Richard E. Young

Copyright © 2000 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


Chapter 1 - The Great Escape


1:1 Now the word of Yahweh came to Jonah, the son of Amittai, saying:

1:2 "Get up1! Go2 to Nineveh, the great3 city, and cry out4 against it because its evil5 has risen6 before my presence7."

1:3 And Jonah got up1 to hurry away8 to Tarshish - away from the presence7 of Yahweh. He went down9 to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. He paid10 the fare for it and went down9 into it to sail with them to Tarshish - away from the presence7 of Yahweh.

Carefully Chosen Words

The book of Jonah begins abruptly with virtually no introduction to the person of Jonah. We are only told that he was the son of Amittai and then the action begins. For other prophets we typically have had a bit more information. For example, with Amos' introduction we learn Amos' occupation, birthplace, and the time of his prophecies. In Isaiah's introduction we find out the time he prophesied and his father's name. The personal information provided about Jonah in this book is relatively skimpy. We have to go to II Kings 14:25 for the only other reference to Jonah in the Hebrew Scriptures. There we discover that Jonah was from the town of Gath-Hapher in Zebulun (see Joshua 19:10,13) and that he had prophesied concerning the restoration of the borders of Israel under king Jeroboam II. But the author of Jonah deemed Jonah's personal information irrelevant to the story at hand. We are told only enough to link the Jonah of this story to the historical character briefly mentioned in II Kings. But it's just enough to let us know that this story is about an actual prophet who experienced real events and not just a contrived story with a nice moral. The particulars of Jonah's personal life and times would only get in the way of the intent of this story. Every word in Jonah appears to have been carefully chosen to compose this intricate, multi-layered narrative that is more poem than prose [a] . Any additional words would be misleading by making us seek for significance where none exists.

Great and Evil

At the book's outset two words describe Nineveh: great and evil. These two words reverberate through the text as the Hebrew words gadol and ra. Gadol means "great" in a variety of ways, and occurs 14 times in Jonah. Ra means "evil," but can also mean "unhappy" or "adversity," and occurs eight times. Gadol and ra are translated in various ways depending upon the context. At the end of the book their relevance becomes revealed in a subtle manner not apparent in the English translation. But for now it is sufficient to note these words as we encounter them.

Nineveh was called "the great city." It was known as "the great city" since Nimrod founded it millennia before (Genesis 10:11-12). Nineveh was great in the world because of its power, wealth, and size. But before God it was great in evil. The phrase "its evil has risen before my presence" has the scent of Noah's Flood and the annihilation of Sodom and Gomorrah about it. We have the feeling of an impending cataclysm. This allusion sets the stage for several upcoming image undertones.

Jonah's Flight

The word of the Lord came to Jonah just as it had to countless other prophets before and after him. But Jonah responded quite uniquely among all of the prophets. The Lord told Jonah to "Get up! Go to Nineveh and cry out against it." We then immediately read that "Jonah got up to hurry away to?" and expect to hear "Nineveh" but instead hear "Tarshish." Tarshish? Jonah appeared to do something quite heroic only to suddenly betray our expectations. Tarshish and Nineveh were at opposite ends of the ancient world. Though not precisely known, the best evidence places Tarshish's location in the region of present day southern Spain. Nineveh had lain on the upper Tigris near modern Mosul in Iraq. Tarshish represented the most extremely distant location from Nineveh that Jonah could have thought of. Not only that, but livroch, the word translated here as "to hurry away," is a powerful verb in Hebrew. It conveys the sense of someone telling us that they "got out of there real quick!" when they faced an immediate danger, like an avalanche crashing towards them. Jonah was really scrambling!

Other prophets have disputed with God. When God told Moses to speak to Pharaoh, Moses told the Lord that he couldn't because of his poor speaking ability (Exodus 4:10). Ezekiel objected to the manner in which God wanted him to cook his food (Ezekiel 4:9-15). When God told Jeremiah to present the Lord's message, Jeremiah told God that he couldn't because of his young age (Jeremiah 1:6). But Jonah didn't argue. He didn't try to talk God out of it. He didn't even attempt a compromise. He just fled.

Before Jonah fled he apparently gave some thought to his escape plan because the Hebrew here indicates that he got up "in order to" hurry away. He thought that he had concocted a nice scheme to escape from the presence of God. But Jonah forgot the proverb, "the mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps" (Proverbs 16:9). Jonah's dealings with the Lord had only just begun with the Lord ahead of his every step.

What was Jonah's problem? Jonah's reasons for fleeing are not disclosed until near the end of the book. The audience is kept in suspense concerning Jonah's reasons for his actions. We can only observe his behavior and wonder. Because of the image undertone of impeding destruction that we encountered in 1:2, for all we now know Jonah did not want God to destroy Nineveh. The writer of Jonah intentionally left this end loose for now to keep us pondering and force us to make assumptions. Perhaps the writer wanted us to think that Jonah was soft and more compassionate than God. But all such assumptions crumble. In the end we discover that Jonah, in fact, did not want the Ninevites spared. He knew that if the Ninevites repented then God would forgive them and spare them from destruction (see 4:1-2).

But why Jonah did not want Nineveh spared is not explicitly stated in this book. We know from Biblical history that the Assyrians, with Nineveh as its capital, had been a military threat to Israel for many years. Jonah also may have known that Assyria would be the cause of the future destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel. For Jonah to go to Nivenveh would be akin to a 1930's era Jew traveling to Nazi Germany with the intent of preserving Hitler and his whole crew from destruction. Though a highly probable aspect of Jonah's reluctance to see the Ninevites spared, more fundamentally he wanted them to "get what was coming to them" as Gentiles. This develops as one of the central themes of Jonah.

However, at another level of the story, Jonah fled for another reason. Jonah was not alone in the Bible as one who fled from God's presence. Adam, the first man, also sought to hide from the presence of God (Genesis 3:8). Jonah therefore becomes a type of Adam. And yet at another level, Jonah is a type for Israel that had forsaken the Lord and lived among the Gentiles, exiled from the Promised Land. We'll see how these typologies unfold with some notable ramifications.

Did Jonah really believe that he could have gotten away from the presence of the Lord by physically leaving Israel? Certainly he was aware of David's declaration that one cannot go anywhere where the Lord is not (Psalm 139:7-10). Jonah himself later described Yahweh as "the God of the heavens who made the sea and the dry-ground" (1:9). Jonah obviously knew that he could not escape God's presence, and yet he acted otherwise. The ancient people commonly believed that gods were territorial. That is, each people or land had their own god that presided over it. We see an example of this in II Kings 20:23-28. There the Assyrian advisers told their king that their recent defeat in battle against Israel must have been due to Israel's god being a god of the hills. They reasoned that if they could fight Israel on the plains then Israel would not have their god to help them and Assyria would prevail. Jonah, though he intellectually knew better, acted as if Yahweh was just like a god of the pagan nations. Jonah thought that he could find a place and a people where God did not rule. Like Jonah, we often act as if our God is just like the gods of the world, though we know otherwise. We think that we can associate with a people that God takes no interest in and go somewhere that God does not preside to live our own lives in our own way apart from the Lord. With our minds we know differently but our actions expose our hearts. We are more like Jonah than we like to think.

Paying for Nothing

Jonah paid the fare for passage to effect his escape plan. There is always a cost in trying to evade God. And, just like Jonah, you never receive what you thought you paid for. God asks us, "why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy?" (Isaiah 55:2a). The prodigal son thought he could buy fun and friends with his inheritance - and for awhile he did - but then became destitute, friendless, and miserable (Luke15:11-17). Ultimately Jonah wasted his money and energy on a futile endeavor. King Solomon illustrated the empty endeavors of himself and all mankind in Ecclesiastes. There Solomon told how he attained all the pleasures and accomplishments that even the most hedonistic or ambitious person would envy. Yet after all of the energy, time, and money he invested he found them all empty. He then said, "the conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person" (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Everything else is hollow in the end.

1:4 Yahweh then cast11 a strong3 wind12 onto the sea and there was a powerful3 storm on the sea so that the ship thought of breaking up.

Wind and Water

God sent a message to Jonah in the form of a storm. On one level the storm represented the Lord's displeasure (see, for example, Isaiah 28:2). When we will not listen to God's voice He sends us messages embedded in unpleasant circumstances. Since Jonah disregarded God's voice God now shouted at Jonah through nature. But the Lord was shouting another message here also. It begins with the image of wind and water. At times in the Bible we have the image of wind by itself and at other times we have the image of water by itself. But on particularly significant occasions we have them intimately linked. It is worth some time to explore this image and its relevance.

The image of "wind and water" occurs first during Creation when "the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters" (Genesis 1:2). The word translated as "Spirit" is the Hebrew word ruach, which has the dual meaning of "spirit" and "wind." Next this image occurs after the Flood of Noah: "but God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God caused a wind to pass over the earth, and the water subsided." (Genesis 8:1). And again wind and water appear during the Exodus:

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided. 22 The sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. (Exodus 14:21-22).

This image arises at Creation, the Flood, and the Exodus - all critical events in the history of the world. So what can we construe about this image? In each instance the ruach ruled over the water. At Creation the waters separated (Genesis 1:7) just as they did at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21). In the Flood the water subsided. Spirit, as symbolized by wind, is master over the natural world, as symbolized by water [b]. The image thus becomes a symbol of God's sovereignty and power over all creation and the difficulties of life. And for the book of Jonah this image begins the theme of the sovereign power of God's Spirit over Jonah, the sailors, the Ninevites, and everything in creation.

The Ship Thinks

This is the only place in the Bible where an inanimate object "thinks." This word is derived from an Aramaic root and not found anywhere else in the Bible except in Daniel 6:3 where it refers to the actions of the king. This unusual usage in Jonah is not understood. However, knowing how important words are in Jonah, I have translated it literally so that the reader may be aware of the writer's word choice here.

1:5 The sailors13 were afraid14 and each man15 called out for help16 to his own god17 and cast11 things18 from the ship into the sea to lighten it. But Jonah went down9 into the inner recesses19 of the ship to lay down20 and went into a deep sleep21.

1:6 So the captain22 of the sailors23 came to him and said to him, "How is it that you are in a deep sleep20?!? Get up1! Cry out4 to your gods17 and perhaps the gods17 will consider24 us and not let us perish25."

They Attempt to Save Their Lives

The sailors, in a mad panic for their lives, realized that the situation was beyond human control and called out to their gods for help. When that had no effect they took things into their own hands and began casting stuff overboard - cargo, tools, and whatever - to save their lives. Though they tried to lighten their load it was not enough. Some believe that by freeing themselves from material possessions or habits or a myriad of other "baggage" that weighs down their lives that they will free themselves from the curse of sin that has enveloped not only their own lives but the entire earth. Paul expressed this idea in relation to religious observances (see Colossians 2:16-23). There Paul told us that such things as abstaining from various foods, self abasement, and the like appear wise but do not address the heart of man's problems. Such things are not enough. No matter how much stuff one throws overboard the storm will not abate - at least not while Jonah is on board.

Jonah's Sleep

Jonah seemed completely unconcerned with this terrifying storm and utterly detached from the sailors' distress. While the sailors dashed about to save themselves, Jonah nonchalantly went down into the hull of the ship and fell asleep. With each step of the narrative Jonah descended lower and lower. In verse 3 Jonah went down to Joppa; then he went down into the ship. Now, in 1:5, Jonah went down below deck and lied down. By lying down below deck he was physically as low as he could get. He was now below the sailors in both a literal and figurative sense. If that wasn't enough, he descended even further in his escape from God by falling into a deep sleep. And what a sleep it must have been, for he slept through a storm that terrified even veteran seamen. Previously Jonah showed no concern for the Ninevites and here he showed no concern for the lives of the sailors. This demonstrates just how insensate Jonah was to his fellow travelers and God's heart.

The word for deep sleep, radam, is the same word used when Adam was put into a deep sleep in Eden before the creation of the woman (Genesis 2:21). So at another level of the story, Jonah is further identified with Adam. When Adam fell he brought a calamity upon all mankind. The curse of sin has enveloped the whole world with no escape no matter what gods we call upon or what we attempt through our own efforts to deliver ourselves.

This segment resembles the story of Jesus sleeping while He and His disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee with a huge storm threatening to sink their boat (see Mark 4:35-41 and Luke 8:22-25). The similarity is too close for coincidence. Clearly God wants us to link the Sea of Galilee storm incident with this portion of the Jonah story. When the disciples woke Jesus and He calmed the storm we are told, "in fear and amazement [the disciples] asked one another, 'Who then is this, that He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him?'" (Luke 8:25). Based on the image of wind and water discussed earlier this incident tells us more than that Jesus commands the natural elements. In fact, when the disciples asked one another this question they were paraphrasing Psalm 107:29 where Yahweh was identified as the one who quiets the wind and the water of the storms at sea. This image tells us that Jesus is master over all - the spiritual and physical realms. He is Yahweh, sovereign Lord of all.

Haunting Words

Jonah first ran from the command that God gave him. Then he detached himself from the reprimand that God sent to him through the violent storm. And here the Lord sent Jonah another rebuke using a different medium. The captain of the sailors found Jonah deeply sleeping and said two words uncomfortably familiar to Jonah: qum ("Get up!") and qara ("Cry out!"). God spoke these same two words to Jonah in the beginning (1:2). God now used the captain to remind Jonah of his purpose. Further, the word elohiym, translated in 1:6 as "gods" could also be translated here as "God." The ship's captain, being a polytheist, would certainly have intended "gods," as I have translated it. But Jonah would have heard "God." The captain was unaware that God was using him to admonish Jonah. In God's sovereignty He uses whatever and whomever He wishes for His purposes though they may think they act for themselves: "the king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes" (Proverbs 21:1). But how sad it is when the heathen rightly rebuke the men of God. If God used a pagan king to rebuke even Abram about lying (Genesis 12:10-20) then we are all subject to God's rebukes through unbelievers. When a non-believer rightly rebukes us we should take it very seriously as a rebuke from the Lord Himself.

The Threat of Perishing

The captain asked Jonah to call upon his gods in the hope that the gods would consider their plight, intercede, and keep them all from perishing. Avad, the word translated here as "perishing," primarily means "to wander away" or "to lose oneself." The men were concerned about their physical lives. But the sailors also represent all the men of the world whom, because of Adam (as represented by Jonah), are in danger of wandering away from the Lord and being lost forever.

But avad also means "to lose usefulness." God created men for a purpose. When we separate ourselves from this purpose we lose our usefulness to God. An event associated with Elisha gives us a picture of this concept. Once a prophet lost an ax head in the Jordan River and told Elisha what had happened. Elisha threw a stick onto the water and the ax head rose from the river bottom and floated to the top (II Kings 6:1-7). Here we have a picture of ourselves as the ax head. At the bottom of the river the ax head was useless. Symbolically it is dead; the Jordan River is a very strong Biblical type for death. The stick that Elisha threw onto the water is also symbolic. The Hebrew word ets, translated as "stick," can mean "stick," "wood," or "tree." So coupling these images together shows us that the ets that Elisha threw onto the Jordan River refers to the crucifixion tree of Christ that causes us to rise from our death of uselessness and be restored to our Master's hand.

1:7 Then each man15 said to the other, "Come on2! Let's have lots fall26 and reveal27 who is the cause28 of this calamity5 that is upon us." So they let lots fall26 and the lot fell26 upon Jonah.

The Sailors Become Men

There is a subtle change in wording that has occurred in reference to the sailors. Note that in 1:3 that they were referred to as "them." Then in 1:5 they were referred to by the Hebrew word mallach, which was derived from a word meaning "salt" or "rubbed with salt." This is similar to our English idiom referring to sailors as "old salts." Then in 1:6 they were called chovel, which means sailors in the sense of "rope handlers." Finally, in 1:6, Jonah was grouped with the sailors by the word "us." From that point onward the sailors are exclusively referred to as iysh or anashiym, which means "man" and "men," respectively. Though the sailors were referred to as iysh in 1:5 it was secondary to their reference as mallach, which appeared in the same sentence. But from 1:6 on no other qualifying terms characterize them - they are now simply men. How we view the sailors undergoes a nearly undetectable metamorphosis. They start out as some sort of an alien "them" and then transform into inanimate "salt" men. We, like Jonah, had little thought or feeling for them. They then became slightly more human with the skill of "rope handling." Finally they were grouped with Jonah by the word "us," and ultimately became fully recognizable as men along with Jonah.

Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol underwent a comparable transformation in his view of people. When we first encounter Scrooge he cared nothing for the poor. He felt that if the poor die because they refuse to go to the workhouses then they should die to "decrease the surplus population." Scrooge later saw Tiny Tim, the crippled son of his poor employee, and learned that Tim would not live given the present course of events. Moved with pity Scrooge said to the Ghost of Christmas Present, "Oh no, kind Spirit! say he will be spared." But the Ghost echoed Scrooge's former words back to him saying that if Tim dies, "he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population." Confronted with individuals of the "surplus population" Scrooge was moved to pity and was "overcome with penitence and grief" at his previous indifference towards them. Though Jonah still appeared unconcerned with the plight of his pagan co-travelers the writer gives his audience a hint of God's view towards all the people of the world. This theme, while quite subtle here, becomes quite pronounced as the story advances.

God in the Details

God previously used the ship captain to echo the Lord's initial words to Jonah to remind him of his assignment. Jonah ignored that reminder. So God sent Jonah yet another message. This time it came through the casting of lots. Jonah could not escape from God's messages and reminders. Everything around Jonah reflected his own descent: God cast a storm down onto the sea, the sailors cast things down into the sea, and now the men "cause lots to fall," as it literally says in the Hebrew. The falling lots enhance the imagery of descending and falling that continues on throughout the first two chapters. And as before it has two purposes. On one hand, these ominous signs showed Jonah his wrong course and warned him of the eventual bottom he would hit. But on the other, they demonstrated God's sovereignty in subjugating every detail to remind Jonah of his calling: "the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord" (Proverbs16:33). Jesus told us that no sparrow falls to the ground without the Father permitting it and that the Lord has every hair on our head's numbered (Matthew 10:29,30). The small, falling lots pointed to Jonah. All of the sailors' eyes were then fixed on him.

1:8 And they asked him, "Please tell us now! As the one by whom this calamity5 has come upon us: what is your profession? where do you come from? what land are you from? what is your ethnicity?"

1:9 He answered them, "I am a Hebrew and I fear14 Yahweh, the God17 of the heavens29 who made30 the sea and the dry-ground31."

1:10 Then the men15 feared14 with a tremendous3 fear14. So they asked him, "Why have you done30 this?" for the men15 knew27 that he had hurried away8 from the presence7 of Yahweh because he had told them that this is what he had done.

A Prophet in their Midst

Once the lot pointed to Jonah as the cause of the storm the sailors wanted to know everything about this person who had brought so much trouble upon them. Perhaps they hoped that some small piece of information would provide a clue on how to bring an end to this calamity. Jonah then spoke for the first time in the book.

Jonah's response revealed much about his view of himself and Gentiles. He started his reply using anokiy, an archaic Hebrew word for "I." The Hebrew language underwent changes through the centuries, just as any language does over time. By the time of Jonah the common term for "I" had become the more simplified aniy. To the Hebrew ear anokiy triggers something similar to when a modern English speaker hears an archaic English word like "thou." Anokiy was mostly heard at the reading of Torah and was usually associated with how God referred to Himself. So Jonah sounded quite pious when he said "I (anokiy) am a Hebrew and I fear Yahweh, the God of the heavens who made the sea and the dry-ground." Anokiy set the tone for Jonah's speech. You can almost see him sticking his nose up in "holier than thou" superiority along with a condescending, if not childish, "my God is bigger than your gods" gibe. Jonah seemed to think that his heathen co-travelers should have been impressed that they had a genuine Hebrew prophet in their midst. And the writer briefly leads his audience in this direction, for immediately after Jonah spoke we read "then the men feared with a tremendous fear." Once again the writer assaults his audience's expectations by delaying explanations of actions. For a brief moment we may think that Jonah really did impress the sailors with his "credentials" of being a Hebrew prophet. But we soon discover that the sailors were not afraid because of Jonah's credentials, but because an obviously powerful god had chased Jonah right to them!


In Jonah's reply he also said that he "fears Yahweh." Yare, the word translated as "fear," has two meanings: "terror" and "worship with great reverence." Previously this word was used to refer to the sailors' fear for their lives because of the storm. Now Jonah used this same word to tell the men that he "fears (i.e., worships) Yahweh." But what a puny fear he had. Jonah's fear of Yahweh corresponded to his indifferent fear of the terrifying storm.

Jonah's small fear contrasts with the sailors' ever growing fear. The sailors once feared just for their physical lives because of the incredibly wild storm. As they began to grasp the magnitude of their predicament they realized that there was more to fear than just this natural storm. Indeed, there was something to fear beyond their understanding. A great and powerful god of the heavens who created the whole world was intimately involved in this uproar. They tasted how "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). The sailors' fear was also coupled with puzzlement: why would Jonah run away from such a powerful god and antagonize him? and, how could one small person's problem with his god have caused such a cataclysm? We are puzzled by similar questions about ourselves: why do we try to run from God when we know we can't? and, how did one guy's sin, Adam's, create such horrors as the world experiences?

The Dry Ground

The image of "dry ground" is introduced with the Hebrew word yabashah. There are other Hebrew words that the writer could have chosen to refer to "land," but yabashah specifically means dry ground. The word choice is significant because of its close association with the image of "wind and water" discussed earlier. In the Creation story, after God separated the waters, we read:

9 Then God said, "Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear"; and it was so. 10 God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good (Genesis 1:9-10).

After the Flood Noah sent out a dove to search for dry ground. After the dove did not return dry ground appeared soon afterwords:

13 Now it came about in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, on the first of the month, the water was dried up from the earth. Then Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the surface of the ground was dried up. 14 In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry (Genesis 8:13-14).

In the Exodus the dry ground theme also occurs with the same word, yabashah, being used:

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided. 22 The sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left (Exodus 14:21-22).

The image of "dry ground" surfaces at two other important events: when Joshua led Israel across the dried Jordan River into the Promised Land (Joshua 3:17) and when Elijah passed on his ministry to Elisha after they also crossed the dried Jordan (II Kings 2:8).

In the Creation story the appearance of dry land provided a place for vegetation and animals to live. After the Flood the appearance of dry ground meant a new start for humanity. In the Exodus the dry ground that appeared in the Red Sea represented deliverance from the old life of slavery and the hope for a new life of freedom. And when Israel entered the Promised Land across the dried Jordan a new life stood before before Israel after they wandered for 40 years in the wilderness. Thus, for the sailors, the image of dry ground represented deliverance from the storm and a hope for a new life beyond their present predicament. For us, the dry ground represents our rescue from the unhappiness, strife, and a myriad of other things in ourselves and the world that result from the curse of sin.

1:11 So they asked him, "What should we do30 to you so that the sea will be calm towards us?" for the sea continued to rage even more violently3.

1:12 So he replied to them, "Lift me up32 and cast11 me into he sea and it will become calm towards you because I know27 that I am the cause28 of this violent3 storm that has come upon you."

1:13 But the men15 dug33 [with their oars] in order to turn away34 to the dry-ground31 but they could not prevail because the sea continued2 to rage even more violently3 against them.

Jonah the Legalist

Why was Jonah so unconcerned about his personal welfare so as to have suggested to the sailors that they throw him into the sea? Our first impression may be that Jonah bravely stepped forward to sacrifice himself for the sake of the sailors. We may feel that, "After all, Jonah was a prophet of God so he had a more noble character than an ordinary person; such men unselfishly sacrifice themselves for others." The writer intentionally allows his audience to jump to this wrong conclusion. He does this so that when we later discover Jonah's true attitude towards Gentiles we must come back and examine Jonah and ourselves to see why we came to this erroneous conclusion. Jonah's rancor towards Gentiles makes Jonah having bravely sacrificed himself for the sailors quite unlikely.

Certainly being thrown into the sea reflects Jonah's continued attempt to escape from his duty to preach to Nineveh. But what drove him to the extremity of seeking death? In chapter four, Jonah will reiterate this sentiment when he said: "it is better for me to die than for me to live" (see 4:3b). What alternatives are there to explain Jonah's suggestion to the sailors? Was Jonah suicidal? If so, why didn't he just jump into the sea himself rather than request that the sailors throw him in? Was he too cowardly to commit suicide? Cowardice does not seem to fit Jonah - after all he seemed to fear nothing else. Was he so apathetic that he didn't care what happened to himself anymore? But if he was that apathetic why wouldn't he just keep silent and wait for the inevitable? Perhaps the answer lies in his underlying attitude towards the Ninevites. That is, those that sin should be punished. Maybe Jonah saw himself deserving of punishment just as much as Nineveh; justice should be executed without exception. Jonah may have been a man of legalistic principles that stuck by them even to his own detriment. He probably admired himself that he did not show even himself preferential treatment in his judgements. We see this type of character presented in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. In Les Miserables Inspector Javert believes that he has falsely denunciated the mayor of his town, Monsieur Madeleine, of being the ex-convict, Jean Valjean, who was wanted for parole violation. Inspector Javert confesses to Monsieur Madeleine and tells him that the mayor should dismiss him:

"'I ought to treat myself as I would treat anyone else. When I put down malefactors, when I rigorously brought up offenders, I often said to myself: "You, if you ever trip, if I catch you doing wrong, look out!" I have tripped, I have caught myself doing wrong. So much the worse! I must be sent away, broken, dismissed; that is right. The good of the service demands an example.'

"All this was said in a tone of proud humility, a desperate and resolute tone, which gave an indescribably whimsical grandeur to this oddly honest man."

If this assessment is true could Jonah's attitude have been similar to the priest and the Levite who passed by the injured man in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37)? It has been suggested that the priest and Levite in that parable did not stop to help the injured man because doing so would have made them ceremonially unclean. They put their obligations to ceremonial purity ahead of their obligation to love their neighbor. Perhaps Jonah also put Jewish ceremony and tradition above the command to love his neighbor. If this is accurate then Jonah would be the ultimate legalist. To put this in perspective, if a car wreck happened while Jonah walked down the sidewalk, he would not go into the street to assist the injured or dying because that would involve breaking the jaywalking law.

The question must then be asked: why would anyone put ceremonial law ahead of the command to "love your neighbor"? And herein lies a fine point. The legalists don't aim at placing any law above another, for legalists see all laws as equivalent. That is, if God gave a command then it should be complied with the same fervor as any other one. Thus, any law becomes equivalent to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind." The problem comes when one law conflicts with another. That is, when a circumstance arises where two laws apply, but it is impossible to comply with one without breaking the other. Choosing randomly does not seem justifiable for the act of choosing one means we violate the other. You are forced to choose. Jesus addressed this dilemma. He explained how some laws take precedence over others. He gave one example with the law of circumcision in John 7:21-24. The Mosaic Law stated that a male baby was to be circumcised on the eighth day. However, the Law also stated that no work was to be done on the Sabbath. Since performing a circumcision was a form of work, what did one do if the day for a child's circumcision fell on a Sabbath? The answer was that the law concerning circumcision took precedence over the law of refraining from work on the Sabbath. The Jews knew this. Jesus used it to remind them of the principle that some laws took priority over others. Jesus gave several other examples of this principle when He was criticized for working and healing on the Sabbath. He told of how David ate the consecrated bread that was permissible only for the priests to eat (see Matthew 12:1-4). Jesus' point was that the preservation of life took precedence over the ceremonial law. He then said that the priests worked in the Temple on the Sabbath and yet were blameless (Matthew 12:5). Immediately after giving these examples Jesus proceeded to heal a man on the Sabbath and said, "So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath" (Matthew 12:12b). Jesus gave other examples along the same line in Mark 7:1-23. In all events the command to love your neighbor took precedence over any ceremonial observances.

Aside from their other evils the Ninevites were uncircumcised, did not eat kosher, did not keep the Sabbath, and had no regard for the Jewish traditions and festivals established by God Himself in the Mosaic Law. The Jews were self-satisfied in their ceremonies and traditions. They felt that their heritage was enough to establish them before God. So when the ceremonial law conflicted with the law of love then the Jews tended to use ceremonial law as an excuse to avoid fulfilling their responsibilities towards their neighbors. In this regard all men are the same. Fallen human nature makes us all behave this way. And this was probably the basis for Jonah's problem with understanding why God sought to preserve Gentiles who were the enemies of Israel, the guardians of God's Law. Even the Apostle Peter who walked with Jesus, heard His deepest teachings first hand, and was filled with the Holy Spirit did not associate with Gentiles until God intervened through direct revelation (see Acts 10). After this Peter was called before the church in Jerusalem, the pillars of Christianity, to explain why he had associated with Gentiles (Acts 11:1-18). So if even these men of the early Church had difficulty with the concept of God dealing with Gentiles, how much more so did Jonah?

Another Failed Attempt

Jonah, as a prophet of Yahweh, told the men what they had to do to calm the storm. Despite all of Jonah's other shortcomings he still prophesied correctly. But instead the sailors chose a means other than the one God had prescribed. Maybe the sailors treated Jonah with care fearing that something even more horrifying would befall them otherwise. Possibly they thought Jonah's solution too absurd. Or perhaps they figured that depositing Jonah onto dry ground would have caused the disasters to follow Jonah on the land and leave them alone on the sea. Whatever the reason, a negative undertone resides in their effort to reach the dry ground. The word chathar (dug) colorfully describes the men rowing. Chathar means to "force a passage" or "dig" and has the connotation of a burglar breaking into a house. Their act of rowing is coupled with the word shuv, which means "to turn away" or "reverse course." Shuv can be good (turning away from evil towards God) or bad (turning away from God towards evil). Because of shuv's connection with chathar the sailors' efforts have the unfavorable coloration of a burglar breaking into a house. Jesus used a similar image when He spoke of false shepherds attempting to steal the kingdom of God,

1 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep" (John 10:1-2).

The men did not prevail in their attempt to reach the salvation of dry ground because they represent men's attempt to posses God's kingdom by some route other than through Christ. The term leshuv ("to return") means "to repent." The sailors tried to repent (shuv) but could not unless they coupled it with the sacrifice that Jonah had told them that they need to do. This illustrates the point that that repentance is useless without the sacrifice of Christ. Attempting some other route into Heaven only causes the storm of our lives to increase.

1:14 Then the men15 cried out4 to Yahweh, "We plead, Yahweh! Please don't let us perish25 through the soul35 of this man15 and don't attribute10 against us innocent36 blood37 - for just as what has pleased38 You, Yahweh, You have done30."

1:15 So they lifted up32 Jonah and cast11 him into the sea and the sea ceased from it's raging and became calm.

1:16 The men15 then feared14 Yahweh with a tremendous3 fear14 and they made sacrifices and vows to Yahweh.

Yahweh - the Covenant Name

The men realized that their efforts got them nowhere. God now had them where he wanted them and a transformation occurred among the sailors. They no longer referred to Jonah's God with the generic title of elohiym but now referred to Him as Yahweh, His covenant name with Israel. The name of a person was considered a representation of that person himself. Thus, for these pagans to call upon Yahweh and fear Him indicated that the Lord had truly revealed Himself to them. The name of Yahweh was revealed to Israel as the One that is self-existent, loving, and moral; and here He revealed Himself to Gentiles. No longer just the creator god to them, these pagan men gained a knowledge of Yahweh, the revealed God.

The Second Adam

The sailors pleaded with Yahweh not to let them "perish through the soul of this man." In this phrase Jonah continues as a type of Adam. All came through the soul of Adam by being born. All in Adam perish in that they wander away, lose themselves, and become useless to God. They ultimately die because death comes to all that are born of Adam's seed, as Paul said,

12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned - 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come" (Rom 5:12-14).

But immediately after this a transition occurs in the typology of Jonah. He now becomes a type for the "second Adam," that is, Chirst. Because Jonah was an individual, the imagery maintains unity through the concept of "Adam." Paul discussed these "two Adams" in Romans 5:12-14 and I Corinthians 15:22,46-50. The first and second Adams were unique in the world. They had no earthly father but only God as their father. Consequently, they were the only ones born not possessing a sinful nature. But the first Adam sinned and brought death into the world; the second Adam did not sin, but took sin upon Himself, and brought life into the world. Each of these two Adams began a race of men. But those born of the first Adam's seed are earthly and die; those born of the second Adam's seed are heavenly and live. The first Adam took us out of Paradise and into the requirements of the Law; the second Adam takes us back into Paradise with only one law - abiding in Christ.

Jesus himself told us that Jonah was a type for the Messiah (Matthew 12:40; Luke 11:30). But several other links here develop Jonah as a type for Christ. The sailors referred to Jonah as "innocent blood." This phrase is an idiom used throughout the Bible for an innocent person who wrongly dies. This foreshadows Christ's crucifixion, for Judas Iscariot said of Jesus, "I sinned by betraying innocent blood" (Matt 27:4a). Pilate also declared Jesus innocent (John 18:38). Jesus who was innocent and sinless died.

The Romans crucified Jesus at the prompting of the Jews. In the events surrounding Jonah being cast overboard we see this action played out. The Gentile sailors were the ones who conducted the "sacrifice" of Jonah just as the Gentile Romans were the ones who conducted the crucifixion of Jesus. The sailors were reluctant to do it, just as Pilate was reluctant to crucify Jesus. But, just as Jonah had told the Gentile sailors to cast him overboard, so did the Jews tell the Romans to crucify Jesus.

Another link occurs as an image inconsistency. We have seen Jonah descending throughout the narrative up to this point. Now, for a brief moment, he was "lifted up" before he again continued his downward journey. From a literary point of view it is odd that Jonah's descent should have this upward blip. And because it is odd it draws attention to itself. Stopping to reflect on this anomaly we may hear an echo from Scripture. The phrase links Jonah with Jesus, for Jesus said, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life" (John 3:14-15). Jesus alluded here to an episode from Numbers 21:6-9, which foreshadowed Christ's crucifixion, as John later verified, "'And I [Jesus], if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.' But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die" (John 12:32-33). Hence, Jonah being lifted up foreshadowed Christ's crucifixion.

The link strengthens when we realize that the men declaring that Yahweh was pleased with Jonah being tossed into the sea (1:14) echoes Isaiah's Messianic prophecy, "the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief, if He would render Himself as a guilt offering" (Isaiah 53:10a). The word "pleased" in Jonah 1:14 and Isaiah 53:10 is the same Hebrew word, chaphets.

One further link exists in Jonah's willingness to be thrown overboard. We know that Jonah did not struggle when the men tossed him into the sea because Jonah himself had suggested that they do this to him (1:12). Hence, Jonah became like Christ in His silence before the chief priests, Pilate, and Herod prior to His crucifixion (Matthew 27:12-19), as prophesied by Isaiah: "He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth" (Isaiah 53:7).

A New Fear for the Sailors

The meaning of "fear" (yare) changed for the sailors. At first they were afraid for their lives because of the storm (1:5). Then their fear turned to terror when they discovered that not only was the creator god the source of the storm but that He had also pursued Jonah to their ship (1:7). And finally they attained a fear of Yahweh in the sense of worshiping Him with great awe and respect (1:16).

Note that the sailors did not just go on with their journey after they dumped Jonah into the sea and the storm abated. They very likely had to go out of their way to sacrifice and make vows to Yahweh. If there was nothing left on the ship to sacrifice (because they had previously thrown everything overboard) then they would have had to go a great deal out of their way to conduct these sacrifices.

How did the writer know that these sailors made these vows and sacrifices to Yahweh unless their adventure with Jonah had became known to the Jews by the sailors themselves. Jonah was tossed overboard before they had done this so Jonah could not have been the source of this information. The sailors may have gone to Jerusalem to make these vows and sacrifices. In fact, a portion of Psalm 107 may have been inspired by their adventure with Jonah:

23 Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters; 24 they have seen the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. 25 For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. 26 They rose up to the heavens, they went down to the depths; their soul melted away in their misery. 27 They reeled and staggered like a drunken man, and were at their wits' end. 28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distresses. 29 He caused the storm to be still, so that the waves of the sea were hushed. 30 Then they were glad because they were quiet, so He guided them to their desired haven. 31 Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men! 32 Let them extol Him also in the congregation of the people, and praise Him at the seat of the elders. (Psalm 107:23-32)

This portion of Psalm 107 expresses thanksgiving and praise not just from the Jews but from all men (verse 31). The sailors may have gone to Jerusalem and been "in the congregation of the people" and "at the seat of the elders" where they praised Yahweh for saving them. Aside from having been the inspiration for this passage they also could have provided the information about their making "sacrifices and vows to Yahweh" after Jonah was thrown overboard.

Rise and Fall

With every step down for Jonah the sailors ascended and were ultimately brought to worship and serve Yahweh. God told Israel that if they failed to obey His commandments that, "The alien who is among you shall rise above you higher and higher, but you will go down lower and lower" (Deuteronomy 28:43). The sailors rose up and Jonah descended. So Jonah is revealed as a type for Israel that had forsaken the Lord. In the end the Gentile sailors rose to know and serve Yahweh, the God that Israel had forsaken. The sailors did not perish (compare with John 3:16) and thus become a type for the Gentile Church.

And though the Gentile sailors turned to Yahweh and served Him who they had not known before (see Romans 10:20 and Isaiah 65:1), God did not abandon Jonah. And neither does God abandon Israel during the age of Gentile repentance - the Church Age. Paul wrote about this in Romans 9-11. Specifically he said that God had not rejected Israel (Romans 11:1). We find God dealing with Jonah in both severe and tender ways in the coming sections. And so God deals with Israel. God's love and dealings with Israel are mirrored in His love and dealings with Jonah.

1:17 But Yahweh had appointed39 a large3 fish to swallow40 Jonah. And it came about that Jonah was inside the guts41 of the fish for three days and three nights.

God's Appointment

The word "appointed" (manah) occurs here for the first of four times in Jonah. Manah means, in this context, to "appoint," or "prepare." Rabbis have long understood this passage to mean that before Creation God had already assigned a particular fish to swallow Jonah. Even before the beginning God was ahead of Jonah's every step. God told Jeremiah that "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations" (Jeremiah 1:5). Likewise, Paul wrote that God had "set me [Paul] apart even from my mother's womb and called me through His grace" (Gal 1:15). God had a purpose for Jonah and Jonah would not be able to escape it - even by attempting to die.

Three Days and Three Nights

The number "three" is often used in Hebrew as an idiom meaning "several." However, all of the occurrences of "three" in the Scriptures cannot be dismissed as mere idiomatic references to "several" of this or that. In particular, many significant events in the Bible are associated with three days. When Abraham went to sacrifice his son Isaac, the journey took three days (Genesis 30:36). Joseph put his brothers in prison for three days (Genesis 42:17). Moses asked the Pharaoh to let the Israelites go on a three-day journey so they could sacrifice to the Lord (Exodus 3:18; 5:3; 8:27). After Joshua assumed command of Israel he sent out notice that in three days they would cross the Jordan to claim the Promised Land (Joshua 1:11). There are many other instances. However, no one understood the significance of all of these references to "three days" until Jesus cited Jonah 1:17: "For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:40). Jesus taught His disciples plainly that this meant that, "the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again" (Mark 8:31). Through Jonah Jesus defined the significance of the enigmatic "three day" references found throughout the Bible.

Jonah as the Diaspora

One can view the fish as representing the Gentile nations. Hosea spoke of Israel being swallowed by Assyria and the Gentile nations (Hosea 8:8). Thus, just as Jonah was swallowed by the fish, but not digested, so too were the Jews swallowed by the Gentile nations, but not assimilated. As the fish expelled Jonah, so eventually the Jews were expelled from the Gentile nations to establish their own nation. This view has some credence since the fish can be linked to Nineveh by the word "great" (gadol) and the sea is found elsewhere in the Bible as a metaphor for the nations (see Isaiah 60:5; Daniel 7:2-3,17; and Revelation 13:1; 21:1).

Assyria, with its capitol of Nineveh, was the nation that first began removing the Jews from their homeland and scattering them throughout their Empire, thus beginning the Jewish Diaspora. When Babylon conquered the Assyrian Empire, the Babylonians continued the same resettlement policy. Thus, when Jerusalem was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, Judah was also resettled. When the Persians allowed the Jews to re-establish themselves back in their homeland the effects of the Diaspora had already become irreversible. Then the Romans completed the Diaspora that has existed even unto modern times. The Romans began their destruction of the Jewish homeland in AD 70 and completed it in AD 135 when Emporer Hadrian crushed the Bar Kochba revolt. Hadrian then renamed Judea, calling it Palestine; Jerusalem he renamed as Aelia Capiolina. His intent was to obliterate any Jewish identification and connection with their ancient homeland and the city of their heart.

But the Roman event begs for an explanation. We understand the reason for the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests of Israel and Judah as God's judgements for the Jews forsaking the Lord. But why did God allow the Romans to destroy the Temple, level Jerusalem, obliterate the Jewish possession of their homeland, and scatter the Jews to every corner of the world? The previous Assyrian and Babylonian incidents would indicate that some very serious breach had occurred between God and the Jews. But what? Daniel gave a hint when he prophesied in what year to expect the coming of the Messiah. Daniel wrote that 483 years after the decree to rebuild Jerusalem that the Messiah would come but be cut off [c] and not receive His kingdom at that time (see Daniel 9:25-26 and Ezra 7:11-26). The "weeks" (literally "sevens") which Daniel spoke of cannot possibly be a regular week of seven days because no one appeared even remotely resembling the Messiah that soon after the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The other alternative is that the "sevens" refer to years. Calculating years, starting from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem, places the Messiah's coming at the time of Jesus' ministry on earth (about AD 30). This implies that the Jewish Diaspora of the past two millennia has been due to the refusal of Israel to accept their Messiah.

Like Jonah who survived in the fish, the Jews have not been assimilated into the various nations into which they have been scattered. And like Jonah, Israel was also released from the nations and have now created the modern nation of Israel. Though God dispersed the Jews throughout the world He did not abandon them, just as He did not abandon Jonah in his affliction. Ezekiel prophesied that God would gather Israel from all of the nations of the Earth and re-establish them in the land he promised to Abraham. This was shown in the vision of the Valley of Dry Bones that assemble together, have flesh put on them, and then become a great multitude of people (Ezekiel 37). Jeremiah also prophesied along the same lines:

"So then, the days are coming," declares the Lord, "when people will no longer say, 'As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,' but they will say, 'As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.' Then they will live in their own land" (Jer 23:7-8).

Jonah the Dove

One further aspect of Jonah yet needs examination. Jonah's name in Hebrew means "dove." Several allusions to doves may be intended. One may be the theme of fleeing. David, in distress about his enemies pursuing him, wrote,

6 I said, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. 7 Behold, I would wander far away, I would lodge in the wilderness. 8 I would hasten to my place of refuge from the stormy wind and tempest" (Psalm 55:6-8).

This sounds similar to Jonah's thoughts in his flight to Tarshish.

Another allusion may be to the dove of Noah's Flood. When Noah waited for the Floodwaters to recede he sent out a dove in search of dry ground. Noah confirmed the appearance of the dry ground when the dove did not return. In the same way, Jonah not returning to the sailors after they had thrown him overboard resembles the non-returning dove of Noah. A new life, as symbolized by the dry ground, awaited the sailors, just as it had awaited Noah.

Yet another allusion may be to the dove sacrificed in the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 1:5,10,14; 12:6; 14:22). When Jesus was dedicated in the Temple, two doves were sacrificed (Luke 2:24). According to the Mosaic Law, one dove was killed and the other was sprinkled with the blood of the first and then released. Those doves, as well as Jonah, foreshadowed Christ's death and resurrection.

Footnotes for Chapter 1

[a] For some examples of the intricate literary structures observed in Jonah see Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, D.J. Wiseman, editor, (Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester, England, 1988) pp106-109.

[b] Jesus alluded to this image in His encounter with Nicodemus in John 3. There Jesus told Nicodemus that "no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and pneuma" (John 3:5). In Greek the word pneuma means both "wind" and "spirit" just like ruach does in Hebrew. Thus, John 3:5-6 can be translated as,

5 Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the wind.
6 "Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit."

This produces a Hebraic parallel phrase form where the first phrase is figurative and the second phrase is literal. Most likely Nicodemus understood pneuma in the first phrase to mean "wind" because of its association with the word "water" and in the second phrase to mean "spirit" because of its contrast to "flesh."

[c] The Hebrew word "to cut" (karath) also means "to covenant." Daniel seems to doubly indicate that the Messiah would be "cut off" and that he would "covenant." This is precisely what happened to Jesus (cut off) and what He did (covenant) when He was crucified.

Contents | Introduction| Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Glossary | Translation