Jonah Chapter 2 Bible Study Lesson: The God of Great Comebacks

Bible Studies in Book of Jonah

Jonah Chapter 2 Lesson: The God of Great Comebacks

by I Gordon


When we left Jonah at the end of chapter one it is fair to say he was in a slightly sticky situation. The Lord had given a specific great fish a new task - swallow Jonah! The fish had been obedient and done his job well. Now you would think that would be the end of the story and if it was it would make for a pretty short book. Probably only 8 verses would be required. Something like:

  1. God commands prophet to go.
  2. Jonah disobeys and says no.
  3. Jonah boards ship to flee.
  4. Jonah thrown into the sea.
  5. Prophet sees shore as his goal.
  6. Fish comes and swallows him whole.
  7. Jonah our disobedient friend,
  8. Meets a sticky, smelly end!

That would be it... just a one chapter book thank you very much. But things have a habit of not being so straight forward when God enters the story! I have a sneaky suspicion that one of the greatest comebacks could be coming... So let's have a look. This bible study lesson will focus on the God on Jonah who is known for causing great comebacks!

Jonah... Jonah! Are you still alive down there?

Jonah 2:1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish...

The last verse that we read in chapter 1 said  'And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.'  As I mentioned in the introduction, that should have been the end of it. But here we are, in chapter 2, and Jonah is still praying from the belly of the fish! There are some remarkable comebacks in the Bible. Can you think of any?  [1]  What comes to mind? What men and women in the Bible have found themselves in situations where, under normal circumstances, it should really be the end of them or at least they should never have been restored to such a position that they did achieve? Well this is a truly remarkable comeback. And it is all because of God! Thank God that He is the God of comebacks. But how does it begin? As we see with Jonah's experience here, any great comeback is going to start with prayer. Prayer brings God into the circumstance. It matters not where the prayer comes from. Even the belly of a great fish is not too far gone to still pray and find deliverance. But deliverance doesn't come before our heart turns to God and reaches out to Him. I wonder whether if you feel that you have a situation that is beyond the reach of God?

But the answer comes... 

Jonah 2:2 saying, "I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.

Jonah prayed and he received an answer. How great is it when God answers? This was all that mattered to Jonah. If God answered it didn't matter whether he was relaxing in a hammock without a concern in his mind, or deep in the belly of a great fish... it didn't matter. When God gives His word then we can be at peace no matter what our situation for the one who speaks is faithful and true. And He is able. Jonah got an answer. He knew that God had heard. Do we? Sometimes we need to keep praying so that we know He has heard. This is what the Apostle John spoke about when he said:

1 John 5:14-15 'This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. (15) And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.'

Cast into the deep...

Jonah 2:3-4 "For You had cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the current engulfed me. All Your breakers and billows passed over me. (4) "So I said, 'I have been expelled from Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.'

Of course, we should not forget that God can and does cast us into the deep at times. The seamen may have thrown Jonah overboard but he still knew that behind it all God was allowing it and directing their actions. God had a set place for His prophet and a set time. The place was in the belly of a great fish and the time was three days and three nights. We too are sometimes pushed into the deep end, into a God-ordained place and for a God-ordained time, when we would rather just wade in the shallows. This is for our eternal good so that we might know Him better but it isn't always what we put near the top of our wish list! We need to pray, as I mentioned earlier, but we also need to pray according to His will and this isn't normally just a 'get me out of here and return things to normal' type of prayer. The following lyrics from a song called 'Blessings'  [2]  sums up very well the difference between our thoughts and prayers during such times and the truth of what God is trying to work out in our lives.

Blessings Lyrics

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace, comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity, we pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need, yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

(Chorus) 'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops, What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear, we cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love, as if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea and long that we'd have faith to believe (Chorus)

When friends betray us, when darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart, That this is not, this is not our home. It's not our home

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life, Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy
What if trials of this life, the rain, the storms, the hardest nights
are your mercies in disguise!

Jonah mentions that 'all your waves and your billows passed over me.'  [3]  This is from the book of Psalms. In fact most of Jonah's prayer is actual scripture from the Psalms.  [4]  These are times when wave upon wave of difficulties and troubles come our way. But remember again - When God casts us into the deep it is to strengthen our faith and those difficult times are truly 'mercies in disguise'.

A slight detour for the picture as a nation...

Jonah 2:5-6 "Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me; Weeds were wrapped around my head. (6) "I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever, but You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.

The first part of this verse is a quote from Psalm 18 which is translated as

Psalms 18:4-5 The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. (5) The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.

What is interesting about this Psalm, and this passage in Jonah for that matter, is that it pictures the remnant of Israel crying out to the Lord in their distress in the days leading up to the return of Jesus Christ. Psalm 18 pictures an incredible 'comeback' through God's power and mercy at the very point of death. If you are familiar with the events on earth at that time you will know that all nations will eventually come against Israel. And they will be brought to the place of utter reliance upon their God once again. Jewish Messianic scholar Arnold Fructembaum writes of Psalm 18 that it is a prophetic prayer of the Jewish remnant calling for the Messiah at the second coming. I'll include a little more of this Psalm and please read it with this thought in mind:

Psalms 18:6-19 In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. (7) The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. (8) Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. (9) He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. (10) He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. (11) He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him-- the dark rain clouds of the sky. (12) Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning. (13) The LORD thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. (14) He shot his arrows and scattered the enemies, great bolts of lightning and routed them. (15) The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of breath from your nostrils. (16) He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. (17) He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. (18) They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. (19) He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.

What makes this all the more interesting is that the book of Jonah is also associated with the nation of Israel as well. On the most holy of all Jewish days, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the entire book of Jonah is read in the synagogue. A.C Gaebelein writes:

'Jonah is a type of the Jewish Nation. In the Jewish synagogical ritual the book of Jonah is read on the Day of Atonement. The writer is indebted to an old orthodox Jew for the information why this story is read on their great day of fasting and prayer. He said, 'We are the Jonah.'

I will continue the quote which expounds on this point in the footnote below. Do read it for it is an interesting type, showing how the Jewish prophet Jonah teaches us about the nation of Israel.  [5] 

Of course this thought of the cords of death engulfing Jonah also reminds us of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus went down into the place of death for us.

If tempted to faint, remember this!

Jonah 2:7-9 "While I was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to You, Into Your holy temple. (8) "Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness, (9) But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD."

We see Jonah right at the point of death here. 'While I was fainting away, I remembered the Lord'. Now you don't have to be in the heart of a fish to have your life fainting away. We can faint at any stage of life and under any trial or struggle unfortunately. So the key word here is 'remembered'. Remember the Lord. Remember who He is and what He has done for you. At this point of self judgement and reflection, Jonah realises that his running from God had resulted in emptiness. 'Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness'. That is what Jonah had done. He had forsaken his faithfulness to the Lord for his own will and desires... which didn't work out all that flash! But there is no sense of self pity here. In fact there is thanksgiving and a recommitment to the Lord to pay that which he had vowed. This, I assume, is the vow to be the Lord's prophet and act as his spokesman. It was a calling to obey the word of the Lord and follow where God leads. At this point of utter helplessness, Jonah sees the error of his ways and the emptiness and folly of trying to run from the Lord. He knows now that he is completely in the hands of Lord. There is nothing he can do but surrender his will and give praise to his God. Brought to the point of utter hopelessness, Jonah utters the most important verse and the most important point of all - 'Salvation is of the Lord'.

This is where the Lord seeks to bring us to. It is a declaration that salvation belongs to Him. It is also the place of surrender. Jonah isn't going to fight the Lord anymore. He isn't going to run. His ears will not be blocked. He will pay his vows. He is brought to the lowest place and can only acknowledge the truth - Salvation is of the Lord. We need to come to this place where the flesh doesn't try to rob God of the glory that is His alone, claiming that by its own strength has it found deliverance. We learn this great truth in regards to our initial salvation but it is also a truth that we continue to learn through the many trials and experiences that come our way in this life. We can be thankful too that our Lord Jesus, having been victorious over death, will pay every vow that He has made as well. Every promise given, every word spoken, will be fulfilled. The great prophetic Psalm of Jesus' crucifixion has the resurrected Lord saying to His Father:

'From You comes my praise in the great assembly; I shall pay my vows before those who fear Him.' (Psalm 22:25 )

Back from the dead... A good vomit!

Jonat 2:10 And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.

Finally we see that our obedient fish, which did exactly what the Lord asked in swallowing Jonah, is equally obedient in giving him up! In fact you'd think it would be quite pleased to get rid of this wriggly source of its tummy upset.  [6]  So the comeback is complete! Down for the count, the prophet is back from the place of death and restored to the land  [7]  . God has seen to that as soon as the prophet has seen the error of his way and turned his heart back to God. He is the God of the comebacks. We should take encouragement from such stories in the Bible for they teach us with God on our side we should never lose hope or give up.

[1] ↩  Well if you can't I've done a little thinking for you. And if you had, see how your list compares with mine. I would say that some of the greatest comebacks in the Bible would include (but certainly not be limited to) the following characters/stories: From being abandoned in prison in Egypt, Joseph would being exalted to the right of the Pharaoh! That is a pretty impressive comeback. What of Moses being chosen to be God's leader after running from Egypt having killed an Egyptian and spending 40 years in the wilderness? Or Manasseh, a wicked king who turns to God in his darkest hour and is restored and ends up in the family lineage of Jesus? What of Daniel, thrown into the lion's den or his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being thrown into the fiery furnace? We could speak of Lazarus or even Peter who after denying the Lord didn't feel that anything but being a fisherman was now his lot in life... what a different plan God had! Then there is Paul & Silas in Jail with no way out... until God makes a way. The Bible is full of such stories of people who were down, getting back up... because of God! Oh, and that comeback by Jesus when both the Romans and Jews thought they had seen the end of Him is not too bad either!

[2] ↩  This song was written by Laura Story and was on her album of the same name - 'Blessings'. I was struck by the truth and depth in the song in comparison to how we often pray. It was only recently that I read the background to the song and the album as a whole. Wikipedia writes '  In an interview, Story explains "Blessings is just a bunch of songs about worshipping when life is hard". Her husband Martin Elvington was diagnosed with a brain tumour, and she wondered "Why didn't you just fix it, God? You're all powerful and all loving... just fix it." Later after mentioning her desire to return to normal, her sister said "You know, I think the detour is actually the road." She realized that "Spending time with [husband] Martin obviously makes me happy, but it makes me a better person. That's the blessing of it." '
Interesting short interview here:  

[3] ↩  My brother got this verse just at the time of the birth of his second child. From it he knew he was entering into a time of testing on more than one front. And there were a few billows that occurred one after the other. Firstly his dog, Sasha, died. At the same time his daughter was born with a blood condition that nearly killed her apart from immediate intervention from the doctors. This condition saw them rushing to the hospital many times over the next few months (and sometimes just in time) to have blood transfusions for his little baby girl. There were complications also with the birth for her mother as well. She had a burst intestine that was life threatening and had to be rushed by helicopter to a hospital in another city. It was quite a difficult time but through the grace of God they got through it. So sometimes the problems come like rolling waves and many billows. 'What if trials of this life, the rain, the storms, the hardest nights, are your mercies in disguise?'

[4] ↩   Gaebelein writes: 'His prayer is composed almost entirely of sentences found in Psalms. Jon 2:2 reminds of Psalm 18:6-7; Psalm 120:1. Jon 2:3 contains a quotation from Psalm 42:7, 'All thy waves and billows passed over me.' In connection with Jon 2:4 consider Psalm 31:22. Jon 2:5 is found in Psalm 18:4, except the seaweed which crowned his head as he went into the deep; also Psalm 69:2. The thanksgiving in Jon 2:6, 'Yet hast Thou brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God' is closely allied to Psalm 30:5. The first part of Jon 2:7 is from Psalm 142:3 (marginal reading) and 143:4. The second part is found in Psalm 5:7; Psalm 18:6. The eighth verse reminds of Psalm 31:6 and the ninth verse is to be connected with Psalm 42:4. 

From this we can see that Jonah was a man who knew the scripture and prayed the scripture. We should be encouraged more to pray the scriptures for they are truth.

[5] ↩  Gaebelein writes: 'Like Jonah the nation was called to bear witness to the Gentiles. And as Jonah did not want the knowledge of Jehovah to go to the Gentiles, so the Jews filled with national pride of being the elect nation opposed God's purposes. (SeeAct_13:6-12; Act_13:44-52; Act_14:19-28; Act_17:5-34; Act_18:12, etc.)

Disobedient as Jonah, the nation left the presence of the Lord. Jonah engaged passage on a merchant-ship, and the Jew became a trafficker. Just as it was with Jonah, storm and disaster came upon the nation after their great act of disobedience, when they rejected Christ, and opposed His purposes. Like Jonah, in the midst of all their troubles they did not deny, nor deny now, their nationality, their faith in God; they also confess in some of their prayers, at least the orthodox Jews do, why it is that they are in trouble; that they have sinned and turned away from the Lord.

Jonah was cast overboard into the sea. The sea represents the nations; that is where the Jews were cast. As a result of the casting away of Jonah the heathen sailors turned to the Lord and sacrificed unto Him. In Rom:11 we read, 'through their fall (the Jews) salvation came to the Gentiles to provoke them to jealousy.' The belly of the fish represents the grave of the Jews among the nations. They became nationally and spiritually dead. But just as the fish did not digest Jonah; so the nations have not digested the Jew. They remain unassimilated, just as Balaam predicted, 'This nation shall dwell alone and not be reckoned among the nations.' The national preservation of Israel is one of the great miracles in history, just as the preservation of Jonah in the belly of the fish was a miracle.'

[6] ↩  J Vernon McGee writes: '  I cannot resist making this corny statement: It just goes to show that you can't keep a good man down! Someone else has put it like this, "Even a fish couldn't digest Jonah, the backsliding prophet." But Jonah is a different man now. He's made some vows to God, and one of them is that he is going to Nineveh. His ticket is now to Nineveh.' 

[7] ↩  This is also a type of the nation of Israel who, being faced with certain death, will acknowledge that Jesus (salvation) is from the Lord and will be restored fully to the land. The prophets declared that there would be a regathering of the Jews back in unbelief first and then a second regathering in belief. See