1:17 and 2:10 frame this section, where notice the subject in both verses is the LORD, not the fish, and the fish is not mentioned at all in the psalm as Jonah reflects on his experience. So don’t be distracted discussing the relevance of whale survival stories. One might as well ask how it could be possible for Lazarus to emerge from his tomb four days after his burial as ask how a man might survive three days inside a fish – both are miracles, only explicable by God’s sovereign power. Jesus endorses the historicity of this event, and that should be enough. The important thing is to draw the appropriate lessons from this miracle, which Jonah helps us do through his psalm of thanksgiving.
Though the placement of the psalm might suggest it is what Jonah said from inside the fish, personally I imagine it being sung on the beach, slimy with fish puke, as he reflected on God’s deliverance in answer to his prayer, but it matters little either way. The poetic form of the psalm means it is perhaps better not worked through line by line, but by exploring the key themes.
It is striking in the light of 1:15 where the sailors (reluctantly) throw Jonah into the sea, to notice how Jonah sees the hand of God in what has happened to him – “You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the sea” (2:3). When he speaks of “your waves and breakers” sweeping over him he is not simply recognising God’s Lordship over the sea, for often this language in the Bible speaks of God’s discipline or judgment (eg Ps.42:7). He admitted his guilt to the sailors in 1:12, and here he recognizes God’s hand was rightly against him in judgment. He faced being cast into “the realm of the dead” (v.2), ie Sheol, the place where the wicked remain awaiting their final judgment, where he would be “banished from your sight” (v.4). His situation was hopeless (v.6).
Jonah did not deserve to be saved, nor did he do anything to save himself. He merely “called to the LORD” (v.2), looked towards God’s temple (v.4) and “remembered” the LORD (v.7). Though out of sight, he was not of earshot of God, and wonderfully and graciously God listened to Jonah’s cry (v.2). God had hurled him into the depths, “but you, LORD my God, brought my life up from the pit” (v.6). In verses 8 he testifies to God’s covenant love, but chapter 4 will question whether he has properly grasped the fact of God’s love for those caught up in idolatry. His experience of God’s grace should have opened his eyes to the love God would show to others; his delight in his own salvation should have been matched by his delight in God’s salvation of the Ninevites. The next verse reminds us of God’s grace to idolators, since as we read of Jonah’s desire to sacrifice and make vows we are reminded of the sailors’ similar response in 1:16. Truly “Salvation comes from the LORD” – which means not only that he alone is the source of salvation, but that he is sovereign in salvation, he will save whoever he chooses (and not who we might choose). What Jonah rejoices in now, will anger him later.
You might decide in this study to consider Jesus’ reference to Jonah in Matthew 12:38-41. It is certainly a cross reference to make at some point. Jesus’ death and resurrection both authenticates him as God’s messenger and points to his saving mission.