Click to donate today!
Now the word of the Lord - , literally, “And, ...” This is the way in which the several inspired writers of the Old Testament mark that what it was given them to write was united onto those sacred books which God had given to others to write, and it formed with them one continuous whole. The word, “And,” implies this. It would do so in any language, and it does so in Hebrew as much as in any other. As neither we, nor any other people, would, without any meaning, use the word, And, so neither did the Hebrews. It joins the four first books of Moses together; it carries on the history through Joshua, Judges, the Books of Samuel and of the Kings. After the captivity, Ezra and Nehemiah begin again where the histories before left off; the break of the captivity is bridged over; and Ezra, going back in mind to the history of God’s people before the captivity, resumes the history, as if it had been of yesterday, “And in the first year of Cyrus.” It joins in the story of the Book of Ruth before the captivity, and that of Esther afterward. At times, even prophets employ it, in using the narrative form of themselves, as Ezekiel, “and it was in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, and I was in the captivity by the river of Chebar, the heavens opened and I saw.” If a prophet or historian wishes to detach his prophecy or his history, he does so; as Ezra probably began the Book of Chronicles anew from Adam, or as Daniel makes his prophecy a whole by itself. But then it is the more obvious that a Hebrew prophet or historian, when he does begin with the word, “And,” has an object in so beginning; he uses an universal word of all languages in its uniform meaning in all language, to join things together.
And yet more precisely; this form, “and the word of the Lord came to - saying,” occurs over and over again, stringing together the pearls of great price of God’s revelations, and uniting this new revelation to all those which had preceded it. The word, “And,” then joins on histories with histories, revelations with revelations, uniting in one the histories of God’s works and words, and blending the books of Holy Scripture into one divine book.
But the form of words must have suggested to the Jews another thought, which is part of our thankfulness and of our being Acts 11:18, “then to the Gentiles also hath God given repentance unto life.” The words are the self-same familiar words with which some fresh revelation of God’s will to His people had so often been announced. Now they are prefixed to God’s message to the pagan, and so as to join on that message to all the other messages to Israel. Would then God deal thenceforth with the pagan as with the Jews? Would they have their prophets? Would they be included in the one family of God? The mission of Jonah in itself was an earnest that they would, for God. Who does nothing fitfully or capriciously, in that He had begun, gave an earnest that He would carry on what He had begun. And so thereafter, the great prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, were prophets to the nations also; Daniel was a prophet among them, to them as well as to their captives.
But the mission of Jonah might, so far, have been something exceptional. The enrolling his book, as an integral part of the Scriptures, joining on that prophecy to the other prophecies to Israel, was an earnest that they were to be parts of one system. But then it would be significant also, that the records of God’s prophecies to the Jews, all embodied the accounts of their impenitence. Here is inserted among them an account of God’s revelation to the pagan, and their repentance. “So many prophets had been sent, so many miracles performed, so often had captivity been foreannounced to them for the multitude of their sins. and they never repented. Not for the reign of one king did they cease from the worship of the calves; not one of the kings of the ten tribes departed from the sins of Jeroboam? Elijah, sent in the Word and Spirit of the Lord, had done many miracles, yet obtained no abandonment of the calves. His miracles effected this only, that the people knew that Baal was no god, and cried out, “the Lord He is the God.” Elisha his disciple followed him, who asked for a double portion of the Spirit of Elijah, that he might work more miracles, to bring back the people.
He died, and, after his death as before it, the worship of the calves continued in Israel. The Lord marveled and was weary of Israel, knowing that if He sent to the pagan they would bear, as he saith to Ezekiel. To make trial of this, Jonah was chosen, of whom it is recorded in the Book of Kings that he prophesied the restoration of the border of Israel. When then he begins by saying, “And the word of the Lord came to Jonah,” prefixing the word “And,” he refers us back to those former things, in this meaning. The children have not hearkened to what the Lord commanded, sending to them by His servants the prophets, but have hardened their necks and given themselves up to do evil before the Lord and provoke Him to anger; “and” therefore “the word of the Lord came to Jonah, saying, Arise and go to Nineveh that great city, and preach unto her,” that so Israel may be shewn, in comparison with the pagan, to be the more guilty, when the Ninevites should repent, the children of Israel persevered in unrepentance.”
Jonah the son of Amittai - Both names occur here only in the Old Testament, Jonah signifies “Dove,” Amittai, “the truth of God.” Some of the names of the Hebrew prophets so suit in with their times, that they must either have been given them propheticly, or assumed by themselves, as a sort of watchword, analogous to the prophetic names, given to the sons of Hosea and Isaiah. Such were the names of Elijah and Elisha, “The Lord is my God,” “my God is salvation.” Such too seems to be that of Jonah. The “dove” is everywhere the symbol of “mourning love.” The side of his character which Jonah records is that of his defect, his want of trust in God, and so his unloving zeal against those, who were to be the instruments of God against his people. His name perhaps preserves that character by which he willed to be known among his people, one who moaned or mourned over them.
Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city - The Assyrian history, as far as it has yet been discovered, is very bare of events in regard to this period. We have as yet the names of three kings only for 150 years. But Assyria, as far as we know its history, was in its meridian. Just before the time of Jonah, perhaps ending in it, were the victorious reigns of Shalmanubar and Shamasiva; after him was that of Ivalush or Pul, the first aggressor upon Israel. It is clear that this was a time Of Assyrian greatness: since God calls it “that great city,” not in relation to its extent only, but its power. A large weak city would not have been called a “great city unto God” Jonah 3:3.
And cry against it - The substance of that cry is recorded afterward, but God told to Jonah now, what message he was to cry aloud to it. For Jonah relates afterward, how he expostulated now with God, and that his expostulation was founded on this, that God was so merciful that He would not fulfill the judgment which He threatened. Faith was strong in Jonah, while, like Apostles “the sons of thunder,” before the Day of Pentecost, he knew not” what spirit he was of.” Zeal for the people and, as he doubtless thought, for the glory of God, narrowed love in him. He did not, like Moses, pray Exodus 32:32, “or else blot me also out of Thy book,” or like Paul, desire even to be “an anathema from Christ” Romans 9:3 for his people’s sake, so that there might be more to love his Lord. His zeal was directed, like that of the rebuked Apostles, against others, and so it too was rebuked. But his faith was strong. He shrank back from the office, as believing, not as doubting, the might of God. He thought nothing of preaching, amid that multitude of wild warriors, the stern message of God. He was willing, alone, to confront the violence of a city of 600,000, whose characteristic was violence. He was ready, at God’s bidding, to enter what Nahum speaks of as a den of lions Nahum 2:11-12; “The dwelling of the lions and the feeding-place of the young lions, where the lion did tear in pieces enough for his whelps, and strangled for his lionesses.” He feared not the fierceness of their lion-nature, but God’s tenderness, and lest that tenderness should be the destruction of his own people.
Their wickedness is come up before Me - So God said to Cain, Genesis 4:10. “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground:” and of Sodom Genesis 18:20 :21, “The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, because their sin is very grievous; the cry of it is come up unto Me.” The “wickedness” is not the mere mass of human sin, of which it is said 1 John 5:19, “the whole world lieth in wickedness,” but evil-doing toward others. This was the cause of the final sentence on Nineveh, with which Nahum closes his prophecy, “upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually?” It bad been assigned as the ground of the judgment on Israel through Nineveh Hosea 10:14-15. “So shall Bethel do unto you, on account of the wickedness of your wickedness.” It was the ground of the destruction by the flood Genesis 6:5. “God saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth.” God represents Himself, the Great Judge, as sitting on His Throne in heaven, Unseen but All-seeing, to whom the wickedness and oppressiveness of man against man “goes up,” appealing for His sentence against the oppressor. The cause seems ofttimes long in pleading. God is long-suffering with the oppressor too, that if so be, he may repent. So would a greater good come to the oppressed also, if the wolf became a lamb. But meanwhile, “ every iniquity has its own voice at the hidden judgment seat of God.” Mercy itself calls for vengeance on the unmerciful.
But (And) Jonah rose up to flee ... from the presence of the Lord - literally “from being before the Lord.” Jonah knew well, that man could not escape from the presence of God, whom he knew as the Self-existing One, He who alone is, the Maker of heaven, earth and sea. He did not “flee” then “from His presence,” knowing well what David said Psalms 139:7, Psalms 139:9-10, “whither shall I go from Thy Spirit, or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy hand lead me and Thy right hand shall hold me.” Jonah fled, not from God’s presence, but from standing before him, as His servant and minister. He refused God’s service, because, as he himself tells God afterward Jonah 4:2, he knew what it would end in, and he misliked it.
So he acted, as people often do, who dislike God’s commands. He set about removing himself as far as possible from being under the influence of God, and from the place where he “could” fulfill them. God commanded him to go to Nineveh, which lay northeast from his home; and he instantly set himself to flee to the then furthermost west. Holy Scripture sets the rebellion before us in its full nakedness. “The word of the Lord came unto Jonah, go to Nineveh, and Jonah rose up;” he did something instantly, as the consequence of God’s command. He “rose up,” not as other prophets, to obey, but to disobey; and that, not slowly nor irresolutely, but “to flee, from” standing “before the Lord.” He renounced his office. So when our Lord came in the flesh, those who found what He said to be “hard sayings,” went away from Him, “and walked no more with Him” John 6:66. So the rich “young man went away sorrowful Matthew 19:22, for he had great possessions.”
They were perhaps afraid of trusting themselves in His presence; or they were ashamed of staying there, and not doing what He said. So men, when God secretly calls them to prayer, go and immerse themselves in business; when, in solitude, He says to their souls something which they do not like, they escape His Voice in a throng. If He calls them to make sacrifices for His poor, they order themselves a new dress or some fresh sumptuousness or self-indulgence; if to celibacy, they engage themselves to marry immediately; or, contrariwise, if He calls them not to do a thing, they do it at once, to make an end of their struggle and their obedience; to put obedience out of their power; to enter themselves on a course of disobedience. Jonah, then, in this part of his history, is the image of those who, when God calls them, disobey His call, and how He deals with them, when he does not abandon them. He lets them have their way for a time, encompasses them with difficulties, so that they shall “flee back from God displeased to God appeased.”
“The whole wisdom, the whole bliss, the whole of man lies in this, to learn what God wills him to do, in what state of life, calling, duties, profession, employment, He wills him to serve Him.” God sent each one of us into the world, to fulfill his own definite duties, and, through His grace, to attain to our own perfection in and through fulfilling them. He did not create us at random, to pass through the world, doing whatever self-will or our own pleasure leads us to, but to fulfill His will. This will of His, if we obey His earlier calls, and seek Him by prayer, in obedience, self-subdual, humility, thoughtfulness, He makes known to each by His own secret drawings, and, in absence of these, at times by His Providence or human means. And then , “to follow Him is a token of predestination.” It is to place ourselves in that order of things, that pathway to our eternal mansion, for which God created us, and which God created for us.
So Jesus says John 10:27-28, “My sheep hear My voice and I know them, and they follow Me, and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My Hand.” In these ways, God has foreordained for us all the graces which we need; in these, we shall be free from all temptations which might be too hard for us, in which our own special weakness would be most exposed. Those ways, which people choose out of mere natural taste or fancy, are mostly those which expose them to the greatest peril of sin and damnation. For they choose them, just because such pursuits flatter most their own inclinations, and give scope to their natural strength and their moral weakness. So Jonah, disliking a duty, which God gave him to fulfill, separated himself from His service, forfeited his past calling, lost, as far as in him lay, his place among “the goodly fellowship of the prophets,” and, but for God’s overtaking grace, would have ended his days among the disobedient. As in Holy Scripture, David stands alone of saints, who had been after their calling, bloodstained; as the penitent robber stands alone converted in death; as Peter stands singly, recalled after denying his Lord; so Jonah stands, the one prophet, who, having obeyed and then rebelled, was constrained by the overpowering providence and love of God, to return and serve Him.
“Being a prophet, Jonah could not be ignorant of the mind of God, that, according to His great Wisdom and His unsearchable judgments and His untraceable and incomprehensible ways, He, through the threat, was providing for the Ninevites that they should not suffer the things threatened. To think that Jonah hoped to hide himself in the sea and elude by flight the great Eye of God, were altogether absurd and ignorant, which should not be believed, I say not of a prophet, but of no other sensible person who had any moderate knowledge of God and His supreme power. Jonah knew all this better than anyone, that, planning his flight, he changed his place, but did not flee God. For this could no man do, either by hiding himself in the bosom of the earth or depths of the sea or ascending (if possible) with wings into the air, or entering the lowest hell, or encircled with thick clouds, or taking any other counsel to secure his flight.
This, above all things and alone, can neither be escaped nor resisted, God. When He willeth to hold and grasp in His Hand, He overtaketh the swift, baffleth the intelligent, overthroweth the strong, boweth the lofty, tameth rashness, subdueth might. He who threatened to others the mighty Hand of God, was not himself ignorant of nor thought to flee, God. Let us not believe this. But since he saw the fall of Israel and perceived that the prophetic grace would pass over to the Gentiles, he withdrew himself from the office of preaching, and put off the command.” “The prophet knoweth, the Holy Spirit teaching him, that the repentance of the Gentiles is the ruin of the Jews. A lover then of his country, he does not so much envy the deliverance of Nineveh, as will that his own country should not perish. - Seeing too that his fellow-prophets are sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, to excite the people to repentance, and that Balaam the soothsayer too prophesied of the salvation of Israel, he grieveth that he alone is chosen to be sent to the Assyrians, the enemies of Israel, and to that greatest city of the enemies where was idolatry and ignorance of God. Yet more he feared lest they, on occasion of his preaching, being converted to repentance, Israel should be wholly forsaken. For he knew by the same Spirit whereby the preaching to the Gentiles was entrusted to him, that the house of Israel would then perish; and he feared that what was at one time to be, should take place in his own time.” “The flight of the prophet may also be referred to that of man in general who, despising the commands of God, departed from Him and gave himself to the world, where subsequently, through the storms of ill and the wreck of the whole world raging against him, he was compelled to feel the presence of God, and to return to Him whom he had fled. Whence we understand, that those things also which men think for their good, when against the will of God, are turned to destruction; and help not only does not benefit those to whom it is given, but those too who give it, are alike crushed. As we read that Egypt was conquered by the Assyrians, because it helped Israel against the will of God. The ship is emperiled which had received the emperiled; a tempest arises in a calm; nothing is secure, when God is against us.”
Tarshish - , named after one of the sons of Javan, Genesis 10:4. was an ancient merchant city of Spain, once proverbial for its wealth (Psalms 72:10. Strabo iii. 2. 14), which supplied Judaea with silver Jeremiah 10:9, Tyre with “all manner of riches,” with iron also, tin, lead. Ezekiel 27:12, Ezekiel 27:25. It was known to the Greeks and Romans, as (with a harder pronunciation) Tartessus; but in our first century, it had either ceased to be, or was known under some other name. Ships destined for a voyage, at that time, so long, and built for carrying merchandise, were naturally among the largest then constructed. “Ships of Tarshish” corresponded to the “East-Indiamen” which some of us remember. The breaking of “ships of Tarshish by the East Wind” Psalms 48:7 is, on account of their size and general safety, instanced as a special token of the interposition of God.
And went down to Joppa - Joppa, now Jaffa (Haifa), was the one well-known port of Israel on the Mediterranean. There the cedars were brought from Lebanon for both the first and second temple 2 Chronicles 3:16; Ezra 2:7. Simon the Maccabee (1 Macc. 14:5) “took it again for a haven, and made an entrance to the isles of the sea.” It was subsequently destroyed by the Romans, as a pirate-haven. (Josephus, B. J. iii. 9. 3, and Strabo xvi. 2. 28.) At a later time, all describe it as an unsafe haven. Perhaps the shore changed, since the rings, to which Andromeda was tabled to have been fastened, and which probably were once used to moor vessels, were high above the sea. Perhaps, like the Channel Islands, the navigation was safe to those who knew the coast, unsafe to others. To this port Jonah “went down” from his native country, the mountain district of Zabulon. Perhaps it was not at this time in the hands of Israel. At least, the sailors were pagan. He “went down,” as the man who fell among the thieves, is said to “have gone down from Jerusalem to Jericho.” Luke 10:30. He “went down” from the place which God honored by His presence and protection.
And he paid the fare thereof - Jonah describes circumstantially, how he took every step to his end. He went down, found a strongly built ship going where he wished, paid his fare, embarked. He seemed now to have done all. He had severed himself from the country where his office lay. He had no further step to take. Winds and waves would do the rest. He had but to be still. He went, only to be brought back again.
“Sin brings our soul into much senselessness. For as those overtaken by heaviness of head and drunkenness, are borne on simply and at random, and, be there pit or precipice or whatever else below them, they fall into it unawares; so too, they who fall into sin, intoxicated by their desire of the object, know not what they do, see nothing before them, present or future. Tell me, Fleest thou the Lord? Wait then a little, and thou shalt learn from the event, that thou canst not escape the hands of His servant, the sea. For as soon as he embarked, it too roused its waves and raised them up on high; and as a faithful servant, finding her fellow-slave stealing some of his master’s property, ceases not from giving endless trouble to those who take him in, until she recover him, so too the sea, finding and recognizing her fellow-servant, harasses the sailors unceasingly, raging, roaring, not dragging them to a tribunal but threatening to sink the vessel with all its unless they restore to her, her fellow-servant.”
“The sinner “arises,” because, will he, nill he, toil he must. If he shrinks from the way of God, because it is hard, he may not yet be idle. There is the way of ambition, of covetousness, of pleasure, to be trodden, which certainly are far harder. ‘We wearied ourselves (Wisdom 5:7),’ say the wicked, ‘in the way of wickedness and destruction, yea, we have gone through deserts where there lay no way; but the way of the Lord we have not known.’ Jonah would not arise, to go to Nineveh at God’s command; yet he must needs arise, to flee to Tarshish from before the presence of God. What good can he have who fleeth the Good? what light, who willingly forsaketh the Light? “He goes down to Joppa.” Wherever thou turnest, if thou depart from the will of God, thou goest down. Whatever glory, riches, power, honors, thou gainest, thou risest not a whit; the more thou advancest, while turned from God, the deeper and deeper thou goest down. Yet all these things are not had, without paying the price. At a price and with toil, he obtains what he desires; he receives nothing gratis, but, at great price purchases to himself storms, griefs, peril. There arises a great tempest in the sea, when various contradictory passions arise in the heart of the sinner, which take from him all tranquility and joy. There is a tempest in the sea, when God sends strong and dangerous disease, whereby the frame is in peril of being broken. There is a tempest in the sea, when, thro’ rivals or competitors for the same pleasures, or the injured, or the civil magistrate, his guilt is discovered, he is laden with infamy and odium, punished, withheld from his wonted pleasures. Psalms 107:23-27. “They who go down to the sea of this world, and do business in mighty waters - their soul melteth away because of trouble; they reel to and fro and stagger like a drunken man, and all their wisdom is swallowed up.”
But (And) the Lord sent out - (literally ‘cast along’). Jonah had done his all. Now God’s part began. This He expresses by the word, “And.” Jonah took “his” measures, “and” now God takes “His.” He had let him have his way, as He often deals with those who rebel against Him. He lets them have their way up to a certain point. He waits, in the tranquility of His Almightiness, until they have completed their preparations; and then, when man has ended, He begins, that man may see the more that it is His doing . “He takes those who flee from Him in their flight, the wise in their counsels, sinners in their conceits and sins, and draws them back to Himself and compels them to return. Jonah thought to find rest in the sea, and lo! a tempest.” Probably, God summoned back Jonah, as soon as he had completed all on his part, and sent the tempest, soon after he left the shore.
At least, such tempests often swept along that shore, and were known by their own special name, like the Euroclydon off Crete. Jonah too alone had gone down below deck to sleep, and, when the storm came, the mariners thought it possible to put back. Josephus says of that shore, “Joppa having by nature no haven, for it ends in a rough shore, mostly abrupt, but for a short space having projections, i. e., deep rocks and cliffs advancing into the sea, inclining on either side toward each other (where the traces of the chains of Andromeda yet shown accredit the antiquity of the fable,) and the north wind beating right on the shore, and dashing the high waves against the rocks which receive them, makes the station there a harborless sea. As those from Joppa were tossing here, a strong wind (called by those who sail here, the black north wind) falls upon them at daybreak, dashing straightway some of the ships against each other, some against the rocks, and some, forcing their way against the waves to the open sea, (for they fear the rocky shore ...) the breakers towering above them, sank.”
The ship was like - (literally ‘thought’) To be broken Perhaps Jonah means by this very vivid image to exhibit the more his own dullness. He ascribes, as it were, to the ship a sense of its own danger, as she heaved and rolled and creaked and quivered under the weight of the storm which lay on her, and her masts groaned, and her yard-arms shivered. To the awakened conscience everything seems to have been alive to God’s displeasure, except itself.
And cried, every man unto his God - They did what they could. “Not knowing the truth, they yet know of a Providence, and, amid religious error, know that there is an Object of reverence.” In ignorance they had received one who offended God. And now God, “whom they ignorantly worshiped” Acts 17:23, while they cried to the gods, who, they thought, disposed of them, heard them. They escaped with the loss of their wares, but God saved their lives and revealed Himself to them. God hears ignorant prayer, when ignorance is not willful and sin.
To lighten it of them - , literally “to lighten from against them, to lighten” what was so much “against them,” what so oppressed them. “They thought that the ship was weighed down by its wonted lading, and they knew not that the whole weight was that of the fugitive prophet.” “The sailors cast forth their wares,” but the ship was not lightened. For the whole weight still remained, the body of the prophet, that heavy burden, not from the nature of the body, but from the burden of sin. For nothing is so onerous and heavy as sin and disobedience. Whence also Zechariah Zechariah 5:7 represented it under the image of lead. And David, describing its nature, said Psalms 38:4, “my wickednesses are gone over my head; as a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.” And Christ cried aloud to those who lived in many sins, Matthew 11:28. “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will refresh you.”
Jonah was gone down - , probably before the beginning of the storm, not simply before the lightening of the vessel. He could hardly have fallen asleep “then.” A pagan ship was a strange place for a prophet of God, not as a prophet, but as a fugitive; and so, probably, ashamed of what he had completed, he had withdrawn from sight and notice. He did not embolden himself in his sin, but shrank into himself. The conscience most commonly awakes, when the sin is done. It stands aghast as itself; but Satan, if he can, cuts off its retreat. Jonah had no retreat now, unless God had made one.
And was fast asleep - The journey to Joppa had been long and hurried; he had “fled.” Sorrow and remorse completed what fatigue began. Perhaps he had given himself up to sleep, to dull his conscience. For it is said, “he lay down and was fast asleep.” Grief produces sleep; from where it is said of the apostles in the night before the Lord’s Passion, when Jesus “rose up from prayer and was come to His disciples, He found them sleeping for sorrow” Luke 22:45 . “Jonah slept heavily. Deep was the sleep, but it was not of pleasure but of grief; not of heartlessness, but of heavy-heartedness. For well-disposed servants soon feel their sins, as did he. For when the sin has been done, then he knows its frightfulness. For such is sin. When born, it awakens pangs in the soul which bare it, contrary to the law of our nature. For so soon as we are born, we end the travail-pangs; but sin, so soon as born, rends with pangs the thoughts which conceived it.” Jonah was in a deep sleep, a sleep by which he was fast held and bound; a sleep as deep as that from which Sisera never woke. Had God allowed the ship to sink, the memory of Jonah would have been that of the fugitive prophet. As it is, his deep sleep stands as an image of the lethargy of sin . “This most deep sleep of Jonah signifies a man torpid and slumbering in error, to whom it sufficed not to flee from the face of God, but his mind, drowned in a stupor and not knowing the displeasure of God, lies asleep, steeped in security.”
What meanest thou? - or rather, “what aileth thee?” (literally “what is to thee?”) The shipmaster speaks of it (as it was) as a sort of disease, that he should be thus asleep in the common peril. “The shipmaster,” charged, as he by office was, with the common weal of those on board, would, in the common peril, have one common prayer. It was the prophet’s office to call the pagan to prayers and to calling upon God. God reproved the Scribes and Pharisees by the mouth of the children who “cried Hosanna” Matthew 21:15; Jonah by the shipmaster; David by Abigail; 1 Samuel 25:32-34; Naaman by his servants. Now too he reproves worldly priests by the devotion of laymen, sceptic intellect by the simplicity of faith.
If so be that God will think upon us - , (literally “for us”) i. e., for good; as David says, Psalms 40:17. “I am poor and needy, the Lord thinketh upon” (literally “for”) “me.” Their calling upon their own gods had failed them. Perhaps the shipmaster had seen something special about Jonah, his manner, or his prophet’s garb. He does not only call Jonah’s God, “thy” God, as Darius says to Daniel “thy God” Daniel 6:20, but also “the God,” acknowledging the God whom Jonah worshiped, to be “the God.” It is not any pagan prayer which he asks Jonah to offer. It is the prayer of the creature in its need to God who can help; but knowing its own ill-desert, and the separation between itself and God, it knows not whether He will help it. So David says Psalms 25:7, “Remember not the sins of my youth nor my transgressions; according to Thy mercy remember Thou me for Thy goodness’ sake, O Lord.”
“The shipmaster knew from experience, that it was no common storm, that the surges were an infliction borne down from God, and above human skill, and that there was no good in the master’s skill. For the state of things needed another Master who ordereth the heavens, and craved the guidance from on high. So then they too left oars, sails, cables, gave their hands rest from rowing, and stretched them to heaven and called on God.”
Come, and let us cast lots - Jonah too had probably prayed, and his prayers too were not heard. Probably, too, the storm had some unusual character about it, the suddenness with which it burst upon them, its violence, the quarter from where it came, its whirlwind force . “They knew the nature of the sea, and, as experienced sailors, were acquainted with the character of wind and storm, and had these waves been such as they had known before, they would never have sought by lot for the author of the threatened wreck, or, by a thing uncertain, sought to escape certain peril.” God, who sent the storm to arrest Jonah and to cause him to be cast into the sea, provided that its character should set the mariners on divining, why it came. Even when working great miracles, God brings about, through man, all the forerunning events, all but the last act, in which He puts forth His might. As, in His people, he directed the lot to fall upon Achan or upon Jonathan, so here He overruled the lots of the pagan sailors to accomplish His end. “ We must not, on this precedent, immediately trust in lots, or unite with this testimony that from the Acts of the Apostles, when Matthias was by lot elected to the apostolate, since the privileges of individuals cannot form a common law.” “Lots,” according to the ends for which they were cast, were for:
i) The lot for dividing is not wrong if not used,
1) “without any necessity, for this would be to tempt God:”
2) “if in case of necessity, not without reverence of God, as if Holy Scripture were used for an earthly end,” as in determining any secular matter by opening the Bible:
3) for objects which ought to be decided otherwise, (as, an office ought to be given to the fittest:)
4) in dependence upon any other than God Proverbs 16:33. “The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing of it is the Lord’s.” So then they are lawful “in secular things which cannot otherwise be conveniently distributed,” or when there is no apparent reason why, in any advantage or disadvantage, one should be preferred to another.” Augustine even allows that, in a time of plague or persecution, the lot might be cast to decide who should remain to administer the sacraments to the people, lest, on the one side, all should be taken away, or, on the other, the Church be deserted.
ii.) The lot for consulting, i. e., to decide what one should do, is wrong, unless in a matter of mere indifference, or under inspiration of God, or in some extreme necessity where all human means fail.
iii.) The lot for divining, i. e., to learn truth, whether of things present or future, of which we can have no human knowledge, is wrong, except by direct inspiration of God. For it is either to tempt God who has not promised so to reveal things, or, against God, to seek superhuman knowledge by ways unsanctioned by Him. Satan may readily mix himself unknown in such inquiries, as in mesmerism. Forbidden ground is his own province.
God overruled the lot in the case of Jonah, as He did the sign which the Philistines sought . “He made the heifers take the way to Bethshemesh, that the Philistines might know that the plague came to them, not by chance, but from Hilmself” . “The fugitive (Jonah) was taken by lot, not by any virtue of the lots, especially the lots of pagan, but by the will of Him who guided the uncertain lots” “The lot betrayed the culprit. Yet not even thus did they cast him over; but, even while such a tumult and storm lay on them, they held, as it were, a court in the vessel, as though in entire peace, and allowed him a hearing and defense, and sifted everything accurately, as men who were to give account of their judgment. Hear them sifting all as in a court - The roaring sea accused him; the lot convicted and witnessed against him, yet not even thus did they pronounce against him - until the accused should be the accuser of his own sin. The sailors, uneducated, untaught, imitated the good order of courts. When the sea scarcely allowed them to breathe, whence such forethought about the prophet? By the disposal of God. For God by all this instructed the prophet to be humane and mild, all but saying aloud to him; ‘Imitate these uninstructed sailors. They think not lightly of one soul, nor are unsparing as to one body, thine own. But thou, for thy part, gavest up a whole city with so many myriads. They, discovering thee to be the cause of the evils which befell them, did not even thus hurry to condemn thee. Thou, having nothing whereof to accuse the Ninevites, didst sink and destroy them. Thou, when I bade thee go and by thy preaching call them to repentance, obeyedst not; these, untaught, do all, compass all, in order to recover thee, already condemned, from punishment.’“
Tell us, for whose cause - Literally “for what to whom.” It may be that they thought that Jonah had been guilty toward some other. The lot had pointed him out. The mariners, still fearing to do wrong, ask him thronged questions, to know why the anger of God followed him; “what” hast thou done “to whom?” “what thine occupation?” i. e., either his ordinary occupation, whether it was displeasing to God? or this particular business in which he was engaged, and for which he had come on board. Questions so thronged have been admired in human poetry, Jerome says. For it is true to nature. They think that some one of them will draw forth the answer which they wish. It may be that they thought that his country, or people, or parents, were under the displeasure of God. But perhaps, more naturally, they wished to “know all about him,” as people say. These questions must have gone home to Jonah’s conscience. “What is thy business?” The office of prophet which he had left. “Whence comest thou?” From standing before God, as His minister. “What thy country? of what people art thou?” The people of God, whom he had quitted for pagan; not to win them to God, as He commanded; but, not knowing what they did, to abet him in his flight.
What is thine occupation? - They should ask themselves, who have Jonah’s office to speak in the name of God, and preach repentance . “What should be thy business, who hast consecrated thyself wholly to God, whom God has loaded with daily benefits? who approachest to Him as to a Friend? “What is thy business?” To live for God, to despise the things of earth, to behold the things of heaven,” to lead others heavenward.
Jonah answers simply the central point to which all these questions tended:
I am an Hebrew - This was the name by which Israel was known to foreigners. It is used in the Old Testament, only when they are spoken of by foreigners, or speak of themselves to foreigners, or when the sacred writers mention them in contrast with foreigners . So Joseph spoke of his land Genesis 40:15, and the Hebrew midwives Exodus 1:19, and Moses’ sister Exodus 2:7, and God in His commission to Moses Exodus 3:18; Exodus 7:16; Exodus 9:1 as to Pharaoh, and Moses in fulfilling it Exodus 5:3. They had the name, as having passed the River Euphrates, “emigrants.” The title might serve to remind themselves, that they were “strangers” and “pilgrims,” Hebrews 11:13. whose fathers had left their home at God’s command and for God , “passers by, through this world to death, and through death to immortality.”
And I fear the Lord - , i. e., I am a worshiper of Him, most commonly, one who habitually stands in awe of Him, and so one who stands in awe of sin too. For none really fear God, none fear Him as sons, who do not fear Him in act. To be afraid of God is not to fear Him. To be afraid of God keeps men away from God; to fear God draws them to Him. Here, however, Jonah probably meant to tell them, that the Object of his fear and worship was the One Self-existing God, He who alone is, who made all things, in whose hands are all things. He had told them before, that he had fled “from being before Yahweh.” They had not thought anything of this, for they thought of Yahweh, only as the God of the Jews. Now he adds, that He, Whose service he had thus forsaken, was “the God of heaven, Who made the sea and dry land,” that sea, whose raging terrified them and threatened their lives. The title, “the God of heaven,” asserts the doctrine of the creation of the heavens by God, and His supremacy.
Hence, Abraham uses it to his servant Genesis 24:7, and Jonah to the pagan mariners, and Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar Daniel 2:37, Daniel 2:44; and Cyrus in acknowledging God in his proclamation 2 Chronicles 36:23; Ezra 1:2. After his example, it is used in the decrees of Darius Ezra 6:9-10 and Artaxerxes Ezra 7:12, Ezra 7:21, Ezra 7:23, and the returned exiles use it in giving account of their building the temple to the Governor Ezra 5:11-12. Perhaps, from the habit of contact with the pagan, it is used once by Daniel Daniel 2:18 and by Nehemiah Nehemiah 1:4-5; Nehemiah 2:4, Nehemiah 2:20. Melchizedek, not perhaps being acquainted with the special name, Yahweh, blessed Abraham in the name of “God, the Possessor” or “Creator of heaven and earth” Genesis 14:19, i. e., of all that is. Jonah, by using it, at once taught the sailors that there is One Lord of all, and why this evil had fallen on them, because they had himself with them, the renegade servant of God. “When Jonah said this, he indeed feared God and repented of his sin. If he lost filial fear by fleeing and disobeying, he recovered it by repentance.”
Then were the men exceedingly afraid - Before, they had feared the tempest and the loss of their lives. Now they feared God. They feared, not the creature but the Creator. They knew that what they had feared was the doing of His Almightiness. They felt how awesome a thing it was to be in His Hands. Such fear is the beginning of conversion, when people turn from dwelling on the distresses which surround them, to God who sent them.
Why hast thou done this? - They are words of amazement and wonder. Why hast thou not obeyed so great a God, and how thoughtest thou to escape the hand of the Creator ? “What is the mystery of thy flight? Why did one, who feared God and had revelations from God, flee, sooner than go to fulfill them? Why did the worshiper of the One true God depart from his God?” “A servant flee from his Lord, a son from his father, man from his God!” The inconsistency of believers is the marvel of the young Christian, the repulsion of those without, the hardening of the unbeliever. If people really believed in eternity, how could they be thus immersed in things of time? If they believed in hell, how could they so hurry there? If they believed that God died for them, how could they so requite Him? Faith without love, knowledge without obedience, conscious dependence and rebellion, to be favored by God yet to despise His favor, are the strangest marvels of this mysterious world.
All nature seems to cry out to and against the unfaithful Christian, “why hast thou done this?” And what a why it is! A scoffer has recently said so truthfully : “Avowed scepticism cannot do a tenth part of the injury to practical faith, that the constant spectacle of the huge mass of worldly unreal belief does.” It is nothing strange, that the world or unsanctified intellect should reject the Gospel. It is a thing of course, unless it be converted. But, to know, to believe, and to DISOBEY! To disobey God, in the name of God. To propose to halve the living Gospel, as the woman who had killed her child 1 Kings 3:26, and to think that the poor quivering remnants would be the living Gospel anymore! As though the will of God might, like those lower forms of His animal creation, be divided endlessly, and, keep what fragments we will, it would still be a living whole, a vessel of His Spirit! Such unrealities and inconsistencies would be a sore trial of faith, had not Jesus, who (cf. John 2:25), “knew what is in man,” forewarned us that it should be so. The scandals against the Gospel, so contrary to all human opinion, are only all the more a testimony to the divine knowledge of the Redeemer.
What shall we do unto thee? - They knew him to be a prophet; they ask him the mind of his God. The lots had marked out Jonah as the cause of the storm; Jonah had himself admitted it, and that the storm was for “his” cause, and came from “his” God . “Great was he who fled, greater He who required him. They dare not give him up; they cannot conceal him. They blame the fault; they confess their fear; they ask “him” the remedy, who was the author of the sin. If it was faulty to receive thee, what can we do, that God should not be angered? It is thine to direct; ours, to obey.”
The sea wrought and was tempestuous - , literally “was going and whirling.” It was not only increasingly tempestuous, but, like a thing alive and obeying its Master’s will, it was holding on its course, its wild waves tossing themselves, and marching on like battalions, marshalled, arrayed for the end for which they were sent, pursuing and demanding the runaway slave of God . “It was going, as it was bidden; it was going to avenge its Lord; it was going, pursuing the fugitive prophet. It was swelling every moment, and, as though the sailors were too tardy, was rising in yet greater surges, shewing that the vengeance of the Creator admitted not of delay.”
Take me up, and cast me into the sea - Neither might Jonah have said this, nor might the sailors have obeyed it, without the command of God. Jonah might will alone to perish, who had alone offended; but, without the command of God, the Giver of life, neither Jonah nor the sailors might dispose of the life of Jonah. But God willed that Jonah should be cast into the sea - where he had gone for refuge - that (Wisdom 11:16) wherewithal he had “sinned, by the same also he might be punished” as a man; and, as a prophet, that he might, in his three days’ burial, prefigure Him who, after His Resurrection, should convert, not Nineveh, but the world, the cry of whose wickedness went up to God.
For I know that for my sake - o “In that he says, “I know,” he marks that he had a revelation; in that he says, “this great storm,” he marks the need which lay on those who cast him into the sea.”
The men rowed hard - , literally “dug.” The word, like our “plowed the main,” describes the great efforts which they made. Amid the violence of the storm, they had furled their sails. These were worse than useless. The wind was off shore, since by rowing alpine they hoped to get back to it. They put their oars well and firmly in the sea, and turned up the water, as men turn up earth by digging. But in vain! God willed it not. The sea went on its way, as before. In the description of the deluge, it is repeated Genesis 7:17-18, “the waters increased and bare up the ark, and it was lifted up above the earth; the waters increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark went upon the face of the waters.” The waters raged and swelled, drowned the whole world, yet only bore up the ark, as a steed bears its rider: man was still, the waters obeyed. In this tempest, on the contrary, man strove, but, instead of the peace of the ark, the burden is, the violence of the tempest; “the sea wrought and was tempestuous against them” . “The prophet had pronounced sentence against himself, but they would not lay hands upon him, striving hard to get back to land, and escape the risk of bloodshed, willing to lose life rather than cause its loss. O what a change was there. The people who had served God, said, Crucify Him, Crucify Him! These are bidden to put to death; the sea rageth; the tempest commandeth; and they are careless its to their own safety, while anxious about another’s.”
Wherefore (And) they cried unto the Lord - “They cried” no more “each man to his god,” but to the one God, whom Jonah had made known to them; and to Him they cried with an earnest submissive, cry, repeating the words of beseeching, as men, do in great earnestness; “we beseech Thee, O Lord, let us not, we beseech Thee, perish for the life of this man” (i. e., as a penalty for taking it, as it is said, 2 Samuel 14:7. “we will slay him for the life of his brother,” and, Deuteronomy 19:21. “life for life.”) They seem to have known what is said, Genesis 9:5-6. “your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made He man” , “Do not these words of the sailors seem to us to be the confession of Pilate, who washed his hands, and said, ‘I am clean from the blood of this Man?’ The Gentiles would not that Christ should perish; they protest that His Blood is innocent.”
And lay not upon us innocent blood - innocent as to them, although, as to this thing, guilty before God, and yet, as to God also, more innocent, they would think, than they. For, strange as this was, one disobedience, their whole life, they now knew, was disobedience to God; His life was but one act in a life of obedience. If God so punishes one sin of the holy 1 Peter 4:18, “where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?” Terrible to the awakened conscience are God’s chastenings on some (as it seems) single offence of those whom He loves.
For Thou, Lord, (Who knowest the hearts of all men,) hast done, as it pleased Thee - Wonderful, concise, confession of faith in these new converts! Psalmists said it, Psalms 135:6; Psalms 115:3. “Whatsoever God willeth, that doeth He in heaven and in earth, in the sea and in all deep places.” But these had but just known God, and they resolve the whole mystery of man’s agency and God’s Providence into the three simple words , as (Thou) “willedst” (Thou) “didst.” “That we took him aboard, that the storm ariseth, that the winds rage, that the billows lift themselves, that the fugitive is betrayed by the lot, that he points out what is to be done, it is of Thy will, O Lord” . “The tempest itself speaketh, that ‘Thou, Lord, hast done as Thou willedst.’ Thy will is fulfilled by our hands.” “Observe the counsel of God, that, of his own will, not by violence or by necessity, should he be cast into the sea. For the casting of Jonah into the sea signified the entrance of Christ into the bitterness of the Passion, which He took upon Himself of His own will, not of necessity. Isaiah 53:7. “He was offered up, and He willingly submitted Himself.” And as those who sailed with Jonah were delivered, so the faithful in the Passion of Christ. John 18:8-9. “If ye seek Me, let these go their way, that the saying might be fulfilled which” Jesus spake, ‘Of them which Thou gavest Me, I have lost none. ‘“
They took up Jonah - o “He does not say, ‘laid hold on him’, nor ‘came upon him’ but ‘lifted’ him; as it were, bearing him with respect and honor, they cast him into the sea, not resisting, but yielding himself to their will.”
The sea ceased (literally “stood”) from his raging - Ordinarily, the waves still swell, when the wind has ceased. The sea, when it had received Jonah, was hushed at once, to show that God alone raised and quelled it. It “stood” still, like a servant, when it had accomplished its mission. God, who at all times saith to it Job 38:11, “Hitherto shalt thou come and no further, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed,” now unseen, as afterward in the flesh Matthew 8:26, “rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm” . “If we consider the errors of the world before the Passion of Christ, and the conflicting blasts of diverse doctrines, and the vessel, and the whole race of man, i. e., the creature of the Lord, imperiled, and, after His Passion, the tranquility of faith and the peace of the world and the security of all things and the conversion to God, we shall see how, after Jonah was cast in, the sea stood from its raging” . “Jonah, in the sea, a fugitive, shipwrecked, dead, sayeth the tempest-tossed vessel; he sayeth the pagan, aforetime tossed to and fro by the error of the world into divers opinions. And Hosea, Amos, Isaiah, Joel, who prophesied at the same time, could not amend the people in Judaea; whence it appeared that the breakers could not be calmed, save by the death of (Him typified by) the fugitive.”
And the men feared the Lord with a great fear - because, from the tranquility of the sea and the ceasing of the tempest, they saw that the prophet’s words were true. This great miracle completed the conversion of the mariners. God had removed all human cause of fear; and yet, in the same words as before, he says, “they feared a great fear;” but he adds, “the Lord.” It was the great fear, with which even the disciples of Jesus feared, when they saw the miracles which He did, which made even Peter say, Luke 5:8. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Events full of wonder had thronged upon them; things beyond nature, and contrary to nature; tidings which betokened His presence, Who had all things in His hands. They had seen “wind and storm fulfilling His word” Psalms 148:8, and, forerunners of the fishermen of Galilee, knowing full well from their own experience that this was above nature, they felt a great awe of God. So He commanded His people, “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God Deuteronomy 6:13, for thy good always” Deuteronomy 6:24.
And offered a sacrifice - Doubtless, as it was a large decked vessel and bound on a long voyage, they had live creatures on board, which they could offer in sacrifice. But this was not enough for their thankfulness; “they vowed vows.” They promised that they would do thereafter what they could not do then ; “that they would never depart from Him whom they had begun to worship.” This was true love, not to be content with aught which they could do, but to stretch forward in thought to an abiding and enlarged obedience, as God should enable them. And so they were doubtless enrolled among the people of God, firstfruits from among the pagan, won to God Who overrules all things, through the disobedience and repentance of His prophet. Perhaps, they were the first preachers among the pagan, and their account of their own wonderful deliverance prepared the way for Jonah’s mission to Nineveh.
Now the Lord had (literally “And the Lord”) prepared - Jonah (as appears from his thanksgiving) was not swallowed at once, but sank to the bottom of the sea, God preserving him in life there by miracle, as he did in the fish’s belly. Then, when the seaweed was twined around his head, and he seemed to be already buried until the sea should give up her dead, “God prepared the fish to swallow Jonah” . “God could as easily have kept Jonah alive in the sea as in the fish’s belly, but, in order to prefigure the burial of the Lord, He willed him to be within the fish whose belly was as a grave.” Jonah, does not say what fish it was; and our Lord too used a name, signifying only one of the very largest fish. Yet it was no greater miracle to create a fish which should swallow Jonah, than to preserve him alive when swallowed . “The infant is buried, as it were, in the womb of its mother; it cannot breathe, and yet, thus too, it liveth and is preserved, wonderfully nurtured by the will of God.” He who preserves the embryo in its living grave can maintain the life of man as easily without the outward air as with it.
The same Divine Will preserves in being the whole creation, or creates it. The same will of God keeps us in life by breathing this outward air, which preserved Jonah without it. How long will men think of God, as if He were man, of the Creator as if He were a creature, as though creation were but one intricate piece of machinery, which is to go on, ringing its regular changes until it shall be worn out, and God were shut up, as a sort of mainspring within it, who might be allowed to be a primal Force, to set it in motion, but must not be allowed to vary what He has once made? “We must admit of the agency of God,” say these men when they would not in name be atheists, “once in the beginning of things, but must allow of His interference as sparingly as may be.” Most wise arrangement of the creature, if it were indeed the god of its God! Most considerate provision for the non-interference of its Maker, if it could but secure that He would not interfere with it for ever! Acute physical philosophy, which, by its omnipotent word, would undo the acts of God! Heartless, senseless, sightless world, which exists in God, is upheld by God, whose every breath is an effluence of God’s love, and which yet sees Him not, thanks Him not, thinks it a greater thing to hold its own frail existence from some imagined law, than to be the object of the tender personal care of the Infinite God who is Love! Poor hoodwinked souls, which would extinguish for themselves the Light of the world, in order that it may not eclipse the rushlight of their own theory!
And Jonah was in the belly of the fish - The time that Jonah was in the fish’s belly was a hidden prophecy. Jonah does not explain nor point it. He tells the fact, as Scripture is accustomed to do so. Then he singles out one, the turning point in it. Doubtless in those three days and nights of darkness, Jonah (like him who after his conversion became Paul), meditated much, repented much, sorrowed much, for the love of God, that he had ever offended God, purposed future obedience, adored God with wondering awe for His judgment and mercy. It was a narrow home, in which Jonah, by miracle, was not consumed; by miracle, breathed; by miracle, retained his senses in that fetid place. Jonah doubtless, repented, marveled, adored, loved God. But, of all, God has singled out this one point, how, out of such a place, Jonah thanked God. As He delivered Paul and Silas from the prison, when they prayed with a loud voice to Him, so when Jonah, by inspiration of His Spirit, thanked Him, He delivered him.
To thank God, only in order to obtain fresh gifts from Him, would be but a refined, hypocritical form of selfishness. Such a formal act would not be thanks at all. We thank God, because we love Him, because He is so infinitely good, and so good to us, unworthy. Thanklessness shuts the door to His personal mercies to us, because it makes them the occasion of fresh sins of our’s. Thankfulness sets God’s essential goodness free (so to speak) to be good to us. He can do what He delights in doing, be good to us, without our making His Goodness a source of harm to us. Thanking Him through His grace, we become fit vessels for larger graces . “Blessed he who, at every gift of grace, returns to Him in whom is all fullness of graces; to whom when we show ourselves not ungrateful for gifts received, we make room in ourselves for grace, and become meet for receiving yet more.” But Jonah’s was that special character of thankfulness, which thanks God in the midst of calamities from which there was no human exit; and God set His seal on this sort of thankfulness, by annexing this deliverance, which has consecrated Jonah as an image of our Lord, to his wonderful act of thanksgiving.
These files are public domain.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Jonah 1". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19