Jonah 1:1
God looketh on the heart. And none but God can. It is an obscure and tortuous place - "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" Its chaos and darkness, transparent to the Divine Spirit, are impenetrable to any creature's eye. Even the new heart is not all new. Persistent among the grace germs are bacteria of sin, inseparable and morbific. In Jonah this baneful combination is obvious. He neither loved God supremely nor his neighbour as himself. If he had, the action here recorded could never have been done, nor the feelings which prompted it have found a home in his heart. To fly from God's service because it involved the helping of men is a course consistent it may be with grace, but only with grace alloyed, inchoate, and overlaid with the mind of flesh.

I. IN GOD'S ARMY IT IS EITHER DESERTION OR DUTY. "Jonah rose up, to flee from the presence of the Lord." There was a Divine presence from which Jonah was not so ignorant as to attempt escape. He shows familiarity with the Book of Psalms (Jonah 2:2-9), and doubtless knew with the psalmist (Psalm 139:7-10) that there was no place outside God's omnipresence. But there was a special presence of God in the land of Israel. He was present in gracious hearts, and in the ordinances and offices of the Church. This special and gracious presence Jonah, like Jacob (Genesis 28:16), seems to have considered peculiar to the Holy Land. He had a notion probably that the institutions arising out of it were purely local also, and that flight to heathen Spain would break the spiritual connection and void his prophetic office. His flight was "not from God's presence, but from standing before him as his minister... he renounced his office" (Pusey). And the act was logical in one aspect, however criminal. Enlistment in God's service means something. It is not playing at campaigning. It is not a kind el spiritual antumn manoeuvres, which merely give spice to a periodical outing. It incurs responsibility and involves obedience.

"I slept, and dreamed that life was beauty.
I woke, and found that life was duty." That all must find who are spiritually awake. There is work for all, and his task for each. And it has got to be done. In the Divine code stand the regulations of the service, and they are not to be trifled with. Idleness is out of the question; insubordination is not to be named. Jonah felt this. "He rose up to flee." He could not point blank refuse, and stand his ground. Do something he must, when the word went forth. He will not preach, and so he has got to fly. It is so always. A man cannot remain at his post and strike work. The eye of the Master would look him through, and his presence compel obedience. The mutineer is in the same hour a deserter. He can maintain the one character only by adopting the other. Our spiritual duties arise out of our spiritual relations, and are at the same time their necessary expression. The alternative with us is "both or neither." Refuse God's work, and you put yourself out of his service.

II. BIGOTRY IS AN INEVITABLE WEAKENER OF THE MORAL SENSE. Some think Jonah refused to summon the Ninevites to repentance for fear they might take him at his word. Their reformation just now would not have suited his views. As heathen he disliked them, and as wicked he could use them as a foil for wicked Israel. Nineveh penitent, on the other hand, after one Divine warning, would have contrasted strongly with Israel impenitent after centuries of prophetic appeal, and he dreaded the repentance which would have been the occasion of such a damaging comparison. But this is clearly an exaggeration of Jonah's reeling in the matter. No prophet of God, no servant of God, could connive at sin against God in order to the destruction of men. To do so would be incompatible altogether with the religious character. Still, Jonah would have been more or less than a Jew if he had not been a bigot. He would not wantonly have compassed Nineveh's ruin. But being a bigot, and an egoist as well, he was so indifferent to the fate of the heathen city as to be ready to sacrifice it rather than risk the lowering of his own prophetic reputation, in all this we see the tokens of a weakened moral sense. Bigotry is an unequalled hardener of the heart. It is narrow, cold, sour, and carping. It denies or belittles all good outside its own ecclesiastical circle. Whilst blind to extern religious excellence, it is indifferent to extern religious attainment. It takes covert pleasure in the sins and weaknesses of rival Churches; it would regard their failure and collapse with mean complacency; and it would almost as lief see men remaining in sin as reformed by effort not its own. The tendency to look every man and Church on our own things is a natural one, and grows. And it necessarily involves the other tendency, its universe, to look away from the things of others. This is the very antipodes of the "mind of Christ." That believes in the dignity of man as man. It sets a unique value on human life. It regards the question of a human destiny as one of stupendous interest. It makes the securing of it a personal concern. It never asks, "Am I my brother's keeper?" for the fact is with it an axiomatic truth. Loving its neighbour as itself, its moral attitude inspires its active one - "do good to all." It regards life as wasted if not lived for men, and the time as lost in which it does not "save some."

III. INGLORIOUS DUTY IS MOST IN DANGER OF BEING LEFT UNDONE. Jonah had an idea how his mission would end. As a prophet, he knew that Nineveh would repent, and on repentance be spared, his prophecy to the contrary notwithstanding (Jonah 4:2). And the prospect was humbling to his self-love. The affair could bring him little credit. He was simply to deliver an empty threat, a threat the utterance of which would serve God's purpose, and so prevent the necessity of carrying it out. How was he to get up a prophetic reputation by performing such a task? Warnings heeded and predictions fulfilled are the chief credentials of a prophet. The first is both in itself and in its practical results, by far the more important. But the second is more of a personal interest to the prophet as involving his credibility more directly. Hence in proportion as he is "yet carnal" and self-seeking it will bulk more largely in his regard. A Paul could say, "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord," and mean it thoroughly. But the perfect self-sinking of the apostolic rule was an unscaled height to the egotistic prophet. He wanted a name and official distinction more than the exhibition of God's mercy and the reformation of wicked men. Accordingly, he refused to assume an equivocal position, although he knew, and because he knew, it would lead to these prime results. And servants his counterparts are still found in God's work. The men who "do good by stealth, and blush to find it fame" no doubt exist. But the blushes traceable to this source are a small proportion of the blushes current. He has reached a high spiritual level who no lives to God that personal considerations are as nothing in his work. Position and visibility, to say nothing of considerations more sordid still, are elements in the situation, hard to keep subordinate, harder still to ignore, when the Christian worker is making choice of fields. A place in the most distant mission field may single out a worker from the crowd, and the missionary pioneer finds temptations to pose before the Church as strong as beset the brightest metropolitan star. The large giver, moreover, or the great organizer, has as many temptations to self-seeking as either. It is so through all departments of activity and in all the walks of life. The work that brings fortune and fame will have thousands competing for a chance to do it. The only duty in practical danger of being shirked is the duty to be followed into obscure places, and done with only the eye of God to note our faithfulness.

IV. RETREAT FROM GOD IS RESOLUTE, AND AIMS AT ENTIRE ISOLATION. Josiah started at a run. He evidently meant to get away, and threw all his energy into the effort. He went, too, in a direction exactly the opposite of the one in which he had been sent. God had said, "Go northeast," and he went southwest. He set out. moreover, for the remotest place he knew of, Spain being the "far West" of those early times. He went about it also in the most business-like way, going to Joppa, the great seaport, and booking a berth on one of the. great ships of Tarshish, to break which was the magnum opus of the east wind (Psalm 48:7). All which things are no doubt an allegory. The sinner's drawing near to God is done at a snail's pace. Loving this sinful world, he hangs back long before he starts. Answering feebly as yet to the drawing of grace, and breaking cord after cord in the tearing of himself away, the motion toward God at first is show and painful, like that of a weak oarsman against a rapid stream. But like a stone down hill, and drawn by mighty gravitation, the motion away from God is by leaps and bounds (Romans 7:19, 22, 23). You have seen at the docks the seamen straining at the windlass, as, after minutes of strenuous effort, they have pulleyed a bale of merchandise high in air. And you have seen, when they let go the winch, how swiftly the handle flies and, as the rope unrolls, the bale comes rushing down. And such is retrogression in contrast to progress in the religious sphere. So much more quickly do men fall than rise, that a few days' backsliding is enough to neutralize the growth of years. Then so opposite to God is the sinful heart that its departure from him is absolute turning back. Swerving would be bad, aberration would be worse, but regression is worst of all; and such is religious backsliding. It is spiritual tergiversation. The renegade turns his back on right, and takes a way the very opposite. He obeys Satan and follows sin, the antipodes respectively of God and good. If God's way be light, his is darkness; if upwards, his is downwards infallibly Then there is no spiritual half-way house. God in his mercy may arrest him on the way, but the renegade starts for Tarshish, the spiritual remotest point. A stone detached from the house top has no stopping place short of the ground. Turn your back on God and heaven, and Satan and hell are, humanly speaking, your destination. Moreover, defection from God is not an aimless drifting, but intelligent and of purpose. It is a course wittingly taken and studiously kept. The deteriorated moral nature presses head and hand into its service, to survey and construct the road by which it would reach the shrine of its chosen idol. At the Joppa of occasion, advisedly sought, is chartered the ship of ways and means, to bring us to the Tarshish of accomplished sin, the goal of our godless hearts.

V. A MAN WILL ALWAYS FIND CIRCUMSTANCES FAVOURABLE TO THE COURSE HE HAS RESOLVED TO TAKE. Jonah found a ship about to sail to his destination, got accommodation on board, and had the means to provide a berth. Things seem as if arranged on purpose to facilitate his flight. Had it been otherwise, we sometimes think the prophet's "Hegirah" might have been stopped earlier, and a good deal of suffering saved. But that would be a shallow philosophy of human action. Physical surroundings cannot thus shape our moral course. Intelligence makes its own use of them all. Purpose is formed; action is decided on; and then the circumstances are examined to see what mode of action they can most easily be made to help. The ship, the berth, and the passage money to Tarshish were available to many besides Jonah, yet he only prostituted them to the purpose of shirking duty. They lent themselves to his project, because the project had, in the first place, been adjusted to them. So if a thief finds an open window, and no policeman in sight, the circumstances are said to favour a burglary. If a would be murderer finds the same state of things, then we say the circumstances favour assassination. But if a man who would neither kill nor steal finds them so, they favour no project of his, and so are either put right or passed unheeded. Circumstances favour neither good nor evil particularly, but each man makes use of those that fit his own purpose, and passes the others by. We hear often of wicked men who are the victims of circumstance. And there are some such, no doubt. But the cases are fewer and logically weaker than you might think. Here are two country youths apprenticed in town among a godless set. One turns out a profligate, and friends pity him and say, "He got into bad hands: what bettor could we expect in such a place?" But the other, with the Same surroundings exactly, turns out, as often happens, an honest tradesman and a godly man. And if you examine you will find that he has honest men for his friends, and Christian people for his associates, and enjoys beneficial influences in every relation of life. In other words, ha is in a new set of circumstances altogether, favourable to the religious life, and which his own conduct has drawn around him. The circumstances have not made the men, but the men have practically made the circumstances. And so we reason out the truth which God reveals, "To the pure all things are pure," etc. (Titus 1:15). We are greater than our environment. "Each man creates his own world The soul spreads its own hue over everything; the shroud or wedding garment of nature is woven in the loom of our own feelings. This universe is the image and counterpart of the souls that dwell in it. Be noble minded, and all nature replies - I am divine, the child of God; be thou too his child and noble. Be mean, and all nature dwindles into a contemptible smallness" (Robertson). "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." To you and me the world will be a new world when we are new creatures in Christ. It is not what it was, but a transfigured thing, when we view it "the eyes of our understandings being enlightened," and make all its elements tributary to a new life in Christ. - J.E.H.







Now the Word of the Lord came unto Jonah.
The commission may be viewed —

I. IN ITS SOURCE. It is —

1. Supreme, as the Word of the Lord.

2. Peremptory; it is absolute, imperative, final.

3. Honourable. As associating the commissioned with the commissioner.Investing him with royal rights, privileges, honours.

II. IN ITS RECIPIENT. Jonah.

1. In his filial relationship: the son.

2. In his official capacity: prophet. Learn —(1) That in the economy of moral purposes God makes use of creature agency.(2) That appointments in this economy are specific and sovereign.(3) That the rewards of faithfulness in Christian service will be promotion here, and coronation hereafter.

III. IN ITS PURPORT. "Arise, go to Nineveh." It is —

1. A summons to activity. Shake off dull sloth. Rouse thee from careless ease.(1) The physical plays an important part in the execu tion of Divine purposes.(2) The will too must give its sanction, or all the activ ities will be held in restful subjection. Where there is no will-power a man is a mere tool in the hands of others.

2. A call to arduous duty. Note —(1) Its sphere. "Nineveh, that great city." In God's great busy world there is a definite sphere for everyone.(2) Its spirit. "Cry against it." Energy was to rise to its highest point. To cry requires energy of soul; a vivid realisation of sin, and moral courage.

(J. O. Keen, D. D.)

We are apt to think that this coming of the Word of the Lord to men in ancient times was so special a circumstance that it has no application to ourselves. How rarely it occurs to us that he who spoke to the prophets in times past is now speaking unto us as directly and vividly, by the ministry of the Holy Ghost. How are we to understand that the Word of the Lord has come to us? Have we a strong conviction of duty? That is the Word of the Lord. We should ask, not "what is expedient?" but "what is right?" If a thing is right, then it is a revelation from God; it is a testimony of the Holy Ghost in my heart; and at all risks it must be done. No man knows what he is, and what he can do, until he knows the severity of the behests of God. Our call, like Jonah's, is to go wherever wickedness is, and cry against it. Every child of God is to be a protesting prophet. Every earnest man is to have no difficulty in finding the word of condemnation when he comes into the presence of sin. In Jonah we have a man falling below the great occasions of life. Every man has some great chance put into his hands. How possible it is to be doing instead some little peddling work, to be mistaking fuss for energy, and an idle industry for that holy consecration which absorbs every power. It is said that Jonah "paid his fare." How particular some of us are about these little pedantries of morality! Many of us are making up by pedantries what we are wanting in the principles of our life. We have good points without having a good soul; we have beautiful characteristics without having a solid and undoubted character. Jonah has paid his fare, but he has forsaken God. Can a man like that do anything right? It is said that the mariners " cast forth their wares." The bad man never suffers alone. This bad man causes a loss of property. He paid his fare, but it was taken out again in the loss of the wares. Wickedness is the cause of social loss What a crying out for gods there is in the time of trouble! Note the instinctiveness of the religious element that is in man. We are all religious. What was wrong was found out at last, in the case of Jonah, and they cast him into the sea, which then ceased from its raging. Nothing is ever settled until it is settled right.

(Joseph Parker, D. D.)

was a man of the northern kingdom, — an Israelite prophet, who had been foretelling the highest prosperity to which the Ten Tribes ever attained, and the widest extension which, under Jeroboam II., their territory ever received. Nineveh was a Gentile, that is to say, a heathen city; the very city, moreover, from which were to come those judgments and the destruction which prophets like Jonah's contemporary, Amos, were about this time beginning to announce as certain to fall upon Israel at no very distant date. Jonah, the Israelite, then, was sent to a heathen city, and — whether he knew it or not — to that particular enemy of his country from which there was most to fear. To an Israelite patriot, with even the smallest intimation of this, how natural to say, "To Nineveh?" No, let Nineveh go on and sin, and perish; the sooner the safer for my country. To warn Nineveh, and so to turn away its doom — what is that but to keep alive the fire which is to consume our Samaria and our national life? In any case, whether Jonah felt any patriotic difficulty or not, the religious difficulty was great enough. To go to heathen people with God's message, one of mercy as he saw clearly, quite as much as of judgment — that alone was repugnant to all his instincts. "No; rather let me no longer be one of the prophets who stand in the presence of Jehovah, ready for any errand, awaiting His commands. Rather let me lay down my office, and go out from before His face. Let me die first!" That is the heart of a good man, but of a narrow one. It is not the heart of the God even of the Old Testament. It is sometimes made matter of reproach to the New Testament, and to Christianity, as it is there expounded, that it makes little or no account of patriot ism. There is some truth in the criticism; but why? Patriotism has often been a noble thing; but it is really a narrow thing, narrower, at any rate, than the heart and view of God. The patriot sees and loves his fellow-countrymen; God only sees man! He loves Israel, even to idolatrous Israel of the Ten Tribes. But God loves the world. God so loved the world that He would have one of the earliest, if not the earliest, of the prophetic writers to go and offer His mercy to a heathen city, the enemy of His people.

(H. J. Foster.)

One of the most remarkable facts about the Book of Jonah is, that while he himself is so prominent in it, yet there is not a word from beginning to end of comment upon his character and conduct. No word is said of his state of mind, his sense of sin, his repentance, his return to the attitude of submission and prompt obedience to the Divine command. The facts are set before us in the barest, most naked simplicity, without one single sentence of reflection. The only probable and consistent view of the work is, that Jonah wrote it himself. He therefore said as little about himself as possible. He told the facts with all their weight of meaning against his own character, just as they were, without a line of exculpation or condemnation.

1. The first point at which the narrative may be said to touch the personal character of the prophet is the flight to Joppa. Here is a man, conscious of special inspiration and authority, doing direct violence to the Word of the Most High! We must begin our study with this conviction — Jonah meant nothing throughout like determined rebellion against God. From the first he seems to have understood the mission to have been one of mercy, and not of destruction. The man had laid hold of the thought of Divine goodness and compassion. Jonah's sin was not apostasy from God. He simply shrunk from the mission. The struggle in Jonah's mind must have been the result either of personal feeling or of mistaken ideas. It may have been personal feeling that lay at the root of his conduct. There was personal danger. He did not care to preach to heathen. But his feelings were founded on false ideas about God, and about the people of God, and their vocation. Another view may be taken of Jonah's mind. He anticipated the result of his mission, and did not like it. His prediction would be falsified in the result. And a mission to the stronghold of heathenism seemed quite a new departure in the religious history of Israel. It seemed to Jonah a change in the Divine action, so stupendous that he could not drive out of his mind doubts as to the authority of the message.

2. Look at another point, — the sleep into which the prophet fell instantly that he went down into the ship is quite consistent with a state of perplexity and fear. He was so wearied with the mental strain and struggle, so burdened with the weight of a reproachful conscience, that he gladly hid himself from the faces of his fellow-men, and sought the darkness and solitude of his sleeping place, where nature asserted its demands, and he was soon wrapt in unconsciousness. When he was awakened he had no crime to confess, such as heathen men would understand, and condemn by the light of moral law. Jonah's character was defective rather than corrupt. Like the Apostle Peter, he needed a great deal of teaching, but the root of his piety was sound and deep. He put himself at once into the hands of the chastising Jehovah.

(R. A. Redford, M. A.)

1. In his solemn discovery and apprehension. Sin hath entered among us, and the Creator is angry. Some victim is awanting to pacify His just indignation; but where is the sacrifice to be found? At length a merciful Heaven interposes, and the sacrifice is revealed.

2. In the generous self-devotement of the prophet. Applied to the doctrine of substitution, everything is plain, everything is instructive.

3. In his descent to the place of the dead. Two circumstances in the descent of Jonah.

(1)His descent to the grave. "Out of the belly of hell."

(2)In the midst of all this suffering the prophet was yet alive.

4. In the doctrine of Messiah's resurrection.

5. In the mission of Jonah to the Gentiles. His was just the commission of Jesus. To the lost sheep of the house of Israel He first turned His eyes; then He sent His disciples to the four winds of heaven, saying, "Preach the Gospel to every creature."

(James Simpson.)

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