Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,Jonah 1:1-2. Now the word of the Lord — An impulse or revelation from the Lord, significative of his will; came unto Jonah, the son of Amittai — Of whom see 2 Kings 14:25. It is probable he had been before acquainted with the word of the Lord, and knew his voice from that of a stranger. Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city — The capital of the Assyrian empire: see notes on Jonah 3:3; Jonah 4:11; and Nahum 1:1; Nahum 3:18. And cry — Proclaim as a prophet, against it — Or concerning it. He must witness against their great wickedness, and warn them of the destruction that was coming upon them for it. And this he must do, not privately in corners, but publicly in the streets, and must cry aloud, that all might hear. For their wickedness is come up before me — Is manifest in my sight, and calls aloud for vengeance.
Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before 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.Jonah 1:3. But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish — It is not to be wondered at that Jonah should be averse to undertake this mission. He probably considered it as a dangerous one, and might be tempted to think it would be unprofitable, and answer no valuable end. The journey was long, and the perils and hardships of it, he supposed, would be great. The inhabitants of the city were idolaters, and knew nothing of Jehovah, in whose name the warning was to be given, and the destruction denounced. The city was proud as well as idolatrous, and would look down with contempt on an Israelite, coming from a distant country, hardly known to many of them, or at least despised by them. And he had every reason to suppose that the delivery of such an unpleasant message would draw upon him the resentment both of the rulers and multitude. Indeed, “when we reflect how such a message would be received in the streets of London at this day, we shall not wonder that he was extremely reluctant to undertake the service. Strong faith and a habit of unreserved obedience were necessary to overcome the reluctance that he must have felt: and perhaps he was a young man, and not as yet inured to perilous employments.” — Scott. And, besides this, Jonah himself assigns another reason, Jonah 4:2, namely, that he knew God’s mercifulness to be great, and that it was probable God would be moved to forbear executing the judgments denounced; and so he would have the shame of being accounted a false prophet. This and other parts of his conduct, however, deserve censure. But, as Bishop Newcome observes, “men endued with extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, and made the instruments of declaring God’s will to mankind, have occasionally been subject to great human infirmities, and have even contracted great guilt.” Of Tarshish, see note on Isaiah 2:16. From the presence of the Lord — That is, to be at a distance from the land of Israel, the immediate residence of God, as Grotius and Locke interpret the expression. Houbigant however reads, through fear of the Lord; and what he feared is shown Jonah 4:2. Perhaps Jonah hoped, if he were at a greater distance, God would send some other prophet to preach repentance to the Ninevites. And went down to Joppa — A well-known haven on the Mediterranean. And he found a ship going to Tarshish — Bound for, and ready to sail to the place he designed. Thus Providence seemed to favour his design, and to give him an opportunity to escape. Observe, reader, we may be out of the way of duty, and yet may meet with apparently favourable providences. So he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it — He lost no time, for he was in haste to get at a distance from the presence of the Lord. Here we 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 come along with the word, to bring every thought within us into obedience to it. Let us learn from hence to cease from man, and not to be too confident either respecting ourselves or others in time of trial, but let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.
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.Jonah 1:4-5. But the Lord sent out a great wind — The extraordinary greatness of it, with the suddenness of its rising, and the terrible effects it was likely to produce, showed that it was supernatural, and came from God, displeased with all, or with some one in the ship. Then the mariners were afraid — As they had great reason to be, since this preternatural tempest fell upon them with such great violence; and cried every man unto his god — To their several idols, as being heathen and ignorant of the true God. And cast forth the wares that were in the ship — By which they showed in what extreme danger they judged even their lives to be. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship — Into a cabin in one of the sides of the ship. And he lay, and was fast asleep — This profound sleep of Jonah seems to have been caused by his weariness, labour, and anxiety: it was “not the sleep of security,” says St. Jerome, “but of sorrow;” like that of the apostles, Matthew 26:40.
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.
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.Jonah 1:6. So the ship-master — Who had the conduct of the vessel, and from whose mouth such a reproof was seasonable; came and said to him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? — A just and necessary reproof this. We cannot but pity Jonah, who needed it: as a prophet of the Lord, if he had been in his place, he might have been reproving the king of Nineveh; but, being out of the way of his duty, he himself lies open to the reproof of a sorry ship-master. See how men, by their sin and folly, make themselves mean! Yet we must admire God’s goodness in sending him this seasonable reproof; for it was the first step toward his recovery; as the crowing of the cock was to Peter. “Those that sleep in a storm,” says Henry, “may well be asked what they mean.” Arise, call upon thy God — We are here crying every man to his god, why dost thou not get up and cry to thine? Art thou not equally concerned with the rest, both in the danger dreaded, and in the deliverance desired? If so be that God will think upon us — With pity, care, and favour; that we perish not — That the ship, goods, and men also may not be lost. The word rendered God being in the plural number, and the ship-master, the mariners, and others in the ship being, it appears, idolaters, and knowing nothing of the one living and true God, this clause should undoubtedly be rendered, If so be that the gods will think upon us, &c.
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.Jonah 1:7-8. Come, and let us cast lots — “The sailors betake themselves to this practice, because they see that there is something supernatural in the tempest: whence they conclude that it arose on account of some wicked person who sailed with them. Thus the sailors who carried Diagoras in their vessel, concluded that the tempest which assailed them was principally on account of this philosopher, who openly professed atheism. God was pleased so to order the lots, that Jonah was found to be the guilty person: not to favour such vain practices of the heathen; but that, after Jonah had made known to the mariners that the God of heaven and earth, whom he worshipped, had sent this storm, they might be brought to understand that the true God is the only director of lots; which indeed they seemed to have well understood, as appears from the end of this chapter.” See Calmet and Houbigant. Then said they, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is come upon us — This should rather be rendered, for what cause; for they already knew for whose cause it was, by the lot falling upon Jonah; their inquiry now was, what he had done to occasion divine vengeance to follow him.
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?
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.Jonah 1:9-10. And he said, I am a Hebrew — One descended from Heber, whose offspring by Abraham are well known. And I fear the Lord — Or rather JEHOVAH, the God of heaven, Jehovah being the peculiar name of the true God, by which he was distinguished from those who had the name of gods and lords among the heathen. Which hath made the sea and the dry land — These words, as Mr. Locke observes, are a further distinction between the true God and the gods of the heathen; as if he had said, I worship and serve the one living and true God; that eternal and almighty Being, who made and ruleth the heavens and the earth, and all creatures therein. Then were the men exceedingly afraid — And with good reason, for they perceived that God was against them, even the God that made the world and governs all things, and that this tempest proceeded from his offended justice. Hence they inferred that their case was perilous in the extreme. And having learned from Jonah that he had disobeyed this Almighty God, and fled from his presence, they said unto him, Why hast thou done this? — How couldst thou dare to behave in such a manner, or disobey his commands, whom thou acknowledgest to be so great and powerful a Being, and Lord of all?
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.
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.Jonah 1:11-12. Then said they, What shall we do unto thee, &c. — They perceived that Jonah was a prophet of the Lord, and therefore they would not do any thing to him without consulting him. He appeared to be a delinquent, but he appeared also to be a penitent: and therefore they would not insult over him, or offer him any rudeness. They would not cast him overboard, if he could think of any other expedient by which to save the ship. And he said, Take me up, and cast me into the sea — It is probable the conviction in Jonah’s mind of his guilt was so strong, at this time, as to make him certain that God had raised this tempest on his account; or he might have a revelation from God that it was so: in either case he might think it his duty to offer himself to death to save the rest that were in the ship. For if it be lawful, and even praise worthy for one man, though guiltless, to sacrifice his life to save the lives of many; how much more may and ought a person to do this who knows that he is the cause of imminent danger, which threatens immediate destruction to many others.
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.
Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.Jonah 1:13-14. Nevertheless, the men rowed hard, &c. — Whoever these mariners were, they are to be admired for their generosity; for though Jonah had told them that he was the cause of the tempest, and had advised them to cast him into the sea, yet they were very unwilling to do it, and generously redoubled their efforts, strained every nerve, and exposed themselves unto still greater danger of sinking, for some time longer, in order, if possible, to gain the shore without throwing him overboard. Wherefore they cried unto the Lord — Hebrew, unto JEHOVAH, the Maker of heaven and earth. They were convinced, by the account which Jonah gave of himself, that the God whom he worshipped, Jonah 1:9, had brought this tempest upon them; therefore they made their petitions to him. Let us not perish for this man’s life — For doing that to him which in all probability will prove his destruction. And lay not upon us innocent blood —
Although this man has committed nothing against us worthy of death, according to human laws, and nevertheless we are about to take away his life; yet do not impute to us the crime of shedding innocent blood, inasmuch as we take it away through extreme necessity to save our own lives, and by his own desire. For thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased thee — “Who hast raised this storm manifestly extraordinarily, who hast caused the lot to fall upon Jonah, who hast compelled him to confess himself to be guilty, and the cause of this calamity.” — Grotius. Or, as Bishop Newcome expresses their meaning, “Punish us not as murderers of an innocent man: for we judge, from the whole transaction, that we are conforming ourselves to thy will.”
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.
So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.
Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.Jonah 1:16. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly — They were convinced of the power and greatness of that God whom Jonah worshipped: which appeared both in raising this storm, and in so suddenly laying it. And offered sacrifice unto the Lord — Or JEHOVAH; and made vows — As it is not probable that they offered a sacrifice on shipboard, this seems to be spoken of what they did when they came safe to the port for which they were bound; namely that they made a public acknowledgment, by sacrifice and other religious acts, of the mercy they had received of God, and of his wonderful power, the effects of which they had witnessed.
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.Jonah 1:17. Now the Lord prepared a great fish, &c. — We have but an imperfect acquaintance with the natural history of fishes. However, it is a well-attested fact, that there are fishes, sharks, for instance, that grow to a size capable of swallowing and containing a man. The Scripture calls this a great fish in the general, and therefore there is no need to confine it to a whale; in which view, much of the wit thrown out by persons disposed to be merry on the Scripture is quite foreign to the purpose. See more in the note on Matthew 12:40, in Calmet’s dissertation on the subject, and in Scheuchzer. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights — “The Hebrew language,” says Lowth, “has no one word to express what we call a natural day; so that what the Greeks express by Νυχθημερον, they denote by a day and a night. Therefore the space of time consisting of one whole revolution of twenty-four hours, and a part of two others, is fitly expressed in that language by three days and three nights. Such a space of time our Lord lay in the grave;” (that is, one whole νυχθημερον, or natural day, and part of two others;) “and we may from thence conclude that Jonah, who was an eminent figure of him in this particular, was no longer in the fish’s belly.” This miracle of preserving Jonah was evidently very important. It served to spread the knowledge of the true God, the whole transaction having this tendency: see Jonah 1:16. And it also taught Jonah, and in him the whole prophetical order, God’s power and determination to enforce his commands.