In Chapter 1 of Jonah there is the familiar scene of him on the boat with the pagan sailors in the midst of a deadly storm. Jonah tells the men, "Pick me up and throw me into the sea, and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you."

Certainly it seems that the sailors thought that Jonah would die, for they cry out, "Please, LORD, do not let us die for taking this man’s life." Was Jonah also anticipating that he would die? Is this another attempt to flee from the God (this time, by death)? Or was he anticipating some kind of deliverance by God? Was Jonah finally acquiescing to the reality that he could not flee God, who made the sea and the dry land?

2 Answers 2


Inside the belly of the whale, Jonah said a prayer. The prayer includes this line:

Jonah 2:7 (NIV)
When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD,
and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.

It seems that Jonah was either expecting to die or was actually dieing. Verse 2:6 shows that Jonah believed he was being saved (which he undoubtedly was):

Jonah 2:6 (NIV)
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.

I think it's safe to say that Jonah thought he was going to die, or thought he was dieing, or even that he was actually near death.

  • I liked your deleted answer too. ;-) At the point of volunteering to become a sacrifice, it's possible Jonah thought he might be rescued; in the belly of the leviathan, it's certain he considered himself dead. Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 18:55
  • @JonEricson It seems that, in verse 6, Jonah considered his life spared. From that, it seems that he thought he was a goner but was then spared (while still in the whale's belly). Personally, if I was in the whale's belly, I would presume that I was about to die slowly. Jonah doesn't seem to think that way, though.
    – Richard
    Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 19:12
  • Ah. I wonder when he wrote the prayer... (My theory is that the prayer was composed later based on his own thoughts in the belly, but informed by his eventual rescue. The "my prayer" in verse 7 would then be self-referential in a sense.) Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 19:25
  • 1
    @JonEricson Possibly so. That would make a good followup question...
    – Richard
    Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 19:27

At the time, Jonah was trying to escape being obedient to the command of God which was to extend His mercy outside of the boundaries of Israel. Of all the places God could show mercy, from the perspective a Israelite of Jonah's time, Nineveh and the Assyrian kings who lived there deserved it the least.

That is why Jonah ran away from God's commands:

He prayed to the Lord, saying, “O Lord! Isn’t this just what I said when I was still in my own country? That is why I fled beforehand to Tarshish. For I know that You are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, renouncing punishment. Please, Lord, take my life, for I would rather die than live.”—Jonah 4:2-3 (NJPS)

And a bit later, Jonah is even more melodramatic:

And when the sun rose, God provided a sultry east wind; the sun beat down on Jonah’s head, and he became faint. He begged for death, saying, “I would rather die than live.” Then God said to Jonah, “Are you so deeply grieved about the plant?” “Yes,” he replied, “so deeply that I want to die.”—Jonah 4:8-9 (NJPS)

More than anything else, Jonah did not want to see God stay His hand from destroying Nineveh. It seems to me that Jonah hoped he would be spared from offering salvation to the Assyrians and would (rather patriotically) prefer death to giving comfort to his enemies.

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