About Jesus   Steve Sweetman

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Chapter 2

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Jonah's Prayer (ch. 2:1- 10)


As I've said earlier, Jesus, in Matthew 12:39 and 40 compares his death and His visit to Hades with Jonah being in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.  Because of this, I will comment on the verses in this chapter first as they apply to Jonah, then I will go back and comment on these verses as they apply to Jesus.  Chapter 2 is a clear portrayal, clear prophecy, of Jesus' death and visit to Hades.   


Verse 1 states that while inside the fist, Jonah "prayed to the Lord, his God".  I am sure this was one very serious prayer.  He's praying to Yahweh, "his" God. There is a real personal sense to the words "his God".  This is a real personal situation that Jonah finds himself in.  It's just himself inside the fish.  He's all alone and he is very  desperate.


Verse 2 tells us the intensity of this serious prayer.  Jonah "called out', or, "cried out" to the Lord from a posture of "distress".  As is always the case with such a prayer, verse 2 says that God answered Jonah.  There is something to be learned here, and that is, when we cry out to the Lord, from the bottom of our hearts, in one way or another, He will hear us and answer us.


Note the phrase in the NIV, "from the depth of the grave".  This phrase is translated from the Hebrew word "Shaol", which is the "place of the departed dead".


At this point we need to distinguish between four particular words found in the Bible.  We see one word here.  That's Sheol.  The New Testament Greek equivalent to Sheol is "Hades". 


If you read Luke 16:19 and following you will learn something about Hades, or Sheol.  There was a man in one part of Hades and another man in the other part of Hades.  Jesus speaks of Hades being divided into two sections.  One side had fire while the other side had no fire.  Hades, or Sheol, at the time when Jesus was teaching this was divided into two parts.  One part was for the righteous dead and the other part was for the wicked dead. 


In Ephesians 4:7 and Matthew 12:40 we learn that Jesus, after dying on the cross went to Hades and freed the righteous dead.  In Matthew 12:40 Jesus says that Hades is in the centre of the earth. 


In the book of Revelation we see the Lake of Fire .  In chapter 20, verses 10 and 14 we see that the devil, the false prophet, and Hades itself was thrown into the Lake of Fire .  Hades is not the Lake of Fire .  At this point I'll comment on the word "hell", which in my thinking is a confusing and most misunderstood word, and shouldn't be used.  Hell is not the Lake of Fire .  We should think of hell in terms of Hades.  That being said, I believe we should call Hades Hades, not hell.


In Matthew 12:40, Jesus compares Himself going to the center of the earth, that is Hades, to Jonah being stuck in the fish's belly for three days and three nights.  This tells us that this incident with Jonah and the fish is prophetic.  Jonah also hints as this being prophetic also when instead of saying he was in the belly of the fish in verse 2, he says he was in Sheol, or Hades.  Some might say that Jonah is simply comparing being in the fishes belly to Hades, and they might have a point, but there might be more to it than that.


Remember when Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be with Him in paradise.  Paradise isn't heaven.  Paradise is the good side of Hades or Sheol.  The thief could not go directly to heaven until the work of Jesus' sacrifice was complete, and Jesus had to go to Hades and release the righteous dead into the presence of the Lord.  Those who die now in faith don't go to Hades  They go to be with Jesus in heaven. 


If you're not convinced that the words "called out" in the first part of verse 2 isn't a "cry", well, the last part of verse 2 specifically uses the word "cry:.     


Since we see the word "grave" or "Sheol" in verse 2, and since Jesus describes this as "Hades", we need to understand that this verse is speaking about Jonah being inside of the fish.  However, the next few verses seem to describe Jonah when he was in the sea and before he was swallowed by the fist.  The next few verses is a perfect picture of a downing man.                  


Even though it was the crew of the boat that threw Jonah into the sea, we see in verse 3 that Jonah attributes him being thrown into the sea by the crew of the ship to God.  God was trying to get Jonah's attention.  We see this all the way through the Bible.  God often uses people, whether they are righteous or wicked, to do His will.


In verse 4 Jonah views this event as being "banished" from the sight of God.  Of course, God sees everyone everywhere.  What I believe happened here, or, what Jonah might have been thinking, is that he was banished from the presence of the Lord.  He lost the fellowship he once had with his God.  God was there, but at the moment, He refused to help Jonah.


Verse 5 gets pretty graphic when it says that seaweed was wrapped around Jonah's head.  The sea is full of seaweed and other unpleasantness, and it is all wrapped around his head, and ready to strangle him.  I think that unpleasantness that is seen here is just a mild form of unpleasantness that Jesus experienced while in the belly of the earth.


In verse 6 Jonah says that he sunk "to the roots of the mountains.  It was the common consensus of the day that mountains floated on water, thus the reason for what he says here.  The picture is of Jonah going to the bottom of the sea.


The words "the earth beneath barred me in forever'.  Jonah felt eternally trapped.  He tasted what the wicked side of Hades was like.  That side of Hades is prison.  You're behind bars forever.


Even though Jonah is at the bottom of the sea, his faith in God is clear.  He says that God has, in past tense, lifted him from this place of despair.


Jonah says in verse 7, "when my life was ebbing away", meaning, "when it looked like life was all over". It was then that he turned to the Lord and looked to His Temple.  Sometimes people wait until the last moment to turn to the Lord, yet on the other hand, when people get old, they've made up their minds long ago to not give their lives to the Lord at the end of life, so they don't.


Verse 8 is so important.  It reads, "those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs".  We know what idols Jonah was talking about.  They were the idols made to represent the multitude of gods people worshipped back then.  We have our idols today, whether material or spiritual.  When we give ourselves to our idols, we forfeit God's grace in our lives.  I think I can safely say, "to the degree we have false idols in our lives is the degree to which we forfeit God's grace in our lives". 


Verse 9 is amazing.  It represents true repentance in the life of Jonah.  He is actually singing a song of praise while in the midst of such major trouble.  Now that is repentance.  That is true faith and trust in God.  Jonah has just learned one important lesson.


Jonah says, "what I have vowed, I will make come good".  I never recommend making too many vows.  There are some that need to be made, and when we make them, we must keep them.  It is better to not make a vow in the first place than to make it and then break it.


Verse 9 states that "salvation comes from the Lord".  Here in the depth of the fish's belly, Jonah makes another very important confession.


The chapter ends with verse 10 vomiting Jonah onto dry land.  That's not a pretty sight.  I doubt if it was a pretty experience.  We've all been sick and we've all vomited before. It's not nice, but to actually be part of that vomit; I don't think I can imagine how bad that would be.  That being said, for Jonah, he was probably ecstatic that he was no longer in the belly of the fish. 


Since Jesus compared His death to Jonah's experience, we should see if there is anything in this chapter that we could say that relates to Jesus' death.  Before I comment on chapter 2, there is one thing in chapter 1 I should comment on.  The fact that Jonah was thrown overboard and not jumped overboard on His own could be seen as prophetic.  Jesus was taken by the Jews and arrested and killed by the Romans.  Although He went to the cross willingly, it was others who killed Him.  Others threw Him overboard so to speak. 


In verse 2 Jonah equates the belly of the fist  with Sheol.  Some believe that Jonah really did go to Sheol, and not just the belly of the fish.  We know for sure that Jesus went to Sheol, or Hades, as it is called in the New Testament.  I'm not really convinced that Jonah actually went to Sheol.  He  might have, but he also might have simply been speaking figuratively here. 


Verse 2 also says that in Jonah's distress he called out, or, cried out, to the Lord.  So did Jesus, both in the garden and on the cross. God heard Jonah's cry and He heard Jesus' cry, but in both instances that answer took three days to come.  The answer being a rescue from death.


I like the word "hurled" in verse 3.  Both Jonah and Jesus were hurled into death.  The last few days of Jesus' life was quite a whirlwind.  He was hurled from one place to the next, ending on the cross.  He was hurled into the arms of soldiers when He was captured.  He was hurled into the Sanhedrin.  He was hurled over to the Roman soldiers and Pilate; hurled back to the screaming crowd, and then back to Pilate, and then back to the Roman soldiers who eventually killed Him.  You might even say that Jesus was hurled down into Hades.


Verse 3 says, "All your waves and breakers swept over me".  Again this is true with Jesus as well.  The waves of wrath swept over Jesus while on the cross, the wrath that was rightly due to us.  All, not part, of God's wrath was poured out on Jesus because He not only was punished for our sins, but in fact became sin for us. 


Verse 4 states that Jonah was banished from God's sight, and so was Jesus.  God didn't leave Jesus while He was on the cross, but God did turn His back on Jesus so He couldn't see Him.  God hates sin and it was too much for Him to bare to see Jesus full of sin and being punished for sin.  Yet, in the midst of it all, Jesus like Jonah, looked towards the temple of God in heaven.


The word "banished" is a harsh word.  It's not a simple turning of the back.  It's a forceful removal.   


In verse 5 the deep surrounded Jonah as it did Jesus. Jesus visited Hades in the depth of the earth. The deep refers to the sea.  The deep and waves in the Bible is often symbolic of God's wrath.  As Jonah was in the deep, typifying God's wrath, so was Jesus experiencing God's wrath while on the cross.  Wave after wave after wave, God's wrath drowned Jesus. 


In verse 6 Jonah said, "the earth beneath barred me in forever".  While in Hades, Jesus was barred in, but not forever.  The word "barred" here portrays just what Sheol, or Hades, is all about.  It's a place of bars, like a prison, and in New Testament times, it's a place of no escape.   Because of these bars, Jesus had to go to Hades and release those good souls.  Matthew 27:57 through 60 tells of the event when these souls were released and some even walked the streets of Jerusalem.


Also in verse 6, God brought both Jonah and Jesus back to life from the pit.  This might be in reference to the bottomless pit, which is Hades, as seen in the book of Revelation.  Again, the word "pit" here might well be symbolic. 


In verse 7, when Jesus' "life was ebbing away",  He looked towards Heaven.  He never lost sight of Heaven or His Father.  I can see Jesus looking to Heaven and seeing Father God's back instead of His face.  What a feeling that must have been, but still, Jesus did not turn from looking towards Heaven as you and I might.  Jesus would look, look again, and look again.  He was constantly looking for His Father's back to be turned so He could see His Father's face.  What a joy that must have been when God the Father finally turned around and gazed on His Son.  


Jesus surely didn't cling to worthless idols as seen in verse 8.  Instead, He would have sang the song of salvation as seen in verse 9.  He declared while on the cross, "it is finished".  Salvation was paid for.


The choice was Jesus' as is the same choice is ours.  Do we cling to worship idols, whatever they may be, or do we cling to our heavenly Father?


Verse 10 states that the fish vomited Jonah out of his mouth.  If you read the gospel accounts you will see that in like fashion Jesus was vomited out of the grave when the stone blasted from the front of the grave.  


Line by line, all the way through this chapter you can see how Matthew 12:39 and 40 relates to this chapter.



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