Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah - All that is certainly known about this prophet has already been laid before the reader. He was of Gath-hepher, in the tribe of Zebulun, in lower Galilee, Joshua 19:13; and he prophesied in the reigns of Jeroboam the Second, and Joash, kings of Israel. Jeroboam came to the throne eight hundred and twenty-three years before the Christian era, and reigned in Samaria forty-one years, 2 Kings 14:23-25. As a prophet, it is likely that he had but this one mission.
Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. Go to Nineveh - This was the capital of the Assyrian empire, and one of the most ancient cities of the world, Genesis 10:10; and one of the largest, as it was three days' journey in circumference. Ancient writers represent it as oblong; being in length one hundred and fifty stadia, and ninety in breadth, the compass being four hundred and eighty stadia. Now as the stadium is allowed to have been equal to our furlong, eight of which make a mile, this amounts to fifty-four English miles: see on Jonah 3:3 (note). But we must not suppose that all this space was covered with compact streets and buildings; it took in a considerable space of country, probably all the cultivated ground necessary to support all the inhabitants of that district. Calmet computes the measurement of the circumference to be equal to twenty-five French leagues. It is reported to have had walls one hundred feet high, and so broad that three chariots might run abreast upon them. It was situated on the Tigris, or a little to the west, or on the west side of that river. It was well peopled, and had at this time one hundred and twenty thousand persons in it reputed to be in a state of infancy, which on a moderate computation would make the whole number six hundred thousand persons. But some, supposing that persons not being able to distinguish their right hand from their left must mean children under two years of age, and reckoning one such child for every twenty persons from that age upwards, make the population amount to two millions five hundred thousand. Nor can this be considered an exaggerated estimate, when we know that London, not one-tenth of the size of ancient Nineveh, contains a population of upwards of one million. But calculations of this kind, relative to matters of such remote antiquity, are generally precarious, and not very useful: and ancient authors, though the only guides, are not always safe conductors. Mosul is generally supposed to be the same as the ancient Nineveh. It is in the province of Dearbekir, on the west bank of the Tigris.
Their wickedness is come up before me - This is a personification of evil. It ascends from earth to heaven; and stands before the Supreme Judge, to bear witness against its own delinquency, and that of the persons whom it has seduced.
But 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. To flee unto Tarshish - Some say Tartessus, in Spain, near the straits of Gibraltar, others, Tarsus, in Cilicia; and others, Taprobana, or the island of Ceylon, formerly called Taprobah; and Tabrobavagh in Sanscrit, to the present day.
And went down to Joppa - This place is celebrated as that where Andromeda, daughter of Cepheus, was chained to a rock, and exposed to be devoured by a sea-monster, from which she was delivered by the valor of Perseus. It is the nearest port to Jerusalem on that side of the Mediterranean.
And he found a ship - The Phoenicians carried on a considerable trade with Tartessus, Ezekiel 27:12; and it was probably in one of their ships that Jonah embarked.
He paid the fare thereof - He paid for his passage. This shows that there was traffic between the two places, and that each passenger paid a stated fare.
From the presence of the Lord - He considered that God was peculiarly resident in Judea; and if he got out of that land, the Lord would most probably appoint another prophet to carry the message; for Jonah appears to have considered the enterprise as difficult and dangerous, and therefore wished to avoid it.
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. A great wind - They were overtaken with a storm, which appears from the sequel to have come by the immediate direction of God.
Like to be broken - They had nearly suffered shipwreck.
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. Cried every man unto his god - The ship's crew were all heathens; and, it is probable, heathens who had each a different object of religious worship.
Cast forth the wares - Threw the lading overboard to lighten the ship, hoping the better to ride out the storm.
Jonah was gone down - Most probably into the hold or cabin under the deck; or where they had berths for passengers in the sides of the ship, something in the manner of our packets.
Was fast asleep - Probably quite exhausted and overcome with distress, which in many cases terminates in a deep sleep. So the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane.
So 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. The shipmaster - Either the captain or the pilot.
Arise, call upon thy God - He supposed that Jonah had his god, as well as they had theirs; and that, as the danger was imminent, every man should use the influence he had, as they were all equally involved in it.
And 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. Come, and let us cast lots - This was a very ancient mode of endeavoring to find out the mind of Divine Providence; and in this case it proves that they supposed the storm to have arisen on account of some hidden crime of some person aboard.
A philosopher being at sea in a violent storm. when the crew began to call earnestly to the gods for safety, he said, "Be silent, and cease your prayers; for should the gods know that you are here, we shall all be lost."
The lot fell upon Jonah - In this case God directed the lot.
Then 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? Tell us - for whose cause - A very gentle method of bringing the charge home to himself, and the several questions here asked gave the utmost latitude to make the best of his own case.
And 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. I fear the Lord - In this Jonah was faithful. He gave an honest testimony concerning the God he served, which placed him before the eyes of the sailors as infinitely higher than the objects of their adoration; for the God of Jonah was the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land, and governed both. He also honestly told them that he was fleeing from the presence of this God, whose honorable call he had refused to obey. See Jonah 1:10.
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.
Then 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. What shall we do unto thee - In these poor men there was an uncommon degree of humanity and tender feeling.
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. I know that for my sake - I am not worthy to live; throw me overboard. God will not quiet the storm till I am cast out of the ship. Here was deep compunction; and honest avowal of sin; and a justification of the displeasure which God had now manifested.
Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them. The men rowed hard - Were very unwilling to proceed to this extremity, and thought they would risk every thing rather than cast this disobedient prophet into the great deep.
Wherefore 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. They cried unto the Lord - Under a conviction that he was the self-existing Being, the Maker of the heavens and the earth, and the author of the present storm, they put up their prayers to him.
Let us not perish for this man's life - They were now about to cast him overboard; but seemed to call God to witness that it was with the utmost reluctance, and only in obedience to his command. There is a parallel passage in the Argonautics, which has been quoted to illustrate this: -
Πολλα δε μερμηριζον ενι φρεσι πευκαλιμησι,
Η μεν αποφθισωσι, και ιχθυσι κυρμα βαλωσιν
Αινολεχη Μμηδειαν, αποτρεψωσι δ' Εριννυν.
"And much they doubted, in their prudent minds,
Whether to kill and cast a prey to fishes
Wretched Medea, and avert their fate."
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. Offered a sacrifice - The first perhaps ever offered on board a vessel since the ark floated on the waters of the great deluge; and it is most probable that these heathens, witnessing what was done, became sincere converts to the true God.
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. Now the Lord had prepared a great fish - דג גדול dag gadol.
This could not have been a whale, for the throat of that animal can scarcely admit a man's leg; but it might have been a shark, which abounds in the Mediterranean, and whose mouth and stomach are exceedingly capacious. In several cases they have been known to swallow a man when thrown overboard. See the note on Matthew 12:40 (note), where the whole subject of this verse is considered at large. That days and nights do not, among the Hebrews, signify complete days and nights of twenty-four hours, see Esther 4:16, compared with Esther 5:1; Judges 14:17, Judges 14:18. Our Lord lay in the grave one natural day, and part of two others; and it is most likely that this was the precise time that Jonah was in the fish's belly.
Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke .