Notes on Jonah, chapter 2

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Jon 2:1, KJV, Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly,

Jonah was apparently still alive when the fish swallowed him. He may not have remained alive for very long, due to suffocation or any other means of death: he, or at least his body, was in the fish’s belly for three days and three nights (see Jonah 1:17).

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.

Jonah used a pattern of speech common to several Psalms and Proverbs, namely, a statement, a comment, then the original statement and another comment. Twice he used the words, “I cried” and used two different responses. He also used the word “heard” twice in this verse.

This could also reflect part of Jonah’s prayer after he had died: note that here he says he “cried” out of the “belly of hell”—the place of the dead—and the LORD heard him there.

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.

Even though the sailors were the ones who actually threw Jonah overboard—he didn’t jump out of the ship!—Jonah admits that this action was based on God’s dealings with His prophet. Jonah had already told them to throw him over and the storm would stop. Jonah also knew about the floods and waves, experiencing this as he sank into the sea.

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

Jonah thought he could flee from the LORD’s presence and may have thought that, when he died, he would be “cast out of” God’s sight. How much the Old Testament saints understood the concept that God was everywhere and could see everything (Psalm 139), yet question their own relationship with Him is nowhere addressed specifically.

We do not know if Jonah was referring to the Temple in Jerusalem (had he ever seen it?) or a Temple in the future. There were already a number of prophecies about the kingdom to come. Isaiah spoke of the coming kingdom in chapters 9, 11 and others; Hosea and Amos had also prophesied of Israel’s future.

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

These words may indicate Jonah drowned inside the fish’s belly.

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.

Now Jonah states he saw corruption. David, speaking in a Messianic Psalm (16:10) said the Messiah would never see corruption but, as Peter preached centuries later, David’s own body saw corruption or decay (Acts 2:27, 2:31) and Paul spoke of this in Acts 13.

Jonah’s statement might also indicate or reinforce that OT saints went to the heart of the earth (Eph. 4:9).

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

Here Jonah again mentions the “holy temple”, a place where the LORD heard Jonah/s prayers. The Temple in Jerusalem was called “a house of prayer (Isa. 56:7)”, and Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (tax collector for the Romans) who went “up to the temple to pray (Luke 18:10ff)”.

Prayer is of course not restricted to any one location or any one time, but think how pleased the LORD must be when He hears His saints praying!

8 They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.

The Psalms make several references to vanity: (4:2, 10:7, and others) as does Proverbs (13:11, 22:8, e.g.) The word is found many times in Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Hosea, a contemporary of Jonah, spoke of vanity once in his book (Hos. 12:11).

Jonah may also be comparing faith in the True God with the misplaced faith in idols, or he may be stating his own condition. Remember, he’s praying from either inside the fish’s belly (v.1) or he may be remembering his thoughts once he had reached the portion of Sheol (translated “hell”, v.2) reserved for the saints.

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.

Jonah’s whole attitude seems to have changed by now. Had he seen the unsaved/unrighteous dead in the other side of hell/sheol?
We’re never told what Jonah had vowed, or when he made them, but at the very least he knew it was something he had to fulfill. By this time, had his life been restored? Had he come back to life inside the fish’s belly? He couldn’t possibly fulfill his vows, whatever they were, if he were still dead!

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

This could have been at any number of places along the coast. We’re never told the exact location. One thought is that he was placed on the “dry land” close to Nineveh but that hardly seems likely: the fish would have had to swim all the way out of the Mediterranean Sea, around Africa, and then into what is now the Persian Gulf in order to get Jonah close to Nineveh.

Another thought is that God wanted to keep this place secret, lest anyone, including Jonah, be tempted to make a shrine or anything else out of it. Compare this with Jacob’s encounters at Bethel: in Genesis 28, he stopped there and slept with a stone for a pillow then anointed that stone once he saw God; 20 years later, he goes back and built an altar to God at that location.

The most important thing to remember is that God allowed Jonah to have another chance. Nobody has the luxury or position to demand anything like that from God. It is only by His Grace and mercy that anyone has a chance to serve Him, let alone a totally new opportunity.

He owes us nothing, but we certainly owe Him everything.

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)

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