Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.
But 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.
But 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.
Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.
So the shipmaster ° came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.
And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.
Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou?
And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.
Then were the men exceedingly ° afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.
Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous.
And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.
Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.
Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, 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.
Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.
Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
 

Introduction to Jonah

Jonah is undoubtedly the most familiar of the minor prophets, because of the famous story of Jonah and the whale. Also because of this story involving such a unique miracle, Jonah is the object of more skepticism than any prophet except Daniel. Nevertheless the book has been fully accepted as canonical and historical by both Jews and Christians until modern times.

Jonah (his name means “Dove”) was a prophet of Israel, rather early in the line of writing prophets. His home was in Gath-sepher, in Galilee, in the land of Zebulun, and he was identified as a real prophet in Israel, evidently during the reign of Jeroboam II (note II Kings 14:23,25). There is thus no warrant for considering him as merely a fictional character in a legendary tale, as many modern scholars have assumed.

The conclusive evidence of Jonah’s historicity, of course, is that he was so identified by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Matthew 12:40), who, like Jonah, was a prophet from Galilee. Even more significantly, Christ accepted the reality of Jonah’s miraculous experience in the great fish, even making it a prophetic type of His own coming death and resurrection. Finally, He accepted the almost equally amazing miracle of the repentance of Nineveh under Jonah’s preaching (Matthew 12:41; Luke 11:29-30,32).

In connection with the latter, it should be emphasized that Nineveh was the great capital of Assyria, the empire that would later invade Israel and carry its people off into captivity. The Assyrians had the reputation of being the most cruel and licentious people of any of the great nations of antiquity, so such a national repentance under the preaching of an Israelite prophet was a most amazing phenomenon. Yet its authenticity is confirmed not only by Jonah, but by Christ Himself!

This national conversion lasted only about a generation or so, for Assyria and Nineveh later once again incurred God’s wrath for their wickedness, and the prophet Nahum eventually pronounced their coming destruction (Nahum 3:1,7).

It is striking to note that, with most of the pre-exilic prophets ministering in Israel and Judah, this divinely directed ministry of Jonah was to a great heathen nation. Although Israel was God’s chosen nation, He has never abandoned His concern for all nations, even a nation like Assyria.

1:1 Jonah. Jonah was not a mythical personage, as many critics have alleged, but a real prophet, who prophesied in Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II (see II Kings 14:23,25).

1:2 Nineveh. Nineveh was, indeed, the greatest Assyrian city, founded by Nimrod (Genesis 10:8-12). Soon after Jonah’s time it became the capital of Assyria, the world’s greatest empire. It was situated by the Tigris river, on the east side, near the modern city of Mosul, Iraq, and archaeologists have been excavating its remains for over a hundred years now.

1:2 wickedness. The wickedness and cruelty of the Assyrians was the scandal of the ancient world. After a brief revival following Jonah’s preaching (Jonah 3:5), the nation became even worse later on, and Nahum then prophesied its utter destruction Nahum 1:1; 3:7).

1:3 Tarshish. Tarshish was a distant seaport, so far away that a round trip from Israel apparently took three years (I Kings 10:22). The location of Tarshish is commonly thought to have been in either Spain or Great Britain, but the exotic nature of cargoes from there, carried in the ships of the Phoenician king Hiram of Tyre (II Chronicles 9:21), might indicate a location either in central Africa or east Asia. More evidence is accumulating that the Phoenicians may have sailed all over the world.

1:4 great wind. This was the first of at least seven providential miracles recorded by Jonah (that is, miracles requiring providential timing of natural phenomena, rather than special creation).

1:6 call upon thy God. The mariners were evidently recruits from various nations, for each had his own “god” (Jonah 1:5). Yet they somehow sensed, perhaps by his calm demeanor, that Jonah’s God was more powerful than theirs. They were no doubt accustomed to storms at sea, but this one was so uniquely severe that they had to assume there was a special cause.

1:7 cast lots. The casting of lots is normally believed to be a random selection process whereas it is commonly said that “God does not throw dice.” The fact is, however, that God, when He so wills, can overrule and control even so-called chance events. In this case, Jonah elected to go to Tarshish, but God wanted him at Nineveh, so He provided an alternate means of transportation that would assure the intended destination!

1:9 Hebrew. The name “Hebrew” could actually apply to any of the descendants of Eber (Genesis 10:25; 11:16-19). Perhaps this was the sense in which Jonah expected this motley group to understand it. The term actually appears only fourteen times (this being the last) in the Old Testament.

1:9 God of heaven. Unlike the pagan polytheists he was traveling with, Jonah was a creationist, and his God was the only true God. His God had created the universe, including all the false gods (actually fallen angels and demons now in the Satanic hosts) worshiped by the pagan world.

1:14 as it pleased thee. These polytheistic foreigners, experienced seamen as they were, knew enough about violent storms at sea to know this unique storm had been sent by God—the God of Jonah.

1:15 sea ceased from her raging. “Even the wind and the sea obey Him” (Mark 4:41).

1:16 sacrifice unto the LORD. It is significant that, at least at this time in pre-Christian history, these pagan sailors so quickly acknowledged the true God. Even though they followed a variety of gods, they somehow had retained such an intuitive sense of the one Creator God that they could recognize His power when it was manifested.

1:17 prepared. The Lord “prepared” a fish, a gourd, a worm, and a wind (Jonah 1:17; 4:6,7,8), in accomplishing His will and proclaiming His Word through Jonah.

1:17 great fish. This “great fish” was not necessarily a whale, although there are some whales with the ability to swallow a man whole. It could have been, for example, a large whale-shark, or possibly some now-extinct marine reptile (the word translated “whale” in Matthew 12:40 could better be rendered “sea-monster”). It may even have been—for all we know to the contrary—a special marine animal created by God just for this purpose. The whole event is recorded as a miracle, and was so quoted by Christ (Matthew 12:39-40), so it is a mistake to attempt to explain it as a purely natural phenomenon. There have been unconfirmed reports of men in recent times who have been swallowed by whales or whale-sharks—even some who survived such an experience—but these, even if authentic, are irrelevant. Jonah’s experience was clearly, and altogether, a miracle.

1:17 three days and three nights. The Lord Jesus confirmed the historicity of both Jonah and his experience in the “whale” by citing it as a type of His own coming death, burial and resurrection (Matthew 12:39-40). In fact, these words of Christ probably indicate that Jonah, like Jesus, actually died and was then restored from death.


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