Finally Jonah began to pray to the Lord. Perhaps Jonah was remembering the psalmist, who asked, “Where can I go from your Spirit?” The psalmist explored several possibilities and testified, “You are there” (see Ps 139:7-12). By whatever means, Jonah gained faith to state his need and plead for mercy.
Clearly Jonah did not write the prayer while he was in the stomach of the great fish. Later he remembered the experience and set down the essence of his petition in stirring verse. The poem is much like Pss 86 and 88, a mixture of desperation, agony, hope, and faith.
In distress Jonah did not turn against the Lord or away from him as he had when the divine command came. This time Jonah directed his thoughts and emotions toward the Lord and received an answer to his prayer. The psalmists and Jonah were aware that the Lord knows all things, yet they made it a practice to recount the nature of the danger facing them.
Jonah regarded the insides of the fish as the depths of the grave. But that did not create a barrier; the Lord heard him very well. Jonah described the storm but did not accuse the Lord of treating him cruelly. The prophet did feel banished, but at the same time he decided to look toward the Lord's temple, though he would have no sense of direction while in the fish. The desire to seek would be adequate.
Jonah summarized the impossibility of his predicament; he seemed barred in a prison forever. But the impossibility was the Lord's opportunity. The wonder of it all overwhelmed the prophet as he thought back, “You brought my life up from the pit.”
Jonah had been at the very edge of life and had felt his strength slipping away; but he wrote, “I remembered you, Lord.” The prayer was an effectual prayer.
In a flash Jonah realized that such a deliverance was a reality of experience that idol worshipers totally miss. No way could their idols provide such an amazing salvation. Perhaps Jonah thought of the sailors on the ship who, in the storm, turned from their idols to pray to the living God. They had thus found grace and were saved. But idol worshipers who fail to convert to the Lord forfeit the grace that could be theirs. Jonah completed his poem by stating his joyful intention to worship the Lord by singing thankful praise, by offering sacrifices, and by making vows to the Lord. Compare with Pss 42:4; 50:14, 15, 23; 116:14.