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Bible Commentaries
Jonah 2

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

E. Jonah’s deliverance by God 1:17-2:1

For the second time in this story God took the initiative to move His prophet to carry out His will (cf. Jonah 1:1). This time Jonah turned to the Lord.

Verse 1

This is the first mention of Jonah praying (cf. Jonah 4:2). In both this verse and Jonah 4:2 the usual Hebrew word hitpallel, "to pray," appears. In Jonah 1:5 and Jonah 3:8 the Hebrew word qara’, "to call," occurs. Until now Jonah had been fleeing from God and hiding from Him. Now in his great distress he finally sought the Lord. Being willing to die by drowning was one thing (Jonah 1:12), but death by gradual digestion was something Jonah had not anticipated. We do not know how long Jonah struggled in the sea before the fish swallowed him. Perhaps that terror also contributed to his repentance. Some interpreters believe that Jonah’s repentance is a type of the repentance of the Jewish remnant that will occur prior to the beginning of the Millennium. [Note: E.g., J. Dwight Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come, p. 328; and Feinberg, pp. 28-29.]

God often has to discipline His rebellious children severely before we turn back to Him.

Verse 2

Jonah, as many others, called to the Lord out of a distressing situation asking for help, and the Lord responded to his cry with deliverance (cf. Psalms 3:4; Psalms 120:1). The second part of the verse is a parallel restatement of the first part. The prophet compared the fish’s stomach to a burial chamber from which he could not escape. "Depth" is literally the "belly" of Sheol, the place of departed souls that the Hebrews conceived of as under the earth’s surface. Jonah thought that he had gone to join the dead (cf. Psalms 18:4-5; Psalms 30:3).

Verses 2-9

F. Jonah’s psalm of thanksgiving 2:2-9

The following prayer is mainly thanksgiving for deliverance from drowning. It is not thanksgiving for deliverance from the fish or a prayer of confession, as we might expect. Jonah prayed it while he was in the fish. Evidently he concluded after some time in the fish’s stomach that he would not die from drowning. Drowning was a particularly distasteful form of death for an ancient Near Easterner such as Jonah who regarded the sea as a great enemy. Jonah’s ability to thank God in the midst of his black torture chamber, which must have pitched him uncontrollably in every direction, shows that he had experienced a remarkable change in attitude (cf. Jonah 1:3; Jonah 1:12).

Jonah could have composed the core of this psalm, which contains his prayer, while he was inside the great fish. He may have composed or polished the whole psalm sometime after he was safely back on dry land. It bears many similarities to other psalms in the Psalter. Clearly Jonah knew the psalms well, and he could have spent much time reflecting on them during his three days in the fish. One wonders, however, how anyone could think very coherently inside a fish.

This chapter corresponds to chapter one in its contents. [Note: John D. Hannah, "Jonah," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 1467.]

Ch. 1: The SailorsCh. 2: The Prophet
Jonah 1:4Crisis on the seaJonah 2:3-6 aCrisis in the sea
Jonah 1:14Prayer to YahwehJonah 2:2; Jonah 2:7Prayer to Yahweh
Jonah 1:15 bDeliverance from the stormJonah 2:6 bDeliverance from drowning
Jonah 1:16Sacrifice and vows offered to GodJonah 2:9Sacrifice and vows offered to God

Verse 3

Jonah saw God’s disciplinary hand behind the sailors who had only been His tools in casting the prophet into the sea (cf. Psalms 88:6-7). He also acknowledged that the sea belonged to God (cf. Jonah 1:9). Evidently the waves overwhelmed him many times before the fish swallowed him (cf. Psalms 42:7).

Verse 4

This condition made Jonah believe that God had turned His back on him (cf. Leviticus 21:7; Psalms 31:22). Nevertheless he determined to seek God in prayer (cf. Psalms 5:7). Looking toward God’s holy temple is a synonym for praying, the temple being the place of prayer in Israel.

"He felt he was cast out from the special regard and care which God exercises over His own. Now he realized how dire a thing it is to be apart from the presence of the Lord." [Note: Feinberg, p. 25.]

Verse 5

Jonah sensed his hopelessness as he continued his downward plunge into the deep. He seemed to be in death’s grip rather than God’s. Seaweeds (Heb. suph, reeds) bound his head as the water encased his body (cf. Psalms 69:1-2).

Verse 6

The prophet descended in the sea to the bottoms of the mountains, their very foundations. There he felt caged as a prisoner unable to escape. However even though human deliverance was hopeless, Yahweh, Jonah’s strong God, lifted him up out of Sheol’s pit (cf. Psalms 49:15; Psalms 56:13; Psalms 103:4).

"Jonah’s ’downward’ journey from Jerusalem down to Joppa (Jonah 1:3 a) down into the ship (Jonah 1:3 b) down into the cargo hold (Jonah 1:5) and ultimately down into the bottom of the sea, pictured as down to the very gates of the netherworld (Jonah 2:7), does not end until he turns back to God who brings him ’up’ from the brink of death (Jonah 2:6-7)." [Note: The NET Bible note on 1:3.]

"When you turn your back on God, the only direction you can go is down." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 381.]

Verse 7

As Jonah was feeling that his life was ebbing away, his thoughts turned to Yahweh (cf. Psalms 107:5-6; Psalms 142:3; Psalms 142:5-7). Even though he felt far from God his prayer reached the Lord in His heavenly dwelling place.

"As in Jonah 1:6, prayer is presented as the key to the salvation of the one who would otherwise have perished." [Note: Allen, p. 218. Cf. Hebrews 4:16.]

Verse 8

Jonah proceeded to philosophize a bit. Everyone who makes an idol his or her god abandons the source of his or her loyal love (Heb. hesed) by doing so. The source of loyal love is Yahweh. This is true of pagans, but the prophet himself had done the same thing. The idols (lit. empty vanities) in view are things that one puts in God’s rightful place in his or her life (cf. Psalms 31:6; 1 John 5:21).

Verse 9

Jonah’s desperate condition had brought him to his senses. He would return to the source of loyal love and express his worship of Yahweh with a sacrifice. His sacrifice would have to be thanksgiving though since he despaired of being able to offer an animal or vegetable offering. He also promised to pay his vow to God. This probably refers to his commitment to serve the Lord faithfully from which he had departed but to which he now returned (cf. Psalms 50:14; Psalms 69:30; Psalms 107:22).

The testimony that salvation comes from Yahweh is the expression of Jonah’s thanksgiving that he promised God. The last declaration in this psalm is one of the great summary statements about salvation in the Bible. Salvation, either physical or spiritual, ultimately comes from Yahweh and only from Him, not from idols or people, including oneself (cf. Psalms 3:8; Psalms 37:39). It is in His power, and only He can give it. This statement also implies recognition of the fact that God has the right to save whom He will.

"Ironically, however, it is this very same fact which fills Jonah with intense anger in the final chapter of the book." [Note: Alexander, p. 118.]

The end of this psalm shows Jonah doing what the sailors had done earlier, namely, offering a sacrifice and making vows (Jonah 1:16).

"Jonah deserved death, not deliverance. And yet Yahweh graciously delivered him by special intervention so that Jonah could not but recognize the greatness of Yahweh’s compassion, praise him for it, and recognize his reliance on Yahweh alone (c. 2 Corinthians 1:9-10)." [Note: Stuart, p. 479.]

"The narrator by his inclusion of the psalm immediately after ch. 1 slyly intends his audience to draw a parallel between Jonah’s experience and that of the seamen. Both faced a similar crisis, peril from the sea; both cried to Yahweh, acknowledging his sovereignty. Both were physically saved; both offered worship. Ironically Jonah is at last brought to the point the Gentile seamen have already reached. In his supreme devotion he is still only following in the wake of the heathen crew. He who failed to pray, leaving it to the pagan sailors, eventually catches up with their spirit of supplication and submission." [Note: Allen, p. 219.]

Thus the prophet repented and returned to the Lord in his heart. Having experienced the precious gift of God’s salvation in his own life, Jonah was now more favorable to announcing His salvation to the Ninevites. He now appreciated the condition of the heathen as he had not done before.

One writer outlined Jonah’s prayer as follows. The prophet prayed for God’s help (Jonah 2:1-2), accepted God’s discipline (Jonah 2:3), trusted God’s promises (Jonah 2:4-7), and yielded to God’s will (Jonah 2:8-9). [Note: Wiersbe, pp. 380-82.]

Verse 10

G. Jonah’s deliverance from the fish 2:10

Again the writer glorified Yahweh by attributing control of this formidable sea creature to Him (cf. Jonah 1:17). The first and the second chapters both close on this note. The Hebrew text says, "The Lord spoke to the fish" (cf. Jonah 1:1). Unlike Jonah, the fish obeyed God and vomited the prodigal prophet onto dry land. Jonah had spoken to the Lord in confession (Jonah 2:1-9), and now God responded by speaking to the fish in deliverance. Having gained a preview of Sheol (Jonah 2:2) Jonah was now prepared to go to the Ninevites whose destiny was Sheol.

The Hebrew word for salvation is yeshua, here used in its intensive form. The Hebrew name Joshua means "Yahweh is salvation." The Greek name Jesus is the translation of Joshua. Thus we can see a close connection between what Jonah declared ("salvation is of the Lord") and what all Scripture declares, namely, that salvation is through Jesus Christ.

"This miracle has also a symbolical meaning for Israel. It shows that if the carnal nation, with its ungodly mind, should turn to the Lord even in the last extremity, it will be raised up again by a divine miracle from destruction to newness of life." [Note: Keil, 1:385.]

"When Israel turns to the Lord, when the veil is removed from the heart, when they cry out in truth to the Lord from the midst of their distresses, the Lord will restore them not only to their own land but also to the commission of witnessing to the Lord [cf. Revelation 7:1-8]." [Note: Feinberg, p. 38.]

We do not know where on the coast Jonah landed. Unfortunately several interpreters have made applications based on their speculations.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jonah 2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/jonah-2.html. 2012.
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