Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, July 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
StudyLight.org has pledged to help build churches in Uganda. Help us with that pledge and support pastors in the heart of Africa.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries
Jonah 1

Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral EpistlesFairbairn's Commentaries

Verse 1


IT is always of importance for a correct understanding of the prophetical scriptures, to know something of the time when they were indited, and of the persons to whom they were originally addressed. In the case of Jonah it is not difficult to ascertain this, as a passage in the Second Book of Kings marks with sufficient distinctness the period of his agency in the affairs of Israel. Speaking of the second Jeroboam, the great-grandson of Jehu, and the last of his seed that for any length of time occupied the throne of Israel, the inspired historian says, “He restored the coast of Israel, from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain, according to the word of the Lord God of Israel, which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet which was of Gath-hepher (a town in the tribe of Zebulon); for the Lord saw the affliction of Israel, that it was very bitter; for there was not any shut up, nor any left, nor any helper for Israel; and the Lord said not, that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, but he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam, the son of Joash.” (2 Kings 14:25-27)

This passage puts it beyond a doubt, that Jonah was in the exercise of his prophetical office, certainly not later than the commencement of the reign of Jeroboam II; for, the prediction he is recorded to have uttered respecting the recovery of a part of the Israelitish territory from the yoke of Syria was fulfilled by the hand of Jeroboam. And as this monarch, in fulfilling it, had to wage a difficult and arduous warfare with Syria, in the course of which he got possession of Damascus, the capital of the kingdom, and raised Israel anew to much of its former splendour and importance, we may certainly conclude, that he was at the time in the vigour of his days, and that the conquests achieved by his hand were made much nearer the beginning than the close of his reign. But the prophecy which foretold the result of these conquests must have been earlier still. Nay, it was manifestly uttered at a time when the affairs of Israel were in the most shattered and depressed condition; when, as it is said, “there was none shut up or left,” that is, confined or left at large; when there was neither bond nor free, the inhabitants of all conditions being utterly wasted, and there seemed to be none that could act the part of “a helper for Israel.” But the kingdom of Israel was never in such a state at any period during the reign of Jeroboam, nor even when he ascended the throne. It had been so, indeed, in the days of his father Joash, who had found the kingdom reduced to the most abject subjection to the king of Syria; but he had gradually restored it, by a succession of victories, to comparative strength, and commenced the prosperous career which was only continued and carried out by Jeroboam. So that the utterance of Jonah’s prediction concerning the recovery of Hamath and Damascus, seems rather to belong to the earlier part of the reign of Joash than to any period of Jeroboam’s reign; and, though the fulfilment of it is ascribed only to Jeroboam, because it was he who recovered the more distant portion of the territory of which it spake, yet the prophecy itself appears to have equally included the preceding victories and nearer conquests of Joash.

We thus arrive at the result that Jonah was the earliest, in point of time, of all the prophets whose labours and predictions have been recorded in separate books. Hosea and Amos are both reported to have prophesied in the days of Jeroboam; but, from the other marks of time given in their writings, they could not have begun to prophesy till near the close of his reign. (Thus Amos expressly states, that he began to see his vision concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah and Jeroboam, two years before the earthquake. Now, this earthquake, we learn from Zechariah 14:5, happened in the reign of Uzziah, king of Judah, who did not begin to reign till about fourteen years before the death of Jeroboam. But Jeroboam reigned altogether forty-one years, so that at whatever precise period in Uzziah’s time the earthquake may have happened, the two years before it, mentioned by Amos as the commencement of his prophetical agency, necessarily carries us into the latter half of Jeroboam’s reign. Then Hosea is said to have prophesied so late as the reign of Hezekiah, king of Judah; and between even the last year of Jeroboam’s reign and the first of Hezekiah’s, a period of about sixty years intervenes. He must, therefore, have been a very young man at the close of Jeroboam’s reign, and could not have entered on the prophetic office much earlier. So that Jonah, who seems to have uttered a prediction in the days of Joash, was considerably earlier than either of these prophets. They were the next to follow him; and as it is probable that the transactions recorded in the book which bears his name took place in the latter period of his life, the book itself may possibly not be much older than some portions of the writings of Hosea and Amos. Various reasons might be assigned for the Jews not placing his book precisely at the commencement of the minor prophets; and the belief of Lightfoot (Chronim Temporum) and many others, as to his being actually later than Hosea and Amos, seems partly to have arisen from a wrong view of his mission, of which afterwards.) The time of Jonah thus treads closely on that of Elisha; and we can scarcely doubt that the two were for some years contemporaneous. Elisha lived to an advanced age, and died some time in the reign of Joash, before the close of his successful conflict with the Syrians. And, as Joash’s entire reign did not exceed sixteen years, we may reasonably infer that Jonah, who in the course of that reign appeared on the prophetic stage, had in his early years sat at the feet of Elisha. His first appearance also was of a kind that fitly became the successor of that gentle and humane ambassador of heaven; for the word then put into the mouth of Jonah, the only direct word, indeed, he is recorded to have uttered concerning Israel, was a word of mercy and consolation to the covenant people. It told them, that the Lord still yearned over them for their good, and would once more drive back the tide of evil which had been flowing in upon them, and recover the territory they had lost. Yet, while this promise of returning prosperity was held out, it was not doubtfully intimated, that all stood in an uncertain and hazardous position. The mercy of heaven hovered over the land, as if ready to take its departure; and the Lord had only not said, he would blot out the name of Israel, but neither had he said, he would preserve it. The fate of the kingdom hung in a kind of fearful suspense, as if He on whom its destinies depended, were waiting the issue of a last trial, to decide whether it was to be established in peace or given up to perdition.

Such was the posture of affairs in the kingdom of Israel when Jonah entered on his prophetical career. But whence originally arose this extreme danger? How did it happen, that, in a religious and moral point of view, they had come into so peculiarly critical and perilous a condition? It is necessary to know this, in order rightly to understand the future mission and history of the prophet of Gath-hepher; and it will consequently be proper here to take a rapid glance of the course which this kingdom of Israel had pursued since its commencement, and of the kind of dealing to which it had been subjected on the part of God.

The erection of the kingdom of Israel, or of the ten tribes, into a distinct and separate government, it is necessary to bear in mind, is constantly represented in Scripture as a great evil. It came at the first as the visitation of a sore chastisement; and, so long as it existed, it necessarily destroyed the unity of the covenant-people, maintained a rival interest in what should have remained an undivided brotherhood of love, interfered with the arrangement which conferred the rights of royalty as a divine inheritance on the house of David, and opened the door both for corruptions springing up within, and for the assaults of adversaries making havoc from without. Fraught as it necessarily was with such great evils, the erection of the separate kingdom could not fail to be displeasing to the mind of God; nor could prosperity in the full sense prosperity as designed and promised by God be enjoyed by either branch of the divided inheritance until the breach was again healed, and the people were once more united under one head of the house of David.

At the same time, there can be no doubt that, in a certain modified sense, the erection of the separate kingdom had God’s sanction and approval. It came expressly as a gift from God to Jeroboam, under the hand of Ahijah the prophet, and with a promise from the Lord, not indeed of its absolute perpetuity, but of its prolonged existence, if Jeroboam and his seed would walk in the ways of the Lord. (1 Kings 11:30-39) On this account, also, Rehoboam was discharged from attempting to reduce the lost tribes again under his dominion, as the Lord had meanwhile given them to Jeroboam. And for the reason of the proceeding, we must, no doubt, find it in the fact, that the house of David had proved unfit to exercise the high and responsible trust committed to it, as appointed to reign in God’s name over God’s heritage, and carry out the great ends of his spiritual and righteous government. The external power and glory that had come to be connected with the honour, was more than David’s successors more even than his most renowned and wisest successor could properly bear and employ; even in his hands, it was abused to purposes of carnal pomp and selfish aggrandizement at home, and abroad to the rendering of Jehovah’s name utterly distasteful, by the exaction upon the subject heathen of an oppressive tribute, and the enforcement of a galling yoke. Even the abominations of those surrounding heathen, which should have been striven against and dispelled by the manifestation of divine truth to their consciences, were taken by the house of David under its countenance and protection; and thus, instead of serving as a sacred lever to raise the state in all its relations into nearer contact with heaven, the elevation of that house was rather tending to depress it in condition and character to the level of an earthly kingdom. The Lord must, therefore, bring a shade over its external glory, and weaken the arm of its temporal power, in order, if possible, to check the carnalising tendency, and secure for it a higher good.

But the incompetency on the part of the house of David to bear the glory to which it had been exalted, had its counterpart among a large portion of the people, in their insensibility to the honour of having a visible representative of the most high God reigning over them, and their disposition to view the kingdom in the light of a mere human institution. Great pains had been taken by Samuel at the period of its institution to elevate the people’s notions respecting it; and David, during his lifetime, had also exerted himself to the uttermost to give the kingly government a divine aspect in the eyes of the people, and awaken that higher and fuller development of the divine life, which it was the special calling of the Lord’s anointed to foster and promote among the tribes of his inheritance. This David did partly by the vigour and righteousness of his administration, which ever had mainly at heart the interests of truth and piety; partly also by the new life and power which he infused into the tabernacle worship; and finally, by the composition and destination to public use of those divine songs, which, were not more adapted to beget and nourish a spirit of devotion, than to identify in the minds of the people the peculiar glory of their nation with the royal dignity and blessed administration of David’s house. Still, the people as a whole never became thoroughly adjusted to the constitution under which they were placed. They wanted spiritual discernment and faith to enter into the plan of God, and to realise their own honour in the honour of the house of David. A large proportion of them viewed its exaltation with a carnal and envious eye, and bore with impatience the yoke of its authority; for which, doubtless, the selfish and worldly spirit that so early appeared in that house itself furnished too ready an excuse. Therefore, on both accounts both as a necessary chastisement and humiliation to the house of David, and as the most appropriate way of administering a wholesome discipline and instruction to the people the Lord saw it needful to disturb and weaken the commonwealth for a time, by the erection within it of a separate kingdom. Happy if both parties had understood that this device was sanctioned only as a temporary expedient, a grievous evil in itself, though intended to work out an ultimate good, and an evil which, so long as it lasted, inevitably prevented the full inheritance of blessing which God had promised to bestow. This, however, they failed to do. The breach, instead of leading to true repentance for sin, and from that to mutual reconciliation on higher grounds, became perpetually wider and deeper. And those who attained to power in the new kingdom of Israel, were plainly bent on nothing more than on establishing their total independence of the house of David and the kingdom of Judah.

It was not against this, however, the civil aspect of the evil, that the prophets in the kingdom of Israel struggled, or were called directly to interfere. They had to do only with the religious change, by which it was soon followed, and which had in no respect the sanction of God; but, on the contrary, his uncompromising resistance and severe reprobation. While he in some sense authorized Jeroboam to erect the ten tribes into a separate kingdom, he gave him no permission to institute within its borders a separate worship; and to throw, if possible, an effectual bar against any attempt in that direction, he caused Ahijah twice in the original message to Jeroboam, to declare Jerusalem to be the one place he had chosen, in which to put his name. (1 Kings 11:32, 1 Kings 11:36). Motives of worldly policy, however, induced Jeroboam to disregard this plain intimation of the divine will, and to set up a separate worship. For, he naturally imagined, that if the people of his kingdom should continue to go up to Jerusalem at the stated feasts, their hearts in process of time would be won back to the house of David, to the prejudice of his own family, and the ultimate overthrow of his kingdom. And so, pretending to a considerate regard for the comfort and convenience of the people that it was too far for them to travel to Jerusalem he consecrated two sanctuaries with their respective altars, the one at Bethel in the south, the other at Dan in the north. With these also he connected two golden calves, which were apparently designed to hold the same relative place to the sanctuaries at Dan and Bethel, that the ark of the covenant did to the temple at Jerusalem; were designed, in short, to serve (after the manner of Egypt, where Jeroboam had spent many years of his life) as proper and becoming symbols of the true God. But such innovations were too palpably opposed to the law of Moses to meet with the approval of the priesthood; who therefore, with one consent, refused to enter the sanctuaries of Jeroboam, and minister at his altars. Their refusal, however, only led to another flagrant violation of the Mosaic constitution; for Jeroboam, still determined to adhere to his wretched policy, took and consecrated for priests of the vilest of the people men needy in circumstances and worthless in character entirely fitted to act the part of obsequious ministers to the royal will. Thus the religion introduced into the kingdom of Israel in four most essential particulars its sanctuaries, altars, symbols of worship, and ministering priesthood bore on it an earthly image and superscription, it was polluted at the centre by the inventions of men; and though most of the rites of Judaism were still retained in it, yet “the Lord could not smell in the solemn assemblies of the people, nor accept their offerings.” Besides, the religion being thus essentially changed in character, it necessarily lost its moral influence on the people; itself now a grovelling superstition, moulded after the will of man, and administered by unclean and servile hands, it could raise no effectual bulwark against the tide of human corruption; a rapid degeneracy ensued in the general character of the nation; and this again made way, as it proceeded, for further corruptions in worship, until at last undisguised heathenism, with its foul abominations and shameless profligacy of manners, took possession of the field. (The great evil of idolatry, even in its earliest and least offensive form that is, when it does not set up a plurality of gods but only an image or symbol through which to worship the supreme God, consists in its necessarily conveying low and debasing views of his character and glory. The mind contemplates God through the symbol, and rests in the ideas it suggests. Hence, as no symbol can adequately represent Jehovah, he can never be known and worshipped as the true God where idolatry is practised; for example, the symbol of the bovine form, or calf, as it is generally called in Scripture, was regarded in Egypt, the country of its birth, as the emblem of productiveness; it represented God as the great producer, the source of all life and sustenance, or material comfort. (Wilkinson’s Egypt, V. p. 194). And, no doubt, the promoters of the false worship in Israel would endeavour to reconcile men to it, by asking if the representation it gave of God was not a just and honourable one? It might have been such, indeed, if the God of Israel had been merely the God of nature the source of life and production as these exist in the external world. But there is plainly nothing moral, no germ of holiness in such an idea of God; it is just what all heathenism in some form or another always was, the deification of nature; whereas the true God is pre-eminently the Holy One and the Just; and precisely in proportion as this fundamental idea is lost sight of, in any form of religion, will its influence for good be found to decline, and the bonds of morality under it become loosened. From what has been said, it appears, and it is not unimportant to notice, that the worshipping of God anciently under the symbol of a calf, was relatively quite the same with acknowledging and worshipping him now simply as the God of nature. Those who disown or forsake God as he is revealed in the face of Jesus Christ, and who, neglecting his sanctuaries and his Sabbaths, go to explore him, as they say, in the works and operations of nature, are the legitimate followers of him who made Israel to sin. Worshippers of a shadow! their religion wants the reality of truth for its foundation, and being at best but a nature-worship, it has no moral power to regenerate and sanctify the heart.)

Such were the inevitable results of the change introduced by Jeroboam into the worship of God, which from being regarded as essential to the independence of the kingdom, was clung to ever afterwards with fatal obstinacy. But there were also certain attendant circumstances which contributed materially to accelerate the progress of the evil. Of this nature was the secession of the Priests and Levites, who went over in a body to the kingdom of Judah thus withdrawing from the kingdom of Israel not a little of its spiritual life. (2 Chronicles 11:13-14) And not only did many in Israel continue as before to go up to Jerusalem to worship; but the growing evil in Israel on the one hand, and the revived zeal and prosperity of Judah and the house of David on the other, led multitudes to abandon altogether their inheritance in the kingdom of Israel, and go to reside in that of Judah. (2 Chronicles 15:9) Thus another large draft was made upon the life-blood of the nation. So strong was the tendency in this direction for some time in Israel, that we are told Baasha, the king of Israel, set about building Ramah as a convenient fortress for preventing the intercommunion between the two kingdoms. (2 Chronicles 16:1) It appears afterwards, indeed, to have almost ceased; which is easily accounted for, as Judah itself became leavened with the surrounding corruption, and alliances were even formed between the house of David and the infamous family of Ahab, who carried the apostasy to its height in Israel.

This second decline on the part of the house of David and the kingdom of Judah, gave rise to a new stage in the method of God’s procedure toward Israel. Hitherto he had left the testimony against the prevailing evil to be borne by the faithful still remaining in the land of Israel, aided by the salutary influence which had proceeded from Judah, and which was felt even in some of the neighbouring heathen countries. (2 Chronicles 15:8, 2 Chronicles 17:9-11) When Judah, however, also began to prove unfaithful, and the iniquity in Israel became more flagrant and atrocious, stronger and more direct measures were required to meet the evil. These were found, first, in the gigantic energy and labours of Elijah, who for a time fought single-handed against the rampant idolatry; and then by the new organization of the prophetic order, or the re-establishment of the schools of the prophets, which he accomplished with the aid of Elisha. By these means a very considerable revival was effected in the kingdom of Israel, which reached even to the palace of Samaria; for while Elijah, at the commencement of his career, found it difficult to obtain standing-ground for his ministry, the very name of Jehovah being proscribed, there were, some time before his death, four hundred prophets in Samaria who openly professed to speak in the name of Jehovah. (1 Kings 22:5-6) And a little further down in the history, we find Joram, the son of Ahab, professing to entertain the highest respect for Elisha, and requesting Elisha’s servant to rehearse the miraculous deeds that had been done by his hand. (2 Kings 3:12, 2 Kings 8:4)

But, whatever abatement this might indicate of avowed hostility against the worship and service of Jehovah, the original corruption remained in full vigour; and it would even seem, that, under a certain disguise, the worship and service of Baal held its place to the last. For though, on the occasion of Ahab’s going up with Jehoshaphat to Ramoth-Gilead, the prophets all professed to speak in the name of Jehovah, yet there was evidently a marked contrast between the four hundred who had the confidence of Ahab, and Micaiah, who alone uttered the mind of the Lord. And on another occasion, when Jehoshaphat and Joram were engaged in the war with Moab, and they went together to ask counsel of Elisha, the prophet indignantly addressed the king of Israel with the words: “What have I to do with thee? Get thee to the prophets of thy father, and to the prophets of thy mother;” plainly indicating that these still were virtually prophets of Baal. Not only so, but when Jehu was executing his fearful commission against the house of Abab, a false proclamation brought out four hundred in Samaria an ominous number, being precisely that of those who had formerly contended with Elijah on Carmel, and were slain who styled themselves prophets of Baal, and as such were put to death. (2 Kings 10:0) And passing a few generations more, as we approach the close of the kingdom of Israel, we find the worship of Baal again rising into notice as part of the prevailing abominations for which the wrath was made to fall upon them to the uttermost: “And they left all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made them molten images, even two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.” (2 Kings 17:16) To which may be added the testimony of Hosea 2:13: “And I will visit upon her the days of Baalim, wherein she burned incense to them, and she decked herself with her earrings and her jewels, and she went after her lovers, and forgat me, saith the Lord.” (See also Micah 6:16)

It would seem therefore, that with the mass of the people, and in the high places of the land, there had been only a superficial improvement, but no thorough reformation. The terrible displays which Jehovah had given of his power and glory, and especially the slaughter of Baal’s prophets on Mount Carmel, had inspired the worshippers of that Syrian deity with terror; and afraid of again provoking such awful outbursts of judgment, but still unwilling to abandon their corruptions, they attempted to compound the matter by calling Baal Jehovah, and Jehovah Baal, (hence, “Thou shalt call me no more Baali,” my Baal, Hosea 2:16) as if these were but different names for one and the same God. This was in the highest degree insulting to Jehovah, because, in the most offensive manner, it lifted up his name to a thing of vanity, and proceeded on the supposition that there was no fundamental difference between him and the idol gods of the Gentiles. And that the people at large, in particular the more wealthy and influential classes, really viewed the object of their worship rather as an impure Syrian deity than the heart-searching righteous Jehovah, is abundantly manifest from those portions of the prophetical writings which describe the moral condition of Israel in the last years of their political existence, and which represent the land as all polluted with scenes of lust, revelry, oppression, rapacity, and crime. (See especially Amos 2:6-8; Amos 5:7-15; Amos 6:0; Hosea 4:0; Isaiah 5:0; Isaiah 9:8-21)

To sum up the whole. The grand evil in the kingdom of Israel was the idolatry and corruption introduced into God’s worship, with its natural and necessary consequences. The Lord in various ways caused a solemn protest to be lifted against the evil at the period of its introduction by the self-denying resistance of the priests and Levites by the warning voice of the prophet that went from Judah (1 Kings 13:0), and the appalling word of judgment delivered by the aged Abijah to Jeroboam’s wife (1 Kings 14:9-11). The protest was for some time vigorously maintained by a faithful remnant in the kingdom, who refused to assemble for worship at Dan and Bethel, but still repaired to Jerusalem, and not a few of whom ultimately went to settle there. It was further maintained, or rather in another and more palpable form raised by Elijah and Elisha, and the schools of the prophets instituted by them, who formed a kind of supernatural order of God’s servants in the kingdom, called forth by the emergency of the times a provisional substitute for the exiled priesthood of the house of Aaron and a standing witness against the existing worship, from whose unauthorized priesthood and disallowed services they stood entirely aloof. By terrible things in righteousness the Lord had also protested against the evil, having expressly on this ground first cut off the house of Jeroboam, then the house of Baasha, then Zimri, then the family of Ahab while, at the same time, he raised up the kingdom of Syria as an instrument of evil to scourge and afflict the land of Israel in its borders. And now, at the time of Jonah’s appearance on the stage of history, the house of Jehu, because they also followed in the same forbidden course, had been brought to the verge of ruin, and the whole kingdom lay bleeding under strokes of judgment so severe, that recovery seemed almost hopeless. But divine compassion was not yet exhausted, the Lord remembered once more his covenant, and, seeking to win the people again to his love and service, he gave yet another promise of returning prosperity, which he also fulfilled by the hands of Joash and Jeroboam. This new course of prosperity, however, only supplied new wings to corruption; a more heedless infatuation and widespread profligacy every where appeared; and, sinking into profound carnality of spirit, the people had come to ascribe both their former troubles and their present prosperity to merely natural causes, “not regarding the works of the Lord or the operation of his hands.” But might there still not be another, if possibly a final and desperate, effort put forth for their recovery? One that, from its very nature, might at once bespeak the inexcusable nature of their impenitence, and the certainty, if continued, of immediate retribution? There was such another, and we find it in the great work and mission of Jonah. Though bearing respect immediately to the Ninevites, it spoke also in the loudest and most impressive manner to the people of Israel, and was even like the shooting of God’s last arrow of mercy, leaving no alternative in respect to them, should it prove ineffectual, but the speedy execution of vengeance.

Verse 2


JONAH, we have already seen, was a prophet in the kingdom of Israel; and as the prophetical gift, like every other communication of the Spirit, was always bestowed for the special benefit of the visible church, we cannot doubt, that to be a witness to Israel was the great end and object of his mission. But the singular thing is, that when we turn to the Book of Jonah, which contains the record of his prophetical calling, we find no mention whatever made of Israel; the commission given him calls him away to another land, and requires him to transact with the inhabitants of a heathen city. The word that came to him was, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.” The message, too, with which he was charged, appears in the circumstances scarcely less strange in regard to its matter, than in regard to the people to whom it was to be delivered. It was to be simply a cry against their heaven-daring iniquities, and an intimation that God was ready to come down to the execution of judgment. But why send such a message to Nineveh by this prophet, when there was so loud a call for it at home? The people of Israel, his own kinsmen, had now also reached a condition of almost hopeless profligacy and corruption; so that the cry of their iniquity must still more have gone up to the heavens, and called for the summary execution of divine wrath. Nor can we reasonably doubt, though the fact is not expressly recorded, that this prophet, after the example of those who preceded him in Israel, took many occasions in the course of his ministry to reprove the evil of the times, and to proclaim the certain approach of judgment. Yet it can as little be doubted, on the other hand, that the special work he had to do as a witness of heaven against the abounding iniquity, and a sign to Israel of the mind of God respecting it, consisted in the work committed to him as God’s ambassador to a people who lay altogether beyond the territory of Israel, and who had not hitherto been subjected to any peculiar moral treatment.

The appearance of strangeness, however, which this at first sight presents, will be found to vanish when the whole circumstances of the case are taken into consideration, and the bearing is seen which the singular work now to be wrought by God was designed and naturally fitted to have upon Israel. Why Nineveh in particular should have been chosen as the theatre of such an experiment for this, indeed, we have no definite reason to assign beside the sovereignty of God; as there were, no doubt, many other cities at that time to which a similar message might with equal propriety have been sent. But there were two properties in the condition of Nineveh which rendered it peculiarly suitable for the great object contemplated by God; these were the magnitude of its population and resources, and the enormity of its crimes. In the word to Jonah, it is simply styled “that great city” (literally, “a great city of God”), an appellation which seems also to have been in familiar use among heathen writers. By these the most extraordinary accounts have been handed down of its grandeur and extent; it is even reported to have been “much greater than Babylon,” and to have been surrounded with walls “a hundred feet high, and so broad that three waggons might be driven on them abreast.” These walls, we are further informed, were fortified with 1500 towers at proper distances, each rising 200 feet in height, and rendering the whole so strong that the city was thought to be impregnable. That it should, therefore, have contained 120,000 little children, as we learn from the last chapter of Jonah, or an entire population approaching to a million, need not at all surprise us. It is also in perfect accordance with those other accounts derived from heathen sources, to have it spoken of as a city of three days’ journey; taking this in connection with the twofold fact, that a day’s journey in so hot a climate necessarily indicates a much shorter space than it does here, and that the cities of the East in ancient times comprehended in their circuit, as they often do still, many gardens and large spaces of vacant ground.

Finally, being situated on the banks of the Tigris, and occupying a position most convenient for an emporium of merchandise between Eastern and Western Asia, we are quite able to understand how such a magnificent city should have arisen there, and how the prophet Nahum should speak of her as having “multiplied her merchants above the stars of heaven,” and as revelling in wealth and luxury. (We have the fullest confirmation of the ancient accounts respecting Nineveh, in the recent elaborate and beautiful work of Mr Layard on Nineveh, and its remains: “The city had now attained the dimensions assigned to it in the book of Jonah, and by Diodorus Siculus. If we take the four great mounds of Nimroud, Kouyunjik, Khorsabad, and Karamles, as the corners of a square, it will be found that its four sides correspond pretty accurately with the 480 stadia, or 60 miles of the geographer.” He here mentions in a note, that “from the northern extremity of Kouyunjik to Nimroud is about 18 miles; the distance from Nimroud to Karamles, about 12; the opposite sides of the square, the same. Twenty miles is the day’s journey in the East; and we have consequently the three days’ journey of Jonah for the circumference of the city. The agreement of these measurements is remarkable.” “Within the space there are many large mounds, including the principal ruins in Assyria, and the face of the country is strewed with the remains of pottery, bricks, and other fragments. The space between the great public edifices was probably occupied by private houses, standing in the midst of gardens, and built at distances from one another, or forming streets, which enclosed gardens of considerable extent, and even arable land. The absence of the remains of such buildings may easily be accounted for There is, however, sufficient to indicate, that buildings were once spread over the space above described; for, besides the vast number of small mounds every where visible, scarcely a husbandman drives his plough over the soil without exposing the vestiges of former habitations. Existing ruins thus show, that Nineveh acquired its greatest extent in the time of the kings of the second dynasty; that is to say of the kings mentioned in Scripture. It was then that Jonah visited it, and the reports of its size and magnificence were carried to the West, and gave rise to the traditions, from which the Greek authors mainly derived the information handed down to us.” Vol. ii., pp. 247-249.)

Considering the immense greatness which ancient Nineveh is thus known to have attained, and perceiving how large and populous cities invariably become nurseries of vice and corruption, it is precisely what we might have expected to learn, that the wickedness of Nineveh kept pace with its commercial importance and external greatness. The language used respecting it to Jonah, is quite similar to that employed at an earlier period concerning Sodom and Gomorrah, and denotes a state of flagrant immorality and vicious abandonment. They were no ordinary iniquities that were proceeding in the midst of it, but such as raised a cry that pierced the very heavens, and would no longer permit the righteous God, whose ears it entered, to look on as a silent spectator of the evil.

To send a messenger of heaven to such a city with a word of solemn rebuke and warning, supposing the mission not to be in vain, was a proceeding so unusual in its nature, and of so public a character, that it was evidently intended, as well as peculiarly fitted, to arrest the attention of others besides those whom it more immediately concerned. The pre-eminent greatness of the city, with its wide-spreading commerce and its unrivalled splendour, rendered it more than any other place, in that region of the world, a city set upon a hill; so that, whatever extraordinary result might be achieved there, it could not be as a thing done in a corner, but must send forth its report, as from a public theatre, to the nations around. Then its crying sins and abominations, while they rendered it peculiarly obnoxious to the condemnation of heaven, being found in connection with such gigantic strength and manifold resources, seemed to bid defiance to any attempt at reformation. Who could have ventured to predict on any grounds open to human calculation, that a city, at once so immersed in sin and so richly furnished with the means of security and defence, would quail before the voice of a single preacher of repentance, and that too the voice of a stranger? But if this one call to repentance, notwithstanding the unlikelihood of its success, should still prove effectual if the prophet of Israel, after having so long laboured in vain among his own people, should, by a kind of stray effort in the streets of Nineveh, become first the reformer and then the saviour of a mighty nation, what a loud rebuke and what a solemn warning should the whole transaction administer to backsliding and impenitent Israel! a people who had been long dealt with by special ambassadors of God, among whom an entire order of prophets for successive generations had been plying their high vocation; while yet no successful inroad had been made on the prevailing idolatry and corruption! Would it not seem as if God were acting toward them as the parent who, wearied with the long-continued and obstinate waywardness of a son, and now almost despairing of his recovery, should try once more to work upon the heart of the hardened profligate, by turning aside for a little to address himself to some wandering and neglected outcast? And, having found this wretched and homeless stranger ready to listen to the first word of wholesome counsel and rebuke, should then make his appeal to the home-born child by holding up the instructive example furnished by the other? “Does not the sight of this reclaimed outcast, so soon reclaimed, at length make thee ashamed of thy perverse and foolish behaviour? Wilt thou still stand out, as thou hast hitherto done, against a father’s advice and entreaty? What, then, can I do to thee more? What should I do, but henceforth leave thee to the fate of an outcast, no longer worthy to be called a child, and honour this recovered alien above thee, to thy perpetual shame and confusion?”

Such precisely, it will be remembered, was the use which our Lord made of the preaching of Jonah at Nineveh, and the success that attended it. He told the men of his own generation, among whom he had gone preaching the things of God’s kingdom, that the people of Nineveh would rise up in the judgment to condemn them, because they had repented at Jonah’s preaching; while He, a greater than Jonah, spoke only to cold and unconcerned hearts. But for the men who lived in the days of Jonah himself, the lesson came still closer; and the inference could scarcely fail to force itself on all but the most senseless and brutish minds, that the Lord, perceiving the hopelessness of any direct efforts, was now seeking to provoke his people to jealousy by the fruitful example of the Ninevites, and, at the same time, to press on their notice the imminent perils that surrounded their condition. Indeed, the procedure in respect to Nineveh was just an embodying of the principle so long before announced by Moses: “They have moved me to jealousy with that which is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.” See Nineveh, he in a manner exclaimed, that hitherto no people of mine, that foolish nation, how they have bowed their hearts at my call, and broken off their sins by repentance at the first intimation of my threatened judgments; while you, my covenant-people, the children of my kingdom, have only despised my words, and hardened your hearts against my fear! How can I longer delay to vindicate my righteousness in your destruction? And if, in proceeding to do this, I should give to these penitent strangers the ascendancy over you, and honour them as the rod of mine anger to chastise your back-slidings, must not your own hearts discern the justice of the retribution?

This principle, from its very nature, could not possess a merely local or temporary place in the divine government, but is common to all ages. Accordingly, we find it again re-appearing at the beginning of the gospel, and even brought prominently into notice both in the words and the actions of our Lord. Not only did he make the appeal already mentioned, from the heedless and hardened impenitence around him, to the Ninevites under the preaching of Jonah; but when the centurion, a native heathen, came beseeching the interposition of his healing power in behalf of a dying servant, and giving utterance to a strength of faith at which Jesus himself is said to have marvelled, our Lord, seized the opportunity to declare, that this example of faith from a Gentile far surpassed what he had yet found in Israel; that many like examples of faith, however, were soon to arise among the different nations of the earth, who would thus attain to the heritage of Abraham, while the children of the kingdom, from the want of it, should go into perdition. “Verily, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of God. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:11-12) Various parables, also, were spoken by our Lord, for the purpose chiefly of enforcing the same lesson; in particular, that of the royal marriage (Matthew 22:1-14), and the parable of the wicked husbandmen (Matthew 21:33-41), which was concluded by so direct and pointed an appeal to the Jewish hearers, as to leave no room to doubt regarding the contemplated change: “Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” This threatened expulsion of the Jews from the kingdom not only soon passed into a reality, but the footsteps of the divine procedure in accomplishing it followed exactly the same course as they had done in the days of Jonah. Grieved as the Lord now was with the wicked behaviour of the Jews, who even exceeded the measure of their fathers, he did not at once cast them off; but endeavoured, in the first instance, to shame them into repentance and amendment of life, as well as to warn them of impending danger, by presenting to their view all around them multitudes of converted heathens persons who had once been wretched and depraved idolaters, but who had now become, through the gospel of his salvation, enlightened and spiritual believers. Had the eyes of the Jewish people not been utterly blinded, and themselves given up to a reprobate mind, they would have found in this, God’s last and loudest call to repentance, the final movements of the kingdom as regarded them, preparatory to its complete departure. But, instead of viewing the divine procedure in this light, their minds were only inflamed by it to a more bitter and settled enmity against the truth of God. The warnings of the past and the lessons of the present were alike lost upon them; and no alternative remained, but to take from them the appearance of what they had already ceased to possess, the reality to put an end, by an outward change in their condition, to their formal relation to God, and send them forth into the world with the brand of aliens and outcasts.

The same principle, we need scarcely say, is often acted upon still, as well in regard to single individuals as to entire communities, by the removal of the candlestick out of its place, when the light has come to be neglected and despised, and the exaltation of the least favoured with outward privilege, over such as have been most favoured, to the peculiar blessings of the kingdom. This, however, has so often been made matter of illustration and remark, that we have no intention to dwell on it at present; but would rather draw attention to the important and fundamental truth too much lost sight of by the greater part of those who handle the affairs of ancient Israel on which the method of procedure now in question is based. That truth is, that God is not, neither was formerly any more than now, a respecter of persons; and that, when he chose the seed of Abraham and endowed them with peculiar promises of blessing, the objects of his regard and blessing were not simply the offspring of Abraham, but that portion of them who possessed his spirit of faith and obedience his natural spiritual seed. This truth arises from the nature of God as the righteous and unchangeable Jehovah every where and perpetually the same; so that he cannot be to one what he is not ready to be to another in like circumstances; and what manifestations he gives of himself in one place, or in one age of the world, these he is in substance constantly repeating in others. The revelation he gave of himself to Abraham speaks substantially the same language to all, even to the end of time and in the remotest corners of the earth, who occupy the same spiritual relation with the patriarch, but contains no assurance of blessing to persons differently related, not though they might be able to trace with the utmost certainty their descent from the loins of Abraham; for the personal relation being different, the nature of God’s manifestation can no longer be the same.

Now, the Israelites were in peculiar danger of forgetting this truth, after having received so much as a people of the promised goodness of God, and finding themselves securely settled in the land of Canaan. It then became one of their strongest temptations, and, as the event proved, their capital error, to conclude that natural descent from Abraham was all that was necessary to constitute their title to the inheritance they enjoyed; and that God was, in a manner, so pledged to them, his word of promise so bound up with their experience of good, that they could not, without dishonour to his faithfulness, be dispossessed of their territory, and supplanted by men of another nation. The right by which they thus sought to hold the land, and the general promise of blessing, was thrown upon a merely natural ground, which being for ever fixed and settled in the past, could not, they imagined, be materially affected by any thing that might take place in the future; their calling was a concluded transaction, and, happen what may, they must still be the chosen of God, and all besides outcasts and aliens.

There could not be a more fatal error; for as in God’s character the moral element ever holds the highest place, so must it always come most prominently out in his dealings toward his people; all must be subservient to the claims and interests of holiness. Therefore, foreseeing the danger to which Israel would be exposed in this respect, the Lord took every precaution from the first to prevent the error referred to from taking root among them. He made it clear as noonday to every spiritual eye, at the very commencement of their history, that while the promise was to run in the line of Abraham’s posterity, yet not there indiscriminately, only in so far as they breathed his spirit and trod in his footsteps. Hence the successive limitations in the seed of Abraham, as connected with the promise: not Ishmael, as being merely a child of nature, born after the flesh, but Isaac, the special gift of God; again, not Esau, the man of natural impulse and pleasure, but Jacob, the man of faith. These successive limitations manifestly did not happen at random they were a revelation from God, to make plain to future times whom in these covenant transactions he understood by the seed of blessing, namely, the natural-spiritual offspring of Abraham; so that, if the natural only existed, the peculiar or covenant blessing failed. It was scarcely possible, indeed, for the distinction to be kept up so plainly afterwards, when the descendants of Jacob were formed into a nation, and when many, who were simply connected with him by natural descent, came unavoidably to be mixed up with those who were also spiritually his children. But it was evident, from what had been done at the commencement, that the distinction would still be kept up in the view of God. And not only so, but to render the distinction as far as possible manifest to the eye of sense to show that they only who were Israelites indeed were entitled to an Israelite’s name and inheritance and that if any others shared in the things outwardly belonging to it, it was from no title conferred on the part of God, but only from the faulty and imperfect administration of his will on the part of man: with this view more immediately the law entered before the people were permitted to take possession of Canaan, and was formed, along with the original promise to Abraham, into a covenant engagement between them and God; so that, while the one presented them with a title to the inheritance, the other furnished them with a criterion for determining whether the title were actually theirs. For, given as the law was, in what light could its requirements of holiness be regarded, but as a representation of the character of those whom God owned to be the rightful inheritors of the land the Jacob, as they are called in the 24th Psalm, or the generation of pious worshippers, whom alone God recognized as the seed of Jacob? And when, along with this law of holiness, the Lord coupled the stern injunction, so often repeated, that such as wilfully transgressed them were to be cut off from among their people, what could more clearly indicate that he considered all such as properly aliens false children, on whom he had settled no dowery of blessing? (The injunction about cutting off transgressors from among the people of God, has often been referred to as a proof of the harsh spirit of Judaism but quite falsely. It was an essential part of the Mosaic legislation; for the whole of this was constructed on the principle of its having to do with the true people of God, the seed of blessing, with the view of securing the continuance of such a seed, and their inheritance of the blessing. The land in which they were established was the Lord’s land the people, therefore, must be his people, in character as well as name, and the ordinances adapted to persons in such a condition. Otherwise, the whole would necessarily have given a wrong impression of God, and conveyed a false instruction. Wilful transgressors were, ipso facto, cut off from the covenant, and should have been formally excluded or destroyed by the Church, just as now open sinners should be excommunicated, and must finally be destroyed.)

It is on this ground that the Psalmist David so often identifies his personal enemies who were enemies to him only because he represented the cause of God with the heathen or aliens. He could not regard them as properly belonging to the seed of Jacob, or occupying any other relation than that substantially of the uncircumcised. Thus, in Psalms 59:0, written on the occasion of Saul’s party watching David in the house with the design of killing him, he says of those merely domestic enemies: “They run and prepare themselves without my fault: awake to help me, and behold. Thou therefore, O Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel, awake to visit all the heathen: be not merciful to any wicked transgressors.” “Swords are in their lips; for who (say they) doth hear? But thou, O Lord, shalt laugh at them; thou shalt have all the heathen in derision.” (See also Psalms 9:5, Psalms 9:15; Psalms 10:16; Psalms 102:8; Psalms 144:11) And in like manner, when the people generally had become children of disobedience, as unquestionably was the case in the kingdom of Israel when Jonah lived, the Lord gave them distinctly to understand, that he disowned them as that seed of Abraham to whom he had given by a covenant engagement the inheritance of the land of Canaan, and that they were now related to him much as the surrounding heathen. The mission itself of Jonah to Nineveh virtually declared as much; for it obviously implied, that a heathen city afforded now as legitimate a field for the labours of an Israelitish prophet as the kingdom of Israel, while the result proved it to be a much more propitious soil. But what was only implied in this transaction was soon afterwards broadly announced by the prophet Amos, in the following cutting interrogations: “Are ye not as children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel? saith the Lord. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt? and the Philistines from Caphtor? and the Syrians from Kir?” The one precisely as the other; you stand, as the present possessors of Canaan, exactly on a footing with those other nations in regard to their existing settlements; no more in your case than in theirs do the territorial changes that have taken place prove your connexion with the everlasting covenant of God; all is reduced now to the natural; the spiritual relation, and with that the title to the blessing, is gone.

It is of great importance to bear in mind this principle, which runs like a sacred thread through all God’s transactions with his ancient people, whether these transactions be viewed more directly in the bearing they have upon the natural descendants of Abraham, or more indirectly upon the world at large. In the former point of view, it shows, that while God for certain wise and important reasons, which had respect to the good of others as well as their own, chose Abraham and his offspring in a certain line to the enjoyment of peculiar privileges, there was nothing in his method of procedure arbitrary or capricious. He did not act as if determined to bless them, simply because they belonged to a particular race, and could trace their descent from the father of the faithful. St Peter announced no new principle in the house of Cornelius, when he said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons;” but an old principle, on which God had acted toward Israel itself through all the history of the past, though Peter, like most of his countrymen, had been so blinded by prejudice as to have failed hitherto to perceive it. In the calling of Israel as a people, indeed, there was distinguishing grace, singling them out from the mass of the world to the enjoyment of peculiar advantages, but still no blind favouritism or foolish partiality; for the children of privilege could become the heirs of blessing only by yielding themselves as a spiritual seed to the Lord, and, if they failed in this, they entailed upon themselves a heavier doom. In a word, Canaan as a token of the divine favour and an inheritance of blessing, was the gift of Heaven only to believing and spiritual men; and, in so far as persons of a different description partook with them of the outward boon, it was only as the mixed multitude that followed Israel out of Egypt; they were there by sufferance only, and not by right or as proper denizens of the kingdom of God. It is only by keeping this in mind, that we can properly understand the nature of God’s covenant relation to the seed of Abraham, and see how, amid outward failures, he was still faithful to his promises. (The principle which we have just unfolded is in one particular aspect brought very prominently out by the apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Romans, viz., in reference to the blessing of justification, which belonged to Abraham and to his seed only as standing in faith; and it is by keeping clearly in view the principle itself, that we can properly understand and account for some of the expressions used, and especially those in chap. 3:30: “Seeing it is one God that shall justify the circumcision by ( ἐκ ) faith, and uncircumcision through ( διὰ ) faith.” The peculiarity here lies in the use of the two prepositions, which the commentators regard as synonymous; “and yet,” as Tholuck justly remarks, “the change can scarcely be thought to have been undesigned.” When he adds, however, that “perhaps it implies a gentle stroke of irony, of which we have elsewhere in St Paul’s writings still stronger examples,” he only shows how little he was able to find his way to the true solution. To come at this, we must bear in mind two things: first, that the apostle has in his eye an essential distinction between the circumcised and the uncircumcised, there having been all along a justified portion among the one, but not among the other; and then, that the justified among the circumcised were not all who possessed the outward sign not the circumcision per se, but the circumcision who had faith. If we bear these things in mind, we shall easily perceive that there was an occasion for using different prepositions, and that the two actually employed are used in their proper and distinctive import. The preposition ἐκ, says Winer, with his usu al accuracy, “is originally used in reference to such objects as come forth out of the interior of another, from within; and, transferred to internal relations, it denotes every source and cause out of which something emanates.” (Gram., p. 296, 297) Now, it is precisely in this general sense, as denoting the relation from, or out of, that the preposition is used by the apostle in the passage before us. He is setting forth the identity in principle of God’s method of justifying the saved, as well among Jews as Gentiles: he is “the same God,” the sameness of his procedure in the two cases proves him to be the same. For, in justifying the circumcision, it is not the circumcision as such, or all indiscriminately who belong to it, but only “the circumcision of (not by) faith;” that is, expressing the matter more fully, he justifies simply that portion of the circumcised who have their standing in faith, and out of that, as the ground of their spiritual being, have received the sign of circumcision. So also in justifying the uncircumcision, it is done “through faith,” through this as the means of their entering into substantially the same condition as was possessed by the true or spiritual circumcision. The uncircumcised, as such, did not stand in faith; nor did they possess the privilege of a justified condition; they needed to be brought into this as a new state, and it was through faith that the transition could alone be made. The circumcised, on the other hand, were already in a justified state if only their circumcision stood in faith, as the ground or root out of which it came. So that the prepositions are each used in their proper meaning, and there ia by no means, as is commonly alleged, a distinction without a difference. The statement simply is: The circumcised out of faith (as contradistinguished from those who are circumcised without faith) are justified; and so also are the uncircumcised, who through faith enter into the same spiritual condition. And the apostle then goes on to show, in chap. 4, how, in the case of the circumcised, it was not their being the circumcision alone, but their being the circumcision of faith, which secured their being in the condition of the justified. The other passages, where ἐκ πίστεως , and also ἐξ ἔργων , are used in connexion with justification. (for example, Romans 1:17; Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16, &c) are all to be interpreted in the same manner as above. The expressions are never synonymous, though constantly regarded so by commentators, διὰ πίστεως, διὰ ἔργων ; but always point to the ground, or standing-point, out of which the individual is contemplated. Justification or salvation is of faith, not of works; the one is, the other is not, the condition out of which the benefit comes to the possession of the soul. Of course, if we look only to the general meaning, it is not materially different to say, that salvation is through faith, not through works, as the means of its attainment.)

It is necessary to add, however, that what has now been stated respecting the covenant of God, applies to it only in so far as it came into contact with man’s responsibilities and obligations of duty, not in its higher connexion with the ultimate designs and purposes of God. In this respect the covenant, standing simply in the sovereignty and power of divine grace, did infallibly secure a seed of blessing out of the natural posterity of Abraham, which was preserved through all backslidings and corruptions till the covenant was for ever ratified and made sure in Christ. And it seems to be implied in the reasoning of the apostle (Romans 11:25-32), that the grace of the covenant would still he continually securing an election from the natural seed, till the whole should be brought to a participation in the blessing. But of this only by the way.

The principle, however, on which God’s covenant with Abraham was founded and administered, as now represented, is not less important when viewed in respect to the world at large. For, the spiritual seed being throughout alone the seed of blessing, the spiritual element was thus clearly elevated above the natural, and determined to be the real bond of connexion with the covenant, which might exist without the natural, as well as the natural without the spiritual. The necessity of a spiritual relation to God could not be dispensed with; but where this existed, the accident of birth was not of essential moment. Wherever any one possessed Abraham’s faith, he could not fail to be received by an unchangeable and impartial God to the place and portion of a son of Abraham. It was just as competent for the people of Edom, or Moab, or Nineveh, to enter thus into the bond of Abraham’s covenant, as for any of his natural posterity; and, in dealing graciously with the one, the Lord at the same time stretched out his hand to the other. In manifest proof of this, not only were Abraham’s servants at the first circumcised, and thereby entitled to take up their standing with himself as heirs of blessing, but express provision was made in the law for strangers from the surrounding countries being circumcised and forming part of the Lord’s heritage. (Exodus 12:44; Deuteronomy 23:1-8) The temple also was, with the same view, named “the house of prayer for all nations” (1 Kings 8:41-43; Isaiah 56:7); and examples of pious converts, such as the father-in-law of Moses, Euth, Ittai the Gittite, and thousands besides in the more flourishing periods of Israel’s history, were from time to time added to the number of Abraham’s seed. So that this seed, or the true Church of God in Old Testament times, though always Israelitish in name, was by no means exclusively Israelitish in origin, and that it did not consist more than was actually the case, of those converted naturalized Israelites that all the surrounding nations, indeed, did not press into the kingdom of God, arose from no unwillingness on the part of God to receive them, but merely from their own unwillingness to come; for it was from the first his design, that they should see in Israel the way to blessing, and, like the young Moabite widow, should go “to put their trust under the wings of the Lord God of Israel.”

The principle on which the whole of this proceeded is as fresh and operative still, let it be remembered, as it ever was in days of old; it partakes of the un-changeableness of Jehovah. What he has at any time done for one, he is ready to repeat to others similarly situated. In his communications to the father of the faithful, we may discern an assurance of his goodness to ourselves, and a divine warrant to look for like manifestations of grace in our own experience. On the other hand, the evils threatened or inflicted upon those who lived in unbelief, or fell back from their covenant engagements, should sound as warnings in our ear not to be high-minded but to fear, and to remember that, if we stand in grace, still by grace only can we stand. And hence it is that the apostle Paul could so readily bring forward, in proof of the doctrine that God was calling a church, “not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles,” a passage from Hosea which was originally addressed to the natural Israel. “As he saith also in Hosea, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.” (Romans 9:24-26) This, we are to bear in mind, the apostle cites as a direct and conclusive proof that Gentile or uncircumcised believers were as certainly called of God as converted Jews. And the only conceivable ground on which he could do so, is simply this, that God’s communications of mercy and judgment to ancient Israel were a revelation to mankind at large; and that as Israel, in apostatizing, fell substantially into the condition of the heathen, so the promise of his reception again, on conversion, into the family of God, was equally a promise of the reception of all believing Gentiles into the same family. For God would otherwise have acted from caprice, and his dealings could not have been, what, however, they must always be, the manifestations of his own holy and unchangeable nature.

Verses 3-8


IF it seemed strange, at first sight, that Jonah should have received a commission from the Lord to go to Nineveh, his conduct on receiving the commission appears yet more strange: “But Jonah,” it is said with perfect simplicity, and without any attempt either to explain or to justify his behaviour, “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.” This, we believe, is the only case on record of a true prophet being charged with the deliverance of a distinct and solemn message from the Lord, and yet proving so unfaithful to the charge as to take upon himself the fearful risk of keeping the message concealed in his own bosom. We have no reason to doubt, however, that there were instances of unfaithfulness in the prophetical, as well as the priestly order in Israel, to the extent, at least, of not maintaining the protest against error, and denouncing the judgments of heaven against sin, with the frequency and boldness which became the office. In this respect the prophets, more especially after the institution of the schools of the prophets, to which they usually belonged, and by which they were formed into a distinct order, had much the same part to fulfil that now devolves on ministers of the gospel. They were special, authorized teachers of the church, charged with the duty of expounding the law of God, and applying it to the ever-varying condition and circumstances of the people. This was the case to a considerable extent, at least in later times, even in the kingdom of Judah; but in the kingdom of Israel, where the priesthood was corrupt to the core, and their ministrations were utterly rejected by God, the prophetical order assumed a still more regular and organized character, and the prophets had to do much that properly belonged to the priesthood. Thus we find Elijah on Mount Carmel even officiating as a priest at the altar; and from an incidental notice in the history of the Shunamite woman respecting Elisha, it would appear that the prophets were in the habit of presiding at religious meetings on Sabbath-days and new moons. (2 Kings 4:23) It would also appear from a fact stated at the close of the same chapter the fact of a man from Baal-shalisha bringing to Elisha bread of the first-fruits that the dues of the priesthood (of which these first-fruits formed a part, Deuteronomy 18:4-5) were paid to the prophets by the pious remnant among whom they then ministered in Israel.

This being the case, however, in the kingdom of Israel the prophets there having in the first instance to act the part of public guardians, expounders, and teachers of the law of God we can easily understand how, in this department at least of their official duties, they may occasionally have given way to a spirit of slumber, and have become chargeable with unfaithfulness. Their calling, in this view of it, very nearly coincided with that of a minister of the gospel, whose office, even when accompanied with suitable spiritual gifts, affords no security against partial shortcomings and failures in duty. We even find an occasion recorded in New Testament scripture, on which an apostle, though occupying in respect of office a much higher position than either a Christian minister or an ancient prophet, was sharply reproved for unfaithfulness in duty by another apostle. (Galatians 2:0) And those who in the church at Corinth were supernaturally endowed with prophetical gifts, are plainly charged by St Paul with a certain measure of misdirection and abuse in the application that was made of them. (1 Corinthians 14:0)

It would therefore be against all analogy to suppose, that the prophets in Old Testament times uniformly exercised the divine gift committed to them with unfailing promptitude and fidelity. It was doubtless possible for them, not less than for private believers, to resist the promptings, or even altogether to quench the agency, of the Spirit that wrought in them. One case, in particular, is recorded of most flagrant mis-conduct in a prophet, the old man at Bethel, who, under the false pretence of having received a special communication from heaven, induced another prophet the one sent from Judah to denounce the judgment of heaven upon the altar erected by Jeroboam and the priests that served at it to return and eat with him against an express injunction to the contrary. (1 Kings 18:0) Such extraordinary behaviour on the part of that old prophet at Bethel, can scarcely be accounted for otherwise than on the supposition of a sort of convulsive effect having been produced upon his mind by the holy daring of the prophet from Judah, which contrasted so strongly with his own past unfaithfulness. For residing, as he did, at Bethel, the very scene of the new-enacted idolatry, it properly belonged to him to protest against the unrighteous innovation; for that he needed no direct revelation from heaven, as so many existing revelations bore upon the subject: he needed only a spirit of fearless and uncompromising allegiance to Jehovah; but not possessing this himself, and learning of a sudden, how nobly and with what approving signs from heaven it had been displayed by the prophet of Judah, he was seized with such a passionate desire of being honoured with the fellowship of that more faithful and distinguished brother, that he was resolved at all hazards to compass his return to Bethel. At the same time, cases of delinquency, such as those referred to, must certainly be regarded as belonging to an inferior kind of prophetical unfaithfulness as compared with the direct disobedience of Jonah. In the former, there was no special commission violated; the prophet merely failed to exercise the authority with which he was invested to lift up the testimony against sin, which God’s word had already delivered and put into his hands. The case certainly was different, and the transgression considerably more aggravated, when there was an immediate revelation from heaven, pointing out a particular field for the exercise of the prophetic agency, and a definite message given to be delivered there, and yet no attempt made to execute the solemn charge. Such, however, was Jonah’s case. Disobedient to the heavenly vision, “he rose up to flee from the presence of the Lord,” and went down to Joppa to take ship in a vessel hound for Tarshish (a city either on the coast of Spain, or the opposite coast of Africa, hence lying in a nearly contrary direction to Nineveh), “to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”

We are doubtless not to imagine Jonah so utterly foolish and ignorant in this effort to escape from an incumbent duty, as to suppose, that by flying to Tarshish he thought he might entirely evade the notice or oversight of God. We have only to suppose, that he was extremely reluctant to undertake the work imposed on him, and that he conceived it might possibly be allowed to fall into abeyance, if he could effect his removal to a distance from the region where the prophetic agency of God’s Spirit displayed itself. “He imagined,” to use the words of the Jewish commentator, Kimchi, “that if he went out of the land of Israel, the Spirit of prophecy would not rest upon him.” And making due allowance for the change that has taken place in outward circumstances, and in the mode of the Spirit’s working, the behaviour of Jonah does not seem to have differed materially from the conduct of those in Christian times who are divinely prompted from within, or in the course of providence are distinctly called to the performance of some important work of reformation, but morbidly shrink from the scene of labour, on account of the real or fancied difficulties which appear to surround it, and determinately cling to a place of comparative seclusion or retirement. (In such cases, there usually (though we can scarcely say always) is some degree of uncertainty whether there actually be a call of God, or at least there is some room left for the individual himself to doubt whether there be such a call, as renders it impossible for him to decline without directly contravening the will of Heaven. It is perfectly possible, however, that Jonah himself may have found some such loophole in the manner or time of the communication made to him respecting Nineveh. But viewed simply in respect to the state of mind which gave rise to the desire or purpose of evasion, it does not appear that Jonah’s case very essentially differed from that of Moses, when, after being driven from all his objections, he still sought to be relieved from the task of conducting Israel out of Egypt, as a work from which he at least must be excused. That he did not actually flee, like Jonah, from the appointed scene of labour arose more from the overawing manifestation of divine displeasure, than from any principle of duty yet working in his mind. In modern times also, we might refer to the illustrious Calvin, who, when urged to settle at Geneva as one peculiarly qualified to carry forward and complete the work of reformation there, was only arrested and brought off from his purpose of retirement and study by the terrible address of Farel, which seized him, he says, like the dreadful hand of God: “If you thus make your own studies a pretext for not assisting us in this work of God, I denounce to you in the name of Almighty God, that his curse shall cleave to you, as you are seeking self rather than Christ.” In such momentous undertakings, the greatest spirits are at first apt to misgive; indeed often none so apt as they; for they see more clearly than others the mighty interests involved, and the giant effort needed to effect the desired result.)

What the considerations actually were which pressed so heavily upon the mind of Jonah, and led him to disobey so plain a command of God, we are left in great measure to conjecture. One reason he has himself alleged near the conclusion of the book, where it is introduced in connexion with the disappointment he experienced at the preservation of Nineveh: “I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish; for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.” It is not altogether clear how Jonah intended this saying to be understood as a motive for his flight toward Tarshish; but the construction put upon it by Jerome, though concurred in by several of the fathers, certainly goes in the wrong direction: “The prophet knew, through the inward suggestion of the Holy Spirit, that the repentance of the Gentiles would be the ruin of the Jews. Therefore, as a lover of his country, he was not so much displeased at the thought of Nineveh’s salvation, as he was averse to the destruction of his own people;” as if the conversion of the Gentiles of necessity inferred the rejection of Israel, and were not rather to be regarded by a heaven-taught man as an important and distinguishing element in their coming glory. (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 22:18; Genesis 49:10; Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalms 45, 67, 68, &c. The main stream of prophecy up till the time of Jonah in relation to the Gentiles, represented their dependence upon Israel for blessing, and pointed to the period of their actually coming to participate with Israel in their good. It is somewhat strange, and was no doubt partly owing to the loose typological views current in his age, that Lightfoot should have overlooked this prevailing current of prophecy up to the time of Jonah, and should hare so readily acquiesced in the superficial opinion of Jerome. In his Chronica Temporum, he accounts, first, for the position of the hook of Jonah after those of Hosea, Joel, Amos, and Obadiah, on the ground that these had respect to the destruction and desolation of Israel and Judah, together with Esau, while Jonah’s has respect to the calling of the Gentiles; and, secondly, for Jonah’s unwillingness to go to Nineveh, on the score of love to his own people, precisely as Jerome.) Far different thoughts were likely to crowd upon the mind of Jonah, when the formidable task was imposed upon him of going to do the work of a reformer in the vast metropolis of Assyria, and such as were more fitted to call forth the pity and forbearance of Heaven in respect to the wayward and erring course to which they impelled him. “Alas!” we can suppose him to have said within himself, “what can I hope to accomplish as the hearer of God’s message against the crying sins and abominations of Nineveh? I, a solitary individual, a poor and unknown stranger, in the midst of a proud, overgrown city, revelling in wealth and wantonness! What success have I had at home even among the people of my own tongue and nation? Here, with every advantage on my side, I have borne the testimony of God in vain, and have seen the hand of the Lord stretched out to save from impending ruin, with no other effect among the people at large than of giving new wings to profligacy and corruption. My soul is already sick with looking at the things which have been proceeding around me; my hands hang down nerveless and enfeebled, because of the fruitlessness of their past exertions; and yet I am the man to be sent to deal with that mighty mass of pride and unrestrained wickedness! Is there the least likelihood of their listening to my voice? Will they not rather taunt me, if I should for a moment gain their ear, with the continued impenitence of my own people, and my unavailing efforts to reclaim them? And, whatever success might attend my labours when transferred to that distant field, will not He who has so long spared Israel under so many provocations, much more spare them? Why may not matters, then, be allowed to take their course? Or, if the call to repentance must be proclaimed, let it be at least committed to one better prepared for the toils and difficulties of the undertaking.”

Such, we can readily suppose, might be the train of reflection that would press upon the mind of Jonah in the peculiarly trying circumstances in which he was now placed. It is true, neither the difficulties before nor the discouragements behind, which thus hung like a heavy and chilling cloud upon his soul, were sufficient to justify his refusal to deliver the Lord’s message in Nineveh; faith should have made him deaf to every remonstrant feeling, and should have carried him in triumph over the fears and misgivings which so naturally assailed him. But the situation in which he was placed was one of singular, almost unprecedented difficulty commissioned, as he was, to a work which required the most dauntless courage and buoyant energy of spirit, while he was inwardly crushed with vexation at the incurable blindness and obstinacy of his own people. A sinking of the soul in such circumstances, and even a shrinking back for the moment from the appointed task, however deserving of rebuke in the eye of God, is never to be placed on a level with backslidings and transgressions of an ordinary kind. And to apply here, as is so frequently done, to the son of Amittai the narrow measuring-line of common rules and “modern instances,” and then to deal out against him such railing accusation as might suit only the most perverse and inexcusable offenders, is simply to betray one’s ignorance of the affecting peculiarities of his case, or one’s inability to sympathize with the troubles of a soul reeling and staggering under its weighty load of sore discouragements and overwhelming obligations.

With such a view of Jonah’s situation, we see no occasion to wonder, with certain moralizers on his history, that, notwithstanding his present failing, he should still be reckoned among the true prophets and eminent servants of God; far less are we disposed to concur with certain others, who seem almost to grudge him a place at all in the number of the saints. But, on the other hand, we are as far from being disposed to deny that his conduct merited the rod of chastisement; nor was he long in finding it applied with righteous severity, though the judgment, as might have been expected in the circumstances, was graciously tempered with mercy. Indeed, it was an act of mercy to employ any means to check him in his course; for the worst thing that can be done to a transgressor, is to let him alone in his transgression. The adversary of souls could wish for nothing more favourable to his designs; and, though he is himself incapable of doing or desiring any thing in itself good, we can yet suppose him looking on with malignant satisfaction, when the child of disobedience is seen swimming in prosperity, as if borne on the propitious gales of heaven, while still drifting with fatal certainty on the rocks of perdition.

Such delusive prosperity, however, can never be more than temporary. The truth cannot be long in making itself known, that “the righteous Lord loveth righteousness,” and that “the way of transgressors is hard” the more hard if, by the greatness of their privileges, or the dignity of their calling, they have come to occupy a relation of peculiar nearness to God. For the closer their connexion with him, the more quick and immediate must always be the flashes of divine resentment upon them, when they presume to resist the claims of the divine authority. Least of all was it possible for such a person as Jonah to be allowed to prosper in his waywardness; a prophet raised up to be a guide to others, and yet himself taking the path of transgression! He of all men must be checked in his career. And so “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.”

That one, who knew so well the all-pervading presence and controlling providence of God, should have imagined he could be safe in committing himself to the waves of ocean, when flying as a rebel from the appointment of Him who made that “swelling deep,” as well as “the dry land,” is an astonishing proof of the blinding influence of sin. In the very simplest elements of his faith, there was enough to condemn Jonah of flagrant misconduct. But we may not, on that account, wantonly aggravate the greatness of his guilt. ‘We have no ground to affirm, and it is against all probability to suppose, that his conscience was already lulled into a profound sleep, and that it plied him with no upbraidings of remorse. We are not warranted to regard the deep slumber in which he lay when the storm rose upon the ship, as the symptom of a benumbed and stupified heart, but should rather ascribe it, in so far as any moral cause may have contributed to its production, to the depressed and dislocated state of his mind, arising from the painful struggle with convictions of duty through which he had passed. The whole we can with confidence say of this part of his history is, that the divine retribution was swifter than his own apprehensions of danger; and that he was actually surrounded with the deep waters before he was conscious of their approach. But he was soon to be aroused as with a voice of thunder; for when all efforts failed to contend against the storm, or to secure the vessel from destruction when the angry elements, waxing continually more violent and threatening, forced on the minds of all, doubtless through the directing agency of the Spirit, a conviction of some one being in the vessel whom the vengeance of heaven was pursuing with evil (How near such a thought was to the ancient heathen appears from the words of Horace, Car. iii. 2, v. 26: Vetaho, qui Cereris sacrum Vulgarit arcanie, sub isdem Sit trabibus, fragilemque mecum Solvat phaselon. Saepe Diespiter, &c.) and when the trial by lot was resorted to for the purpose of ascertaining who the guilty individual might be, and the lot fell upon Jonah then he felt the arrest of God’s hand upon him. “Thou art the man,” resounded in his inmost soul; and in the tempest, that raged with so much fury, he at once recognized and owned the instrument of vengeance to punish his iniquity.

Verses 9-10

We cannot but admire the frankness of Jonah’s confession of guilt, and his willing surrender to the claims of justice, when the temptations were so great to an opposite course an evidence surely of something very different from a sophisticated mind or a seared conscience. When thus directly called in providence to consider his ways, we hear of no shuffling excuses or dishonest evasions, but only the unreserved utterance of a heart already conscious of its guilt, and itself the foremost to pronounce judgment on the offence. But the situation of Jonah, when so detected by the singular providence of God, and constrained to witness to his own condemnation, was of the most sad and humiliating description. “A righteous man,” says Solomon, “falling down before the wicked, is as a troubled fountain and a corrupt spring.” Here was a righteous man fallen in the worst sense fallen from his righteousness: more than that, a prophet specially raised up and supernaturally endowed for advancing among men the interests of God’s kingdom one who, by his wholesome instructions and exemplary character, should have been as a crystal spring, sending forth all around streams of living water, yet found an occasion of trouble and distress, a terror to himself and a bane to others! When the chief prophet of God to Israel, and his chosen representative to the world, lay thus prostrate as a detected and doomed sinner before a company of heathen mariners, how entirely did the foundations of the earth seem to be out of course! O unhappy Israel! have thy backslidings mounted so high as to reach even the ambassadors of heaven within thy borders? How near must thou be to destruction, when thy very lights are thus dimming their brightness, thy standard-bearers fainting and falling down in confusion before the heathen, who should have stood with awe in their presence, and, from fellowship with them, should have derived only life and blessing!

Such reflections naturally force themselves on our minds in connexion with so grievous a fall in the high places of Israel. The work of God required a man of high-strung energy and noble elevation of soul, and Jonah, at this stage of his career, proved inadequate to the occasion; he sinks like a fragile vessel beneath the burden which the Spirit of God had deemed it needful to impose on him. But he is not alone in the condemnation; he bears upon his soul the iniquities also of those with whom he is connected Israel behind, and now Nineveh before; his miserable failure is but the reflection of their widespread degeneracy and manifold provocations, as was formerly the case with Moses at the waters of Meribah; (Deuteronomy 4:21. The Lord is there said to have been “angry with Moses for their sakes,” as it is in our version; but as it should rather be, “on account of their words,” viz., the murmuring and rebellious words they spoke at Meribah. What Hengstenberg has correctly noted on the connexion of Moses and Aaron with the guilt of the people, may substantially be applied also to Jonah: “The guilt of the leaders is plainly to be recognized as the result of that of the people. Without the unbelief of the latter, there had not been the exhibition of weakness on the part of the former. Faint and wearied by the long course of provocations, they were at last, in a moment of weakness, carried away by the stream of the popular spirit of defection.” ( Authentie, ii. p. 426).) for it was his vexing and unfruitful connexion with a people bent on backsliding, that had brought such faintness upon his spirit and such back-sliding into his course; so that in his declension was proclaimed the solemn lesson, “the whole head is sick, the whole heart is faint.” This thought, however, was rather for Israel at large than for Jonah himself, since it could not properly excuse or justify, however it might in part account for, his present humiliating and perilous condition.

Verses 11-16

Therefore it never comes at all into notice here. When the mariners asked Jonah why he had done so, he was silent as to any justification of himself; their question is recorded, but not his answer, for he had none to give. And when they again asked him, “What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm to us?” his reply was at hand: “Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm to you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.” His companions in trouble had now got full permission to do their worst upon him; but, partly won by the simplicity and frankness of Jonah’s behaviour, and partly overawed by the manifestation of divine justice which was proceeding before their eyes, they still strove to avert the calamity which seemed to be inevitable. Anxious, if possible, to save this stranger’s life, and afraid the vengeance which seemed to pursue him for having sinned against God in one respect should fall upon them by sinning in another, “they rowed hard to bring the ship to land.” Their efforts, however, were in vain; and when, at last, no alternative appeared to be left but that of executing the awful doom, they proceeded to it with a trembling heart, and a solemn appeal to Heaven for the integrity of their purpose: “We beseech thee, O Lord, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased thee. So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.”

Behold, then, the severity of God! how sternly impartial in its executions of judgment! It was not enough that Jonah had become alive to his transgression, and condemned himself on account of it; nay, while the men around him melt at the thought of his fate, and would fain have it averted, there is no relenting on the part of Heaven, but a rigorous enforcement of the demands of justice. Why such painful severity here? Because the ends of the divine government required it required it, in the first instance, for Jonah himself: he had sinned presumptuously against God, and he must bear the penalty; it was a righteous thing for God in such a case to inflict, and for him to yield to the appointed doom. But still more was this example of severity needed for the good of others. The honour and cause of God were at the time peculiarly bound up with the faithfulness of Jonah; and, having failed in the way of duty to promote the glory of God, he must in another way become instrumental in advancing it he must be made, by the things he suffered, a witness for God’s righteousness, since he had ceased to do the part of a witness by the active performance of the duty required of him. We thus learn from his experience, that near relationship to God purchases no immunity to sin; it only ensures, when sin is indulged, a speedier execution of judgment: so that, if the shepherd of the Lord’s flock should prove unmindful of his charge, or the Church itself should as a whole, or in any of its members, become backsliding and corrupt, there especially must God show himself in severity; he is pre-eminently dishonoured there, and the work of judgment must proceed, that others may see and fear.

Verse 17

But in what presently befell Jonah we are also called to behold the goodness of God; for no sooner is he cast out, as a victim of divine justice, into the raging deep, than a great fish was ready to swallow him up not for instant destruction, but for safe preservation. The peaceful elements of nature had been lashed into fury when the means of chastisement were required; and now, when a purpose of mercy was to be accomplished, the devourer was at once transformed into a house of safety a proof, both ways, of the infinite resources of God, and how easy it is for him to provide himself any where with the instruments required for the execution of his designs. What precisely the great fish might be, (The view commonly adopted from the earliest times has understood by the great fish a whale although it is well known that the Hebrew word here, and even the corresponding Greek word in Matthew 12:40, is applicable to any great fish. The narrowness of the neck of the whale has led many commentators to think of some other fish Bechart the dog-fish, and others some species of shark; and yet in whales there is another cavity besides the stomach a sort of huge air-vessel, which might have been made to serve the purpose. (See Jebb’s Sacred Literature, p. 178). But recent writers have wisely given up speculations of this kind; a miracle any way was needed; and that various large fishes might be found in the Mediterranean suitable for the purpose, is no longer a matter of doubt.) or why exactly this mode of preservation might be resorted to, it is of little moment to inquire. In the act of preservation there certainly was a miraculous display of the power of God; and the particular mode of doing it seems to have been adopted with the view of rendering Jonah’s condition, while under punishment, as much as possible an emblem of death. With such guilt upon him, he should have died; and, although he was miraculously spared, yet the means employed for his preservation formed a kind of temporary death as he seems, from the moment of his ejection into the sea, to have lost all further consciousness of life, to have felt simply as a drowning man, plunged into the deep waters, and no longer numbered among the living. The whole was ordered with a special view to his being constituted such a sign, both to the generation then living and to future times, as the purposes of Divine wisdom required. And to this our thoughts must now be turned but not till we have first descended with Jonah into this valley of the shadow of death, to learn from him what lessons of wisdom his experience there has furnished for the Church and people of God.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Jonah 1". "Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral Epistles". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbn/jonah-1.html.
Ads FreeProfile