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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Jonah 2

Verse 1

1. Prayed The verb is used here in the wider sense of any turning of the heart toward God, whether in supplication or praise (1 Samuel 2:1). At what period of his imprisonment Jonah is thought to have offered the prayer is not stated; Jonah 2:10, would seem to imply, however, that it was toward the close.

His God Before (Jonah 1:3), he tried to escape from Jehovah’s presence; now, in danger of his life, he is driven to appeal to him as his God.

Verses 1-9

THE PRAYER OF JONAH, Jonah 2:1-9.

Jonah 2:1 is the introduction, indicating the circumstances under which the prayer was offered. The prayer itself opens with an acknowledgment that Jehovah heard the petition offered in distress and wrought the petitioner’s deliverance (2). After repeated figurative descriptions of the danger and distress into which he had been plunged, he glorifies Jehovah for the salvation wrought (3-6). The supplicant closes with the assurance that he will not forget the divine mercy but will forever praise Jehovah, the author of all deliverance (7-9). The prayer consists for the most part of reminiscences from the Psalms (see Introduction, p. 335).

Verses 1-10

JONAH’S WONDERFUL DELIVERANCE, Jonah 1:17 to Jonah 2:10 (in Hebrew, Jonah 2:1-10).

The deliverance of Jonah is recorded in Jonah 1:17; Jonah 2:10. Jehovah prepared a great fish, which swallowed Jonah. After he had been in the fish’s belly for three days and three nights he was, at the divine command, cast upon the dry land. Jonah 2:1-9, contains a poem, a prayer which Jonah is said to have offered from the belly of the fish. If so, one would expect it to be a petition; in reality it is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving for the deliverance already wrought. This peculiarity has been explained either by assuming that it was spoken by Jonah after he was vomited out by the fish, and that its proper place is after Jonah 2:10; or that it is a song of thanksgiving uttered in the fish’s belly when the prophet discovered that he was preserved alive. This preservation he regarded as a pledge of final deliverance, and for it he praised God in anticipation (see Introduction, p. 337).

Prepared The verb does not mean “created,” as if Jehovah had created the fish for this special purpose, but “ordain” or “appoint.” Jehovah appointed some great fish, already in existence, to swallow Jonah. “By God’s immediate direction it was so arranged that the very moment when Jonah was thrown into the waves the ‘great fish’ was on the spot to receive him.”

Great fish This is the literal translation. Nothing is said of the species of the fish; but for a long time the popular idea has been that it was a whale. Against this identification it has been urged that the whale is not found in the Mediterranean, and that he has such a small gullet that he could not swallow a man. However, of the existence of whales in the Mediterranean there can be no doubt, and, while the gullet of the common whale is not large enough to let a man pass through whole, there are whales that would not have this difficulty; and of these the great spermaceti whale is said to wander sometimes into the Mediterranean. Most commentators, however, who interpret the narrative literally, identify the “great fish” with the shark. The latter is not uncommon in the Mediterranean. G.E. Post says that he saw one at Beirut twenty feet long; and this fish would have no difficulty in swallowing a man. To illustrate the capacity of the shark it has become customary to call attention to the following incident: “In 1758 in stormy weather a sailor fell overboard from a frigate in the Mediterranean. A shark was close by, which, as he was swimming and crying for help, took him in his wide throat, so that he forthwith disappeared. Other sailors had leaped into the sloop to help their comrade, while yet swimming; the captain had a gun which stood on the deck discharged at the fish, which struck it so that it cast out the sailor which it had in its throat, who was then taken up, alive and little injured, by the sloop which had now come up.” From this and similar incidents it would seem that there are fish that might swallow a man whole; though it would be remarkable for him to remain alive and uninjured.

Three days and three nights Whether this is interpreted as meaning three full days and full nights, or simply “a space of time reaching backward and forward beyond twenty four hours” (Matthew 12:40), is of little consequence; according to all natural laws it would be impossible for any man to remain alive for any considerable length of time in the belly of a fish (see Luther’s words quoted on p. 325). Only by direct, divine, miraculous interference could Jonah be kept alive. At the end of this period the fish, at the divine command, vomited out Jonah.

Dry land Where, is not stated. The author probably intended it to be understood that the fish carried Jonah back to the place from which he had embarked. The traditional site of the ejection of the prophet is near Sidon.

Verses 2-3

2. I cried… he heard R.V., “I called… he answered.” The tenses indicate that both the petition and the reply are experiences of the past (Jonah 2:6).

By reason of mine affliction Better, R.V. margin, “out of mine affliction”; which is further described in 3ff.

Belly of hell R.V., “Sheol.” On the latter see on Hosea 13:14. It is frequently pictured as a ravenous beast, with a greedy appetite (Proverbs 30:16; Habakkuk 2:5), with a wide-open mouth (Isaiah 5:14). Here a belly is given to it, which may have been suggested by the belly of the fish. As in Psalms 18:5; Psalms 30:3, Sheol is a poetic picture for the dangers of death, from which there seems no escape. With 2a compare Psalms 120:1, or Psalms 18:6; with Jonah 2:2 b compare Psalms 18:5.

Jonah 2:3 describes the affliction from which came deliverance.

For thou hadst cast Literally, And thou didst cast. This can hardly be interpreted as giving the reason for the thanksgiving. Better, Yea, thou didst cast. This is a perfectly possible translation. It certainly is not necessary to suppose that a clause has dropped out. In the case of Jonah, Jehovah was the real author of the calamity (Jonah 1:14; compare also Jonah 1:4, and the references there).

Deep,… midst of the seas;… floods… billows… waves Taken in connection with the experiences of Jonah these terms might all be interpreted literally. On the other hand, in the psalm literature, these or similar terms are used figuratively of the depths of trouble and distress. The “midst (R.V., “heart”) of the seas” (for plural compare G.-K., 124a), which defines “deep,” is the bottom of the sea (Exodus 15:5; Micah 7:19).

Floods Literally, river; the currents of the sea (Psalms 24:2).

Thy Jehovah made them (Jonah 1:9) and controls them (Psalms 18:4-5). For the last clause compare especially Psalms 42:7.

Verses 4-5

4. Two emotions struggled within the supplicant. At first despair seized him.

Cast out He thought Jehovah had no further interest in him or care for him (Psalms 31:22). But the despondency was only temporary. He determined, even in his apparently hopeless condition, to appeal to Jehovah (Jonah 2:7).

Look again toward thy holy temple The position of prayer (1 Kings 8:38; Psalms 5:7). On holy see on Joel 2:1; Zechariah 14:20. The temple in Jerusalem is the earthly dwelling place of Jehovah. The words do not necessarily express the expectation that the supplicant will be delivered and that after the deliverance he will “look toward the temple.” Even now, from the midst of the danger, in spite of the apparent hopelessness of the situation, he will again, as in times past, lift up his heart in prayer. There is no reason for changing 4b so as to read, “How can I again look toward thy holy temple?”

Jonah 2:5 continues the description of the deadly peril.

Even to the soul The most vital part; it seems all over with him (Psalms 18:4-5; Psalms 69:1; for the second line compare Psalms 69:2).

The weeds were wrapped about my head The sea grass grows at the bottom. Another indication, therefore, of the depth of trouble to which the petitioner has sunk (Jonah 2:3). Wellhausen calls attention to the fact that sea grass does not grow in the belly of a fish.

Verses 6-7

6. The bottoms of the mountains Literally, the cuttings off; the extreme ends. The mountains are thought of as extending their roots to the bottom of the sea (Psalms 18:5).

The earth with her bars was about me Literally, as to the earth, her bars were behind me. He thinks himself cast out from the earth; the earth has put down the bars so as to make return to the dry land impossible forever. The comparison is with a city whose gates are barred so that no one can enter. Marti reads 6a, “I went down to the nether parts of the earth, to the people of old time”; that is, the people who died in ancient times (Ezekiel 26:20; Ezekiel 32:18; Ezekiel 32:24); in other words, to Sheol.

The depth of affliction and the deadly character of the peril make the deliverance the more wonderful. To this deliverance the singer now turns.

Yet hast thou brought up my life Thou hast brought me up alive, in spite of the apparent hopelessness.

From corruption R.V., “from the pit.” The former is the meaning given to the word by the ancient versions, but R.V. is to be preferred. The word is practically synonymous with Sheol (Jonah 2:2; Psalms 30:3; Psalms 30:9).

Jehovah my God See on Jonah 2:1.

Jonah 2:7 goes back to Jonah 2:4, calling attention once more to the conflicting emotions while in the midst of danger.

My soul fainted Literally, was overwhelmed; became exhausted (Psalms 142:3; Psalms 143:4).

I remembered When about ready to give up the struggle he thought of Jehovah, and decided to appeal to him (4), and his prayer was heard (Psalms 18:6; Psalms 5:7).

Verses 8-9

8, 9. The wonderful deliverance has taught the singer a lesson. Whatever others may do, he will remain loyal to Jehovah, the God of his deliverance. The main thought is expressed in Jonah 2:9; Jonah 2:8 serves to emphasize the determination of the speaker.

They that observe [“regard”] lying vanities All who pay homage to idols and put their trust in them (Deuteronomy 32:21; Psalms 31:6; compare Hosea 10:10). The idols are called “lying vanities” because they are ever disappointing those putting their trust in them.

Forsake their own mercy Forsake Him who is their mercy, or who alone can show them mercy. The same word is translated in Psalms 144:2, “loving-kindness” (see on Hosea 2:19). From Jehovah and from manifestations of his mercy they foolishly cut themselves off. Not so the psalmist; he will seek to retain the divine favor by meeting all his obligations to Jehovah. This determination is based upon his past experience of the power and mercy of his God. Marti thinks that before Jonah 2:9 two lines have fallen out, and he supplies, “But I trust in thee, Jehovah, my saviour” (Psalms 31:6).

Sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving He will offer his sacrifices with expressions of praise and thanksgiving (Psalms 42:4).

Pay that that I have vowed While in distress (Psalms 50:14; Psalms 50:23). Nothing is said in the rest of the prayer or in the narrative of a vow made by Jonah (compare the vow of the sailors, Jonah 1:16).

Salvation is of Jehovah “The sum and substance of the whole hymn” (Psalms 3:8). Jehovah alone can deliver; therefore in him he will trust forever. On Jonah 2:10 see after comments on Jonah 1:17.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Jonah 2". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/jonah-2.html. 1874-1909.