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My Commentary On The Book OF Jonah




This commentary is based on the 1978 version of the Ne International Bible.  I use chapter titles in the commentary that correspond to the NIV's titles. 


The book of Jonah was written in or around the mid 700's B.C., although there is some discrepancy about the date.


Liberal scholars say that the book of Jonah is a simple parable, a story with a moral meaning.  The reason why they say this is that they do not believe in miracles.  They do not believe such an event as described in Jonah could really have happened.


My presupposition is that God is a God of miracles and therefore anything can happen when He is involved.  I believe what takes place in the book of Jonah is an historical event.


Another reason why I believe the story of  Jonah is an  historical event, and not a parable. Is because in Matthew 12:39 to 40, Jesus refers to Jonah.  Jesus said that as Jonah was in the belly of a huge fish for three days and three nights, so He would be in the heart of the ground for three days and three nights.  If Jesus understood this event to be a literal historical event, and if we believe that Jesus is who He claims to be, then we must believe the book of Jonah to be an accurate portrayal of history.


Something else we learn from what Jesus said in Matthew 12:39 to 40 concerns prophecy.  We often think that prophecy is something that is spoken, but that's not always the case.  An event, a person's life, or, what happens in a life can be prophetic. The whole story of Jonah is more than a historical event.  It is prophetic of Jesus' death and resurrection.  This should help us understand prophecy, especially prophecy as seen in the Old Testament.  There is more to prophecy than what follows "thus says the Lord".  I've said many times that  the Law of Moses is more than a list of 613 regulations.  It is prophetic.  Israel 's journey out of Egypt and into the promise land is prophetic. So, when you are studying prophecy, you must not ignore this aspect to prophecy.


Most Old Testament prophecies are directed towards Israel, but not this prophecy.  It is directed towards Nineveh , a gentile city, which was the capital of Assyria.  It is the only Old Testament prophetic book directed to Gentiles.   If you read Amos, chapters 1 and 2, you will see prophecies directed towards Gentile nations, but the book itself, if directed towards Israel.  


One last thing concerning Matthew 12:38 to 40.  Jesus said that His death and stay in Hades for 3 days and 3 nights can be compared to Jonah's trip to the belly of the fish.  I would like to take this one step farther if I may.  I tend to see the whole book of Jonah as prophetic of Jesus, not only chapter 2 as we will see.  I believe I see Jesus Himself in Jonah.  Jonah was a rebellious Jew.  Of course, Jesus wasn't a rebellious Jew.  However, upon entering humanity, He took on the bodily form of a rebellious Jew.  He became human.  He struggled with the same temptation as Jonah, that is, running from God, although He did not give into this temptation.  We know that Jesus was tempted in all ways as any ordinary man was tempted.  I believe when it comes to chapters 3 and 4 that the salvation of a Gentile city is therefore prophetic of the salvation of Gentiles that was provided for them through Jesus' death, as we see in chapter 2.  In short, Jonah and all he experienced, not just his stay in the fish's belly, is prophetic of Jesus.  


One last thought is this. Jonah represents all that is human.  Right from the beginning, after Adam ate the fruit, the basic tendency of man is to run from God.  The basic tendency of Jesus is to stop the running process and provide reconciliation.   




Jonah Flees From The Lord (ch. 1:1 - 17)


In verse 1 we see "Jonah, the son of Amittai".  Jonah means "dove".  "Amittai" means "truth". In 2 Kings 14:25 we see Jonah and Amittai mentioned during the rule of King Jeroboam.  So we can date what happened to Jonah around the mid 700 B.C., or, possibly around 786 to 746 B.C., since that is when King Jeroboam ruled.     


"The Word of the Lord came to Jonah".  God spoke to Jonah.  How God spoke to Jonah, we don't know, but we do know that God does speak to His people in various ways, through visions, through an audible voice, and especially in these New Testament days, through His Holy Spirit.


In verse 2 God told Jonah to "go to the great city of Nineveh "  The use of the word "great" is no understatement here.  Nineveh was the greatest, the largest city in it's day, and to that point in history.  It was the capital city of the Assyrian nation.  The population was somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 people.  The circumference of the city was 60 miles long.  The wall around the city was 100 feet height and 3 chariot width wide. They say there were 1500 towers on the wall that protected the city.  We first see the name Nineveh mentioned in Genesis 10:11.  The city might well have originated from this man.  Nineveh is located in present day Iraq, where there are two large mounds of earth with the remnants of the city being excavated.


God told Jonah to go and preach to Nineveh because "its wickedness has come up before me".  There are a few things we must note here. One thing is that ineveh is a Gentile city.  For the most part, the prophets in the Old Testament preach to a sinful Israel.  So, we can believe that God doesn't only call Israel to repent but Gentile nations to repent as well, and not just Gentile nations, but Gentile cites. God can, does, and will, judge any geo-political region that is governed by men.  It can be a nation, a state, a province, or a city.  The geo-political region can be Israeli or Gentile.


We also note that sins rise up to God.  God sees all sin.  For Christians, when our sins rise to heaven, they are covered by the blood  of Jesus.  Also, the New Testament portrays Jesus as our advocate, or lawyer, before God.  He intercedes on our behalf, thus our sins are not recorded in God's books.  


We see in verse 3 that Jonah did not obey the Lord.  From where Jonah lived, Nineveh was east.  It was located in modern day Iraq , on the banks of the Tigris River.  Instead of going east, Jonah went west to Joppa where he would catch a ship on its way to Tarshish.  He clearly did not want to prophesy to Nineveh.  Nineveh would have been the monster in the room so to speak.  It was a traditional enemy to Israel.


Concerning Joppa, if you remember, Peter was in Joppa when he received the vision to preach to a Gentile household. (Acts 11:5) It was from Joppa, that we will see that Jonah will eventually leave for Nineveh and do God's will.  Joppa is associated with preaching to the Gentile world.     


Jonah went west to Tarshish.  Just where Tarshish really is, is debatable.  Some say it was in Spain.  Others say it was on the Island of Sardinia.  Some even say it is modern day England.  Whatever the case, all believe it is at least in the western Mediterranean Sea.  Jonah attempted to go as far west as he could.  He was really running from God.  Of course, we know that we cannot run from God. (Psalm 139:7-12)


Jonah was from the tribe of Zebulun which is north of Nazareth , in Galilee.  Thus Nineveh would be to his east. From his home, he went to Joppa, which is a seaport city on the Mediterranean Sea .  


In verse 4 we see that the Lord sent a "great wind".  This tells us a couple of things.  One thing is that this was a violent storm, not just an ordinary storm.  As we will see later, the ship's crew was concerned and in fear, and they would have been used to storms at sea.  The second thing we learn is that the Lord caused the storm.  God can be, and often is, behind natural disasters for one reason or another.  It's not just nature at work.  It is God Himself at work. 


Concerning the ship, these ships often had two floors and the third floor would be half the size of the other two floors.   Anywhere from 30 to 50 men rowed the ship.


We see in verse 5 how afraid the crew was.  They actually though their cargo overboard.  That would have been the source of much of their income.  Out of fear they prayed to their gods.  These men were polytheistic pagans. 


All along, while the storm was raging, Jonah was sleeping in the hull of the ship.  How or why he was sleeping is only a guess.  He might have been exhausted, but still, you wonder why he was not awake.


In verse 6 the captain of the ship wondered the same thing.  How could Jonah be sleeping through this storm.  The captain woke Jonah and told him to pray to his god.  I guess everyone needed to pray to each one to their gods.  Maybe one of these gods would save the ship from sinking. Of course, why would Jonah want to pray to his God when he was running away from his God.


The captain thought that maybe Jonah's god could save them.  Little did he know at that moment that it was Jonah's God that caused the storm.  Therefore it could only be Jonah's God that could save them from the storm.


In verse 7 we see the superstitious side of religion.  The crew cast lots to see who the culprit was, the one who caused this storm.  These polytheistic pagans might have had more sense than many people in our day.  They clearly believed that one of them caused this storm and that the storm came from a god.  In today's world, we do not relate natural disasters to someone's or some nation's sin, but the Bible is full of this reality.  I'm not saying that all natural disasters are a result of God judging due to man's sin, but we cannot discount the possibility of such a disaster to be from the Lord.  Natural disasters can simply be a result of what the apostle Paul calls "creation groaning, while waiting for the restoration". (Romans 8:22)  


The casting of the lots determined Jonah to be the culprit.  Either this was luck or divine intervention.  I do believe that God can intervene, even in these superstitious acts. 


In verse 8 the crew drilled Jonah with all sorts of questions.  They wanted to know all about him and why they were in this mess.   I'm sure by now Jonah's heart was beating pretty fast.  He probably wasn't just afraid because of the storm but because of the men asking all these questions.


In verse 9 Jonah answered by saying that he was a Hebrew and that he "worshipped the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land".  One thing we learn is that Jonah, like many, associated their ethnicity with their religion.  They were inseparatable. 


The name "Hebrew" means "to cross over", as to cross over the Jordan River into the promised land of Canaan.


According to verse 10, at some prior point, not sure how much prior, Jonah told the men that he was running away from his God, so at this point they were even more afraid.  They wondered why he was running. All along, as verse 11 states, the storm was getting worse. 


In verse 11, the crew asked Jonah, the prophet, what they should do.  Since Jonah was the reason for the storm in the first place, he must have some idea what to do in their present trouble.  They thought that either Jonah or Jonah's God could cause the storm to subside, and of course, they were right.  Everyone was experiencing the reality of God when one of God's servant's was in direct disobedience.


In verse 12 Jonah admits that he was the cause of the storm.  His solution was that they throw him into the see.  If Jonah would drown, then God's judgment would be complete and the storm would go away.  Jonah misread the will of God.  God did not want Jonah did.  He simply wanted Jonah's attention so Jonah would do His will.  This is often the case.  The Lord will often cause rough times in our lives, not to hurt us, but to get our attention.  Jonah drowning at see would have simply disrupted the will of God.


We're not sure why Jonah told the crew to throw him over.  He could have simply jumped over himself.  Some Bible teachers suggest that act of the crew throwing him overboard was a means of punishment.


In verse 13 we see that the crew did not throw Jonah overboard right away, and he didn't jump overboard.  Instead, the crew tried their best to row back to land, but with no success. We're not sure why the crew didn't throw Jonah into the sea right then, but they didn't.  You would think that due to their superstitious nature they might have done that.


The crew finally gives up trying to row back to the land and they throw Jonah overboard, but not without much prayer to the Lord. That is Jonah's God, not any of their gods.  These men were now in fear of God.  They thought they'd be in trouble by killing, who they called, an innocent man.


Some Bible teachers suggest that the reason why the men had to throw Jonah overboard and not Jonah jump overboard was to fulfill the prophetic nature of this event.  Jesus was handed over to the Jews and then to the Romans, and they killed Him.   We should also note that Jesus was willing to be killed.  He actually said that no one takes His life from Him but He freely gives it up. (John 10:18)  So to with Jonah.  He freely gave his life to the crew of the ship for them to throw him overboard.  Jonah was thrown overboard because of his sin.  Jesus was thrown overboard, not because of His sin, but because of our sin.  Both men were thrown overboard because of sin.         


In verse 15 Jonah is thrown overboard and the sea grew calm.


This whole experience made the crew fear the Lord.  As we see in verse 16, they even offered some kind of sacrifice to God, probably a sacrifice similar to the pagan sacrifices they would have been used to offering their gods.


Verse 17 closes this section.  Note that the Lord provided a big fish to swallow Jonah.  This was a miracle, not a happenstance.  We've seen miracles all the way through this first chapter.  The book of Jonah has a number of miracles, not just the one concerning the big fish.


Note that the text calls this a big fish, not a whale.   Jonah was inside this big fish for three days and three nights, thus the reason why Jesus related His death to Jonah being in the fish for three days and three nights in Matthew 12:39-40.  This historical event in itself is prophetic of the death of Jesus.  Prophecy is not something that is merely spoken.  Prophecy comes in all sorts of ways.  Historical events in themselves can be prophetic.  The life of Hosea and his adulterous wife is one example of historic events being prophetic.


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