Jonah Chapter One

 

Introduction to the Minor Prophets:

 

            Many study these writings in the order in which they are found in the canon of scripture.  In this series of studies we will approach and study them in their chronological order; in the order that the prophets wrote; at least to the extent that this is possible.  There are differing opinions among scholars as to the actual time that some of them lived and wrote, such as Joel, Obadiah, Nahum and Habakkuk.  However, most of the others can be related to particular kings or events that give us a historical reference for their prophecies.

            The writings of these prophets were brought together into the canon of Jewish scripture well before the time of the New Testament.  They are called “Minor” prophets but does that mean that their message is in some way inferior or of lesser importance than the “Major” prophets?  No, they are called “minor prophets” simply because their writings are shorter.  They were still God’s spokesmen, bringing God’s message to people who were rebellious, wicked and who were being warned by God to repent and turn back to him.  Consequently their lessons are applicable to mankind of every generation since the time of Babel (Genesis 11:9).

 

Introduction to Jonah:

 

            Jonah is the first of the minor prophets to be called of God as a prophet.  .  In fact the commentary in the Dickson Study Bible contends that Jonah was the first of all of the writing prophets whose messages were recorded in scripture.  Because he was contemporary with Jeroboam II, king of Israel we can date Jonah to about 750-790 BC or approximately 775 years before Christ. The only other mention of Jonah in the Old Testament gives us his origin:

 

II Kings 14:25 “He restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, which was of Gathhepher.”

 

So Jonah was not just a prophet chosen by God for the single mission to Nineveh.  Some might think this if all they knew was the story of Jonah and the whale and did not study the scriptures.  He was a prophet of God that in addition to his work in the northern kingdom of Israel was given a special mission that has been recorded for our learning and edification.  He was a son of Amittai and of the city or region of Gath-hepher.  This town was in the tribal area of Zebulun, near the town of Nazareth which became much more well known in later centuries.  In the New Testament he is called Jonas rather than Jonah and his work is used in Matthew and Luke by Jesus to provide a lesson to his followers.

 

Read Jonah 1:1-3 – Jonah’s Mission

 

v.1Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,”

 

            Bible scholars contend that the book of Jonah was written by Jonah himself rather than being recorded by another.  It begins with a call from God for a specific purpose.  We do not know how the word of “the Lord” came to Jonah but sufficient for us is that it did. 

 

v.22Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.”

 

            Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria, the arch enemy of Israel.  It was a metropolis that contained or covered an area of some 48 miles, according to one source, was 60 miles in circumference according to another and was a great city indeed.  From it the Assyria kings ruled much of the eastern Mediterranean region, were always a problem to Israel and finally were used by God to remove the Northern Kingdom from existence.  At the time of Jonah Assyria was in a more weakened state than normal because of defeats in war and other problems that had befallen them.  Their condition was such that they would be receptive to the preaching of a man of God, so a man of God was sent.  This is one of the few occasions in scripture where we have God intervening with or sending his messengers to a Gentile people.

            In the history of mankind there have been many occasions when God’s long-suffering came to an end.  We are warned by scripture that:

 

“…THE JUDGE STANDETH BEFORE THE DOOR.” James 5:9

 

And judgment is now ready to come to Nineveh.  But this is also one of those times that God has a further purpose for Assyria and sends them a preacher to call them to repentance rather than removing them immediately.

 

v.3But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.”

 

            Nineveh is the capital of Assyria.  Assyria is the enemy of Israel.  Jonah does not want to go to this city and preach repentance to them.  As a prophet of God he knows who gave him his instructions, but he thinks he can defy God, he thinks he can hide from God. 

So Jonah goes to the nearest seaport, in this case, Joppa, the same Joppa that Peter was visiting in Acts 10 when called to preach to Cornelius.  Joppa is the nearest seaport to Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom.  He books passage to Tarshish.  There are three cities called Tarshish in the Mediterranean Region; one a village in modern day Lebanon, one in Asia Minor and later called Tarsus according to Josephus, the home of the Apostle Paul.  The other is in Spain.  The ships of Tarshish in Old Testament times were some of the largest and most active trading ships on the Mediterranean Sea.  Whether Jonah was going to Tarshish in Asia Minor or Tarshish in Spain; he was trying to hide from God and to escape the work that God had given him to do.

 

Read Jonah 1:4-10 – The Storm at Sea

 

v.4  But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.”

 

            We cannot hide from God.  Nothing that we do, nothing that we say, nothing that we think escapes his knowledge.  God commands the winds and seas just as Jesus did on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:26) and as the Psalmist declares concerning the power of God:

 

“FOR HE COMMANDETH, AND RAISETH THE STORMY WIND, WHICH LIFTED UP THE WAVES THEREOF.” Psalms 107:25

 

v.5  Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.”

 

            These sailors are in the same situation as those with whom Paul was sailing to Rome:

 

Acts 27:18-19  And we being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship; 19And the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship.”

 

And they followed the same course of action as those on the ship that Paul was on.  They lighten the ship by tossing everything overboard that they possibly can throw overboard.  In Acts 27:38 they even ate their fill and then threw their source of food overboard.  But Jonah is in the hold of the ship sound asleep, not even hearing the storm, or the tumult that must be occurring topside.

 

v.66So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.”

 

            Human nature rules our thinking and actions doesn’t it?  Just as those do who worship God; even the heathen call upon their gods when they get in trouble. This ship’s captain or shipmaster wants Jonah to do his part.  The prophet Joel tells the Southern Kingdom of Judah that in order to escape God’s punishment, they should:

 

Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: 16Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet.  17Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?” Joel 2:15-17

 

And mankind has been doing that ever since.  When we get in trouble we turn to God.  The unfortunate thing is that this is the only time many people turn to God. The Psalmist writes:

 

“THEN THEY CRY UNTO THE LORD IN THEIR TROUBLE, AND HE BRINGETH THEM OUT OF THEIR DISTRESS.” Psalms 107:28  

 

v.77And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.”

 

            This verse would give us an impression that there may have been characteristics of this storm that were not normal, were not as usually seen by these experienced mariners.  So consequently they start looking for the reason that the God of the sea is angry with them.  Another possibility is that they were being guided by the providence of God; but for whatever reason they have realized that their plight is not by chance but rather that they are being given a message.

            What does it mean to “cast lots”?  In ancient days several stones, or perhaps precious gems called lots, would have been cast or thrown from a clay jug to make important decisions. The casting of lots was a custom or rite used then to make important decisions, much as we practice drawing straws or flipping a coin today.  Several examples of this practice occur in both the Old and New Testaments.  Lots were cast by the high priest to select the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:8-10). This method was also used to divide the land of Canaan after its conquest under Joshua (Numbers 26:55, 56; Joshua 14:2).  There are several more and the last occasion I could find in scripture was the choosing of Mathias as the replacement for Judas in Acts 1:26.  Someone might say, but how did they know that the lot fell correctly?  The scripture also tells us that in matters pertaining to God’s will, God provided the answer:

 

“THE LOT IS CAST INTO THE LAP, BUT THE WHOLE DISPOSING THEREOF is OF THE LORD.” Proverbs 16:33

 

As should be expected on this occasion the lot fell upon Jonah, he is the source of their trouble.

 

v.8Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou?

 

            The mariners or sailors aboard this ship are frightened and fearing for their lives.  When the lot falls to Jonah they start to interrogate him, they want to know what kind of felon that have been harboring in their midst.  They not only want to know who he is, where he’s from, etc. but they also want to know what he’s done to warrant the wrath of his God.

            When Achan sinned against God and Israel was punished as a result Joshua asked him for the same sort of confession of wrong:

 

Joshua 7:19And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me.”

 

v.9-10And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.  Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this?  For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.”

 

            These men understood the power of God, the supreme being who made the heavens and the earth.  They were pagan people but they understood a principle of life that many people ignore today:

 

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Hebrews 10:31

 

Jonah, a man of God, one of God’s prophets, not only has tried to ignore God; he has fled, trying to hide in a foreign land in defiance of God’s commandment.  Now that the men of the ship know the circumstances that have brought them to the brink of destruction, they are even more afraid.

 

Read Jonah 1:11-17 – The Storm is Ended

 

v.11-12Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us?  for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous.  And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.”

 

            Now that they have identified the source of their trouble they ask Jonah what must be done to appease his God.  What would cause him to stop the raging of the sea against them?  Some might question the answer that Jonah gave but when we are faced with an ultimate decision such as this one, men of God will chose the right course.  They will stand up, admit their wrong and accept their punishment.  Just one example from the live of King David:

 

I Chronicles 21:16-17 And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the LORD stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders of Israel, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. 17And David said unto God, Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered?  even I it is that have sinned and done evil indeed; but as for these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, O LORD my God, be on me, and on my father’s house; but not on thy people, that they should be plagued.”

 

v.13-14Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them. 14Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee.”

 

            We see in these verses the attitude of many toward God.  They know that they are under God’s power, they know the fear of God, they are facing extreme danger but they still try to defy God.  They don’t want to throw Jonah overboard even if it means their salvation from this danger.  So they try to row their ship to shore.

            Finally, when they see that God is not going to allow them to escape they turn to Him like those described by the Psalmist:

 

Psalms 116:3-4 “THE SORROWS OF DEATH COMPASSED ME, AND THE PAINS OF HELL GAT HOLD UPON ME: I FOUND TROUBLE AND SORROW.  THEN CALLED I UPON THE NAME OF THE LORD; O LORD, I BESEECH THEE, DELIVER MY SOUL.”

 

Apparently this was done partially because of their belief that this was the only course of action available to them and partially to justify what they must do.

 

v.15-16  So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.  Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.”

 

            When Jonah is tossed overboard, the sea is immediately calmed.  God is indeed in control of their physical destiny and ends the tumult much the same as Jesus did on Galilee:

 

Mark 4:39And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”

 

            When the sea is calmed these men do what many men will do when a terrible danger is removed; they worship God and they also make vows to God because of their relief at God’s deliverance.  During the captivity of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar made a similar vow when relieved of the affliction that caused him to lose his kingdom and live as a beast of the field:

 

Daniel 4:37Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.”

 

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

 

            Jesus used the example of Jonah, an example that the Jews of his day were very familiar with, to illustrate one of the signs that proved that he was indeed the Son of God.

 

Matthew 12:39-4039But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: 40For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

 

            The translators have done us no favors in their translation of Matthew 12, consequently skeptics of the Bible have used these verses to try to destroy the authenticity of the Scripture.  Whales are the largest sea creatures known to man and it was thought for many years that no whale had the capability to swallow a man.  But it has been proven that the sperm whale that inhabits the Mediterranean Sea does indeed have that capability along with the whale shark and other sea creatures as well.

            When someone raises that question we simply need to remember that this creature, called a great fish in Jonah, a whale in the English translation of the words of Jesus was “PREPARED” “BY THE LORD” for this purpose.  So this entire event; from the stormy sea, to the preparation of the “GREAT FISH” to the survival of Jonah in this creature’s belly for approximately 72 hours is caused to happen by God.