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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Jonah 2

 

 

Verse 1

‘Then Jonah prayed to YHWH his God out of the fish’s innards.’

All Jonah probably knew was that he was somewhere safe where he could breathe and pray. It would only be later that he discovered that he was in the innards of a large fish. And knowing that he had been saved from certain death he was no doubt confident that God would sort everything out.


Verses 1-10

Jonah’s Prayer Of Repentance And Gratitude (Jonah 2:1-10).

Finding himself rescued from drowning, Jonah expressed his gratitude to God, and, probably puzzled as to where he was, called on God for restitution to His favour, ‘I am cast out from your sight, yet will I look again towards your holy Temple’, and again, ‘Those who regard lying vanities (Jonah in his flight), forsake their own mercy, but I will sacrifice to you with the voice of thanksgiving, I will pay what I have vowed.’ It is apparent that while in the sea he had made certain vows to YHWH.

The prayer is necessary in order to demonstrate that God’s mercy was revealed towards Jonah, as it had been towards the sailors, and would be towards Nineveh. It draws attention to his repentance, and prepares for what follows. There is nothing in it which requires a late date, and its ideas are similar to what we view as mainly early Psalms. It suggests that Jonah was very familiar with Temple worship, or with similar worship in Israel. The parallels are not such, however, as to suggest direct borrowing. For examples of such parallels see the introduction.

To those who ask whether Jonah was likely to compose a Psalm while in the innards of the great fish our reply is, what else was he likely to do. He had to have something to occupy his time. For a prophet composing a prophetic psalm would be ideal.

His description of nearly drowning is vivid, even though his experience must only have lasted two or three minutes. At such times the thoughts are very much concentrated. It did, however, give him the opportunity to review what he had done and to repent in his heart. And then quite by a miracle he had found himself seized, and he had found himself enveloped by something he knew not what, and that he was able to breathe. And now here he was, able to thank God for deliverance from drowning and to confirm his repentance, and wait on God for further deliverance. His mind would naturally turn to composing a psalm of thanksgiving.

Analysis of Jonah 2:1-10.

a Then Jonah prayed to YHWH his God out of the fish’s innards (Jonah 2:1).

b “I called by reason of my affliction to YHWH, and he answered me, out of the belly of Sheol I cried, you heard my voice” (Jonah 2:2).

c “For you cast me into the depth, in the heart of the seas, and the flood was round about me, all your waves and your billows passed over me” (Jonah 2:3).

d “And I said, ‘I am cast out from before your eyes, yet I will look again towards your holy temple” (Jonah 2:4).

e “The waters compassed me about, even to the soul, the deep was round about me, the weeds were wrapped about my head” (Jonah 2:5).

f “I went down to the bottoms of the mountains, the earth with its bars closed on me for ever, yet have you brought up my life from the pit, O YHWH my God” (Jonah 2:6).

e “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered YHWH” (Jonah 2:7 a).

d “And my prayer came in to you, into your holy temple” (Jonah 2:7 b).

c “Those who regard lying vanities, forsake their own mercy” (Jonah 2:8 a).

b “But I will sacrifice to you with the voice of thanksgiving, I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of YHWH” (Jonah 2:9-9).

a And YHWH spoke to the fish, and it vomited out Jonah on the dry land (Jonah 2:10).

Note that in ‘a’ Jonah spoke to YHWH from the fish, and in the parallel YHWH spoke to the fish about Jonah. In ‘b’ he cried to YHWH from the very belly of Sheol, and in the parallel he gives thanks that God heard him and delivered him. In ‘c’ we find Jonah seemingly treated without mercy, and in the parallel the consequence of Jonah’s lying vanities, will be that he has forsaken his own mercy. In ‘d’ he looks towards YHWH’s holy Temple, and in the parallel he prays towards YHWH’s holy Temple. In ‘e’ the waters surrounded his soul, and in the parallel his soul fainted within hi. Centrally in ‘f’ he reached the lowest depths only to find deliverance.


Verse 2

‘And he said,

“I called by reason of my affliction to YHWH,

And he answered me,

Out of the belly of Sheol I cried,

You heard my voice.”

As he sank into the sea after being hurled from the deck Jonah had felt that he was sinking into the belly of Sheol (the grave). He had felt that he was about to die. But he had cried to YHWH in his affliction and he now knew that YHWH had heard his voice and answered him, for here he was alive and able to pray and offer thanks.

For the thought of someone being in the belly of Sheol see Isaiah 5:14, ‘Sheol has enlarged herself and opened her mouth without measure, and their glory, and their plenty, and their pomp, and the one who rejoices among them will descend into it’. But in Jonah’s case his meaning is brought out in Jonah 2:3. His experience was like being in the belly of Sheol because he was engulfed in water. Compare Psalms 18:5, ‘the cords of Sheol were round about me, the snares of death came on me.’


Verse 3

“For you cast me into the depth,

In the heart of the seas,

And the flood was round about me,

All your waves and your billows passed over me.”

His remembrance of his experience was vivid. He had been cast into the heart of the sea, and had felt as though he was being swallowed up by the sea, almost as though he had been in his grave, with the waters sweeping over him. Note his emphasis on the fact that it was YHWH Who had done this to him, and that it was His waves and billows which passed over him. YHWH had been with him in all that had happened.


Verse 4

“And I said, ‘I am cast out from before your eyes,

Yet I will look again towards your holy temple.”

And his first thoughts as he viewed approaching death was that he had been cast out from before YHWH’s eyes. He was a reject. But his automatic impulse had been to look towards the Temple of YHWH in his mind, even though he had recognised that he was a castaway. It was an instantaneous admission of guilt and a plea for acceptance. He who had refused mercy towards others was now seeking it for himself.


Verse 5

“The waters compassed me about,

Even to the soul,

The deep was round about me,

The weeds were wrapped about my head.”

But his awful experience had gone on. (God does not always step in immediately until we have learned our lesson). He had felt as though the waters had entered into his very soul. The depths of the sea had been all around him, and he had felt weeds wrapping round his head. He had known that he was drowning, which was of course what he had anticipated. Rescue had been far from his mind.

For the whole idea compare Psalms 69:1-2. Save Me, O God, for the waters are come into my soul, -- I am come into deep waters where the floods overflow me’. But in the case of Jonah the experience had been a literal one.


Verse 6

“I went down to the bottoms of the mountains,

The earth with its bars closed on me for ever,

Yet have you brought up my life from the pit,

O YHWH my God.”

He had felt himself sinking lower and lower, into the very depths. ‘The bottom of the mountains’ indicates the sea floor, for as men stood on the shore they saw the slope of the mountains going down into the seas and realised that at the bottom of the slope was a valley, the sea floor. As the boat was clearly not far from shore, the bottom of the sea would not have been at any great depth. And he had felt as though he was excluded from the earth by bars which prevented his returning, and which would hold him for ever. But then he had found himself remarkably delivered and he had been lifted out of the pit, and he had thus recognised that it was the action of YHWH His God.


Verse 7

“When my soul fainted within me,

I remembered YHWH,

And my prayer came in to you,

Into your holy temple.

In his desperation he had remembered YHWH, and he had prayed to YHWH towards His holy Temple. And he knew that in that moment YHWH had answered, so that here he was, safe, even though he knew not where.


Verse 8-9

Those who regard lying vanities,

Forsake their own mercy,

But I will sacrifice to you with the voice of thanksgiving,

I will pay what I have vowed.

Salvation is of YHWH.”

But he acknowledged that he had been clinging on to deceitful vanities as though he was an idolater (for the phrase compare Psalms 31:6 where it probably refers to idolatry). He had actually believed that he could resign his position as the servant of YHWH and simply walk out on Him, as though YHWH was just an idol. And it had caused him forsake the mercy that was available to him from YHWH. He could hardly believe it of himself. But now all that was past. He was restored to his obedience to YHWH, and once he was in a position to do so he would offer his thanksgiving offering with gratitude, and would pay what he had vowed while he was drowning. For now he recognised in a way that he had not before, that Salvation was of YHWH, totally undeserved and freely given. It had to be for he had just experienced it in that way himself.

‘Salvation is of YHWH.’ This is the message of the whole prophecy. It is God Who saves and God alone. And He does it to whomever He will. No one, not even Jonah, could interfere. Once he had learned that lesson he was free to go.


Verse 10

‘And YHWH spoke to the fish, and it vomited out Jonah on the dry land.’

Then the large fish approached land, no doubt under God’s direction, and YHWH then spoke to it and it vomited Jonah out on the dry land. Now at last Jonah knew where he had been, in the innards of a large fish.

The message was clear to all. Whether it was a matter of the sea, or of the denizens of the deep, YHWH was in full control of His creation, which did what He bid.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jonah 2:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/jonah-2.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, June 26th, 2019
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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