A great change now takes place in Jonah’s outlook. The greatest miracle was not that Jonah was inside the whale; rather it was that God was active inside Jonah. Now Jonah saw the danger of his position, that he was beyond the help of man. But he also saw the duty of his position, which was to pray to God and admit the wrong of which he was guilty.
The details of this chapter are proof that faith can appear in the most unlikely of situations. From a human point of view, it would seem that Jonah had found himself in a situation where penitent faith would be useless. If he had repented earlier, say before he had joined the boat or even when he was on the boat, we would say that there was hope for him being restored to his service for God. But his time inside the whale tells us that there is not a situation that is too dark or difficult for faith to be reignited.
Note that Jonah sees God in what has happened and does not object to what he has done. He sees the divine hand in his position, and does not express a grudging acknowledgement, nor a resigned admittance; instead he expresses evidence of love towards the God who is chastising him. Such an attitude is evidence of the spirit of adoption.
Further Jonah seeks for God in the only place where he can be found displaying mercy, and that was in the temple in Jerusalem. In the temple was the altar at which sacrifice was made daily for sin. There God dwelt above the mercy-seat, a picture that he can be approached through a sacrifice of a substitute. The obvious application to us is that our penitent faith is always marked by drawing near to God through Christ. Out tears of repentance don’t wash our sins away. Aware of our sins, we draw near to the throne of grace and ask the God of mercy to have compassion on us. Just as the eyes of Jonah’s soul looked towards the temple in the earthly Jerusalem, we should look continually to the throne of grace in heaven.
Very importantly, Jonah expresses his thoughts in the language of Scripture. His prayer is composed of seven quotations from the Book of Psalms [verse 2 (120:1); verse 3 (43:7); verse 4 (31:22); verse 5 (49:1); verse 7 (142:3); verse 8 (31:6); verse 9 (3:8)]. This obviously is an example of the importance of knowing the Bible so that when trouble comes we will know what to say. His new experience was mapped out by others who had gone before him.
Jonah could have tried to find assurance by recollecting an incident from his own life, to ransack his memory for an occasion of similar desperation; but such a method was of no help because he had never been in such a situation before. Another way was to try and recollect an incident from the life of another believer, perhaps one he knew or one he had heard about. Yet he would not be able to recall such a person because his current dilemma was unique to him. Therefore he turned to the Bible and discovered that there was no situation on earth which it could not deal with.