Jonah 2: Bible Chapter Summary

Exploring the second chapter in the Old Testament Book of Jonah

Photo (c) by Datacraft Co Ltd / Getty Images

The first portion of Jonah's story was fast-paced and action-packed. As we move into chapter 2, however, the narrative slows down considerably. ​It's a good idea to read Chapter 2 before proceeding.


Jonah 2 is packed almost completely with a prayer connected to Jonah's experiences while waiting in the belly of the great fish that had swallowed him. Modern scholars are divided as to whether Jonah composed the prayer during his time in the fish or recorded it later -- the text does not make it clear, and it's not important to make a distinction.

Either way, the sentiments expressed in vv. 1-9 provide a window into Jonah's thoughts during a terrible, yet still deeply meaningful, experience.

The primary tone of the prayer is one of gratitude for God's salvation. Jonah reflected on the seriousness of his situation before and after being swallowed by the whale ("great fish") -- in both situations, he was close to death. And yet he felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for God's provision. Jonah had cried out to God, and God had answered.

Verse 10 puts the narrative back in gear and helps us move forward with the story:

Then the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

Key Verse

I called to the Lord in my distress,
and He answered me.
I cried out for help in the belly of Sheol;
You heard my voice.
Jonah 2:2

Jonah recognized the desperate fate from which he'd been rescued. Thrown into the sea with no hope of saving himself, Jonah had been pulled from the brink of certain death by a means both strange and wonderful.

He had been saved -- and saved in a way only God could accomplish.

Key Themes

This chapter continues the theme of God's authority from chapter 1. Just as God had control over nature to the point where He could summon a great fish to rescue His prophet, He again demonstrated that control and authority by commanding the fish to vomit Jonah back onto dry land.

As mentioned earlier, however, the major theme of this chapter is the blessing of God's salvation. Several times in his prayer, Jonah used language that pointed to the nearness of death -- including "Sheol" (the place of the dead) and "the pit." These references highlighted not only Jonah's physical peril but the possibility of being separated from God.

The imagery in Jonah's prayer is striking. The waters engulfed Jonah to his neck, then "overcame" him. He had seaweed wrapped around his head and was pulled down to the very roots of the mountains. The earth closed over him like prison bars, locking him to his fate. These are all poetic expressions, but they communicate how desperate Jonah felt -- and how helpless he was to save himself.

In the midst of those circumstances, however, God stepped in. God brought about salvation when it seemed like salvation was impossible. No wonder Jesus used Jonah as a reference to His own work of salvation (see Matthew 12:38-42).

As a result, Jonah renewed his commitment as a servant of God:

Those who cling to worthless idols
forsake faithful love,
but as for me, I will sacrifice to You
with a voice of thanksgiving.
I will fulfill what I have vowed.
Salvation is from the Lord!
Jonah 2:8-9

Key Questions

One of the biggest questions people have in connection with this chapter is whether Jonah really -- genuinely and truly -- survived multiple days inside the belly of a whale. I've addressed that question.

Note: this is a continuing series exploring the Book of Jonah on a chapter-by-chapter basis.  Simmary for Jonah 1

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
O'Neal, Sam. "Jonah 2: Bible Chapter Summary." ThoughtCo, Feb. 4, 2017, O'Neal, Sam. (2017, February 4). Jonah 2: Bible Chapter Summary. Retrieved from O'Neal, Sam. "Jonah 2: Bible Chapter Summary." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2018).