Jonah had anger in his heart for the Assyrians in Nineveh before the Lord had even called him to prophesy to them. He held that anger in his heart, until the storm moved his anger to fear. Which was good for the moment, but sadly, his anger returned outside the gates of Nineveh after he finally did God’s work as commanded. However, the sailors were moved from fearing the storm to fearing the LORD, just like Christ’s disciples in the boat did when Jesus calmed the storm (Mark 4:35-41) The sailors initially did not want to throw Jonah overboard, but their fear of the storm drove them to accept Jonah’s own conclusion. Seldom do we see “blind faith” from anyone in the Scriptures so quickly rewarded. Jonah had evidenced faith, but his heart was not open to the Lord’s mercy. The sailors were desperate & Jonah was guilty. After Jonah is finally thrown into the sea, it is immediately calm. It makes us wonder if Jesus was there in Spirit, assuring Jonah, “I’ve got this”. The classic irony is that the sailors now “fear” Jehovah, 1:16, and are better at it than Jonah. When we worship God as we should in Christ, that is the very definition of “fear” from God’s perspective. The sailors vow was likely an attempt to abstain from other religions and begin anew in recognizing the sovereignty of Jonah’s God.
The first thing Jonah did right was to do the right thing with his guilt. His confession and prayer is the first glimmer of enlightened hope Jonah gives us.
When we feel guilty about anything, what do we do with our guilt? Most people try to hide it, but here is wisdom, confession & prayer. Jonah’s prayer is written with hindsight. Most scholars are more than certain, these exact words were not what he prayed verbatim, but they are concise thoughts within his prayer while being swallowed and gasping for life. The word “distress” or “affliction” in 2:2 is the anxiety of facing death. This leads many people to pray to God, even if they were atheists in the past. So exactly what motivated Jonah to pray? His own decision to face certain death, was Jonah’s self-sentencing act of guilt. It is interesting to note that while the act of being thrown overboard was Jonah’s idea, and carried out by the hands of sailors, Jonah still attributes God with throwing into the sea, 2:3. This is true insight into the sovereignty of God. We know God didn’t do it directly, but Jonah teaches us that God planned it and gave his consent, Matthew 10:28-29. We should never blame God for the punishment we asked for, but rather, thank Him for his sovereign discipline.
There is a great contrast of faith and experience seen in 2:4, The Jews believed that nobody in the world of the dead was able to worship God again (Psalm 6:5; 115:17). Death had cut them off from God. Jonah may have thought he could never again worship God in the Temple in Jerusalem. The world of the dead was like a prison with many bars from a Jews perspective. Nobody could ever hope to escape, Luke 16:26. But God could bring Jonah back from the world of the dead. And he did. The Temple was in Jerusalem (as in verse 4), where the Jews believed that God was present in a special way. Where Jonah got the idea that God could hear him from the belly of a sea creature is obviously from the experience itself. Evidence that he prayed in faith to be heard, was provided when he landed on the beach in vomit. While trying to pray, we should note Jonah’s mental note of “remembering” v7. This is good for the quality of our prayers, motive, content and result! This act of “remembering” is used in the context of prayer, see 1st Sam. 1:11 & Nehemiah 5:19. Do we “remember” before we pray, or as we pray? Jesus says, “remember I am with you always”, Matthew 28:20. He also told us to “remember Lot’s wife”, Luke 17:32. Most references to “remember” in the Gospels, are reminders to remember what the Lord SAYS., but it is also healthy to remember The LORD himself, as Jonah did, do you? Of course we do on Sunday as we commune around the Lord’s Supper, but is it what we do any other day of the week, even if we were in “distress”?