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Jonah 2

Overview

  • While inside the great fish, Jonah finds some time come up with a little Psalm.
  • Jonah says, “I was totally screwed, and when I called out to God, he picked up and answered!”
  • “I was literally in the grave, in the dark place, when God heard me,” J.J. goes on.
  • Then Joe gets real when he says, “I felt like God had thrown me out. Into the deep, out where I was overrun with waves, sucked down into the sea.”
  • “But,” Joner goes on, “Even though I’m pretty sure God had turned his back on me, I kept looking up to heaven.”
  • “The water was sucking me in. I was drowning!” Jonah declares. “Seaweed. Was. Wrapped. Around. My. Head. I sank down to the bottom of the ocean, and the land of the living was permanently out of reach. That’s when God came to my rescue.”
  • Joe Joe goes on, “In the midst of dying, I remembered God. I prayed and my prayer made it to heaven and God heard me.”
  • “There’s those idol worshipping people out there (I won’t name names, but they drive boats and live in Nineveh), and they give up on their gods,” Jonah says.
  • “But I will offer sacrifices to God. I’ll stay faithful. I’ll be thankful.” And to wrap it up, Jonah declares, “Salvation really is from God.”

Historical Context

Psalms 

Jonah’s prayer in chapter 2 has a lot of parallels with the Old Testament Psalms. For example: Jonah 2:9 says, “Salvation is from the Lord,” whereas Psalms. 2:9 reads, “Salvation is from the Lord,” and Psalm 3:8 says, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.”1

Below is a list of more parallels:2

Jonah 2 Psalms
Jonah 2:3b Psalms 18:7; 120:1
Jonah 2:4b Psalms 18:6; 30:4
Jonah 2:5 Psalms 42:8
Jonah 2:6 Psalms 31:23; 5:8
Jonah 2:7 Psalms 18:8; 69:2f
Jonah 2:8 Psalms 18:17; 30:4; 103:4
Jonah 2:9 Psalms 142:4; 143:4; 18:7; 5:8
Jonah 2:10 Psalms 88:3; 31:7; 26:7; 50:14,23; 42:5; 116:7

Sheol

In ancient Jewish belief, Sheol is a place of darkness to which all the dead go, both the righteous and the unrighteous. It is a place of stillness and darkness cut off from life and from God.4

In Sheol people are “shades” (rephaim), entities without personality or strength.4

Early descriptions of Sheol see it as the permanent place of the dead. When the Old Testament was translated into Greek (~200 BC), the word “Hades” (the Greek underworld) was substituted for Sheol, reflecting a change in attitude about the underworld as a place of punishment, meant for the wicked dead alone.. This tradition seems to be carried over into the New Testament depictions of the afterlife.4

Observations

  • The prayer Jonah offers up in chapter 2 is very brief. It can easily be read in less than sixty seconds.2
  • Jonah’s psalm seems more self-centered than those in the Book of Psalms.1
  • One key difference between Jonah’s prayer and the Psalms is that God’s character is scarcely mentioned. Not until chapter 4 does Jonah get around to addressing the character of God, in particular his grace, compassion, long suffering, and lovingkindness.1
  • The grammatical arrangement of the prayer seems to speak of a deliverance already experienced rather than of one expected. It is a prayer of thanksgiving than a prayer. When Jonah realizes that he was saved from drowning, he uttered his gratitude, and saw that he might hope for further rescue.6
  • Jonah’s prayer is not about the deliverance from a great fish. Rather it is a psalm of deliverance from drowning.2
  • The thought is that as Jonah sinks he goes far from the earth, the home of the living, and its doors are closed and barred against him forever. No return to the light and sunshine seems possible. 2
  • “Cast out from your sight,” means less out of God’s purview, and more out of his favor. Now that Jonah has achieved running away from “the presence of God,” he feels it to be a poor idea.5
  • Jonah saying he would look towards God’s “holy temple,” most likely did not mean the temple in Jerusalem, rather that he was looking up to God in his holy temple in heaven.5
  • It is interesting the Jonah would criticize those who worship idols (v. 8) considering the idol-worshipping sailors who worked so hard to save his life, and who, themselves, ended up offering sacrifices to God.
  • To Jonah, the great fish, no doubt looked initially like yet another form of death coming his way as he drowned. Yet,  what looked like death became safe-keeping.7
  • The First Century Jewish historian, Josephus, says Jonah was spit up on the shore of the Euxine sea; but the nearest part of it to Nineveh was one thousand six hundred miles from Tarsus, which the whale, very slow in swimming, cannot be thought to go in three days; besides, no very large fish swim in the Euxine sea, because of the straits of the Propontis, through which they cannot pass, as Bochart from various writers has proved. It is more likely, as others, that it was on the Syrian shore, or in the bay of Issus, now called the gulf of Lajazzo; or near Alexandria, or Alexandretta, now Scanderoon. But why not on the shore of Palestine? and, indeed, why not near the place from whence they sailed? Huetius and others think it probable that this case of Jonah gave rise to the story of Arion, who was cast into the sea by the mariners, took up by a dolphin, and carried to Corinth.3

Discussion

  • Jonah refers to the gates of the earth as barring him from returning to the land of the living. Seeing how, in Jonah’s case, God reaches down from the highest heavens into the midst of death itself, and breaks through the gates to save him, wheat does this do to your understanding of Jesus telling his disciples that the gates of Hell will not prevail (Mt. 16:18)? How does this enlighten our view of Jesus rescuing people, even from death? Is there anywhere God won’t go to save someone? What does this say about our duty as Christians to pursue people? What barriers stand in our way? Why do we think this?
  • The great fish would’ve been an intimidating sight. What Jonah thought was just another form of death was actually God’s saving hand. What experiences have you had where salvation looked like death at first, then life afterward?
  • Jonah had sought to flee God’s sight, but once he found himself truly out of God’s sight he wanted back in. What does this tell us about ourselves? Do we want God just to look away while we do what we want, or do we truly want him gone? When do we feel abandoned? Did we ask for it?
  • In the midst of Jonah’s prayer of thanks to God for saving him, he insults the “idol worshippers” (i.e. the sailors and Ninevites) – people who tried hard to save him, and people to whom he was supposed to preach a message of salvation. Why do you think he did this? What does this say about Jonah? Do we offer God thanks by contrasting ourselves with people we don’t like? Why do we do this?

Research

  1. Deffinbaugh’s commentary
  2. Coffman’s commentary
  3. Gill’s commentary
  4. Sheol
  5. Jamieson’s commentary
  6. Pulpit commentary
  7. Barnes’ commentary
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