A Prayer of Descent

Jonah 2   |   Sunday, April 29, 2012   |   Code: 2012-04-29-PJ

by Phil Johnson          

This morning I hope to cover all of Jonah 2.

          Here's the context: Jonah has just been thrown overboard in the middle of a raging storm and swallowed up by a fish. Jonah 1:15-17 says this:

So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.

16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.

17 And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Just before we get into Jonah 2, let me draw your attention to those words in chapter 1, verse 17: "the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah." That means this was a miraculous event. I believe Jonah is describing a creative miracle of God. God specially prepared this fish. This was not merely a natural event orchestrated by divine providence. This was a one-of-a-kind miracle fashioned by God's creative hand specifically for the moment.

          You'll often hear people go to great lengths to explain how Jonah's ride in a fish might have been possible. They'll point out that this might have been a certain kind of whale, or shark. And it is true that there are several varieties of whales and sharks large enough to swallow a grown man in a single gulp.

          There's even a famous story about a man in the 1800s named James Bartley, who supposedly fell overboard while whaling near the Falkland Islands and was swallowed by a large whale. When his shipmates caught the whale and cut it open, Bartley was supposedly inside, still alive. You'll often read that story with names, and dates, and specific details that are supposed to corroborate it. But when I looked it up to try to verify it, I found a fascinating article written in 1991 by a professor at Messiah College who had done exhaustive research trying to verify that story, and he ended up proving conclusively that the whole fish tale was fabricated. It was widely reported in different versions back in late Victorian times, but indisputable records exist that prove it was nothing more than an elaborate urban myth.

          You know what? That's OK. This is presented to us as a miracle, and as such, it is no more or less believable than any other miracle. Think about it: from the human perspective one miracle is just as impossible as others.

          Would it really bolster our faith in this miracle to know that the same thing had happened under natural circumstances to others? How is this any more improbable than, say, the axe-head Elisha made float? How is this any more impossible than Christ's walking on the water, or opening the eyes of men born blind, or any of the other miracles of Scripture? Once you start to doubt miracles on rationalistic grounds, you are on the road to rejecting them all. It's a dangerous step toward unbelief.

          So if you're looking for me to give you scientific arguments about how this might have happened, or how Jonah got enough oxygen in the fish's belly, or any of that, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to tell you that this was a miracle, pure and simple—a creative miracle of God. We don't need evidence that this might occur naturally in order to believe that it happened. Scripture says it God personally prepared this fish, and whether any species of fish this large is known to exist today or not is irrelevant to me. God created this fish for the moment, and I know of no reason God could not have done this. My faith in God's word compels me to believe it. If that sounds simplistic to you, I'm sorry for you, but I make no apology for taking God at His word.

          Incidentally, there are four places in Jonah where God is said to have specifically prepared something,, bypassing the normal course of nature, in order to teach lessons to Jonah. Here in 1:17 He "appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah." Then in three successive verses in Jonah 4:6-8, God prepared a gourd plant, a worm to kill the gourd plant, and a violent wind to dry up the gourd plant. All those things pertain to the events of Jonah 4, but here I simply want to underscore the fact that all these were miraculous events. They represent a divine interruption in the normal course of nature. These events were contrary to nature, above nature, or "supernatural." There's no need to seek natural explanations of how they may have happened.

          Also, before we get into our study of chapter 2, let me raise another question that sometimes comes up: What was the nature of this miracle? Was it that Jonah was preserved alive in the fish's belly, or did he actually die in the fish and get resurrected after three days?

          I have a little booklet by J. Vernon McGee Called Jonah: Dead or Alive? in which he explores this question. And Dr. McGee concluded that Jonah died when he was swallowed by the fish, and the miracle was God raising him from the dead. And he points to the New Testament typology of Matthew 12:40: "just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." So McGee believed that proved Jonah was dead during those three days in the fish. I don't agree, and here's why.

          Remember, first of all, that this is a type, a symbolic lesson—and the antitype, or the fulfillment of the type, is always greater than the type. It was not necessary for Jonah to have literally died in order for his three days in the fish to serve as a type of Christ's burial and resurrection.

          I made some similar remarks to a friend once in a private conversation, and my friend asked me how I could be so sure Jonah did not die. After all, it's not a question that the text of Jonah actually addresses. Either way, isn't it an argument from silence?

          I don't think so. Notice that the entirety of chapter 2 is a prayer that Jonah prayed to God from the belly of the fish. He was not only alive in there; he was praying. There's no reason to think he died; in fact, what the text does tell us about his time inside the fish confirms that he was both alive and fully conscious in there.

          Think about that for a moment. It helps put Jonah's prayer in context. All of Jonah 2 is the record of a prayer Jonah prayed while enclosed in a kind of living death. This is a remarkable prayer. It comes from a man existing in a kind of living death, from inside a living tomb. Try to imagine what it would have been like.

          It was very wet, first of all. Look at verse 5: "The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head." Now this was not like that scene in Pinocchio, where Gipetto gets swallowed by a whale and he's on his raft, and he builds a fire, and he can see inside. It's nothing like that at all. Imagine a total darkness, constricted by the stomach walls of a monster fish, sloshing around inside sea water and whatever digestive juices you would find in the belly of a fish.

          Fish are cold-blooded, and in the Mediterranean sea water, it may have been uncomfortably cold in there. Or if this was a species of whale, a mammal, it would be too warm for comfort in there.

          The stomach acids would begin to irritate Jonah's skin and eyes. He would have to keep his eyes tightly shut because of it. His skin would itch and be raw, yet constantly wet and slimy.

          The stomach of any animal is made to constrict and tighten around its contents—so there could have been little room to move about in there. Jonah would have been sharing the space with half-digested remnants of whatever the fish ate yesterday. So there would have been the powerful odor and taste of decomposing seafood.

          Add the suffocating shortage of fresh air, the vile taste of fishy stomach acids, the lack of any food or drink whatsoever, the pressure of the fish's descent to the bottom of the sea, described in verse 6, the constant sense of vertigo Jonah would have felt, and the mounting fear as hours, then days, went by with no sign of rescue.

          Can you begin to imagine what Jonah felt? This experience would have been horrifying beyond words. Jonah himself, in verse 2, described it like a living hell. Time would have passed with excruciating slowness. And in the silence all Jonah could do was think.

          You know that his conscience was continually smiting him. He knew his sin had got him into this predicament. He admitted to the sailors in chapter 1 that he had sinned and the storm and all the resulting calamity was his fault (1:12). His own sense of guilt would have been constantly assaulting his mind.

          But Jonah was a righteous man, and in such predicaments, the thoughts of the righteous turn to God. Even though Jonah's sin had caused him to flee from the presence of God—and he says in verse 4 that he was cast out of the Lord's sight. But God's discipline caused him to flee to God. This prayer is a reflection of the prophet's real heart, hungry for God.

          God was disciplining Jonah, and I want you to think for a moment about the nature of the Lord's discipline. To the human eye, this looks like an expression of divine wrath against Jonah: The Lord hurls a great wind onto the sea. The whole ship is about to sink, the entire crew's lives are in danger, and finally they throw Jonah overboard. Every aspect of it might look like a disaster to the human eye.

          But it's not a disaster. And there's far more divine love and mercy evidenced here than there is divine wrath. The goodness of God is just as evident as His displeasure—if you see it from God's perspective.

          Take, for example, the ship's crew. Not only were their lives spared, but their souls were also saved. They turned to Jehovah in faith, remember?

          And Jonah—he gets thrown overboard at the very peak of the storm. From the perspective of the sailors, Jonah is a dead man. There's no way a man can survive a raging sea like that. Notice that as soon as Jonah was thrown overboard, the sea was calmed (1:15). The sailors sacrificed to God and worshiped. Nothing here suggests they saw the fish swallow Jonah. I suppose it's possible that they saw the fish swallow him. But more likely, from their perspective, he just disappeared into the deep. Either way, from where the sailors stood, Jonah was a dead man, a victim of divine wrath, right?

          From Jonah's perspective things looked pretty bleak, too. He knew he had displeased God, and that he fully deserved what was happening to him. If he had been digested by the fish and that had been the end of him, it would have been just.

          But the truth is, this was all a display of divine mercy, not wrath. Jonah's terrifying experience in the belly of the fish was not some kind of expiatory punishment for his sin. The price of Jonah's sin would've been far more than three days of terror. Sin would  have cost Jonah his very soul—he could spend eternity in hell and would still not have paid sin's price.

          So only an absolutely perfect, infinitely righteous, spotlessly holy Substitute could stand in Jonah's place and pay the price of atonement for his sin. We learn in the New Testament: that's exactly what Jesus' death was all about. Jesus paid for Jonah's sins—as well as the sins of all who would ever believe. "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." That was the way of salvation for Jonah: justification by divine grace through Jonah's faith—because of what Christ suffered for Jonah; not because of what Jonah suffered for his own sins.

          So this experience in Jonah's life was not a punishment for his sin. God's purpose was not to destroy Jonah, but to save him—to preserve him, and to get him back to the place he should be. The fish was the perfect vehicle for that.

          And it was from the belly of this fish that Jonah prayed the prayer that makes up Jonah 2. It's a short chapter. Let me read the entire prayer:

2:1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish,

2 saying, "I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.

3 For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.

4 Then I said, 'I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.'

5 The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head

6 at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.

7 When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.

8 Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.

9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!"

10 And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.

This is a great prayer for a number of reasons. Notice, first of all, how full of the language of Scripture it is. Many of Jonah's statements are quotes or paraphrases from the psalms. And he doesn't just quote a single psalm. Rather, he borrows language from at least ten different psalms and assembles it into a prayer that is uniquely his own.

          That tells us Jonah was a man who knew the Scriptures well. His mind was steeped in the Word of God. And in a time of crisis, it was the Word of God that filled his thoughts. Scripture shaped his response to what he was going through, and when he responded to God in prayer, it was the language of Scripture that poured forth.

          Look at some of the references to the psalms contained here:

          Verse 2, "I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me." Compare that with Psalm 120:1: "In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me."

          Verse 3: "you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me." Psalm 88:6-7 says, "You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep.

Psa 88:7  Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves."

          Verse 4: "Then I said, 'I am driven away from your sight." Psalm 31:22 says: "I had said in my alarm, "I am cut off from your sight."

          And you can see references to the psalms like that throughout Jonah's prayer. I'll let you follow up the rest of them by looking up the cross references. But you can see how Jonah has let the Word of God fill his mind and heart, so in his moment of darkest trial, when he turns to the Lord, he simply takes the thoughts and the words of Scripture and applies them to his own situation.

          This is a marvelous prayer, and I want to call your attention to four aspects of Jonah's prayer that are typical of all great prayers. And we'll break it down like this: Verses 1-3, we'll talk about this prayer's passion; verses 3-6, its plainness; verses 6-9, praise; and verses 9-10, penitence. Let's look at them one at a time.


1. Passion (1-3)

          First, Jonah's passion. Now under the circumstances, he could hardly fail to be passionate, but nonetheless, passion is one of the characteristics of great praying. Jonah put his heart into this. The language is full of pathos, ranging from the most heartfelt kind of anguish ("I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried"; "the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me"; "I am driven away from your sight"; "my life was fainting away.") And it runs from the very depths of personal anguish to a sense of overwhelming relief that God had heard his prayer.

          Jonah experienced the full range of emotions—almost everything in the spectrum from fear to faith. And he recites all those feelings back to God in his prayer.

          Now, you don't measure the passion of a prayer by the volume of the voice. There are people who try to imitate passion in their praying by playing with the volume—you know what I mean? I know a fellow whose prayers are always at top volume, and he thinks by that he is praying with passion. When I go to lunch with that fellow in a restaurant, I always volunteer to do the praying. Otherwise, everyone in the restaurant will hear him hold forth in a booming voice and Puritan language about how moved with gratitude he is for this, the Lord's bountiful provision. (Seems like overkill when you're bowing over a 99-cent Taco Bell special.)

          But that's not what I mean by passion in prayer. Remember Hannah's prayer? She went to the temple to pray for a child, and Scripture says "Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman." She didn't make a sound. But her prayer was full of passion. She was consumed with this one thing that she desired of the Lord, and it filled her heart. That's the measure of passion: How much pours straight from the heart? The issue is not how loudly we pray.

          In fact, I doubt if Jonah actually made much sound there in the belly of the fish. If he was smart, sloshing around in this soup that was about to become fish vomit, he would have kept his mouth closed, like Hannah. But you cannot read his prayer without noticing its deep passion.


2. Plainness (3-6)

          Notice the second characteristic of Jonah's prayer: it's plainness. He doesn't use eloquent words. He doesn't have a five-point structure. He just gets right to the point, and he sets forth his case before God in the plainest possible language. There's a phrase here in verse 5 that is one of my favorite prayer-statements in all of Scripture: "weeds were wrapped about my head."

          Now think about that. Why did he say that? "weeds were wrapped about my head"? Of all the things in this trial that caused him fear and discomfort, this was evidently the one that stood out in his mind. And if you think about it, it makes a terrifying picture. He's in a dark, wet place where he's straining to breathe. He can't see anything. He no doubt felt a number of very weird sensations. I can only speculate on what would assault your senses in the gullet of a fish. But suddenly, in the midst of that choking darkness, he feels some tentacles surrounding his head, pressing against his eyelids, constricting the darkness any more. And his instinct would have been to tear that away from his face and head. And I don't know how much maneuvering he had to do to get his hands in position to tear those slimy things away from his face, but you can be sure his reflex was to get it off as quickly as possible. And then he finally feels what it is, and he realizes it's just seaweed.

          And from Jonah's perspective, that pretty much epitomized his three days in the whale's belly. But rather than describing it in a long, rambling speech, he simply says, "weeds were wrapped about my head."

          The plainness of this prayer is seen in its brevity, too. This is a short chapter—just ten verses—but it contains the whole prayer. Remember that Jesus chided the Pharisees because of their practice of making long, rambling prayers. Mark 12:38-40:

Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces

39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts,

40 who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.

Everything they did was for show. They wanted to be seen by others. They wanted to be highly regarded for their spirituality. Jesus said, don't be like that. Matthew 6:5-8:

when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

7 "And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.

8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

No prayer was ever prayed in a more secret closet than Jonah's, and no prayer was ever more plain and to the point. There was nothing about this prayer that was for pretense. There was no reason for him to be bombastic or pretentious. There was no one to show off for. The only audience was God, and since Jonah was simply pouring out his heart, he did so in the most succinct, simple language. That's a characteristic of all good praying.


3. Praise (6-9)

          Now turn your attention to the third characteristic of Jonah's prayer: the praise. This is the most remarkable thing of all. This is entirely an outpouring of praise to God. Let me call your attention to a remarkable fact: there is not a single petition in this prayer.

          Let that sink in for a moment. Put yourself in Jonah's place. Wouldn't your prayer be filled with pleading, and supplication, and begging God to get you out of this horrifying predicament? I know that's how I would have prayed, because I have been in situations far less desperate than this where I have begged God to give me relief.

          That wasn't Jonah's focus. His focus was entirely on praise. And this is not some pathetic attempt to mollify God by flattery. This is a sincere expression of faith in God.

          There's only one explanation for this: Jonah's faith, like all true faith, was supernaturally empowered by divine grace. Having brought Jonah down to the very depths (in the most literal sense) having placed him in a situation that seemed to all Jonah's senses as if it were utterly hopeless, God graciously encouraged Jonah by infusing into his heart an extraordinary measure of faith. And Jonah responded with praise.

          To the rational mind and the natural senses Jonah's circumstances would seem to be utterly hopeless. It was futile for him to struggle; if he broke free of his prison, he would drown in the depths of the sea. These are the kind of circumstances that extinguish all hope. The human mind could not conceive of a rational solution to Jonah's dilemma. It seemed God himself was against Jonah, and he was now at the brink of total ruin.

          Now listen, because there is an important lesson in this for all of us: When God wants to bless us with His grace, it often appears to us like anything but kindness. God's acts of goodness sometimes even come disguised as hostility.

          Remember Jacob, wrestling with the angel? Here's a perfect picture of God's mercy toward sinful people. He wants to bless Jacob. How does the blessing come? With the appearance of opposition and hostility. The angel of the Lord (which I believe is a preincarnate appearance of Christ) wrestles with Jacob, opposes him, fights with him. And the wrestling match endures all night.

          But Jacob was a man of faith. Had he not had faith, he surely would have given up in despair, and let the angel go without the promised blessing. But this was the angel of the covenant, and he represented the promise of God. Jacob had a promise from God Himself that he could cling to, and it was on that basis that he fought, and endured, and clung to the angel until he received the blessing.

          True faith is always like that. It endures against all opposition. Despite what our senses tell us, in the midst of the most hopeless circumstances, we nonetheless find hope in the promises of God.

          Romans 4:18 says this about Abraham: "In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, 'So shall your offspring be.'" He had a promise from God. It did not matter that he was old, and that Sarah was barren; God had promised him that he would be the father of many nations. Even after the covenant child was born and Abraham had reason to hope, he was willing to obey God and sacrifice his son because he believed somehow, God would fulfill his promise, even if it meant raising Isaac from the dead. Against hope he believed in hope.

          Faith endures despite the appearance of hopelessness. And our faith is strengthened in the midst of hopeless situations.

          Why does God sometimes clothe His grace with the appearance of opposition? That's another act of grace. He does it to strengthen our faith. The testing fire has a way of burning up the dross, so that when we are tried, we come forth as gold.

          That is what happened to Jonah. He emerged from this trial with stronger faith than ever. He had already been to the depths, and God had seen him through. His faith had persevered. After this, in chapter 4, he still needed an attitude adjustment—but his faith never wavered.

          And here in Jonah 2, in the most unlikely of circumstances, under the most adverse conditions, he broke forth with praise. Verse 6:

yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.

7 When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.

8 Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.

9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay.

Jonah clung to the Lord's mercy, and he was confident of his deliverance.

          I want you to notice that this prayer came before Jonah experienced the fullness of that deliverance. He was still in the belly of the fish. In fact, the language of verse 1 suggests that this prayer came at the end of those three days and tree nights. The end of chapter 1 says, "Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights." Verse 1 says, "Then Jonah prayed."

          That's a long time to be in that dark, wet prison without relief. Most of us would sink deeper and deeper into despair, the longer the time dragged on. But here Jonah is praising God for deliverance, before he has even seen the light of day!

          Why? Because the chief aspect of his deliverance was that God had already changed his heart. God had already freed Jonah from his own rebellion.


4. Penitence (9-10)

          And that brings us to the fourth characteristic of Jonah's prayer: His penitence. This is a prayer of repentance. The praise could not be true praise if it were not accompanied by genuine penitence.

          And Jonah expresses his repentance in verse 9: "I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!."

          There's also a reference to repentance in verse 4: "I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple." And verse 7: "When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple."

          I find those references to the Temple fascinating. Jonah is not referring to the Temple in a superstitious way, like the Moslems who must always face Mecca when they pray. Even some Christian denominations always build their churches with an altar toward the east. That's a kind of superstition that reflects ritualism and formalism. It is the result of minds in bondage to earthly realities and sense perception. God is present everywhere, and Jonah of all people knew that.

          So why these references to the Temple? Because the Temple was the place associated with sacrifice and propitiation for sin. Jonah thought of the Temple, and referred to the Temple because that is the place of atonement. And I think he had in mind the heavenly Temple more than any earthly one. This was an expression of repentance.

          Notice, finally, how by faith he laid hold of God's mercy. The verb tenses in this prayer are important. Verse 6: "yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God." The King James Version says, "yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption." He has been delivered from his sin's guilt and corruption—and he knows it. This is a declaration of deliverance, and it's in the past tense. He is making a confession of faith. He treats his deliverance as an accomplished reality, even though he was still in that dank, fetid prison of the fish's belly.

          It was indeed a past-tense deliverance, however, because Jonah's heart had already been changed. The real redemption had already been wrought; he was just waiting for the outworking of it.

          And isn't that the situation we all are in? Paul writes in Romans 8:22: "we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." Redemption is accomplished. The price is paid. The chains have been broken. We're just waiting for the full realization of it. And in the meantime, we live by hope. Paul's very next words in Romans 8:24 are these: "[we are saved by hope] Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?"

          If we wait to see the fulfillment of our deliverance before we praise God, then we're walking by sight, not by faith. If Jonah had waited until the fish spat him out before he prayed this great prayer of praise to God, then it would have been grounded in perception rather than flowing from his faith. And praise that springs from faith is a truer praise than that which must wait until the answer to prayer is fully realized.

          This is one of the main points made by the writer to the Hebrews in his teaching about faith. Hebrews 11, that great chapter that recounts the Old Testament heroes of faith, talks about the many people who had faith to see the unseen. By faith they laid hold of realities that were not visible to the human eye, not perceptible to human senses. Abraham looked for a city that was unseen, whose builder and maker is God. Moses endured as seeing him who is invisible. They saw things by faith that are not visible to the human eye.

          Hebrews 11:13 says, "These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar"—by faith. Some of the heroes of the faith were delivered from death (v. 34). But there were others who were not. Verse 36:

Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.

37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—

38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised.

But as Jesus said, "blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."

          Most of us tend to withhold our praise until after God has done what we have asked. We rejoice only after God has brought us out of the darkness of the whale's belly and into the bright light of day.

          But that kind of praise is based on experience, not on faith. The purest, most God-honoring praise takes place while we are still in the dungeon, before God delivers us from the deep.

          Now listen carefully: That sort of faith is grounded only in the sovereignty of God. Without a rock-solid conviction that God is sovereign over all the affairs of men, you cannot trust that He will indeed work all things together for good for them that love Him. Because if there's one circumstance in the universe that lies outside God's control—if God has subjugated His sovereignty to human free-will, or if God is at the mercy of Satan's devices—then there can be no guarantee that His plan will never be thwarted.

          But God is sovereign, and God's sovereignty is a recurring and constant theme in the book of Jonah. The sailors in chapter 1 saw God's sovereignty displayed in the storm that pursued Jonah. Here was their testimony: (Jonah 1:14) "You, O LORD, have done as it pleased you."

          Jonah himself testified that God is sovereign. Chapter 2, verse 9: "Salvation is of the LORD." The whole message of this book is that God is sovereign, and His will is not going to be thwarted by the opposition of his enemies or by the disobedience of His own people. Salvation is of the Lord, and nothing will stop Him in His quest to save sinners. As Jonah learned, God will even turn the hearts of pagans in a wicked city like Nineveh to Himself. But whether we understand His purposes or not, His purposes are always good, and the sooner we learn to trust His goodness, the better it will be for us.

          Verse 10 says, "The LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land." That makes an interesting visual image, doesn't it? This fish must have beached itself, and then vomited Jonah out onto the beach. Reminds me of that scene in Jaws, where they cut open a shark's stomach and veritable junkyard full of objects comes out, including a car's license plate.

          Jonah, who may have thought he would never see the light of day, finally gets to stand on dry ground again.

          I'm sure as he stood there on that beach, he praised God and shouted for joy and relief to be out of that prison. But I think it's significant that the praise Scripture records is the praise that took place while he was still inside the fish. That's the praise God wants us to emulate: the praise that occurs in the darkness. The praise that is grounded solely in faith, and not necessarily based on what we see. May God enable us to trust Him in the darkness and discomfort of our trials, and to pray the prayer of faith even before we see the full outcome of God's promised deliverance.