The Story of Jonah

Chapter 1

Jonah, sent to Nineveh, flees to Tarshish, 1-3. He is exposed by a tempest, 4-10; thrown into the sea, 11-16; and swallowed by a fish, 17.

1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before me." 3 But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD and went down to Joppa, and he found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid its fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

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 in danger of being broken. 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and every man cried to his god and cast the wares that were in the ship into the sea to lighten it of them. But Jonah had gone down into the sides of the ship, and he lay and was fast asleep. 6 So the ship-master came to him and said to him, "What do you mean, O sleeper? Arise, call upon your God. It may be that God will think upon us so that we do not perish."

7 And they each said to his fellow, "Come, and let us cast lots so that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us." So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, "Tell us, we pray you, for whose cause this evil is upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?" 9 And he said to them, "I am a Hebrew, and I fear Yahweh, the God of heaven, who has made the sea and the dry land."

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. 11 Then they said to him, "What shall we do to you so that the sea may be calm for us?" For the sea wrought and was tempestuous. 12 And he said to them, "Take me and cast me into the sea so that the sea shall be calm for you, for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you." 13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to bring it to the land, but they could not, for the sea wrought and was tempestuous against them. 14 Therefore, they cried to the LORD, and said, "We implore you, O LORD, we implore you, do not let us perish for this man's life and do not lay upon us innocent blood. For you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you."

15 So they took Jonah and cast him into the sea. And the sea ceased from her raging. 16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.

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.


Matthew Henry Commentary - Jonah, Chapter 1


John Gill's Chapter Summary:

This chapter gives an account of the call and mission of Jonah to go to Nineveh, and prophesy there, and the reason of it (verses 1-2); his disobedience to it (verse 3); God's resentment of it, by sending a storm into the sea, where he was, which terrified the mariners, and put the ship in danger of being lost (verses 4-5); the discovery of Jonah and his disobedience as the cause of the tempest, and how it was made (verses 6-10); the casting of him into the sea at his own motion, and with his own consent, though with great reluctance in the mariners (verses 11-16); the preparation of a fish for him, which swallowed him up, and in which he lived three days and three nights (verse 17).

[v.1] - "Jonah" - The Hebrew word, יונה, yonah (yo-naw'), means dove. Reference, 2nd Kings 14:25.

[v.2-3] - From John Calvin's commentary: "Whenever then God demands any service from us, and we at the same time see that what the discharge of our duty demands is either difficult or apparently impossible, let this come to our minds,— that there is not anything in the whole world which ought not to give way to God's command: we shall then gather courage and confidence, nor will anything be able to call us away from our duty and the right course, though the whole world were fighting against God." Jonah was to go to a massive city and proclaim their sins to them. Jonah was basically a nobody to the Ninevites and therefore had no authority in their eyes. This is likely why Jonah was not very eager, and even afraid, to go there and instead fled to Tarshish. Another thing to note is that at that time, it was unusual for a prophet to be drawn away from the chosen people and sent to heathen nations.

[v.2a] - "Nineveh" - Reference, Genesis 10:11.

[v.2b] - From John Calvin's commentary: "When therefore we are reproved, there is no reason that we should turn our eyes here and there toward men; we are instantly to present ourselves to the scrutiny of God; no, we ought ourselves to take in hand that voluntary examination which God requires. By so doing, we shall not feed our vices by foolishly deceiving ourselves, as hypocrites do, who ever look around them to the right hand and to the left, and never raise up their thoughts to heaven."

[v.3a] - In this verse, we see Jonah disobeying God's command. But notice that he didn't just simply refuse God. He took several courses of action to utterly avoid the call of God: he went to Joppa, he searched for a ship and found one, he paid the fare for the ship, he walked to the ship and boarded it, and finally, he waited for the ship to set sail. On this point John Calvin says, "By this gradual progress, he sets before us more fully his own perverseness; so that he admits that he not only resolutely purposed to reject the call of God, but that he also confirmed himself in it: and though there were many things to be done, which might have sometimes forced him to stand still, he yet constantly followed where his perverse and blind impulse led him. There is no doubt, then, but that Jonah, in these distinct words, sets himself forth as a fugitive, not only by one act, but by many acts."

[v.3b] - "Tarshish" - From the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge: "As Jonah embarked at Joppa, a sea-port on the Mediterranean, it was probably either Tarsus in Cilicia, or rather Tartessus in Spain, to which he intended to flee."

John Calvin's Prayer for Verses 1-3:

Grant, Almighty God, that as you have not sent a Jonah to us, when alienated from every hope of salvation, but have given your Son to be our Teacher, clearly to show to us the way of salvation, and not only to call us to repentance by threatening and terrors, but also kindly to allure us to the hope of eternal life, and to be a pledge of your paternal love,— O grant, that we may not reject so remarkable a favor offered to us, but willingly and from the heart obey you; and though the condition which you set before us in your Gospel may seem hard, and though the bearing of the cross is bitter to our flesh, yet may we never shun to obey you, but present ourselves to you as a sacrifice; and having overcome all the hindrances of this world, may we thus proceed in the course of our holy calling, until we be at length gathered into your celestial kingdom, under the guidance of Christ your Son, our Lord. Amen.

[v.5-6] - After each sailor cried to his god, the captain then asks Jonah to cry to his God. They all cried to their gods without success, so they decided to try Jonah’s God. It’s not that they had faith in God, but rather, they were just trying a different means for success. Such are unbelievers who run to and fro trying various remedies for their afflictions instead of going straight to God in faith (Ephesians 4:14; James 1:5-8).

[v.5] - "into the sides of the ship" - The Latin Vulgate renders this text as, ad interiora navis, or, "into the interior of the ship."

[v.6a] - "What do you mean, O sleeper?" - This question can also be worded as, "How can you be fast asleep?" The sense might also be, "What is wrong with you that you are fast asleep?" It would seem an unnatural thing to an experienced sailor for someone to be sleeping in a storm that caused even him to be afraid. Sailors are accustomed to rough seas and storms, but this particular storm made these sailors fear for their lives.

[v.6b] - "think upon us" - Or, "be propitious to us." Literally, "appear bright to us," as in, God would make his face bright and appear serene, and thus, be propitious and merciful.

[v.7] - On this verse, John Calvin asks, "How could a certain judgment be found by lot, except God directed it according to his own purpose, and overruled what seemed to be especially fortuitous?" Reference, Proverbs 16:33.

John Calvin's Prayer for Verses 4-7:

Grant, Almighty God, that though we are here disquieted in the midst of so many tossings, we may yet learn with tranquil minds to recumb on your grace and promise, by which you testify that you will be ever near us, and not wait until by a strong hand you draw us to yourself, but that we may be, on the contrary, ever attentive to your providence: may we know that our life not only depends on a thread, but also vanishes like the smoke, unless you protect it, so that we may recumb wholly on your power; and may we also, while in a cheerful and quiet state, so call on you, that relying on your protection we may live in safety, and at the same time be careful, lest torpor, which draws away our minds and thoughts from meditating on the divine life, should creep over us, but may we, on the contrary, so earnestly seek you, morning and evening, and at all times, that we may through life advance toward the mark you have set before us, until we at length reach that heavenly kingdom, which Christ your Son has obtained for us by his own blood. Amen.

[v.9a] - Though Jonah does not reply to the first request of the sailors, for whose cause this evil was upon them, it is noted in verse 10 that he had given them an explanation, though the words were not documented.

[v.9b] - "fear" - That is, worship, or serve. This was Jonah's occupation.

[v.9c] - From John Calvin's Commentary: "We now see how much Jonah had profited since the Lord had begun severely to deal with him: for inasmuch as he was asleep, and even insensible in his sin, he would have never repented, had it not been for this violent remedy."

[v.11] - "so that the sea may be calm for us" - Literally, "so that the sea may cease from upon us." The waves of the sea were crashing down upon them, hence they desired the sea to no longer be upon them.

[v.12] - From John Calvin's Commentary: "It is then a true confession of repentance, when we acknowledge God, and willingly testify before men that he is just, though, according to the judgment of our flesh, he may deal violently with us. When, however, we give to him the praise due to his justice, we then really show our penitence; for unless God's wrath brings us down to this humble state of mind, we shall be always full of bitterness; and, however silent we may be for a time, our heart will be still perverse and rebellious. This humility, then, always follows repentance,— the sinner prostrates himself before God, and willingly admits his own sin, and tries not to escape by subterfuges."

John Calvin's Prayer for Verses 8-12:

Grant, Almighty God, that as you urge us daily to repentance, and each of us is also stung with the consciousness of his own sins,— O grant, that we may not grow obstinate in our vices, nor deceive ourselves with empty flatteries, but that each of us may, on the contrary, carefully examine his own life, and then with one mouth and heart confess that we are all guilty, not only of light offenses, but of such as deserve eternal death, and that no other relief remains for us but your infinite mercy, and that we may so seek to become partakers of that grace which has been once offered to us by your Son, and is daily offered to us by his Gospel, that, relying on him as our Mediator, we may not cease to entertain hope even in the midst of a thousand deaths, until we be gathered into that blessed life, which has been procured for us by the blood of your only Son. Amen.

[v.13-14] - From the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge: "There was great humanity and tender feeling in these men. They were probably affected deeply with the candid confession, the disinterested, submissive conduct of the disobedient prophet, and were unwilling to cast him into the deep, until they found that every effort to save themselves was in vain."

[v.17a] - "Now the LORD had prepared a great fish" - From John Owen's footnote on Jonah 1:17 in John Calvin's Commentary: "The verb טנה does not necessarily include the idea of creation, but its meaning is, to distribute, to arrange, to order, to provide, to prepare; and yet this preparation may involve the exercise of a creative power, as in the case of the gourd mentioned in the fourth chapter, for it is the same verb. Though it might be an indigenous plant, yet to provide it so quickly in one night was the act of Divine power. So also as to this fish, it might or might not have been one usually found in that part of the sea. To provide it, by bringing it to the spot, was as much a miracle as to provide it by a new act of creation. To allow the one and to deny the other, is wholly unreasonable. The whole was clearly miraculous: and the discovery of any such fish now does not in the least render the transaction less miraculous. Every part of it must be ascribed to a Divine interposition; and let those stumble who are resolved to stumble."

[v.17b] - Quoted in Matthew 12:40.

John Calvin's Prayer for Verses 13-17:

Grant, Almighty God, that as you set before us this day your holy Prophet as an awful example of your wrath against all who are rebellious and disobedient to you,— O grant, that we may learn so to subject all our thoughts and affections to your word, that we may not reject anything that pleases you, but so learn both to live and to die to you, that we may ever regard your will, and undertake nothing but what you have testified is approved by you, so that we may fight under your banners, and through life obey your word, until at length we reach that blessed rest which has been obtained for us by the blood of your only begotten Son, and is laid up for us in heaven through the hope of his Gospel. Amen.