Understanding Jonah’s Prayer from the Belly of the Whale

Sept. 14 2021

Having been swallowed by a great fish, the prophet Jonah offers a lengthy prayer to God that in many ways marks the turning point in the eponymous biblical book. Erica Brown seeks to explain this frequently misunderstood, and even more frequently neglected, passage:

Jonah, ignoring God’s call for the prophet to rehabilitate Nineveh, “goes down” to Jaffa, down into a ship, and finally down into a deep sleep. This downward movement, represented in the Bible by the drumbeat of the Hebrew root yarad (“to descend”), demonstrates Jonah’s withdrawal from the world into himself. He ignores, [successively], God’s command, the storm raging around him, the sailors he imperiled, and the captain’s plea to pray. Unresponsive and unwilling to save himself, Jonah is equally unwilling to jump off the boat to save the lives of others. In his anguish and passivity, Jonah asks to be thrown overboard.

Jonah’s descent continues. Once thrown overboard, he sinks into the sea. . . . He is unable to die, and also unable to live, . . . until the great sea monster appears with its unexpected salvific powers. . . . At the lowest point in his life, at the lowest point of the earth—only then does Jonah understand all that he is about to forfeit. If engulfed by the deep, he would never be able to serve God again.

The very act of prayer, the attempt to close the abyss between himself and God, helped Jonah recognize this. Our capacity to ascend often only becomes apparent after we have traced our descent in prayer. “When my life was ebbing away, I called the Lord to mind, and my prayer came before You” (Jonah 2:8). Prayer ascends to God, and by it, we are lifted up.

Spiritual memoirs, narratives of addiction and recovery, and rags-to-riches stories take us through arcs of descent and ascent. They fascinate us because they give us hope that the monsters inside of us—and, in the case of Jonah’s fish, outside of us—need not imprison us.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at First Things

More about: Hebrew Bible, Jonah, Repentance

Why the Leader of Hamas Went to Russia

Sept. 30 2022

Earlier this month, the Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh and several of his colleagues visited Moscow, where they met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian officials. According to Arabic-language media, Haniyeh came seeking “new ideas” about how to wage war against the Jewish state. The terrorist group has had good relations with the Kremlin for several years, and even maintains an office in Moscow. John Hardie and Ivana Stradner comment on the timing of the visit:

For Moscow, the visit likely reflects a continuation of its efforts to leverage the Palestinians and other issues to pressure Israel over its stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia and Israel built friendly relations in the decades following the Soviet Union’s dissolution. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Jerusalem condemned the war, but made sure to tread carefully in order to preserve working ties with Moscow, lest Russian military forces in Syria disrupt Israel’s strategically important air operations there.

Nevertheless, bilateral tensions spiked in April after Yair Lapid, then serving as Israel’s foreign minister, joined the chorus of voices worldwide accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Jerusalem later provided Kyiv with some non-lethal military aid and a field hospital. In response, Moscow hardened its rhetoric about Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian issue isn’t the only way that Russia has sought to pressure Israel. Moscow is also threatening, on seemingly spurious grounds, to shutter the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency.

Moscow likely has little appetite for outright conflict with Israel, particularly when the bulk of Russia’s military is floundering in Ukraine. But there are plenty of other ways that Russia, which maintains an active intelligence presence in the Jewish state, could damage Israel’s interests. As Moscow cozies up with Hamas, Iran, and other enemies of Israel, Jerusalem—and its American allies—would do well to keep a watchful eye.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Algemeiner

More about: Hamas, Israeli Security, Russia