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Bible Commentaries
Jonah 2

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Jonah 2:0


Jonah's Prayer and DeliveranceJonah Is Miraculously Saved
Jonah 1:17-9Jonah 1:17-10Jonah's PrayerJonah is Saved
Jonah 2:1-9Jonah 2:1-10
Jonah 2:10Jonah 2:10

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. This prayer (Jonah 2:1-9) is beautiful theological poetry. It looks like a refined literary work, not an emotional extemporaneous cry to God. However, it contains so many words about “water” (cf. Jonah 2:3, Jonah 2:5) that it truly reflects Jonah's experience.

B. This prayer has many similarities with the thanksgiving Psalms. Jonah was well acquainted with temple liturgy.

Verses 1-9

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jonah 2:1-9 1Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the stomach of the fish, 2and he said, “I called out of my distress to the LORD, And He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice. 3For You had cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the current engulfed me. All Your breakers and billows passed over me. 4So I said, 'I have been expelled from Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.' 5Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, Weeds were wrapped around my head. 6I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever, But You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. 7While I was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, And my prayer came to You, Into Your holy temple. 8Those who regard vain idols Forsake their faithfulness, 9But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD.”

Jonah 2:1 God had purposely allowed and even structured the predicament in which Jonah found himself (cf. Jonah 1:4, Jonah 1:17; Jonah 2:3).

“to the LORD his God” These are the two most common names for Israel's deity, YHWH and Elohim. See the SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY.

Jonah 2:2 “I called out” This VERB (BDB 894, KB 1128, Qal PERFECT) is used often in Jonah (8 times) and in two senses:

1. to proclaim, Jonah 1:2; Jonah 3:2, Jonah 3:4, Jonah 3:5

2. to pray, Jonah 1:6, Jonah 1:14; Jonah 2:2; Jonah 3:8

It is parallel to “I cried” (BDB 1002, KB 1443, Piel PERFECT) for help (e.g., Psalms 30:2-3; Psalms 119:146; Isaiah 58:9).

NASB, NRSV, NJB“out of my distress” NKJV“because of my affliction” TEV“in my distress”

This NOUN (BDB 865) comes from the concept of “narrow or restricted,” meaning to apply pressure (i.e., crushing grapes with ones' feet, e.g., Psalms 18:4-6; Psalms 22:11; Psalms 25:17; Psalms 118:5,120:1).

“depth of Sheol” There may be a play on the term “depth,” which is literally “belly” (BDB 105) and Jonah's physical location “inside the great fish” (BDB 588). The term Sheol refers to the holding place of the conscious dead (parallel to “pit,” cf. Psalms 30:3). As the grave is the resting place of our physical body at death, so Sheol is the place of our personhood. The OT does not provide much information about life after death. From what little is provided we learn

1. there is a conscious life after physical death

2. the dead are with family

3. there is no fellowship or joy

4. both good and evil people are there

5. God is present there, but not worshiped (cf. Psalms 6:5; Psalms 88:10-12; Psalms 115:17; Psalms 139:8).

See Special Topic: Where Are the Dead?.

“You heard my voice” This is a Hebraic idiom for God's hearing and responding to His covenant people's prayers.

Jonah 2:3 There are many terms in Jonah 2:3 and 5 that relate to the sea. This may be an allusion to the chaotic waters of creation (cf. Genesis 1:1). As God brought order in creation from chaos, so too, in Jonah's life. The waters have separated Jonah from God (cf. Jonah 2:4; Psalms 69:1, Psalms 69:2, Psalms 69:14, Psalms 69:15; Psalms 88:6, Psalms 88:7, Psalms 88:17), but in reality they (i.e., the fish) become his transport to do God's will.

There are several sets of parallels.

1. the deep, Jonah 2:3 (BDB 846)

2. the great deep, Jonah 2:5 (BDB 1062)

3. engulfed, Jonah 2:3 (BDB 685, KB 738, Poel IMPERFECT)

4. encompassed, Jonah 2:5 (BDB 67, KB 79, Qal PERFECT)

5. engulfed, Jonah 2:5 (BDB 685, KB 738, Poel IMPERFECT)

6. the current, Jonah 2:3 (BDB 625)

7. breakers, Jonah 2:3 (BDB 991)

8. billows, Jonah 2:3 (BDB 164)

9. the waters, Jonah 2:3 (BDB 565)

“You had cast me into the deep” This VERB (BDB 1020, KB 1527, Hiphil IMPERFECT) shows that Jonah recognized his well-deserved fate and that it was God who used the storm (cf. Jonah 1:4) and the sailors (cf. Jonah 1:15) to execute His judgment.

Jonah 2:4

NASB“I have been expelled” NKJV“I have been cast out” NRSV“I am driven away” TEV“I had been banished” NJB“I am banished”

This VERB (BDB 173, KB 204, Niphal PERFECT) means driven away by force. It is found only here in the OT. In Aramaic it was used of divorce (BDB 176). Jonah knew this was a consequence of his sin and rebellion at rejecting God's commission. At this point he did not know the fish was a means of his deliverance (cf. Psalms 31:22)!

Jonah (or sage) may have chosen this word because it can also mean the tossing of the sea (i.e., another sea word, e.g., Amos 8:8; Isaiah 57:20).

NASB, NRSV, NJB“from Your sight” NKJV“of Your sight” TEV“from your presence”

The connotation of this phrase is “from your presence in the temple” (cf. parallel in the next line).

NASB“Nevertheless” NKJV“Yet” NRSV, NJB“how” TEV“and”

The question is, “Does this line of poetry assert that Jonah believes he will see the temple again (NASB, NKJV) or that he will not (NRSV, TEV, NJB)?” Is the word an ADVERB (BDB 32) or an ADVERSATIVE (BDB 36)? Does this line follow Jonah's sense of impending death (ADVERB) or Jonah's sense that God will deliver (ADVERSATIVE)? Because Jonah's plight is described in Jonah 2:3-6 and God's help is described in Jonah 2:7-9, it seems that Jonah 2:4, in context, should be translated “how” (ADVERB, BDB 32). However, there seems to be a note of hope in Jonah 2:6c, why not in Jonah 2:4b?

“Your holy temple” The temple in Jerusalem housed the Ark of the Covenant. The Jews believed that God dwelt between the wings of the cherubim over the Ark (e.g., Exodus 25:22; Numbers 7:89; 1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; Psalms 80:1; Psalms 99:1). This was the place where heaven and earth, the spiritual and physical met! Jonah believed he would worship God again in Jerusalem (cf. Jonah 2:9).

Jonah 2:5

NASB“Water encompassed me to the point of death” NKJV“the water encompassed me even to my soul” NRSV“the waters closed in over me” TEV“the water came over me and choked me” NJB“the waters round me rose to my neck”

The VERB (BDB 67, KB 79, Qal PERFECT) is often used in the Psalms for a life threatening time of intense suffering from which YHWH delivers (e.g., 2 Samuel 22:5; Psalms 18:4; Psalms 116:3).

The word translated “me,” “my soul,” “my neck” (BDB 723) is the term nephesh, which denotes “breath” or “life” (e.g., Genesis 2:7). Here and in Psalms 69:1; Psalms 105:18; and Isaiah 5:14 it has the connotation of a throat (or neck) about to be choked with water (i.e., death of a person).

“Weeds” This word (BDB 693) can mean salt water, seaweeds, or fresh water reeds. Here it is obviously the first meaning. The sense here is that Jonah is being drowned, choked by water and seaweeds. He is descending into the realm of the dead.

Jonah 2:6 “I descended to the roots of the mountains” The OT uses the physical direction “down” to describe Sheol (BDB 432, KB 434, Qal PERFECT, cf. Numbers 16:30, Numbers 16:33; Psalms 55:15; Isaiah 5:14; Isaiah 14:19). The term Sheol and “pit” (BDB 1001) are parallel (cf. Psalms 30:3). It is this metaphorical expression of Jonah's sense of approaching the underworld that makes his experience the object of Jesus' comment (cf. Matthew 12:40-41; Luke 11:30). Jonah believed he was going to die, but God had mercy on him! God's judgment was not His last word. There was purpose in the punishment.

NASB, NRSV, TEV, NJB“the roots of the mountains” NKJV“the moorings of the mountains”

The term (BDB 891) normally means to “cut off” or “shape,” but it cannot mean that in this context. In Ecclesiasticus 16:19 (written about 180 B.C.) it means “the foundations of the world.” The BDB offers “extremity” as a translation. Possibly the ancient Jews believed the gate to Sheol was at the bottom of the sea, even below the mountains. Jonah was expecting death and entrance into Sheol, the pit. This term is meant to be a poetic parallel to “bars” and “the pit.”

“The earth with its bars” The term “bars” (BDB 138) usually refers to gate bars. This is a metaphor for Sheol as a prison holding the dead, which once entered, could not be exited (e.g., 2 Samuel 12:23; Job 7:9-10; Job 10:21).

“You have brought up my life” This VERB (BDB 748, KB 828, Hiphil IMPERFECT) is exactly opposite of “descended” (or “to bring down”).

Jonah 2:7

NASB“I was fainting away” NKJV“my soul fainted within me” NRSV“my life was ebbing away” TEV“I felt my life slipping away” NJB“my soul was growing ever weaker”

The VERB (BDB 742, KB 814, Owen's Analytical Key identifies it as a Hithpael PERFECT; OT Parsing Guide identifies it as a Hithpael INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT; and the NIV Interlinear by Kohlenberger also identifies it as an INFINITIVE).

The term itself means to grow weak or faint, here in the sense of death (e.g., Isaiah 57:16).

“I remembered the LORD” In the OT, humans are reminded again and again to remember (BDB 269, KB 269, Qal PERFECT) the Lord and His goodness (e.g., Deuteronomy 8:11-20; Psalms 77:11-12). God, on the other hand, is called on to forget mankind's sin and rebellion (notice all the metaphors for forgetfulness, cf. Psalms 103:3, Psalms 103:11-13; Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 38:17; Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 44:22; Micah 7:19). See notes at Jonah 2:2 and 8:13.

Jonah 2:8 This verse seems out of context. It may be an allusion to Psalms 31:6. It may be a reference to Nineveh's idolatry. Jonah may be trying to explain why he did not want to preach to the Assyrian capital.

NASB, NRSV“idols” NKJV, TEV“worthless idols” NJB“false gods”

There are two terms in this phrase with closely related meanings, which intensify the thought.

1. “vain” (BDB 996) means that which is “empty,” “nothing,” or “vanity” (e.g., Psalms 31:6; Jeremiah 18:15)

2. “idols” (BDB 210) means “vapor,” “breath,” which is a metaphor for “vanity” (e.g., Deuteronomy 32:21; 1 Kings 16:13, 1 Kings 16:26; Psalms 31:6; Isaiah 57:13; Jeremiah 8:19; Jeremiah 10:8, Jeremiah 10:14-15; Jeremiah 14:22; Jeremiah 51:17-18).

NASB“Forsake their faithfulness” NKJV“forsake their own Mercy” NRSV“forsake their true loyalty” TEV“abandoned their loyalty to you” NJB“abandon their faithful love”

The VERB (BDB 736, KB 806, Qal IMPERFECT) means “leave” (e.g., Genesis 2:24), “forsake” (e.g., Deuteronomy 28:20; Deuteronomy 31:16; Judges 10:10; Isaiah 55:7; Jeremiah 1:16), “lose.”

The contextual question is, “Does this phrase refer to

1. lovingkindness humans receive from their God (i.e., context of the book, cf. Jonah 4:2) See Special Topic: Lovingkindness (hesed).

2. the faithfulness humans should show to their God (i.e., the immediate context, cf. Jonah 2:7, Jonah 2:9)? See Special Topic: Believe, Trust, Faith, and Faithfulness in the OT.

Jonah 2:9 “I will sacrifice to You,

With the voice of thanksgiving” This implies that Jonah's sacrifice may be verbal, not animal. See note as Hosea 14:3.

This VERB (BDB 256, KB 261, Qal COHORTATIVE) and “I will pay” (BDB 1022, KB 1532, Piel COHORTATIVE), are both strong promises of what Jonah will do when he gets back to the temple in Jerusalem (BDB 623, i.e., offer a thank offering), what the sailors had done to YHWH in Jonah 1:16.

“Salvation is from the LORD” The Hebrew term “salvation” (BDB 447) referred primarily to physical (e.g., Psalms 3:8; but notice Isaiah 45:17) deliverance, not spiritual salvation (i.e., NT use of concept). Jonah wanted out of the fish! YHWH wanted the Ninevites to know Him (NT sense).

Jonah knew the right theology, he mouthed the right words, but he refused to act on them! See Special Topic: Salvation (OT Term).

Verse 10

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jonah 2:10 10Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.

Jonah 2:10 “the LORD commanded the fish” In Jonah YHWH commands and uses (1) a wind and storm; (2) a great fish; (3) a plant; (4) a worm; and (5) a desert wind. These are used to show God's (1) sovereignty; (2) love for Gentiles; and (3) His anger against Jewish exclusivism.

“vomited” This is a very strong negative term in Hebrew (BDB 893, KB 1096, Hiphil IMPERFECT, cf. Isaiah 19:14; Isaiah 28:8). This may have been YHWH's reaction to the flowery prayer of Jonah!

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Jonah 2". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/jonah-2.html. 2021.
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