Declaring praise in the belly of a fish? (K. Barker)

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Author's Bias | Interpretation: conservative | Inclination: dispensational | Seminary: Dallas Theological

1. The focus of our study is Jonah 2; however, study Jonah 1 to gain a historical setting. What has happened?

In his attempt to flee God, Jonah went by sea. Amidst the ensuing storms and discovery that God was after Jonah, the crew submitted to Jonah’s request to be tossed overboard. And instead of perishing, Jonah was swallowed by a great fish appointed by God.

2. Examine Jonah 2:2. What do you see?

and he said,
"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." (Jonah 2:2)

Jonah is sharing his "distress" of drowning, and the "grave" (Sheol) is a hyperbole for his brink-of-death experience (as in Psalms 18:5; 30:3). God has already "answered" him. In this introduction, Jonah is sharing a summary of his testimony.

3. Examine the portrayal of his affliction in Jonah 2:3-6. What do you see?

"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.
So I said, 'I have been expelled from Your sight.
Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.'
Water encompassed me to the point of death.
The great deep engulfed me,
Weeds were wrapped around my head.
I descended to the roots of the mountains.
The earth with its bars was around me forever,
But You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God." (Jonah 2:3-6)

Jonah is looking back to his time of need. "Deep," "seas," "currents," "waves," "breakers," "engulfing waters," and "seaweed" all depict drowning in the sea. Jonah is portraying his affliction.

4. Study Jonah 2:6-7. These verses reveal his petition for help and deliverance. What do you see?

"I descended to the roots of the mountains.
The earth with its bars was around me forever,
But You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.
While I was fainting away,
I remembered the Lord,
And my prayer came to You,
Into Your holy temple." (Jonah 2:6-7)

Jonah voices a petition when he was about to drown (back then). He also gives thanks for deliverance from drowning.

5. Examine the conclusion found in Jonah 2:8-10.

"Those who regard vain idols
Forsake their faithfulness,
But I will sacrifice to You
With the voice of thanksgiving.
That which I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation is from the Lord."
Then the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land. (Jonah 2:8-10)

Jonah utters his declarative praise from "inside the fish," and he thanks God for delivering him from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea by rescuing him with the fish. That is why the verb tenses are past (except in v.9). The fish, then, is an instrument of grace and deliverance, not of punishment and judgment. Jonah acknowledges God’s Gracious Act and promises (vows) to present a Thank Offering.

Kenneth Barker's personal note: The story of how I became interested in translating the Bible goes all the way back to a Youth for Christ rally on October 2, 1948, in the auditorium of the Hazard, Kentucky, high school. There I made a decision that changed the course of my life forever. At age 17 I received the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Savior and committed my life fully to Him. That decision started me on a path that would eventually lead to my being one of the translators of the NIV.

After completing my education and teaching a few years at other schools, I became a professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary in 1968. I remained there until 1981. In 1971 I received a phone call from Dr. Edwin Palmer. He told me about a project under way to translate the Bible accurately from the original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) into clear, contemporary English.

Palmer invited me to join the other scholars chosen from around world to participate in this historic event. I listened courteously and patiently to his explanation, thanked him for inviting me - and turned him down. I told him I was extremely busy with teaching, speaking engagements, and writing and editing commitments.

But Palmer persisted, and called me again almost one year later. He explained that a translation committee working on the book of Hosea was to meet for two weeks in St. Louis, and he asked me to help them. If I was not satisfied with the work, he promised never to bother me again about the NIV. But if I wanted to continue with them, they would be glad to have me. I agreed, and in those two weeks I was totally sold on the project. After that, I devoted all the time, labor, and money I could spare to the NIV.

God has blessed our efforts beyond all expectations. For one thing, there are now over 150 million NIV Bibles and New Testaments in print, and thus in worldwide circulation and use. In the near future, 200 million copies will be in use around the world. I know of no other English translation of God’s Word that has ever surpassed that record in the same period of time since its release. It is an exciting thought that long after I am dead and gone, the NIV will still be here to bring the spiritual blessings of salvation and Christian living to hundreds of millions of people.

It is a great joy to hear that people everywhere have been "born again" (John 3:3, 7) through reading the NIV. This, of course, is one of the reasons God’s Word was given in the first place (John 20:31). Others have understood the Bible for the first time as the result of using the NIV. I received an encouraging letter from a new Christian in England. He told me that so much of the old English in the King James Version went over his head that he lost interest. Then his wife gave him the NIV, and he couldn’t put it down. He read it for hours at a time. This is what makes all our efforts really worthwhile.

One of my many favorite passages in the NIV is 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."

Dr. Kenneth Barker is an author and speaker living in Lewisville, Texas. Until his retirement from International Bible Society in 1996, he was Executive Director of their NIV Translation Center. He is one of the original translators of the New International Version of the Bible and a regular spokesperson for its Committee on Bible Translation - the governing body that produced the NIV.

Ken Barker has given talks about the translation process of the NIV all over the U.S. and abroad, and much of his time is spent writing, editing, preaching, and teaching. He also worked on the New International Reader’s Version (a simplification of the NIV for those who read at a lower reading level), three books about the NIV, and the tenth - anniversary edition of the NIV Study Bible as its General Editor.

Dr. Barker and his wife, Isabelle, have four children - Ken, Patricia, Ruth, and David - and 14 grandchildren. When at home, the Barkers worship and serve at First Baptist Church of Carrolton, Texas. In his spare time Ken enjoys music, reading, table tennis (ping-pong), swimming, and walking.

He holds the B.A. degree from Northwestern College, the Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary and the Ph.D. from the Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning. In the past, he has served as Academic Dean of Capital Bible Seminary, Professor of Old Testament at three theological seminaries, and Visiting Professor at two others. He is also author of commentaries on the books of Micah and Zechariah.

As exemplified by Jonah 2, psalms of declarative praise can exist outside of Psalms. By observing and identifying the structure of a psalm, you can improve your interpretation. Jonah 2 is often understood incorrectly as a prayer for deliverance from the great fish. The very structure and contents show that this is a song of thanksgiving or psalm of declarative praise for deliverance already experienced.

Declarative praise focuses on specific acts of God. There are three main parts to this type of Psalm:

1. Introduction

The worshipper announces his intention to give thanks to God, or he simply announces what God has done.

2. Main Section

A narration of the individual’s experience.

a. Portrayal of the distress he was in.

b. His cry to God for help.

c. The deliverance.

3. Conclusion

The worshipper again testifies to the Lord’s gracious act. A prayer for future help, or a confession that the Lord is gracious, or some other formulation may be added.

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