Jonah Commentary: Chapters 1-2

Most miss out on the significance of this book. All the other miracles and lessons are overshadowed because of the one thing….

Believability and Relevance

Most of the world and even many Christians do not believe this book to be factual. They look at it a lie, tall tale, or like Aesop’s fable which is to teach a truth.

But this is not the case, Jesus Christ gives validity to the book as other parts of the Bible do as well.

A Little Background

It is to a gentile and heathen nation which is unlike what any of the other prophets had to do.  Also, the prophet refuses to do what God asks and runs away from his duty — unlike any of the other prophets. 

Another  unique aspect is that there is only one short prophecy in the book.

Nineveh (in Assyria): Largest city in the world in it’s day, at times from 100,000 to 600,000 people.  It took three days to walk around it.  It was a city of great sin, corruption and cruelty.

Nahum 3:1 Woe to the bloody city! It is all full of lies and robbery. Its victim never departs.

It is the Assyrians that later take the Israelites into captivity.

There will be more background as we go along.

Jonah 1

(You Can Run But You Can’t Hide)

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

Jonah means dove, which can be a symbol for:

  • peace
  • silliness
  • sacrifice

Nothing is really known about his father Amittai.

As we will see, this book is really more about Jonah than Nineveh but there are other lessons of value that we can pull from it.

We see as evidenced by other parts of the Bible that Jonah is a real character:

2 Kings 14:23 In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, became king in Samaria, and reigned forty-one years.
2 Kings 14:24 And he did evil in the sight of the LORD; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin.

There were two Jereboam’s and this one is Jereboam II (792-750 BC) who is being written about here.  This also gives an idea of when Jonah prophesied.

2 Kings 14:25 He restored the territory of Israel from the entrance of Hamath to the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which He had spoken through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet who was from Gath Hepher.

Gath Hepher is in Zebulun [Joshua 19:10-13] so Jonah was Dutch :) [See the Table of Nations]

Genesis 49:13 “Zebulun shall dwell by the haven of the sea; He shall become a haven for ships, [Rotterdam] And his border shall adjoin Sidon. 

Maybe this was why Jonah’s first method of escape was the sea.

2 Kings 14:26 For the LORD saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter; and whether bond or free, there was no helper for Israel.

At this point in time, and possibly playing into the pysche of Jonah, was the fact that Assyria was conquering and expanding its empire all around  Israel.  As we can see from the timeline of events it was not  too long after Jonah that the Assyrian empire took the northern tribes of Israel into captivity. 

Jereboam II 792-750 BC
Fall of Israel 722 – 718 BC
Fall of Assyria 612 BC (612 destroyed by Medes and Persians and Babylonians primarily)

Jonah 1:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”

Genesis 10:8 Cush begot Nimrod [making him the great-grandson of Noah]; he began to be a mighty one on the earth.
Genesis 10:9 He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD.”
Genesis 10:10 And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel [Babylon], Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.
Genesis 10:11 From that land he went to Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah,

[See  Identifying Babylon to learn more]

They were a very cruel people as history attests to.

Jonah 1:3 But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

from the presence of the LORD… where did he think that would be?

Psalms 139:7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?
Psalms 139:8 If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
Psalms 139:9 If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

This is interesting in light of Jonah’s extensive knowledge of the Psalms as we see in the next chapter.

There are no other examples in the Bible of a prophet acting like this. He didn’t want to do the job God gave and he ran away from it on top of that.

If we can skip ahead for a second we see why Jonah did not want to do this:

Jonah 3:10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.

Jonah 4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.
Jonah 4:2 So he prayed to the LORD, and said, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.

Because he didn’t want God to show mercy to others

Joppa [main port in the area of Israel] to Tarshish is the west and the wrong direction

Tarshish [why tarshish? Was it the gateway to further away. The bottom line is that it was about as far west as you could go on the European continent; doesn’t matter too much because he is never going to make it there]

Jonah 1:4 But the LORD sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.

God begins to work on Jonah

1st miracle

Jonah 1:5 Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.

Doesn’t seem to be too long before they encountered these issues that were brought on by God.

Not the standard type of storm

Jonah 1:6 So the captain came to him, and said to him, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.”

God… elohim

Jonah 1:7 And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.

Proverbs 16:33

Miracle #2

Not sure exactly what it is to cast lots

Jonah 1:8 Then they said to him, “Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?”

They believed the lots and it was true

Jonah 1:9 So he said to them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.

Yehovah the Elohim

Jonah 1:10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “Why have you done this?” For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.

Why were they afraid… equated Jonah’s God with the storm.

The men understood cause and effect

Why did you do this?

Jonah 1:11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?”—for the sea was growing more tempestuous.

The men understood cause and effect

Jonah 1:12 And he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.”

Jonah knew it was him and that it was God doing this because of him

Jonah 1:13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them.

Near some land

Jonah 1:14 Therefore they cried out to the LORD and said, “We pray, O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O LORD, have done as it pleased You.”

They prayed to Jonah’s God

very quickly they changed who they were praying to

Jonah 1:15 So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.

Miracle #3

Controls the weather

Matthew 8:26-27 rebuked the wind and there was calm.

Jonah 1:16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took vows.

Turned to God and started doing works toward Him

Jonah 1:17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Several fish capable of doing this as well as whales (sperm)

Bottom line – it is a miracle

dag heb. Ketos greek [lookup] ichthus sea monster; sea creature; extinct; specially created?

Miracle #4 1st Preparation appointed

This one issue sidetracks most from the most import aspects of the scriptures

Jonah 2

Jonah 2:1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly.

What is the best way to pray?

Jonah 2:2 And he said: “I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, And He answered me. “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice.

Times like this we are most likely to pray when we realize our lack of strength and ability

This has got to be confusing for those that believe in heaven and hell

KJV: hell

sheol: pit or grave

See What is Hell for more on this subject

Psalms 30:3 O LORD, You brought my soul up from the grave [sheol]; You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. (Psalm 18:4-5)

[translated grave in both KJV and NKJV]

concept of a hell of torture doesn’t come on to the scene for another 1,000 years

being in the belly was a symbol of being in the grave for three days and three nights

this is why Jesus Christ referred to it.

Matthew 12:40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Now here is the other interesting concept – the word “belly”

is translated womb in other places

equal number of times in the Hebrew and the Greek

makes sense

belly is the general region

we still use this terminology today

Jonah 2:3 For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me. (Psalm 88:6-7; 42:7)

He may not have been saved immediately

Jonah 1:15 Threw Jonah into the sea and the sea ceased from its raging, SO
Jonah 1:16 Then the men feared the LORD and offered a sacrifice and took vows
Jonah 1:17 “Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah”

The timeline allows for time to pass before the great fish swallowed him

billows [surge of the sea that often breaks at the peak]

waves passing over him
hold your breath for a minute
swim hard for a minute or less
more difficult with clothes
more difficult with waves crashing down on you

The point is that death was sure; it was a foregone conclusion without God’s intervention

Jonah 2:4 Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ (Psalm 5:7)

Psalms 31:22 For I said in my haste, “I am cut off from before Your eyes”; Nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications When I cried out to You.

I will look again toward Your holy temple…. whether this is an allusion to the physical and/or spiritual, at this point he believes that he does have a future ahead of him in spite of the predicament that he is in. but because of Jonah 2:7 it seems that it is pointing more towards the spiritual

Jonah 2:5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head. [Psalm 69:1-2]Jonah 2:6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God. (Psalm 49:15)

He we find more about his situation

The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me… he was all but drowned and his life was forfeit.

Weeds were wrapped around my head. I went down to the moorings of the mountains… typically weeds grow up from the bottom and the connotation of moorings the base or bottom of the mountains as other translations have it.

You have brought up my life from the pit… death or figurative death

he was as good as dead and for all we know, God may have let him die prior to spending three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish

Jonah 2:7 “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple. (Psalm 107:5)

soul fainted within me… as my life slipped or faded away

went up to You, Into Your holy temple…. we see here, more than likely, the temple he was referring to in Jonah 2:4. He describes his prayer as going up to God in His temple.

Jonah 2:8 “Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy. (Psalm 31:6)
KJV: Jonah 2:8  They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.

In both instances they are following or giving credit to

  1. that which is not true

  2. and that which does not last

because they do this they will not be able to avail themselves of the mercy that God has to offer.

I think Jonah is grateful that he has followed the One and True God

AND that he has received mercy for his ungodly acts and ways.

Jonah 2:9 But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.” (Psalm 69:30; 50:14)

What a change of attitude – at least for the time being.

He goes from not doing what God says and compounding it by running away

To being thankful and willing to do all that Jonah has said that he would do and of course this includes going to Nineveh

In the end he declares that God is the only one that can save – both physically and spiritually

What we see in all of this as well is that God brings Jonah to repentance and grants him forgiveness


See Why Repentance for more on this subject