Bible Commentaries
Jonah 1

Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentZerr's N.T. Commentary

Verse 1

Jon 1:1. The book of Jonah is composed almost wholly of history. The only prophecy It contains is that of the threatened destruction of Nineveh (chapter 3: 4), which was to be only forty days in the future. But he is called a prophet in 2Ki 14:25 and Mat 12:39, hence we know that his work entitled him to that classification. We have no details of his work outside of this book except what is briefly mentioned in the first reference above and the allusion to his preaching by Jesus. And the Old Testament reference gives us the information as to the general date of bis life and work, for he gave instructions to Jeroboam II who reigned in the 10-tribe kingdom of Israel about 800 B, C., which was a century before the Assyrian captivity of Israel, This verse says the word of the Lord came to Jonah, so we see that his work was by inspiration of God as far as his writing and teaching was concerned.

Verse 2

Jon 1:2. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, the power that God intended to use in the chastisement of the kingdom of Israel at a future date. This capital city was located on the east bank of the Tigris River. It had become so wicked that the Lord wished to have it improved before using its forces in His campaign against the people of Israel. Jonah was therefore given the command to go and cry against it. The details of that “cry" are not stated here but they are given move attention later.

Verse 3

Jon 1:3. This is the only place in the Bible that says anything about the attempt of Jonah to flee from his duty, hence we see him as a faithful scribe since he makes no effort to "whitewash” his action, either in this particular verse or in his explanation to the mariners. Tarshish was a, city on the coast of Spain and hence was about as far away in the opposite direction from Nineveh as Jonah could think of. He was merely showing a common weakness and foolishness of mankind in thinking he could escape from the presence of the Lord. He certainly believed that God is everywhere and that it is impossible to get out of His sight, but in his panicky frame of mind he gave way to the impulse of evading an unpleasant task. Joppa was a coast town of Palestine and a shipping port. Jonah learned of a boat that was scheduled for Tarshish and bought passage on the same.

Verse 4

Jon 1:4. Jonah was to learn "the hard way” that it is impossible to evade the hand of God by fleeing. Yet the Lord did not wish to injure him since He expected to use him after the present lesson had been taught and appreciated. Neither did God intend that any damage should come to the owners of the ship as we shall see. So He sent forth a wind that threatened to rend the vessel hy the violence of the waves.

Verse 5

Jon 1:5. These mariners were idolaters and showed their faith in their god3 by praying to them. But they did not depend wholly on them for help but co-operated by lightening the load for the ship, an example that could well be observed by Christians who seem to think that "God wii! take care of us” whether we do anything or not. The iide* of the ship means the recesses or nooks of the vessel that were more or less secluded and suitable for repose. Jonah was sound asleep In one of these and unaware of the storm that was raging out-side.

Verse 6

Jon 1:6. Up to now the mariners knew nothing of Jonah's connection with the situation, so the shipmaster or captain was surprised that he could be so unconcerned about it. Sleeper is from radam which Strong defines, “A primitive root; to stun. i.e. stupefy (with sleep or death)/’ Nothing Indicates that they had been at sea very long, and there was no apparent reason why anyone would be needing sleep, hence the captain thought that Jonah was stunned by some cause unkown to him. So he aroused the "sleeper" and told him to join in the general petition to their respective gods for help in their time of distress. The name of God is capitalized which is the work of the translator or editor of the A. V,, hut it should not be so for this heathen captain knew noth-ing of the God of Jonah. All he meant was that, he was to do as all the rest had been doing, call upon his god for help, and perhaps the god would come to their aid.

Verse 7

Jon 1:7. Nothing is said in the text about whether Jonah made any response to the request of the captain or not, but the indication is that he did not. He knew that the very God to whom he would have "cailed” was the One from whom he was fleeing, and that it would be inconsistent for him to make such a call. The mariners were still ignorant of the true situation, hut they concluded that some special reason must exist for the storm since it came up so unexpectedly and out of season. In their extremity they felt that some person present must be responsible for the disturbance. Had they been the people of Israel they might have expressed it by saying there was "sin in the camp” as it is usually said in the case of Aehan in Joshua 7. Being heathen they did not have that view of the case, yet they were religiously inclined and thought that something was wrong. The cast-ing of lots would ordinarily be only a chance decision, but Pro 16:33 shows that the Lord sometimes takes a hand in it and “disposes" the decision according to His will. Such will be done in the present case because God really wants these innocent mariners to know on whose account the distressful situation has come upon them. Accordingly, when they cast their iota the "lucky number” was drawn by Jonah because God directed the operation.

Verse 8

Jon 1:8. The captain was surprised when he found Jonah in profound sleep while a violent storm was raging, and now that feeling was doubtless increased by the outcome of the lot. It prompted him to make the inquiries stated in this verse, for Jonah must have belonged to a mysterious clan to have had such a significant part to play In the affair that was overwhelming the whole crew with fear.

Verse 9

Jon 1:9. Jonah gave the captain and other mariners a brief but clear ex- planat'on of the case. Ali of the men on board professed to be religious and to be worshipers of some god, but Jonah claimed devotion to the God who had made the very sea that was threatening to destroy their ship with all its passengers and men. He told them further (as we may learn from the next verse) that he was fleeing from liis own God when he went on board their ship.

Verse 10

Jon 1:10. Then were the man exceedingly afraid, This was the most logical result that could have come after the explanation of Jonah, for it harmonized with all tive facts as they had seen them. Only the creator of the sea could throw it into the condition it then manifested as he willed, and hence such a being should be feared.

Verse 11

Jon 1:11. It was logical and fair for them to appeal to Jonah for instructions about the proper course to pursue. He would be the only person to know the spirit of the deity from whom he was fleeing, and what it would take to appease him.

Verse 12

Jon 1:12. Jonah was still the beloved servant of God. and He did not intend to let him he destroyed. God could have calmed the sea as completely just by speaking to it as Jesus did (Mat 8:23-27). but there was another object to he gained for future generations. I believe the Lord intended to use this occasion to establish a type of the great event when Jesus was to spend three days and three nights in the bowels of the earth (Mat 12:38-40). for He plainly declares in that passage that the event of Jonah was to be a sign. Hence, by casting the would-be eBcaper overboard the Lord would accomplish two purposes at the same time. The trutli that it was for his sake the great tempest bad come upon them did not make it necessary for him to he cast over as shown above, therefore the conclusion is unavoidable that God inspired him to give those instructions to the alarmed boatmen.

Verse 13

Jon 1:13, The men did not wish to use such severe means to save themselves as Jonah directed, but tried to avoid It by returning the boat to the shore. Had they been acquainted with the character of the Lord, they would have known better than try to overcome His work by their physical strength. However, the fact of their attempt to avoid so drastic a treatment of Jonah showed they were humane in their disposition. They could not have known what was to be the actual outcome, but had every reason to think that it would mean the death of Jonah for them to do as he said. No wonder, then, that they rowed hard to bring the vessel to land.

Verse 14

Jon 1:14. All that these men knew of the Lord was what Jonah had just told them, for they were worshipers of false gods. However, the prayers they uttered came from the heart and all they said was the truth. In casting Jonah overboard they would be doing exactly wbat they were told to do by him, and now they were praying to whatever being it was who gave him the inspiration for such an order. Ulbition. This is all I care to say on this phase of the subject at this time. But we should observe that Jonah was in the fish three days and three nights.

Verse 15

Verse 15. In casting Jonah into the sea the mariners unconsciously carried out the plan of the Lord. (See the comments on this point at verse 12.)

Verse 16

Jon 1:16. It was a part of the religious practice of all devoted men, whether worshipers of the true God or of the false, to offer sacrifices and make vows of reverence for the god to be honored. No doubt these men were sincerely sorry for having done what they believed would cause the death of Jonah. It was a very fitting time for deep humility and seriousness of mind. We have no information whether they ever afterward heard of the rescue of their supposed victim.

Verse 17

Jon 1:17. i almost hesitated at giving any serious attention to the foolish criticisms that carping infidels make on this verse. There is either a Supreme Being or there is not; and if there is, He would be able to do what he willed with the things of creation. If God is able to take a camel through the eye of a needle (Mat 19:26), He could confine a man in the body of a minnow if he so desired. But for the sake of some who might think the criticism is unan¬swerable, I will state that I have per¬sonally seen the skeleton of a fish whose throat was large enough to per¬mit a very big man to creep through easily. And it should be remembered that what I saw was the dead hone, while the fish in the case of Jonah was alive and the framework of the throat would be capable of expanding to a much larger opening than the dead bony structure that was on exhibition. This is all I care to say on this phase of the subject at this time. But we should observe that Jonah was in the fish three days and three nights.
Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Jonah 1". Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 1952.