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Bible Commentaries
Jonah 1

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Jonah 1:0


Jonah's DisobedienceJonah's First Call to Preach to NinevehJonah Disobeys the LordJonah Rebels Against His Mission
Jonah 1:1-3Jonah 1:1-3Jonah 1:1-3Jonah 1:1-16
The Storm at Sea
Jonah 1:4-9Jonah 1:4-6Jonah 1:4-5
Jonah 1:6
Jonah 1:7-10Jonah 1:7-8
Jonah Thrown into the SeaJonah 1:9-10a
Jonah 1:10-16Jonah 1:10-11
Jonah 1:11-16
Jonah 1:12
Jonah's Prayer and DeliveranceJonah is Miraculously SavedJonah 1:13-16
Jonah 1:17-9Jonah 1:17-10Jonah 1:17

* Although they are not inspired, paragraph divisions are the key to understanding and following the original author's intent. Each modern translation has divided and summarized the paragraphs. Every paragraph has one central topic, truth, or thought. Each version encapsulates that topic in its own distinct way. As you read the text, ask yourself which translation fits your understanding of the subject and verse divisions. In every chapter we must read the Bible first and try to identify its subjects (paragraphs), then compare our understanding with the modern versions. Only when we understand the original author's intent by following his logic and presentation can we truly understand the Bible. Only the original author is inspiredreaders have no right to change or modify the message. Bible readers do have the responsibility of applying the inspired truth to their day and their lives. Note that all technical terms and abbreviations are explained fully in the following documents: Hebrew Grammatical Tems and Glossary.

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jonah 1:1-3 1The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, 2”Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” 3But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

Jonah 1:1

NASB------- NKJV, NRSV“now” TEV“one day” NJB-------

There is an opening prefix (wa) to the VERB not translated by NASB and NJB. This is a textual marker for historical narrative (e.g., Judges 1:1; 1 Samuel 1:1; Ruth 1:1). This gives a hint that the author wants his work to be understood as historical.

“The word of the LORD came to” This is a common prophetic formula (e.g., Jeremiah 1:2, Jeremiah 1:4; Hosea 1:1; Joel 1:1; Micah 1:1; Haggai 1:1; Zechariah 1:1), but here it refers to the Lord's commission.

“Jonah” “His name means “dove” (BDB 402). See Introduction I. B.

“Amittai” His name means “firmness,” “faithfulness,” or “truth” (BDB 54). Both the names, Jonah and Amittai, are rare (son and father) and appear only one other time in the OT in 2 Kings 14:25. This shows the historicity of this book.

Jonah 1:2 “Arise. . .go. . .cry” All of these VERBS are Qal IMPERATIVES. They denote an urgency! This, like Jonah 1:1, is a typical prophetic call (cf. Jonah 3:3-4; Jeremiah 13:4, Jeremiah 13:6). Jonah's call in chapter 1 is repeated in chapter 3.

“Nineveh” It was made the capital of the Assyrian Empire by Sennacherib and was located on the Tigris River in modern Iraq, but its existence was much earlier (cf. Genesis 10:11). It was destroyed by Babylon in 612 B.C. The name itself (BDB 644) is related to Ishtar.

“the great city” The ABD, vol. 3, p. 938, makes a good point about the recurrent use of the ADJECTIVE “great” (BDB 152):

1. great city, Jonah 1:2; Jonah 3:2, Jonah 3:3; Jonah 4:11

2. great wind, Jonah 1:4

3. great storm, Jonah 1:4, Jonah 1:12

4. extremely frightened, Jonah 1:10

5. fear the Lord greatly, Jonah 1:16

6. great fish, Jonah 1:17

7. “from the greatest,” Jonah 3:5

8. nobles (great one), Jonah 3:7

9. “greatly displeased Jonah,” Jonah 4:1

10. “Jonah was extremely happy,” Jonah 4:6

Ancient Hebrew does not use ADJECTIVES often, therefore, this unusual repetition of “great” (also note Jonah 4:10, another use of the same root BDB 152) causes one to think it might be a textual marker to denote a hyperbolic literary account. The original readers would have quickly recognized this obvious overuse of “great.”

For a brief discussion of biblical hyperboles see Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, p. 329.

“cry” The same word (BDB 894, KB 1128, Qal IMPERATIVE) is used in Jonah 1:2 and 6. It implies “preach” or “proclaim” (i.e., the will of YHWH, e.g., Isaiah 40:2, Isaiah 40:6; Isaiah 58:1; Jeremiah 2:2; Jeremiah 3:12; Jeremiah 7:2; Jeremiah 11:6; Jeremiah 19:2; Jeremiah 20:8; Jeremiah 49:29). Nineveh's judgment would have caused Jonah's contemporaries to applaud (cf. Nahum 3:19).

“their wickedness” This NOUN, ADJECTIVE, and VERB (BDB 947 & 949), “evil,” (the opposite of good and life) is also used in a seemingly purposeful repetition:

1. the “wickedness” of the Ninevites, Jonah 1:2

2. the “calamity” of the storm, Jonah 1:7, Jonah 1:8

3. the king's request that his people “each may turn from his wicked way,” Jonah 3:8, Jonah 3:10

4. God saw their repentance (cf. Jonah 3:10) and turned from His planned “calamity,” Jonah 3:10

5. Jonah's great anger, Jonah 4:1 (double use of root)

The focus of evil has shifted from Nineveh to the prophet! What an ironical reversal!

Assyria was possibly the cruelest (cf. Nahum 3:1, Nahum 3:10, Nahum 3:19) and most arrogant (cf. Isaiah 10:12-14) nation Israel ever had to deal with. We learn of their treatment of prisoners from the Assyrian cuneiform texts and wall pictographs. This may represent one part of the irony of the book. Nineveh, like Israel, was wicked (cf. Nahum), yet God would freely forgive if they repented (a spiritual condition). Repentance, not national origin, is crucial with YHWH (cf. Amos 9:7).

“has come up before Me” This is the theological concept of God in heaven knowing fully the actions on earth (cf. Hosea 7:2). God is not only the God of Israel, but of all the earth (cf. Amos 9:7). Sin always elicits divine response!

Jonah 1:3 “rose up to flee” This is shocking and surprising, the exact opposite of what was expected in response to a divine call. The exact reason for his reluctance is not given here (cf. Jonah 4:2). Jonah hated Assyrians!

“Tarshish” The name (BDB 1077) can refer to (1) precious stones or (2) a distant port. Traditionally it has been identified as a Phoenician city (i.e., Tartessos) in southern Spain on the Atlantic ocean, but some archaeological evidence points to the island of Sardinia (cf. Genesis 10:4). It could be a metaphor for the farthest end of the world. Jonah wanted to get away from God's call and foolishly thought he could (cf. Psalms 139:7-12). Possibly he thought YHWH was limited to the Promised Land. See Special Topic: Tarshish.

“he went down” There is a recurrent use of the VERB “went down” (BDB 432, KB 434, Qal IMPERFECT) in Jonah 1:3 (twice), 5 (and an additional sound play on “fallen sound asleep”), and Jonah 2:7. This “going down” may symbolize Jonah's descent into rebellion (cf. ABD, vol. 3, p. 938).

It is possible that this phrase refers to Jonah's commission to go and preach to Nineveh coming to him while he was in the temple in Jerusalem. The Bible writers always speak of “going down from” or “going up to” the temple. The temple was located on high ground (i.e., Mt. Moriah, one of the seven hills of Jerusalem), but the phrase had a theological connotation also. There was no place on earth on par with YHWH's presence in the Jerusalem temple.

“Joppa” This is modern Tel-Aviv. It is the only natural seaport on the Palestinian coast. In this period of history it was not part of Israel.

“found a ship” The Hebrews were not seafarers. For Jonah to resort to a sea voyage shows his desperation. The ship was probably Phoenician. This seagoing ship had two cargo decks with a third half-deck. It required 30 to 50 rowers.

“the fare” The MT has “her fare” (BDB 969). Most Jewish commentators say Jonah was wealthy because he rented the entire ship (e.g., Nedarim 38a), but the Septuagint (LXX) has “his fare.”

Verses 4-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jonah 1:4-6 4The LORD hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up. 5Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep. 6So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.”

Jonah 1:4 “The LORD hurled a great wind” Be careful to note the different uses of divine names. Often pagans use Elohim, but when in connection with Jonah, YHWH. See Special Topic: NAMES FOR DEITY.

The VERB (BDB 376, KB 373, Hiphil PERFECT) means to send a violent storm (i.e., hurl, cf. Jeremiah 16:13; Jeremiah 22:26). The same word is translated “cast” in Jonah 1:5, Jonah 1:15. God is in control of history and nature.

“great wind. . .great storm” See note at Jonah 1:2.

“the ship was about to break up” Surprisingly (and uniquely here) the VERB (BDB 990, KB 1402, Niphal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT) personifies the ship as “thinking itself will break up”!

Jonah 1:5 “the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god” The two VERBS, “became afraid” (BDB 431, KB 432) and “cried” (BDB 277, KB 277), are Qal IMPERFECTS, implying ongoing action.

The term “gods” in Jonah 1:5 and 6 is Elohim (see Special Topic at Amos 1:2). It is a Hebrew PLURAL so it can be translated “gods” in Jonah 1:5 and “god” in Jonah 1:6. The sailors are depicted as calling on different gods, therefore, they must be from different Gentile nations. In a sense they represent all Gentile nations.

Sociologists and anthropologists tell us that all societies have a religious aspect. Humans are religious beings. I think this reflects Genesis 1:26-27, that all humans are made in the image and likeness of God, marred though they may be (cf. Genesis 3:0).

“lain down, fallen sound asleep” This is irony. While the sailors pray and lighten the boat, Jonah sleeps. The implication is unstated. He apparently was not bothered by his flight from God's will or the danger to the sailors' lives. This seems to imply a spiritual callousness or, because of the rareness of this term (BDB 922, KB 1191, Niphal IMPERFECT), it could refer to a divine stupor or trance (for a related term cf. Genesis 15:12; 1 Samuel 26:12).

Jonah 1:6 “the captain. . .call on your god” What irony! Here is a pagan asking YHWH's covenant spokesman to pray. God had asked Jonah to “rise up” and “call” (both Qal IMPERATIVES, cf. Jonah 1:2) to Nineveh. Now the same words are found in the pagan captain's words to Jonah!

“Perhaps your god” This same “cover all bases” theology has caused the modern phenomenon of eclectic religions, like Bahai. This statement sets the stage for the major purpose of the book of Jonah. Non-Jews need to know about the one true God! They are hungry to know Him (Augustine, “every man has a God-shaped hole in his heart and thereby needs God”).

Verses 7-9

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jonah 1:7-9 7Each man said to his mate, “Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.” So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8Then they said to him, “Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” 9He said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.”

Jonah 1:7 “Come” This (BDB 229, KB 246) is a Qal IMPERATIVE. It is followed by two COHORTATIVES:

1. cast, BDB 656, KB 709

2. learn (“know”), BDB 393, KB 390

“let us cast lots” This was a common way to consult a deity in the ancient east. Even Israel used the Urim and Thummim (cf. Exodus 28:30), which was a similar technique (cf. Joshua 7:14; 1 Samuel 14:40-42; Acts 1:26). Notice God did reveal His will in this way. This verse shows the crew's belief of supernatural divine causality (cf. Jonah 1:14).

Jonah 1:8 “Tell” This VERB (BDB 616, KB 665, Hiphil IMPERATIVE) implies a prayer (i.e., tell us we pray...).

It starts a series of questions seeking to know about Jonah.

Jonah 1:9 “‘I am a Hebrew'“ This was the common word used by the sons of Jacob to describe themselves (BDB 720). It is from the Akkadian root habiru, which means “who has crossed over.” The Hebrews were part of the large migration of Semitic peoples moving across the Near East in the second millennium B.C.

“and I fear” The VERB (BDB 431, KB 432, Qal IMPERATIVE) does not truly seem to reflect Jonah's attitude toward YHWH, Elohim (here described as the Creator).

“the LORD God of heaven” This was the common post-exilic title for YHWH (e.g., 2 Chronicles 36:23; Ezra 1:2; Nehemiah 1:4, Nehemiah 1:5; Nehemiah 2:4, Nehemiah 2:20), yet by this alone one cannot date the book of Jonah as post-exilic. It was also used by Abraham (cf. Genesis 14:19, Genesis 14:22; Genesis 24:3, Genesis 24:7). It is just possible that these Phoenician sailors worshiped a fertility god called “the lord of heaven” (cf. B. Porten, “Baalshamem and the Date of Jonah,” pp. 240-241, in a book by M. Carrez, J. Dore, and P. Grelot [eds]). See Special Topic: NAMES FOR DEITY.

“who made the sea and the dry land” This refers to the one creator-redeemer God (i.e., Elohim, cf. Genesis 1:1-3). Notice He is God of that which is causing the problem, i.e., the sea.

Verses 10-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jonah 1:10-14 10Then the men became extremely frightened and they said to him, “How could you do this?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. 11So they said to him, “What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?”for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy. 12He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you.” 13However, the men rowed desperately to return to land but they could not, for the sea was becoming even stormier against them. 14Then they called on the LORD and said, “We earnestly pray, O LORD, do not let us perish on account of this man's life and do not put innocent blood on us; for You, O LORD, have done as You have pleased.”

Jonah 1:10 This is ironypagans surprised and frightened (a COGNATE ACCUSATIVE, “became extremely frightened”) by someone running from God who claims “to fear” God (cf. Jonah 1:9), but who acts in opened-eyed rebellion.

Jonah 1:11

NASB“for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy” NKJV, NRSV“for the sea was growing more tempestuous” TEV“the storm was getting worse” NJB“for the sea was growing rougher and rougher”

This phrase is a Hebrew idiom (cf. Jonah 1:13), made up of two Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLES.

1. walking (BDB 229, KB 246)

2. raging (BDB 704, KB 762)

Jonah 1:12 “‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea'“ Both of these VERBS are IMPERATIVES (the first, BDB 669, KB 724, Qal IMPERATIVE and the second, BDB 376, KB 373, Hiphil IMPERATIVE). There have been several theories about the meaning of this action: (1) a self sacrifice for the lives of the sailors (but this does not fit the tenor of the plot); (2) the ultimate escape from God's mission; or (3) the penalty for his personal rebellion. God thwarts Jonah's ultimate escape attempt. The great fish is a means of deliverance from death at sea and a transport to do God's will (but Jonah does not know this until it spits him out on to the land)!

Jonah 1:13 “the men rowed desperately to return to land” Again we see the irony of pagan sailors trying diligently to save a rebellious Jonah, who could have cared less about an entire pagan city! The word “rowed” is literally “dig” (BDB 369, KB 365, Qal IMPERFECT). It denotes strenuous effort.

Jonah 1:14 “they called on the LORD” “LORD” here refers to YHWH. These Phoenician pagans called upon YHWH (Jonah's God) three times in their prayerirony again. These pagans are more willing to pray than Jonah and more conscious of sin and the value of human life.

“innocent blood” This is a Hebrew idiom (cf. Deuteronomy 21:8 and Matthew 27:24-25).

“for You, O LORD, have done as You have pleased” The VERB “pleased” (BDB 342, KB 339, Qal PERFECT) implies God's ability to accomplish His purposes and plans (e.g., Psalms 115:3; Psalms 135:6 and compare Isaiah 46:10; Isaiah 55:8-10; Daniel 4:35).

Theologically speaking there is no place to start discussing God without a sense of His sovereignty. The mystery comes at the interface between a sovereign God and a free human moral agent. Jonah shows how God works even with a reluctant human vessel.


Verses 15-16

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jonah 1:15-16 15So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. 16Then the men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.

Jonah 1:16 “the men feared the LORD greatly” Several events such as the storm, Jonah's words, and the storm being stopped, caused them to be awestruck (a COGNATE ACCUSATIVE). These pagans' growing knowledge caused fear, but not so for Jonah, who had much greater knowledge (cf. Jonah 4:2).

“offered a sacrifice” This is another COGNATE ACCUSATIVE.

“and made vows” This is another COGNATE ACCUSATIVE, showing an intensity. Their response is very Jewish (cf. Psalms 116:17-18). Perhaps they had talked further with Jonah.

Verse 17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jonah 1:17 17And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.

Jonah 1:17 “the LORD appointed a great fish” The VERB “appoint” (BDB 584, KB 599, Piel IMPERFECT) is used in all four miraculous occurrences.

1. the great fish, Jonah 1:17

2. the vine, Jonah 4:6

3. the worm, Jonah 4:7

4. the scorching east wind, Jonah 4:8

This phrase emphasizes that God did not create here, but assigned an existing creature to act on His behalf (like the donkey in Numbers 25:0). The God who made Jonah controls history and nature. I believe in a supernatural, personal, loving, present God! However, the miraculous is not the major theological focus of the overall message of the book (i.e., God's love for all humans, even pagans; and Jewish arrogance and pride).

“three days and three nights” This phrase can mean three full days, but since it is used of Jesus' burialand time in hades (cf. Matthew 12:39-40; Luke 11:29-32), it probably means part of one day, all of the next day, and then part of a third day. It is not meant to be a specific time indication.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why did Jonah not want to go to Nineveh?

2. How do the sailors spiritually measure up to Jonah's spirituality in this account?

3. Why has “the great” fish bothered so many people?

4. What is the purpose of the book?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Jonah 1". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/jonah-1.html. 2021.
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