Jonah 2 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Jonah 2
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly,


(1) Then Jonah prayed.—This introduction, to what is in reality a psalm of thanksgiving, has its parallel in Hannah’s song (1 Samuel 2:1-10), which is introduced in the same way. Comp. also the Note appended by the psalm collector at the end of Psalms 72, “The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.”

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.
(2) By reason of mine affliction.—See margin. There is a close correspondence between this opening and that of Psalms 120 Comp. also Psalm 18:6.

Out of the belly of hell.—This remarkable expression—a forcible figure for imminent death—has its nearest parallel in Isaiah 5:14, where sheôl (see Psalm 6:5) is represented as opening a huge mouth to swallow the princes of the world and their pomp. The under-world represents the Hebrew word sheôl more nearly than hell or the grave (margin). (Comp. Psalm 18:5; Psalm 30:3.)

And thou heardest . . .—The conjunction is unnecessarily introduced. The sudden change of person, a frequent figure in Hebrew poetry, is more striking without the connecting word.

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.
(3) Hadst cast.—Rather, didst cast. (See Psalm 88:6.)

Floods.—Literally, river, used here of the ocean currents. (Comp. Psalm 24:2.)

All thy billows and thy waves.—More exactly, all thy breakers and billows. (See Psalm 42:7, where the same expression is used figuratively for great danger and distress.)

Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.
(4) I am cast out of thy sight.—“Jonah had wilfully withdrawn from standing in God’s presence. Now God had taken him at his word, and, as it seemed, cast him out of it. David had said in his haste, “I am cut off” (Psalm 31:22), Jonah substitutes the stronger word, “I am cast forth,” driven forth, expelled like the mire and dirt which the waves drive along, or like the waves themselves in their restless motion, or the heathen (the word is the same) whom God had driven out before Israel, or as Adam from Paradise” (Pusey).

Yet I will look again.—The Hebrew is very impressive, and reads like one of those exile hopes so common in the Psalms: “Yet I have one thing left, to turn towards Thy holy Temple and pray.” (For the attitude see Note on Psalm 28:2.)

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

The weeds were wrapped about my head.—This graphic touch is quite original. The figure of overwhelming waters is a common one in Hebrew song to represent some crushing sorrow, but nowhere is the picture so vivid as here. At the same time the entire absence of any reference to the fish, which would, indeed, be altogether out of place in this picture of a drowning man entangled in seaweed, should be noticed. That on which the prophet lays stress is not on the mode of his escape, but his escape itself.

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.
(6) Bottoms of the mountains.—Literally, ends or cuttings off, as, in margin. So the Vulg. extrema montium. Mountains were in the Hebrew conception the pillars of the world (see Job 9:6; Job 26:11), having their foundations firmly planted in the sea. These “hidden bases of the hills” were therefore the verge of the earth itself, and one lost among them would be close on the under-world of death.

The earth with her bars . . .—Literally, the earth her bars behind me for ever; i.e., the earth’s gates were closed upon me for ever, there was no possibility of return. The metaphor of a gateway to sheôl is common (Isaiah 38:10, &c.), but the earth is nowhere else said to be so guarded. Ewald therefore proposes to read sheôl here. But it is quite as natural to imagine a guarded passage out of the land of the living as into the land of the dead.

Corruption.—Rather, pit. (See Note, Psalm 16:10.)

When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.
(7) Fainted.—Literally, covered itself. Comp. Jonah 4:8. (See Psalm 61:2; Psalm 142:3; Psalm 143:4, where the same Hebrew word is rendered overwhelmed. Comp. Psalm 107:5.) Here, apparently, we are to think of the blinding mist of death slowly stealing over sight and sense.

Into thine holy temple.—See Jonah 2:4, and comp. Psalm 18:6.

They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.
(8) They that observe lying vanities.—See Note, Psalm 31:6.

Forsake their own mercy—i.e., forfeit their own share of the covenant grace. In Psalm 37:28 it is said that Jehovah does not forsake his chasîdim; they, however, by forsaking Jehovah (Himself called Israel’s mercy, Psalm 144:2, margin) and His law (Psalm 89:30) can forfeit their chesed or covenant privilege.

But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.
(9) But I will.—The prophet, however, is not among such. He has sinned, but is still a member of the covenant people, and by sacrifice can be formally restored to that favour which repentance has regained.

Salvation is of the Lord.—Or, Deliverance is Jehovah’s. (Comp. Psalm 3:8.)

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