Deliverance: The Prophet Runs to God (Jonah 2.2-10)

Throughout the first chapter, the word “cry/call out” (Heb. ûqĕrāʾ) was used several times (vs. 2, 6, 14) and will be used again later in Jonah (3.2, 4, 5, 8). It is a key word in Jonah. It denotes (1) Jonah’s mission to proclaim in Ninevah God’s message or (2) petitioning God or gods for special favors. Chapter two begins with Jonah crying out to Yahweh “his God” in prayer from the belly of the fish (2.1). His prayer, though, is not so much a petition for deliverance as much as it is a prayer of thanksgiving to Yahweh for hearing his prayer and saving him from calamity.

The prayer begins (2.2) with a definite affirmation that Yahweh “answered” and “heard” Jonah’s prayer. Jonah describes his situation as “distress” in “the belly of Sheol.” Later in the prayer he says that Yahweh his God “brought up my life from the pit” (v.6). In this way Jonah is acknowledging that had it not been for the power and grace of Yahweh, he would be as good as dead. It is as if he has come back from the dead, from sheol, i.e. the unseen realm of the dead. But Yahweh heard and answered his prayer and so Jonah was saved.

Jonah leaves no doubt about his fate had Yahweh not intervened. He faced certain death and he uses several images to describe it. Though it was the mariners who throw Jonah overboard, he recognizes that they were merely the instruments of divine judgment when he says, “you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas” (3a). Once in the waters Jonah was overwhelmed by “the flood…your waves and your billows” (3b). He is so deep in the sea that it is as if Yahweh cannot see him (4a, “I am driven from your sight”). Jonah laments that he will “never again see your holy temple” (4b, NET).[1] His life was threatened when “the waters closed in over” him (5). Down and down he went into “the deep” (5), to “the roots of the mountains,” even to “the land whose bars closed upon me forever” which is language used to describe the subterranean fort of sheol (5b-6).[2] Thus, his life was “fainting away” (7). That is, he was drowning. Taken together this is a description of a man who was doomed to die.

As death crept over him was when Yahweh came to save him. Jonah “remembered Yahweh” (7), implying up to that point he had forgotten Yahweh. To remember God is to repent of having forgotten Him. So with repentance Jonah sought Yahweh in prayer and he was heard. Jonah says his prayer came to Yahweh in His holy temple (4). This is the language of sacrifice. It is as if Jonah pictures his prayer as the sweet aroma of an offering wafted not necessarily to Jerusalem, but into the sacred temple in heaven, into the presence of Yahweh.

The chapter concludes (2.10) with the word of Yahweh coming to the fish that had swallowed Jonah. Yahweh “spoke” to His instrument of salvation and it responded with obedience. This is still another instance of God’s sovereign control over His creation. Jonah is “vomited” out onto dry ground. While graphic the translation is accurate. Thus concludes the miracle of the great fish.

[1] While most English translations favor a vocalized reading of ’kh (ESV, NASB, KJV, NKJV, ASV, et al), both internal and external evidence favors the reading found in the NET (cf. RSV, NRSV). First, the surrounding context (3-6) is Jonah lamenting his plight in the deep. A declaration of confidence in seeing the temple once again simply does not fit this motif. Second, both the Septuagint (LXX) and the Dead Sea Scrolls read this in agreement with the NRSV as a rhetorical question anticipating a negative response: “Shall I indeed look again toward your holy temple?” It is the wistful plea of a man wondering if he will live or die.

[2] Sheol is said to have “gates” (Isa 38.10) and “bars” (Job 17.16), hence the fortress language.

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