Jonah 1
Pulpit Commentary
Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
Verse 1. - Now; or, and. Some have argued from this commencement that the Book of Jonah is a fragment, the continuation of a larger work; but it is a common formulary, linking together revelations and histories, and is continually used in the Old Testament at the beginning of independent works; e.g. Joshua 1:1; Judges 1:1; 1 Samuel 1:1; Esther 1:1; Ezekiel 1:1. Jonah the son of Amittai (2 Kings 14:25). (See Introduction, § II.)
Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.
Verse 2. - Nineveh, the capital of the kingdom of Assyria, is first mentioned in Genesis 10:11, as founded by Nimrod. It stood on the left bank of the river Tigris, where it is joined by the Khosr, opposite to the present town of Mosul. The Assyrians had already become known in Syria. In B.C. 854 Shal-maneser II. had defeated at Karkar twelve kings confederate against him, among whom is reckoned Ahab King of Israel. Long before his time, Tiglath-Pileser I. had made a great expedition to the west, captured a town at the foot of Lebanon, and reached the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Jehu was compelled to pay tribute to the Assyrians; and Rimmon-nirari, who reigned from B.C. 810 to 781, held the suzerainty of Phoenicia, Samaria, Edom, and Philistia. Jonah, therefore, knew well what his country might expect at the hands of this people. That great city. It is thus called in Jonah 3:2, 3; Jonah 4:11; and the epithet is added here in order to show to Jonah the importance of his mission. The size of Nineveh is variously estimated according to the sense attached to the name "Nineveh." This appellation may be restricted to Nineveh proper, or it may comprise the four cities which lay close together in the immediate neighbourhood of each other, and whose remains are now known as the mounds of Kouyunjik, on the southwest, directly opposite to Mosul; Nimrud, about eighteen miles to the southeast; Karamless, twelve miles to the north; and Khorsabad, the most northerly, about the same distance both from Karamless and Kouyunjik. Khorsabad, however, was not built till some hundred years after Jonah's time (Schrader, 'Keilinschr.,' p. 448). These cities are contained in an irregular parallelogram of some sixty miles in circumference. The following account of Nineveh proper is derived from Professor Rawlinson, 'Ancient Monarchies,' 1:252, etc.: "The ruins consist of two principal mounds, Nebbiyunus and Kouyunjik. The Kouyunjik mound, which lies nearly half a mile northwest of the others, is very much the more considerable of the two. Its shape is an irregular oval, elongated to a point towards the northeast. The surface is nearly flat; the sides slope at a steep angle, and are furrowed with numerous ravines worn in the soft material by the rains of some thirty centuries. The greatest height above the plain is ninety feet, and the area is estimated at a hundred acres. It is an artificial eminence, computed to contain 14,500,000 tons of earth, and on it were erected the palaces and temples of the Assyrian monarchs. The mound of Nebbi-yunus is at its base nearly triangular, and covers an area of nearly forty acres. It is loftier, and its sides are more precipitous than Kouyunjik, especially on the west, where it abutted on the wall of the city. The mass of earth is calculated at six and a half millions of tons. These two vast mounds are both in the same line, and abutted on the western wall of the city, which was some two and a half miles in length. Anciently it seems to have immediately overhung the Tigris, but the river has now receded to the west, leaving a plain of nearly a mile in width between its bank and the old rampart which evidently once followed the course of the river bank. The western wall is joined at fight angles by the northern rampart which runs in a straight line for seven thousand feet. At its other extremity the western wall forms a very obtuse angle with the southern, which impends over a deep ravine, and runs in a straight line for about a thousand yards, when it meets the eastern wall, which is the longest and the least regular of the four. The entire length of this side is sixteen thousand feet, or above three miles. It is divided into two portions by. the Stream of the Khosr-su; which, coming from the northwest, finds its way through the city and then across the low plain to the Tigris. The town is thus of an oblong shape, and the circuit of its walls is somewhat less than eight miles, and the area which they include is eighteen hundred acres. This, at the computation of something less than one hundred inhabitants per acre, would ascribe to Nineveh a population of one hundred and seventy-five thousand souls" (Rawlinson, 'Anc. Men.,' 1. ch. 1). Cry against it. The message is given in Jonah 3:4. Thus the knowledge of the true God is made known among the Gentiles. Their wickedness; i.e., as Pusey notes, their evil doing towards others, as in Nahum 3:19 (see Introduction, § I.). Is come up before me, and appeals for punishment, as Genesis 4:10; Genesis 18:20, 21; Septuagint, Ἀνέβη ἡ κραυγή τῆς κακίας αὐτής πρὸς μέ, "The cry of its wickedness is come up unto me."
But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
Verse 3. - Tarshish; probably, Tartessus, a Phoenician city on the south coast of Spain, and therefore in the opposite direction to Nineveh. He was sent to the far east; he flees to the distant west. From the presence of the Lord; literally, from the face of Jehovah. This may mean, from God s special presence in Jerusalem or the Holy Land, as banishment from Cannaan is called "casting out of his sight" (2 Kings 17:20, 23; 2 Kings 23:27); or, from serving the Lord as his minister (Deuteronomy 10:8), Jonah preferring to renounce his office as prophet rather than execute his mission. The former seems the most natural explanation of the phrase. Kimchi says that Jonah supposed that the spirit of prophecy would not extend beyond the land of Israel. He could never have thought to escape from God's all-seeing eye. His repugnance to the duty imposed upon him arose partly from national prejudice, which made him loth to interfere in Gentile business, and partly, as he himself says (Jonah 4:2), because he feared God's compassion would spare the Ninevites on their repentance, and that thus his prediction would be discredited, and mercy shown to heathens already inimical to Israel, if not known to him as the future conquerors of his people. Joppa. This is the modern Jaffa (called Japho in Joshua 19:46), a town on the seacoast thirty miles in a northwesterly direction from Jerusalem. "Jaffa," says Dr. Thomson ('The Land and the Book,' p. 8, etc.), "is one of the oldest cities in the world. It was given to Dan in the distribution of the land by Joshua, and it has been known to history ever since. It owes its existence to the low ledge of rocks which extends into the sea from the extremity of the little cape on which the city stands, and forms a small harbour. Insignificant as it is, and insecure, yet, there being no other on all this coast, it was sufficient to cause a city to spring up around it even in the earliest times, and to sustain its life through numberless changes of dynasties, races, and religions, down to the present hour. It was, in fact, the only harbour of any notoriety possessed by the Jews throughout the greater part of their national existence. To it the timber for both the temples of Jerusalem was brought from Lebanon; and no doubt a lucrative trade in cedar and pine was always carried on through it with the nations who had possession of that goodly mountain. Through it, also, nearly all the foreign commerce of the Jews was conducted, until the artificial pert of Caessarea was built by Herod .... The harbour, howewer, is very inconvenient and insecure. Vessels of any considerable burden must lie out in the open road-stead - a very uneasy berth at all times; and even a moderate wind will oblige them to slip their cables and run out to sea, or seek anchorage at Haifa, sixty miles distant .... The road-stead is liable to sudden and unexpected storms, which stir up a tumultuous sea in a very short time .... The landing also is most inconvenient, and often extremely dangerous. More boats upset, and more lives are lost in the breakers at the north end of the ledge of rocks that defend the inner harbour than anywhere else on this coast." Went down into it; ἀνέβη [ἐνέβη, Alex.] εἰς αὐτό, "went up into it" (Septuagint). Went on board; or, as Jerome says, sought a hiding place in the ship (comp. ver. 5). With them. With the crew. Jonah had told them (ver. 10) that he was flying from God's service, but, knowing and earing nothing about Jehovah, they took him on board when he paid his fare, and thought nothing of his private reasons for joining them
But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.
Verses 4-10. -

2. Jonah's foolish flight is arrested. In the midst of his fancied security God sends a great storm, and the ship is placed in imminent jeopardy. The crew try all means to save the ship, and at length cast lots to discover by this means for whose sake the tempest has been sent. The lot points out Jonah as the guilty person. Verse 4. - Sent out; Septuagint, ἐξήγειρε, "raised;" literally, cast forth, or hurled, a great wind, like the Euroclydon of Acts 27:14, and what is called nowadays a Levanter. Pusey quotes Josephus's account of the harbour of Joppa and the neighbouring sea, which, he says, is rendered very dangerous by the sudden rise of "the black north wind" ('Bell. Jud.,' 3:09. 3). Here we see wind and storm fulfilling God's word (Psalm 148:8). As Tertullian says -

"Si Dominum in terris fugiens, invenit in undis."

"Flying the Lord on earth, he found him in the sea." Was like to be broken; literally, thought to be dashed in pieces. Wordsworth contrasts the living consciousness and apprehension of the ship with the lethargy of the prophet now lying fast asleep in the hold (ver. 5). Septuagint, ἐκινδύνευε τοῦ συντριβῆναι, "was in danger of being broken up."
Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.
Verse 5. - The mariners (mallachim). Those who have to do with the salt sea. The word is used by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 27:9, 27, 29). Cried every man unto his god. They were either Phoenicians from different localities, or men of various nations; hence the multiplicity of their gods. The heathen are represented throughout the book as devout and sincere according to their lights. They cast forth the wares; Septuagint, ἐκβολὴν ἐποήσαντο τῶν σκευῶν, "cast out the furniture, or wares," as Acts 27:18, 19; Vulgate, miserunt vasa. They threw overboard probably both all spare tackling and movables, and the cargo. The freight may have been corn, which was exported in considerable quantifies from Joppa (comp. Ezekiel 27:17), or manufactured articles from Tyre, which were exchanged with Spain for silver and other metals. To lighten it of them; literally, to lighten from against them; i.e. to ease the ship of its burden, or to ease them of their trouble, is Exodus 18:22. The LXX. takes the former interpretation, τοῦ κουφισθῆναι ἀπ αὐτῶν, "that it might be lightened of them;" Vulgate, ut alleviaretur ab eis. The sides of the ship. The innermost parts (interiora, Vulgate) of the ship; τὴν κοίλην (Septuagint); "the hold" (comp. 1 Samuel 24:3). Jonah hid himself there before the storm arose. The Hebrew word for "ship" (sephinah) is found nowhere else, and, probably from its derivation (saphan, "to cover"), implies that the vessel was decked. He lay, and was fast asleep; ἐκάθευδε καὶ ἔρεγχε, "was asleep and snoring," (Septuagint); dormiebat sopore gravi (Vulgate). The word used implies a very deep sleep, as that of Sisera (Judges 4:21) or of the Assyrians (Psalm 76:6). He was fatigued and worn out with mental anxiety, and now being, as he thought, secure, and longing for solitude, he lay down to sleep, unconscious of danger. Contrast this sleep in the storm with that of Christ (Mark 4:38), and that of the apostles who slept for sorrow (Luke 22:45).
So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.
Verse 6. - The shipmaster; literally, the chief of the ropemen; Vulgate, gubernator; Septuagint, ὁ πρωρεύς, "the look out man." The captain. What meanest thou, O sleeper? How canst thou sleep so soundly when our danger is so imminent? If thou canst help us in no other way, at least ask the aid of Heaven. It was the duty of a prophet of the Lord to take the lead in prayer; but here the prophet's stupor is rebuked by the heathen's faith. Call upon thy God. The sailors' prayers had not been answered, and they arouse Jonah, noting something special about him, perhaps his prophet's dress, or observing that he was an Israelite, and therefore a worshipper of Jehovah, of whose power they had heard. If so be that God will think upon us. They use the word "God" with the article, ha Eiohim, as if they had, in spite of their Polytheism, a dim notion of one supreme Deity. Vulgate, Si forte recogitet Deus de nobis; Septuagint, ὅπως διασώση ὁ Θεὸς ἡμᾶς, "that God may save us." From the apparent use, of the Hebrew word (ashath) in Jeremiah 5:28 in the sense of "shining," some translate here, "if perchance God will shine upon us," i.e. be favourable to us. But the meaning given in the Anglican Version is best supported. So the psalmist says, "The Lord thinketh upon me" (Psalm 40:17), implying that God succours and defends him.
And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.
Verse 7 - Finding the storm still violent, the crew come to the conclusion that it is sent by Heaven in punishment of some crime committed by one on board; and they proceed to cast lots to discover the guilty person. Jonah doubtless had meantime complied with the captain's request, but, as the sailors saw, without visible effect. The belief that temporal calamities are often connected with the presence of culprits, and are sent in judgment, is found in classical authors. Thus Plautus, 'Rudena,' 2:21 -

"Pol minume miror, navis si fracta est tibi,
Scelus te et sceleste parta quae vexit bona."

"Little I wonder if the ship is wrecked
Which carries thee and thy ill-gotten wealth."
(Comp. AEschylus, 'Electr.,' 1354; 'Theb.,' 598; Horat., 'Carm.,' 3:2, 26, etc.) The misfortune of the Israelites at Ai was consequent on the sin of Achan (Joshua 7.). Let us cast lots. (On the Christian view of "lots," see Dr. Pusey's Commentary, pp. 270, 271.) Jerome says here, "The fugitive was taken by lot, not by virtue of the lots, especially of the lots of heathen men, but by the will of him who guided the uncertain lots." For whose cause; Septuagint, τίνος ἕνεκεν. The unusual nature of the tempest showed them that it was sent in judgment. Commentators cite the story of Diagoras told by Cicero ('De Nat. Deor.,' 3:37). The lot fell upon Jonah. Proverbs 16:33, "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord" (comp. 1 Samuel 10:20, etc.; 1 Samuel 14:41; Acts 1:26).
Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou?
Verse 8. - The mariners having, as they supposed, discovered the culprit, proceed calmly to investigate his guilt; amid the roaring of the tempest and the peril that surrounded them, they give him every opportunity of clearing himself or confessing his crime. For whose cause. Some manuscripts of the Hebrew and the Greek omit this clause as unnecessary; but, as Keil remarks, it is not superfluous, the sailors thereby wishing to induce Jonah to confess his guilt with his own mouth. In their excitement they crowd question upon question, asking him about his business, his journey, his country, his parentage. Jerome notes the pregnant brevity of these inquiries, and compares Virgil, 'AEneid,' 8:112, etc. -

"Juvenes, quae causa subegit
Ignotas tentare vias? quo tenditis? inquit.
Qui genus? unde domo? pacemne huc fertis an arma?"

"Warriors, what cause constrained you thus to tempt
A path untrodden? Whither are ye bound?
What is your race? Where dwell ye?
Peace or war, Come ye to bring?"

(Comp. Hom., 'Od.,' 1:170.) What is thine occupation? His occupation, they thought, might have been one to excite the wrath of the gods; or his country and family might have been exposed to the hatred of Heaven; hence the succeeding questions.
And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.
Verse 9. I am an Hebrew. This is the name used by foreigners in speaking of Israelites, or by Israelites in speaking of themselves to Gentiles (see Genesis 14:13; Genesis 39:14; Genesis 41:12; Exodus 1:16; 1 Samuel 4:6, for the former use; and for the latter, Genesis 40:15; Exodus 2:7; Exodus 3:18). Convinced that God had miraculously pointed him out as the culprit on whose account the storm was sent, and goaded by the stings of conscience, Jonah loses all his previous indecision and spiritual stupor, and in a manly and straightforward way confesses the truth without disguise. The LXX., reading differently, renders, Δοῦλος Κυρίου εἰμὶ ἐγώ, "A servant of Jehovah am I." This makes a tautological statement with the next words, and leaves one of the sailors' questions unanswered. I fear the Lord. I worship, reverence (σέβομαι, Septuagint) Jehovah, who is not a local deity like the false gods whom you adore, but the Creator of heaven and earth, the Maker and Ruler of sea and dry land. So Abraham calls the Lord the God of heaven (Genesis 24:7), and Daniel (Daniel 2:37, 44) uses the same expression (comp. Psalm 96:5; Jeremiah 10:11).
Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.
Verse 10. - Exceedingly afraid. They understand now the greatness of Jehovah and the terrible risk incurred by one who offends him. There was a widespread acknowledgment of the power of Jehovah among the heathen (see Exodus 15:15; Joshua 5:1; 1 Samuel 4:7; and comp. Judith 5:21). Why hast thou done this? better, What is this that thou hast done? (Genesis 3:13). This is not a question of inquiry, for he had already told them that he had fled from the presence of the Lord; but rather an exclamation of horror and amazement at his folly and sin. That one who worshipped the Almighty Creator should disobey his command seemed to them outrageous and inexcusably criminal. The prophet does not spare himself in giving the history of the transaction. To be thus rebuked by heathen sailors must have added to the poignancy of his remorse. The presence of the Lord (see note on ver. 3).
Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous.
Verses 11-16. - § 3. On hearing. Jonah's confession, the sailors appeal to him, as a worshipper of Jehovah, to tell them what to do to him that the storm may cease. He bids them cast him into the sea, which, after some demur and after renewed efforts to escape, they proceed to do. Upon this the storm immediately abates. Verse 11. - What shall we do unto thee? They recognize that the tempest was sent as a judgment on account of Jonah's sin; at the same time, believing him to be a prophet of Jehovah, under whose wrath they were suffering, they ask his advice in this emergency; if it was a crime to receive him, what shall they do to him to expiate the offence and to appease the anger of God? That the sea may be calm unto us; literally, may be silent from upon us, so as no longer to bear down upon us (comp. Mark 4:39). Wrought, and was tempestuous; literally, was going and was tempestuous; Septuagint, Ἐπορεύετο καὶ ἐξήγειρε μᾶλλον κλύδωνα, "The sea was moving and lifting the surge still more;" Vulgate, ibat et intumescebat. That is, according to the Hebrew idiom, "grew more and more tempestuous" (comp. Exodus 19:19; Proverbs 4:18).
And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.
Verse 12. - Jonah, brought to a better mind, perhaps divinely inspired, pronounces his own sentence. "I know," he says, "that the fault is mine, and deserves death, therefore take me up, and cast me forth into the sea." He will not he his own executioner, but will patiently bear a death righteously inflicted by others, whoso safety he was endangering by his continued presence.
Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.
Verse 13. - The generous sailors, however, are loth to execute this sentence on a prophet of the Lord, and make a supreme effort to reach the land, and thus obviate this severe alternative. Rowed hard; literally, digged (Job 24:16; Ezekiel 12:7); Septuagint, παρεβιάζοντο, "used violent efforts." They endeavoured to force their way through the waves with oars, as the use of sails was impracticable. The expression is like the classical phrases, infindere sulcos, scindere freta, arare aquas, and our "to plough the main." To the land; to get them back to land. The wind was off shore, and they had taken down the sails, and tried to row back to the harbour. Τοῦ ἐπιτρέψαι πρὸς τὴν γῆν, "to return to the land" (Septuagint). The sea wrought (see note on ver. 11).
Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee.
Verse 14. - They cried unto the Lord. They prayed no longer to their gods, as before (ver. 5), but unto Jehovah, the God of Jonah. Let us not perish for this man's life. Let us not incur death for taking this man's life. They seem to know something of the Noachic law that punished murder (Genesis 9:5, 6). Lay not upon us innocent blood. Charge us not with the guilt of shedding innocent blood (Deuteronomy 21:8). For thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased thee (1 Samuel 3:18). The whole affair has happened according to thy will. The tempest, the lot, the sentence, are all the working of thy providence. The prophet throughout brings into prominence the contrast between the behaviour of these heathen and his own, and would teach his nation a lesson thereby.
So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.
Verse 15. - They took up, with a certain reverence. Ceased from her raging; literally, stood from its anger; Septuagint, ἔστη ἐκ τοῦ σάλου αὐτῆς, "stood from its tossing." The sudden cessation of the storm showed that it had been sent on Jonah's account, and that the crew had not sinned by executing the sentence upon him. Usually it takes some time for the swell to cease after the wind has sunk: here there was suddenly a great calm (Matthew 8:26).
Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.
Verse 16. - Feared the Lord. They recognized the supernatural element in the transaction, and conceived an awe and fed, of Jehovah, who had wrought these wonders Offered a sacrifice unto the Lord. Many commentators think that they sacrificed on reaching shore, as they had thrown the cargo overboard, and would have had no animal to offer. The Chaldee renders accordingly, "They said that they would offer sacrifices." But the text implies that they sacrificed immediately on the cessation of the storm. They may naturally have had some animal on board fit for offering. And made vows. Vowed to make other offerings when it was in their power. Henderson compares Virgil, 'AEneid,' 3:403, etc. -

"Quin, ubi transmissae steterint trans aequora classes
Et positis aris jam vota in litore solves."

"And when thy fleet hath safely crossed the seas,
And, raising altars on the shore, thy vows
Thou shalt perform."
It has been supposed that these sailors embraced Judaism and became proselytes. At any rate, they showed themselves in the light of believers on this occasion.
Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Verse 17. - § 4. Cast into the sea, Jonah is swallowed alive by a great fish, is whose belly he remains unharmed three days and three nights. Had prepared; Septuagint, προσέταξε, "appointed;" so in Jonah 4:6, 7, 8 (comp. Job 7:3; Daniel 1:10, 11). The fish was not created then and there, but God so ordered it that it should be at the place and should swallow Jonah. The prophet seems, from some expressions in his psalm (Jonah 2:5), to have sunk to the bottom of the sea before he was swallowed by the fish. A great fish; Septuagint, κῆτος (Matthew 12:40). There is nothing in the word to identify the intended animal, and to call it "a whale" is simply a mistranslation. The white shark of the Mediterranean (Carcharias, vulgaris), which sometimes measures twenty-five feet in length, has been known to swallow a man whole, and even a horse. This may have been the "great fish" in the text (see Dr. Pusey on Jonah, pp. 257, etc.). Was in the belly of the fish. God used the natural agency of the fish, but the preservation of Jonah's life in the animal's belly is plainly supernatural. It is, indeed, analogous to the life of the child in its mother's womb; but it has besides a miraculous element which is unique, unless it was an actual death and revivification, as in the case of Lazarus. Also God ordained this transaction as a type of the resurrection of Christ. Three days and three nights; i.e., according to Hebrew usage, parts of the days and nights; i.e. one whole day, and parts of the day before and after this. Jonah was released on the third day (comp. Matthew 12:40 with 1 Corinthians 15:4; and Esther 4:16 with Esther 5:1). The historical nature of this occurrence is substantiated by Christ's reference to it as a figure of his own burial and resurrection. The antitype confirms the truth of the type. It is not credible that Christ would use a mere legendary tale, with no historical basis, to confirm his most solemn statement concerning the momentous fact of his resurrection.

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