"Out of the belly of hell cried I" (Jonah 2:2). Why did the Lord take Jonah so low? He was in the belly of a living hell, suspended in darkness, hanging between life and death. Why would a merciful God put a servant through this? I believe Jonah's story shows us how God deals with disobedient servants.
Jonah was in this hell for three days and nights. Yet, in all that
time he never prayed. The storm hadn't brought him to his knees and
neither did his brush with death in the whale's belly. Only after three
days and nights do we read, "Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out
of the fish's belly" (2:1).
Why didn't Jonah pray before this? It was because he was convinced,
"I am cast out of thy sight" (2:4). He described God as having mercy for
Nineveh, but Jonah couldn't believe for the same mercy for himself. He
thought, "I'm a dead man. I can't fall any lower. God has turned His
back on me. He hates me for what I did."
Nothing could have been further from the truth. When Scripture says,
"The Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah," the word for prepared
means enrolled. God had picked out a huge whale and put an urgency in
that creature. So when Jonah went overboard, the fish was there, ready
to swallow him. The Lord was still at work.
The truth was, God was speeding Jonah on his way to Nineveh. Soon the
prophet would be walking in sunlight again. He would preach boldly in
the streets as a chosen messenger.
What did God intend through Jonah's belly-of-hell experience? For a
season Jonah knew what it was like to feel dead. He couldn't pray. God
had hidden His face, and the prophet had no one to turn to. Hell for
Jonah wasn't the seaweed sweeping over him, or being pounded back and
forth. It was the sense that God had lifted His hand from his life.
It was all meant to test Jonah in his disobedience. God wasn't
demanding, "Now will you obey Me, Jonah?" Rather, He was asking, "Whose
word will you believe in this awful hell, Jonah? Mine or the devil's?"
Finally, we read, "Then Jonah prayed" (2:1). "When my soul fainted
within me I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in unto thee" (2:7).
Jonah rushed back to God's loving arms. Then he testified, "Out of the
belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice" (2:2).