( 2 Kings. 14:25 ) deliverance from out of the fish, rendered him a type of our blessed Lord, who mentions it, so as to show the certain truth of the narrative. All that was done was easy to the almighty power of the Author and Sustainer of life. This book shows us, by the example of the Ninevites, how great are the Divine forbearance and long-suffering towards sinners. It shows a most striking contrast between the goodness and mercy of God, and the rebellion, impatience, and peevishness of his servant; and it will be best understood by those who are most acquainted with their own hearts.
Jonah, sent to Nineveh, flees to Tarshish. (1-3) He is stayed by a tempest. (4-7) His discourse with the mariners. (8-12) He is cast into the sea, and miraculously preserved. (13-17)
1-3. It is sad to think how much sin is committed in great cities. Their wickedness, as that of Nineveh, is a bold and open affront to God. Jonah must go at once to Nineveh, and there, on the spot, cry against the wickedness of it. Jonah would not go. Probably there are few among us who would not have tried to decline such a mission. Providence seemed to give him an opportunity to escape; we may be out of the way of duty, and yet may meet with a favourable gale. The ready way is not always the right way. See what the best of men are, when God leaves them to themselves; and what need we have, when the word of the Lord comes to us, to have the Spirit of the Lord to bring every thought within us into obedience.
Verses 4-7 God sent a pursuer after Jonah, even a mighty tempest. Sin brings storms and tempests into the soul, into the family, into churches and nations; it is a disquieting, disturbing thing. Having called upon their gods for help, the sailors did what they could to help themselves. Oh that men would be thus wise for their souls, and would be willing to part with that wealth, pleasure, and honour, which they cannot keep without making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience, and ruining their souls for ever! Jonah was fast asleep. Sin is stupifying, and we are to take heed lest at any time our hearts are hardened by the deceitfulness of it. What do men mean by sleeping on in sin, when the word of God and the convictions of their own consciences, warn them to arise and call on the Lord, if they would escape everlasting misery? Should not we warn each other to awake, to arise, to call upon our God, if so be he will deliver us? The sailors concluded the storm was a messenger of Divine justice sent to some one in that ship. Whatever evil is upon us at any time, there is a cause for it; and each must pray, Lord, show me wherefore thou contendest with me. The lot fell upon Jonah. God has many ways of bringing to light hidden sins and sinners, and making manifest that folly which was thought to be hid from the eyes of all living.
Verses 8-12 Jonah gave an account of his religion, for that was his business. We may hope that he told with sorrow and shame, justifying God, condemning himself, and explaining to the mariners what a great God Jehovah is. They said to him, Why hast thou done this? If thou fearest the God that made the sea and the dry land, why wast thou such a fool as to think thou couldst flee from his presence? If the professors of religion do wrong, they will hear it from those who make no such profession. When sin has raised a storm, and laid us under the tokens of God's displeasure, we must consider what is to be done to the sin that raised the storm. Jonah uses the language of true penitents, who desire that none but themselves may fare the worse for their sins and follies. Jonah sees this to be the punishment of his iniquity, he accepts it, and justifies God in it. When conscience is awakened, and a storm raised, nothing will turn it into a calm but parting with the sin that caused the disturbance. Parting with our money will not pacify the conscience, the Jonah must be thrown overboard.
Verses 13-17 The mariners rowed against wind and tide, the wind of God's displeasure, the tide of his counsel; but it is in vain to think of saving ourselves any other way than by destroying our sins. Even natural conscience cannot but dread blood-guiltiness. And when we are led by Providence God does what he pleases, and we ought to be satisfied, though it may not please us. Throwing Jonah into the sea put an end to the storm. God will not afflict for ever, He will only contend till we submit and turn from our sins. Surely these heathen mariners will rise up in judgment against many called Christians, who neither offer prayers when in distress, nor thanksgiving for signal deliverances. The Lord commands all creatures, and can make any of them serve his designs of mercy to his people. Let us see this salvation of the Lord, and admire his power, that he could thus save a drowning man, and his pity, that he would thus save one who was running from him, and had offended him. It was of the Lord's mercies that Jonah was not consumed. Jonah was alive in the fish three days and nights: to nature this was impossible, but to the God of nature all things are possible. Jonah, by this miraculous preservation, was made a type of Christ; as our blessed Lord himself declared, ( Matthew 12:40 ) .
Jonah 1:1-17 . JONAH'S COMMISSION TO NINEVEH, FLIGHT, PUNISHMENT, AND PRESERVATION BY MIRACLE.
1. Jonah--meaning in Hebrew, "dove." Compare Genesis 8:8 Genesis 8:9 , where the dove in vain seeks rest after flying from Noah and the ark: so Jonah. GROTIUS not so well explains it, "one sprung from Greece" or Ionia, where there were prophets called Amythaonidæ.
Amittai--Hebrew for "truth," "truth-telling"; appropriate to a prophet.
2. to Nineveh--east of the Tigris, opposite the modern Mosul. The only case of a prophet being sent to the heathen. Jonah, however, is sent to Nineveh, not solely for Nineveh's good, but also to shame Israel, by the fact of a heathen city repenting at the first preaching of a single stranger, Jonah, whereas God's people will not repent, though preached to by their many national prophets, late and early. Nineveh means "the residence of Ninus," that is, Nimrod. Genesis 10:11 , where the translation ought to be, "He (Nimrod) went forth into Assyria and builded Nineveh." Modern research into the cuneiform inscriptions confirms the Scripture account that Babylon was founded earlier than Nineveh, and that both cities were built by descendants of Ham, encroaching on the territory assigned to Shem ( Genesis 10:5 Genesis 10:6 Genesis 10:8 Genesis 10:10 Genesis 10:25 ).
great city--four hundred eighty stadia in circumference, one hundred fifty in length, and ninety in breadth [DIODORUS SICULUS, 2.3]. Taken by Arbaces the Mede, in the reign of Sardanapalus, about the seventh year of Uzziah; and a second time by Nabopolassar of Babylon and Cyaxares the Mede in 625 B.C.
cry--( Isaiah 40:6 , 58:1 ).
come up before me--( Genesis 4:10 , 6:13 , 18:21 , Ezra 9:6 , Revelation 18:5 ); that is, their wickedness is so great as to require My open interposition for punishment.
3. flee--Jonah's motive for flight is hinted at in Jonah 4:2 : fear that after venturing on such a dangerous commission to so powerful a heathen city, his prophetical threats should be set aside by God's "repenting of the evil," just as God had so long spared Israel notwithstanding so many provocations, and so he should seem a false prophet. Besides, he may have felt it beneath him to discharge a commission to a foreign idolatrous nation, whose destruction he desired rather than their repentance. This is the only case of a prophet, charged with a prophetical message, concealing it.
from the presence of the Lord--(Compare Genesis 4:16 ). Jonah thought in fleeing from the land of Israel, where Jehovah was peculiarly present, that he should escape from Jehovah's prophecy-inspiring influence. He probably knew the truth stated in Psalms 139:7-10 , but virtually ignored it (compare Genesis 3:8-10 , Jeremiah 23:24 ).
went down--appropriate in going from land to the sea ( Psalms 107:23 ).
Joppa--now Jaffa, in the region of Dan; a harbor as early as Solomon's time ( 2 Chronicles 2:16 ).
Tarshish--Tartessus in Spain; in the farthest west at the greatest distance from Nineveh in the east.
4. sent out--literally, caused a wind to burst forth. COVERDALE translates, "hurled a greate wynde into the see."
5. mariners were afraid--though used to storms; the danger therefore must have been extreme.
cried every man unto his god--The idols proved unable to save them, though each, according to Phoenician custom, called on his tutelary god. But Jehovah proved able: and the heathen sailors owned it in the end by sacrificing to Him ( Jonah 1:16 ).
into the sides--that is, the interior recesses (compare 1 Samuel 24:3 , Isaiah 14:13 Isaiah 14:15 ). Those conscious of guilt shrink from the presence of their fellow man into concealment.
fast asleep--Sleep is no necessary proof of innocence; it may be the fruit of carnal security and a seared conscience. How different was Jesus' sleep on the Sea of Galilee! ( Mark 4:37-39 ). Guilty Jonah's indifference to fear contrasts with the unoffending mariners' alarm. The original therefore is in the nominative absolute: "But as for Jonah, he," &c. Compare spiritually, Ephesians 5:14 .
6. call upon thy God--The ancient heathen in dangers called on foreign gods, besides their national ones (compare Psalms 107:28 ). MAURER translates the preceding clause, "What is the reason that thou sleepest?"
think upon us--for good (compare Genesis 8:1 , Exodus 2:25 , Exodus 3:7 Exodus 3:9 , Psalms 40:17 ).
7. cast lots--God sometimes sanctioned this mode of deciding in difficult cases. Compare the similar instance of Achan, whose guilt involved Israel in suffering, until God revealed the offender, probably by the casting of lots ( Proverbs 16:33 , Acts 1:26 ). Primitive tradition and natural conscience led even the heathen to believe that one guilty man involves all his associates, though innocent, in punishment. So CICERO [The Nature of the Gods, 3.37] mentions that the mariners sailing with Diagoras, an atheist, attributed a storm that overtook them to his presence in the ship (compare HORACE'S Odes, 3.2.26).
8. The guilty individual being discovered is interrogated so as to make full confession with his own mouth. So in Achan's case ( Joshua 7:19 ).
9. I am an Hebrew--He does not say "an Israelite." For this was the name used among themselves; "Hebrew," among foreigners ( Genesis 40:15 , Exodus 3:18 ).
I fear the Lord--in profession: his practice belied his profession: his profession aggravated his guilt.
God . . . which . . . made the sea--appropriately expressed, as accounting for the tempest sent on the sea. The heathen had distinct gods for the "heaven," the "sea," and the "land." Jehovah is the one and only true God of all alike. Jonah at last is awakened by the violent remedy from his lethargy. Jonah was but the reflection of Israel's backsliding from God, and so must bear the righteous punishment. The guilt of the minister is the result of that of the people, as in Moses' case ( Deuteronomy 4:21 ). This is what makes Jonah a suitable type of Messiah, who bore the imputed sin of the people.
10. "The men were exceedingly afraid," when made aware of the wrath of so powerful a God at the flight of Jonah.
Why hast thou done this?--If professors of religion do wrong, they will hear of it from those who make no such profession.
11. What shall we do unto thee?--They ask this, as Jonah himself must best know how his God is to be appeased. "We would gladly save thee, if we can do so, and yet be saved ourselves" ( Jonah 1:13 Jonah 1:14 ).
12. cast me . . . into the sea--Herein Jonah is a type of Messiah, the one man who offered Himself to die, in order to allay the stormy flood of God's wrath (compare Psalms 69:1 Psalms 69:2 , as to Messiah), which otherwise must have engulfed all other men. So Caiaphas by the Spirit declared it expedient that one man should die, and that the whole nation should not perish ( John 11:50 ). Jonah also herein is a specimen of true repentance, which leads the penitent to "accept the punishment of his iniquity" ( Leviticus 26:41 Leviticus 26:43 ), and to be more indignant at his sin than at his suffering.
13. they could not--( Proverbs 21:30 ). Wind and tide--God's displeasure and God's counsel were against them.
14. for this man's life--that is, for taking this man's life.
innocent blood--Do not punish us as Thou wouldst punish the shedders of innocent blood (compare Deuteronomy 21:8 ). In the case of the Antitype, Pontius Pilate washed his hands and confessed Christ's innocence, "I am innocent of the blood of this just person." But whereas Jonah the victim was guilty and the sailors innocent, Christ our sacrificial victim was innocent and Pontius Pilate and nil of us men were guilty. But by imputation of our guilt to Him and His righteousness to us, the spotless Antitype exactly corresponds to the guilty type.
thou . . . Lord, hast done as it pleased thee--That Jonah has embarked in this ship, that a tempest has arisen, that he has been detected by casting of lots, that he has passed sentence on himself, is all Thy doing. We reluctantly put him to death, but it is Thy pleasure it should be so.
15. sea ceased . . . raging--so at Jesus' word ( Luke 8:24 ). God spares the prayerful penitent, a truth illustrated now in the case of the sailors, presently in that of Jonah, and thirdly, in that of Nineveh.
16. offered a sacrifice--They offered some sacrifice of thanksgiving at once, and vowed more when they should land. GLASSIUS thinks it means only, "They promised to offer a sacrifice."
17. prepared a great fish--not created specially for this purpose, but appointed in His providence, to which all creatures are subservient. The fish, through a mistranslation of Matthew 12:40 , was formerly supposed to be a whale; there, as here, the original means "a great fish." The whale's neck is too narrow to receive a man. BOCHART thinks, the dog-fish, the stomach of which is so large that the body of a man in armor was once found in it [Hierozoicon, 2.5.12]. Others, the shark [JEBB]. The cavity in the whale's throat, large enough, according to CAPTAIN SCORESBY, to hold a ship's jolly boat full of men. A miracle in any view is needed, and we have no data to speculate further. A "sign" or miracle it is expressly called by our Lord in Matthew 12:39 . Respiration in such a position could only be by miracle. The miraculous interposition was not without a sufficient reason; it was calculated to affect not only Jonah, but also Nineveh and Israel. The life of a prophet was often marked by experiences which made him, through sympathy, best suited for discharging the prophetical function to his hearers and his people. The infinite resources of God in mercy as well as judgment are prefigured in the devourer being transformed into Jonah's preserver. Jonah's condition under punishment, shut out from the outer world, was rendered as much as possible the emblem of death, a present type to Nineveh and Israel, of the death in sin, as his deliverance was of the spiritual resurrection on repentance; as also, a future type of Jesus' literal death for sin, and resurrection by the Spirit of God.
three days and three nights--probably, like the Antitype, Christ, Jonah was cast forth on the land on the third day ( Matthew 12:40 ); the Hebrew counting the first and third parts of days as whole twenty-four hour days.