Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
"Jonah prayed to Jehovah his God out of the fish's belly."
The prayer which follows (Jon 2:2-9) is not a petition for deliverance, but thanksgiving and praise for deliverance already received. It by no means follows from this, however, that Jonah did not utter this prayer till after he had been vomited upon the land, and that v. 10 ought to be inserted before v. 2; but, as the earlier commentators have shown, the fact is rather this, that when Jonah had been swallowed by the fish, and found that he was preserved alive in the fish's belly, he regarded this as a pledge of his deliverance, for which he praised the Lord. Luther also observes, that "he did not actually utter these very words with his mouth, and arrange them in this orderly manner, in the belly of the fish; but that he here shows what the state of his mind was, and what thoughts he had when he was engaged in this conflict with death." The expression "his God" (אלהיו) must not be overlooked. He prayed not only to Jehovah, as the heathen sailors also did (Jon 1:14), but to Jehovah as his God, from whom he had tried to escape, and whom he now addresses again as his God when in peril of death. "He shows his faith by adoring Him as his God" (Burk). The prayer consists for the most part of reminiscences of passages in the Psalms, which were so exactly suited to Jonah's circumstances, that he could not have expressed his thoughts and feelings any better in words of his own. It is by no means so "atomically compounded from passages in the Psalms" that there is any ground for pronouncing it "a later production which has been attributed to Jonah," as Knobel and De Wette do; but it is the simple and natural utterance of a man versed in the Holy Scripture and living in the word of God, and is in perfect accordance with the prophet's circumstances and the state of his mind. Commencing with the confession, that the Lord has heard his crying to Him in distress (Jon 2:2), Jonah depicts in two strophes (Jon 2:3 and Jon 2:4, Jon 2:5-7) the distress into which he had been brought, and the deliverance out of that destruction which appeared inevitable, and closes in Jon 2:8, Jon 2:9 with a vow of thanksgiving for the deliverance which he had received.
2 I cried to Jehovah out of my distress, and He heard me;
Out of the womb of hell I cried: Thou heardest my voice!
The first clause recals to mind Psa 18:7 and Psa 120:1; but it also shows itself to be an original reproduction of the expression מצּרה לי, which expresses the prophet's situation in a more pointed manner than בּצּר־לי in Psa 17:1-15 and בּצּרתה לּי in Psa 120:1-7. The distress is still more minutely defined in the second hemistich by the expression מבּטן שׁאול, "out of the womb of the nether world." As a throat or swallow is ascribed to she'ōl in Isa 5:14, so here it is spoken of as having a בטן, or belly. This is not to be taken as referring to the belly of the shark, as Jerome supposes. The expression is a poetical figure used to denote the danger of death, from which there is apparently no escape; like the encompassing with snares of death in Psa 18:5, and the bringing up of the soul out of sheol in Psa 30:3. In the last clause the words pass over very appropriately into an address to Jehovah, which is brought out into still greater prominence by the omission of the copula Vav.
3 Thou castedst me into the deep, into the heart of the seas,
And the stream surrounded me;
All Thy billows and Thy waves went over me.
4 Then I said, I am thrust away from Thine eyes,
Yet I will look again to Thy holy temple.
The more minute description of the peril of death is attached by Vav consec., to express not sequence in time, but sequence of thought. Jehovah cast him into the depth of the sea, because the seamen were merely the executors of the punishment inflicted upon him by Jehovah. Metsūlâh, the deep, is defined by "the heart of the seas" as the deepest abyss of the ocean. The plural yammı̄m (seas) is used here with distinct significance, instead of the singular, "into the heart of the sea" (yâm) in Exo 15:8, to express the idea of the boundless ocean (see Dietrich, Abhandlung zur hebr. Grammatik, pp. 16, 17). The next clauses are circumstantial clauses, and mean, so that the current of the sea surrounded me, and all the billows and waves of the sea, which Jehovah had raised into a storm, went over me. Nâhâr, a river or stream, is the streaming or current of the sea, as in Psa 24:2. The words of the second hemistich are a reminiscence of Psa 42:8. What the Korahite singer of that psalm had experienced spiritually, viz., that one wave of trouble after another swept over him, that had the prophet literally experienced. Jonah "does not say, The waves and the billows of the sea went over me; but Thy waves and Thy billows, because he felt in his conscience that the sea with its waves and billows was the servant of God and of His wrath, to punish sin" (Luther). Jon 2:4 contains the apodosis to Jon 2:3: "When Thou castedst me into the deep, then I said (sc., in my heart, i.e., then I thought) that I was banished from the sphere of Thine eyes, i.e., of Thy protection and care." These words are formed from a reminiscence of Psa 31:23, נגרשׁתּי being substituted for the נגרזתּי of the psalm. The second hemistich is attached adversatively. אך, which there is no necessity to alter into אך = איך, as Hitzig supposes, introduces the antithesis in an energetic manner, like אכם elsewhere, in the sense of nevertheless, as in Isa 14:15; Psa 49:16; Job 13:15 (cf. Ewald, 354, a). The thought that it is all over with him is met by the confidence of faith that he will still look to the holy temple of the Lord, that is to say, will once more approach the presence of the Lord, to worship before Him in His temple, - an assurance which recals Psa 5:8.
The thought that by the grace of the Lord he has been once more miraculously delivered out of the gates of death, and brought to the light of the world, is carried out still further in the following strophe, in entirely new turns of thought.
5 Waters surrounded me even to the soul: the flood encompassed me,
Sea-grass was wound round my head.
6 I went down to the foundations of the mountains;
The earth, its bolts were behind me for ever:
Then raisedst Thou my life out of the pit, O Jehovah my God.
7 When my soul fainted within me, I thought of Jehovah;
And my prayer came to Thee into Thy holy temple.
This strophe opens, like the last, with a description of the peril of death, to set forth still more perfectly the thought of miraculous deliverance which filled the prophet's mind. The first clause of the fifth verse recals to mind Psa 18:5 and Psa 69:2; the words "the waters pressed (בּאוּ) even to the soul" (Psa 69:2) being simply strengthened by אפפוּני after Psa 18:5. The waters of the sea girt him round about, reaching even to the soul, so that it appeared to be all over with his life. Tehōm, the unfathomable flood of the ocean, surrounded him. Sūph, sedge, i.e., sea-grass, which grows at the bottom of the sea, was bound about his head; so that he had sunk to the very bottom. This thought is expressed still more distinctly in Psa 18:6. קצבי הרים, "the ends of the mountains" (from qâtsabh, to cut off, that which is cut off, then the place where anything is cut off), are their foundations and roots, which lie in the depths of the earth, reaching even to the foundation of the sea (cf. Psa 18:16). When he sank into the deep, the earth shut its bolts behind him (הארץ is placed at the head absolutely). The figure of bolts of the earth that were shut behind Jonah, which we only meet with here (בּעד from the phrase סגר הדּלת בּעד, to shut the door behind a person: Gen 7:16; Kg2 4:4-5, Kg2 4:33; Isa 26:20), has an analogy in the idea which occurs in Job 38:10, of bolts and doors of the ocean. The bolts of the sea are the walls of the sea-basin, which set bounds to the sea, that it cannot pass over. Consequently the bolts of the earth can only be such barriers as restrain the land from spreading over the sea. These barriers are the weight and force of the waves, which prevent the land from encroaching on the sea. This weight of the waves, or of the great masses of water, which pressed upon Jonah when he had sunk to the bottom of the sea, shut or bolted against him the way back to the earth (the land), just as the bolts that are drawn before the door of a house fasten up the entrance into it; so that the reference is neither to "the rocks jutting out above the water, which prevented any one from ascending from the sea to the land," nor "densissima terrae compages, qua abyssus tecta Jonam in hac constitutum occludebat" (Marck). Out of this grave the Lord "brought up his life." Shachath is rendered φθορά, corruptio, by the early translators (lxx, Chald., Syr., Vulg.); and this rendering, which many of the more modern translators entirely reject, is unquestionably the correct one in Job 17:14, where the meaning "pit" is quite unsuitable. But it is by no means warranted in the present instance. The similarity of thought to Psa 30:4 points rather to the meaning pit = cavern or grave, as in Psa 30:10, where shachath is used interchangeably with בּור and שׁאול in Jon 2:4 as being perfectly synonymous. Jon 2:7 is formed after Psa 142:4 or Psa 143:4, except that נפשׁי is used instead of רוּחי, because Jonah is not speaking of the covering of the spirit with faintness, but of the plunging of the life into night and the darkness of death by drowning in the water. התעטּף, lit., to veil or cover one's self, hence to sink into night and faintness, to pine away. עלי, upon or in me, inasmuch as the I, as a person, embraces the soul or life (cf. Psa 42:5). When his soul was about to sink into the night of death, he thought of Jehovah in prayer, and his prayer reached to God in His holy temple, where Jehovah is enthroned as God and King of His people (Psa 18:7; Psa 88:3).
But when prayer reaches to God, then He helps and also saves. This awakens confidence in the Lord, and impels to praise and thanksgiving. These thoughts form the last strophe, with which the Psalm of thanksgiving is appropriately closed.
8 They who hold to false vanities
Forsake their own mercy.
9 But I will sacrifice to Thee with the call of thanksgiving.
I will pay what I have vowed.
Salvation is with Jehovah.
In order to express the thought emphatically, that salvation and deliverance are only to be hoped for from Jehovah the living God, Jonah points to the idolaters, who forfeit their mercy. משׁמּרים הבלי־שׁוא is a reminiscence of Psa 31:7. הבלי־שׁוא, worthless vanities, are all things which man makes into idols or objects of trust. הבלים are, according to Deu 32:21, false gods or idols. Shâmar, to keep, or, when applied to false gods, to keep to them or reverence them; in Hos 4:10 it is also applied to Jehovah. חסדּם signifies neither pietatem suam nor gratiam a Deo ipsis exhibitam, nor "all the grace and love which they might receive" (Hitzig); but refers to God Himself, as He whose government is pure grace (vid., Gen 24:27), and might become the grace even of the idolatrous. Jonah, on the contrary, like all the righteous, would sacrifice to the Lord beqōl tōdâh, "with the voice or cry, of thanksgiving," i.e., would offer his sacrifices with a prayer of sincere thanksgiving (cf. Psa 42:5), and pay the vow which he had made in his distress (cf. Psa 50:14, Psa 50:23). These utterances are founded upon the hope that his deliverance will be effected (Hitzig); and this hope is based upon the fact that "salvation is Jehovah's," i.e., is in His power, so that He only can grant salvation.
"Then Jehovah spake to the fish, and it vomited Jonah upon the dry land."
The nature of God's speaking, or commanding, may be inferred from the words ויּקא וגו. Cyril explains the thought correctly thus: The whale is again impelled by a certain divine and secret power of God, being moved to that which seems good to Him." The land upon which Jonah was vomited was, of course, the coast of Palestine, probably the country near Joppa. According to Jon 2:1, this took place on the third day after he had been swallowed by the fish.