Harry Whittaker

7) Jonah’s Prayer (2:1-9)

Already, in chapter5, it has been demonstrated from verses 5,6 that Jonah died in stormy seas, drowned in violent waters in which the strongest of swimmers would have had no chance of even a few minutes’ survival. And Jonah was given his life back again after being swallowed by the whale.

The tenses of Hebrew poetry are admittedly rather precarious to argue from. But the tones, as well as the tenses, of these opening verses of Jonah’s prayer here do suggest that in his last minutes of consciousness Jonah prayed to the God whose mandate he had so flagrantly flouted. And now, inside the whale, in his first moments of new life, that prayer was repeated. “Out of the belly of hell cried I, and Thou heardest my voice”. Even here the prophet is an unwitting witness to the truth of God, that is, against those who would teach a destiny of unquenchable hell-fire for those whom God rejects. For this hell of Jonah’s was a very cold and clammy sort of place.

The outstanding feature of Jonah’s prayer is the remarkable number of echoes of the Book of Psalms. In some instances exact phrases are quoted, but there are virtually no continuous quotations of verses (or of half-verses). Yet the entire prayer is dominated by the words and spirit of the temple hymnbook. This requires one fairly certain conclusion — that although Jonah lived in the far north, he was very familiar with the temple service; and this surely means that he had been very assiduous in his keeping of the Feasts of the Lord in spite of all the discouragement which would be met with from the northern separatists.

The following list is probably incomplete:

Jonah 2
I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord.
All thy billows and thy waves passed over me

Thou hast cast me into the deep.
Then said 1, I am cast out of thy sight.

I will look again toward thy holy temple.
1 Kg. 8:48
The waves compassed me about, even to the soul.
Yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption
When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord
Lying vanities
I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving, I will pay that I have vowed

Two other very significant features of Jonah’s prayer call for special attention.

Verse 9 is remarkable: “I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving. I will pay that I have vowed”.

The obvious intention behind these words is a firm resolution to make good his earlier deficiencies: Lord, I will go to Nineveh and preach, little as I like the task!

Nor must the further implication be overlooked. Jonah, finding himself alive again, although still inside the great fish, now leaped to the splendid logical conclusion that God would give him a new life and new opportunity to witness as he had been bidden formerly.

The other remarkable thing to notice here is the evident allusion in Jeremiah’s prophecy to Jonah’s experience.

“Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon hath devoured me...he hath swallowed me up like a dragon (s.w. also translated: whale, sea monster), he hath filled his belly with my delicates, he hath cast me out” (51: 34).

The resemblance to Jonah’s experience is not to be missed. Why, it may well be asked, should Jeremiah harness it in his lament of the fate of Judah in his time? There can be no doubt that Jeremiah knew that that captivity would last only seventy years and that then Judah would be “vomited up” with a further undeserved opportunity to serve Jehovah. So it would seem that Jonah’s “death and resurrection” was intended by God to be an acted parable and prophecy of the nation’s experience at the hands of the men of Nineveh. Jonah had refused his commission, hoping thereby to save his people from the rising tide of Assyrian power. Indeed, what happened to him, enacted beforehand, was this very thing that he feared. In the later days of Sennacherib God’s people were drowned by the Assyrian flood, two hundred thousand of them (Taylor prism) were swallowed up in a mighty captivity (actually greater than Nebuchadnezzar’s) and were promptly vomited up by a miraculous deliverance. The details of this are worked out at length in “Isaiah”, H.A.W.

Next Next Next