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Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament
The Prophet. - We know from 2 Kings 14:25 that Jonah the son of Amittai was born in Gath-hepher, in the tribe of Zebulon, which was, according to Jewish tradition as given by Jerome, "haud grandis viculus Geth," to the north of Nazareth, on the road from Sephoris to Tiberias, on the site of the present village of Meshad (see at Joshua 19:13); that he lived in the reign of Jeroboam II, and foretold to this king the success of his arms in his war with the Syrians, for the restoration of the ancient boundaries of the kingdom; and that this prophecy was fulfilled. From the book before us we learn that the same Jonah (for this is evident from the fact that the name of the father is also the same) received a command from the Lord to go to Nineveh, and announce the destruction of that city on account of its sins. This mission to Nineveh evidently falls later than the prophecy in favour of Jeroboam; but although it is quite possible that it is to be assigned to the time of Menahem, during the period of the first invasion of Israel by the Assyrians, this is by no means so probable as many have assumed. For, inasmuch as Menahem began to reign fifty-three years after the commencement of the reign of Jeroboam, and the war between Jeroboam and the Syrians took place not in the closing years, but in the very first years of his reign, since it was only the continuation and conclusion of the successful struggle which his father had already begun with these enemies of Israel; Jonah must have been a very old man when he was entrusted with his mission to Nineveh, if it did not take place till after the invasion of Israel by Pul. Nothing is known of the circumstances of Jonah's life apart from these biblical notices. The Jewish tradition mentioned by Jerome in the Proaem. to Jonah, to the effect that Jonah was the son of the widow at Zarephath, whom Elijah restored to life (1 Kings 17:17-24), which has been still further expounded by Ps. Epiph. and Ps. Doroth. (see Carpzov, Introd. ii. pp. 346-7), is proved to be nothing more than a Jewish Hagada, founded upon the name "son of Amittai" (lxx υἱοῦ Ἀμαθί), and has just as much historical evidence to support it as the tradition concerning the prophet's grave, which is pointed out in Meshad of Galilee, and also in Nineveh in Assyria, for the simple reason adduced by Jerome (l.c.): matre postea dicente ad eum: nunc cognovi, quia vir Dei es tu, et verbum Dei in ore tuo est veritas; et ob hanc causam etiam ipsum puerum sic vocatum, Amathi enim in nostra lingua veritatem sonat.
2. The Book of Jonah resembles, in contents and form, the narratives concerning the prophets in the historical books of the Old Testament, e.g., the history of Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17-19; 2 Kings 2:4-6), rather than the writings of the minor prophets. It contains no prophetic words concerning Nineveh, but relates in simple prose the sending of Jonah to that city to foretel its destruction; the behaviour of the prophet on receiving this divine command; his attempt to escape from it by flight to Tarshish; the way in which this sin was expiated; and lastly, when the command of God had been obeyed, not only the successful result of his preaching of repentance, but also his murmuring at the sparing of Nineveh in consequence of the repentance of its inhabitants, and the reproof administered by God to the murmuring prophet. If, then, notwithstanding this, the compilers of the canon have placed the book among the minor prophets, this can only have been done because they were firmly convinced that the prophet Jonah was the author. And, indeed, the objections offered to the genuineness of the book, apart from doctrinal reasons for disputing its historical truth and credibility, and the proofs adduced of its having a much later origin, are extremely trivial, and destitute of any conclusive force. It is said that, apart from the miraculous portion, the narrative is wanting in clearness and perspicuity. "The author," says Hitzig, "leaps over the long and wearisome journey to Nineveh, says nothing about Jonah's subsequent fate, or about his previous abode, or the spot where he was cast upon the land, or the name of the Assyrian king; in brief, he omits all the more minute details which are necessarily connected with a true history." But the assertion that completeness in all external circumstances, which would serve to gratify curiosity rather than to help to an understanding of the main facts of the case, is indispensable to the truth of any historical narrative, is one which might expose the whole of the historical writings of antiquity to criticism, but can never shake their truth. There is not a single one of the ancient historians in whose works such completeness as this can be found: and still less do the biblical historians aim at communicating such things as have no close connection with the main object of their narrative, or with the religious significance of the facts themselves. Proofs of the later origin of the book have also been sought for in the language employed, and in the circumstance that Jonah's prayer in Jonah 2:3-10 contains so many reminiscences from the Psalms, that Ph. D. Burk has called it praestantissimum exemplum psalterii recte applicati. But the so-called Aramaisms, such as הטיל to throw (Jonah 1:4-5, Jonah 1:12, etc.), the interchange of ספינה with אניּה (Jonah 1:5), מנּה to determine, to appoint (Jonah 2:1; Jonah 4:6.), חתר in the supposed sense of rowing (Jonah 1:13), התעשּׁת to remember (Jonah 1:6), and the forms בּשׁלּמי (ch. 1:7), בּשׁלּי (Jonah 1:12), and שׁ for אשׁר (Jonah 4:10), belong either to the speech of Galilee or the language of ordinary intercourse, and are very far from being proofs of a later age, since it cannot be proved with certainty that any one of these words was unknown in the early Hebrew usage, and שׁ for אשׁר occurs as early as Judges 5:7; Judges 6:17, and even שׁלּי in Sol 1:6; Sol 8:12, whilst in the book before us it is only in the sayings of the persons acting (Jonah 1:7, Jonah 1:12), or of God (Sol 4:10), that it is used. The only non-Hebraic word, viz., טעם, which is used in the sense of command, and applied to the edict of the king of Assyria, was heard by Jonah in Nineveh, where it was used as a technical term, and was transferred by him. The reminiscences which occur in Jonah's prayer are all taken from the Psalms of David or his contemporaries, which were generally known in Israel long before the prophet's day.
(Note: They are the following: Jonah 2:3 is formed from Psalm 18:7 and Psalm 120:1; Jonah 2:4 is taken literally from Psalm 42:8; Jonah 2:5 from Psalm 31:23, whilst Jonah 2:5 recals Psalm 5:8; Jonah 2:6 is formed from Psalm 69:2 and Psalm 18:5; Jonah 2:8 from Psalm 142:4 or Psalm 143:4, whilst Jonah 2:8 recals Psalm 18:7 and Psalm 88:3; Jonah 2:9 is formed after Psalm 31:7; and Jonah 2:10 resembles Psalm 42:5 and Psalm 50:14, Psalm 50:23.)
Lastly, the statement in Jonah 3:3, that "Nineveh was an exceeding great city," neither proves that Nineveh had already been destroyed at the time when this was written nor that the greatness of Nineveh was unknown to the contemporaries of Jonah, though there would be nothing surprising in the latter, as in all probability very few Israelites had seen Nineveh at that time. היתה is the synchronistic imperfect, just as in Genesis 1:2. Nineveh was a great city of three days' journey when Jonah reached it, i.e., he found it so, as Staeudlin observes, and even De Wette admits.
The doctrinal objections to the miraculous contents of the book appear to be much more weighty; since it is undeniable that, if they were of the character represented by the opponents, this would entirely preclude the possibility of its having been composed by the prophet Jonah, and prove that it had originated in a mythical legend. "The whole narrative," says Hitzig in his prolegomena to the book of Jonah, "is miraculous and fabulous. But nothing is impossible with God. Hence Jonah 54es in the belly of the fish without being suffocated; hence the Qı̄qāyōn springs up during the night to such a height that it overshadows a man in a sitting posture. As Jehovah bends everything in the world to His own purposes at pleasure, the marvellous coincidences had nothing in them to astonish the author. The lot falls upon the right man; the tempest rises most opportunely, and is allayed at the proper time; and the fish is ready at hand to swallow Jonah, and vomit him out again. So, again, the tree is ready to sprout up, the worm to kill it, and the burning wind to make its loss perceptible." But the coarse view of God and of divine providence apparent in all this, which borders very closely upon atheism, by no means proves that the contents of the book are fabulous, but simply that the history of Jonah cannot be vindicated, still less understood, without the acknowledgement of a living God, and of His activity in the sphere of natural and human life.
(Note: The offence taken at the miracles in the book originated with the heathen. Even to Lucian they apparently presented an occasion for ridicule (see Verae histor. lib. i. 30f., ed. Bipont). With regard to the three days' imprisonment in the belly of the fish, and on the Qı̄qāyōn, Augustine in his Epist. 102 says, "I have heard this kind of inquiry ridiculed by pagans with great laughter;" and Theophylact also says, "Jonah is therefore swallowed by a whale, and the prophet remains in it three days and the same number of nights; which appears to be beyond the power of the hearers to believe, chiefly of those who come to this history fresh from the schools of the Greek sand their wise teaching." This ridicule first found admission into the Christian church, when the rise of deism, naturalism, and rationalism caused a denial of the miracles and inspiration of the Scriptures to be exalted into an axiom of free inquiry. From this time forward a multitude of marvellous hypotheses and trivial ideas concerning the book of Jonah have been brought out, which P. Friedrichsen has collected and discussed in a most unspiritual manner in his Kritische Uebersicht der verschiedenen Ansichten von dem Buche Jona.)
The book of Jonah records miraculous occurrences; but even the two most striking miracles, the three days' imprisonment in the belly of the sea-fish, and the growth of a Qı̄qāyōn to a sufficient height to overshadow a sitting man, have analogies in nature, which make the possibility of these miracles at least conceivable (see the comm. on Jonah 2:1 and Jonah 4:6). The repentance of the Ninevites in consequence of the prophet's preaching, although an unusual and extraordinary occurrence, was not a miracle in the strict sense of the word. At the same time, the possibility of this miracle by no means proves its reality or historical truth. This can only be correctly discerned and rightly estimated, from the important bearing of Jonah's mission to Nineveh and of his conduct in relation to this mission upon the position of Israel in the divine plan of salvation in relation to the Gentile world. The mission of Jonah was a fact of symbolical and typical importance, which was intended not only to enlighten Israel as to the position of the Gentile world in relation to the kingdom of God, but also to typify the future adoption of such of the heathen, as should observe the word of God, into the fellowship of the salvation prepared in Israel for all nations.
As the time drew nigh when Israel was to be given up into the power of the Gentiles, and trodden down by them, on account of its stiff-necked apostasy from the Lord its God, it was very natural for the self-righteous mind of Israel to regard the Gentiles as simply enemies of the people and kingdom of God, and not only to deny their capacity for salvation, but also to interpret the prophetic announcement of the judgment coming upon the Gentiles as signifying that they were destined to utter destruction. The object of Jonah's mission to Nineveh was to combat in the most energetic manner, and practically to overthrow, a delusion which had a seeming support in the election of Israel to be the vehicle of salvation, and which stimulated the inclination to pharisaical reliance upon an outward connection with the chosen nation and a lineal descent from Abraham. Whereas other prophets proclaimed in words the position of the Gentiles with regard to Israel in the nearer and more remote future, and predicted not only the surrender of Israel to the power of the Gentiles, but also the future conversion of the heathen to the living God, and their reception into the kingdom of God, the prophet Jonah was entrusted with the commission to proclaim the position of Israel in relation to the Gentile world in a symbolico-typical manner, and to exhibit both figuratively and typically not only the susceptibility of the heathen for divine grace, but also the conduct of Israel with regard to the design of God to show favour to the Gentiles, and the consequences of their conduct. The susceptibility of the Gentiles for the salvation revealed in Israel is clearly and visibly depicted in the behaviour of the Gentile sailors, viz., in the fact that they fear the God of heaven and earth, call upon Him, present sacrifice to Him, and make vows; and still more in the deep impression produced by the preaching of Jonah in Nineveh, and the fact that the whole population of the great city, with the king at their head, repent in sackcloth and ashes. The attitude of Israel towards the design of God to show mercy to the Gentiles and grant them salvation, is depicted in the way in which Jonah acts, when he receives the divine command, and when he goes to carry it out. Jonah tries to escape from the command to proclaim the word of God in Nineveh by flight to Tarshish, because he is displeased with the display of divine mercy to the great heathen world, and because, according to Jonah 4:2, he is afraid lest the preaching of repentance should avert from Nineveh the destruction with which it is threatened. In this state of mind on the part of the prophet, there are reflected the feelings and the general state of mind of the Israelitish nation towards the Gentiles. According to his natural man, Jonah shares in this, and is thereby fitted to be the representative of Israel in its pride at its own election. At the same time, it is only in this state of mind that the old man, which rebels against the divine command, comes sharply out, whereas his better I hears the word of God, and is moved within; so that we cannot place him in the category of the false prophets, who prophesy from their own hearts. When the captain wakes him up in the storm upon the sea, and the lot shows that he is guilty, he confesses his fault, and directs the sailors to cast him into the sea, because it is on his account that the great storm has come upon them (Jonah 1:10-12). The infliction of this punishment, which falls upon him on account of his obstinate resistance to the will of God, typifies that rejection and banishment from the face of God which Israel will assuredly bring upon itself by its obstinate resistance to the divine call. But Jonah, when cast into the sea, is swallowed up by a great fish; and when he prays to the Lord in the fish's belly, he is vomited upon the land unhurt. This miracle has also a symbolical meaning for Israel. It shows that if the carnal nation, with its ungodly mind, should turn to the Lord even in the last extremity, it will be raised up again by a divine miracle from destruction to newness of life. And lastly, the manner in which God reproves the prophet, when he is angry because Nineveh has been spared (Jonah 4:1-11), is intended to set forth as in a mirror before all Israel the greatness of the divine compassion, which embraces all mankind, in order that it may reflect upon it and lay it to heart.
But this by no means exhausts the deeper meaning of the history of Jonah. It extends still further, and culminates in the typical character of Jonah's three days' imprisonment in the belly of the fish, upon which Christ threw some light when He said, "As Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:40). The clue to the meaning of this type, i.e., to the divinely-appointed connection between the typical occurrence and its antitype, is to be found in the answer which Jesus gave to Philip and Andrew when they told Him, a short time before His death, that there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast who desired to see Jesus. This answer consists of two distinct statements, viz., (John 12:23-24): "The time is come that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except the grain of wheat fall into the earth, and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit;" and (John 12:32), "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." This answer of Jesus intimates that the time to admit the Gentiles has not yet come; but the words, "the hour is come," etc., also contain the explanation, that "the Gentiles have only to wait patiently a little longer, since their union with Christ, with which the address concludes (John 12:32), is directly connected with the glorification of the Son of man" (Hengstenberg on John 12:20). This assertion of the Lord, that His death and glorification are necessary in order that He may draw all men, even the heathen, to Himself, or that by His death He may abolish the wall of partition by which the Gentiles were shut out of the kingdom of God, at which He had already hinted in John 10:15-16, teaches us that the history of Jonah is to be regarded as an important and significant link in the chain of development of the divine plan of salvation. When Assyria was assuming the form of a world-conquering power, and the giving up of Israel into the hands of the Gentiles was about to commence, Jehovah sent His prophet to Nineveh, to preach to this great capital of the imperial kingdom His omnipotence, righteousness, and grace. For although the giving up of Israel was inflicted upon it as a punishment for its idolatry, yet, according to the purpose of God, it was also intended to prepare the way for the spread of the kingdom of God over all nations. The Gentiles were to learn to fear the living God of heaven and earth, not only as a preparation for the deliverance of Israel out of their hands after it had been refined by the punishment, but also that they might themselves be convinced of the worthlessness of their idols, and learn to seek salvation from the God of Israel. But whilst this brings out distinctly to the light and deep inward connection between the mission of Jonah to Nineveh and the divine plan of salvation, the typical character of that connection is first made perfectly clear from what Jonah himself passed through. For whereas the punishment, which he brought upon himself through his resistance to the divine command, contained this lesson, that Israel in its natural nationality must perish in order that out of the old sinful nature there may arise a new people of God, which, being dead to the law, may serve the Lord in the willingness of the spirit, God also appointed the mortal anguish and the deliverance of Jonah as a type of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to be the Saviour of the whole world. As Jonah the servant of God is given up to death that he may successfully accomplish the work committed to him, namely, to proclaim to the Ninevites the judgment and mercy of the God of heaven and earth; so must the Son of God be buried in the earth like a grain of wheat, that He may bring forth fruit for the whole world. The resemblance between the two is apparent in this. But Jonah deserved the punishment of death; Christ, on the contrary, suffered as the innocent One for the sins of mankind, and went voluntarily to death as One who had life in Himself to accomplish His Father's will. In this difference the inequality appears; and in this the type falls back behind the antitype, and typifies the reality but imperfectly. But even in this difference we may perceive a certain resemblance between Jonah and Christ which must not be overlooked. Jonah died according to his natural man on account of the sin, which was common to himself and his nation; Christ died for the sin of His people, which He had taken upon Himself, to make expiation for it; but He also died as a member of the nation, from which He had sprung according to the flesh, when He was made under the law, that He might rise again as the Saviour of all nations.
This symbolical and typical significance of the mission of the prophet Jonah precludes the assumption that the account in his book is a myth or a parabolical fiction, or simply the description of a symbolical transaction which the prophet experienced in spirit only. And the contents of the book are at variance with all these assumptions, even with the last. When the prophets are commanded to carry out symbolical transactions, they do so without repugnance. But Jonah seeks to avoid executing the command of God by flight, and is punished in consequence. This is at variance with the character of a purely symbolical action, and proves that the book relates historical facts. It is true that the sending of Jonah to Nineveh had not its real purpose within itself; that is to say, that it was not intended to effect the conversion of the Ninevites to the living God, but simply to bring to light the truth that even the Gentiles were capable of receiving divine truth, and to exhibit the possibility of their eventual reception into the kingdom of God. But this truth could not have been brought to the consciousness of the Israelites in a more impressive manner than by Jonah's really travelling to Nineveh to proclaim the destruction of that city on account of its wickedness, and seeing the proclamation followed by the results recorded in our book. Still less could the importance of this truth, so far as Israel was concerned, be exhibited in a merely symbolical transaction. If the intended flight of the prophet to Tarshish and his misfortune upon the sea were not historical facts, they could only be mythical or parabolical fictions. But though myths may very well embody religious ideas, and parables set forth prophetical truths, they cannot be types of future facts in the history of salvation. If the three days' confinement of Jonah in the belly of the fish really had the typical significance which Christ attributes to it in Matthew 12:29. and Luke 11:29., it can neither be a myth or dream, nor a parable, nor merely a visionary occurrence experienced by the prophet; but must have had as much objective reality as the facts of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
(Note: Compare also the critical examination of the more recent views that have been published against the historical character of the book of Jonah, and the negative and positive vindication of the historical view, in Hvernick's Handbuch der Einleitung in D. A. T. ii. 2, p. 326ff.; and the discussions on the symbolical character of the book by Hengstenberg (Christology, vol. i. p. 404ff. translation), and K. H. Sack in his Christliche Apologetik, p. 343ff., ed. 2.)
But if it follows from what has been said, that our book contains facts of a symbolico-typical meaning from the life of the prophet Jonah, there is no tenable ground left for disputing the authorship of the prophet himself. At the same time, the fact that Jonah was the author is not in itself enough to explain the admission of the book among the writings of the minor prophets. This place the book received, not because it related historical events that had happened to the prophet Jonah, but because these events were practical prophecies. Marck saw this, and has the following apt remark upon this point: "The writing is to a great extent historical, but so that in the history itself there is hidden the mystery of a very great prophecy; and he proves himself to be a true prophet quite as much by his own fate as he does by his prophecies."
For the exegetical literature on the book of Jonah, see my Lehrbuch der Einleitung, p. 291.
Mission of Jonah to Nineveh His Flight and Punishment - Jonah 1
Jonah tries to avoid fulfilling the command of God, to preach repentance to the great city Nineveh, by a rapid flight to the sea, for the purpose of sailing to Tarshish (Jonah 1:1-3); but a terrible storm, which threatens to destroy the ship, brings his sin to light (Jonah 1:4-10); and when the lot singles him out as the culprit, he confesses that he is guilty; and in accordance with the sentence which he pronounces upon himself, is cast into the sea (Jonah 1:11-16).
1Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
The narrative commences with ויהי, as Ruth (Ruth 1:1), 1 Samuel 1 Samuel 1:1), and others do. This was the standing formula with which historical events were linked on to one another, inasmuch as every occurrence follows another in chronological sequence; so that the Vav (and) simply attaches to a series of events, which are assumed as well known, and by no means warrants the assumption that the narrative which follows is merely a fragment of a larger work (see at Joshua 1:1). The word of the Lord which came to Jonah was this: "Arise, go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach against it." על does not stand for אל (Jonah 3:2), but retains its proper meaning, against, indicating the threatening nature of the preaching, as the explanatory clause which follows clearly shows. The connection in Jonah 3:2 is a different one. Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian kingdom, and the residence of the great kings of Assyria, which was built by Nimrod according to Genesis 10:11, and by Ninos, the mythical founder of the Assyrian empire, according to the Greek and Roman authors, is repeatedly called "the great city" in this book (Jonah 3:2-3; Jonah 4:11), and its size is given as three days' journey (Jonah 3:3). This agrees with the statements of classical writers, according to whom Νῖνος, Ninus, as Greeks and Romans call it, was the largest city in the world at that time. According to Strabo (Romans 16:1, Romans 16:3), it was much larger than Babylon, and was situated in a plain, Ἀτουρίας, of Assyria i.e., on the left bank of the Tigris. According to Ctesias (in Diod. ii. 3), its circumference was as much as 480 stadia, i.e., twelve geographical miles; whereas, according to Strabo, the circumference of the wall of Babylon was not more than 365 stadia. These statements have been confirmed by modern excavations upon the spot. The conclusion to which recent discoveries lead is, that the name Nineveh was used in two senses: first, for one particular city; and secondly, for a complex of four large primeval cities (including Nineveh proper), the circumvallation of which is still traceable, and a number of small dwelling-places, castles, etc., the mounds (Tell) of which cover the land. This Nineveh, in the broader sense, is bounded on three sides by rivers - viz. on the north-west by the Khosr, on the west by the Tigris, and on the south-west by the Gazr Su and the Upper or Great Zab - and on the fourth side by mountains, which ascend from the rocky plateau; and it was fortified artificially all round on the river-sides with dams, sluices for inundating the land, and canals, and on the land side with ramparts and castles, as we may still see from the heaps of ruins. It formed a trapezium, the sharp angles of which lay towards the north and south, the long sides being formed by the Tigris and the mountains. The average length is about twenty-five English miles; the average breadth fifteen. The four large cities were situated on the edge of the trapezium, Nineveh proper (including the ruins of Kouyunjik, Nebbi Yunas, and Ninua) being at the north-western corner, by the Tigris; the city, which was evidently the later capital (Nimrud), and which Rawlinson, Jones, and Oppert suppose to have been Calah, at the south-western corner, between Tigris and Zab; a third large city, which is now without a name, and has been explored last of all, but within the circumference of which the village of Selamiyeh now stands, on the Tigris itself, from three to six English miles to the north of Nimrud; and lastly, the citadel and temple-mass, which is now named Khorsabad, and is said to be called Dur-Sargina in the inscriptions, from the palace built there by Sargon, on the Khosr, pretty near to the north-eastern corner (compare M. v. Niebuhr, Geschichte Assurs, p. 274ff., with the ground-plan of the city of Nineveh, p. 284). But although we may see from this that Nineveh could very justly be called the great city, Jonah does not apply this epithet to it with the intention of pointing out to his countrymen its majestic size, but, as the expression gedōlâh lē'lōhı̄m in Jonah 3:3 clearly shows, and as we may see still more clearly from Jonah 4:11, with reference to the importance which Nineveh had, both in the eye of God, and with regard to the divine commission which he had received, as the capital of the Gentile world, quae propter tot animarum multitudinem Deo curae erat (Michaelis). Jonah was to preach against this great Gentile city, because its wickedness had come before Jehovah, i.e., because the report or the tidings of its great corruption had penetrated to God in heaven (cf. Genesis 18:21; 1 Samuel 5:12).
2Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.
3But 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.
Jonah sets out upon his journey; not to Nineveh, however, but to flee to Tarshish, i.e., Tartessus, a Phoenician port in Spain (see at Genesis 10:4 and Isaiah 23:1), "from the face of Jehovah," i.e., away from the presence of the Lord, out of the land of Israel, where Jehovah dwelt in the temple, and manifested His presence (cf. Genesis 4:16); not to hide himself from the omnipresent God, but to withdraw from the service of Jehovah, the God-King of Israel.
(Note: Marck has already correctly observed, that "this must not be understood as flight from the being and knowledge of God, lest we should attribute to the great prophet gross ignorance of the omnipresence and omniscience of God; but as departure from the land of Canaan, the gracious seat of God, outside which he thought, that possibly, at any rate at that time, the gift and office of a prophet would not be conferred upon him.")
The motive for this flight was not fear of the difficulty of carrying out the command of God, but, as Jonah himself says in Jonah 4:2, anxiety lest the compassion of God should spare the sinful city in the event of its repenting. He had no wish to co-operate in this; and that not merely because "he knew, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that the repentance of the Gentiles would be the ruin of the Jews, and, as a lover of his country, was actuated not so much by envy of the salvation of Nineveh, as by unwillingness that his own people should perish," as Jerome supposes, but also because he really grudged salvation to the Gentiles, and feared lest their conversion to the living God should infringe upon the privileges of Israel above the Gentile world, and put an end to its election as the nation of God.
(Note: Luther has already deduced this, the only true reason, from Jonah 4:1-11, in his Commentary on the Prophet Jonah: "Because Jonah was sorry that God was so kind, he would rather not preach, yea, would rather die, than that the grace of God, which was to be the peculiar privilege of the people of Israel, should be communicated to the Gentiles also, who had neither the word of God, nor the laws of Moses, nor the worship of God, nor prophets, nor anything else, but rather strove against God, and His word, and His people." But in order to guard against a false estimate of the prophet, on account of these "carnal, Jewish thoughts of God," Luther directs attention to the fact that "the apostles also held at first the carnal opinion that the kingdom of Christ was to be an outward one; and even afterwards, when they understood that it was to be a spiritual one, they thought that it was to embrace only the Jews, and therefore 'preached the gospel to the Jews only' (Acts 8), until God enlightened them by a vision from heaven to Peter (Acts 10), and by the public calling of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13), and by wonders and signs; and it was at last resolved by a general council (Acts 15), that God would also show mercy to the Gentiles, and that He was the God of the Gentiles also. For it was very hard for the Jews to believe that there were any other people outside Israel who helped to form the people of God, because the sayings of the Scripture stop there and speak of Israel and Abraham's seed; and the word of God, the worship of God, the laws and the holy prophets, were with them alone.")
He therefore betook himself to Yāphō, i.e., Joppa, the port on the Mediterranean Sea (vid., comm. on Joshua 19:46), and there found a ship which was going to Tarshish; and having paid the sekhârâh, the hire of the ship, i.e., the fare for the passage, embarked "to go with them (i.e., the sailors) to Tarshish."
4But 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.
Jonah's foolish hope of being able to escape from the Lord was disappointed. "Jehovah threw a great wind (i.e., a violent wind) upon the sea." A mighty tempest (סער, rendered appropriately κλύδων by the lxx) arose, so that "the ship thought to be dashed to pieces," i.e., to be wrecked (השּׁב used of inanimate things, equivalent to "was very nearly" wrecked). In this danger the seamen (mallâch, a denom. of melach, the salt flood) cried for help, "every one to his god." They were heathen, and probably for the most part Phoenicians, but from different places, and therefore worshippers of different gods. But as the storm did not abate, they also resorted to such means of safety as they had at command. They "threw the waves in the ship into the sea, to procure relief to themselves" (להקל מעליהם as in Exodus 18:22 and 1 Kings 12:10). The suffix refers to the persons, not to the things. By throwing the goods overboard, they hoped to preserve the ship from sinking beneath the swelling waves, and thereby to lighten, i.e., diminish for themselves the danger of destruction which was so burdensome to them. "But Jonah had gone down into the lower room of the ship, and had there fallen fast asleep;" not, however, just at the time of the greatest danger, but before the wind had risen into a dangerous storm. The sentence is to be rendered as a circumstantial one in the pluperfect. Yarkethē hassephı̄nâh (analogous to harkethē habbayith in Amos 6:10) is the innermost part of the vessel, i.e., the lower room of the ship. Sephı̄nâh, which only occurs here, and is used in the place of אניּה, is the usual word for a ship in Arabic and Aramaean. Nirdam: used for deep sleep, as in Judges 4:21. This act of Jonah's is regarded by most commentators as a sign of an evil conscience. Marck supposes that he had lain down to sleep, hoping the better to escape either the dangers of sea and air, or the hand of God; others, that he had thrown himself down in despair, and being utterly exhausted and giving himself up for lost, had fallen asleep; or as Theodoret expresses it, being troubled with the gnawings of conscience and overpowered with mourning, he had sought comfort in sleep and fallen into a deep sleep. Jerome, on the other hand, expresses the idea that the words indicate "security of mind" on the part of the prophet: "he is not disturbed by the storm and the surrounding dangers, but has the same composed mind in the calm, or with shipwreck at hand;" and whilst the rest are calling upon their gods, and casting their things overboard, "he is so calm, and feels so safe with his tranquil mind, that he goes down to the interior of the ship and enjoys a most placid sleep." The truth probably lies between these two views. It was not an evil conscience, or despair occasioned by the threatening danger, which induced him to lie down to sleep; nor was it his fearless composure in the midst of the dangers of the storm, but the careless self-security with which he had embarked on the ship to flee from God, without considering that the hand of God could reach him even on the sea, and punish him for his disobedience. This security is apparent in his subsequent conduct.
5Then 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.
6So 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.
When the danger was at its height, the upper-steersman, or ship's captain (rabh hachōbhēl, the chief of the ship's governors; chōbhēl with the article is a collective noun, and a denom. from chebhel, a ship's cable, hence the one who manages, steers, or guides the ship), wakes him with the words, "How canst thou sleep soundly? Arise, and call upon thy God; perhaps God (hâ'ĕlōhı̄m with the article, 'the true God') will think of us, that we may not perish." The meaning of יתעשּׁת is disputed. As עשׁת is used in Jeremiah 5:28 in the sense of shining (viz., of fat), Calvin and others (last of all, Hitzig) have maintained that the hithpael has the meaning, shown himself shining, i.e., bright (propitious); whilst others, including Jerome, prefer the meaning think again, which is apparently better supported than the former, not only by the Chaldee, but also by the nouns עשׁתּוּת (Job 12:5) and עשׁתּון (Psalm 146:4). God's thinking of a person involves the idea of active assistance. For the thought itself, compare Psalm 40:18. The fact that Jonah obeyed this awakening call is passed over as self-evident; and in Jonah 1:7 the narrative proceeds to relate, that as the storm had not abated in the meantime, the sailors, firmly believing that some one in the ship had committed a crime which had excited the anger of God that was manifesting itself in the storm, had recourse to the lot to find out the culprit. בּשׁלּמי equals בּאשׁר למי (Jonah 1:8), as שׁ is the vulgar, and in conversation the usual contraction for אשׁר: "on account of whom" (בּאשׁר, in this that equals because, or followed by ל, on account of). הרעה, the misfortune (as in Amos 3:6), - namely, the storm which is threatening destruction. The lot fell upon Jonah. "The fugitive is taken by lot, not from any virtue in lots themselves, least of all the lots of heathen, but by the will of Him who governs uncertain lots" (Jerome).
When Jonah had been singled out by the lot as the culprit, the sailors called upon him to confess his guilt, asking him at the same time about his country, his occupation, and his parentage. The repetition of the question, on whose account this calamity had befallen them, which is omitted in the lxx (Vatic.), the Socin. prophets, and Cod. 195 of Kennicott, is found in the margin in Cod. 384, and is regarded by Grimm and Hitzig as a marginal gloss that has crept into the text. It is not superfluous, however; still less does it occasion any confusion; on the contrary, it is quite in order. The sailors wanted thereby to induce Jonah to confess with his own mouth that he was guilty, now that the lot had fallen upon him, and to disclose his crime (Ros. and others). As an indirect appeal to confess his crime, it prepares the way for the further inquiries as to his occupation, etc. They inquired about this occupation, because it might be a disreputable one, and one which excited the wrath of the gods; also about his parentage, and especially about the land and people from which he sprang, that they might be able to pronounce a safe sentence upon his crime.
7And 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.
8Then 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?
9And 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.
Jonah begins by answering the last question, saying that he was "a Hebrew," - the name by which the Israelites designated themselves in contradistinction to other nations, and by which other nations designated them (see at Genesis 14:13, and my Lehrbuch der Einleitung, 9, Anm. 2) - and that he worshipped "the God of heaven, who created the sea and the dry" (i.e., the land). ירא has been rendered correctly by the lxx σέβομαι, colo, revereor; and does not mean, "I am afraid of Jehovah, against whom I have sinned" (Abarbanel). By the statement, "I fear," etc., he had no intention of describing himself as a righteous or innocent man (Hitzig), but simply meant to indicate his relation to God - namely, that he adored the living God who created the whole earth and, as Creator, governed the world. For he admits directly after, that he has sinned against this God, by telling them, as we may see from Jonah 1:10, of his flight from Jehovah. He had not told them this as soon as he embarked in the ship, as Hitzig supposes, but does so now for the first time when they ask about his people, his country, etc., as we may see most unmistakeably from Jonah 1:10. In Jonah 1:9 Jonah's statement is not given completely; but the principal fact, viz., that he was a Hebrew and worshipped Jehovah, is followed immediately by the account of the impression which this acknowledgement made upon the heathen sailors; and the confession of his sin is mentioned afterwards as a supplement, to assign the reason for the great fear which came upon the sailors in consequence. מה־זּאת עשׂית, What hast thou done! is not a question as to the nature of his sin, but an exclamation of horror at his flight from Jehovah, the God heaven and earth, as the following explanatory clauses כּי ידעוּ וגו clearly show. The great fear which came upon the heathen seamen at this confession of Jonah may be fully explained from the dangerous situation in which they found themselves, since the storm preached the omnipotence of God more powerfully than words could possibly do.
10Then 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.
11Then 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.
Fearing as they did in the storm the wrath of God on account of Jonah's sin, they now asked what they should do, that the storm might abate, "for the sea continued to rage." שׁתק, to set itself, to come to a state of repose; or with מעל, to desist from a person. הולך, as in Genesis 8:5, etc., expressive of the continuance of an action. With their fear of the Almighty God, whom Jonah worshipped, they did not dare to inflict a punishment upon the prophet, simply according to their own judgment. As a worshipper of Jehovah, he should pronounce his own sentence, or let it be pronounced by his God. Jonah replies in Jonah 1:12, "Cast me into the sea; for I know that for my sake this great storm is (come) upon you." As Jerome says, "He does not refuse, or prevaricate, or deny; but, having made confession concerning his flight, he willingly endures the punishment, desiring to perish, and not let others perish on his account." Jonah confesses that he has deserved to die for his rebellion against God, and that the wrath of God which has manifested itself in the storm can only be appeased by his death. He pronounces this sentence, not by virtue of any prophetic inspiration, but as a believing Israelite who is well acquainted with the severity of the justice of the holy God, both from the law and from the history of his nation.
12And 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.
13Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.
But the men (the seamen) do not venture to carry out this sentence at once. They try once more to reach the land and escape from the storm, which is threatening them with destruction, without so serious a sacrifice. יחתּרוּ, lit., they broke through, sc. through the waves, to bring (the ship) back to the land, i.e., they tried to reach the land by rowing and steering. Châthar does not mean to row, still less to twist or turn round (Hitzig), but to break through; here to break through the waves, to try to overcome them, to which the παρεβιάζοντο of the lxx points. As they could not accomplish this, however, because the sea continued to rage against them (סער עליהם, was raging against them), they prayed thus to Jehovah: "We beseech Thee, let us not (אנּא equals אל־נא) perish for the sake of the soul of this man (בּנפשׁ, lit., for the soul, as in 2 Samuel 14:7 after Deuteronomy 19:21), and lay not upon us innocent blood," - that is to say, not "do not let us destroy an innocent man in the person of this man" (Hitzig), but, according to Deuteronomy 21:8, "do not impute his death to us, if we cast him into the sea, as bloodguiltiness deserving death;" "for Thou, O Jehovah, hast done as it pleased Thee," - namely, inasmuch as, by sending the storm and determining the lot, Thou hast so ordained that we must cast him into the sea as guilty, in order to expiate Thy wrath. They offer this prayer, not because they have no true conception of the guilt of Jonah, who is not a murderer or blasphemer, inasmuch as according to their notions, he is not a sinner deserving death (Hitzig), but because they regard Jonah as a prophet or servant of the Almighty God, upon whom, from fear of his God, they do not venture to lay their hand. "We see, therefore, that although they had never enjoyed the teaching of the law, they had been so taught by nature, that they knew very well that the blood of man was dear to God, and precious in His sight" (Calvin).
14Wherefore 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.
15So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.
After they had prayed thus, they cast Jonah into the sea, and "the sea stood still (ceased) from its raging." The sudden cessation of the storm showed that the bad weather had come entirely on Jonah's account, and that the sailors had not shed innocent blood by casting him into the sea. In this sudden change in the weather, the arm of the holy God was so suddenly manifested, that the sailors "feared Jehovah with great fear, and offered sacrifice to Jehovah" - not after they landed, but immediately, on board the ship - "and vowed vows," i.e., vowed that they would offer Him still further sacrifices on their safe arrival at their destination.
16Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.
17Now 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.
(Heb. Ch. 2:1). "And Jehovah appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah." מנּה does not mean to create, but to determine, to appoint. The thought is this: Jehovah ordained that a great fish should swallow him. The great fish (lxx κῆτος, cf. Matthew 12:40), which is not more precisely defined, was not a whale, because this is extremely rare in the Mediterranean, and has too small a throat to swallow a man, but a large shark or sea-dog, canis carcharias, or squalus carcharias L., which is very common in the Mediterranean, and has so large a throat, that it can swallow a living man whole.
(Note: The aqualus carcharias L., the true shark, Requin, or rather Requiem, reaches, according to Cuvier, the length of 25 feet, and according to Oken the length of four fathoms, and has about 400 lance-shaped teeth in its jaw, arranged in six rows, which the animal can either elevate or depress, as they are simply fixed in cells in the skin. It is common in the Mediterranean, where it generally remains in deep water, and is very voracious, swallowing everything that comes in its way - plaice, seals, and tunny-fish, with which it sometimes gets into the fishermen's net on the coat of Sardinia, and is caught. As many as a dozen undigested tunny-fish have been found in a shark weighing three or four hundredweight; in one a whole horse was found, and its weight was estimated at fifteen hundredweight. Rondelet (Oken, p. 58) says that he saw one on the western coast of France, through whose throat a fat man could very easily have passed. Oken also mentions a fact, which is more elaborately described in Mller's Vollstndiges Natur-system des Ritters Carl v. Linn (1 Thessalonians 3.p. 268), namely, that in the year 1758 a sailor fell overboard from a frigate, in very stormy weather, into the Mediterranean Sea, and was immediately taken into the jaws of a sea-dog (carcharias), and disappeared. The captain, however, ordered a gun, which was standing on the deck, to be discharged at the shark, and the cannon-ball struck it, so that it vomited up again the sailor that it had swallowed, who was then taken up alive, and very little hurt, into the boat that had been lowered for his rescue.)
The miracle consisted therefore, not so much in the fact that Jonah was swallowed alive, as in the fact that he was kept alive for three days in the shark's belly, and then vomited unhurt upon the land. The three days and three nights are not to be regarded as fully three times twenty hours, but are to be interpreted according to Hebrew usage, as signifying that Jonah was vomited up again on the third day after he had been swallowed (compare Esther 4:16 with Esther 5:1 and Tob. 3:12, 13, according to the Lutheran text).