Jonah 1

1 Jonah likely ministered to Nineveh sometime between 780 and 750 B.C. It is likely that this is the same prophet Jonah mentioned in 2 Ki 14:25, since these are the only two places his name is mentioned. Jonah means "dove," and it was an uncommon name. Some people would like to think of this book as an allegory primarily to dismiss the miracles recorded herein. However, this view has little merit, and, by contrast, Jesus spoke about this story as a fact that foreshadowed His death and resurrection (Mat 12:39-41). While no specific records of Jonah's ministry has been found in the ruins of Nineveh, monotheism apparently became popular between 810-783 BC, and there apparently was another "awakening" between 771-754 BC. Several have noted that plagues in 765 and 759 BC along with an eclipse in 763 BC may have prepared the hearts of the Ninevites for Jonah's message since these events were commonly considered divine judgments and omens of doom.

This book starts with God speaking to Jonah, who was a prophet during the reign of Israel's King Jeroboam II.

2 The command was straightforward: Jonah was to go to Nineveh, a large city in Assyria, and pronounce its doom. Nineveh was and ancient city, established by Nimrod in Gen 10:11-12. Calah, 20 miles south of Nineveh, was the capital of Assyria until 700 BC when Sennacherib relocated the capital to Nineveh. Nineveh was more that 500 miles from Palestine, and it was not until the times of the kings of Israel that there was interaction (warfare) between the two countries (2 Ki 15:19-20). The Nenevites were a notoriously wicked people, worshiping idols, and horrifically cruel in their warfare. Even though they did not acknowledge God, He was still going to hold them accountable for their evil ways.
3 Jonah did not want this assignment for reasons we do not learn about until later. He decides to go to Tarshish - thought to be in Spain near the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea, thinking somehow that God would not be able to reach him there. It was very common back then for people to think of their gods as regional. Jonah should have known that the true God fills the universe and that there is nowhere one might hide from Him.
4 God had spoken directly to Jonah before, but now uses a series of events to show His displeasure with Jonah's disobedience and to redirect his path. The first event is a great storm that God specifically sends against the boat that Jonah is traveling in.
5 God, even today, uses disastrous events to get people's attention. When people realize that they are in a situation in which they have no control, they will seek "higher powers" to help them cope with and overcome the difficulties. The sailors took the practical step of jettisoning cargo to lighten the ship and avoid sinking, but they also sought help from the spiritual realm. Ship crewmembers tended to come from many countries and represented many religions. If these men were all from the same country, as some have thought, then they obviously were polytheistic, that is they believed in many gods, and probably had personal favorites. Thus, they prayed to these various gods in the vain hope that one of them would hear and save them.

This must have been quite a storm if even the experienced mariners were fearing for their lives. Later, it is shown that they do suspect the supernatural nature of the storm and seek to find out who was the intended target.

While the sailors feared for their lives, Jonah had managed to fall asleep and was not awakened by the fierce storm. He may have been exhausted from his trip and was relieved that he had "escaped" his commission.

When a Christian finds himself in a "storm" of life he should take practical and spiritual steps in order to find a solution. The practical steps are doing those things that might alleviate the problem or reduce the negative effects of the situation. Most often, God works through the means, and He has provided us with the reasoning abilities to work through most problems. However, God also desires that we be dependant on Him. So whether we are facing a large or small problem, we must ask Him for guidance, wisdom, comfort, and any appropriate intervention He may provide. We are also to be thankful regardless of our circumstances. If times are good, we can thank Him for that. If times are hard we can be thankful that He is there and understands. When a problem is solved, we can thank Him for the resources to get us through. God may work a miracle in the situation, or He may not. He may allow the problem to be solved, or He may have another desired result. In all things, though, He is still God and is worthy of our worship and praise. Even though we do not know how God will respond, we still must seek His help.

6 The captain is astonished that Jonah could be sleeping while his life was in peril. Seeing that none of the gods being prayed to had yet come to their aid, he urges Jonah to call upon his God in a desperate hope that He might hear and rescue them.
7 Either because they sensed the supernatural nature of this storm or because of their superstitions, they decide to cast lots to divine who the gods might be angry at. While we think of this as a random method, there are a few examples in Scripture of God using this selection process (1 Sam 10:19-21). In general divination is condemned in Scripture, but this is one example of where God apparently works through it to pinpoint Jonah as the culprit (Lev 19:26, Deu 18:10-14, Prov 16:33).

The lots were probably stones carved in a manner similar to modern dice.

8 The crew obviously did not know much about Jonah. Naturally, once it was determined that Jonah was the guilty party the crew was interested to know about this passenger and what he might have done to provoke a deity against them. The wording of the question is polite by not directly accusing him. There is the possibility that someone Jonah was associated with was the reason for the storm. This seems like a lot of information to try to attain during a violent storm.
9 Jonah does not define himself by his country, but rather by his heritage and faith. Hebrews were descendants of Abraham who were known to be monotheistic and opposed to idolatry. How he describes God is very different from how pagans would describe their gods. Pagan gods were typically either local (connected to a region, for instance), or in charge of specific elements (e.g., a rain god or a god of the harvest). Jonah describes God as 1) of heaven, meaning He had control of time and space, 2) made the dry land (probably understood to mean everything living on it as well), and 3) made the sea (and, by extension, the weather pattern like the one they were now enduring). In short, God is the God who made and could control everything.
10 It is interesting that Jonah would have told the crew that he was fleeing from God, but did not let them know who his God was, or even what heritage he had, which might have given them a clue.

For whatever reason, the crew members took Jonah at his word and accepted that his God was universal and very powerful. It is obvious to them that if God was the God of heaven, land, and sea, that Jonah should have known he could not escape from His presence.

11 However, there was no time to engage in a theological discussion. They had an immediate need, for their lives were in peril. If this storm was connected with Jonah's disobedience, they wanted to know if there is anything they might do to appease God and survive this storm. Much of pagan worship involves appeasing or bribing their gods in the hope that the individual might gain the favor of his deities, so naturally, the crew assumed that God had the same mode of operation. The crew also suspected that the solution would likely involve doing away with Jonah, but since they were unfamiliar with God they did not know how to proceed. They asked Jonah, who was the only one who could advise them.
12 Jonah, being a prophet, may have had a message from God that this storm was indeed on his account. The remedy would also suggest that God had given him the unusual command of throwing Jonah overboard. It is interesting that Jonah does not jump off the ship himself. For some reason he demands that the crew do this. Jonah probably thought that he would certainly drown in the sea. He would not voluntarily commit suicide, so it would have to be up to the crew to "sacrifice" Jonah by throwing him into the sea.
13 The crew, however, did not want Jonah's certain death on their consciences, so they were disobedient to the prophet's words and tried to save Jonah, the ship, and themselves by their own efforts. Their actions are noble, demonstrating that they valued life and were willing to do whatever they could to help another, except only that in this instance they went against what God told them to do.

How terrible the storm must have become if they were fearing for their lives earlier, but the conditions continued to deteriorate.

14 Finally, the crew determines that they are not going to get anywhere fighting against God. They pray to Him using His proper name, Jehovah, and plead with Him not to hold Jonah's death against them because they were going to be obedient to the prophet's strange command.
15 In what amounted more to pure desperation as opposed to willing obedience, the crew picked up Jonah and threw him overboard. God still kept His promise, even though their faith was small and delayed, and He immediately ended the storm. The crew was safe.
16 There was no doubt in the crew's mind that this was a supernatural occurrence. There is no reason why throwing someone overboard would cause a storm to stop except that God had done it. Furthermore, the result had been predicted ahead of time. They had experienced a tangible event that proved to them that Jehovah, the God of Israel, heaven, land, and sea, was indeed worthy of worship and obedience, and they demonstrated their faith by offering a sacrifice and vowing their lives to Him. It is likely that they forsook their previous pagan practices.

In this story, God worked a miracle and spared their lives, but the sailors still suffered physical loss despite their eventual obedience to God. Spiritually, however, they gained much more than they lost physically. The crew were innocent bystanders in regards to Jonah's sin, but in God's eyes no one is spiritually innocent, and He has the right to work circumstances however He pleases to demonstrate that He is worthy of worship and obedience. In addition, the reward of eternal life with Him is vastly more than any physical loss that someone might suffer during this lifetime.

17 What the crewmembers could not have known is that God was not going to let Jonah drown. Instead, God had a fish swallow Jonah and begin transporting him back east, towards Nineveh.

We are not told what kind of fish swallowed Jonah. A mistranslation of the Greek word for "a huge fish" in Mat 12:40 led to the idea that it was a whale, and some have suggested that Jonah was lodged in a whale's sinus cavity. However, the text specifically says that Jonah was in the stomach of a fish, not a whale. There are fish that can grow big enough for this task, and the sea dog, for instance, is one that has been known to swallow men. However, since we are not told any more details, we cannot discern from the text what kind of fish it was. The fish was miraculously appointed to swallow Jonah and transport him, so it is not too much of a stretch to think that God may have specially created or developed this fish for this specific task.

The Old Testament counts any part of a day or night as if it were a whole. Thus, Jonah may have been inside the fish for anywhere from 49 to 72 hours. Jesus used the example of Jonah to indicate that He would be dead for three days and three nights before He rose again. Since it is commonly believed that Jesus died on a Friday and rose the following Sunday, scholars tend to work with the smaller number of hours.