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
the deep ocean 20 surrounded me;
seaweed 21 was wrapped around my head.
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
sn The first verse of the prayer summarizes the whole – “I was in trouble; I called to the
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.
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.”
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).
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
(vv. 3-6a) and the
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
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; 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.
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 (ha’arets, “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 (ba’ad) 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.