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Bible Commentaries
Jonah 1

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-2

CRITICAL NOTES.] And (now)] a continuation of the Hebrew writings, not an independent part.

Jonah 1:2. That] Heb. the city, the great, the art, a demonstrative force. Nineveh] Cf. Genesis 10:11, Smith’s Bib. Dict. Arise] A term of excitement.



The word” came suddenly, unexpectedly, and authoritatively to Jonah. He thought of quietly remaining in his own land. For ages God had confined his revelations to Israel. But he is the Ruler of all nations. His kingdom is not local and geographical like the gods of the heathens. Among the Gentiles the gospel must be preached (Romans 3:28); and Jonah is sent to the most renowned city of the Gentile world.

I. The commission of Jonah. “Go to Nineveh, that great city.”

1. It was sovereign. The word came to Jonah, apparently the most unlikely for the work. God elects his own agents, appoints their duty and their place, and gives no account of his matters to us. Some have more work to do and more honour than others. Let all be content in their sphere, instead of longing for greater distinction and condemning the less privileged. Greater service would bring greater responsibility, and greater failure greater condemnation. God gives to every one according to his ability, and in sovereign authority demands implicit obedience. “Arise, go.”

2. It was arduous. There was great danger. Jonah might be ridiculed. It was a new and unheard-of enterprise. Nineveh was great in pride and splendour, wealth and population. For centuries it had been growing in power and population. The monarchs of Assyria had filled it with the spoils of empires. It had no equal, and sat as a queen in splendour. Nahum predicted the destruction of the city from a distance, but Jonah must go into it. It requires self-denial to go as a missionary to heathens now, with higher civilization and greater advantages. Jonah’s mission was more difficult and trying. Social relations and selfish pursuits must give way to every command of God.

3. It was clear. Though brief and without explanation, the call was definite. With military precision the word is uttered—“Go;” the field is revealed—“Nineveh;” and obedience is expected—“Arise.” The word often comes to us with positive demands upon our time and purse. There has been no doubt or uncertainty. Let us feel its convincing and confirming power.

4. It was urgent. Arise. Delay strengthens doubt and increases difficulty. Carnal reasoning and natural reluctance have few better counsellors than procrastination. If we loiter, we may desert the duty, and the enemy be encouraged to tempt again. Go—the city is exposed to judgment, and men may perish. The King’s business requires haste. “Run, speak to that young man.”

II. The reason for Jonah’s commission. “For the wickedness,” &c.

1. Great cities are often filled with wickedness. Power gives license and custom begets authority. Examples are pernicious, and evil communications corrupt good manners. Nineveh was filled with pride and alienated from God. She oppressed the poor and helpless (Jonah 3:8; Nahum 3:1-3). Blood and robbery, idolatry and witchcraft, stained her glory. “She drew not near to God.” Are our great cities and towns free from luxury and pomp, irreligion and injustice?

2. God sees the wickedness of great cities. They are not too great for the omniscient eye of the Great Judge. All sins go up before him, and are registered for judgment in his book of remembrance. Enormous guilt cries like the blood of Abel for interference. God specially takes cognizance of places above human restraint, and manifests holy indignation at their wickedness. Sodom and Gomorrah, Babylon and unburied Nineveh, are warnings to this generation.

3. The wickedness of great cities must be exposed. “Cry against it.” Individuals cannot hide themselves in communities, nor cities throw their responsibility upon nations. Every sin is searched out, found, and reproved. Jonah was not to go and teach philosophy, palliate, or compromise with sin, but to cry against it. Denounce the idolatry and predict the ruin of Nineveh. With intense feeling and earnestness he must give the alarm; proclaim with the voice of the herald the danger. “Many people cannot cry; they have not force of soul; they are not endowed for extreme effort,” says one. We must wink at no sin; expose drunkenness and profligacy; with lip and life, amid insult and indifference, cry aloud and spare not. God may conceal the danger of our duty, and touch our most sensitive feelings to test our faith and discipline our hearts, but never flee away, lest he punish you. “Fear not; certainly I will be with thee.”


The word. This phrase seems to represent the “word of the Lord,” as an atmosphere of kindling holy thought, a sphere of spiritual truth encompassing the Prophet, illuminating and moving his whole soul, and finally taking shape in language of exhortation, or prediction, or teaching, or resolve, as the case might be [Liddon].

Wickedness. God is brought before us in these words as he sits above this waterflood of crime, as he remaineth in the moral world, a King for ever. He is the Great Judge, unseen by man, but witnessing all human acts, and words, and motives; seated now upon his throne of judgment: and each crime of each member of that vast community mounts upwards, and is registered in his heavenly court [Wordsworth].

Let us call on our souls, when plain duty is before us, to arise and go about it: speedily, if we do not wish Satan to stop us from it (1 Samuel 21:8; Psalms 119:60); heartily, if we desire God to accept our service (Ecclesiastes 9:10); and cheerfully, if we would have comfort in doing it (Romans 12:8). Jonah was called to immediate and hearty service. Such should be our obedience to every command of our Divine Master [Sibthorp].


Jonah 1:1. The name Jonah signifies “a dove.” But there is not much of “mourning love,” of which the dove has always been taken as the symbol in the record. The name might express his father’s feeling; as applied to himself it seems a misnomer. The hawk, the raven, or the vulture would seem to be more truly symbolical. But let us not forget that he tells his own tale, after the things recorded are past: that he tells it very expressly to the glory of God’s mercy, with which designedly he sets his own hardness and thoughtless cruelty in contrast [Raleigh]. There is but one reason for the mission stated here; but several others in reserve—some gently hinted, some unrevealed until after ages [Raleigh].

Jonah 1:2. “Jonah and his ‘arise’ giveth a warning to us all, for we have all a Nineveh to go into. Magistrates, arise and go to the gate to execute God’s judgments. Ministers, arise and go to the gospel to do the works of evangelists. People, arise and go to your trades,” &c. [King].

Verse 3


Jonah 1:3. Tarshish] Tartessus in Spain; others, Carthage; probably Tarsus in Cilicia. Presence] Lit. from being in the presence, i.e. from standing in the presence of the Lord as His servant and minister (cf. Genesis 4:16; Deuteronomy 10:8). Joppa] Now Jaffa.



Jonah arose but to depart from duty. He might be influenced by fear, indolence, and unbelief. But the chief reason for his flight seems to be intense love for his own, and deep hatred to a heathen country. He was reluctant to offer mercy to Nineveh, and desired its destruction as an enemy. Whatever leads to prejudice blinds the mind, sours the temper, and degrades the man of God.

I. Flight from duty is not departure from God’s control. Jonah believed in the Divine omnipresence (Psalms 139:7; Psalms 139:12), did not cast off all regard for God, but sought to relieve himself of duty by quitting the land of light and religious ordinances. He did not expect to go where God was not, but where God would let him alone. His creed was better than his conduct. He left the field of action for the place of retirement. Many are of Jonah’s temper, try his experiment, and feel the presence of God too painful for them. A scholar leaves the Sabbath school to avoid the contact of truth with conscience. A young man brought up under religious influence quits home and native country. An ungodly man feels miserable, shuns godly company, and stifles impressions by fleeing into business, worldly society, and amusements. The believer knows his duty, but will not do it. Such efforts often succeed in spite of the restraints of providence and the voice of conscience. But fear gets hold of men at length, God meets them in the way, and it is impossible to escape. “Lo, they that be far from thee shall perish.”

II. Favourable circumstances in departing from God do not always lead to a successful issue. Circumstances favoured Jonah’s design, and gave him an opportunity of escape. “He found a ship going to Tarshish.” The vessel quickly sailed. Jonah thought he was leaving his trouble by leaving his native shore, but vain hope (Amos 9:2-4; Isaiah 2:19-22; Jeremiah 16:16-21). “The ready way is not always the right way,” says an old author. The greatest hurry the least speed in a path of disobedience. The worst plans may prosper for a time, but such prosperity ends in storms and darkness. Talk not of Providence in an evil course—say not when tempted that you are tempted of God. God might miraculously interfere with men’s conduct, but this would change the government of the world, render our probation useless, and afford no opportunity for human action and Divine justice. If he thwart the ways of selfish men, you hear no more of Providence. Departure from God is departure from his love and protection—from Divine dignity and unbounded bliss. Follow the directions of the word, and you will enjoy the leadings of Providence. “The Lord meeteth him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness.”

III. Departure from God is more expensive than obedience to God. Jonah paid the fare, like many who scruple not to spend their money on selfish projects, but withhold from the cause of God. Sin is always expensive, and draws upon our purse and time. Sinners pay their fare,

1. In bitter experience. There is peace in pleasing God, but conscious opposition to him brings an uneasy mind. Jonah could not stay at home. Everything reminded him of God and duty, and such thoughts are painful. Men seek a new country, try fresh experiments, to drown the warnings of conscience, but do not succeed.

2. In moral loss. The loss of Divine favour and a servant’s dignity. The Sabbath-breaker, the pleasure-seeker, and the drunkard, pay their fare. Blasted prospects, shattered constitutions, and ruined families indicate the awful price of sin. The pleasures of sin are dearly bought, never last, and always bring disappointment.


Jonah’s disobedience.

1. It was life into his own hands.
2. It was foolish; for he took the difficulties of wilful. He deliberately paid his money.

3. It was ungrateful; for he refused the honour of the commission.

4. It was continuous.

5. It was criminal [Adapted from Exell].

There is in the conduct of Jonah a twofold sin,—disobedience to God and flight from God. What God appoints thee to do, do without gainsaying. He who gives the burden, gives the shoulders to bear it. He who flees increases the burden and commits folly [Lange].

Take the task he gives you gladly,

Let his work your pleasure be;

Answer quickly when he calleth,

“Here am I, send me, send me!”

Step by step the disobedient prophet takes in consummation of his purpose, and each following fast on the back of its predecessor, without repentance and, as it would almost seem, without reflection.

(1) He “rose up to flee.”
(2) He “went to Joppa.”
(3) He “found a ship.”
(4) He “paid the fare.”
(5) He “went down into it.” The words are like relentless, consecutive, fast-falling blows, under which his whole character as an obedient man of God is beaten to death and trampled under-foot of Satan [Hugh Martin].

Man’s own wisdom is a worthless guide. He is often more diligent in working his ruin than in seeking his salvation.


Jonah 1:3. To leave the presence of God is to “go down;” and the history of many a day might, in the evening, be written too faithfully in the sad record, “I have been going down.” Down from communion, from a conscious faith, from quietness, and firm, steady obedience. Down into strife without victory, into toil without fruit; into mere money-making, mere pleasure-seeking, mere time-wasting. The success and glory of true life can only be found in keeping the upward road—in hearing and following the voice which perpetually says, “Come up hither” [Raleigh]!

Verses 4-5


Jonah 1:4. Sent out] Lit. to cast or hurl, passive, to be thrown prostrate. “God throws the wind down upon the surface of the sea.” “Hurled a greate wynde into the see” [Coverdale]. Was like] Lit. thought to be broken. The ship personified; ship and crew identified in the writer’s mind.

Jonah 1:5. Afraid] Though accustomed to storms. Lighten] The sailors and ship under a burden. Fast] A heavy sleep, from a word to snore.



Sin is not only an expensive pleasure, but a disturbing element. In the human heart, the domestic circle, and the Christian Church, it creates storms. Some are permitted to escape from God, not so Jonah. Perverse and self-willed as he may be, God’s grace abounds. God sends a messenger to recover him.

I. The storm and its lessons. Learn—

1. The operations of nature are under Divine control.

(1) In their origin. It is distinctly said, “the Lord sent out a great wind.” Nature is created and dependent; has neither force nor will of her own. All the elements are God’s messengers and obey him (Psalms 147:15-18). Mark the perfect ease and mighty power displayed. He wills, he speaks, and calm and tempest, sunshine and shower, are cast forth upon us (Genesis 1:3; Job 37:1-7). When we expect rest, lo, a messenger to rouse us to a sense of danger! “Winds and tempests fulfil his pleasure.”

(2) In their strength. “A mighty tempest fell upon Jonah.” Storms often swept that sea, were known by special names, as Euroclydon off Crete, but none like this. God gives force to matter and motion to winds. He whispers in the breeze and thunders in the hurricane; he gives strength to the floods and direction to the storm. Regularity does not exclude supreme and personal control. The sudden change in the financial weather which melts our fortune like ice before the spring-time—the rains which frustrate our plans, and the clouds that enter our dwellings, are sent by God. “For he commandeth and raiseth the stormy wind which lifteth up the waves thereof.”

2. The operations of nature are moral in their design. The wind was sent after Jonah and fell upon him. It had a special end, a moral design. God is accomplishing many purposes in daily providence. By the same process he can punish the sinner and reclaim the backslider. We may see mischief in the storm. One thing may engross our attention, but nothing deranges God’s design. Individual circumstances are adapted to individual character, and national calamities to national morality. The elements are messengers of mercy and judgment. Fire and water, wind and malaria, are sent to reach the disobedient. Fugitives from God will be caught in their transgression. It is better to be recovered by a tempest than perish in a calm.

II. The storm and its effects. God’s efforts are not powerless. Nature roused to fury speaks with no small voice.

1. Its effect upon the ship. “The ship was like to be broken.” Often had it ploughed the sea, but never tossed about as then. What are works of man when seized by the hand of God? Who can contend with the Almighty? Our merchant fleet and men of war are helpless in the raging of the sea. It is needful for all, especially for those who do business on great waters, to own dependence upon God and thank him for a prosperous voyage.

2. Its effect upon the mariners.

(1) They feared. “The mariners were afraid.” Men of careless and jovial spirit matured in peril, trembled in fear. God can damp the most buoyant spirit and rouse the most secure.

(2) They prayed. “And cried each to his God.” Perhaps of different nations each had his favourite idol. They were sensible men, knew that their own power and wisdom would not avail in that tempest. Prayer is a law of our constitution and the most sensible part of our conduct. But many do not pray until they get on the sea. In a calm they forget God; in a storm, alarmed by danger, roused by affliction, they feel conscious of sin, and cry to God for help. But better late than never. When forced to feel that we cannot flee from God, it may be acceptable to return in prayer to him (Psalms 107:0). “Lord, in trouble have they visited thee; they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them.”

(3) They cast out their wares. God’s purpose does not excuse man’s neglect. Men risk life sometimes to get wealth; but when life is in danger they will part with the most valuable treasures to keep it. “All that a man hath will he give for his life.” Spiritually we should be anxious to save the soul. Every besetting sin in the race, every cumber in the voyage, must be cast away. Worldly cares and pursuits which endanger the soul and raise the anger of God must be forsaken. The crew with Paul threw overboard all the merchandise. Lay aside all encumbrance. Life is more value than cargo. Forsake all sin, and you will pray with greater speed than Jonah’s mariners. “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”


Fear brings many recruits into the army of Christ, who afterwards fight under his banner from love of his service. The cry of sorrow often turns into the pleading of true contrition and filial dependence (Acts 16:27-34; Isaiah 26:16-18). To his grace be the glory. It is well to find these heathen sailors not sunk into a stupid insensibility, nor bewildered with extreme terror, two common effects of imminent danger on bold and irreligious minds, especially in their profession. But one thing alone gives true peace in danger: assurance of God’s love (2 Corinthians 5:5-8). Do we enjoy it? do we seek it [Sibthorp]?

In the prayer of the mariners notice,

1. The light of nature which instructed them to recognize a Supreme Being.

2. The power of conscience to hear him speak in anger in the storm.

3. The impotence of idolatry in distress. Their prayers were earnest, though ignorant. But we learn that the deities of pagan lands and sentimental religionists are deaf and dumb like the gods of Baal. “The natural light of reason extends thus far, that it considers God kind, gracious, merciful, and mild. This is a great light; but it fails in two particulars. In the first place, it believes that God has power and knowledge to do and to give; but that he is willing also to do such things for it, it knows not; therefore it does not continue steadfast in its opinion. In the second place, reason cannot correctly bestow the predicate of Deity upon that being to whom it belongs. It knows that God is; but who and what he is who has a right to be called God it knows not” [Lange].—


Jonah 1:4-5. Storm. Some years ago an infidel embarked at Buffalo with a printing-press, to set up an infidel publication in Cleveland. He annoyed the passengers by his zeal to discuss the subject of religion. When a storm arose and threatened them with destruction, he was not only willing to throw overboard his press, but was conspicuous for his prayers and cries for mercy. When the storm was over, and he found himself a laughing-stock among the wicked and an object of pity to the pious, he went back to his infidelity and blamed his early education in superstition, as he called it, for his fright and prayers [Mitchell].

Verses 5-6


Jonah 1:6. What] He sleeps, they pray (Psalms 107:28). God] Lit. the God; other gods powerless (perhaps the language of hope); Jonah’s God could help them.



Fatigue and sorrow had some influence upon Jonah (Matthew 26:40-45); but he seemed to be stupefied by sin, and for a time composed himself into deep sleep. The praying sailors and the sleeping servant indicate great contrasts in moral life.

I. Contrasts in the family. Diligent and idle, godly and ungodly children Some pray, and others live regardless of God. The parents are asleep when they ought to be alive to every duty, and set an example to their converted children. Children are careless when mothers and fathers continually pray for them.

II. Contrasts in the Christian Church. Many Christians are active and energetic, praying for the Holy Spirit and the revival of God’s work: others murmur and do little or nothing. They are asleep in Zion.

III. Contrasts in the world. We have Pagan piety reproving Christian indifference; Roman Catholic and ritualistic zeal shaming Protestant faith; heathens and Mohammedans provoking us to good works. “Let us not sleep as do others.”


God had other messengers beside wind and storm. He often uses rough and uncouth means, very unlikely instruments. It was not a pious minister, but a wicked woman, who rebuked Bunyan for his profanity. Jonah was roused, not by a prophet of God, but a heathen captain, who suffered no one in common danger to desert his duty or hinder others from performing it. “What meanest thou?” &c.

I. “What meanest thou?It is most unreasonable to sleep. The bird, the beast, and the insect, know their own interest better; flee from danger, and prepare for coming difficulty (Isaiah 1:3; Proverbs 6:5-11; Jeremiah 8:7). Surely intelligent beings, Christian believers, may learn much from animal creation. II. “What meanest thou?It is most risky to sleep. The ship is in danger of sinking. Thy own life and the lives of others are at stake. All hands must be at work. It is no time for sleep when the house is on fire. We should never sleep in self-security when men are perishing around us. III. “What meanest thou?when others are asking thy prayers. Every man is longing for deliverance.

1. Asked by those who have prayed to their gods in vain. Each has looked to his idol, and depended upon resources which have disappointed. Men turn to you in penitence and bitter experience, and ask an interest in your prayers. Intercessory prayer is genuine charity.

2. Asked by those who believe that your God can help. The ship-master was convinced that Jonah’s God might possibly be more powerful than any of the gods of the crew. This is the language of hope and earnestness. “Perhaps God may think upon us.” The faith of awakened sinners should reprove our unbelief and neglect. We come not to a God unknown and unrevealed. There is more than “perhaps” upon which to ground our faith. We have warrant to pray, for God will hear; we are roused by circumstances around us to call upon our God in personal united supplication. “Let us not sleep as do others.”


Jonah 1:5. Jonah was in a deep sleep, a sleep by which he was fast held and bound; a sleep as deep as that from which Sisera never woke. (The same Heb. word is used, Judges 4:21.) Had God allowed the ship to sink, the memory of Jonah would have been that of a fugitive prophet. As it is, his deep sleep stands as an image of the lethargy of sin [Pusey].

1. A child of God may so miscarry through infirmity, negligence, and temptation, that he may be blameworthy and reprovable by a Pagan in the light of nature.
2. It is deeply censurable and absurd even to the eye of nature to be secure in trouble.
3. Nature’s light will acknowledge that he who is the true God hath power to deliver in extreme danger [Hutcheson].

Jonah 1:6. What meanest thou? Apply the words to the sinner. I. The condition indicated. Sleep a state of—

1. Darkness;
2. Danger;
3. Insensibility;
4. and Death. Yet the awful condition of many. The anger of God is upon them. Death and judgment are drawing nigh. Yet they sleep on, wish not to be disturbed and roused to a consciousness of danger. II. The question pressed. “What meanest thou?” To avoid the danger and run away from God? Is sleep better than anxiety, and sin than salvation? Do you mean to sleep as long as God and man will let you, and then just when the ship is sinking try to save yourselves? Will you rob God of your love and obedience, and expect him to interpose at last to save you? “What meanest thou?” “Awake, thou that sleepest, and Christ shall give thee light.”

We see in this instance the great danger in which unconscious sinners are often involved—that the solace sought by them often departs from them—that a deep sleep remains, and that in the performance of duty the godly are sometimes more slothful than the ungodly [Lange].

A salutary admonition, from whatever quarter it may come, ought never to be despised [Lange].


Jonah 1:6. Sleeper. The saint’s sleeping-time is Satan’s tempting-time. No temptation so weak but is strong enough to foil a Christian that is napping in security. Samson asleep, and Delilah cut his locks. Noah asleep, and his graceless son has a fit time to discover his father’s nakedness. Thus the Christian asleep in security may soon be surprised, so as to lose much of his spiritual strength [An old Divine].

Verse 7


Jonah 1:7. Lots] A heathen mode of decision, often permitted by God. “Lots were for

(1) dividing;
(2) consulting;
(3) divining” [Pusey]. Fell upon] Proverbs 16:33.



When great judgments happen there must be great guilt. When a nation, city, or family is brought into danger, it is wise to inquire into the cause. Here we notice—

I. Social danger caused by individual sin. Nature teaches a connection between sin and suffering. They are bound together under God’s government. The connection is not casual. All misery is the result of sin. But while each individual stands for himself, he is also related to others. Nations suffer for the sins of rulers; families, for the sins of parents; and the crew for the sins of its passenger. “This man perished not alone in his iniquity.”

II. Social danger prompting social sympathy. “They said one to another, Come.” Great calamity begets great sympathy. Common sufferings knit kindred feelings and hearts in one. “There was no independent member, no mutinous spirit amongst the crew,” says Mr Exell; “no one suggested another way of relief; all, as though animated by one common impulse, at once accept this test of innocence.”

III. Social danger removed by the providence of God. “Nature forces on our heart a Creator, history a providence,” says Richter. In this narrative we discern the power of God over the elements of nature and the destinies of men.

1. Providence over the phenomena of nature. The storm—no ordinary one—was traced to a cause. The mariners, though not true believers, were not atheists. Their gods could do nothing; perhaps Jonah’s God could help them, whom they called “the God.” Jonah is reproved for want of devotion to him and lackness of duty to his fellow-passengers in peril. Among heathen nations there was a general admission of one supreme ruler over earth and sea; a remnant of the primitive knowledge by which Jehovah left not himself without a witness.

2. Providence over the conduct of men. There must be a cause for this evil; they must find it out, and if possible remove it. They believe some one is guilty, and do not expect that the culprit will tell of himself. They appeal to the higher power, in the only way they know, by lot. The evil is thought of, and not so much the storm. Behind natural phenomena, law, sequence, or cause, they discern moral designs. Man cannot escape his God—(a) In discovering their guilt. Jonah expected to escape, but was found out and his guilt made known. No darkness nor distance can hide the sinner. Murder will out; and it is true in a measure with all sin. Sin tries to deceive with secrecy and then betrays to others. “There is nothing that shall not be revealed.” “God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing.” (b) In deciding their destiny. No event can escape the eye of God, and no step in life be taken without his permission. God overruled the lot, and it fell upon Jonah. How completely are we in the hands of God. Believers trying to forget neglect of duty, and unbelievers refusing to follow Christ, can hide nothing from his all-searching eye. “My times are in thy hand.” “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.”


The mariners have now recourse to other means of safety than their exertions or prayers.—Observe in their conduct, First, both the power and defectiveness of conscience. They saw themselves deserving of Divine anger; yet each thought himself less guilty than his fellow. The lanthorn light of conscience in a natural man, gives a general view of some prominent truths sufficient to cause him to pass sentence of condemnation on himself, but it searches not the soul’s recesses, so as to show sin in its extent and sinfulness. Ignorance and pride are impenetrable, and these effects are produced by the powerful aid of the Spirit. When that shines into the soul, a man will make St Paul’s confession his own. Secondly, the light of nature. As conscience shined inwardly, so this outwardly, testifying to a connection between guilt and punishment (Acts 28:4). They saw in the tempest an extraordinary judgment, and surmised (rightly) an extraordinary cause. Perhaps herein the light of nature was aided by that of tradition and some faint glimmerings of Scriptural truth. We are very slow to admit a connection between sin and suffering. We are apt to lay the blame of the latter anywhere but where it should be, on our own transgressions. Thirdly, the influence of superstition. Lots have sometimes been used by Divine appointment. Here is a far less clear warrant for them. Yet we may admit some right principle among these sailors, of referring to a higher Being what seemed beyond the reach of human knowledge to decide. But among the heathen Satan abused them (as other things of a similar kind, such as divination) to an execrable superstition, and the establishment of his own dominion (Esther 3:7; Ezekiel 21:21; Isaiah 20:3). Both in ancient and modern times they have been abused to serve the avarice and evil passions of men, and have proved the source of misery, contention, and bloodshed (Joel 3:3; Obadiah 1:11; John 19:23). We are seldom if ever warranted to have recourse to lots. We have a full and sufficient guide in the Scriptures, and can never be justified in using this guide, as some do, in the way of a lottery [Sibthorp].


This evil. Suffering, penal and social.

Guilt disowned and discovered in the lot. “In this procedure, there are two things to be attended to:—First, the fact that each man by making this proposal and going into it disowns the guilt: and second, the method by which they propose to discover it [Martin].

Upon Jonah

1. Who is to be pitied for his guilt and humiliation.

2. Rejoiced over, because stopped in his wandering from God and about to be restored.

God’s controversy is sometimes greater with his people and more severely prosecuted than against Pagans and gross idolaters. For—

1. Rebellion is idolatry (1 Samuel 15:23), and so much the grosser as it is in a child.

2. Though they worshipped that which was no god, yet none of them had so behaved towards a supposed Deity, as he had done towards the true God.

3. God may wink at sins in Pagans, but will not let his own children go on unreclaimed (Amos 3:2), it being mercy to pursue them for their folly and amend them [Hutcheson].


Jonah 1:7. Lots. Religion, even in its rudest forms, has always been faithful to its general principle thus far, that when the anger of the Divinity has been apprehended, it has been understood to be against sins and crimes; and also that the Divinity was believed to know who was the criminal. The mariners, therefore, referred it to the avenging Power to point out the criminal by a common ancient practice. A reference this not to chance, but to a superior intelligence. Could our prophet have any doubt where. the lot would fall? No: his conscience must have been a prophet to him [John Foster].

Verses 8-10


Jonah 1:8. Tell] How urgent and earnest this examination! Fit questions for our own hearts!

Jonah 1:9. Hebrew] A name by which an Israelite was known to foreigners (Genesis 40:15; Exodus 3:18). The God] Heathens had distinct gods for heaven, earth, and sea.

Jonah 1:10. Afraid] They had heard of, now they felt the power of Jehovah.



Most admirable is the dealing of these heathens with the prophet of God. They are in great danger, but press not his ruin; do not condemn him without opportunity to clear himself. They inquire concerning him—(a) mildly, (b) minutely, (c) briefly, and (d) urgently. Their patience was greater than many Christians would have displayed in similar circumstances.

I. Apply the questions to Jonah. “These questions must have gone home to Jonah’s conscience. What is thy business? The office of a prophet which he had left. Whence comest thou? From standing before God as his minister. What thy country? Of what people art thou? The people of God whom he had quitted for heathen; not to win them to God, as he commanded; but not knowing what they did to abet him in his flight” [Pusey].

II. Apply the questions to ourselves. Pause amid the excitements, hurry, and concerns of life, and ask what is our present business—the work of God, or the service of Satan? What our country—the world, or the kingdom of Christ? Are we content with earth, or do we seek “a better country”? Of what people? Of the people of God, or those living without God? Some live in holiness and others in sin; some by faith and others by sense. Whom dost thou join now, for they are thine, and with them thou shalt have thy portion? And whence comest thou? Trace thy origin from God as a holy being, from thy parents as born in sin. If saved, thou comest out of darkness into light, from the power of Satan unto God. But whither goest thou? What is your aim, and what will be the end of your life?


I. Jonah confesses his faith. A confession as unreserved as his guilt was aggravating.

1. He was a Hebrew. A name designating Abraham’s descendants, and indicating great privileges and advantages. One of the peculiar people. We have been adopted into Israel’s position. To us belong the oracles of God. Our sins are more dishonouring to God than those of Pagans.

2. He was a servant of God. “I fear Jehovah.” He distinctly avows his religion besides his nationality. He thus confirms the light and condemns the practice of the sailors; candidly confesses his own guilt, and puts to shame many professors, who hide their light and disown their Master. He feared; though his conduct belied his profession, yet he reverently feared and worshipped Jehovah.

(1) His God was the Creator of heaven and earth. He exalts him above the local deities of heaven, sea, and land; directs the mariners’ thoughts from their own lying vanities to the living and true God. His God did not partition the universe into provinces, but governed all things and could help them in the storm.

(2) His God was Jehovah. The great and significant name by which God (according to his own use of it) revealed Himself as the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God of a chosen people. One God and only One, Maker and Ruler of the universe; Guide and Saviour of men. Thus he invites all to come and put their trust under the shadow of his wing (Exodus 6:2-8; Psalms 68:4; Romans 3:1-2).

II. Jonah confesses his guilt. What a change in the prophet.

1. He makes a bold confession. He shrank from distant danger at first, now lays himself open to reproach, contempt, and death.

2. He makes a full confession. He has no reserve, but severely condemns himself in the presence of the crew. “It is easy to keep the flag up when it is nailed to the mast; but to hoist it in the face of the enemy after we have been sailing with him, yard-arm and yard-arm, under false colours, is hard—so hard that many surrender—are long led captive by Satan at his will, and delivered only through severe affliction or deep disgrace.”

3. He made a difficult confession. He had neglected his duty and hid his religion; he had refused to help the crew and told them that he was in conflict with Jehovah; that his conduct was wicked, not a revolt against the arbitrary rule of a local divinity, but against his Maker and theirs, and had involved them in contest with his infinite power and truth. This was hard, but he did it, and proved the sincerity of his penitence and the reality of God’s gracious work in his heart. “Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God: which made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever.”


Are you a true worshipper and servant of God? Are you like Jonah overtaken by Divine displeasure in a course of disobedience? And are you at last humbled to own your guilt? Then you will acknowledge these three things in the exceeding sinfulness of your sin—the three elements which appear in the guilt of Jonah and expressly owned by himself.

1. Against what God is in himself. Jonah owns that he has sinned; against “Jehovah, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.”

2. Against what God has been to him. Jonah confesses that he has sinned; “I am an Hebrew:” a member of the people whose God Jehovah is, for whom Jehovah hath done great things; to whom he hath given “the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the law, and the service of God, and the promises, whose are the fathers,” &c.

3. Against what he himself has been to God. Jonah owns that he had sinned: “I fear Jehovah;” I am one of his servants; I have been enrolled among the true Israel—a true child of the covenant—a messenger of it also, standing in the counsel and in the secret of the Most High; for “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him.” By all these three considerations Jonah ought to have been restrained from sinning and retained in his loyalty to God. The glory of God—the God of heaven, of the sea, and of the dry land—ought to have restrained him. The graciousness of God towards himself ought to have restrained him. And the grace of God in himself ought to have restrained him. And when, in the face of all these three considerations, his disobedience breaks forth and carries him impetuously away, do they not all go to aggravate the guilt which he contracts [Hugh Martin]?


Jonah 1:8. Public insight into private life [Exell].

Jonah 1:10. Feared. By receiving Jonah, they had opposed God, whose power and supremacy they now perceived. Notice that God glorifies himself above idols, and often constrains men to render homage,—that the more men see of God’s judgments for sin, the more they should fear him; that “such fear is the beginning of conversion, when men turn from dwelling on the distresses which surround them to God who sent them.”

Why hast thou done this?

1. Words of amazement. The worshipper of Jehovah thinking to escape by flight! Convinced sinners often marvel at the inconsistencies of professed believers.

2. Words of humanity. They expostulate instead of punishing him.

3. Words of rebuke. None injure us so much as those who bring us under the wrath of God. Let us not add the blood of others to the guilt of our own sin.

The question for the backslider. “Why hast thou done this?” Did you not like the work God gave you to do? Did not religion answer your expectations? After trial, have you found that the world is better than Christ? Let all take the warning against disobedience, and learn that happiness consists only in walking with God and obeying his commands. “If his anger be kindled, yea, but a little, blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”


Jonah 1:8. How natural the questions!

“Say, strangers, for what cause
Explore your ways unknown? or whither tends
Your voyage here? Whence come you? From what race
Derived? And bring you hither peace or war?” [Trapp’s Virgil.]

Verses 11-17


Jonah 1:11. The sea] “Not only increasingly tempestuous, but, like a thing alive and obeying its Master’s will, it was holding on its course, its wild waves tossing themselves and marching on in battalions arrayed for the end for which they were sent, pursuing and demanding the runaway slave of God” [Pusey].

Jonah 1:12.] Jonah reads out his doom, conscious of being the cause of suffering and peril. Cast me] Suicide and guilt to have done it himself. I know] i.e. am well aware.

Jonah 1:13. Rowed hard] Lit. dug, intense effort with the oars; hence “ploughed the main” [Pusey].

Jonah 1:14. Beseech] Repetitions which indicate earnestness and a sense of dependence.

Jonah 1:15. Ceased] Lit. stood hushed immediately, and like a servant obeyed its commander (Job 38:11).

Jonah 1:16. Offered] present sacrifice; and vowed more when they landed.

Jonah 1:17. Fish] Sea-monster (Genesis 1:21; Job 7:12; Psalms 74:13); a whale (Matthew 12:40). The fact divinely attested. Independent of this there is no improbability in the swallowing up of Jonah. Sharks swallow and retain a grown man in their stomach, and follow vessels many days for what may be thrown overboard. Three] Significant time! “A hidden prophecy.” The miracle is justified by the end in view, to chastise and recover a disobedient prophet, to shadow forth the greater miracle of one laying down his life and taking it up again for us.



The sea still raged and testified to the anger of God. The light of nature and the dictates of conscience taught the sailors, the law and the history of his nation taught Jonah, that God was just and must be satisfied. Hence the anxiety of the crew and the submission of the prophet. Learn:—

I. That sin confessed does not always bring immediate relief in distress. Jonah had honestly confessed his guilt and felt deep remorse, but something more was requisite. God’s purpose is not accomplished by mere acknowledgment of wrong. Great storms never come from small sins. The servant of Jehovah must be corrected and the guilty feel God’s displeasure. The longer we remain in sin and the greater our reluctance to duty, the more tempestuous will be the sea.

II. That men truly humbled in distress are anxious to follow the revealed will of God. The mariners had solemnly appealed to God and knew Jonah to be his servant. They fear God, do not take the matter into their own hands, but ask counsel through Jonah. Tenderness, humanity, and subjection are the kindly fruits of affliction. The anxious enquirer and the restored servant desire to know the revealed will of God, and do nothing without his guidance. “Lead me in thy truth and teach me.”

III. That those sensible of their own desert are not willing to involve others in distress. Jonah felt that he was the cause of suffering and peril to his fellow-creatures—that God’s justice should take him and spare them. “Cast me forth into the sea; and the sea shall be calm to you.” A true penitent submits to be chastised for his iniquity; but when others suffer with him, he is concerned. In the providence of God we often involve others in danger by our sin, and are called upon to endure risk and self-sacrifice to save them. “It is I that have sinned and done evil indeed; but as for these sheep, what have they done?”


Jonah 1:11. What shall we do? The moral demeanour of these men indicates,

1. Kindly feeling towards Jonah
2. Solemn awe of Jehovah.
3. Natural horror against taking away human life. It was treatment unexpected and undeserved, a pattern to many in more favourable circumstances. “With the well-advised there is wisdom.”

Jonah 1:12. Jonah’s reply. “Could anything be more noble, upright, honourable? There is, first, a renewed acknowledgment—frank, free, and full—of his own obnoxiousness to the Divine anger, and of himself as the source and occasion of the present danger. ‘For I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.’ There is, secondly, an unreserved surrender or appointment of himself to death, as the means of solving the appalling difficulty, and stilling the raging of the deep. ‘Take me up and cast me forth into the sea.’ And there is, thirdly,—what may be valued as coming from a prophet of that God ‘which made the sea and the dry land’—a prediction that the expedient will be efficacious; ‘so shall the sea be calm unto you’ ” [Hugh Martin].

Jonah reads out his own doom, and that both as a penitent offender and a prophet of the Lord. As the former, conscious that he was the cause of the sufferings and peril of his fellow-creatures, he felt it just that the vengeance of God should light on him, if haply his mercy might spare them. As the latter, he opens out the Divine will respecting himself, and unconsciously instructs us respecting that great propitiation for the sins of the world of which he was to be a remarkable type (Isaiah 53:5; Matthew 12:40; John 11:50) [Sibthorp]. We see more and more the working of grace in the prophet’s soul;

(1) in his acknowledgment of merited judgment;
(2) his patient submission, and
(3) tender regard for others. But in the two latter respects how was he surpassed by Jesus! Observe another resemblance between Jonah and Christ: both gave up themselves to still the storm of God’s wrath against sin; yet herein is a great difference between them. This storm was of the prophet’s own raising; not so that for which Christ gave himself to death. We caused that tempest; he, being innocent, allayed it by his own blood [Ibid.].


LABOUR IN VAIN.—Jonah 1:12-13

We shall translate Jonah’s history into spiritual illustrations of man’s experience and action with regard to Christ and his gospel. We have here a picture of what most men do before they resort to God’s remedy; that remedy is fairly imaged in the deliverance of the ship’s company by the sacrifice of one on their behalf.
I. Our first observation is, that sinners when they are tossed upon the sea of conviction, make desperate efforts to save themselves. The men rowed hard, strained every sinew, and laboured by violence. No language can express the earnest action with which awakened sinners unlawfully struggle to obtain eternal life. They try moral reformation. Others add to their reformation a superstitious regard to the outward of religion. Many persons row hard to get the ship to land by a national belief in orthodox doctrine. Many are resting upon their own incessant prayers. Others are toiling by a sort of mental torture. II. Like these mariners, the fleshy efforts of awakened sinners must inevitably fail. “They could not.” With all man’s rowing after mercy and salvation, he can never find it by his own efforts. First of all, it is contrary to God’s law for a sinner to get comfort by anything he can do for and by himself. Because in what he is doing he is insulting God. He is also in the way of the curse.

III. The soul’s sorrow will continue to increase so long as it relies upon its own efforts. It may be overruled for good, but the effect of all that the creature does before it believes is mischievous. The good effect lies in this: the more a man strives to save himself, the more convinced will he become of his own impotence. Another good result follows, that a man striving to save himself by law, finds out the spirituality of that law, a spirituality which he never saw before. But much of this toil is mischievous. It makes unbelief take a firmèr grip. Giant Despair’s prisoners do not all escape; he has a yard full of bones, the relics of willing prisoners who would not be comforted. Some sinners make excuses for themselves out of their despair, and let their doubts and fears grow till they cast a thick shadow over them. IV. We will try to explain God’s plan. The way of safety for sinners is to be found in the sacrifice of another on their behalf. Leave out the fact that Jonah was sinful, and he becomes an eminent type of Christ. Substitution saves the mariners: substitution saves sinners. Jesus dies, and there is a calm. Conscience accuses no longer. Judgment decides for and not against the sinner. Memory looks back with sorrow for sin, but with no dread of penalty to come. Let us enjoy the peace “that passeth all understanding.” Then go to work for God, not to win life and heaven, for they are ours already; but loved by him, let us love and serve him with perfect heart [Spurgeon].


Jonah 1:12. Because of me. “True conviction of sin will produce honest confession of sin sometimes to our fellow-creatures; always before God. Let it add to those bitter herbs of repentance with which we feast on our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7-8), to reflect how often and largely our iniquity has aided to make the mass of human guilt more offensive and of human misery more grievous.”

Jonah 1:13. Here we find, I. Compassion displayed when undeserved.

1. In pity for the sufferer.
2. In regard to his God.
3. In fear of bloodguiltiness. II. Conscience overcoming self-interest. The men were assured of calm by getting rid of Jonah; but perhaps the force of conscience showed that the guilt of murder would rest upon them if they threw him overboard Listen to conscience when duty and self-interest seem to conflict. III. The servant spared from fear of the master. “Do my prophets no harm.” If we fear God, men feel that they offend him by injuring us. “He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye.”

We have here an admirable example of dealing with an offending brother. They dreaded to punish after his guilt was proved; and they could not tell how far he was restored again into God’s favour as a penitent. Let us walk by the same rule towards fallen brethren [Jones].

Learn also—

1. The benefits of affliction. Jonah is no longer perverse and disobedient, and the mariners are brought to call upon the true God.

2. The folly of fighting against God. Providence was adverse. They rowed against the stream. No success in opposition to God. Without his help all schemes are like ploughing the deep and contending with the storm. “There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord.”


PAGAN PRAYERS.—Jonah 1:13-14

The men ceased to row, their labour was in vain. They only increased their own danger and prolonged the suffering of one they endeavoured to save—

“At once they plough the brine; and all the deep
Yawns wide” [Virg. Æneid].

They recognized the hand of God in the storm, and believed the power of God supreme. They lay down their oars and appeal to God.

I. Prayer connected with labour. “It is well to labour, and it is well to pray,” said Luther. Prayer strengthens and directs in labour. It sweetens toil and brings success. Jupiter gave no help to the waggoner till he put his own shoulders to the wheel. The fable is abused when men despise prayer and dependance upon God.

II. Prayer in trouble. They had done all they could, but were not relieved. For the first time probably these heathens prayed to the God of Israel. Sorrow and danger give speciality and intensity to supplication (Genesis 32:9; Isaiah 37:15-20). Pressing trouble forces itself from the heart to the lips. We cry to God in distress, when we have failed without him. Prayer is our first and last refuge in trouble. It should ever be the first means we use for deliverance. “Call upon me in the day of trouble.”

“The man is praying who doth press with might
Out of his darkness into God’s own light” [Trench].

III. Prayer in the emergencies of life. There are not only troubles, but special difficulties and dangers in life. These men were perplexed. The storm demands the prophet, but the justice of God might require his blood at their hands. Whatever be our difficulties, prayer offers help and leads us to the great Disposer of all things (Proverbs 3:6; 1 Peter 5:7). “He that prays despairs not; but sad is the condition of him that cannot pray,” says Jeremy Taylor.

“As when the last sentence of the law is carried out on land, the offices of religion are performed in the presence and on behalf of the culprit, so here there is prayer, most earnest and most appropriate, preceding the last sad act that shall part them and their passenger for ever” [Raleigh].

I. The object of their prayer. “O Jehovah.” The storm and the confession of Jonah have weaned them from their idols. They take in the idea of God, discern his power, and believe him—

1. To bethe hearer of prayer.”

2. To be the Supreme Ruler of all events. “They had but just known God,” says Pusey, “and they resolve the whole mystery of man’s agency and God’s providence into three simple words, ‘As (thou) willedst (thou) didst.’ ” All things, however adverse, were traced to God’s sovereign disposal. The storm and the lot, the direction of the prophet and the impossibility to land him. “Our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.”

II. The nature of their prayer.

1. It was intensely earnest. “They cried.” The language is that of earnest supplication, the particle expressive of entreaty being repeated. There was no time for formal prayer. We deal not in general petitions in trouble like this; such tribulation becomes the tutor of prayer, and leads to maturity of knowledge and experience.

2. It was wonderfully submissive. Till we can say “Thy will be done,” we have need of more prayer and submission. If God please himself let us be satisfied. We cannot alter circumstances. But when the will of God is clearly made known let us ever follow it.

III. The purpose of their prayer. They think of themselves and their passenger.

1. They pray for the preservation of their own life. “Let us not perish for the life of this man.” They were not prompted by fear, nor by selfishness, for then would they have cast Jonah into the sea. Truth has beamed upon them and God is recognized. They felt his anger and became executioners of his justice. In a short time they learned much of the true God, and were gradually led to worship him.

2. They pray that the guilt of murder may not rest upon them. “Lay not upon us innocent blood.” The light of nature, the teaching of tradition, and the laws of their country, taught that they forfeited life when they took life. Conscience speaks, the providence of God seems to confirm the confession of his servant, yet they are reluctant to cast him out. If it must be done, they pray to be forgiven. “The people of God were shedding innocent blood like water, in the cities of Palestine (2 Kings 9:7; 2 Chronicles 24:20; Matthew 23:35): these heathen sailors fear to pour that of one guilty man into the recesses of the deep. The offences of professors of religion are often made to stand out in awful prominency by the restraints which nature and conscience put on those of others (Romans 2:27; 1 Corinthians 5:1; Matthew 27:24-25).” “At the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man” (Genesis 9:5-6).


A funeral at sea is a solemn event. It is a trying hour when the remains of a friend or comrade have to be cast into the deep. But no funeral service like that of Jonah. Not in haste and desperation, but in solemn silence and respect they lift him up and cast him into the sea. The yawning deep engulfs the unresisting prophet and the angry ocean smooths her face.

I. The sacrifice offered. After they had done all they could, something else was required.

1. A sacrifice caused by sin. Jonah’s disobedience caused Jonah’s death. When men run into sin, they run into ruin here and hereafter. God’s favour and heaven are cast away by the wicked. Whatever sin is the Jonah, it must be cast away or it will drown us in perdition.

2. A sacrifice required by the will of God. The sea did not cease from raging. Jonah had told them what was required, and the providence of God confirmed the prediction. God’s law must be honoured and sin punished.

3. A sacrifice offered for the safety of others. Jonah was submissive in the face of death, and far more concerned for the lives of others than for his own. He thus becomes a type of Jesus, who was offered a sacrifice for our sins, “a ransom for many.” If he had not suffered for us, the waterfloods of guilt and the waves of grief would have compassed us and carried us away.

II. The calm which followed. “The sea stayed from her raging.”

1. A proof of God’s power over the elements of nature. The wind ceases, the billows rest, and danger is past. “The lower is subject to the higher, nature to moral providence, and providence to God.” “Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them” (Psalms 89:9; Psalms 93:3; Psalms 107:29).

2. A confirmation of right conduct. The men would hesitate and doubt, but God gives them immediate comfort. They have obeyed his will, and he will make them know and feel it, by outward calm and inward peace. When we submit to God’s will he will not any longer contend with us.

3. A type of peace through Christ. When he was cast forth and sank into the sea that threatened the world with ruin there was a universal calm. God’s justice was satisfied and his anger ceased. “Fury is not in me.” We may have peace with God if we cast out of our hearts the sin which provokes his wrath (Jeremiah 4:1; Isaiah 57:20-21). “God hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ.”

THE CONVERTED HEATHEN.—Jonah 1:14; Jonah 1:16

Perhaps these men were more candid and less depraved than heathen generally. They seem at any rate to be prepared by education and discipline to receive the truth. But under the guidance of the Spirit they were converted through the teaching of Jonah.

I. What led to their conversion? God prepared the way by the presence of his servant on board. But Jonah would not have spoken to them, nor would they have listened to him, but for the storm, the danger, and the lot. Perhaps, as in many cases, some antecedent preparation may be traced. In Christian countries many can trace the leadings of Divine providence in bringing them to Christ. In heathen nations God has prepared tribes and individuals to believe the gospel when it has reached them. There are preparations in language, changes of government, corruption and decay of heathenism. “A great door and effectual is opened.”

II. What was the evidence of their conversion? When a Divine principle is implanted in the heart, then life is reformed and actions changed.

1. They forsake idolatry. Their former gods are abandoned, and now they seek to know the true God. Every soul born of God turns from lying vanities, and is drawn out to God in supplication and praise.

2. They pray to Jehovah. Prayer is the first act of a converted sinner. “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Afterwards it is “the native air” in which he lives, moves, and has his being. If gratitude for God’s goodness fills the heart, it will be expressed in acts of devotion. Special revelations of God in acts of grace or providence will beget true fear in us. “The men feared the Lord exceedingly.”

III. What were the fruits of their conversion? When storms are over and men are delivered it is common for them to return to indifference or ridicule. The only sure and permanent sign of conversion is holy life.

1. These men feared Jehovah. The storm was over, and they were delivered from death; but they return not after affliction to their former ways. Wonderful events had happened. Wind and storm had fulfilled the word of Jehovah, and they felt a great awe. “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God for thy good always” (Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 6:24).

2. They offered sacrifice. Not an offering in general, but a slaughtering of some lamb or fowl on board, as a victim to express their faith. They might not comprehend the full meaning of the Jewish rite. It was forgotten and obscured by heathen superstitions. “But a conscience could not be quickened to a sense of guilt before God, nor a hope of salvation from the just punishment of sin be cherished by a penitent heart, without its finding a natural expression in this ancient and once universal form of religious worship.” Ignorant of Jewish customs, they fell back upon that of their ancestors, and God accepted their offering.

3. They vowed vows. They combine faith and works. They are not only moved in present gratitude, but think of the future. Many who escape danger, vow and forget their vows. Months pass, and they evince that fear was only a superficial thawing and no real opening of the heart. God requires present promise and future performance, a dedication of the whole life to him. If we do not fulfil our voluntary vows it is clear that our gratitude is not real and that our service is not a cleaving to God with all our hearts. “Vow and pay unto the Lord your God: let all that be round about him bring presents unto him that ought to be feared.”

“But when your ships rest, wafted o’er the main,
And you, on altars raised along the shore,
Pay your vow’d offerings” [Æneid].


By the mariners Jonah was thought to be drowned; but the providence of God had provided a living tomb for his servant. He is hurried through the depths of the sea, in judgment and mercy. He owned the hand and submitted to the will of God: he prayed for help, and was cast out of his sepulchre, a monument of God’s mercy and a type of the Saviour of men. In this verse we have—

I. Providential anticipation. “The Lord had prepared a great fish.” This preparation was

(1) miraculous, and
(2) merciful in its nature and design. It also illustrates a principle which we find in all God’s dealings with men, viz. Anticipations of providence.
1. In the scheme of redemption there was no after-thought. God provided a remedy before the fall.

2. In the conversion of sinners goodness and grace are prepared beforehand.

3. In the exigencies of Christian life God meets us ready to help. In prayer, trouble, and death he prepares, goes before us, and stands ready to bless. “The God of my mercy shall prevent (go before) me.”

II. Typical events. God had more places to send Jonah than to Nineveh. The course of things starts out in strange deviation from that uniformity which philosophers insist upon. We rest simply upon the Divine power which miraculously preserved the vital economy under the suspension of one of its greatest functions. If men like to deny or ridicule attested facts let them “sport themselves with their own deceivings,” says one. In “the three days and three nights’ ” imprisonment of Jonah Christ sees a type of himself (Matthew 12:40).

1. The analogies are his confinement to the deep and the grave that others might be saved.
2. The same duration of time in this dark retirement; and
3. The coming to light and life again for the reformation of mankind. Learn from the fact—
1. The presence of God in history.
2. The purpose of God in controlling its events.
3. The power of God in making all things subservient to this purpose. “With the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.”


When the servants of God run away from an easy service, their Master frequently appoints them a harder task. If Jonah will not preach up and down the streets of Nineveh, he shall preach from the bottom of the sea [Jones].

1. When God pursues his rebellious children in a severe way, yet he doth not altogether cast off his mercy to them, but moderates their affliction.
2. God may have a mercy and proof of love waiting upon his people in a time and place where they would be least expected. For Jonah meets a mercy in the raging sea, into which he was cast in anger, as to be destroyed.
3. Although God’s mercy will not destroy his guilty people in their afflictions, yet his wisdom sees fit not to deliver them at first, but to exercise their faith and heart [Hutcheson].

Jonah 1:17. “From how many unthought-of, unimaginable situations the Sovereign of the world has drawn devotional aspirations! but never, except once, from a situation like this” [John Foster]!

The sea and her inhabitants are God’s and lie at his will (Luke 5:6; John 21:6). The mightiest and meanest creatures subserve his purposes, and are auxiliaries or adversaries to man as he chooses (Joshua 24:12; 2 Kings 17:25) [Sibthorp].

The Type. Three days and three nights (Matthew 12:40. Cf. Romans 4:25; Romans 6:4). In comparing the two—these two great interpositions of Godhead with Jonah and Jesus respectively—the type will illustrate the antitype. But there are points in which our clear knowledge of the antitype may be carried back to illustrate the type. This is the case in the very first resemblance. I. In both cases there is a death and a resurrection. Jonah speaks of his burial in terms in which the Messiah speaks of his “hell” and “corruption.” In both cases it is the language of burial and resurrection. II. But secondly: in both cases, the death and burial are judicial processes. Each of the processes is an atonement and expiation, pacifying the Divine Judge, satisfying Divine justice, abolishing guilt, restoring peace. III. The burial and resurrection of Jonah constituted the gate by which the word of Jehovah passed forth from the Jewish to the Gentile world. In like manner the death and resurrection of Christ was the breaking down of the middle wall of partition. IV. The analogy holds further in this respect, that the experiences of Jonah and Christ constitute, each in its own sphere, an enforcement of the message which each brings to the Gentiles. V. Jonah’s experience was his preparation for new loyalty and obedience; and in the kingdom of Christ, Christ’s risen life is the source of newness of life and service. Jonah was a new man on dry land, with a new life and a new career opening before him. O believer in a risen Christ, is not this the type and fashion of your life of faith? With what freshness—as of the morning light of an eternal Sabbath; and with what force—as of the eternal power of Messiah’s resurrection; may that blessed appeal be made to us, “If ye then be risen” (Colossians 3:1) [H. Martin].


Jonah 1:10-11. Let God be clearly known as he is revealed, and with few exceptions men cannot but believe in him. A few philosophers will reason and refine, and abide in intellectual disbelief. A few very wicked men will “believe a lie,” that they may work unrighteousness: but the great mass of men, like these sailors from Tarshish, will quickly yield, at least by intellectual assent, to the influence of the truth [Raleigh].

Jonah 1:12-13. Take me up, nevertheless the men rowed hard. Man has no right to take away his own life. We should also be careful of the life of others. The sailors thought it could not be right nor pleasing to God to cast Jonah into the deep. It would be a loss of goodness, thought, and self-denying regard for them. They were actuated by human motives, and illustrated the principle of moral life that our spirit and conduct have a tendency to reproduce themselves in others. Men have responsive feelings, answer heart to heart, and thus make life beautiful.

“All life is sacred in its kind to heaven,
And all things holy, beautiful, and good.” [Bailey.]

Jonah 1:12. Be calm unto you.

“Immortal hope,
Takes comfort from the foaming billows rage,
And makes a welcome harbour of the tomb.” [Young.]

Jonah 1:15; Jonah 1:17. The men must have talked about the voyage and its issues, especially about what took place after Jonah was in the sea. He knew nothing about that, and could only record it here because he had been told it by others. By whom? No doubt that story was told far and near, and he might have heard it from any one. But most probably he heard it from their own lips—from captain and ship’s company, gathered together, perhaps, on the deck of that very vessel. It is not improbable that the prophet took a journey to Joppa on purpose; that he went to the old place; that he stood once more on the deck of the ship—captain and crew around him—to tell and hear their mutual stories of preservation. You can fancy the meeting. You can see the man. You can imagine how the whole matter would be bruited abroad even as far as Nineveh; and how the story told there, and well authenticated, would prepare that great and guilty city for receiving the message of the prophet when he actually came [Raleigh].

Remember, therefore, this advice: Never let the advantages with which you begin life’s voyagelull you into confidence and negligence, nor difficulties lead you to despair; persevere in that path which reason and justice point out, and then despair not of reaching your desired port [Hamlain].

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Jonah 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/jonah-1.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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