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Jonah 2

Tweetthis! 2:1 Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish 2:2 and said,

“I 1  called out to the Lord from my distress,

and he answered me; 2 

from the belly of Sheol 3  I cried out for help,

and you heard my prayer. 4 

2:3 You threw me 5  into the deep waters, 6 

into the middle 7  of the sea; 8 

the ocean current 9  engulfed 10  me;

all the mighty waves 11  you sent 12  swept 13  over me. 14 

2:4 I thought 15  I had been banished from your sight, 16 

that I would never again 17  see your holy temple! 18 

2:5 Water engulfed me up to my neck; 19 

the deep ocean 20  surrounded me;

seaweed 21  was wrapped around my head.

2:6 I went down 22  to the very bottoms 23  of the mountains; 24 

the gates 25  of the netherworld 26  barred me in 27  forever; 28 

but you brought me 29  up from the Pit, 30  O Lord, my God.

2:7 When my life 31  was ebbing away, 32  I called out to 33  the Lord,

and my prayer came to your holy temple. 34 

2:8 Those who worship 35  worthless idols 36  forfeit the mercy that could be theirs. 37 

2:9 But as for me, I promise to offer a sacrifice to you with a public declaration 38  of praise; 39 

I will surely do 40  what I have promised. 41 

Salvation 42  belongs to the Lord!” 43 

2:10 Then the Lord commanded 44  the fish and it disgorged Jonah on dry land.

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1 sn The eight verses of Jonah’s prayer in Hebrew contain twenty-seven first-person pronominal references to himself. There are fifteen second- or third-person references to the Lord.

2 tn Tg. Jonah 2:2 renders this interpretively: “and he heard my prayer.”

sn The first verse of the prayer summarizes the whole – “I was in trouble; I called to the Lord for help; he rescued me; I will give him thanks” – before elaborating on the nature and extent of the trouble (vv. 3-7a), mentioning the cry for help and the subsequent rescue (6b-7), and promising to give thanks (8-9). These elements, as well as much vocabulary and imagery found in Jonah’s prayer, appear also in other Hebrew psalms. With Jonah 2:1 compare, for example, Pss 18:6; 22:24; 81:7; 116:1-4; 120:1; 130:1-2; Lam 3:55-56. These references and others indicate that Jonah was familiar with prayers used in worship at the temple in Jerusalem; he knew “all the right words.” Consider also Ps 107 with Jonah as a whole.

3 sn Sheol was a name for the place of residence of the dead, the underworld (see Job 7:9-10; Isa 38:17-18). Jonah pictures himself in the belly of Sheol, its very center – in other words he is as good as dead.

4 tn Heb “voice” (so KJV, NAB, NASB, NRSV); NIV “my cry.” The term קוֹל (qol, “voice”) functions as a metonymy for the content of what is uttered: cry for help in prayer.

5 tn Or “You had thrown me.” Verse 3 begins the detailed description of Jonah’s plight, which resulted from being thrown into the sea.

6 tn Heb “the deep” (so KJV, NAB, NASB, NIV, NRSV); NLT “into the ocean depths.”

7 tn Heb “heart” (so many English versions); CEV “to the (+ very TEV) bottom of the sea.”

8 tc The BHS editors suggest deleting either מְצוּלָה (mÿtsulah, “into the deep”) or בִּלְבַב יַמִּים (bilvav yammim, “into the heart of the sea”). They propose that one or the other is a scribal gloss on the remaining term. However, the use of an appositional phrase within a poetic colon is not unprecedented in Hebrew poetry. The MT is therefore best retained.

9 tn Or “the stream”; KJV, ASV, NRSV “the flood.” The Hebrew word נָהָר (nahar) is used in parallel with יַם (yam, “sea”) in Ps 24:2 (both are plural) to describe the oceans of the world and in Ps 66:6 to speak of the sea crossed by Israel in the exodus from Egypt.

10 tn Heb “surrounded” (so NRSV); NAB “enveloped.”

11 tn Heb “your breakers and your waves.” This phrase is a nominal hendiadys; the first noun functions as an attributive adjective modifying the second noun: “your breaking waves.”

12 tn Heb “your… your…” The 2nd person masculine singular suffixes on מִשְׁבָּרֶיךָ וְגַלֶּיךָ (mishbarekha vÿgallekha, “your breakers and your waves”) function as genitives of source. Just as God had hurled a violent wind upon the sea (1:4) and had sovereignly sent the large fish to swallow him (1:17 [2:1 HT]), Jonah viewed God as sovereignly responsible for afflicting him with sea waves that were crashing upon his head, threatening to drown him. Tg. Jonah 2:3 alters the 2nd person masculine singular suffixes to 3rd person masculine singular suffixes to make them refer to the sea and not to God, for the sake of smoothness: “all the gales of the sea and its billows.”

13 tn Heb “crossed”; KJV, NAB, NASB, NRSV “passed.”

14 sn Verses 3 and 5 multiply terms describing Jonah’s watery plight. The images used in v. 3 appear also in 2 Sam 22:5-6; Pss 42:7; 51:11; 69:1-2, 14-15; 88:6-7; 102:10.

15 tn Heb “And I said.” The verb אָמַר (’amar, “to say”) is sometimes used to depict inner speech and thoughts of a character (HALOT 66 s.v. אמר 4; BDB 56 s.v. אָמַר 2; e.g., Gen 17:17; Ruth 4:4; 1 Sam 20:26; Esth 6:6). While many English versions render this “I said” (KJV, NKJV, NAB, ASV, NASB, NIV, NLT), several nuance it “I thought” (JPS, NJPS, NEB, REB, NJB, TEV, CEV).

16 tn Or “I have been expelled from your attention”; Heb “from in front of your eyes.” See also Ps 31:22; Lam 3:54-56.

17 tc Or “Yet I will look again to your holy temple” or “Surely I will look again to your holy temple.” The MT and the vast majority of ancient textual witnesses vocalize consonantal אך (’kh) as the adverb אַךְ (’akh) which functions as an emphatic asseverative “surely” (BDB 36 s.v. אַךְ 1) or an adversative “yet, nevertheless” (BDB 36 s.v. אַךְ 2; so Tg. Jonah 2:4: “However, I shall look again upon your holy temple”). These options understand the line as an expression of hopeful piety. As a positive statement, Jonah expresses hope that he will live to return to worship in Jerusalem. It may be a way of saying, “I will pray for help, even though I have been banished” (see v. 8; cf. Dan 6:10). The sole dissenter is the Greek recension of Theodotion which reads the interrogative πῶς (pws, “how?”) which reflects an alternate vocalization tradition of אֵךְ (’ekh) – a defectively written form of אֵיךְ (’ekh, “how?”; BDB 32 s.v. אֵיךְ 1). This would be translated, “How shall I again look at your holy temple?” (cf. NRSV). Jonah laments that he will not be able to worship at the temple in Jerusalem again – this is a metonymical statement (effect for cause) that he feels certain that he is about to die. It continues the expression of Jonah’s distress and separation from the Lord, begun in v. 2 and continued without relief in vv. 3-7a. The external evidence favors the MT; however, internal evidence seems to favor the alternate vocalization tradition reflected in Theodotion for four reasons. First, the form of the psalm is a declarative praise in which Jonah begins with a summary praise (v. 2), continues by recounting his past plight
(vv. 3-6a) and the Lord’s intervention (vv. 6b-7), and concludes with a lesson (v. 8) and vow to praise (v. 9). So the statement with אֵךְ in v. 4 falls within the plight – not within a declaration of confidence. Second, while the poetic parallelism of v. 4 could be antithetical (“I have been banished from your sight, yet I will again look to your holy temple”),
synonymous parallelism fits the context of the lament better (“I have been banished from your sight; Will I ever again see your holy temple?”). Third, אֵךְ is the more difficult vocalization because it is a defectively written form of אֵיךְ (“how?”) and therefore easily confused with אַךְ (“surely” or “yet, nevertheless”). Fourth, nothing in the first half of the psalm reflects any inkling of confidence on the part of Jonah that he would be delivered from imminent death. In fact, Jonah states in v. 7 that he did not turn to God in prayer until some time later when he was on the very brink of death.

sn Both options for the start of the line (“how?” and “yet” or “surely”) fit the ironic portrayal of Jonah in the prayer (see also vv.8-9). Jonah, who had been trying to escape the Lord’s attention, here appears remarkably fond of worshiping him. Is there perhaps also a hint of motivation for the Lord to rescue this eager worshiper? Confession of disobedience, on the other hand, is absent. Compare Ps 31:22, where the first half (describing the plight) is very similar to the first half of Jonah 2:3, and the second half starts with “nevertheless” (אָכֵן, ’akhen) and is a positive contrast, a report that God heard, using four words that appear in Jonah 2:2 (cf. Job 32:7-8; Ps 82:6-7; Isa 49:4; Zeph 3:7).

18 tn Heb “Will I ever see your holy temple again?” The rhetorical question expresses denial: Jonah despaired of ever seeing the temple again.

19 tn Heb “as far as the throat.” The noun נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh) refers sometimes to the throat or neck (Pss 69:1[2]; 105:18; 124:4, 5; Isa 5:14; HALOT 712 s.v. נֶפֶשׁ 2). The water was up to Jonah’s neck (and beyond), so that his life was in great danger (cf. Ps 69:1).

20 tn Or “the deep; the abyss” (תְּהוֹם, tÿhom). The simple “ocean” is perhaps too prosaic, since this Hebrew word has primeval connections (Gen 1:2; 7:11; 8:2; Prov 8:27-28) and speaks of the sea at its vastest (Job 38:16-18; Ps 36:6; 104:5-9).

21 tc The consonantal form סוף (svf) is vocalized by the MT as סוּף (suf, “reed”) but the LXX’s ἐσχάτη (escath, “end”) reflects a vocalization of סוֹף (sof, “end”). The reading in Tg. Jonah 2:5 interpreted this as a reference to the Reed Sea (also known as the Red Sea). In fact, the Jewish Midrash known as Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer 10 states that God showed Jonah the way by which the Israelites had passed through the Red Sea. The MT vocalization tradition is preferred.

tn The noun סוּף (suf) normally refers to “reeds” – freshwater plants that grow in Egyptian rivers and marshes (Exod 2:3,5; Isa 10:19) – but here it refers to “seaweed” (HALOT 747 s.v. סוּף 1). Though the same freshwater plants do not grow in the Mediterranean, the name may be seen to fit similarly long plants growing in seawater.

22 tn Jonah began going “down” (יָרַד, yarad) in chap. 1 (vv. 3, 5; see also 1:15; 2:2-3).

23 tc The MT לְקִצְבֵי הָרִים (lÿqitsve harim, “to the extremities [i.e., very bottoms] of the mountains”) is a bit unusual, appearing only here in the Hebrew Bible. Therefore, the BHS editors suggest a conjectural emendation of the MT’s לְקִצְבֵי (“to the extremities”) to לְקַצְוֵי (lÿqatswey, “to the ends [of the mountains])” based on orthographic confusion between vav (ו) and bet (ב). However, the phrase קצבי הרים does appear in the OT Apocrypha in Sir 16:19; therefore, it is not without precedent. Since Jonah emphasizes that he descended, as it were, to the very gates of the netherworld in the second half of this verse, it would be appropriate for Jonah to say that he went down “to the extremities [i.e., very bottoms] of the mountains” (לְקִצְבֵי הָרִים). Therefore, the MT may be retained with confidence.

tn The noun קֶצֶב (qetseb) is used only three times in the Hebrew Bible, and this is the only usage in which it means “extremity; bottom” (BDB 891 s.v. קֶצֶב 2). The exact phrase קצבי הרים (“the extremities [bottoms] of the mountains”) is used in the OT Apocrypha once in Sir 16:19.

24 tn Some English versions (e.g., NEB, NRSV) have connected the “bottoms of the mountains” with the preceding – “weeds were wrapped around my head at the bottoms of the mountains” – and connect “I went down” with “the earth.” Such a connection between “I went down” and “the earth” is difficult to accept. It would be more normal in Hebrew to express “I went down to the earth” with a directive ending (אַרְצָה, ’artsah) or with a Hebrew preposition before “earth” or without the definite article. The Masoretic accents, in addition, connect “ends of the mountains” with the verb “I went down” and call for a break between the verb and “earth.”

25 tn Heb “As for the earth, its bars…” This phrase is a rhetorical nominative construction (also known as casus pendens) in which the noun הָאָרֶץ (haarets, “the earth”) stands grammatically isolated and in an emphatic position prior to the third feminine singular suffix that picks up on it in בְּרִחֶיהָ (bÿrikheha, “its bars”; see IBHS 128-30 §8.3). This construction is used to emphasize the subject, in this case, the “bars of the netherworld.” The word translated “bars” appears elsewhere to speak of bars used in constructing the sides of the tabernacle and often of crossbars (made of wood or metal) associated with the gates of fortified cities (cf. Exod 36:31-34; Judg 16:3; 1 Kgs 4:13; Neh 3:3; Pss 107:16; 147:13; Isa 45:1-2).

26 tn Heb “the earth.” The noun אֶרֶץ (’erets) usually refers to the “earth” but here refers to the “netherworld” (e.g., Job 10:21, 22; Ps 139:15; Isa 26:19; 44:23; BDB 76 s.v. אֶרֶץ 2.g). This is parallel to the related Akkadian term irsitu used in the phrase “the land of no return,” that is, the netherworld. This refers to the place of the dead (along with “belly of Sheol,” v. 2, and “the grave,” v. 6), which is sometimes described as having “gates” (Job 38:17; Ps 107:18).

27 tn Heb “behind me.” The preposition בַּעַד (baad) with a pronominal suffix and with the meaning “behind” is found also in Judg 3:23. Jonah pictures himself as closed in and so unable to escape death. Having described how far he had come (totally under water and “to the ends of mountains”), Jonah describes the way back as permanently closed against him. Just as it was impossible for a lone individual to walk through the barred gates of a walled city, so Jonah expected it was impossible for him to escape death.

28 tn Heb “As for the earth, its bars [were] against me forever.” This line is a verbless clause. The verb in the translation has been supplied for the sake of clarity and smoothness. The rhetorical nominative construction (see the note on the word “gates” earlier in this verse) has also been smoothed out in the translation.

29 tn Heb “my life.” The term חַיַּי (khayyay, “my life”) functions metonymically as a first common singular pronoun (“me”).

30 sn Jonah pictures himself as being at the very gates of the netherworld (v. 6b) and now within the Pit itself (v. 6c). He is speaking rhetorically, for he had not actually died. His point is that he was as good as dead if God did not intervene immediately. See Pss 7:15; 30:3; 103:4; Ezek 19:3-4, 8.

31 tn Heb “my soul.” The term נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh, “soul”) is often used as a metonymy for the life and the animating vitality in the body: “my life” (BDB 659 s.v. נֶפֶשׁ 3.c).

32 tn Heb “fainting away from me.” The verb הִתְעַטֵּף (hitattef, “to faint away”) is used elsewhere to describe (1) the onset of death when a person’s life begins to slip away (Lam 2:12), (2) the loss of one’s senses due to turmoil (Ps 107:5), and (3) the loss of all hope of surviving calamity (Pss 77:4; 142:4; 143:4; BDB 742 s.v. עַטֵף). All three options are reflected in various English versions: “when my life was ebbing away” (JPS, NJPS), “when my life was slipping away” (CEV), “when I felt my life slipping away” (TEV), “as my senses failed me” (NEB), and “when I had lost all hope” (NLT).

33 tn Heb “remembered.” The verb זָכַר (zakhar) usually means “to remember, to call to mind” but it can also mean “to call out” (e.g., Nah 2:6) as in the related Akkadian verb zikaru, “to name, to mention.” The idiom “to remember the Lord” here encompasses calling to mind his character and past actions and appealing to him for help (Deut 8:18-19; Ps 42:6-8; Isa 64:4-5; Zech 10:9). Tg. Jonah 2:7 glosses the verb as “I remembered the worship of the Lord,” which somewhat misses the point.

34 sn For similar ideas see 2 Chr 30:27; Pss 77:3; 142:3; 143:4-5.

35 tn Heb “those who pay regard to.” The verbal root שָׁמַר (shamar, “to keep, to watch”) appears in the Piel stem only here in biblical Hebrew, meaning “to pay regard to” (BDB 1037 s.v. שָׁמַר). This is metonymical for the act of worship (e.g., Qal “to observe” = to worship, Ps 31:7).

36 tn Heb “worthlessnesses of nothingness” or “vanities of emptiness.” The genitive construct הַבְלֵי־שָׁוְא (havle-shavÿ’) forms an attributive adjective expression: “empty worthlessness” or “worthless vanities.” This ironic reference to false gods is doubly insulting (e.g., Ps 31:7). The noun הֶבֶל (hevel, “vapor, breath”) is often used figuratively to describe what is insubstantial, empty, and futile (31 times in Eccl; see also, e.g., Pss 39:4-6, 11; 144:4; Prov 13:11; 21:6; Isa 30:7; 49:4). It often refers to idols – the epitome of emptiness, nothingness, and worthlessness (Deut 32:21; 1 Kgs 16:13, 26; Ps 31:7; Jer 8:19; 10:8, 15; 14:22; 16:19; 51:18). The noun שָׁוְא (“worthlessness, emptiness, nothingness”) describes what is ineffective and lacking reality (BDB 996 s.v. שָׁוְא; e.g., Exod 20:7; Pss 60:11; 127:1; Ezek 22:28). It is also often used to refer to idols (e.g., Ps 31:7; Jer 18:15; Hos 5:11).

37 tn Heb “abandon their mercy/loyalty.” The meaning of חַסְדָּם יַעֲזֹבוּ (khasdam yaazovu, “forsake their mercy/loyalty”) is greatly debated. There are two exegetical issues that are mutually related. First, does the noun חֶסֶד (khesed) here mean (1) “mercy, kindness” that man receives from God, or (2) “loyalty, faithfulness” that man must give to God (see BDB 338-39 s.v חֶסֶד; HALOT 336-37 s.v. חֶסֶד)? Second, the third masculine plural suffix on חַסְדָּם (“their loyalty/mercy”) has been taken as (1) subjective genitive, referring to the loyal allegiance they ought to display to the true God: “they abandon the loyalty they should show.” Examples of subjective genitives are: “This is your kindness (חַסְדֵּךְ, khasdek) which you must do for me: every place to which we come, say of me, ‘He is my brother’” (Gen 20:13; also cf. Gen 40:14; 1 Sam 20:14-15). Several English versions take this approach: “forsake their faithfulness” (NASB), “abandon their faithful love” (NJB), “abandon their loyalty” (NEB, REB), “forsake their true loyalty” (RSV, NRSV), “turn their backs on all God’s mercies” (NLT), “have abandoned their loyalty to you” (TEV). (2) This has also been taken as objective genitive, referring to the mercy they might have received from God: “they forfeit the mercy that could be theirs.” The ancient versions interpret חַסְדָּם in this sense: “they do not know the source of their welfare” (Tg. Jonah 2:8), “forsake the source of their welfare” (Vulgate), and “abandon their own mercy” (LXX). Several English versions follow this approach: “forsake their source of mercy” (NAB); “forfeit the grace that could be theirs” (NIV), “forsake their own welfare” (JPS, NJPS), “forsake their own mercy” (KJV, ASV), “forsake their own Mercy” (NKJV), “turn from the God who offers them mercy” (CEV). This is a difficult lexical/syntactical problem. On the one hand, the next line contrasts their failure with Jonah’s boast of loyalty to the true God – demonstrating that he, unlike pagan idolaters, deserves to be delivered. On the other hand, the only other use of חֶסֶד in the book refers to “mercy” God bestows (4:2) – something that Jonah did not believe that the (repentant) pagan idolaters had a right to receive. BDB 339 s.v. I חֶסֶד II takes this approach – “He is חַסְדָּם their goodness, favour Jonah 2:9” – and cites other examples of חֶסֶד with suffixes referring to God: חַסְדִּי (khasdi) “my kindness” = he shows kindness to me (Ps 144:2); and אֱלֹהֵי חַסְדִּי (’elohe khasdi) “the God of my kindness” = the God who shows kindness to me (Ps 59:18).

38 tn Heb “voice” or “sound.”

39 tc The MT reads בְּקוֹל תּוֹדָה (bÿqol todah, “with a voice of thanksgiving”). Some mss of Tg. Jonah read “with the sound of hymns of thanksgiving” here in 2:9 – the longer reading probably reflects an editorial gloss, explaining תּוֹדָה (“thanksgiving”) as “hymns of thanksgiving.”

tn Heb “voice/sound of thanksgiving.” The genitive תּוֹדָה (todah, “thanksgiving”) specifies the kind of public statement that will accompany the sacrifice. The construct noun קוֹל (qol, “voice, sound”) functions as a metonymy of cause for effect, referring to the content of what the voice/sound produces: hymns of praise or declarative praise testimony.

40 tn The verbs translated “I will sacrifice” and “I will pay” are Hebrew cohortatives, expressing Jonah’s resolve and firm intention.

41 tn Heb “what I have vowed I will pay.” Jonah promises to offer a sacrifice and publicly announce why he is thankful. For similar pledges, see Pss 22:25-26; 50:14-15; 56:12; 69:29-33; 71:14-16, 22-24; 86:12-13; 116:12-19.

42 tn Or “deliverance” (NAB, NRSV).

43 tn Or “comes from the Lord.” For similar uses of the preposition lamed (לְ, lÿ) to convey a sort of ownership in which the owner does or may by right do something, see Lev 25:48; Deut 1:17; 1 Sam 17:47; Jer 32:7-8.

44 tn Heb “spoke to.” The fish functions as a literary foil to highlight Jonah’s hesitancy to obey God up to this point. In contrast to Jonah who immediately fled when God commanded him, the fish immediately obeyed.



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