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2 Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, 2saying,
A Psalm of Thanksgiving
Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, 2saying,
“I called to the Lord out of my distress,
and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.
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.
Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
how shall I look again
upon your holy temple?’
The waters closed in over me;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped around my head
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.
As my life was ebbing away,
I remembered the Lord;
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
Those who worship vain idols
forsake their true loyalty.
But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Deliverance belongs to the Lord!”
10 Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.
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 3636 “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. . 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.
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 σχισμας — 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, בעדי, that is, they were, as it were, closed upon him. — Ed. 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. שאול, shaul, derived from corruption, is called the grave by the Hebrews, and the Latin translator has almost everywhere rendered it hell, (infernum;) and שאול, 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 —
In this verse are set forth his difficulties: for Jonah, for the sake of amplifying, refers to his condition. It was a great thing that he cried to God from the bowels of the fish; but it was far more difficult for him to raise up his mind in prayer, when he knew or thought God to be angry with him: for had he been thrown into extreme evils, he might yet call upon God; but as it came to his mind that all the evil he suffered was inflicted by God, because he tried to shun his call, how was it possible for him to penetrate into heaven when such an obstacle stood in his way? We hence see the design of these words, But thou hadst cast me into the gulf, into the heart of the sea; the flood surrounded me, all thy billows and waves passed over me.
In short, Jonah shows here what dreadful temptations presented themselves to him while he was endeavoring to offer up prayers. It came first to his mind that God was his most inveterate enemy. For Jonah did not then think of the sailors and the rest who had cast him into the sea; but his mind was fixed on God: this is the reason why he says, Thou, Lord, hadst cast me into the deep, into the heart of the sea; and then, Thy billows, Thy waves 3838 “He calls them God’s billows and his waves, not because he made and rules them, but because he had now commissioned them against Jonah, and ordered them to afflict and terrify, but not to destroy him. These words are plainly quoted by Jonah from Psalm 42:7. What David spoke figuratively and metaphorically, Jonah applies to himself as literally fulfilled.” — M. Henry. He does not here regard the nature of the sea; but he bestows, as I have already said, all his thoughts on God, and acknowledges that he had to do with him; as though he said, “Thou Lord, in pursuing me, drivest me away; but to thee do I come: thou showest by dreadful proofs that thou art offended with me, but yet I seek thee; so far is it that these terrors drive me to a distance from thee, that now, being subdued as it were by thy goads, I come willingly to thee; for nowhere else is there for me any hope of deliverance.” We now then see how much avails the contrast, when Jonah sets the terrible punishment which he endured in opposition to his prayer. Let us now proceed —
In the first clause of this verse Jonah confirms again what I have said, — that when he sought to pray, not only the door was closed against him, but there were mountains, as it were, intervening, so that he could not breathe a prayer to God: for he did not so much think of the state in which he was; nay, but he chiefly considered his own case, how he had provoked the wrath of God. Hence he says, I have said, I am cast away from the sight of thine eyes. Some give this frigid exposition, that he had been only expelled from his own country, that he might not behold the temple. But I have no doubt but that Jonah tells us here that he suffered extreme agonies, as though every hope of pardon had been cut off from him: “What! shall I yet hope that God will be propitious? It is not to be hoped.” This then is the casting away of which he speaks: for it is said that God casts us away, when he allows us no access to him. Hence Jonah thought that he was wholly alienated from God. Were any to object and say, that then his faith must have been extinct; the obvious answer is, — that in the struggle of faith there are internal conflicts; one thought is suggested, and then another of an opposite character meets it; there would indeed be no trial of our faith, except there were such internal conflicts; for when, with appeased minds, we can feel assured that God is propitious to us, what is the trial of faith? But when the flesh tells us that God is opposed to us, and that there is no more hope of pardon, faith at length sets up its shield, and repels this onset of temptation, and entertains hope of pardon: whenever God for a time appears implacable, then faith indeed is tried. Such then was the condition of Jonah; for, according to the judgment of the flesh, he thought that he was utterly cast away by God, so that he came to him in vain. Jonah, then, having not yet put off flesh and blood, could not immediately lay hold on the grace of God, but difficulties met him in his course.
The latter clause is differently explained by interpreters. Some take it negatively, “I shall no more look towards the temple of thy holiness:” but the words admit not of this explanation. אך, ak, means in Hebrew, truly, nevertheless; and it means also, certainly; and sometimes it is taken dubitatively, perhaps. The greater part of expounders render the clause thus, “But I shall see the temple of thy holiness;” as though Jonah here reproved his own distrust, which he had just expressed, as the case is with the faithful, who immediately check themselves, when they are tempted to entertain any doubt: “What! dost thou then cast away hope, when yet God will be reconciled to thee if thou wilt come to him?” Hence interpreters think that it is a sort of correction, as though Jonah here changed his mind, and retracted what he had previously taken up, as a false principle derived from the judgment of the flesh. He had said then that he had been cast away from the presence of the Lord; but now, according to these expositors, he repels that temptation, But I shall see thy holy temple; though I seem now to be rejected by thee, thou wilt at last receive me into favor. We may, however, explain this clause, consistently with the former, in this way, At least, or, but, I would again see, etc., as an expression of a wish. The future then may be taken for the optative mood, as we know that the Hebrews are wont thus to use the future tense, either when they pray or express a wish. This meaning then best agrees with the passage, that Jonah as yet doubtingly prays, At least, or, but, I would again, O Lord, see the temple of thy holiness. But since the former explanation which I have mentioned is probable, I do not contend for this. However this may be, we find that Jonah did not wholly despair, though the judgment of the flesh would drive him to despair; for he immediately turned his address to God. For they who murmur against God, on the contrary, speak in the third person, turning themselves, as it were, away from him: but Jonah here sets God before his eyes, I have been cast away, he says, from the sight of thine eyes He does not remonstrate here with God, but shows that he was seeking God still, though he thought that he was cast far away.
Then he adds, I would at least see again the temple of thy holiness. And by speaking of the temple, he no doubt set the temple before him as an encouragement to his faith. As then he had been cast away, he gathers everything that might avail to raise up and confirm his hope. He had indeed been circumcised, he had been a worshipper of God from his childhood, he had been educated in the Law, he had exercised himself in offering sacrifices: under the name of temple he now includes briefly all these things. We hence see that he thus encouraged himself to entertain good hope in his extreme necessity. And this is a useful admonition; for when every access to God seems closed up against us, nothing is more useful than to recall to mind, that he has adopted us from our very infancy, that he has also testified his favor by many tokens, especially that he has called us by his Gospel into a fellowship with his only-begotten Son, who is life and salvation; and then, that he has confirmed his favor both by Baptism and the Supper. When, therefore, these things come to our minds, we may be able by faith to break through all impediments. Let us go on —
Here in many words Jonah relates how many things had happened to him, which were calculated to overwhelm his mind with terror and to drive him far from God, and to take away every desire for prayer. But we must ever bear in mind what we have already stated, — that he had to do with God: and this ought to be well considered by us. The case was the same with David, when he says in Psalm 39:9, ‘Thou hast yet done it;’ for, after having complained of his enemies, he turned his mind to God: “What then do I? what do I gain by these complaints? for men alone do not vex me; thou, God, he says, hast done this.” So it was with Jonah; he ever set before him the wrath of God, for he knew that such a calamity had not happened to him but on account of his sins.
He therefore says that he was by waters beset, and then, that he was surrounded by the deep; but at length he adds, that God made his life to ascend, etc. All these circumstances tend to show that Jonah could not have raised up his mind to God except through an extraordinary miracle, as his life was in so many ways oppressed. When he says that he was beset with waters even to the soul, I understand it to have been to the peril of his life; for other explanations seem frigid and strained. And the Hebrews says that to be pressed to the soul, is to be in danger of one’s life; as the Latins, meaning the same thing, say that the heart, or the inside, or the bowels, are wounded. So also in this place the same thing is meant, ‘The waters beset me even to the soul,’ and then, ‘the abyss surrounds me.’ Some render סוף, suph, sedge; others sea-weed; others bulrush: but the sense amounts to the same thing. No doubt סוף, suph, is a species of sedge; and some think that the Red Sea was thus called, because it is full of sedges or bulrushes. They think also that bulrushes are thus called, because they soon putrefy. But what Jonah means is certain and that is, that weed enveloped his head, or that weed grew around his head: but to refer this to the head of the fish, as some do, is improper: Jonah speaks metaphorically when he says that he was entangled in the sedge, inasmuch as there is no hope when any one is rolled in the sedge at the bottom of the sea. How, indeed, can he escape from drowning who is thus held, as it were, tied up? It is then to be understood metaphorically; for Jonah meant that he was so sunk that he could not swim, except through the ineffable power of God.
According to the same sense he says, I descended to the roots of the mountains. But he speaks of promontories, which were nigh the sea; as though he had said, that he was not cast into the midst of the sea, but that he had so sunk as to be fixed in the deep under the roots of mountains. All these things have the same designs which was to show that no deliverance could be hoped for, except God stretched forth his hand from heaven, and indeed in a manner new and incredible.
He says that the earth with its bars was around him. He means by this kind of speaking, that he was so shut up, as if the whole earth had been like a door. We know what sort of bars are those of the earth, when we ascribe bars to it: for when any door is fastened with bolts, we know how small a portion it is. But when we suppose the earth itself to be like a door, what kind of things must the bolts be? It is the same thing then as though Jonah had said, that he was so hindered from the vital light, as if the earth had been set against him to prevent his coming forth to behold the sun: the earth, then, was set against me, and that for ever
He afterwards comes to thanksgiving, And thou Jehovah, my God, hast made my life to ascend from the grave. Jonah, after having given a long description, for the purpose of showing that he was not once put to death, but that he had been overwhelmed with many and various deaths, now adds his gratitude to the Lord for having delivered him, Thou, he says, hast made my life to ascend from the grave, O Jehovah. He again confirms what I have once said, — that he did not pour forth empty prayers, but that he prayed with an earnest feeling, and in faith: for he would not have called him his God, except he was persuaded of his paternal love, so as to be able to expect from him a certain salvation. Thou, then, Jehovah, my God, he says; he does not say, Thou hast delivered me, but, Thou hast brought forth my life from the grave. Then Jonah, brought to life again, testifies here that he was not only delivered by God’s aid from the greatest danger, but that he had, by a certain kind of resurrection, been raised from the dead. This is the meaning of this mode of speaking, when he says that his life had been brought forth from the grave, or from corruption itself. It follows —
Here Jonah comprehends in one verse what he had previously said, — that he had been distressed with the heaviest troubles, but that he had not yet been so cast down in his mind, as that he had no prospect of God’s favor to encourage him to pray. He indeed first confesses that he had suffered some kind of fainting, and that he had been harassed by anxious and perplexing thoughts, so as not to be able by his own efforts to disengage himself.
As to the word עטף, otheph, it means in Hebrew to hide, to cover; but in Niphal and Hithpael (in which conjugation it is found here) it signifies to fail: but its former meaning might still be suitably retained here; then it would be, ‘My soul hid or rolled up itself,’ as it is in Psalm 102:1, ‘The prayer of the afflicted, when he rolled up himself in his distress.’ They who render it, he multiplied prayers, have no reason to support them. I therefore doubt not but that Jonah here means, either that he had been overcome by a swoon, or that he had been so perplexed as not to be able without a violent struggle to raise up his mind to God. However it may have been, he intended by this word to express the anxiety of his mind. While then we are tossed about by divers thoughts, and remain, as it were, bound up in a hopeless condition, then our soul may be said to roll or to fold up itself within us. When therefore the soul rolls up itself, all the thoughts of man in perplexity recoil on himself. We may indeed seek to disburden ourselves while we toss about various purposes, but whatever we strive to turn away from us, soon comes back on our own head; thus our soul recoils upon us. We now perceive what Jonah meant by this clause, When my soul infolded itself, or failed within me, I remembered, he says, Jehovah. We hence learn that Jonah became not a conqueror without the greatest difficulties, not until his soul, as we have said, had fainted: this is one thing. Then we learn, also, that he was not so oppressed with distresses but that he at length sought God by prayer. Jonah therefore retained this truth, that God was to be sought, however severely and sharply he treated him for a time; for the remembering, of which he speaks, proceeded from faith. The ungodly also remember Jehovah, but they dread him, for they look on him as a judge; and whenever a mention is made of God, they expect nothing but destruction: but Jonah applied the remembrance of God to another purpose, even as a solace to ease his cares and his anxieties.
For it immediately follows, that his prayer had penetrated unto God, or entered before him. 3939 “Here prayer is personified, and is represented as a messenger going from the distressed and entering into the temple of God, and standing before him. This is a very fine and delicate image.” — Adam Clarke. We then see that Jonah so remembered his God, that by faith he knew that he would be propitious to him; and hence was his disposition to pray. But by saying that his prayer entered into his temple, he no doubt alludes to a custom under the law; for the Jews were wont to turn themselves towards the temple whenever they prayed: nor was this a superstitious ceremony; for we know that they were instructed in the doctrine which invited them to the sanctuary and the ark of the covenant. Since then this was the custom under the law, Jonah says that his prayer entered into the temple of God; for that was a visible symbol, through which the Jews might understand that God was near to them; not that they by a false imagination bound God to external signs, but because they knew that these helps Had not in vain been given to them. So then Jonah not only remembered his God, but called also to mind the signs and symbols in which he had exercised his faith, as we have just said through the whole course of his life; for they who view him as referring to heaven, depart wholly from what the Prophet meant. We indeed know that the temple sometimes means heaven; but this sense suits not this place. Then Jonah meant that though he was far away from the temple, God was yet near to him; for he had not ceased to pray to that God who had revealed himself by the law which he gave, and who had expressed his will to be worshipped at Jerusalem, and also had been pleased to appoint the ark as the symbol of his presence, that the Jews might, with an assured faith, call upon him, and that they might not doubt but that he dwelt in the midst of them, inasmuch as he had there his visible habitation.
Here Jonah says first, that men miserably go astray, when they turn aside to vain superstitions, for they rob themselves of the chief good: for he calls whatever help or aid that is necessary for salvation, the mercy of men. The sense then is that as soon as men depart from God, they depart from life and salvation, and that nothing is retained by them, for they willfully cast aside whatever good that can be hoped and desired. Some elicit a contrary meaning, that the superstitious, when they return to a sound mind, relinquish their own reproach; for חסד, chesad, sometimes means reproach. They then think that the way of true penitence is here described, — that when God restores men from their straying to the right way, he gives them at the same time a sound mind, so that they rid themselves from all their vices. This is indeed true, but it is too strained a meaning. Others confine this to the sailors who vowed sacrifices to God; as though Jonah had said, that they would soon relapse to their own follies, and bid adieu to God, who in his mercy had delivered them from shipwreck; so they explain their mercy to be God; but this is also too forced an explanation.
I doubt not, therefore, but that Jonah here sets his own religion in opposition to his false intentions of men; for it immediately follows, But I with the voice of praise will sacrifice to thee. Jonah, then, having before confessed that he would be thankful to God, now pours contempt on all those
inventions which men foolishly contrive for themselves, and through which they withdraw themselves from the only true God, and from the sincere worship of him. For he calls all those devices, by which men deceive themselves, the vanities of falsehood;
הבלי-שוא, “Idols of vanity or falsehood,” i.e., false, or deceitful, or vain idols. הבל means vapor, smoke, breath, vanity, inanity: but in the plural
number it is applied for the most part to idols. See Deuteronomy 32:21; 1 Kings 16:13, 26 שוא is a lie, which is vain — useless,
and false — deceptive. Marckius renders the words, “Vanitates inanitatis — vanities of inanity’” Junius and Tremelius, “Vanitates mendaces — mendacious vanities;” Septuagint, “ματαια και Ψευδη — vain and false things.” “He thus calls idols,” says an author in Poole’s Syn., “and all those things in which any one, excluding God, trusts; which are nothing, and can do nothing, and which
deceive their worshippers.” This is true, that is, that all other things, as well as idols, are, apart from God, vain, and worthless, and deceptive; but the reference here no doubt is to idols. They are not only empty, but deceptive. — Ed.
for it is certain that they are mere fallacies which men invent for themselves without the authority of God’s Word; for truth is one and simple, which God has revealed to us in his world. Whosoever then turns aside the least, either on this or on that side, seeks, as it were designedly, some imposture or another, by which he ruins himself. They then who follow such vanities, says Jonah, forsake their own mercy,
חסדם יעזבו, “Their mercy or goodness they forsake,” that is, the mercy exhibited and offered to them by God; or, if we render it goodness, it means their chief good, which is God. The Psalmist calls God his goodness in Psalm
144:2, חסדי, “my goodness,” the giver of all his goodness, or his chief good. Dathius gives very correctly the meaning of the two lines in these words —
“Qui vana idola colunt,
Felicitatis suae auctorem deserunt —
They who worship vain idols,
Desert the author of their own happiness.”
More literally —
“They who attend on the idols of vanity,
Their own goodness forsake.”
There is a contrast between vain idols and their own goodness, that is, the goodness received by them from God. Grotius gives this paraphrase, “They who worship idols are vain; for they forsake their own mercy, that is, God, who is able to help them in their distress.” Henry suggests another view, “They who follow their own inventions, as Jonah had done, when he fled from the presence of the lord to go to Tarshish, forsake their own mercy, that mercy which they may find in God.” — Ed. that is they reject all happiness: for no aid and no help can be expected from any other quarter than from the only true God.
But this passage deserves a careful notice; for we hence learn what value to attach to all superstitions, to all those opinions of men, when they attempt to set up religion according to their own will: for Jonah calls them lying or fallacious vanities. There is then but one true religion, the religion which God has taught us in his word. We must also notice, that men in vain weary themselves when they follow their own inventions; for the more strenuously they run, the farther they recede from the right way, as Augustine has well observed. But Jonah here adopts a higher principle, — that God alone possesses in himself all fullness of blessings: whosoever then truly and sincerely seeks God, will find in him whatever can be wished for salvation. But God is not to be sought but by obedience and faith: whosoever then dare to give themselves loose reins, so as to follow this or that without the warrant of God’s word, recede from God, and, at the same time, deprive themselves of all good things. The superstitious do indeed think that they gain much when they toil in their own inventions; but we see what the Holy Spirit declares by the mouth of Jonah. The Lord says the same by Jeremiah
“They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and cisterns have they digged for themselves,” (Jeremiah 2:13.)
There the Lord complains of his chosen people, who had gone astray after wicked superstitions. Hence, when men wander beyond the word of God, they in a manner renounce God, or say adieu to him; and thus they deprive themselves of all good things; for without God there is no salvation and no help to be found.
Jonah therefore rightly adds, But I, with the voice of praise, will sacrifice to thee; as though he said While men as it were banish themselves from God, by giving themselves up to errors, I will sacrifice to thee and to thee alone, O Lord. And this ought to be observed by us; for as our minds are prone to falsehood and vanity, any new superstition will easily lay hold so us, except we be restrained by this bond, except we be fully persuaded, — that true salvation dwells in God alone, and every aid and help that can be expected by us: but when this conviction is really and thoroughly fixed in our hearts, then true religion cannot be easily lost by us: though Satan should on every side spread his allurements, we shall yet continue in the true and right worship of God. And the more carefully it behaves us to consider this passage, because Jonah no doubt meant here to strengthen himself in the right path of religion; for he knew that like all mortals he was prone to what was false; he therefore encouraged himself to persevere: and this he does, when he declares that whatever superstition men devise, is a deprivation of the chief good, even of life and salvation. It will hence follow, that we shall abominate every error when we are fully persuaded that we forsake the true God whenever we obey not his word, and that we at the same time cast away salvation, and every thing good that can be desired. Then Jonah says, I will sacrifice to thee with the voice of praise.
It must be noticed here farther, that the worship of God especially consists in praises, as it is said in Psalm 1:1: for there God shows that he regards as nothing all sacrifices, except they answer this end — to set forth the praise of his name. It was indeed his will that sacrifices should be offered to him under the law; but it was for the end just stated: for God cares not for calves and oxen, for goats and lambs; but his will was that he should be acknowledged as the Giver of all blessings. Hence he says there, ‘Sacrifice to me the sacrifice of praise.’ So also Jonah now says, I will offer to thee the sacrifice of praise, and he might have said with still more simplicity, “Lord, I ascribe to thee my preserved life.” But if this was the case under the shadows of the law, how much more ought we to attend to this, that is, — to strive to worship God, not in a gross manner, but spiritually, and to testify that our life proceeds from him, that it is in his hand, that we owe all things to him, and, in a word, that he is the Source and Author of salvation, and not only of salvation, but also of wisdom, of righteousness, of power?
And he afterwards mentions his vows, I will pay, he says, my vows. We have stated elsewhere in what light we are to consider vows. The holy Fathers did not vow to God, as the Papists of this day are wont to do, who seek to pacify God by their frivolous practices; one abstains for a certain time from meat, another puts on sackcloth, another undertakes a pilgrimage, and another obtrudes on God some new ceremony. There was nothing of this kind in the vows of the holy Fathers; but a vow was the mere act of thanksgiving, or a testimony of gratitude: and so Jonah joins his vows here with the sacrifice of praise. We hence learn that they were not two different things; but he repeats the same thing twice. Jonah, then, had declared his vow to God for no other purpose but to testify his gratitude.
And hence he adds, To Jehovah is, or belongs, salvation; that is, to save is the prerogative of God alone; Jehovah is here in the dative case, for prefixed to it is ל, lamed. It is then to Jehovah that salvation belongs; the work of saving appertains to no other but to the Supreme God. Since it is so, we see how absurd and insane men are, when they transfer praises to another, as every one does who invents an idol for himself. As, then, there is but the one true God who saves, it behaves us to ascribe to him alone all our praises, that we may not deprive him of his right. This is the import of the whole. It follows —
The deliverance of Jonah is here in few words described; but how attentively ought we to consider the event? It was an incredible miracle, that Jonah should have continued alive and safe in the bowels of the fish for three days. For how was it that he was not a thousand times smothered or drowned by waters? We know that fish continually draw in water: Jonah could not certainly respire while in the fish; and the life of man without breathing can hardly continue for a minute. Jonah, then, must have been preserved beyond the power of nature. Then how could it have been that the fish should cast forth Jonah on the shore, except God by his unsearchable power had drawn the fish there? Again, who could have supernaturally opened its bowels and its mouth? His coming forth, then, was in every way miraculous, yea, it was attended with many miracles.
But Jonah, that he might the more extol the infinite power of God, adopted the word said. Hence we learn that nothing is hard to God, for he could by a nod only effect so great a thing as surpasses all our conceptions. If Jonah had said that he was delivered by God’s kindness and favor, it would have been much less emphatical, than when he adopts a word which expresses a command, And Jehovah spake, or said, to the fish.
But as this deliverance of Jonah is an image of the resurrection, this is an extraordinary passage, and worthy of being especially noticed; for the Holy Spirit carries our minds to that power by which the world was formed and is still wonderfully preserved. That we may then, without hesitation and doubt, be convinced of the restoration which God promises to us, let us remember that the world was by him created out of nothing by his word and bidding, and is still thus sustained. But if this general truth is not sufficient, let this history of Jonah come to our minds, — that God commanded a fish to cast forth Jonah: for how was it that Jonah escaped safe and was delivered? Even because it so pleased God, because the Lord commanded; and this word at this day retains the same efficacy. By that power then, by which he works all things, we also shall one day be raised up from the dead. Now follows —