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Bible Commentaries
Jonah 2

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly,

Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God - his still, though Jonah had fled from Him. Faith enables Jonah now to feel this; just as the returning prodigal says of the father, from whom he had wandered, "I will arise and go to my father" (Luke 15:18). Jonah prayed when the "three days and nights" (Jonah 1:17) were passed.

Out of the fish's belly. Every place may serve as an oratory. No place is amiss for prayer. Others translate, 'when (delivered) out of the fish's belly. The English version is better.

Verse 2

And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.

I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me - "by reason of," rather 'out of affliction (which came) to me.' His prayer is partly descriptive and promissory, partly eucharistical. In the first mercy Jonah saw the earnest of the rest, and so, instead of looking at his peril still remaining, thanks God for his deliverance as a certain fact. So Hannah is said to have "prayed," but her song is all one thanksgiving without one petition. Having once felt himself safe in the fish's belly, in strong faith he takes for granted his deliverance as an accomplished fact in God's time. So he thanks God for it as such; and while so doing is actually delivered. Jonah incorporates with his own language inspired utterances familiar to the Church long before, in Jonah 2:2; Psalms 120:1; in Jonah 2:3; Psalms 42:7, "All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me;" in Jonah 2:4; Psalms 31:22; in Jonah 2:5; Psalms 69:1; in Jonah 2:7; Psalms 142:3, and Psalms 18:6; in Jonah 2:8; Psalms 31:6; in Jonah 2:9; Psalms 116:17-18, and Psalms 3:8.

Jonah, an inspired man, thus attests both the antiquity and inspiration of the Psalms. It marks the spirit of faith, that Jonah identifies himself with the saints of old, appropriating their experiences as recorded in the Word of God (Psalms 119:50). Affliction opens up the mine of Scripture, before seen only on the surface.

Out of the belly of hell - Shª'owl (H7585), the unseen world, which the belly of the fish resembled. So Psalms 18:5, "The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me;" and Psalms 30:3, "O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave: thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit."

Cried I ... thou heardest. The Hebrew words vary only by a similar letter, [shiwa`tiy; shaama`taah ]. The real cry of prayer and God's hearing are, according to the mind of God, one.

Verse 3

For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.

Thou hadst (didst) cast me into the deep ... all thy billows and thy waves passed over me - "the deep," literally, the eddying deep. Jonah recognizes the source whence his sufferings came. It was no mere chance, but the hand of God which sent them. Compare Job's similar recognition of God's hand in calamities (Job 1:21; Job 2:10); and David's, who, when Shimei cursed him, and Abishai desired, in consequence, to kill him, said, "Let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David. Who shall then say, Wherefore hast thou done so? ... It may be that the Lord will look on mine affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing" (2 Samuel 16:5-11).

Verse 4

Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.

Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight - i:e., from thy favourable regard. A just retribution on one who had fled "from the presence of the Lord" (Jonah 1:3). God's presence, which once he regarded as a burden, and from which he desired to escape, now that he has gotten his desire, he feels it to be his bitterest sorrow to be deprived of. He had turned his back on God, so God turned His back on him, making his sin his punishment.

Yet I will look again toward thy holy temple. In the confidence of faith he anticipates yet to see the temple at Jerusalem, the appointed place of worship, and there to render thanksgiving (Henderson); 1 Kings 8:38, "What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man ... which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house." Rather, I think, 'Though cast out of thy sight, I will still [yet, or at least, only, 'ak (H389)] with the eye of faith once more look in prayer toward thy temple at Jerusalem, where, as thy earthly throne, thou hast desired thy worshippers to direct their prayers.'

Look ... toward - literally, look intently toward, as Moses did at the bush. Look ... toward - literally, look intently toward, as Moses did at the bush.

Verse 5

The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head.

The waters compassed me about, even to the soul - i:e., threatening to extinguish the animal life.

The weeds were wrapped about my head - he felt as if the seaweeds through which he was dragged were wrapped about his head. Or, rather, Jonah was not swallowed at once, but sank to the bottom of the sea, God keeping him alive there, as he did subsequently in the fish's belly. Then it was that the seaweed was wrapped round his head, as though it were his grave napkin.

Verse 6

I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God.

I went down to the bottoms of the mountains - their extremities, where they terminate in the hidden depths of the sea. Compare Psalms 18:7, "the foundations of the hills;" Psalms 18:15, "the foundations of the world."

The earth with her bars was about me - the earth, the land of the living, was shut against me. The bars are the long submarine rocks, which were, as it were, his prison bars.

Forever - so far as any effort of mine can deliver me.

Yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption. As in the previous clauses he expresses the hopelessness of his state, so in this, his sure hope of deliverance through Yahweh's infinite resources. 'Against hope he believes in hope,' and speaks as if the deliverance were actually already accomplished. Hezekiah seems to have incorporated Jonah's very words in his prayer, just as Jonah appropriated the language of the Psalms (Isaiah 38:17, "Thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back").

Verse 7

When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.

When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord - beautifully exemplifying the triumph of spirit over flesh, of faith over sense, (Psalms 73:26; Psalms 42:6, "O my God, my soul is cast down within me; therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan," etc.) For a time troubles shut out hope; but faith revived when Jonah "remembered the Lord," what a gracious God He is, and how now He still preserves his life and consciousness in his dark prison house. Jonah "remembered the Lord" now, as he forgat him during his rebellion and flight.

And my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple - the temple at Jerusalem (Jonah 2:4). As there he looks, in believing prayer, toward it, so here he regards his prayer as already heard in that temple wherein God especially manifested His presence to His people. Jonah had thought himself cast out from the presence of God, but his prayer came in unto Him, and was heard.

Verse 8

They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.

They that observe lying vanities - regard or reverence idols, powerless to save (Psalms 31:6).

Forsake their own mercy - Yahweh, the very idea of whom is identified now in Jonah's mind with mercy and loving-kindness. As the Psalmist (Psalms 144:2) calls Him, "my goodness;" God, who is to me all beneficence. Compare Psalms 59:17, "the God of my mercy" - literally, my kindness-God.' Jonah had "forsaken his own mercy," God, to flee to pagan lands where "lying vanities" (idols) were worshipped. But now, taught by his own preservation in conscious life in the fish's belly and by the inability of the mariners' idols to lull the storm (Jonah 1:5), estrangement from God seems estrangement from his own happiness (Jeremiah 2:13; Jeremiah 17:13). Prayer has been restrained in Jonah's case, so that he was "fast asleep" in the midst of danger heretofore; but now prayer is the sure sign of his return to God.

Verse 9

But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.

I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving. In the believing anticipation of sure deliverance he offers thanksgivings already. So Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:21) appointed singers to praise the Lord in front of the army before the battle with Moab and Ammon, as if the victory was already gained. God honours such confidence in Him. There is also heroin a mark of sanctified affliction, that he vows amendment and thankful obedience (Psalms 119:67, "Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now have I kept thy word").

I will pay that that I have vowed. Jonah ends his prayer of thanksgiving, just as the mariners ended their "sacrifice," with making "vows." True devotion of heart and deed is the same in the pagan converts as in the privileged people of God, Israel.

Salvation. The Hebrew is intensive, mighty salvation.

Verse 10

And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.

And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land - probably on the coast of Palestine.


(1) The time of Jonah's prayer was when the three days and nights were all but passed. Feeling himself still safe, though entombed so long in the fish's belly he takes his preservation so far as an earnest of God's purpose to grant him final deliverance. Secure that God, who had done so much, would fulfill the rest, he offers thanksgiving as though his prayers were heard, and he already delivered from his living grave. A sense of God's favour restored to us, notwithstanding our transgressions, opens in thanksgivings the heart which had teen closed with the fear of His anger.

(2) It is a sure mark of grace when a man can pray unto the Lord as "his God." Jonah felt God to be such to him, as manifested by His inspirations, His chastisements, and now, lastly, by His mercy. Therefore he finds cause for thanks to his God, where to the eye of sense there was not a ray to dispel the gloom of his situation, carried about as he was helplessly at the will of the sea monster in continuous darkness, and without any apparent way of escape. But 'what looked like death became safe keeping' (Jerome). Now that his preservation so long assured him of God's favour toward him, faith prompted the song of praise.

(3) The belly of the fish was Jonah's oratory, as the prison of Philippi was that of Paul and Silas. Nowhere are prayer and praise out of place. The "cry" of the heart, inaudible to the ear of all except God, is no sooner uttered than it is "heard (Jonah 2:2). Loud crying to God is not with the voice, but with the heart. Many silent with the lips have cried aloud with their heart; many noisy with their lips could not, with hearts averse, obtain aught. If, then, thou criest, cry within, where God heareth (Augustine on Psalms 30:1-12, 'Enarr.,' 4:, sec. 10). Though "the earth with her bars was about him" (Jonah 2:6), no prison-house can bar out God from hearing the cry of penitence, faith, and thanksgiving.

(4) Let the backslider take courage from the instance of Jonah, and not despair as if he were hopelessly lost. While there is life there is hope. Though the waves of lust, through the wiles of Satan, have engulfed him again who had escaped for a time the pollutions of the world, yet the God who delivered the entombed prophet can also deliver the backslider, if only he will turn heartily to the Lord, and, like Jonah, accept humbly the punishment of his iniquity.

(5) "The deep," whereinto Pharaoh "sank as a stone" (Exodus 15:5), never to rise again, was but the temporary prison of Jonah, and at God's bidding gave up to life again him who seemed as one dead. Jonah literally suffered what the Psalmist spiritually experienced (Psalms 42:7), "All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me." "Cast out of God's sight" (Jonah 2:4), like Adam cast out of Paradise, he still could do one thing-he locked to God with the eye of faith, even when God hid His face from him. This it is which makes the everlasting distinction between believers, temporarily forsaken for sin, and reprobates, who are utter castaways. The believer still trusts when he can no longer see or feel God, and in that trust cries to God as still his God. The "weeds" (Jonah 2:5) of the sea of sorrows and fears wrapped about his head" cannot stifle the cry of faith. "When his soul fainteth within him he remembers the Lord" (Jonah 2:7) with an intensity never felt before.

(6) The prayer of faith comes in unto God into His holy temple. God regards each one soul with the same infinite love as though there were no other soul in the universe; and so He allows each soul to cry, "O Lord my God" (Jonah 2:6), as if God belonged wholly to each alone.

(7) The result of the experienced difference between God and worldly idols is, the returning backslider feels, "They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy." All things which we keenly follow, apart from God and Christ, are lying vanities, because they promise what they never perform. The idols of intellect, pride, ambition, covetousness, and self-will are virtually worshipped by many, as if they could make men happy, which they cannot. All the while men are forsaking God, who is the source of "mercy," the personal experience of which is the first condition of happiness. Jonah's idol was self-will, which he had set up above God's will. God would have Nineveh led to repentance and spared. Jonah would have Nineveh destroyed, lest it should destroy Israel. But now God's will is become the will of the penitent prophet. Let us learn to consider self-will the enemy of our own mercy. If we would have God for our own, let us make His will ever our will; otherwise, running away impatiently from the sphere and place assigned to us by His good Providence, we entangle ourselves in inextricable difficulties.

(8) Jonah's attribution of "salvation to the Lord" alone seems to have been the crowning point of his thanksgiving, which was followed by his immediate deliverance (Jonah 2:9). On his full confession of praise to Yahweh, "the Lord spake unto the fish," and it instantly set free Jonah upon the dry land. Henceforth he learned that, when God calls to a ministry to others, to flee, through a desire to escape certain evils, only involves us in greater ones. As opposition to the will of God involves us in a sea of troubles, so thankful acquiescence in His dealings, however trying, brings deliverance. No shelter can harbour him that sinneth, no waves can destroy him that repenteth and forsaketh his sin.

(9) Jonah was the prophet of Christ, not in words, but in personal sufferings, the typical significance of which, though probably unknown to himself (1 Peter 1:10-12), is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. His passing from the ship into the dark though living tomb, and thence into the light again after three days, sets forth the Lord's descent from the cross of wood into the dark sepulchre, and His ascent thence into life again after the same number of days, more vividly than if he had foretold the same in words. The word of life was designed for the Gentiles, but was not actually sent to them until after Christ's resurrection-even as Jonah's preaching, though commanded by God before, did not reach Nineveh until after his three days' entombment and restoration from the fish's belly. Let us by faith regard Christ's death and resurrection as the means of our justification, and the pledge to us that through the gate of death we shall pass to a joyful resurrection!

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Jonah 2". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/jonah-2.html. 1871-8.
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