Jonah 1:1 Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
Jonah was the son of Amittai, which means “faithful” and Jonah was called to be a faithful, obedient prophet of peace to deliver a message of repentance which brings about peace, but Jonah bucks this all the way to the bitter end as we will see.
We had already mentioned in the introduction how his name means “dove,” and this reminds me of words of our Messiah to his old talmidim (disciples) which I think is applicable to Jonah’s was to conduct himself and his mission for the LORD.
Matthew 10:16 Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
Jonah was also a resident of Gath Hepher, meaning, “The winepress of the well” which was border town in the territory of Zebulon located about three miles or five kilometers from Nazareth.
2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. 3 Growing up, Jonah was one of my favorite books of the Tanak. As a kid there’s just something “cool” about a guy getting swallowed up by a giant fish and lived to tell about it!
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.
As I got older I liked the book of Jonah because it showed that even though the Jews are His Chosen People, He loves and has mercy upon the Goyim (Gentiles) too. After all, we all are His creations, and we all are made in His image.
Many people accuse God of being a blood thirsty tyrannical deity in the Torah, especially when the Israelites conquer Canaan and begin to wipe out the peoples of that land; Men, women, children and even animals. But what people don’t realize is that all the years prior, just as with the Noach’s flood, HE gives people PLENTY of room and time to truly repent. The Flood didn’t happen without warning; the destructions of the peoples in Joshua’s time also didn’t come without ample warning. God gave these people plenty of time to see the error of their ways and repent. And when a city or a nation is ripe for repentance, God will make one last ditch effort to give the peoples a change to repent before he sends His Judgment. This was God’s plan with Jonah.
The reluctant prophet visited Nineveh during the golden era of the Assyrian Empire (885-625 BCE). Assyria constantly harassed and warred with Israel and Judah doing horrific things comparable to the German Holocaust. Assyria eventually ended up taking the 10 tribes of Israel off into captivity and they have yet to return to this day. It is recorded that King Jehu of Israel had to pay tribute to Shalmaneser III (II Kings 17-18). So with this knowledge one can see why Jonah was so opposed to his call to Nineveh; the Assyrians, a people who were the enemies of Israel and have done very cruel things to them. So no wonder Jonah was a reluctant missionary, he was most likely very prejudice towards the Ninevites. It would be like telling a Jew of today to go and deliver a message of repentance to a Nazi or a Palestinian Terrorist! After all who really wants to see Hitler or Yaser Arafat forgiven!? Especially if you had a dear family murdered as a result of one of these guys!? It’s as if we as Jews are Anti-Goyite (Gentile) because they are Anti-Semite, it’s a vicious useless circle of bigotry and unforgiveness.
“You want me to tell them Divine Judgments coming and actually give them a chance to repent!? They dashed our babies against the walls, they raped our women, and they have taken our children as slaves! No way God, after what they have done to my people they deserve for You to rain hell, fire and brimstone on them and turn them all into crispy critters!”
The Key Word Study Bible says, “Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire at various times during its history, including the time of Jonah’s visit in the eighth century B.C. Within a few decades, Assyria became dominate in the Land of the Philistines, Israel was carried into exile (722 B.C.), and Judah was nearly conquered (701 B.C.). This domination proved to be at the peak of Assyrian power. By 612 B.C., the great city of Nineveh was in ruins, and by 609 B.C., the Assyrian Empire had vanished forever. Both Zephaniah (Zeph. 2:13) and Nahum (Nah. 3:5-7) prophesied the final destruction of Nineveh.”
So you can see why Jonah wanted to board a boat in Joppa which in the Brit Chadasha we find is the home town of Dorcas or Tabitha (Acts 9:6) and Simon the Tanner (Acts 10:32). Joppa is about 40 miles away from Jonah’s home town and 35 miles from Jerusalem, and sail in the opposite direction toward Tarshish, which is modern day Tartessus in southern Spain. Tarshish would have been 2,500 miles away from Israel, just about the farthest that one could go in the known world at that time.
Legends of the Bible says when Jonah arrived in Joppa that there was no ship and so to test Jonah G-d sent storm was so strong that it pushed the ship back to Joppa when it had already made a two day journey away from the port, which Jonah interpreted as God approving of his refusal to go to Nineveh. The ticket was said to be 4,000 gold denarii, and the Brit Chadasha refers to the denarius as a day's wage for a common laborer (Matthew 20:2; John 12:5).
The last half of verse three, “so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD,” tells us of the ancients belief that gods were territorial and if Jonah runs as far as he can in the opposite direction of where God wanted him to go, he would be escaping from the Presence of the LORD. We know and deep down Jonah that was a farce:
Psalm 139: 7-10 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.
Rashi says that Tarshish is a distant sea and Ibn Ezra says it was a city. The Targum says it is a generic term for the sea.
Anyway, regardless of what Tarshish was, what was Jonah thinking!?
Legends of the Bible compiled by Louis Ginzberg tells us that Jonah knew Nineveh would repent and he would be deemed a “false prophet” just like when he was sent by his teacher Elisha to proclaim the destruction of Jerusalem and they repented and the destruction never occurred and so the people ended up labeling him a false prophet. So to escape disgrace is another reason he choose to flee to Tarshish.
I think God choose Jonah to deliver this message of Judgment to bring repentance to the people of Nineveh just as much as it was to teach Jonah that God is not a bigot and neither should he.
Well, we all know what happened next, God sent a storm, the boat was about to sink, it was determined Jonah was the reason for the storm, Jonah tells the people to throw him overboard, the people pleads for God not hold them accountable for this, they toss him, the seas calm for the people, and Jonah gets the first three day submarine ride in history.
“Okay God, you got my attention! Okay God ‘Uncle!’ I’m sorry; I’ll do what You say now!”
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.
Eph. 2:2 tells us that satan is the prince and the power of the air, but ADONAI always trumps satan and is in complete and utter command of His creation, and it ALWAYS does His bidding.
Let this be a lesson to us, that because of Jonah’s disobedience, he put innocent bystanders in danger. Just as we do, whether we realize it or not, when we are disobedient to God. The wind is symbolic of the Ruach (Spirit) of God that nagged and convicted Jonah and would let him alone. It also tells us that when we disobey God we actually take two steps back to every step we think we are taking forward.
5 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.
Jonah hated the Assyrians so much he didn’t lose sleep over refusing to deliver the message of repentance to them, and if what Legends of the Bible said was true, he actually thought G-d now approved of his refusal to go to Nineveh.
There are two ways one can sleep during a storm; either their conscious is seared (I Tim. 2:4) which describes Jonah at this time, or if one totally trusts in God as Yeshua did when He slept during a storm on a sea (Mark 4:35-41).
The Full Life Study Bible says, “While the lives of the sailors were in great danger, God’s servant was sleeping. Today some within the church are asleep and unconcerned, even though all around them people are perishing spiritually in the storms of life.”
Despite the shame of sinning and attempting to run away from the will of God upon his life, God nonetheless used Jonah to witness to pagan heathens about ADONAI the One True God! The verse says everyman was crying out to his god(s), and Legends of the Bible says that there was a representative from all the 70 nations aboard the vessel. Jonah was the only one fast asleep and not calling out to his God and so the Captain of the ship wondered who Jonah’s God was. All the other gods have failed them; maybe Jonah served one that they hadn’t called upon yet. Jonah was worried about shame, he was about to face it here.
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. 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.
They concluded the storm was so freakish and unexpected that someone must have ticked off their god; someone must be to blame for this misfortune. They most likely drew straws or cast stones and as divine fate would have it Jonah was pointed out to be the guilty one. This shows that God is in control of the roll of the die so to speak. Even in Israel they cast lots by the Umim and Thumim which the Priest carried as a means of casting lots, as a way for God to communicate something specific to Israel; this was how Achan was chosen as the one who sinned when Joshua asked God why his troops were defeated by Ai.
Now Jonah would be interrogated.
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? 9 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. 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.
Legends of the Bible have the Captain speaking on behalf of the 70 nations on the boat saying, “We have heard that the God of the Hebrews is the most powerful. Cry to Him for help. Perhaps He will perform such miracles for us as HE did in days of old for the Jews at the Red Sea.”
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. 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.
Jonah admitted he was to blame. Jonah took responsibility. He saw it was his life for theirs; otherwise both would needlessly be taken. Here I think of Spock, off of Star Trek, his famous saying, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
The sailors saw this as crazy talk, suicide! They would not have Jonah’s blood on their hands.
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 sailors were honorable people. Despite the lots and Jonah’s own admission, they tried to row to safety without throwing him overboard.” – Stones Tanak
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.
Nevertheless it got to the point where those on the ship had no choice but to cast him overboard. They have exhausted all their options, they threw cargo overboard, prayed to their gods, rowed and things only got worse, so as crazy as it sounded they were ready to toss Jonah over, what could it hurt? But first they asked forgiveness for what they were about to do, for this was to them a certain death sentence. To them it’s as if they cut his head off.
Legends of the Bible records they first lowered him in the water up to his knees and the storm stopped and so they raised him back up into the boat and the storm was fiercer than ever. They then lowered him up to his navel, then his neck and brought him back up with the same results, finally, after praying for forgiveness of this man’s blood they threw him overboard into the sea and this time the storm ceased for good.
Jonah by his word from the LORD and the sailor’s obedience to that word the storm ceased, just as Yeshua spoke the word and the storm stopped.
Mark 4:35-41 And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side. And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships. And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?
Who was this? None other than the one who spoke this world into creation (Gen. 1, John 1).
15 So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.
This testified to the truth of Jonah’s words and the power of His God, ADONAI; a testimony despite him currently running from what God had told him to do.
16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.
They pledged to offer sacrifices to ADONAI when they arrived on land, says the Targum. Rashi says this meant that they vowed to convert to Judaism. Radak says that vowed to help the poor when they got back home.
17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Legends of the Bible tells us that this fish that was made to swallow Jonah was created at the foundation of the world for just such a purpose and this is what is meant by the word “prepared a great fish.” We know that God uses what is already in existence and in this realm to carry out his will, but the Hebrew word would almost make one think that God created this creature before time and put it in existence in this realm to swallow Jonah.