Jonah 1:17-2:10: My translation

Jonah, The Manipulative Prophet

Prophet Jonah and the Whale
Prophet Jonah and the Whale

By trying to manipulate God with Scripture, the Prophet Jonah invites radical judgment into his life-threatening trial. God appoints a great fish to swallow Jonah for his evil attitude towards the Ninevites (not to save him). Inside the whale, the prophet pleads with God by praying his spin on some Bible verses, but God doesn't respond well to manipulation. The great fish vomits Jonah onto the shore where he cannot easily escape the will of God to save Nineveh.

Jonah 2 Study Notes

Jonah Chapter Two (Hebrew keywords and phrases in capital letters).

Jonah 1:17 |The LORD APPOINTED a GREAT fish to swallow Jonah. Jonah was in the intestines of the fish three days and three nights.

  • In the Hebrew Scriptures, this is the first verse of Jonah 2. In English translations it is Jonah 1:17.

  • The Bible doesn't clarify what type of fish swallowed Jonah. The LORD APPOINTED the GREAT fish as an act of His judgment. Soaking in the stomach acid of a fish shouldn't be interpreted as an act of deliverance.

  • He judged Jonah previously with the GREAT wind (Jonah 1:4) and the GREAT storm (Jonah 1:4, 12).

  • The LORD will judge Jonah later with an APPOINTED worm (Jonah 4:7) and an APPOINTED wind (Jonah 4:8).

  • Even though the LORD APPOINTED a plant to deliver Jonah (Jonah 4:6), the Hebrew verb for APPOINTED is more often than not associated with a vehicle of judgment in the book of Jonah.

  • Jesus references the three days and three nights in the New Testament (Matthew 12:40)

Jonah 2:1 |Jonah prayed to his God from the intestines of the fish.

  • Why not just state that Jonah finally CRIED OUT to God?

  • The Hebrew verb prayed differs from CRY OUT used elsewhere to describe the pagans in prayer.

  • Jonah didn't CRY OUT to his God aboard the ship per the Captain's request (Jonah 1:6).

  • Note the pronoun his. Why does the narrator insert this possessive pronoun? Jonah didn't want to share his God with the pagans.

  • The intestines of the fish compare to the guts of the ship (Jonah 1:5).

Jonah 2:2 |He said, "I CRIED OUT to the LORD in my distress. He answered me. I cried for help from the belly of the grave. YOU heard MY voice.

  • Jonah writes this prayer after the fish vomits him up. He personalizes parts of Psalms 118:5 and 120:1 in prayer.

  • In my literal translations below, notice the phrases that begin the verse. The words that begin the verse are fronted for emphasis.

  • Psalm 120:1, "To the LORD in my distress I CRIED OUT; he answered me." Surrounded by enemies, this Psalmist places the LORD at the front of his prayer.

  • Psalm 118:5, "From my distress I CRIED OUT to the LORD; he answered me." This Palmist emphasizes his distress.

  • Jonah 2:2, "I CRIED OUT in my distress to the LORD." Inside the fish, Jonah places himself "I" at the front of his prayer.

  • Even though Jonah finally "CRIED OUT", the narrator restructured the Psalm putting "I" at the beginning of the personalized text.

  • Pay attention to all the first-person pronouns (I, me, my, mine) referring to Jonah in this chapter, because this indicates Jonah's self-centeredness.

Jonah 2:3 |For YOU cast ME into the deep into the heart of the sea. The current surrounded me. All YOUR breakers and waves passed over ME.

  • Jonah confesses that God led the Sailors to throw him into the stormy sea (Jonah 1:15).

  • Even with the absence of the verb WENT DOWN, Jonah descends downward into the sea, where the waves crash over him.

  • Notice the possessive pronoun YOUR. These breakers and waves belong to the LORD.

  • Psalm 42:7, "Deep calls to deep at the sound of YOUR waterfalls all YOUR breakers and waves passed over ME." Jonah recollects this Psalm in prayer.

Jonah 2:4 |But I thought, "I have been driven out of YOUR sight. Yet once again, I will look to YOUR holy temple.

  • Jonah's hope in this verse contrasts with the utter despair of Jonah 1:3.

  • He alludes to Psalm 31:22, "In my alarm I am cut off from your sight, yet you heard the voice of my supplication when I cried to you."

  • Who has driven the prophet Jonah out of God's sight? Only the LORD has that kind of power.

  • Here Jonah confesses loyalty to Yahweh even though the LORD has driven the rebellious prophet out of His sight.

  • Pagans weren't allowed in God's holy temple, especially EVIL Ninevites. Perhaps, Jonah tries to remind Yahweh of this in his prayer.

Jonah 2:5 |The waters encompassed ME, up to MY neck. The deep surrounded ME. The seaweeds wrapped around MY head.

  • Jonah reflects upon his experience on top of the stormy waters.

  • Inside the fish, he had sunk into deep waters with seaweed covering his head.

  • Psalm 18:4, "The cords of death encompassed ME."

  • Psalm 69:1, "Save me, O' God. For the waters have come up to MY neck."

  • Once again, the prophet Jonah personalizes the Psalms in prayer.

Jonah 2:6 |I WENT DOWN to the base of the mountain. The earth, its bars were around ME forever. But YOU have brought MY life up from the pit, O' LORD MY God.

  • Jonah WENT DOWN to the base of the mountains. He sunk into the depths of the sea.

  • This probably refers to where the downward slope of the mountains intersects with the deep part of the sea.

  • The bars around Jonah point to the place of the dead in the underworld from which there is no escape.

  • Psalm 30:3, "O' LORD, thou has brought up MY soul from the grave: thou has kept ME alive, that I should not go down to the pit" (KJV).

  • The words of Jonah's prayer also echo Psalm 103:4, "who redeems your life from the pit."

  • The prophet acknowledges Yahweh as his God, "MY God." He has no problem praying for himself to his God inside the GREAT fish.

Jonah 2:7 |When MY life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD. MY prayer came to YOU in YOUR holy temple.

  • Jonah finally decides to pray when he nearly loses his life.

  • Psalm 142:3, "When MY spirit faints within ME, YOU know MY way."

  • The prophet knows that he will die if he doesn't pray to the LORD.

  • He describes his prayer reaching Yahweh in His holy temple.

  • Some believe Jonah speaks of a heavenly temple, while others regard it as the physical temple in Jerusalem.

  • Either way, the temple remains holy as opposed to the profane pagans.

  • The "I" or "You" language excludes the Pagan Sailors and the Ninevites. Jonah doesn't REPENT for his unmerciful attitude towards them.

  • Instead, the prophet puts distance between himself and the EVIL Pagans by contrasting God's holiness with idol worshippers.

Jonah 2:8 |Those who regard vain idols forsake their COVENANT LOYALTY.

  • Jonah alludes to Psalm 31:7, "I hate those who regard vain idols; But I trust in the LORD." Here the Psalmist contrasts himself with idol worshippers.

  • Jonah once again reminds the LORD that according to the Psalmist, He hates idol worshippers. He tries to manipulate God in aligning Himself with the Psalmist.

  • The Hebrew keyword hesed which means COVENANT LOYALTY has great significance throughout the Old Testament. This word explains the depths of the LORD's commitment to Israel.

  • Jonah wants to say that the Ninevites have forsaken their COVENANT LOYALTY. The Ninevites, however, didn't have a covenant relationship with God. That's why He sent Jonah to the GREAT city.

Jonah 2:9 |With a voice of thanksgiving I will sacrifice to YOU. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD.

  • The language of sacrifice and vows reminds one of the Pagan Sailors at the end of Chapter One.

  • Some differences include: The Pagan Sailors complete their vows, whereas Jonah promises a future vow.

  • The prophet Jonah displays no FEAR; the Sailors, however, FEARED a GREAT FEAR.

  • Similar to the Pagan Sailors, we don't know exactly what Jonah vows to the LORD or how he plans to fulfill his promise.

  • Jonah alludes to Psalm 3:8, "Salvation belongs to the LORD; YOUR blessing is upon YOUR people" (NKJV).

  • Notice again how Jonah keeps reminding the LORD of His chose people, Israel. In Psalm 3:7, the Psalmist meditates on Yahweh breaking the teeth of the wicked.

  • Jonah thinks that he has quoted all the right Scriptures in order to appease God. Jonah is confident that he will return to dry land.

Jonah 2:10 |Then the LORD spoke to the fish. It VOMITED Jonah out onto dry land.

  • The narrator personifies the fish almost like its human. The LORD speaks and the fish obeys His command, unlike Jonah.

  • The Hebrew verb for VOMIT used with the preposition "to" refers to projectile VOMITING.

  • Leviticus 18:28, "So that the land may not spew you out [VOMIT], should you defile it, as it has spewed out [VOMIT] the nation which has been before you" (NAS).

  • Leviticus 20:22, "You are therefore to keep all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them, so that the land to which I am bringing you to live will not spew you out" [VOMIT].

  • This verb never has a good connotation. It's not a neutral verb, rather it lets us know what God really thinks of Jonah's prayer.

  • The Pagan Sailors couldn't get Jonah back to dry land but the LORD's APPOINTED GREAT fish accomplished the task.

A Relief with Jonah's Experiences Etched on It.
A Relief with Jonah's Experiences Etched on It.

Intro: For years Sunday school teachers have taught children that God told a whale to save Jonah from death and that inside of the fish's belly the prophet repented with heart-felt prayers of repentance. Unfortunately, this version of the story doesn't do justice to the biblical text. Jonah's bad attitude traps him inside the fish where he doesn't act like a hero. As Christians, we should not try to replace God's plan with our own agenda for two reasons: 1) God will help us sink into our own little world; and 2) God will not put up with us trying to manipulate Him with Scripture.

Let's consider the first reason why we shouldn't try to change God's plan:

I. God will help us sink deeper into our own small world (Jonah 1:27-2:1).

  1. God's chastisement begins in our small world.

    • God chastises Jonah in his small world. Two clues indicate that God appoints the great fish to judge the prophet's unmerciful attitude. First, the Hebrew word translated "appointed" refers to instruments of God's justice. God appoints a plant (Jonah 4:6), a worm (Jonah 4:7), and an east wind (Jonah 4:8) all of which serve as an object lesson on justice.

    • The Hebrew word translated "great" has close ties with God's judgment. The great city practices evil (Jonah 1:2). God hurls a great wind (Jonah 1:4) and a great storm (Jonah 1:4, 12) after the prophet in judgment. Thus, when God appoints a great fish to swallow Jonah, He exercises judgment on the prophet.

    • Our small world may be defined as the place where we exercise our agendas instead of God's plan. In this place, God chooses to inflict judgment upon us. None of us will soak in a great fish's stomach acid for three days, but if we practice our own agendas, we will experience horrible life circumstances. God appoints these seasons to persuade us to step back into the world as He intends it.

    • Since Jonah continued to rebel against God's plan, God made the prophet Jonah's world an extremely claustrophobic place.

  2. If we rebel against God, our world will shrink into a small place.

    • The Lord confined the place where Jonah could carry out his own agenda to that of inside a great fish. Jonah tries to flee from God, but to no avail. Most of Jonah 2 happens with Jonah inside the fish. His world shrank from an entire outside world to being in the guts of a fish. Later, Jonah describes his descent into the depths of the sea by the way he prays inside the fish.

    • God places restrictions on us as well. In our Christian language, we tend to say, "God closes doors." Our time in the belly of the great fish might be God setting up an obstacle course to thwart us from fulfilling our own agendas. God might shrink our world by limiting our finances, our transportation, or our housing. God can create an incredibly small space from which we may exercise our agenda over His will.

    • From Jonah's uncomfortably small world, he finally prays to God. The prophet's unmerciful attitude, however, transforms into prayers of self-centeredness.

Let's consider the second reason why we should not try to change God's plan:

II. God will not put up with us trying to manipulate Him with Scripture (Jonah 2:2-10).

  1. Our attempts to manipulate God stem from selfishness.

    • If the congregation highlights all the places where Jonah prays with first-person pronouns in Jonah 2, they will notice the selfishness of Jonah's prayers. In other words, Jonah uses a lot of I, me, and my language. On might object and say, "Isn't that how we all pray?" The narrator provides clues that this type of language exposes Jonah's selfishness. One example will suffice.

    • The prophet Jonah quotes Psalms 120:1 when he prays (Jonah 2:2). If a word is placed at the front in the Hebrew verse rather than in its normal word order, then that word receives the most emphasis in that Hebrew text. This is called fronting in linguistics. The Psalmist fronts the LORD; whereas, Jonah puts himself first. Thus, even word order of the Hebrew Scriptures points to Jonah's selfishness.

    • When we pray to the LORD from a place outside of His will, we simply miss the mark. Our prayers reveal the selfishness of our hearts. They tend to reflect what we want to happen rather than what God wants on the earth. Ultimately, God's way leads us out of the small world where we have chosen to live. His plan blesses all people, not just us.

    • Jonah spins several Psalms to God in an attempt to change God's plan of mercy to Nineveh.

  2. Our tactics to influence God may involve quoting God's own words.

    • The prophet Jonah tries to manipulate God by praying Scripture. He wants to make clear to God what the Psalms say about His plan to save Nineveh. First, God belongs to Israel, not the Ninevites. The narrator makes this clear in the statement that Jonah prayed to "his" God (Jonah 2:1). The prophet Jonah cries out to Yahweh, his God (Jonah 2:2) as opposed to pagan gods. Second, the temple belongs to Israel. Jonah hopes to enter God's holy temple once again (Jonah 2:4, 7). The Ninevites don't have this privileged access. Third, Jonah brags about not worshipping vain idols like the Ninevites (Jonah 2:8).

    • Jonah's prayer reveals his unmerciful, selfish motives against God's plans for Nineveh. God plans to have mercy on Nineveh if they repent, but Jonah's agenda involves judgment and destruction regardless. The prophet prays in such a way that reminds God about His chosen people and their privileged status above foreigners. Jonah anchors his prayers in the Psalms in nearly every verse in Jonah 2.

    • We need to avoid rebelling against God's plan. He extends mercy to all people. We may not like it if God decides to pour out His mercy and invite our enemies to the cross. Jesus said what credit is it to us if we only love our friends and family. The heart of true Christians doesn't shrink back from God's plan to save their enemies. They embrace God's mercy for others and thank Him for their place in His plan.

    • The great fish, disgusted with Jonah's prayer, vomits him onto dry land toward Nineveh. In Jonah 3, the lukewarm prophet only partially obeys God's Word.

In Conclusion, we should not try to replace God's plan with our own agenda for two reasons: 1) God will help us sink into our own little worlds; and 2) God will not put up with us trying to manipulate Him with Scripture. When we try to impose our agenda on God, He allows us to enter our own small worlds. God will close door after door to keep us there until we repent of our selfish attitudes. Unless we repent, our prayers only unmask our evil hearts, and our Scripture application only serves our agenda.

Jonah 2 Sermon

Jonah 1:17-2:10

Jonah, the Manipulative Prophet

Jonah 2 | The Prophet Jonah: Manipulating with God's Words

Learn how the prophet Jonah's attempt to manipulate God with scripture invites radical judgment into his life-threatening trial. Realize the consequences of his evil attitude towards the Ninevites.

Rob Sportsman ~