Jonah's Commission to Nineveh, Flight,
Punishment, and Preservation by Miracle.
1. Jonah—meaning in Hebrew,
"dove." Compare Ge 8:8, 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
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. Ge 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
(Ge 10:5, 6, 8, 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. See on Jon 3:3.
cry—(Isa 40:6; 58:1).
come up before me—(Ge 4:10; 6:13; 18:21; Ezr 9:6; Re 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 Jon 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
Ge 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 Ps 139:7-10, but virtually ignored it (compare Ge
3:8-10; Jer 23:24).
went down—appropriate in going from
land to the sea (Ps 107:23).
Joppa—now Jaffa, in the region of Dan;
a harbor as early as Solomon's time (2Ch 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 Phœnician
custom, called on his tutelary god. But Jehovah proved able: and the
heathen sailors owned it in the end by sacrificing to Him (Jon 1:16).
into the sides—that is, the interior
recesses (compare 1Sa 24:3; Isa 14:13, 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!
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, Eph 5:14.
6. call upon thy God—The ancient heathen
in dangers called on foreign gods, besides their national ones (compare
107:28). Maurer translates the preceding clause, "What is the
reason that thou sleepest?"
think upon us—for good (compare Ge 8:1; Ex 2:25; 3:7, 9; Ps 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 (Pr 16:33; Ac
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,
8. The guilty individual being discovered is
interrogated so as to make full confession with his own mouth. So in
Achan's case (Jos 7:19).
9. I am an Hebrew—He does not say "an
Israelite." For this was the name used among themselves; "Hebrew,"
among foreigners (Ge 40:15; Ex 3:18).
I fear the Lord—in profession: his
practice belied his profession: his profession aggravated his
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 (De 4:21). This is what makes Jonah a
suitable type of Messiah, who bore the imputed sin of the
10. "The men were exceedingly afraid," when
made aware of the wrath of so powerful a God at the flight of
Why hast thou done this?—If professors
of religion do wrong, they will hear of it from those who make no such
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" (Jon 1:13, 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 Ps 69:1, 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 (Joh 11:50).
Jonah also herein is a specimen of true repentance, which leads the
penitent to "accept the punishment of his iniquity" (Le 26:41, 43), and to be more indignant at his
sin than at his suffering.
13. they could not—(Pr 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 De 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 (Lu 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
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 Mt 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
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 (Mt 12:40);
the Hebrew counting the first and third parts of days as whole
twenty-four hour days.