Old Testament

Psalms in Jonah 2

Sometimes we have the tendency to forget that the characters in the Bible had access to Scripture. If we are observant, we often see biblical characters relying on, and trusting in God’s written word. In particular, the book of Psalms is often referred to. Psalms have always been a favorite for the people of God. Although we see this all over the New Testament, the Old Testament has some pertinent examples of this as well.

photo of man in a fish symbolizing Jonah and his reliance on the psalms

Take the story of Jonah. Having been thrown into the sea and finding himself in the belly of a big fish, what was his response? His first response was to come before the Lord in prayer. What it most interesting to me is that his prayer (which is recorded in Jonah 2) has many allusions and quotations from specific psalms.

I think the following are four examples where Jonah shows knowledge of (and reliance on) the Psalms.

Jonah 2:2-3,7Psalm 18:4-6
I called out of my distress to the LORD,
And He answered me.
I cried for help from the depth of Sheol;
You heard my voice.
“For You had cast me into the deep,
Into the heart of the seas,
And the current engulfed me.
All Your breakers and billows passed
over me.“While I was fainting away,
I remembered the LORD,
And my prayer came to You,
Into Your holy temple.
The cords of death encompassed me,
And the torrents of ungodliness terrified
The cords of Sheol surrounded me;
The snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called upon the LORD,
And cried to my God for help;
He heard my voice out of His temple,
And my cry for help before Him came
into His ears.
Jonah 2:2b-3Psalm 116:3-4, 18
I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice.The cords of death encompassed me
And the terrors of Sheol came upon me;
I found distress and sorrow.
Jonah 2:8Psalm 31:6
Those who regard vain idols Forsake their faithfulness.I hate those who regard vain idols, But I trust in the LORD.
Jonah 2:10Psalm 116:18
That which I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation is from the LORD.”
I shall pay my vows to the LORD, Oh may it be in the presence of all His

Jonah’s allusion to Psalm 116 is especially pertinent. Psalm 116 describes a situation where the psalmist is in death’s clutches (vv. 2-4), yet God is compassionate and gracious, able to rescue the soul from death (vv. 5-11). In light of this great delivery from the Lord, the psalmist proclaims that he will pay his vows to the Lord before the people because of his gratitude to the Lord (vv. 12-19).

It appears that Jonah weaves these allusions together in his prayer, acknowledging the Lord as the only hope of salvation. Then Jonah finishes his prayer with the affirmation that he (like the psalmist) would give due honor and thanksgiving for deliverance from the Lord.

Even in the Old Testament, the psalms already were providing a framework through which the men and women of God could pray to the Lord in every circumstance.

photo credit: The hills are alive* via photopin cc

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs The Bible Sojourner podcast and Youtube channel.

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