Bible Commentaries
Jonah 1

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary



Jonah, sent to Nineveh, fleeth to Tarshish: he is discovered by a tempest, thrown into the sea, and swallowed by a fish.

Before Christ 862.

Verse 2

Jonah 1:2. Go to Nineveh—and cry against it Or preach. It means the same as to prophesy; and therefore Houbigant so renders it.

Verse 3

Jonah 1:3. Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish Which, according to Josephus, was Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia. Others say Tartessus in Spain. From the presence of the Lord, Houbigant reads, Through fear of the Lord. What he feared is shewn in chap. Jonah 4:2. He hoped that if he was at a greater distance God would send some other prophet to preach repentance to the city of Nineveh. Grotius says, that the expression means, "From the land of Israel," the immediate residence of God.

Verse 5

Jonah 1:5. And cried every man unto his god The mariners were idolaters, as appears from the next verse. They invoked each one his idol, or the tutelary deity of his country. The profound sleep of Jonah seems to have been caused by his weariness, labour, and anxiety; "Not the sleep of security, but of sorrow," says St. Jerome; like that of the apostles, Matthew 26:40.

Verse 7

Jonah 1:7. Come, and let us cast lots The sailors betake themselves to this practice, because they see that there is something supernatural in the tempest; whence they conclude that it arose on account of some wicked person who failed with them. Thus the sailors who carried Diagoras in their vessel concluded that the tempest which assailed them was principally on account of this philosopher, who openly professed atheism. God is pleased so to order the lots, that Jonah is found to be the guilty person.

Verse 8

Jonah 1:8. For whose cause Wherefore, or on what account. Houbigant.

Verse 9

Jonah 1:9. And I fear the Lord, &c.— Rather, I fear Jehovah, &c. Jehovah being the peculiar name of the true God, by which he was distinguished from those who had the names of gods and lords among the heathen. The words immediately following are a farther distinction between the true God and the gods of the heathen. See Lowth, and Grotius.

Verse 11

Jonah 1:11. Wrought, and was tempestuous Grew more and more tempestuous: and so Jonah 1:13.

Verse 14

Jonah 1:14. Let us not perish, &c.— "Impute not to us his death: we only obey thy orders, and do that which thou thyself hast ordained. It is the necessity of a just defence which obliges us to cast: him into the sea, to preserve us from the imminent danger whereunto we are brought by his means."

Verse 16

Jonah 1:16. And offered a sacrifice, &c.— Houbigant, following the Hebrew, Vulgate, &c. ends the chapter with this verb.

Verse 17

Jonah 1:17. Now the Lord had prepared a great fish That there are fishes large enough to swallow a man, there can be no question; the Scripture calls this a great fish, in the general, and therefore there is no need to confine it to a whale. But we shall speak more on this subject, when we come to Matthew 12:40. See also Calmet's dissertation on the subject, and Scheuchzer. We may just observe farther, that the Hebrew language has no one word to express what we call a natural day: so that what the Greeks express by νυχθημερον, they denote by a day and a night: therefore the space of time consisting of one whole revolution of twenty-four hours, and part of two others, is fitly expressed in that language by three days and three nights. Such a space of time our blessed Lord lay in the grave; that is to say, one whole νυχθημερον, or natural day, and part of two others: and we may thence conclude that Jonah, who was an eminent figure of him in this particular, continued no longer in the belly of the fish. But on this point we shall say more when we come to speak of our Saviour's resurrection.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, We have here,

1. The prophet's name and parentage: יונה Jonah, a dove; God's prophets should be harmless as these, and, like the dove of Noah, bring the olive-branch of peace, the tidings of mercy and salvation to perishing sinners: his father's name was אמתי Ammittai, my truth; for prophets must be sons of truth faithful to their office, and steady to maintain the truths of God.

2. His mission. The word of the Lord came unto him, bidding him arise, and go to Nineveh, that great city, the metropolis of the Assyrian empire, where wickedness abounded, as in great cities it usually does, the multitudes of sinners serving to embolden and stimulate each other to commit iniquity. It was now ripe for vengeance, and he must go and cry aloud in the streets, to give the inhabitants warning of their approaching doom unless they repented.

3. His disobedience. He rose up to flee from the presence of the Lord, from the chosen land, where God was pleased in an especial manner to reveal himself, to Tarshish; either Tarsus in Cilicia, or the sea, determined to ship himself in the first vessel, and fly any where rather than go to Nineveh. Either he dreaded the dangers of the service; or rather, as he suggests, chap. Jon 4:2 he knew God's compassions, that the Ninevites would be forgiven, and himself be counted a false prophet. A ship was ready to sail as soon as he arrived at Joppa, and he instantly paid the fare and embarked. Providence seemed to concur with his desires: but the ready way is not always the right way; and they who fly from duty, whatever present relief they may gain, are only treasuring up for themselves greater sorrow.

2nd, They who think to fly from God will soon perceive the folly of the attempt.
1. God sends a mighty tempest on the ship in which the prophet sailed, so that it seemed ready each moment to founder. Such storms does sin raise in the conscience; and the poor sinner in despondence is ready to give himself up for lost, little suspecting that the very tempest, which he imagines will be his ruin, is only designed to drive him to the haven of rest.
2. Jonah alone seemed unconcerned about the danger. The mariners, affrighted, ran to their prayers, and cried to their idols for help: for the imminent views of death will sometimes bring those to their knees who never thought of bowing them before: and, life being dearer to them than all besides, they readily part with their merchandise, and cast it into the sea to lighten the ship. Worldly goods are nothing worth when death stares men in the face: what folly then, for the sake of them, to make shipwreck of faith and a good conscience, and lose an immortal soul, infinitely more precious than the dying body! When will men be wise? The roaring billows, which terrified the heathen seamen, joined perhaps with the grating sorrows of his mind, served but to rock Jonah asleep: he of all that company appeared the only person insensible, though none had so much cause to be alarmed. Into such stupefaction does sin sometimes lull the conscience of the back-slider. He appears to have lost all apprehension of danger; and even the judgments which make others tremble, he seems to pass over unaffected. From such blindness and hardness of heart, good Lord, deliver us!
3. The ship-master rouses him from his slumbers, and upbraids him with his insensibility. What meanest thou, O sleeper? Strange that a prophet of the Lord should need reproof even from the mouth of a heathen! Arise, call upon thy God: delay is ruinous when danger urges. They had cried to their gods in vain; perhaps his was more able to help them; if so be that God will think upon us that we perish not, as, without immediate help, they knew they must. Note; No danger is so great, but, if God think upon us, he is able to save us to the uttermost.

4. The storm increasing, notwithstanding all their endeavours and prayers, they began to suspect that there might be among them some atrocious sinner, on whose account the divine displeasure pursued them. As was usual with the heathens, therefore, they resolved to inquire which of them it was, and to refer the decision to the lot; and God so ordained that the lot fell upon Jonah. Thus is the iniquity of the sinner often found out by means that he never suspected, and when he thinks himself most secure and best concealed from detection.
5. They hereupon strictly interrogate the prophet. The lot had said, This is the man, and he is called upon to acknowledge his crime, that they might know for whose cause, or for what cause, this evil was upon them; what he had done to provoke God; what was his occupation; whence he came; and to what country he belonged. Note; In order to get our troubles removed, we must search diligently into our sins, which are the cause of them.

6. Jonah, without reserve, makes confession of his crime; and probably, now convicted in his own conscience, desired to take to himself all the shame and punishment which he felt that he had deserved. He declares himself by nation and religion a Hebrew, which was an aggravation of his guilt; his occupation was that of a prophet of the Most High, I fear the Lord Jehovah, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land; which, though it added to his sin, yet he owns to God's glory, and in order to the instruction of the heathen mariners, who blindly worshipped many gods, instead of the one true and living Jehovah. His crime he owns: he had told them that he fled from the presence of the Lord, rebellious to his command, and running from his duty; for which this judgment was sent. Note; When we have sinned, nothing remains but to justify God in his judgments, and with penitence to bow into the dust.

7. The seamen appear exceedingly affected with his narrative. Probably they had heard what the God of the Hebrews had done of old; and this increased their terrors. With just upbraidings, therefore, of the prophet, who by his wickedness had brought them into this imminent danger, they expostulate with him, Why hast thou done this? why didst thou so foolishly attempt to fly? and why embark with us, to involve us with thyself in danger. Note; (1.) They who profess religion, and act unsuitably, deserve to be reproached. (2.) None know how extensive and dangerous the consequence of even a single sin may be.

3rdly, The criminal is detected by his own confession; the question is, what is to be done with him?
1. They refer the matter to himself. Since he was a prophet of the God of the Hebrews, he best could inform them what was the likeliest means to appease his anger, and thereby, obtain deliverance from the storm, which raged more furiously than ever. Note; When by our sins we have raised a storm of wrath around us, it highly imports us to inquire how it may be appeased.

2. Jonah pronounces his own doom. He well knew himself to be the troubler, and that, till he was cast into the sea, there could be no hope of the storm's abating; and therefore he bids them throw him overboard: he would not be his own destroyer; yet, conscious that he deserved to die, he offers himself for execution; and chooses rather himself to perish, than involve the innocent in destruction. Note; (1.) They who truly know the evil of sin, and are deeply humbled under it, are ready to submit to any shame or suffering, whereby God may be glorified, and reparation be made to the injured. (2.) When sin has raised a storm, we must never hope for peace till the accursed thing is removed.

3. Very unwilling to execute this grievous sentence, the mariners rowed hard for land; but the more they strove, the more the sea wrought, and was tempestuous; so that despair took place in every countenance, and nothing remained but this last experiment, with which they felt the more reluctance to comply on account of the noble simplicity and deep humiliation which now probably appeared in the penitent prophet. Note; (1.) When a gracious man, overtaken with a fault, with frank acknowledgment takes shame to himself, he is entitled to our greatest compassion; nor should we ever by severity aggravate his distress. (2.) There is no striving against God's counsels: his will must be done.

4. Before they execute the dread decree, they present their importunate supplications to God, that he would not impute to them innocent blood, nor cause them to perish for taking away this man's life; when they had desired to know his will, and acted now, according to the best of their light, in conformity thereto; it appearing to be his pleasure that Jonah should be cast into the sea. Note; (1.) In all our emergencies we must have recourse to God in prayer. (2.) When we follow, according to our best knowledge, under the guidance of Divine Providence, what appears to be God's will, we are bound with satisfaction to trust him with the issue.

5. Jonah is cast into the sea, and, to the astonishment of the mariners, instantly the storm ceased. They feared the Lord exceedingly, amazed at the sudden change; and, filled with thankfulness, offered an immediate sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and made vows of future oblations whenever they should reach the shore. Thus, sometimes, our greatest loss proves our greatest gain. The acquaintance which they hereby gained with Israel's God amply compensated for the damage that they had sustained by the storm.

6. By a miracle the prophet's life is preserved. God, who designed not to destroy but save him, had prepared a great fish which swallowed him alive; and by almighty power he was preserved three days and three nights, at least part of three days, unhurt in the fish's stomach, a monument of divine mercy, and an illustrious type of him, who, when he had given his life a ransom for others, lay so long in the grave, and rose again the third day, Matthew 12:40.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Jonah 1". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.