A Commission against Nineveh The Prophet's Disobedience. B. C. 840.
1Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 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.
Observe, 1. The honour God put upon Jonah, in giving him a commission to go and prophesy against Nineveh. Jonah signifies a dove, a proper name for all God's prophets, all his people, who ought to be harmless as doves, and to mourn as doves for the sins and calamities of the land. His father's name was Amittai--My truth for God's prophets should be sons of truth. To him the word of the Lord came--to him it was (so the word signifies), for God's word is a real thing men's words are but wind, but God's words are substance. He has been before acquainted with the word of the Lord, and knew his voice from that of a stranger the orders now given him were, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, Jonah 1:2. Nineveh was at this time the metropolis of the Assyrian monarchy, an eminent city (Genesis 10:11), a great city, that great city, forty-eight miles in compass (some make it much more), great in the number of the inhabitants, as appears by the multitude of infants in it (Jonah 4:11), great in wealth (there was no end of its store, Nahum 2:9), great in power and dominion it was the city that for some time ruled over the kings of the earth. But great cities, as well as great men, are under God's government and judgment. Nineveh was a great city, and yet a heathen city, without the knowledge and worship of the true God. How many great cities and great nations are there that sit in darkness and in the valley of the shadow of death! This great city was a wicked city: Their wickedness has come up before me (their malice, so some read it) their wickedness was presumptuous, and they sinned with a high hand. It is sad to think what a great deal of sin is committed in great cities, where there are many sinners, who are not only all sinners, but making one another sin. Their wickedness has come up, that is, it has come to a high degree, to the highest pitch the measure of it is full to the brim their wickedness has come up, as that of Sodom, Genesis 18:20,21. It has come up before me--to my face (so the word is) it is a bold and open affront to God it is sinning against him, in his sight therefore Jonah must cry against it he must witness against their great wickedness, and must warn them of the destruction that was coming upon them for it. God is coming forth against it, and he sends Jonah before, to proclaim war, and to sound an alarm. Cry aloud, spare not. He must not whisper his message in a corner, but publish it in the streets of Nineveh he that hath ears let him hear what God has to say by his prophet against that wicked city. When the cry of sin comes up to God the cry of vengeance comes out against the sinner. He must go to Nineveh, and cry there upon the spot against the wickedness of it. Other prophets were ordered to send messages to the neighbouring nations, and the prophecy of Nahum is particularly the burden of Nineveh but Jonah must go and carry the message himself: "Arise quickly apply thyself to the business with speed and courage, and the resolution that becomes a prophet arise, and go to Nineveh." Those that go on God's errands must rise and go, must stir themselves to the work cut out for them. The prophets were sent first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, yet not to them only they had the children's bread, but Nineveh eats of the crumbs. 2. The dishonour Jonah did to God in refusing to obey his orders, and to go on the errand on which he was sent (Jonah 1:3): But Jonah, instead of rising to go to Nineveh, rose up to flee to Tarshish, to the sea, not bound for any port, but desirous to get away from the presence of the Lord and, if he might but do that, he card not whither he went, not as if he thought he could go any where from under the eye of God's inspection, but from his special presence, from the spirit of prophecy, which, when it put him upon this work, he thought himself haunted with, and coveted to get out of the hearing of. Some think Jonah went upon the opinion of some of the Jews that the spirit of prophecy was confined to the land of Israel (which in Ezekiel and Daniel was effectually proved to be a mistake), and therefore he hoped he should get clear of it if he could but get out of the borders of that land. (1.) Jonah would not go to Nineveh to cry against it either because it was a long and dangerous journey thither, and in a road he knew not, or because he was afraid it would be as much as his life was worth to deliver such an ungrateful message to that great and potent city. He consulted with flesh and blood, and declined the embassy because he could not go with safety, or because he was jealous for the prerogatives of his country, and not willing that any other nation should share in the honour of divine revelation he feared it would be the beginning of the removal of the kingdom of God from the Jews to another nation, that would bring forth more of the fruits of it. He owns himself (Jonah 4:2) that the reason of his aversion to this journey was because he foresaw that the Ninevites would repent, and God would forgive them and take them into favour, which would be a slur upon the people of Israel, who had been so long a peculiar people to God. (2.) He therefore went to Tarshish, to Tarsus in Cilicia (so some), probably because he had friends and relations there, with whom he hoped for some time to sojourn. He went to Joppa, a famous seaport in the land of Israel, in quest of a ship bound for Tarshish, and there he found one. Providence seemed to favour his design, and give him an opportunity to escape. We may be out of the way of duty and yet may meet with a favourable gale. The ready way is not always the right way. He found the ship just ready to weigh anchor perhaps, and to set sail for Tarshish, and so he lost no time. Or, perhaps, he went to Tarshish because he found the ship going thither otherwise all places were alike to him. He did not think himself out of his way, the way he would go, provided he was not in his way, the way he should go. So he paid the fare thereof for he did not regard the charge, so he could but gain his point, and get to a distance from the presence of the Lord. He went with them, with the mariners, with the passengers, with the merchants, whoever they were that were going to Tarshish. Jonah, forgetting his dignity as well as his duty, herded with them, and went down into the ship to go with them to Tarshish. See what the best of men are when God leaves them to themselves, and what need we have, when the word of the Lord comes to us, to have the Spirit of the Lord come along with the word, to bring every thought within us into obedience to it. The prophet Isaiah owns that therefore he was not rebellious, neither turned away back, because God not only spoke to him, but opened his ear, Isaiah 50:5. Let us learn hence to cease from man, and not to be too confident either of ourselves or others in a time of trial but let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.