Sunday, July 31, 2022

Sunday Sermon: "Prayer from the Deep" (Jonah 2:1-10)


SERMON: “Prayer from the Deep”

SCRIPTURE: Jonah 2:1–10


Jonah chapter 2 records one of the Bible’s great prayers. This is especially remarkable because up to this point Jonah has not been really found praying. When God summoned him for a mission to Nineveh, Jonah did not pray to consider the right response. When fleeing to Joppa, Jonah did not pray for guidance. When purchasing passage aboard the ship bound for Tarshish, he did not pray. Nor did Jonah pray when the captain implored him during the great storm. Let’s begin by considering what changed…


Then Jonah prayed to Yahweh his God from the stomach of the fish, and he said,

“I called out of my distress to Yahweh,

And He answered me.

I cried for help from the belly of Sheol;

You heard my voice.

For You had cast me into the deep,

Into the heart of the seas,

And the current surrounded me. 

All Your breakers and waves passed over me. (Jonah 2:1-3)

Now first, we need to take notice of Jonah’s prayerlessness. Jonah’s fall from grace is not coincidental, for this path of prayerlessness actually charted Jonah’s descent into rebellion and ruin. Jonah did not pray because he did not want to talk with God. The whole objective of Jonah’s flight was to escape “away from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3). We will find the same to be true in our lives. Disobedience often leads to prayerlessness, prayerlessness leads to folly and sin, and folly and sin lead to disaster. You see, prayer is our lifeline and connection to God. Christ showed the opposite of prayerlessness in His walk on earth and modelled a prayer-filled life.

Now, what has changed in Jonah’s life to make him a man of prayer? If you’ll remember, back on the ship, he refused to pray even when the captain implored him. But things are different inside the great fish. What has happened? The answer is that God in his grace has brought Jonah low. Now brought to the ultimate destination of his foolish flight, Jonah is faced with the real consequences. He is separated from God, separated from the fellowship of God’s people, and separated from the witness of God’s Word. 

You see, God in his grace gave Jonah a sudden experience of the abyss into which his life was heading. You might call it a sneak preview of coming attractions. Cast overboard, Jonah was encased in the living grave that is the belly of the fish, deep beneath the surface of the waves. Because of God’s gracious deliverance, which precedes Jonah’s prayer, he finally was enabled to pray.

How was Jonah brought low? Well, when the sailors threw Jonah overboard, and this great fish swallowed him alive, he wasn’t just standing there in the mouth of the great fish, on the surface of the water, like he was on some kind of pleasure cruise; waving at the mariners, and telling them – It’s O.K. I am doing fine. I will be fine, you go on ahead without me. No, it says that he was swallowed by this great fish, and he slid on down into its belly, in utter darkness. The fish immediately went down to the base of the mountains, as Jonah says in verse 6, and the earth with its bars appeared closed behind him forever.

I would assume that at first Jonah must have thought that he was going to die. The prophet compared the fish’s stomach to a burial chamber from which he could not escape. “Depth” is literally the “belly” of Sheol, the place of departed souls that the Hebrews conceived of as under the earth’s surface. Jonah thought that he had gone to join the dead.

But after a while, he realized that he was going to live. And he wasn’t sure which would be better at that point; life or death. He says in verse 2 – “I called out of my distress to Yahweh, and He answered me.” Sometimes I think that when people think about this story of Jonah that they think about it in romantic terms; that somehow Jonah had light down there with him; that he was carrying his little pocket flashlight, and that he found a little island in the fish’s belly that was cozy and warm, and that he thought of it as a vacation. 

But no, this was not the way that it was for him, I think. He calls it an affliction, and no doubt it was a great affliction. He says in verse 3, “For You had cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the current surrounded me. All Your breakers and waves passed over me” he says. 

Jonah was in distress in the belly of the great fish because he knew that God was angry with him. He was not only literally surrounded by floods of water and all of God’s billows and the waves had literally passed over him, but he was experiencing God’s displeasure towards him in a personal way. 

Dear Christian, please remember that even though God loves you continually after you trust in Jesus Christ for your salvation, that there will be times when He is displeased with you if you continue on in some sin and will not acknowledge it before Him. 

David says in Psalm 32, verse 3 – “When I kept silent about my sin, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long, for day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer.”

Well, this is the kind of experience that Jonah was having, except he was surrounded continually with darkness and with the sloshing waters and noisy sounds of the fish’s belly. O Christian, when you are going through your darkest experience you must learn to cry out to God in your affliction. Jonah says – “I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction and He answered me.” 

If God answered Jonah, He will answer you. You only must remember to cry out using the name of the Lord Jesus as your only Savior from sin, for no one else’s name will do. He who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved, and not only are sins forgiven, but Christ’s righteousness is imputed and give to you also, so that God can accept you for His sake. Remember Micah 7:18 and 19 – “Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”

Now, I want us to see what Jonah learned in this…


So I said, ‘I have been driven away from Your sight.

Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.’

Water encompassed me to my very soul.

The great deep surrounded me,

Weeds were wrapped around my head.

I went down to the base of the mountains.

The earth with its bars closed behind me forever,

But You have brought up my life from the pit, O Yahweh my God. (Jonah 2:4-6)

Jonah, under the Lord’s discipline in the belly of the great fish, had been cast of God’s sight, and he was now going to once again be able to look again toward God’s holy temple; that is, he would be able to worship once again in Jerusalem, and know the favor of God upon his ministry. Why was this? It was because he had confessed his particular disobedience and he found favor with the Almighty once again.

Church - it will not be enough to please God if there is not real heart dealings going on between a believer and God, and this must be initiated by the heart of the one who has sinned, crying to the living God who is listening and evaluating.

Sometimes when people pray, they do not really intend to confess any heart sin at all, but they pray in order to justify themselves before God. You remember the parable that Jesus told of the 2 men who went up the temple to pray, in Luke chapter 18? It says in verse 9 there – “Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.” “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!” “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Do you see what was wrong with the Pharisee? He was praying with himself. True prayer is never praying with yourself. You must engage God with all of your heart and mind, and if there are sins to be confessed, you do not simply confess them perfunctorily; that is, as though are conceding a point with God, and that you know that this is the right thing to do, and so you go through the form of confessing them. No, No! This publican, this tax-collector, he saw himself rightly as a sinner. He knew, and he understood how much his sins had dishonored God; how unworthy he was that the Lord should even listen to him. He couldn’t even raise his eyes to heaven. He was beating his breast realizing that he had done things of which he was not proud. That is the right way to approach God in prayer if you know that you have sinned. 

Jonah knew this and so when it says in verse 6 that God had brought him out of the pit, that is where he knew that he was in his experience and he was so very thankful that God had had such mercy on him. If you realize how mercifully God has treated you when you have sinned you too will be thankful and you will show that thankful in a renewed obedience to the Lord.


While my soul was fainting within me,

I remembered Yahweh,

And my prayer came to You,

To Your holy temple. (Jonah 2:7)

The Lord Jesus says in Luke 18:1 that men ought always to pray and not to faint and lose heart, and yet Jonah says here that he fainted; that his soul fainted within him. In other words, there was no more spirit in him to think that God would answer his prayers, and so he was tempted to give up. But then, he says, he remembered the Lord. What did he remember? He remembered God’s faithfulness to His covenant, to His own word, and to His promises. He remembered that God does receive sinners who are truly repentant of their sins. He remembered that God was in His holy temple of heaven and that He was a prayer-hearing God. He remembered that even though he had disobeyed God’s call to go and preach, and even though he had acted in a manner unworthy of God’s having called him to be a preacher of His word, that he could still repent of his disobedience and come back to Him, confessing his sins.

You see, Jonah realized that God’s purpose was not simply to have him swallowed in order to kill him, but rather God’s purpose was to preserve him there, while He dealt with his rebellion and his sinful heart. 

And this is what you should remember too, dear Christian, when you are fainting because of the great sins and mistakes in judgment that you may have made. When you begin to pray in this way, remembering the Lord as the One who will receive a repentant sinner, you do well. Do not think that God will ever cast off any one of His own; those who continually come back to Him looking for mercy and grace. He is the One who tests the hearts. He is the One who gives to every believer according to his works. Maybe you feel far away from God; perhaps you feel estranged from Him because of your sins and the mistakes in judgment that you have made. You have made your own decisions to go where you wanted to go and do what you wanted to do rather than listening to His word and being sensitive to His leading.

He would have you to repent and to return to Him and renew your relationship with Him. 

Listen to the words of Lamentations 3:25-32 – “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone and keep silent, because God has laid it on him; let him put his mouth in the dust – There may yet be hope. Let him give his cheek to the one who strikes him, and be full of reproach. For the Lord will not cast off forever. Though He causes grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies. For He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.” Ah, that is what Jonah remembered, and so he was heard when he prayed to the Lord concerning his sinful mistake of disobeying God’s command to him to go preach.


Those who regard worthless idols

Forsake their lovingkindness,

But as for me, I will sacrifice to You

With the voice of thanksgiving.

That which I have vowed I will pay.

Salvation belongs to Yahweh. (Jonah 2:8-9)

You can see here that when Jonah prayed this prayer, he saw this great principle which you and I should see and remember as well. It is that if you have anything more important to you than knowing and walking with God, anything more important to you than doing His will, that you forsake your own Mercy. God is the One who has shown you mercy, dear Christian, but sometimes we forget this. God did not have to take you up and save you. And yet, He had mercy upon You, not for anything that He saw that you could make of yourself, or for anything that you might do for Him.

Rather, He called you according to His own purpose. He has had plans that He wants to work out in relation to your life. He wants to build new desires in you for righteousness, a new vision in you in relation to His holiness and yours, a new perspective on people around you, that you might learn to love them, and help them to understand His greatness and His glory, and what a life looks like that has been transformed by His powerful grace. 

The question is: Do you have this vision? If you have this vision, God will be blessing you with so many rich blessings of grace in relation to your faith in Him, that you will not be able to contain them all; you will not want to be silent about what He is doing in your life; you will want to tell others about it. If you do not have this vision it must mean that you have some worthless idol in your life that you are holding to yourself. You think that you can get something out of that idol that God cannot give to you; that He has not ordained or appointed for you? Oh, think again! God is the giver of every good and perfect gift. Every good gift comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting of shadow. His blessings are all sure, certain, and tangibly good. When you see this, you will want to vow to the Lord, like Jonah.

What Jonah vowed is not specifically told us, but I think that we can reasonably conclude that he was so thankful that God was going to bring him up from the depth and from being in the belly of this great fish, that he vowed that He would move forward, do all and anything that the Lord commanded him to do, even if it went against his natural inclination. He knew that salvation was of the Lord. It does not come from ourselves, and our trying to make things right with God by our own works and efforts. It comes to us when we are shown grace from God in relation to the preaching of the gospel to us. It is Christ’s work that God has regard for, ultimately, not yours. But your work is important to him after you are saved. He wants you to learn to do His will and walk with Him. This was what Jonah was going to learn better, now that God had his attention.


“Then Yahweh spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.” (Jonah 2:10)

I want to end this message by drawing your attention once again to the sovereignty of God. I hope that you can see that when the Lord saw that Jonah truly was repentant that He released him from his watery prison. The Hebrew text says, “The Lord spoke to the fish” (cf. 1:1). Unlike Jonah, the fish obeyed God and vomited the prodigal prophet onto dry land. Jonah had spoken to the Lord in confession (vv. 1–9), and now God responded by speaking to the fish in deliverance: Let my prophet go.

Jonah had finally learned to listen and obey the LORD. 


Let me ask you a final question: Will YOU be sensitive to God speaking to your mind and heart? Will you let Him teach your spirit, in in relation to His word and His will, how you can be more faithful to Him? Will you learn to pray in times of your greatest trials? Will you see Him in the way that Jonah saw Him while he was still in the belly of the great fish? Will you see Him holding you in His loving hands, even when all of His waves and billows are going over you? Will you make a vow to serve Him more faithfully from that day forward? Will you sacrifice to Him with the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving for Christ being your substitute and the Lord Himself being your Teacher? 

Then, you can be sure, you will be able to pay what you have vowed.

Let’s pray.

Our great God, our great Lord Jesus, our God of sovereign compassion, have mercy on each one with us today according to each of their needs. As sinners even now confess before you, Father, show them the same mercy that you showed to Jonah, that you showed to Paul, that you have shown to so many of us. Build in them a faith premised on the revelation of God in Christ, trusting not in the strength of their own faith or the strength of their own repentance, but trusting in the promise of Christ alone who said, "The one who comes to me, I will certainly not cast out." As Christians, Father, you are our heavenly Father. We are your children. We come to you, of course, in need and desperation. We praise you because you do not despise our desperation but rather you look on it in sympathy and you graciously help. Let your character be manifest to each one. May your Spirit apply the essence of these things according to the need of each heart. As believers, may we grow in the grace and the knowledge of Christ. For the rebel sinner that is with us, Father, break their heart now and draw them to a saving faith in Christ. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen