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02. Jonah in the Belly of the Whale

Jonah 2:1  Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, 
Jon 2:2  saying, “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. 
Jon 2:3  For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. 
Jon 2:4  Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’ 
Jon 2:5  The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head 
Jon 2:6  at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. 
Jon 2:7  When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. 
Jon 2:8  Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. 
Jon 2:9  But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!” 
Jon 2:10  And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. 

Comment: This prayer is inserted into the story:

Vs 1 clearly continues in vs 10.
Vs 2-9 are a collection of extracts from the Psalms – and nowhere speaks of being in the belly of a fish!
Vs 2: Ps 120:1
Vs 3: Ps 18: 4-5 & Ps 42:7
Vs 4: Ps 5:7 & 43:4
Vs 5: Ps 18:5 & 16
Vs 6: Ps 30:3
Vs 7: Ps 142:3 & Ps 18:6

This prayer begins with the distress of the one who is praying – and concludes with thanksgiving for a saviour who delivers us from our difficulties. This is a prayer of faith that states the deliverance before it takes place..

We can learn the importance of memorising the psalms to assist our prayers. When we are in difficult situations and have literally run out of our own words, we can recite the psalms: this is what Jesus does on the cross: Matthew 27:46 sees Jesus quoting Psalm 22.

The Water: The recurring theme in Jewish faith is that the deep waters were dangerous places where evil lurked in wait of the careless. This resonates with the story of Noah being threatened by the Flood; of the children of Israel being unsafe at the waters of the Red Sea; and of many prayers comparing the difficulties of life to flood waters: for example:

Psa 69:1 Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. 2  I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. 

The Fish: this is an ancient story found in many cultures:

  • The indigenous people of Dutch New Guinea tell a story of five men in a canoe, swallowed by a fish, who sit in their boat and cut strips of the fish’s liver and roast it on a fire. The fish is injured by this and dies. It then drifts ashore where the men pry open its mouth and escape onto dry land.
  • Another form of this story tells of a great fish lying motionless on the surface of the sea. A sailor mistakes the back of this fish for an island, and disembarks onto the supposed island” and cooks a meal. The fish feels the heat and turns over and deposits the sailor into the sea.
  • A large fish swallows a ship and all of its crew. In the vast interior of the fish is an island of mud. The ship’s crew try to chop their way out of the fish, but fail. So they build a fire and the fish vomits them out of its mouth.
  • Pinocchio : written by Italian writer Carlo Collodi. He is swallowed by a dogfish-like sea monster, which is described as being larger than a five story building, a kilometre long (not including the tail) and sporting three rows of teeth in a mouth that can easily accommodate a train.  Pinocchio discovers his father, who reveals that he has been trapped within the Dogfish for two years, surviving on ship supplies swallowed by the creature. They then escape from this fish.

To this day, Syriac and Oriental Orthodox churches commemorate the three days Jonah spent inside the fish during the Fast of Nineveh – which is two weeks before Lent.



“To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” Finley Peter Dunne (1867–1936)