fidelity on other occasions, but he shrank from this new summons from God. Past service does not relieve us of present responsibilities. The indolence or the failure of others will not justify us in ignoring duty.
2. "It is useless to preach to the Ninevites; they would laugh me to scorn." Ignorant of the true God as they were, it certainly was hardly to be expected that they would humble themselves before him at the bidding of a stranger preaching in their streets. Yet often those we deem to be the most hopeless are the most ready to listen. Even if they were not, it is at our peril that we refuse to obey a God-given impulse to speak to them.
3. "These Ninevites are the foes of my country; let one of their own citizens be raised up to warn them." National hostility and personal prejudice have done much to hinder God's work in all ages.
II. SUCH SIN IN GOD'S PEOPLE IS FOLLOWED BY CHASTISEMENT.
1. Chastisement does not always follow sin. Sometimes it precedes and prevents it. Paul's thorn in the flesh was sent, not because he was exalted above measure, but lest he should be. But often an affliction is intended to bring a sinner to a right state of mind about sin already committed.
2. Chastisement gives us time to think. Jonah acted on impulse, and hurriedly fled to Joppa. When cast into the sea he imagined that all was over with him; but when he was miraculously preserved he had opportunity to reflect on his own wrong doing and on God's marvellous mercy. So the ill health which prevents work, the family affliction which keeps us within doors, the failure which sets us free from an accustomed sphere,—give us time to think of neglected duties and to recover strength by prayer.
3. In chastisement God is near. Jonah felt that he was not beyond Divine help. "My prayer came in unto thee." Compare Peter in prison, and Paul in the storm, and John in Patmos, and Bunyan in jail. Listen to the words of Bradford, "I thank God more of this prison and of this dark dungeon than of any parlour, yea, than of any pleasure ever I had; for in it I find God, my sweet God always." Jonah was cast out as Adam was from Paradise, and as Job was from his home, that he might learn, through prayer, to suffer and be strong.
III. CHASTISEMENT, RIGHTLY RECEIVED, BRINGS ABOUT REPENTANCE.
1. In order to this it was necessary for Jonah to recognize God's hand in this event. He felt it was not the result of chance nor of human action. Hence he does not say, "The sailors cast me into the deep," but "thou" (verse 3); nor does he speak of "the waves and billows of the sea," but "thy billows and thy waves" (verse 3). We too must learn to look beyond second causes, such as an unfortunate step or a man's injustice, and see God as the Disposer of all events.
2. This thought led Jonah to true repentence. He did not despair, although there seemed no hope of deliverance. He did not pray to be delivered from danger, but earnestly thanks God for his rescue from the sea, and praised him in the belly of the whale that he had been so good and merciful. The reality of his repentance was shown in this, that he gratefully and bravely did the work he had formerly refused. His vow made in trouble was faithfully kept. Pliny advised one who wished to please the gods to be the same when well as he had vowed to be when sick. A lesson for us.
IV. SUCH REPENTANCE UNDER CHASTISEMENT LEADS TO ACCEPTABLE PRAYER. His prayer shows that he had not given up hope, that he still believed that Jehovah was his God, and would do what was best with him. Strangely and soon the prayer was answered.
CONCLUSION. We may obtain mercy as Jonah did. We may find that the very instrument of death becomes the preserver of life, as the great fish proved an ark of safety to Jonah; and as he was cast upon the shore, so a trouble may cast us on the shore of duty, and death will cast us on the shore of heaven.—A.R.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jonah 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28