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  • Chad Werkhoven

Jonah 2:2-9 - Poetic Prayer

God communicates Truth in such beautiful (and often funny) ways!


Jonah 2:2–9 (NIV)

CONTEXT: Jonah has been cast into the sea, but God provided a "huge fish to swallow Jonah." Chapter 2 is Jonah's prayer from inside the belly of the fish. Today we're especially focusing on the poetic style of this prayer, which is written in a chiastic style.

2 Jonah said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.

3 You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me.

4 I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’

5 The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.

6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit.

7 “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.

8 “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.

9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’ ”


Listen to passage & devotional:


Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 4: The Canonical Books

This week we'll be focusing on some of the different literary genres included in the Bible: Narrative, poetry/wisdom, the epistles, and apocalyptic. Today we'll appreciate the poetic beauty seen in so many parts of Scripture.

We include in the Holy Scripture the two volumes

of the Old and New Testaments.

They are canonical books

with which there can be no quarrel at all.

In the church of God the list is as follows:

In the Old Testament,

the five books of Moses—

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy;

the books of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth;

the two books of Samuel, and two of Kings;

the two books of Chronicles, called Paralipomenon;

the first book of Ezra; Nehemiah, Esther, Job;

the Psalms of David;

the three books of Solomon—

Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song;

the four major prophets—

Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel;

and then the other twelve minor prophets—

Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah,

Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk,

Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

In the New Testament,

the four gospels—

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John;

the Acts of the Apostles;

the fourteen letters of Paul—

to the Romans;

the two letters to the Corinthians;

to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians;

the two letters to the Thessalonians;

the two letters to Timothy;

to Titus, Philemon, and to the Hebrews;

the seven letters of the other apostles—

one of James;

two of Peter;

three of John;

one of Jude;

and the Revelation of the apostle John.



Jonah's prayer is one of the most beautiful passages of scripture on multiple levels. In it, we see our Father's gracious compassion for His rebellious prophet. Jonah did everything he could to escape God's call in his life, including jumping into the raging sea, but even there, God provided (a key word in the book of Jonah) a "huge fish," and Jonah finally repented.

The entire book of Jonah is written in a poetic format, even though it has aspects of historical narrative within it (we'll see on Friday that scripture doesn't always neatly divide itself into specific genres). The book is full of word play (which is far more apparent in the original Hebrew) and poetic irony. The story is meant to have a comedic bent to it. It's ok to sit back and laugh a bit about the predicament that Jonah finds himself in as he prays!

Jonah 2 is a great example of Hebrew poetry, which is often referred to as chiastic, which is called so because it resembles the Greek letter χ (pronounced chi). Notice the telltale wedge shape to the outline:

A. Jonah cries out for salvation;

B. Jonah has been cast out into the deep;

C. Jonah finds hope by looking towards God's temple;

D. Things seem hopeless as seaweed wraps around Jonah's head and he sinks down;

D'. But the LORD brought Jonah's life up from the pit;

C'. Jonah's prayer rises towards God's temple;

B'. Those who cling to idols turn away from God's love;

A. Salvation is found in the LORD.

Each line in the top half corresponds to the same letter in the bottom half. This structure is present all over the Bible - even in the New Testament. In fact, the entire book of Jonah has a chiastic structure to it.

The reason this is important is because in a chiasm, the primary meaning of the passage often comes in the middle, not the end as we're accustomed to in Western poetry. While it's certainly the case that "salvation comes from the LORD" (the final line of the poem), the primary meaning of this poem came in the middle (v6): "You, LORD my God, brought my life up from the pit."

Dig Deeper

The book of Jonah is about much more than an individual wayward prophet. The Hebrew word play that the poem uses helps us understand that Jonah represents all of God's children. We've all turned away from God's love and cast ourselves into a bottomless pit of chaos, but God lifts us up from the pit.

The more you learn about the poetic structure that comprises so much of God's Word, the more you will come to appreciate that salvation comes from the LORD!

  • ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father God, who has redeemed our lives from the pit;

  • ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Thank God for the beautiful poetry found in His Word, and along with Jonah, tell everyone that "salvation comes from the LORD!"



Read the New Testament in a year! Today: Acts 7


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