Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1. Jonah--meaning in Hebrew, "dove." Compare
Ge 8:8, 9,
where the dove in vain seeks rest after flying from Noah and the ark:
so Jonah. GROTIUS not so well explains it, "one
sprung from Greece" or Ionia, where there were prophets called
Amittai--Hebrew for "truth," "truth-telling"; appropriate to a
2. to Nineveh--east of the Tigris, opposite the modern Mosul. The only
case of a prophet being sent to the heathen. Jonah, however, is sent to
Nineveh, not solely for Nineveh's good, but also to shame Israel, by
the fact of a heathen city repenting at the first preaching of a single
stranger, Jonah, whereas God's people will not repent, though preached
to by their many national prophets, late and early. Nineveh means "the
residence of Ninus," that is, Nimrod.
where the translation ought to be, "He (Nimrod) went forth
into Assyria and builded Nineveh." Modern research into the
cuneiform inscriptions confirms the Scripture account that Babylon was
founded earlier than Nineveh, and that both cities were built by
descendants of Ham, encroaching on the territory assigned to Shem
(Ge 10:5, 6, 8, 10, 25).
great city--four hundred eighty stadia in circumference, one hundred
fifty in length, and ninety in breadth
SICULUS, 2.3]. Taken by
Arbaces the Mede, in the reign of Sardanapalus, about the seventh year
of Uzziah; and a second time by Nabopolassar of Babylon and Cyaxares the
Mede in 625 B.C.
(Isa 40:6; 58:1).
come up before me--
(Ge 4:10; 6:13; 18:21;
that is, their wickedness is so great as to require My open
interposition for punishment.
3. flee--Jonah's motive for flight is hinted at in
fear that after venturing on such a dangerous commission to so powerful
a heathen city, his prophetical threats should be set aside by God's
"repenting of the evil," just as God had so long spared Israel
notwithstanding so many provocations, and so he should seem a false
prophet. Besides, he may have felt it beneath him to discharge a
commission to a foreign idolatrous nation, whose destruction he desired
rather than their repentance. This is the only case of a prophet,
charged with a prophetical message, concealing it.
from the presence of the Lord--(Compare
Jonah thought in fleeing from the land of Israel, where Jehovah was
peculiarly present, that he should escape from Jehovah's
prophecy-inspiring influence. He probably knew the truth stated in
but virtually ignored it (compare
went down--appropriate in going from land to the sea
Joppa--now Jaffa, in the region of Dan; a harbor as early as Solomon's
Tarshish--Tartessus in Spain; in the farthest west at the greatest
distance from Nineveh in the east.
4. sent out--literally, caused a wind to burst forth.
translates, "hurled a greate wynde into the see."
5. mariners were afraid--though used to storms; the danger therefore
must have been extreme.
cried every man unto his god--The idols proved unable to save
them, though each, according to Phœnician custom, called on his
tutelary god. But Jehovah proved able: and the heathen sailors owned
it in the end by sacrificing to Him
into the sides--that is, the interior recesses (compare
Isa 14:13, 15).
Those conscious of guilt shrink from the presence of their fellow man
fast asleep--Sleep is no necessary proof of innocence; it may be the
fruit of carnal security and a seared conscience. How different was
Jesus' sleep on the Sea of Galilee!
Guilty Jonah's indifference to fear contrasts with the unoffending
mariners' alarm. The original therefore is in the nominative absolute:
"But as for Jonah, he," &c. Compare spiritually,
6. call upon thy God--The ancient heathen in dangers called on foreign
gods, besides their national ones (compare
MAURER translates the preceding clause, "What is
the reason that thou sleepest?"
think upon us--for good
Ex 2:25; 3:7, 9;
7. cast lots--God sometimes sanctioned this mode of deciding in
difficult cases. Compare the similar instance of Achan, whose guilt
involved Israel in suffering, until God revealed the offender, probably
by the casting of lots
Primitive tradition and natural conscience led even the heathen to
believe that one guilty man involves all his associates, though
innocent, in punishment. So CICERO [The Nature
of the Gods, 3.37] mentions that the mariners sailing with
Diagoras, an atheist, attributed a storm that overtook them to his
presence in the ship (compare HORACE'S
8. The guilty individual being discovered is interrogated so as to make
full confession with his own mouth. So in Achan's case
9. I am an Hebrew--He does not say "an Israelite." For this was the
name used among themselves; "Hebrew," among foreigners
I fear the Lord--in profession: his practice belied his profession:
his profession aggravated his guilt.
God . . . which . . . made the
sea--appropriately expressed, as accounting for the tempest sent on
the sea. The heathen had distinct gods for the "heaven," the
"sea," and the "land." Jehovah is the one and only true God of all
alike. Jonah at last is awakened by the violent remedy from his
lethargy. Jonah was but the reflection of Israel's backsliding from
God, and so must bear the righteous punishment. The guilt of the
minister is the result of that of the people, as in Moses' case
This is what makes Jonah a suitable type of Messiah, who bore the
imputed sin of the people.
10. "The men were exceedingly afraid," when made aware of the wrath
of so powerful a God at the flight of Jonah.
Why hast thou done this?--If professors of religion do wrong, they will
hear of it from those who make no such profession.
11. What shall we do unto thee?--They ask this, as Jonah himself must
best know how his God is to be appeased. "We would gladly save thee, if
we can do so, and yet be saved ourselves"
(Jon 1:13, 14).
12. cast me . . . into the sea--Herein Jonah is a type of Messiah,
the one man who offered Himself to die, in order to allay the stormy
flood of God's wrath (compare
Ps 69:1, 2,
as to Messiah), which otherwise must have engulfed all other men. So
Caiaphas by the Spirit declared it expedient that one man should die,
and that the whole nation should not perish
Jonah also herein is a specimen of true repentance, which leads the
penitent to "accept the punishment of his iniquity"
(Le 26:41, 43),
and to be more indignant at his sin than at his suffering.
13. they could not--
Wind and tide--God's displeasure and God's counsel--were against
14. for this man's life--that is, for taking this man's life.
innocent blood--Do not punish us as Thou wouldst punish the shedders
of innocent blood (compare
In the case of the Antitype, Pontius Pilate washed his hands and
confessed Christ's innocence, "I am innocent of the blood of
this just person." But whereas Jonah the victim was guilty and
the sailors innocent, Christ our sacrificial victim was innocent and
Pontius Pilate and nil of us men were guilty. But by imputation
of our guilt to Him and His righteousness to us, the spotless Antitype
exactly corresponds to the guilty type.
thou . . . Lord, hast done as it pleased thee--That Jonah has embarked
in this ship, that a tempest has arisen, that he has been detected by
casting of lots, that he has passed sentence on himself, is all Thy
doing. We reluctantly put him to death, but it is Thy pleasure it should
15. sea ceased . . . raging--so at Jesus' word
God spares the prayerful penitent, a truth illustrated now in the case
of the sailors, presently in that of Jonah, and thirdly, in that of
16. offered a sacrifice--They offered some sacrifice of thanksgiving
at once, and vowed more when they should land.
GLASSIUS thinks it means
only, "They promised to offer a sacrifice."
17. prepared a great fish--not created specially for this purpose,
but appointed in His providence, to which all creatures are subservient.
The fish, through a mistranslation of
was formerly supposed to be a whale; there, as here, the original means
"a great fish." The whale's neck is too narrow to receive a man.
BOCHART thinks, the dog-fish, the stomach
of which is so large that the body of a man in armor was once found in
it [Hierozoicon, 2.5.12]. Others, the shark [JEBB]. The cavity in the whale's throat, large
enough, according to CAPTAIN SCORESBY, to hold a ship's jolly boat full of men. A
miracle in any view is needed, and we have no data to speculate
further. A "sign" or miracle it is expressly called by our Lord in
Respiration in such a position could only be by miracle. The miraculous
interposition was not without a sufficient reason; it was calculated to
affect not only Jonah, but also Nineveh and Israel. The life of a
prophet was often marked by experiences which made him, through
sympathy, best suited for discharging the prophetical function to his
hearers and his people. The infinite resources of God in mercy as well
as judgment are prefigured in the devourer being transformed into
Jonah's preserver. Jonah's condition under punishment, shut out from
the outer world, was rendered as much as possible the emblem of death,
a present type to Nineveh and Israel, of the death in sin, as his
deliverance was of the spiritual resurrection on repentance; as also, a
future type of Jesus' literal death for sin, and resurrection by the
Spirit of God.
three days and three nights--probably, like the Antitype, Christ,
Jonah was cast forth on the land on the third day
the Hebrew counting the first and third parts of days as whole
twenty-four hour days.