Jonah and the Whale (vs. 1:17-2:10)
This Jonah 2 commentary has Hebrew keywords and phrases in bold. Hold the mouse over the Scripture links to compare the King James Version with my translation in brown text. The bullet points indicate detailed notes for each verse in Jonah chapter two.
Interpreting Jonah and the Whale
The LORD APPOINTED a GREAT fish to swallow Jonah. Jonah was in the intestines of the fish three days and three nights.
- In the Hebrew Scriptures, this is the first verse of Jonah 2. In English translations it is Jonah 1:17.
- The Bible doesn't clarify what type of fish swallowed Jonah. The LORD APPOINTED the GREAT fish as an act of His judgment. Soaking in the stomach acid of a fish shouldn't be interpreted as an act of deliverance.
- He judged Jonah previously with the GREAT wind (Jonah 1:4) and the GREAT storm (Jonah 1:4, 12).
- The LORD will judge Jonah later with an APPOINTED worm (Jonah 4:7) and an APPOINTED wind (Jonah 4:8).
- Even though the LORD APPOINTED a plant to deliver Jonah (Jonah 4:6), the Hebrew verb for APPOINTED is more often than not associated with a vehicle of judgment in the book of Jonah.
- Jesus references the three days and three nights in the New Testament (Matthew 12:40).
Jonah prayed to his God from the intestines of the fish.
- Why not just state that Jonah finally CRIED OUT to God?
- The Hebrew verb prayed differs from CRY OUT used elsewhere to describe the pagans in prayer.
- Jonah didn't CRY OUT to his God aboard the ship per the Captain's request (Jonah 1:6).
- None the pronoun his. Why does the narrator insert this possessive pronoun? Jonah didn't want to share his God with the pagans.
- The intestines of the fish compare to the guts of the ship (Jonah 1:5).
He said, "I CRIED OUT to the LORD in my distress. He answered me. I cried for help from the belly of the grave. YOU heard MY voice.
- Jonah writes this prayer after the fish vomits him up. He personalizes parts of Psalms 118:5 and 120:1 in prayer.
- In my literal translations below, notice the phrases that begin the verse. The words that begin the verse are fronted for emphasis.
- Psalm 120:1, "To the LORD in my distress I CRIED OUT; he answered me." Surrounded by enemies, this Psalmist places the LORD at the front of his prayer.
- Psalm 118:5, "From my distress I CRIED OUT to the LORD; he answered me." This Palmist emphasizes his distress.
- Jonah 2:2, "I CRIED OUT in my distress to the LORD." Inside the fish, Jonah places himself "I" at the front of his prayer.
- Even though Jonah finally "CRIED OUT", the narrator restructured the Psalm putting "I" at the beginning of the personalized text.
- Pay attention to all the first person pronouns (I, me, my, mine) referring to Jonah in this chapter, because this indicates Jonah's self-centeredness.
For YOU cast ME into the deep into the heart of the sea. The current surrounded me. All YOUR breakers and waves passed over ME.
- Jonah confesses that God led the Sailors to throw him into the stormy sea (Jonah 1:15).
- Even with the absence of the verb WENT DOWN, Jonah descends downward into the sea, where the waves crash over him.
- Notice the possessive pronoun YOUR. These breakers and waves belong to the LORD.
- Psalm 42:7, "Deep calls to deep at the sound of YOUR waterfalls all YOUR breakers and waves passed over ME." Jonah recollects this Psalm in prayer.
But I thought, "I have been driven out of YOUR sight. Yet once again, I will look to YOUR holy temple.
- Jonah's hope in this verse contrasts with the utter despair of Jonah 1:3.
- He alludes to Psalm 31:22, "In my alarm I am cut off from your sight, yet you heard the voice of my supplication when I cried to you."
- Who has driven the prophet Jonah out of God's sight? Only the LORD has that kind of power.
- Here Jonah confesses loyalty to Yahweh even though the LORD has driven the rebellious prophet out of His sight.
- Pagans weren't allowed in God's holy temple, especially EVIL Ninevites. Perhaps, Jonah tries to remind Yahweh of this in his prayer.
The waters encompassed ME, up to MY neck. The deep surrounded ME. The seaweeds wrapped around MY head.
- Jonah reflects upon his experience on top of the stormy waters.
- Inside the fish, he had sunk into deep waters with seaweed covering his head.
- Psalm 18:4, "The cords of death encompassed ME."
- Psalm 69:1, "Save me, O' God. For the waters have come up to MY neck."
- Once again the prophet Jonah personalizes the Psalms in prayer.
I WENT DOWN to the base of the mountain. The earth, its bars were around ME forever. But YOU have brought MY life up from the pit, O' LORD MY God.
- Jonah WENT DOWN to the base of the mountains. He sunk into the depths of the sea.
- This probably refers to where the downward slope of the mountains intersects with the deep part of the sea.
- The bars around Jonah point to the place of the dead in the underworld from which there is no escape.
- Psalm 30:3, "O' LORD, thou has brought up MY soul from the grave: thou has kept ME alive, that I should not go down to the pit" (KJV).
- The words of Jonah's prayer also echo Psalm 103:4, "who redeems your life from the pit."
- The prophet acknowledges Yahweh as his God, "MY God." He has no problem praying for himself to his God inside the GREAT fish.
When MY life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD. MY prayer came to YOU in YOUR holy temple.
- Jonah finally decides to pray when he nearly loses his life.
- Psalm 142:3, "When MY spirit faints within ME, YOU know MY way."
- The prophet knows that he will die if he doesn't pray to the LORD.
- He describes his prayer reaching Yahweh in His holy temple.
- Some believe Jonah speaks of a heavenly temple, while others regard it as the physical temple in Jerusalem.
- Either way, the temple remains holy as opposed to the profane pagans.
- The "I" or "You" language excludes the Pagan Sailors and the Ninevites. Jonah doesn't REPENT for his unmerciful attitude towards them.
- Instead the prophet puts distance between himself and the EVIL Pagans by contrasting God's holiness with idol worshippers.
Those who regard vain idols forsake their COVENANT LOYALTY.
- Jonah alludes to Psalm 31:7, "I hate those who regard vain idols; But I trust in the LORD." Here the Psalmist contrasts himself with idol worshippers.
- Jonah once again reminds the LORD that according to the Psalmist, He hates idol worshippers. He tries to manipulate God in aligning Himself with the Psalmist.
- The Hebrew keyword hesed which means COVENANT LOYALTY has great significance throughout the Old Testament. This word explains the depths of the LORD's commitment to Israel.
- Jonah wants to say that the Ninevites have forsaken their COVENANT LOYALTY. The Ninevites, however, didn't have a covenant relationship with God. That's why He sent Jonah to the GREAT city.
With a voice of thanksgiving I will sacrifice to YOU. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD.
- The language of sacrifice and vows reminds one of the Pagan Sailors at the end of Chapter One.
- Some differences include: The Pagan Sailors complete their vows, whereas Jonah promises a future vow.
- The prophet Jonah displays no FEAR; the Sailors, however, FEARED a GREAT FEAR.
- Similar to the Pagan Sailors, we don't know exactly what Jonah vows to the LORD or how he plans to fulfill his promise.
- Jonah alludes to Psalm 3:8, "Salvation belongs to the LORD; YOUR blessing is upon YOUR people" (NKJV).
- Notice again how Jonah keeps reminding the LORD of His chose people, Israel. In Psalm 3:7, the Psalmist meditates on Yahweh breaking the teeth of the wicked.
- Jonah thinks that he has quoted all the right Scriptures in order to appease God. Jonah is confident that he will return to dry land.
Then the LORD spoke to the fish. It VOMITED Jonah out onto dry land.
- The narrator personifies the fish almost like its human. The LORD speaks and the fish obeys His command, unlike Jonah.
- The Hebrew verb for VOMIT used with the preposition "to" refers to projectile VOMITING.
- Leviticus 18:28, "So that the land may not spew you out [VOMIT], should you defile it, as it has spewed out [VOMIT] the nation which has been before you" (NAS).
- Leviticus 20:22, "You are therefore to keep all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them, so that the land to which I am bringing you to live will not spew you out" (VOMIT).
- This verb never has a good connotation. It's not a neutral verb, rather it lets us know what God really thinks of Jonah's prayer.
- The Pagan Sailors couldn't get Jonah back to dry land but the LORD's APPOINTED GREAT fish accomplished the task.
Summarizing the Story of Jonah and the Whale
Since Jonah rebels against the Word of the LORD, the LORD APPOINTED a GREAT fish to swallow him. Just as the LORD spoke judgment upon the GREAT city (Jonah 1:2) and HURLED a GREAT wind (Jonah 1:4) and GREAT storm after Jonah, (Jonah 1:4, 12), now He APPOINTS a GREAT fish to judge the prophet's EVIL behavior (Jonah 1:17). While soaking in the stomach acid of the fish, Jonah reflects upon his experience in the sea. He takes several Psalms out of context, personalizes them, and then tries to manipulate the LORD into seeing life his way. The LORD is his God, not the pagans' god (Jonah 2:1). Jonah hopes to enter the holy temple again (Jonah 2:4, 7); the EVIL Ninevites don't have access to this temple. Even when Jonah WENT DOWN to the bottom of the sea, he still harps about the Ninevites' idolatry (Jonah 2:6-8). Unlike the Pagan Sailors when faced with death made sacrifices and vows, Jonah only promises to do the same sometime in the future (Jonah 2:9). The LORD gets fed up with Jonah's prayer. He speaks to the GREAT fish, and it VOMITS the lukewarm prophet out of its mouth onto dry land (Jonah 2:10).