Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,Ch. Jonah 1:1-3. Jonah’s Disobedience
1. Now the word, &c.] Lit., “And the word,” &c. There is no reason to conclude from this that the Book of Jonah is only a fragment of a larger work. Many books of the Old Testament begin with “And.” In some cases (e. g. Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, 2 Samuel) they do so, because the writer wishes to mark the fact that the book so commencing is a continuation, a second or third volume so to speak, of what he has written before. In other cases, as here and in Ezekiel 1:1, the author begins his work with the words, “And it was,” “And it came to pass,” because, though he may have written nothing before himself, yet there is a reference in his own mind to the national records that had gone before, and he consciously takes up the thread of past history. See Maurer on Ezekiel 1:1.
Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.2. Nineveh] On the E. bank of the Tigris, the capital of the ancient kingdom and empire of Assyria, and “the most magnificent of all the capitals of the ancient world.” The building of it is mentioned as early as Genesis 10:11. In the time of Jonah it appears to have been at the zenith of its glory.
that great city] See note on c. Jonah 3:3, and Note B.
NOTE B. NINEVEH
It is evidently the design of the writer of this Book to give prominence to the vast size of Nineveh. when he speaks of it, it is with the constant addition, “the great city,” (Jonah 1:2; Jonah 3:2; Jonah 4:11), and the addition is justified by the statements that it was “great to God,” that it was a city “of three days’ journey,” and that it contained “more than sixscore thousand persons unable to discern between their right hand and their left, and also much cattle” (Jonah 4:11). In seeking to verify this description and to identify, with some reasonable degree of probability, the Nineveh of Jonah, we have first to determine what is meant by the expression “a city of three days’ journey.” It has been held that the “three days’ journey” describes the time that would be occupied in traversing the city from end to end; along “the ‘high street’ representing the greatest length or ‘the diameter’ of the town, which ran from one principal gate to the opposite extremity.” (Kalisch.) But unless we are prepared to regard the “figures given in the text” as “the natural hyperboles of a writer who lived long after the virtual destruction of the city, and who, moreover, was anxious to enhance the impressiveness of his story and lesson, by dwelling on the vastness of the population whose fate depended on their moral regeneration” (Ib.), we shall find it difficult to accept the gratuitous assumption that Nineveh is here described as a city “about fifty-five English miles in diameter,” with a “high street” fifty-five miles long. Nor is it more satisfactory to suppose that by a city of three days’ journey is meant a city which it would require three days to go all over. No intelligible idea of size could possibly be conveyed by such a definition. Adopting, then, the more reasonable view that the “three days’ journey” refers to the circumference of the city, and estimating a day’s journey at about twenty miles, we have Nineveh here described as comprising a circuit of about sixty miles. Whether this large area was inclosed by continuous walls we cannot certainly say. One ancient writer, indeed, (Diodorus Siculus) asserts that it was, and that the walls were “100 feet high, and broad enough for three chariots to drive abreast upon” (Dict. of Bible, Article Nineveh); and he, moreover, gives the dimensions of the city as an irregular quadrangle of about 60 miles in circuit. But without relying too much upon his testimony, which may be regarded as doubtful, we may conclude that an area such as has been described was sufficiently marked out to be known and spoken of as the city of Nineveh. This vast area was not, however, completely covered as in the case of our own cities, with streets and squares and buildings. That was a feature unusual, and almost unknown, in the ancient cities of the East. It was perhaps the feature which, belonging to Jerusalem by virtue of the deep ravines by which it was surrounded, and which “determined its natural boundaries,” and prevented its spreading abroad after the fashion of other oriental cities, called forth the surprise and admiration of the Jews after their return from Babylon. “Jerusalem,” they exclaim, “(unlike Babylon where we so long have dwelt) is built as a city which is compact together.” Like Babylon, Nineveh included not only parks and paradises, but fields under tillage and pastures for “much cattle” (Jonah 4:11) in its wide embrace. The most probable site of the city thus defined will be seen by reference to the accompanying plan. It lies on the eastern bank of the Tigris in the fork formed by that river and the Ghazr Su and Great Zab, just above their confluence. The whole of this district abounds in heaps of ruins. Indeed, “they are found,” it is said, “in vast numbers throughout the whole region watered by the Tigris and Euphrates and their confluents, from the Taurus to the Persian Gulf.” “Such mounds,” it is added, “are especially numerous in the region to the east of the Tigris, in which Nineveh stood, and some of them must mark the ruins of the Assyrian capital.” (Dict. of the Bible.) Four of these great masses of ruins, which will be found marked on the plan, Kouyunjik, Nimrud, Karamless, Khorsabad, form together an irregular parallelogram of very similar dimensions to those mentioned in the text. From Kouyunjik (lying opposite Mosul) on the Eastern bank of the Tigris, a line drawn in a S. E. direction, parallel to the course of the river, to Nimrud is about eighteen miles. From Nimrud, in a northerly direction, to Karamless is about twelve. The opposite sides of the parallelogram, from Karamless to the most northerly point Khorsabad, and from Khorsabad to Kouyunjik again, are about the same. These four vast piles of buildings, with the area included in the parallelogram which they form, are now generally identified with the site of the Nineveh which Jonah visited. For fuller particulars the reader is referred to Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, Article Nineveh, and to the well-known works of Mr Layard and Professor Rawlingson.
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.3. Tarshish] Probably Tartessus, an ancient mercantile city of the Phœnicians, in the S. of Spain, of which the site is supposed to have been “between the two arms by which the Guadalquivir flowed into the sea.” See Smith’s Bib. Dict. Art. Tarshish. “God bid him go to Nineveh, which lay North-East from his home, and he instantly set himself to flee to the then furthermost West.”—Pusey.
from the presence of the Lord] This may mean from standing before the Lord or being in His presence, as His servant or minister (Deuteronomy 10:8, 1 Kings 17:1, Matthew 18:10, Luke 1:19. See Dr Pusey, Commentary on Jonah, p. 247, note d.); i. e. he renounced his office of prophet rather than obey so unwelcome a command. It may, however, only refer to that special presence of God in the Holy Land, which all Jews recognised. Either view is compatible with a belief on the part of Jonah in the omnipresence of God (Psalms 139). It is said of Cain (Genesis 4:16) that he “went out from the presence of the Lord” (and the Heb. phrase is the same as here), when he forfeited the favourable regard, together possibly with some local manifestation of the presence of the Almighty.
The reason of Jonah’s disobedience is given by himself, ch. Jonah 4:2. Knowing well the lovingkindness of God, he anticipated that He would spare the Ninevites on their repentance, and he could not bring himself to be the messenger of mercy to heathen, much less to heathen who (as the Assyrian inscriptions state) had already made war against his own people, and who as he may have known were destined to be their conquerors. See the statements of his probable contemporary, Hosea 9:3; Hosea 11:5.
Joppa] Now Jaffa, the well-known port of Palestine on the Mediterranean. It was 50 miles from Gath-hepher.
“Jaffa 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 in 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 the forests of Lebanon. Through it also nearly all the foreign commerce of the Jews was conducted until the artificial port of Cæsarea was built by Herod.”
“The harbour, however, is very inconvenient and insecure. Vessels of any considerable burden must lie out in the open roadstead—a very uneasy berth at all times; and even a moderate wind will oblige them to slip cable and run out to sea, or seek anchorage at Haifa, sixty miles distant. 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 habour, than anywhere else on this coast. I have been in imminent danger myself, with all my family in the boat, and never look without a shudder at this treacherous port, with its noisy surf tumbling over the rocks, as if on purpose to swallow up unfortunate boats.”—Thomson, Land and Book, pp. 514–516; see also Smith’s Bible Dict. Art. Joppa.
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.4. sent out] Lit., as in margin, cast forth, indicating the suddenness and violence of the storm. The same word occurs and is rendered “cast forth” in A.V. in Jonah 1:5; Jonah 1:12; Jonah 1:15.
Josephus speaks of a violent wind called “the black North wind,” which he says sometimes visited the sea off the coast of Joppa. And we read of “a tempestuous wind called Euraquilo” in another part of the same sea, which rushing down the highlands of Crete suddenly caught the ship in which St Paul was sailing, and brought on a tempest scarcely less severe than that to which Jonah was exposed (Acts 27:14). The modern name Levanter is a witness to the prevalence of such winds in those seas.
was like to be broken] Lit., thought to be broken, as in the margin. A vivid image or personification in keeping with the graphic style of this book. The same word “broken,” i. e. “broken up,” or “broken in pieces,” is used of a ship that is wrecked in 1 Kings 22:48. Comp. Acts 27:41.
4–16. Jonah’s Punishment. The Storm and its consequences
No sooner does Jonah decide upon his course of action and think himself now secure of its accomplishment, than God arrests him by the judgment of the storm.
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.5. the mariners] The Hebrew word is formed from the word for salt, and denotes those occupied with the salt sea. So we sometimes speak of a sailor as a “salt.”
See note on next verse, and for the whole description of their terror and their prayer comp. Psalm 107:23-30; Matthew 8:23-27.
every man unto his god] They were probably Phœnicians, who had the carrying trade between Joppa and Tarshish. This would account for their multiplicity of gods. The crew, however, may have been composed of men of different nations. Comp.
“All lost! to prayers, to prayers! All lost!”
Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act I. Sc. v.
the wares] It is doubtful whether this includes the cargo. It may only mean the furniture of the ship, moveables, spare tackling, etc. In St Paul’s shipwreck a similar course was taken (Acts 27:19), but the cargo was not thrown overboard till a later period (Acts 27:38). Jonah’s ship may have been, like St Paul’s, a corn ship. The export of corn from Joppa was very considerable. See 1 Kings 5:9; Ezekiel 27:17; Acts 12:20.
to lighten it of them] Rather, to lighten (the burden) from upon them (the mariners), i. e. to make matters easier for them. Comp. Exodus 18:22, where the same Hebrew phrase is rendered “it shall be easier for thyself.” Unto them, R.V.
the sides of the ship] The Hebrew word is not the same as that rendered “ship” earlier in the verse. It occurs nowhere else in the O.T., but the verb from which it is derived signifies to ‘cover’ or ‘board over’ (1 Kings 7:3; 1 Kings 7:7), so that it is probably used to denote that it was a decked vessel in which Jonah sailed, and that he had, as we should say, gone down below. The “sides of the ship” are what we should call the bottom of the ship, the part in which the two sides meet. The same expression is used of the innermost recess of a cave, the point of meeting of the two sides (1 Samuel 24:3). Innermost parts, R.V.
was fast asleep] Jonah had probably fallen asleep before the storm commenced, and slumbered too deeply to be roused by it, or by the commotion on board. Our Lord’s sleep amidst the storm on the lake (Mark 4:38) furnishes at once a comparison and a contrast. Kalisch quotes in illustration of the heavy sleep of sorrow the case of the disciples in the Garden; “He found them sleeping for sorrow,” Luke 22:45; and the words of Sallust, “primo cura, dein, uti ægrum animum solet, somnus cepit,” Bell. Jug. c.71.
5, 6. The conduct of the heathen mariners stands in striking and favourable contrast with that of the Jewish prophet. They call upon their gods and use every effort to save the ship. He, moody, miserable, and weary with mental conflict and bodily fatigue, is sunk in deep sleep, and has to be roused to consciousness and prayer by the reproaches of the heathen captain.
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.6. the shipmaster] Lit., the chief of the sailors, i. e. the captain. The word here for sailors (which is singular and used collectively) is not the same word as that rendered mariners in Jonah 1:5. It is formed from the Hebrew word for a rope, and means properly those who handle the ropes. Both words occur again (and it is the only other place in the O.T. where either of them is found) in the description of the maritime greatness of Tyre in Ezekiel 27. The word used in this verse is there rendered in Ezekiel 27:8; Ezekiel 27:27; Ezekiel 27:29, pilots, and the mention of their wisdom in Jonah 1:8 has been thought to justify this distinction. It should be observed, however, that the contrast there is between mere rowers (for so, and not mariners, the other word in that verse should be rendered) who were hired from Sidon and Arvad, and skilled sailors, who were the product of Tyre herself. The word rendered mariners in Jonah 1:5 of this chapter and in Ezekiel 27:9; Ezekiel 27:27; Ezekiel 27:29, appears to be a more general word, including all seafaring persons. The Hebrews, not being a maritime nation, make but little use of nautical terms. We have in addition to the words just mentioned the expressions, “shipmen that had knowledge of the sea” (lit., “men of ships, knowing the sea”), 1 Kings 9:27 (comp. 2 Chronicles 8:18); “They that go down to the sea in ships,” Psalm 107:23, or simply, “They that go down to the sea,” Isaiah 42:10.
What meanest thou, O sleeper?] Lit., What (is there) to thee, sleeping? i.e. What reason hast thou for sleeping? The A.V. and R. V. apparently take the participle “sleeping” as a vocative, “O sleeper?” What meanest thou by sleeping! would perhaps be the best translation. It is an exclamation of indignant surprise at the unreasonableness of Jonah’s conduct. The word for sleep here and in Jonah 1:5 means heavy or deep sleep, such as Adam’s (Genesis 2:21), or Sisera’s (Jdg 4:21). LXX. τί σὺ ῥέγχεις;
God] This abstract use of the word (lit., “the God”) immediately after “thy God” in this verse, and the mention in Jonah 1:6 that the mariners “cried every man unto his god,” is remarkable. It would seem to imply, as Calvin argues, that behind and above the many gods whom the heathen invented for themselves, they retained the idea, vague perhaps and indistinct for the most part, but starting into prominence in times of danger and distress such as this, of one supreme God by whose providence the world is governed, and in whose hand are the life and safety of all men.
will think upon us] Some would render, “will brighten, or shine upon us,” i.e. will be propitious or favourable to us; but there seems no reason to depart from the A.V., which the R.V. retains.
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.7. Finding their prayers as unavailing as their efforts, the sailors conclude that the storm is sent upon them by the gods as a judgment for some crime committed by one of their number; and they proceed to cast lots to discover who the culprit is. Instances of a similar belief on the part of the heathen have been adduced from classical authors (see Rosenmüller and Maurer in loc.). A story is told by Cicero (de Nat. Deor. III. 37) of Diagoras, how that when he was on a voyage, and the sailors, terrified by a storm which had befallen them, charged him with being the cause of it, he pointed to other vessels in the same plight with themselves, and asked them whether they thought that they too carried Diagoras. Horace, in a well-known passage, affirms that he would not suffer a man, who had provoked the anger of the gods, to put to sea in the same boat with him, because the innocent in such cases were not unfrequently involved in a common punishment with the guilty (Hor. Od. lib. III. c. 2. 26–30). The truth, which underlay this wide spread conviction, is taught us in its pure form in such histories as those of Achan (Joshua 7.) and Jonathan (1 Samuel 14:36-46).
for whose cause] Lit., on account of (that) which (refers) to whom, i. e. on whose account. The same expression occurs in Jonah 1:12 (“for my sake”), and, though in the Hebrew in an uncontracted form, in Jonah 1:8
the lot fell upon Jonah] An illustration of Proverbs 16:33; comp. Joshua 7:18; 1 Samuel 14:42. It is worthy of note that the use of the lot, though frequently mentioned and sanctioned in the O. T., and employed even after the Ascension in the choice of an Apostle to fill the place of Judas, never occurs in the Bible after the day of Pentecost. It would seem to have been superseded and rendered needless by the gift which conferred “a right judgment in all things.”
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?8. for whose cause] The lot has detected Jonah, but they will not condemn him unheard. They will give him an opportunity of clearing himself, or like Achan (Joshua 7:19), of making confession with his own lips. The judicial fairness and calmness of these heathen men, their abstinence from anger and reproach for the wrong done them, their sense of the sanctity of human life, their fear of punishing the innocent, are very strikingly brought out in the whole of this exciting scene.
“Even in their supreme danger the mariners were anxious not only to avoid all violence, but all haste. While the fury of the waves and the tempest constantly increased, and every instant was precious to those who prized their lives, they patiently instituted an investigation with almost judicial calmness. Though fully trusting to the reality of the decision by lot, they were resolved neither to execute the judgment without the offender’s confession, nor to execute it in an arbitrary manner.” Kalisch, who quotes the words of Philo: “One might see in the scene a terrible tribunal: for the ship was the court of justice, the judges were the sailors, the executioners were the winds, the prisoner at the bar was the prophet, the house of correction and prison of safe keeping was the whale, and the accuser was the angry sea.”
What is thine occupation, &c.] This crowding together of questions in their excitement is very true to nature. It has been compared with the well-known passage in Virgil, Æn. VIII. 112–114.
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.9. The emergency recalls Jonah to his true self. All the better part of his character now comes out. His conduct throughout the remainder of the chapter is dignified and manly, worthy of a servant and prophet of Jehovah.
a Hebrew] This is the name by which the Jews were known to foreigners (comp. the use of it by Juvenal and other classical writers). It is quite in keeping with Biblical usage that Jonah employs it in describing himself to the heathen sailors. Had he been addressing one of his own countrymen, he would have spoken of himself as an Israelite.
I fear the Lord] Rather, I fear Jehovah. They knew already (Jonah 1:10) that he was a worshipper of Jehovah, and that he had offended Him, and was fleeing from His presence. But hitherto they had only looked upon Jehovah as a god, one of many, with whom they had no concern. Comp. Pharaoh’s contemptuous question, “Who is Jehovah, that I should obey his voice, to let Israel go? I know not Jehovah, neither will I let Israel go.” Exodus 5:2. Now, however, when Jonah added that Jehovah was the God of heaven, who had made the sea and the dry land, while the tempest raged still to confirm his words, “The men were exceedingly afraid.”
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.10. Why hast thou done this?] Rather, What is this that thou hast done? A question not of enquiry, but of amazement and reproach. Comp. Genesis 4:10.
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.11. What shall we do unto thee] No doubt in their thus appealing to Jonah to tell them what was to be done, instead of at once ridding themselves of him as the acknowledged cause of their calamity, we may recognise their reverence for Jehovah, and in a measure also for His servant. At the same time it was only natural and reasonable that, having learned of him the cause, they should seek to know from him the cure of their trouble. “Since you are a worshipper of the most High and Almighty God, you ought to know how the anger of your God can be appeased.”—Rosenm.
may be calm unto us] Lit., may be quiet from upon us, i. e. from pressing upon us and being hostile to us. The word used for being quiet or silent in this and the next verse only occurs beside in Psalm 107:30, of quiet after a storm at sea, and in Proverbs 26:20, of the ceasing of strife.
wrought, and was tempestuous] Lit., was going and being tossed, i. e. according to the Hebrew idiom, became increasingly tempestuous. So in Genesis 8:3, “the waters returned from off the earth continually,” is literally, “returned to go and to return,” i.e. returned increasingly, or more and more. Grew more and more tempestuous, R. V.
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.12. cast me forth into the sea] “The question is raised whether Jonah ought of his own accord to have offered himself to death; for his doing so seems to be a sign of despair. He might, indeed, have surrendered himself to their will, but here he, as it were, incites them to the deed. Cast me into the sea, he says, for in no other way will you appease God, than by punishing me. He seems like a man in despair when he thus goes at his own instance to death. But without doubt Jonah recognised that he was divinely summoned to punishment. It is uncertain whether he then conceived a hope of preservation, whether, that is, with a present confidence, he rested on the grace of God; but, however that be, one may gather that he goes forth to death because he perceives and is assuredly persuaded that he is in a manner summoned by the clear voice of God. And so there is no doubt that he patiently undergoes the judgment which the Lord has brought against him.”—Calvin.
Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.13. rowed hard] Lit., digged. The word is used for digging or breaking through a wall, Job 24:16; Ezekiel 12:5; Ezekiel 12:7. The figurative use of it does not occur again in the O.T., where, as has been before observed, the references to maritime affairs are very few, but the figure itself is common in other languages. Rosenm. compares the phrases “infindere sulcos,” “arare aquas,” “scindere freta.” Virg. Æn. v. 142, Ovid, Trist. III. Eleg. XII. 36, Metamorph. XI. 463. They used their-utmost endeavours to bring her to land again, but in vain, for the tempest, so far from abating, only raged more furiously.
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.14. for this man’s life] i. e. for having taken it away. Lit., in the life of this man, according to a well-known use of this Heb. preposition in the sense of ‘in the place of,’ ‘in exchange for.’ So Genesis 29:18, “I will serve thee for (lit. ‘in,’ in exchange for) Rachel;” and Deuteronomy 19:21, “life for (in) life,” &c.
lay not upon us innocent blood] i. e. the guilt of having shed innocent blood. Comp. Deuteronomy 21:8.
for thou, O Lord, &c.] The death of this man is no doing of ours. We are only carrying out Thy declared will. Hold us not, therefore, responsible for it. “That Jonah betook himself to this ship of ours, that the tempest was raised, that Jonah was taken by lot, that he passed this sentence upon himself, all this comes of Thy will.”—Rosenm.
14–16. The openness of these heathens to religious impressions; the readiness with which they acknowledged Jehovah (hitherto to them an unknown God), and addressed no longer to their own gods (Jonah 1:5), but to Him their most earnest and humble prayers; their submission to His will (Jonah 1:14), and the worship which they subsequently paid and promised Him (Jonah 1:15), are all brought out in bold relief, and in strong and (in pursuance of the object of this Book) intended contrast with the conduct of His own people Israel in turning from Him to idols. These heathens, too, reverence and would fain save from death a prophet of Jehovah who has come to them unbidden, and has well-nigh compassed their destruction; Jerusalem “killed the prophets and stoned them that were sent unto her” for her salvation. They shew the utmost tenderness for a single life; Jonah, the prophet of the Lord, is worse than regardless of “more than sixscore thousand” human souls.
So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.15. they took up] With respect and reluctance, with no struggle on his part, or violence on theirs.
her raging] Lit., her anger. “Maris ira,” Ovid. Met. I. 330, “iratum mare,” Hor. Epod. II. 5, 6, are quoted by the commentators.
Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.16. feared the Lord exceedingly] They had feared exceedingly before (Jonah 1:10, where the Heb. expression is the same as here), but their fear then was vague and indefinite, now it recognised as its object Jehovah, the God of Jonah.
offered a sacrifice] It would certainly seem to be implied, that immediately on the ceasing of the storm the sailors offered a sacrifice to Jonah’s God, in acknowledgment of what He had already done, and at the same time vowed that they would present to Him other gifts and offerings when He should have brought them safe to land. We know but little of the ships of the ancients, but some of them were of considerable size, and there is no difficulty in supposing that there may have been one or more live animals suitable for sacrifice on board Jonah’s ship.
Jonah 1:17 to Jonah 2:10. Jonah’s Prayer and Deliverance
Cast into the sea at his own request by the sailors, Jonah is swallowed alive by a large fish, and remains uninjured inside it for three days and three nights, Jonah 1:17. While there, he offers a prayer of thanksgiving to Almighty God (Jonah 2:1-9), at whose command the fish, at the end of the three days and three nights, vomits up Jonah on the dry land, Jonah 2:10.
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.17. had prepared] Rather: assigned, or appointed. (LXX. προσέταξε.) The same word and tense are used of the gourd, the worm, and the East wind, ch. Jonah 4:6-8. They do not necessarily imply any previous or special preparation, much less the creation of these various agents for the purpose to which they were put; but merely that they were appointed to it by Him, whom “all things serve.” He sent the fish there to do His bidding. The word is rendered “appointed” in Job 7:3, Daniel 1:5; Daniel 1:10; and “set” in Daniel 1:11.
“By God’s immediate direction it was so arranged that the very moment when Jonah was thrown into the waves, the ‘great fish’ was on the spot to receive him; God charged the animal to perform this function, as He afterwards ‘spoke to’ it (Jonah 1:10), or commanded it, to vomit out the prophet on the dry land.”—Kalisch.
a great fish] Probably a shark. See note A.
NOTE A. THE GREAT FISH
There is no reason to suppose that the fish which swallowed Jonah was not naturally capable of swallowing him whole. The old objection, that it is said to have been a whale, and that the gullet of a whale is not large enough to allow of the passage of a man, rests, as is now generally known, upon a mistake. Jonah’s fish is not really said to have been a whale. Even if it were, it might be urged that one kind of whale, “the sperm whale (Catodon macrocephalus) has a gullet sufficiently large to admit the body of a man” (Smith’s Bible Dict., Art. Whale), and that if whales are not now found in the Mediterranean, they may have been “frightened out of it” by the multiplication of ships, and may have been common there in Jonah’s time, when “navigation was in its infancy, ships were few and small, and they kept mostly along the shores, leaving the interior undisturbed.” (Thomson, The Land and the Book, pp. 68, 69.) But in fact the common idea of Jonah being swallowed by a whale has no real warrant in holy Scripture at all. Our Lord, indeed, is made to say in our English Bibles that Jonah was “in the whale’s belly” (Matthew 12:40); but the word (κῆτος) used by Him to denote Jonah’s fish is taken from the Greek translation of the Book of Jonah, with which He and His hearers were familiar, and cannot be restricted to a whale, or to any of the so-called Cetaceans. It means “any sea-monster, or huge fish,” and is used of a “seal, or sea-calf, and later especially of whales, sharks, and large tunnies.” (Liddell and Scott, Lex. s. v.). The Bible then does not say that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. The O. T. simply speaks of “a great fish,” and the N.T. employs a strictly equivalent term. Here we might be content to leave the question. We are not bound to show what the fish was. It is, however, interesting to enquire whether any particular fish can with probability be fixed upon, and the rather because the choice of an agent ready to hand and naturally fitted for the work accords with that “economy” of the miraculous which is characteristic of holy Scripture. Now it has been satisfactorily proved that the common or white shark (Carcharias vulgaris) is found in the Mediterranean, and well-authenticated instances have been given of its having swallowed men and other large animals entire. “A natural historian of repute relates, ‘In 1758, in stormy weather, a sailor fell overboard from a frigate in the Mediterranean. A shark was close by, which, as he was swimming and crying for help, took him in his wide throat, so that he forthwith disappeared. Other sailors had leaped into the sloop, to help their comrade, while yet swimming; the captain had a gun which stood on the deck discharged at the fish, which struck it so, that it cast out the sailor which it had in its throat, who was taken up, alive and little injured, by the sloop which had now come up. The fish was harpooned, taken up on the frigate and dried. The captain made a present of the fish to the sailor who, by God’s Providence, had been so wonderfully preserved. The sailor went round Europe exhibiting it. He came to Franconia, and it was publicly exhibited here in Erlangen, as also at Nurnberg and other places. The dried fish was delineated. It was 20 feet long, and, with expanded fins, nine feet wide, and weighed 3924 pounds. From all this, it is probable that this was the fish of Jonah.’ ” (See Dr Pusey’s Commentary on Jonah, Introd., pp. 257, 258; Smith’s Bible Dict., Art. Whale, where other instances are given.) There is another fish, of which the Norwegian name is Rorqual, i.e. whale with folds, which from its peculiar internal construction is thought likely by some commentators to have been the receptacle of Jonah. “The distinguishing feature of the whole genus is the possession of ‘a number of longitudinal folds, nearly parallel, which commence under the lower lip, occupying the space between the two branches of the jaw, pass down the throat, covering the whole extent of the chest from one fin to the other, and terminate far down the abdomen;’ in the Mediterranean species ‘reaching to the vent.’ ” It has accordingly been suggested that “it may have been in the folds of a Rorqual’s mouth, which in the case of an individual 75 feet long (such as was actually stranded at St Cyprien, Eastern Pyrenees, in 1828) would be a cavity of between 15 and 20 feet in length, that the prophet was imbedded.” (Speaker’s Commentary in loc., and Encycl. Brit. quoted there.) It would seem, however, that this Rorqual’s throat is not large enough to swallow a man, so that on the whole it is most likely that Jonah’s fish was a shark.
three days and three nights] At this point the transaction becomes clearly miraculous. The swallowing of Jonah by the fish may have been in the course of the ordinary working of divine Providence. His preservation within it for so long a time plainly belongs to that other working of Almighty God which, though it be no less after the counsel of that Will (Ephesians 1:11) which is the highest and only Law, appears to us to be extraordinary, and which we therefore call miraculous.
A comparison of 1 Corinthians 15:4 with Matthew 12:40 shows that the period of Jonah’s incarceration in the fish was divinely ordered to be a type of our Lord’s being “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” This is the only passage in the O. T., if we except Hosea 6:2, in which there is any prophetical intimation of the length of time between our Lord’s burial and resurrection.