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Those who worship[a] worthless idols[b] forfeit the mercy that could be theirs.[c]

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  1. Jonah 2:8 tn Heb “those who pay regard to.” The verbal root שָׁמַר (shamar, “to keep, to watch”) appears in the Piel stem only here in biblical Hebrew, meaning “to pay regard to” (BDB 1037 s.v. שָׁמַר). This is metonymical for the act of worship (e.g., Qal “to observe” = to worship, Ps 31:7).
  2. Jonah 2:8 tn Heb “worthlessnesses of nothingness” or “vanities of emptiness.” The genitive construct הַבְלֵי־שָׁוְא (havle-shavʾ) forms an attributive adjective expression: “empty worthlessness” or “worthless vanities.” This ironic reference to false gods is doubly insulting (e.g., Ps 31:7). The noun הֶבֶל (hevel, “vapor, breath”) is often used figuratively to describe what is insubstantial, empty, and futile (31 times in Eccl; see also, e.g., Pss 39:4-6, 11; 144:4; Prov 13:11; 21:6; Isa 30:7; 49:4). It often refers to idols—the epitome of emptiness, nothingness, and worthlessness (Deut 32:21; 1 Kgs 16:13, 26; Ps 31:7; Jer 8:19; 10:8, 15; 14:22; 16:19; 51:18). The noun שָׁוְא (“worthlessness, emptiness, nothingness”) describes what is ineffective and lacking reality (BDB 996 s.v. שָׁוְא; e.g., Exod 20:7; Pss 60:11; 127:1; Ezek 22:28). It is also often used to refer to idols (e.g., Ps 31:7; Jer 18:15; Hos 5:11).
  3. Jonah 2:8 tn Heb “abandon their mercy/loyalty.” The meaning of חַסְדָּם יַעֲזֹבוּ (khasdam yaʿazovu, “forsake their mercy/loyalty”) is greatly debated. There are two exegetical issues that are mutually related. First, does the noun חֶסֶד (khesed) here mean (1) “mercy, kindness” that man receives from God or (2) “loyalty, faithfulness” that man must give to God (see BDB 338-39 s.v חֶסֶד; HALOT 336-37 s.v. חֶסֶד)? Second, does the third masculine plural suffix on חַסְדָּם (“their loyalty/mercy”) imply subjective or objective genitive? The subjective sense would refer to the loyal allegiance they ought to display to the true God: “they abandon the loyalty they should show.” An example of a subjective genitive is, “This is your kindness (חַסְדֵּךְ, khasdek) that you must do for me: every place to which we come, say of me, ‘He is my brother’” (Gen 20:13; also cf. Gen 40:14; 1 Sam 20:14-15). Several English versions take this approach: “forsake their faithfulness” (NASB), “abandon their faithful love” (NJB), “abandon their loyalty” (NEB, REB), “forsake their true loyalty” (RSV, NRSV), and “have abandoned their loyalty to you” (TEV). In contrast, the phrase has also been taken as an objective genitive, referring to the mercy they might have received from God: “they forfeit the mercy that could be theirs.” The ancient versions interpret חַסְדָּם in this sense: “they do not know the source of their welfare” (Tg. Jonah 2:8), “forsake the source of their welfare” (Vulgate), and “abandon their own mercy” (LXX). Several English versions follow this approach: “forsake their source of mercy” (NAB); “forfeit the grace that could be theirs” (NIV), “forsake their own welfare” (JPS, NJPS), “forsake their own mercy” (KJV, ASV), “forsake their own Mercy” (NKJV), “turn from the God who offers them mercy” (CEV), and “turn their backs on all God’s mercies” (NLT). This is a difficult lexical/syntactical problem. On the one hand, the next line contrasts their failure with Jonah’s boast of loyalty to the true God—demonstrating that he, unlike pagan idolaters, deserves to be delivered. On the other hand, the only other use of חֶסֶד in the book refers to “mercy” God bestows (4:2)—something that Jonah did not believe the (repentant) pagan idolaters had a right to receive. BDB 339 s.v. I חֶסֶד II takes this approach (“He is חַסְדָּם their goodness, favour Jonah 2:9”) and cites other examples of חֶסֶד with suffixes referring to God: חַסְדִּי (khasdi), “my kindness” = he shows kindness to me (Ps 144:2); and אֱלֹהֵי חַסְדִּי (ʾelohe khasdi), “the God of my kindness” = the God who shows kindness to me (Ps 59:18 HT [59:17 ET]).