Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
Then - ("And") Jonah prayed, i. e., when the three days and nights were passed, he uttered this devotion. The word "prayed" includes thanksgiving, not petition only. It is said of Hannah that she "prayed" Sa1 2:1; but her canticle is all one thanksgiving without a single petition. In this thanksgiving Jonah says how his prayers had been heard, but prays no more. God had delivered him from the sea, and be thanks God, in the fish's belly, as undisturbed as in a Church or an oratory, secure that God, who had done so much, would fulfill the rest. He called God, "his" God, who had in so many ways shown Himself to be His, by His revelations, by His inspirations, by His chastisements, and now by His mercy . "From these words, 'Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish's belly,' we perceive that, after he felt himself safe in the fish's belly, he despaired not of God's mercy."
I cried by reason of mine affliction - , or, "out of affliction" which came "to me." So the Psalmist thanked God in the same words, though in a different order ; "To the Lord in trouble to me I called, and He heard me." He "called," and God heard and answered , "He does not say, I "call," but I "called"; he does not pray for the future, but gives thanks for the past." Strange cause of thankfulness this would seem to most faith, to be alive in such a grave; to abide there hour after hour, and day after day, in one unchanging darkness, carried to and fro helplessly, with no known escape from his fetid prison, except to death! Yet spiritual light shone on that depth of darkness. The voracious creature, which never opened his mouth save to destroy life, had swallowed him, to save it . "What looked like death, became safe-keeping," and so the prophet who had fled to avoid doing the will of God and to do his own, now willed to be carried about, he knew not where, at the will; as it seemed, of the huge animal in which he lay, but in truth, where God directed it, and he gave thanks. God had heard him. The first token of God's mercy was the earnest of the whole. God was dealing with him, was looking on him. It was enough.
Out of the belly of hell cried I. - The deep waters were as a grave, and he was counted "among the dead" Psa 88:4. Death seemed so certain that it was all one as if he were in the womb of hell, not to be reborn to life until the last Day. So David said Psa 18:5, "The bands of death compassed me round about;" and Psa 30:3, "Thou hast drawn my life out of hell." The waters choked his speech; but he cried with a loud cry to God Who knew the heart. "I cried; Thou heardest." The words vary only by a kindred letter . The real heart's cry to God according to the mind of God and His hearing are one, whether, for man's good, He seem at the time to hear or no.
"Not of the voice but of the heart is God the Hearer, as He is the Seer. Do the ears of God wait for sound? How then could the prayer of Jonah from the inmost belly of the whale, through the bowels of so great a creature, out of the very bottomless depths, through so great a mass of waters, make its way to heaven?" "Loud crying to God is not with the voice but with the heart. Many, silent with their lips, have cried aloud with their heart; many, noisy with their lips, could, with heart turned away, obtain nothing. If then thou criest, cry within, where God heareth." "Jonah cried aloud to God out of the fish's belly, out of the deep of the sea, out of the depths of disobedience; and his prayer reached to God, Who rescued him from the waves, brought him forth out of the vast creature, absolved him from the guilt. Let the sinner too cry aloud, whom, departing from God, the storm of desires overwhelmed, the malignant Enemy devoured, the waves of this present world sucked under! Let him own that he is in the depth, that so his prayer may reach to God."
For Thou hadst ("didst") cast me into the deep - Jonah continues to describe the extremity of peril, from which God had already delivered him. Sweet is the memory of perils past. For they speak of God's Fatherly care. Sweet is it, to the prophet to tell God of His mercies; but this is sweet only to the holy, for God's mercy convicts the careless of ingratitude. Jonah then tells God, how He had cast him vehemently forth into the "eddying depth," where, when Pharaoh's army "sank like a stone" (Exo 15:5, add Exo 15:10), they never rose, and that, "in the heart" or center "of the seas," from where no strong swimmer could escape to shore. "The floods" or "flood," (literally "river,") the sea with its currents, "surrounded" him, encompassing him on all sides; and, above, tossed its multitudinous waves, passing over him, like an army trampling one prostrate underfoot. Jonah remembered well the temple psalms, and, using their words, united himself with those other worshipers who sang them, and taught us how to speak them to God. The sons of Korah Psa 42:7. had poured out to God in these self-same words the sorrows which oppressed them. The rolling billows and the breakers , which, as they burst upon the rocks, shiver the vessel and crush man, are, he says to God, "Thine," fulfilling Thy will on me.
I am cast out of Thy sight - , literally, "from before Thine eyes." Jonah had willfully withdrawn from standing in God's presence. Now God had taken him at his word, and, as it seemed, cast him out of it. David had said in his haste, "I am cut off." Jonah substitutes the stronger word, "I am cast forth," driven forth, expelled, like the "mire and dirt" Isa 57:20 which the waves drive along, or like the waves themselves in their restless motion Isa 57:20, or the pagan (the word is the same) whom God had driven out before Israel (Exo 34:11, and the Piel often), or as Adam from Paradise Gen 3:24.
Yet (Only) I will look again - He was, as it were, a castaway, cast out of God's sight, unheeded by Him, his prayers unheard; the storm unabated, until he was cast forth. He could no longer look with the physical eye even toward the land where God showed the marvels of His mercy, and the temple where God was worshiped continually. Yet what he could not do in the body, he would do in his soul. This was his only resource. "If I am cast away, this one thing will I do, I will still look to God." Magnificent faith! Humanly speaking, all hope was gone, for, when that huge vessel could scarcely live in the sea, how should a man? When God had given it no rest, while it contained Jonah, how should tie will that Jonah should escape? Nay, God had hidden His Face from him; yet he did this one, this only thing only this, "once more, still I will add to look to God." Thitherward would he look, so long as his mind yet remained in him.
If his soul parted from him, it should go forth from him in that gaze. God gave him no hope, save that He preserved him alive. For he seemed to himself forsaken of God. Wonderful pattern of faith which gains strength even from God's seeming desertion! "I am cast vehemently forth from before Thine eyes; yet this one thing will I do; mine eyes shrill be unto Thee, O Lord." The Israelites, as we see from Solomon's dedication prayer, "prayed toward the temple," (Kg1 8:29-30, Kg1 8:35 ff) where God had set His Name and shown His glory, where were the sacrifices which foreshadowed the great atonement. Thitherward they looked in prayer, as Christians, of old, prayed toward the East, the seat of our ancient Paradise. where our Lord "shall appear unto them that look for Him, a second time unto salvation." Heb 9:28. Toward that temple then he would yet look with fixed eye for help, where God, Who fills heaven and earth, showed Himself to sinners reconciled.
The waters compassed me about even to the soul - Words which to others were figures of distress (Psa 69:2. See the introduction to Jonah), "the waters have come even to the soul," were to Jonah realities. Sunk in the deep seas, the water strove to penetrate at every opening. To draw breath, which sustains life, to him would have been death. There was but a breath between him and death. "The deep encompassed me," encircling, meeting him wherever he turned, holding him imprisoned on every side, so that there was no escape, and, if there otherwise had been, he was bound motionless, "the weed was wrapped around my head, like a grave-band." "The weed" was the well known seaweed, which, even near the surface of the sea where man can struggle, twines round him, a peril even to the strong swimmer, entangling him often the more, the more he struggles to extricate himself from it. But to one below, powerless to struggle, it was as his winding sheet.
I went down to the bottoms, (literally "the cuttings off") of the mountains - , the "roots" as the Chaldee and we call them, the hidden rocks, which the mountains push out, as it were, into the sea, and in which they end. Such hidden rocks extend along the whole length of that coast. These were his dungeon walls; "the earth, her bars," those long submarine reefs of rock, his prison bars, "were around" him "forever:" the seaweeds were his chains: and, even thus, when things were at their uttermost, "Thou hast brought up my life from corruption," to which his body would have fallen a prey, had not God sent the fish to deliver him. The deliverance for which be thanks God is altogether past: "Thou broughtest me up." He calls "the" Lord, "my" God, because, being the God of all, He was especially his God, for whom He had done things of such marvelous love. God loves each soul which He has made with the same infinite love with which He loves all. Whence Paul says of Jesus Gal 2:20, "Who loved me and gave Himself for me." He loves each, with the same undivided love, as if he had created none besides; and He allows each to say, "My God," as if the Infinite God belonged wholly to each. So would He teach us the oneness of Union between the soul which God loves and which admits His love, and Himself.
When my sold fainted - , literally "was covered, within me," was dizzied, overwhelmed. The word is used of actual faintness from heat, Jon 4:8. thirst, Amo 8:13. exhaustion, Isa 51:20. when a film comes over the eyes, and the brain is, as it were, mantled over. The soul of the pious never is so full of God, as when all things else fade from him. Jonah could not but have remembered God in the tempest; when the lots were east; when he adjudged himself to be east forth. But when it came to the utmost, then he says, "I remembered the Lord," as though, in the intense thought of God then, all his former thought of God had been forgetfulness. So it is in every strong act of faith, of love, of prayer; its former state seems unworthy of the name of faith, love, prayer. It believes, loves, prays, as though all before had been forgetfulness.
And my prayer came in unto Thee - No sooner had he so prayed, than God heard. Jonah had thought himself cast out of His sight; but his prayer entered in there. "His holy temple" is doubtless His actual temple, toward which he prayed. God, Who is wholly everywhere but the whole of Him nowhere, was as much in the temple as in heaven; and He had manifested Himself to Israel in their degree in the temple, as to the blessed saints and angels in heaven.
They that observe lying vanities - , i. e., (by the force of the Hebrew form , that diligently watch, pay deference to, court, sue, "vanities of vanities," vain things, which prove themselves vain at last, failing the hopes which trust in them. Such were actual idols, in which men openly professed that they trusted Such are all things in which men trust, out of God. One is not more vain than another. All have this common principle of vanity, that people look, out of God, to that which has its only existence or permanence from God. It is then one general maxim, including all people's idols, idols of the flesh, idols of intellect, idols of ambition, idols of pride, idols of self and self-will. People "observe" them, as gods, watch them, hang upon them, never lose sight of them, guard them as though they could keep them. But what are they? "lying vanities," breath and wind, which none can grasp or detain, vanishing like air into air.
And what do they who so "observe" them? All alike "forsake their own mercy;" i. e., God, "Whose property is, always to have mercy," and who would be mercy to them, if they would. So David calls God, "my mercy." Psa 144:2. Abraham's servant and Naomi praise God, that He "hath not forsaken His mercy" Gen 24:27; Rut 2:20. Jonah does not, in this, exclude himself. His own idol had been his false love for his country, that he would not have his people go into captivity, when God would; would not have Nineveh preserved, the enemy of his country; and by leaving his office, he left his God, "forsook" his "own mercy." See how God speaks of Himself, as wholly belonging to them, who are His. He calls Himself "their own mercy" . He saith not, "they who" do "vanities," (for Ecc 1:2. 'vanity of vanities, and all things are vanity') lest he should seem to condemn all, and to deny mercy to the whole human race; but "they who observe, guard vanities," or lies; "they," into the affections of whose hearts those "vanities" have entered; who not only "do vanities," but who "guard" them, as loving them, deeming that they have found a treasure - These "forsake their own mercy." Although mercy be offended (and under mercy we may understand God Himself, for God is Psa 145:8, "gracious and full of compassion; slow to anger and of great mercy,") yet he doth not "forsake," doth not abhor, "those who guard vanities," but awaiteth that they should return: these contrariwise, of their own will, "forsake mercy" standing and offering itself."
But (And) with the voice of thanksgiving will I (would I fain) sacrifice unto Thee; what I have vowed, I would pay - He does not say, I will, for it did not depend upon him. Without a further miracle of God, he could do nothing. But he says, that he would nevermore forsake God. The law appointed sacrifices of thanksgiving; Lev 7:12-15. these he would offer, not in act only, but with words of praise. He would "pay what he had vowed," and chiefly himself, his life which God had given back to him, the obedience of his remaining life, in all things. For (Ecclesiasticus 35:1) "he that keepeth the law bringeth offerings enough; he that taketh heed to the commandments offereth a peace-offering." Jonah neglects neither the outward nor the inward part, neither the body nor the soul of the commandment.
Salvation is of (literally to) the Lord - It is wholly His; all belongs to Him, so that none can share in bestowing it; none can have any hope, save from Him. He uses an intensive form, as though he would say, strong "mighty salvation" . God seems often to wait for the full resignation of the soul, all its powers and will to Him. Then He can show mercy healthfully, when the soul is wholly surrendered to Him. So, on this full confession, Jonah is restored, The prophet's prayer ends almost in promising the same as the mariners. They "made vows;" Jonah says, "I will pay that I have vowed." Devoted service in the creature is one and the same, although diverse in degree; and so, that Israel might not despise the pagan, he tacitly likens the act of the new pagan converts and that of the prophet.
And the Lord spake unto the fish - Psa 148:8. Wind and storm fulfill His word. The irrational creatures have wills. God had commanded the prophet, and he disobeyed. God, in some way, commanded the fish. He laid His will upon it, and the fish immediately obeyed; a pattern to the prophet when He released him. "God's will, that anything should be completed, is law and fulfillment and hath the power of law. Not that Almighty God commanded the fish, as He does us or the holy angels, uttering in its mind what is to be done, or inserting into the heart the knowledge of what He chooseth. But if He be said to command irrational animals or elements or any part of the creation, this signifieth the law and command of His will. For all things yield to His will, and the mode of their obedience is to us altogether ineffable, but known to Him." "Jonah," says Chrysostom, "fled the land, and fled not the displeasure of God. He fled the land, and brought a tempest on the sea: and not only himself gained no good from flight, but brought into extreme peril those also who took him on board. When he sailed, seated in the vessel, with sailors and pilot and all the tackling, he was in the most extreme peril: when, sunk in the sea, the sin punished and laid aside, he entered that vast vessel, the fish's belly, he enjoyed great fearlessness; that thou mayest learn that, as no ship availeth to one living in sin, so when freed from sin, neither sea destroyeth, nor beasts consume. The waves received him, and choked him not; the vast fish received him and destroyed him not; but both the huge animal and the clement gave back their deposit safe to God, and by all things the prophet learned to be mild and tender, not to be more cruel than the untaught mariners or wild waves or animals.
For the sailors did not give him up at first, but after manifold constraint; and the sea and the wild animal guarded him with much benevolence, God disposing all these things. He returned then, preached, threatened, persuaded, saved, awed, amended, stablished, through that one first preaching. For he needed not many days, nor continuous exhortation; but, speaking these words he brought all to repentance. Wherefore God did not lead him straight from the vessel to the city; but the sailors gave him over to the sea, the sea to the vast fish, the fish to God, God to the Ninevites, and through this long circuit brought back the fugitive; that He might instruct all, that it is impossible to escape the hands of God. For come where a man may, dragging sin after him, he will undergo countless troubles. Though man be not there, nature itself on all sides will oppose him with great vehemence."
"Since the elect too at times strive to be sharp-witted, it is well to bring forward another wise man, and show how the craft of mortal man is comprehended in the Inward Counsels. For Jonah wished to exercise a prudent sharpness of wit, when, being sent to preach repentance to the Ninevites, in that he feared that, if the Gentiles were chosen, Judaea would be forsaken, he refused to discharge the office of preaching. He sought a ship, chose to flee to Tarshish; but immediately a tempest arises, the lot is cast, to know for whose fault the sea was troubled. Jonah is taken in his fault, plunged in the deep, swallowed by the fish, and carried by the vast beast thither whither he set at naught the command to go. See how the tempest found God's runaway, the lot binds him, the sea receives him, the beast encloses him, and, because he sets himself against obeying his Maker, he is carried a culprit by his prison house to the place whither he had been sent.
When God commanded, man would not minister the prophecy; when God enjoined, the beast cast forth the prophet. The Lord then "taketh the wise in their own craftiness," when He bringeth back to the service of His own will, that whereby man's will contradicts Him." "Jonah, fleeing from the perils of preaching and salvation of souls, fell into peril of his own life. When, in the ship, he took on himself the peril of all, he saved both himself and the ship. He fled as a man; he exposed himself to peril, as a prophet" . "Let them think so, who are sent by God or by a superior to preach to heretics or to pagan. When God calleth to an office or condition whose object it is to live for the salvation of others, He gives grace and means necessary or expedient to this end. For so the sweet and careful ordering of His Providence requireth. Greater peril awaiteth us from God our Judge, if we flee His calling as did Jonah, if we use not the talents entrusted to us to do His will and to His glory. We know the parable of the servant who buried the talent, and was condemned by the Lord."
And it vomited out Jonah - Unwilling, but constrained, it cast him forth as a burden to it . "From the lowest depths of death, Life came forth victorious." "He is swallowed by the fish, but is not consumed; and then calls upon God, and (marvel!) on the third day is given back with Christ." "What it prefigured, that that vast animal on the third day gave back alive the prophet which it had swallowed, no need to ask of us, since Christ explained it. As then Jonah passed from the ship into the fish's belly, so Christ from the wood into the tomb or the depth of death. And as he for those imperiled in the tempest, so Christ for those tempest-tossed in this world. And as Jonah was first enjoined to preach to the Ninevites, but the preaching of Jonah did not reach them before the fish cast him forth, so prophecy was sent beforehand to the Gentiles, but did not reach them until after the resurrection of Christ" . "Jonah prophesied of Christ, not so much in words as by a suffering of his own; yet more openly than if he had proclaimed by speech His Death and Resurrection. For why was he received into the fish's belly, and given back the third day, except to signify that Christ would on the third day return from the deep of hell?"
Irenaeus looks upon the history of Jonah as the imaging of man's own history . "As He allowed Jonah to be swallowed by the whale, not that he should perish altogether, but that, being vomited forth, he might the more be subdued to God, and the more glorify God Who had given him such unlooked for deliverance, and bring those Ninevites to solid repentance, converting them to the Lord Who would free them from death, terrified by that sign which befell Jonah (as Scripture says of them, 'They turned every man from his evil way, etc. ...') so from the beginning, God allowed man to be swallowed up by that vast Cetos who was the author of the transgression, not that he should altogether perish but preparing a way of salvation, which, as foresignified by the word in Jonah, was formed for those who had the like faith as to the Lord as Jonah, and with him confessed, "I fear the Lord, etc." that so man, receiving from God unlooked for salvation, might rise from the dead and glorify God, etc. ... This was the longsuffering of God, that man might pass through all, and acknowledge his ways; then, coming to the resurrection and knowing by trial from what he had been delivered, might be forever thankful to God, and, having received from Him the gift of incorruption, might love Him more (for he to whom much is forgiven, loveth much) and know himself, that he is mortal and weak, and understand the Lord, that He is in such wise Mighty and Immortal, that to the mortal He can give immortality and to the things of time eternity."