When Jonah says that he prayed from the bowels of the fish, he shows first with what courage of mind he was endued. He had then put on a new heart; for when he was at liberty he thought that he could in a manner escape from God, he became a fugitive from the Lord: but now while inclosed within narrow bounds, he begins to pray, and of his own accord sets himself in God's presence.
This is a change worthy of being noticed: and hence we may learn how much it profits us to be drawn back often as it were by cords, or to be held tied up with fetters because when we are free we go astray here and there beyond all limits. Jonah, when he was at liberty, became, as we have seen, wanton; but now finding himself restrained by the mighty hand of God, he receives a new mind, and prays from the bowels of the fish 2. But how was it that he directed his petitions then to God, by whose hand he saw that he was so heavily pressed? For God most rigidly handled him; Jonah was in a manner doomed to eternal ruin; the bowels of the fish, as we shall hereafter see, were indeed to him as it were hell or the grave. But in this state of despair Jonah even gathered courage, and was able to retake himself directly to God. It was a wonderful and almost incredible example of faith. Let us then learn to weigh well what is here said; for when the Lord heavily afflicts us, it is then a legitimate and seasonable time for prayer. But we know that the greater part despond, and do not usually offer their prayers freely to God, except their minds be in a calm state; and yet God then especially invites us to himself when we are reduced to extremities. Let this, then, which Jonah declares of himself, come to our minds, -- that he cried to God from hell itself: and, at the same time, he assures us that his prayer proceeded from true faith; for he does not simply say that he prayed to Jehovah, but he adds that he was his God; and he speaks with a serious and deeply-reflective mind. Though Jonah then was not only like one dead, but also on the confines of perdition, he yet believed that God would be merciful if he fled to him. We hence see that Jonah prayed not at random, as hypocrites are wont to take God's name in their mouths when they are in distress, but he prayed in earnest; for he was persuaded that God would be propitious to him.
But we must remember that his prayer was not composed in the words which are here related; but Jonah, while in the bowels of the fish, dwelt on these thoughts in his mind. Hence he relates in this song how he thought and felt; and we shall see that he was then in a state of distraction, as our minds must necessarily be tossed here and there by temptations. For the servants of God do not gain the victory without great struggle. We must fight, and indeed strenuously, that we may conquer. Jonah then in this song shows that he was agitated with great trouble and hard contests: yet this conviction was firmly fixed in his heart, -- that God was to be sought, and would not be sought in vain, as he is ever ready to bring help to his people whenever they cry to him.
Then he says, I cried, when I had trouble, to Jehovah, and he answered me. Jonah no doubt relates now, after having come forth from the bowels of the fish, what had happened to him, and he gives thanks to the Lord. 3 This verse then contains two parts, -- that Jonah in his trouble fled to God, -- and the latter part contains thanksgiving for having been miraculously delivered beyond what flesh could have thought. I cried, he says, in my distress, to Jehovah; I cried out from the bowels of hell, thou hast heard my voice. Jonah, as we shall hereafter see, directed his prayers to God not without great struggle; he contended with many difficulties; but however great the impediments in his way, he still persevered and ceased not from praying. He now tells us that he had not prayed in vain; and, that he might amplify the grace of God, he says, from the bowels of the grave. He mentioned distress (angustiam -- straitness) in the first clause; but here he more clearly expresses how remarkable and extraordinary had been the kindness of God, that he came forth safe from the bowels of the fish, which were like the bowels of the grave. lwas, shaul, derived from corruption, is called the grave by the Hebrews, and the Latin translator has almost everywhere rendered it hell, (infernum;) and lwas, shaul, is also sometimes taken for hell, that is, the state of the reprobate, because they know that they are condemned by God: it is, however, taken more frequently for the grave; and I am disposed to retain this sense, -- that the fish was like the grave. But he means that he was so shut up in the grave, that there was no escape open to him.
What are the bowels of the grave? Even the inside or the recess of the grave itself. When Jonah was in this state, he says, that he was heard by the Lord. It may be proper to repeat again what I have already slightly touched, -- that Jonah was not so oppressed, though under the heaviest trial, but that his petitions came forth to God. He prayed as it were from hell, and not simply prayed, for he, at the same time, sets forth his vehemence and ardor by saying, that he cried and cried aloud. Distress, no doubt, extorted from Jonah these urgent entreaties. However this might have been, he did not howl, as the unbelieving are wont to do, who feel their own evils and bitterly complain; and yet they pour forth vain howlings. Jonah here shows himself to be different from them by saying, that he cried and cried aloud to God. It now follows --
1 It is remarkable that several sentences in this prayer, as it has been observed by Marchius and Henderson, are exactly the same, not only in sense, but also, in most instances, in words, with passages in the Psalms. The first clause of this verse is found in Psalm 120:1, only the words are differently arranged. The last clause of the third verse, both in words and order, is the same with a distich in Psalm 42:7. The beginning of the fourth verse agrees nearly with Psalm 31:22; and so does the fifth verse with a line in Psalm 69:1, one word being different. The first clause of the seventh verse is found in the very same words in Psalm 142:3; and the first line in the eighth verse is Psalm 31:6, with the exception of one letter; and the last words of the ninth verse are to be met within Psalm 3:8, only the order is reversed. "On the supposition" says Henderson, "that Jonah was familiar with the Psalms, it was very natural for him to incorporate sentences taken from them with his own language." -- Ed.
2 "No place amiss for prayer, I will that men pray everywhere; where ever God casts us we may find a way open heavenwards, if it be now our own fault. Jonah was now in the bottom of the sea, yet out of the depths he cries to God." -- M. Henry. "It may be asked, How could Jonah either pray or breathe in the stomach of a fish? Very easily, if God so willed it. And let the reader keep this constantly in view: the whole is a miracle, from Jonah's being swallowed by the fish, till he was cast ashore by the same animal. It was God that had prepared the great fish; it was the Lord that spake to the fish, and caused it to vomit Jonah on the dry land. All is miracle." -- Adam Clarke. -- Ed.
3 He relates here, as it appears from the preceding, "and he said" the prayer he offered when in the fish's bowels, and not a prayer offered after his deliverance. Some have entertained the latter opinion, because some of the verbs here are in the past tense: but this circumstance only shows that he continued to pray from the time when he was swallowed by the fish to the time when he was delivered. It was a continued act. It is the same as though he said, "I have called, and do call on Jehovah." Marckius, and also Dathius, render the verbs in the present tense, "I call" etc. The following is a translation according to the view of this prayer, --
3. I call in my distress on Jehovah, and he will answer me;
From the belly of the grave I cry, -- thou hearest my voice.
4. When thou didst send me to the deep, into the midst of the waters,
And the flood surrounded me, --
Thy billows and waves over me passed;
5. Then I said, I am banished from the sight of thine eyes; --
Yet I will again look towards the temple of thy holiness.
6. Encompass me do the waters to the soul,
The deep surrounds me,
The sedge is wrapped around my head:
7. To the cuttings off of the mountains have I descended;
The earth! Its bars are continually around me:
But thou wilt bring from destruction my life,
O Jehovah, my God.
8. When overwhelmed within me was my soul,
Jehovah did I remember;
And come to thee shall my prayer --
To the temple of thy holiness.
9. They who regard idols of vanity,
Their own mercy forsake:
10. But I, with the voice of praise, will sacrifice to thee,
What I have vowed will I fulfill:
Salvation belongs to Jehovah.
"The cuttings off" in verse 7, says Parkhurst, were those parts which were cut off from the mountains at the deluge. The Septuagint has scismav -- rents-clefts. Roots, bottoms, foundations, have been adopted by some, but not consistently with the meaning of the original word, -- "The bars or bolts" of the earth convey the idea of impediments in his way to return to the earth. They were "around" him, or literally "upon" him, ydeb, that is, they were, as it were, closed upon him. -- Ed.
Chapter 2, Verse(s) 1-2 | 3 | 4 | 5-6 | 7 | 8-9 | 10 |