For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2002 James Melough 

1:1.  “Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,”

1:2.  “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.”

As already discussed, Jonah is a double type: of the Lord Jesus Christ, and also of Israel, but clearly in the present context he represents only Israel, for when God sought one to come to earth to testify to men, the perfect obedience of the Lord is reflected in the words of Isaiah, “Then said I, Here am I; send me,” Isa 6:8, Heb 10:7 making it clear that the ultimate application is to the Lord Jesus Christ, “Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God,” see also Ps 40:7-10, “Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.  I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O Lord, thou knowest.  I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation.”

No contrast could be greater than that existing between the Lord’s perfect obedience even unto death, and the flagrant disobedience of Jonah.  But why did he disobey?  He was afraid of being discredited as a prophet, see 4:1-2.  If Nineveh repented, God would withhold the threatened judgment, thus making Jonah to appear to have been a false prophet.  In a word, his rebellion was prompted by pride.

Nineveh meaning offspring of ease: offspring abiding, had been built by the rebel Nimrod, see Ge 10:11, and was located in Assyria, Israel’s chief enemy.  It was idolatrous, and proudly arrogant, being convinced of its invincibility, and was notoriously cruel towards its war captives.  In the seventh century BC in the days of Sennacherib, it became the capital of that empire, and is easily seen as being representative of the world living at ease, and in defiance of God, the king himself acknowledging its wickedness, see Jonah 3:6-9.  It was to this similarly sinful world represented by Nineveh that the Lord willingly came to testify against it, and to call it to repentance, for the wickedness of Nineveh was but a reflection of the wickedness of all men.

We are guilty of great spiritual blindness if we fail to see that as God commissioned Jonah, so has He also commissioned us, as recorded in Mk 16:15, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”  And like Jonah, we have been flagrantly disobedient.

1:3.  “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.”

The location of Tarshish, meaning she will cause poverty: she will shatter, is unknown, though generally believed to have been in Spain, or on the island of Sardinia.  Other biblical references indicate that it was a renowned center for the smelting of copper and other metals, and that an extensive trade between it and Israel was carried on in the days of Solomon, see e.g., 1 Ki 10:22; 22:48; 2 Chr 9:21; Jer 10:9; Ezek 27:12.

Joppa (modern Jaffa), meaning fair to him, and lying thirty-five miles west of Jerusalem, was that city’s port.

It isn’t difficult to see in Jonah’s disobedience a symbolic picture of Israel’s, for she too, instead of being God’s witness to the nations, had metaphorically risen up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, see Paul’s words in 1 Thes 2:14-16, “For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, but are contrary to all men: forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.”

Nor is Tarshish without its instruction, for all that is recorded of it marks it as a center of business and wealth, and Jonah’s going there points clearly to what disobedient Israel busied herself with when she refused to be God’s witness to the nations. She devoted herself to trading and money-making.

Must we not admit that many of us are guilty of the same sin, having added to the quest for money, the pursuit also of the world’s pleasures?

Disobedience, however, is never without consequences, and the meaning of Tarshish she will cause poverty: she will shatter, leaves no doubt as to the character of those consequences.  Disobedience brings spiritual poverty, and when persisted in, will ultimately bring ruin: for the believer, loss of testimony, and therefore of eternal reward; and for the unbeliever, loss of his soul, and the inheritance of eternal torment in the lake of fire.

A further assurance that disobedience and loss are inseparable is found in its being recorded that “... he paid the fare thereof.” Jonah soon discovered that that payment was only the first installment of the very high price of disobedience.

“... to flee ... from the presence of the Lord.”  In Amos 3:3 the question is asked, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” and the answer, of course, is that they can’t.  That first disobedient step took the prophet out “from the presence of the Lord,” a dreadful place for any man to be, and yet that is always the immediate result of sin, for of God it is written, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity,” Hab 1:13.  God, because of His holiness, will not, can not, walk with the man who chooses to walk in sin.  Here on earth, men occupied with sin, enjoy that separation, but how different it will be in eternity when they discover that death has carried them into that dread realm where they must reap the eternal consequences of their sin in the lake of fire, with return to God and His mercy impossible!

“... went down to Joppa ... and went down into it (the ship).”  Sin always takes man in the same direction: down!

First Jonah “rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord,” and then he “went down into it (the ship) to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”  He didn’t lack company in his flight from God, nor does the man who repeats the prophet’s folly.  The road to destruction is crowded, while he who travels the road to heaven must often walk alone, with God as his only Companion, but of how much greater value is that companionship than is all the giddy, shallow, camaraderie that ends at death, and leaves Satan’s victim to suffer eternal torment alone!

1:4.  “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.”

In the original the word “sent” is literally flung or hurled.

How futile was Jonah’s attempt to run away from God!  David, rejoicing in the impossibility of ever being beyond God’s care, wrote, “Whither shall I go from thy spirit?  or whither shall I flee from thy presence?  If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.  If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.  If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me: even the night shall be light about me.  Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee: but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee,” Ps 139:7-12.

It is highly unlikely that Jonah wasn’t aware of the impossibility of ever evading God’s omnipresence, so his flight to Tarshish points up the incredible folly that is the twin of disobedience.  The late Dr Harry Ironside, with his unique ability to make the complicated simple, has written relative to Jonah’s flight, “To get away from the pathway of obedience is invariably to go out from the presence of the Lord; that is, so far as the reality of it is concerned in one’s own soul.  Actually, it would be impossible to get where the eye of God was not upon him; but in his own consciousness of communion and enjoyment, the moment that Jonah made up his mind to act in disobedience, he lost the sense of the Lord’s presence in his soul.”

The prophet may have had his eye off God, but God had His eye on His errant servant, and would move heaven and earth to return him to the path of obedience and blessing.

Wind is one of the biblical symbols of the Holy Spirit, so that in this great wind God would have us see Himself working through His omnipotent Holy Spirit, and “a mighty tempest” was the means by which He worked.  Few have grasped more fully, or expressed more beautifully, the extent of God’s omnipotence, than Isaac Watts who has written:

I sing the mighty power of God
That made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing seas abroad
And built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained
The sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at His command,
And all the stars obey.
There’s not a plant or flow’r below
But makes Thy glories known;
And clouds arise and tempests blow
By order from Thy throne;
While all that borrows life from Thee
Is ever in Thy care,
And ev’ry where that man can be,
Thou God, art present there. 

When the tempest first broke, Jonah lay asleep, oblivious of the storm raging around him; and so is it often with believers whose sin has required God to stir up adversity as a means of restoring them to the path of obedience and blessing.

Remembering that in the present context Jonah is a type of disobedient Israel, it is easy to see a broader picture, a larger truth, in all of this.  The ship then becomes a figure of the Jewish religion in which the bulk of the nation lay spiritually asleep, deluded into believing that observance of an empty religious ritual was sufficient to shelter them from the wrath of a Holy God.  From Isa 57:20, “But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt,” we learn that the restless sea represents the Gentile nations; and their being here whipped into a destructive storm, portrays them as energized by God to be His instruments for the chastisement of His disobedient servant, and of equally disobedient Israel whom he represents, a truth imprinted on virtually every page of the prophetic books.

“... so that the ship was like to be broken.”  It came near to being broken, but it wasn’t; and how many times the scene has been repeated in Israel’s troubled history!  In the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, it seemed as though the ship of Jewish religion must have perished; and likewise in the Diaspora of AD 70, but it still floats, and the Jews still cling to it as fanatically as ever.  In the Millennium, however, that storm-tossed ship will finally enter a safe haven, for in that glorious age the Levitical ritual will cease to be a mere outward form, becoming instead what God always meant it to be: the means by which His redeemed people will express their genuine worship.

1:5.  “But 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.”

Who or what is portrayed by these mariners?  Are they the representatives of those in Israel who sought after God, and worshiped according to an imperfect knowledge, that worship being portrayed here in their crying “every man unto his god,” but who were then saved and brought to a more perfect understanding during the Lord’s public ministry and that of the disciples after His death?   It is to be noted that those converts became the nucleus of the Church which replaced Israel as a corporate testimony for God, and it is to be further noted that their conversions occurred while the Israel represented by the sleeping Jonah, also lay asleep spiritually in the sides of the ship, the figure of Israel’s corporate testimony, that “ship” also tossing on the billows of God’s wrath while apostate oblivious Israel lay spiritually asleep.

Of practical importance for us is the symbolic picture being presented by the sleeping Jonah.  Must we not admit that many of us also “lie asleep” while men and women around us perish daily. May God bestow the grace that will arouse us, and impel us to a faithful proclamation of the gospel in what little time is left.

What became of the ship?  It is instructive to note that it didn’t sink.  With Jonah cast out of it, it sailed away on a tranquil sea, its occupants having been converted.  May we not see in this the symbolic presentation of the truth that after Israel cast out Christ, God then cast them out into the great sea of the Gentiles, and the Church then became the ship of witness to the nations.  (A careful study of Scripture reveals that a ship, like the moon, is the biblical symbol of corporate testimony: in the past, Israel; today the Church.  The type was fulfilled when the Jews were cast out in AD 70, and Jewish testimony was replaced with that of the Christian Church.

Incidentally, in their “casting forth the wares that were in the ship,” we have a symbolic picture of the abandonment by the early Church of all the dead legalistic forms with which Judaism had become encumbered.

1:6.  “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.”

May we not see in this a further description of what occurred in that early day when Judaism was about to be replaced with Christianity, and John the Baptist went forth calling upon Israel to repent in order to escape coming judgment?

1:7.  “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.”

Does this not evoke the recollection of what is written concerning Christ in Jn 11:49-51, “And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.  And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation”?

1:8.  “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?”

As we turn from this examination of Jonah, to the inquisition of Christ before the Sanhedrin on the night of His betrayal, may we not see in the one the faint foreshadowing of the other? the only difference being lack of animosity on the part of those who questioned Jonah.

1:9.  “And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear (revere, worship) the Lord, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.”

Jonah’s confession of his nationality, his reverence of Jehovah, and his acknowledgment of God’s omnipotence, are but OT faint echoes of Christ’s response to those who questioned Him.

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.”

Here parallel gives place to contrast.  Those who questioned Jonah trembled at the knowledge of his disobedience, while those who questioned Christ and who were confronted with His perfect holiness, didn’t hesitate to accuse Him of blasphemy, and to mock Him, spit on Him, taunt and beat Him, and consign Him to a terrible death.  The fearful sailors trembled at the thought that the Divine anger aroused by Jonah’s disobedience, might also touch them; but the Lord’s inquisitors in their sinful ignorance didn’t know that the One they mocked was the Son of God, and that He was preparing to endure the storm of Divine wrath in their stead so that God, on a basis of perfect justice, might pardon their sin.

1:11.  “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.”

How different was the attitude of the Jewish leaders who surrounded Christ that fateful night, like a pack of wolves ravening for His blood!  Ignorant of their own sinful state, and of the fact that that night’s evil work was adding to their own condemnation, they sought no counsel relative to what they should do with Christ.  From the day He had healed the man with the withered hand, and exposed the evil in their hearts, they had determined to kill Him, see Mt 12:14; Mk 3:6.

1:12.  “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.”

The first part of this sentence is the symbolic announcement of the necessity of the Lord’s death if men were to be saved from hell and fitted for heaven; and the second part “for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you,” is the revelation of how completely He became identified with our sin at Calvary, as it is written, “For he hath made him who knew no sin, to be sin for us; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” 2 Cor 5:21.  The only way for men to be saved from the wrath that is due to sin, was for Christ to become Man, and to enter into that dreadful storm, enduring all its fury, until all the sin of the world had received its just recompense: death.

The first Adam, the federal head of the human race, forfeited man’s life when he disobeyed God.  The last Adam yielded up that life at Calvary, and thereby satisfied all God’s righteous claims against man, thereby laying a basis of perfect justice upon which God could come out to every sinner, and pardon him in response to the repentant faith which believes that Christ was willing to die in his guilty stead on the cross.

It is necessary to note, however, that Jonah didn’t jump into the sea.  Part of the salvation equation was that the men must take him up and cast him into the raging waters; and in this we learn the necessity of a personal, individual faith in Christ as Savior.  It is not sufficient to believe in a general way, as many do, that Christ died for the sins of the world.  Saving faith is personal.  If I am to be saved I must believe that He loved me personally (as though I were the only sinner in the world), and willingly died in my stead, for my sin.

1:13.  “Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.”

The lesson in this is so clear as to scarcely need comment.  Such is the perversity of fallen human nature that man will resort to every expedient to save himself - except to simply trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen again, as the only means of salvation.

Their failure to bring the ship to land declares the impossibility of being saved by any means other than personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Countless multitudes spend their lives “rowing hard to bring the ship to land,” i.e., trying to work their way to heaven, in spite of God’s warning, “By grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast,” Eph 2:8-9; and again, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us,” Titus 3:5.

1:14.  “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.”

This is the demonstration of another truth relative to salvation: man’s will must be broken.  He must be brought to the end of his own resources, and be willing to submit himself entirely to God’s will.  Only when the will is thus broken, only when every attempt is abandoned to acquire righteousness by works, is a man in a position to be saved, for it is only when he reaches that place that he will cry out as did the Philippian jailor to Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Ac 16:30; their response being, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” Ac 16:31.

How different was the cry of these penitent sailors who had exhausted every effort to save Jonah, from that of the unrepentant Jews who stood before Pilate demanding Christ’s death, and shouting defiantly, “His blood be upon us, and on our children,” Mt 27:25!  How terribly that invocation has been answered!  In the succeeding twenty centuries Jewish blood has soaked the ground of virtually every nation on earth!

He who will not be cleansed by Christ’s blood, will stand at the great white throne condemned by that same blood to the eternal torment of the lake of fire.

That Christ’s death was the will of God for the salvation of sinners is declared in the words, “... for thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased thee,” and is reinforced by what is written in 2 Pe 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

1:15.  “So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.”

Any question as to whether this is a symbolic figure of the Lord’s death is answered by the frequency with which His sufferings and death are set before us under the figure of overwhelming waters in the Psalms, see e.g., Ps 69:1,2,14-15; 88:6,7,16,17.

The immediate calming of the sea is the symbolic assurance that Christ’s death has satisfied all the claims of God’s violated throne; and assures every believer that his faith in Christ has delivered him from ever having to face judgment for his sins, the Lord having borne all that judgment at Calvary, the eternal efficacy of His vicarious sacrifice being declared in the words that ended His suffering, “It is finished,” Jn 19:30.

1:16.  “Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the Lord, and made vows.”

The fear mentioned here is that reverential awe of God that ought to imbue every believer, and impel the worship expressed in an obedient life, as declared in 1 Sa 15:22, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams,” and again in the NT by the Lord Himself, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.... He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me,” Jn 14:15-21.

As noted already, these worshiping mariners represent those converts (many of them Jewish) of the early Apostolic age, who on the day of Pentecost became the Church, the corporate witness which replaced that of Israel, the “ship” of testimony now becoming Christian rather than Jewish.

1:17.  “Now the Lord had prepared (appointed) a great fish to swallow up Jonah.  And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”

It is the Lord Himself Who has declared this experience of Jonah to be a figure of His Own death, burial, and resurrection, see Mt12:39-41, “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet, Jonah; for as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it; because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here.”

Few passages of Scripture have furnished more fuel for the mockery of the infidel, and it would be folly to stoop to engage in controversy with him relative to one of those things which God presents for acceptance by faith, no matter how strongly unbelief may denounce it as impossible.  It is in the same category as His Own existence: He states it as a fact to be believed by faith, rather than as something to be understood by man’s corrupt and finite mind.

Apart from this being a figure or type of the Lord’s Own experience in the period between His burial and resurrection, it is clearly also a type of disobedient Israel’s experience which began with her being cast out of the land in AD 70, thrown, as it were, into the restless troubled sea of the Gentile nations, where she has remained under Divine judgment for the past two thousand years.  The day of her deliverance is near, however, her judgment to climax in the impending Great Tribulation, from which she will emerge as a repentant, converted nation, to enjoy millennial blessings.

William MacDonald makes the interesting comment that, “The miracle was not that a fish could swallow a man, but that the man was not digested.”

[Jonah 2]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough