Jon 1:1-17. 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 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. 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 Phoenician 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! (Mr 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 Ps 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, 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 (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 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 (De 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| (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 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 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 Mt 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.