Part I. THE MISSION OF JONAH. HIS DISOBEDIENCE AND PUNISHMENT.
§ 1. Jonah is sent to Nineveh to cry against it; but he tries to avoid the mission, and to this end takes ship to Tarshish.
Now; or, and. Some have argued from this commencement that the Book of Jonah is a fragment, the continuation of a larger work; but it is a common formulary, linking together revelations and histories, and is continually used in the Old Testament at the beginning of independent works; e.g. Joshua 1:1; 1:1; 1 Samuel 1:1; Esther 1:1; Ezekiel 1:1. Jonah the son of Amittai (2 Kings 14:25). (See Introduction, § II)
Nineveh, the capital of the kingdom of Assyria, is first mentioned in Genesis 10:11, as founded by Nimrod. It stood on the left bank of the river Tigris, where it is joined by the Khosr, opposite to the present town of Mosul. The Assyrians had already become known in Syria. In B.C. 854 Shal-maneser II. had defeated at Karkar twelve kings confederate against him, among whom is reckoned Ahab King of Israel. Long before his time, Tiglath-Pileser I. had made a great expedition to the west, captured a town at the foot of Lebanon, and reached the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Jehu was compelled to pay tribute to the Assyrians; and Rimmon-nirari, who reigned from B.C. 810 to 781, held the suzerainty of Phoenicia, Samaria, Edom, and Philistia. Jonah, therefore, knew well what his country might expect at the hands of this people. That great city. It is thus called in Jonah 3:2, Jonah 3:3; Jonah 4:11; and the epithet is added here in order to show to Jonah the importance of his mission. The size of Nineveh is variously estimated according to the sense attached to the name "Nineveh." This appellation may be restricted to Nineveh proper, or it may comprise the four cities which lay close together in the immediate neighbourhood of each ether, and whose remains are now known as the mounds of Kouyunjik, on the southwest, directly opposite to Mosul; Nimrud, about eighteen miles to the southeast; Karamless, twelve miles to the north; and Khorsabad, the most northerly, about the same distance both from Karamless and Kouyunjik. Khorsabad, however, was not built till some hundred years after Jonah's time. These cities are contained in an irregular parallelogram of some sixty miles in circumference. The following account of Nineveh proper is derived from Professor Rawlinson, 'Ancient Monarchies,' 1:252, etc.: "The ruins consist of two principal mounds, Nebbiyunus and Kouyunjik. The Kouyunjik mound, which lies nearly half a mile northwest of the others, is very much the more considerable of the two. Its shape is an irregular oval, elongated to a point towards the northeast. The surface is nearly flat; the sides slope at a steep angle, and are furrowed with numerous ravines worn in the soft material by the rains of some thirty centuries. The greatest height above the plain is ninety feet, and the area is estimated at a hundred acres. It is an artificial eminence, computed to contain 14,500,000 tons of earth, and on it were erected the palaces and temples of the Assyrian monarchs. The mound of Nebbi-yunus is at its base nearly triangular, and covers an area of nearly forty acres. It is loftier, and its sides are more precipitous than Kouyunjik, especially on the west, where it abutted on the wall of the city. The mass of earth is calculated at six and a half millions of tons. These two vast mounds are both in the same line, and abutted on the western wall of the city, which was some two and a half miles in length. Anciently it seems to have immediately overhung the Tigris, but the river has now receded to the west, leaving a plain of nearly a mile in width between its bank and the old rampart which evidently once followed the course of the river bank. The western wall is joined at fight angles by the northern rampart which runs in a straight line for seven thousand feet. At its other extremity the western wall forms a very obtuse angle with the southern, which impends over a deep ravine, and runs in a straight line for about a thousand yards, when it meets the eastern wall, which is the longest and the least regular of the four. The entire length of this side is sixteen thousand feet, or above three miles. It is divided into two portions by. the Stream of the Khosr-su; which, coming from the northwest, finds its way through the city and then across the low plain to the Tigris. The town is thus of an oblong shape, and the circuit of its walls is somewhat less than eight miles, and the area which they include is eighteen hundred acres. This, at the computation of something less than one hundred inhabitants per acre, would ascribe to Nineveh a population of one hundred and seventy-five thousand souls" (Rawlinson, 'Anc. Men.,' 1. Jonah 1:1-17). Cry against it. The message is given in Jonah 3:4. Thus the knowledge of the true God is made known among the Gentiles. Their wickedness; i.e; as Pusey notes, their evil doing towards others, as in Nahum 3:19 (see Introduction, § I). Is come up before me, and appeals for punishment, as Genesis 4:10; Genesis 18:20, Genesis 18:21; Septuagint, ἀνέβη ἡ κραυγή τῆς κακίας αὐτής πρὸς μέ, "The cry of its wickedness is come up unto me."
Tarshish; probably, Tartessus, a Phoenician city on the south coast of Spain, and therefore in the opposite direction to Nineveh. He was sent to the far east; he flees to the distant west. From the presence of the Lord; literally, from the face of Jehovah. This may mean, from God s special presence in Jerusalem or the Holy Land, as banishment from Cannaan is called "casting out of his sight" (2 Kings 17:20, 2 Kings 17:23; 2 Kings 23:27); or, from serving the Lord as his minister (Deuteronomy 10:8), Jonah preferring to renounce his office as prophet rather than execute his mission. The former seems the most natural explanation of the phrase. Kimchi says that Jonah supposed that the spirit of prophecy would not extend beyond the land of Israel. He could never have thought to escape from God's all-seeing eye. His repugnance to the duty imposed upon him arose partly from national prejudice, which made him loth to interfere in Gentile business, and partly, as he himself says (Jonah 4:2), because he feared God's compassion would spare the Ninevites on their repentance, and that thus his prediction would be discredited, and mercy shown to heathens already inimical to Israel, if not known to him as the future conquerors of his people. Joppa. This is the modern Jaffa (called Japho in Joshua 19:46), a town on the seacoast thirty miles in a northwesterly direction from Jerusalem. "Jaffa," says Dr. Thomson, "is one of the oldest cities in the world. It was given to Dan in the distribution of the land by Joshua, and it has been known to history ever since. It owes its existence to the low ledge of rocks which extends into the sea from the extremity of the little cape on which the city stands, and forms a small harbour. Insignificant as it is, and insecure, yet, there being no other on all this coast, it was sufficient to cause a city to spring up around it even in the earliest times, and to sustain its life through numberless changes of dynasties, races, and religions, down to the present hour. It was, in fact, the only harbour of any notoriety possessed by the Jews throughout the greater part of their national existence. To it the timber for both the temples of Jerusalem was brought from Lebanon; and no doubt a lucrative trade in cedar and pine was always carried on through it with the nations who had possession of that goodly mountain. Through it, also, nearly all the foreign commerce of the Jews was conducted, until the artificial pert of Caessarea was built by Herod … . The harbour, howewer, is very inconvenient and insecure. Vessels of any considerable burden must lie out in the open road-stead—a very uneasy berth at all times; and even a moderate wind will oblige them to slip their cables and run out to sea, or seek anchorage at Haifa, sixty miles distant … . The road-stead is liable to sudden and unexpected storms, which stir up a tumultuous sea in a very short time … . The landing also is most inconvenient, and often extremely dangerous. More boats upset, and more lives are lost in the breakers at the north end of the ledge of rocks that defend the inner harbour than anywhere else on this coast." Went down into it; ἀνέβη [ ἐνέβη, Alex.] εἰς αὐτό, "went up into it". Went on board; or, as Jerome says, sought a hiding place in the ship (comp. verse 5). With them. With the crew. Jonah had told them (verse 10) that he was flying from God's service, but, knowing and earing nothing about Jehovah, they took him on board when he paid his fare, and thought nothing of his private reasons for joining them
2. Jonah's foolish flight is arrested. In the midst of his fancied security God sends a great storm, and the ship is placed in imminent jeopardy. The crew try all means to save the ship, and at length cast lots to discover by this means for whose sake the tempest has been sent. The lot points out Jonah as the guilty person.
Sent out; Septuagint, ἐξήγειρε, "raised;" literally, cast forth, or hurled, a great wind, like the Euroclydon of Acts 27:14, and what is called nowadays a Levanter. Pusey quotes Josephus's account of the harbour of Joppa and the neighbouring sea, which, he says, is rendered very dangerous by the sudden rise of "the black north wind" ('Bell. Jud.,' 3.9. 3). Here we see wind and storm fulfilling God's word (Psalms 148:8). As Tertullian says—
"Si Dominum in terris fugiens, invenit in undis."
"Flying the Lord on earth, he found him in the sea."
Was like to be broken; literally, thought to be dashed in pieces. Wordsworth contrasts the living consciousness and apprehension of the ship with the lethargy of the prophet now lying fast asleep in the hold (Acts 27:5). Septuagint, ἐκινδύνευε τοῦ συντριβῆναι, "was in danger of being broken up."
The mariners (mallachim). Those who have to do with the salt sea. The word is used by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 27:9, Ezekiel 27:27, Ezekiel 27:29). Cried every man unto his god. They were either Phoenicians from different localities, or men of various nations; hence the multiplicity of their gods. The heathen are represented throughout the book as devout and sincere according to their lights. They cast forth the wares; Septuagint, ἐκβολὴν ἐποήσαντο τῶν σκευῶν, "cast out the furniture, or wares," as Acts 27:18,Acts 27:19; Vulgate, miserunt vasa. They threw overboard probably both all spare tackling and movables, and the cargo. The freight may have been corn, which was exported in considerable quantifies from Joppa (comp. Ezekiel 27:17), or manufactured articles from Tyre, which were exchanged with Spain for silver and other metals. To lighten it of them; literally, to lighten from against them; i.e. to ease the ship of its burden, or to ease them of their trouble, is Exodus 18:22. The LXX. takes the former interpretation, τοῦ κουφισθῆναι ἀπ αὐτῶν, "that it might be lightened of them;" Vulgate, ut alleviaretur ab eis. The sides of the ship. The innermost parts (interiora, Vulgate) of the ship; τὴν κοίλην; "the hold". Jonah hid himself there before the storm arose. The Hebrew word for "ship" (sephinah) is found nowhere else, and, probably from its derivation (saphan, "to cover"), implies that the vessel was decked. He lay, and was fast asleep; ἐκάθευδε καὶ ἔρεγχε, "was asleep and snoring,"; dormiebat sopore gravi (Vulgate). The word used implies a very deep sleep, as that of Sisera ( 4:21) or of the Assyrians (Psalms 76:6). He was fatigued and worn out with mental anxiety, and now being, as he thought, secure, and longing for solitude, he lay down to sleep, unconscious of danger. Contrast this sleep in the storm with that of Christ (Mark 4:38), and that of the apostles who slept for sorrow (Luke 22:45).
The shipmaster; literally, the chief of the ropemen; Vulgate, gubernator; Septuagint, ὁ πρωρεύς, "the look out man." The captain. What meanest thou, O sleeper? How canst thou sleep so soundly when our danger is so imminent? If thou canst help us in no other way, at least ask the aid of Heaven. It was the duty of a prophet of the Lord to take the lead in prayer; but here the prophet's stupor is rebuked by the heathen's faith. Call upon thy God. The sailors' prayers had not been answered, and they arouse Jonah, noting something special about him, perhaps his prophet's dress, or observing that he was an Israelite, and therefore a worshipper of Jehovah, of whose power they had heard. If so be that God will think upon us. They use the word "God" with the article, ha Elohim, as if they had, in spite of their Polytheism, a dim notion of one supreme Deity. Vulgate, Si forte recogitet Deus de nobis; Septuagint, ὅπως διασώση ὁ θεὸς ἡμᾶς, "that God may save us." From the apparent use, of the Hebrew word (ashath) in Jeremiah 5:28 in the sense of "shining," some translate here, "if perchance God will shine upon us," i.e. be favourable to us. But the meaning given in the Anglican Version is best supported. So the psalmist says, "The Lord thinketh upon me" (Psalms 40:17), implying that God succours and defends him.
Finding the storm still violent, the crew come to the conclusion that it is sent by Heaven in punishment of some crime committed by one on board; and they proceed to cast lots to discover the guilty person. Jonah doubtless had meantime complied with the captain's request, but, as the sailors saw, without visible effect. The belief that temporal calamities are often connected with the presence of culprits, and are sent in judgment, is found in classical authors. Thus Plautus, 'Rudena,' 2:21—
"Pol minume miror, navis si fracta est tibi,
Scelus te et sceleste parta quae vexit bona."
"Little I wonder if the ship is wrecked
Which carries thee and thy ill-gotten wealth."
The misfortune of the Israelites at Ai was consequent on the sin of Achan (Joshua 7:1-26). Let us cast lots. Jerome says here, "The fugitive was taken by lot, not by virtue of the lots, especially of the lots of heathen men, but by the will of him who guided the uncertain lots." For whose cause; Septuagint, τίνος ἕνεκεν. The unusual nature of the tempest showed them that it was sent in judgment. Commentators cite the story of Diagoras told by Cicero ('De Nat. Deor.,' 3.37). The lot fell upon Jonah., Proverbs 16:33, "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord".
The mariners having, as they supposed, discovered the culprit, proceed calmly to investigate his guilt; amid the roaring of the tempest and the peril that surrounded them, they give him every opportunity of clearing himself or confessing his crime. For whose cause. Some manuscripts of the Hebrew and the Greek omit this clause as unnecessary; but, as Keil remarks, it is not superfluous, the sailors thereby wishing to induce Jonah to confess his guilt with his own mouth. In their excitement they crowd question upon question, asking him about his business, his journey, his country, his parentage. Jerome notes the pregnant brevity of these inquiries, and compares Virgil, 'AEneid,' 8.112, etc.—
"Juvenes, quae causa subegit
Ignotas tentare vias? quo tenditis? inquit.
Qui genus? unde domo? pacemne huc fertis an arma?"
"Warriors, what cause constrained you thus to tempt
A path untrodden? Whither are ye bound?
What is your race? Where dwell ye?
Peace or war, Come ye to bring?"
(Comp. Hom; 'Od.,' 1:170)
What is thine occupation? His occupation, they thought, might have been one to excite the wrath of the gods; or his country and family might have been exposed to the hatred of Heaven; hence the succeeding questions.
I am an Hebrew. This is the name used by foreigners in speaking of Israelites, or by Israelites in speaking of themselves to Gentiles (see Genesis 14:13; Genesis 39:14; Genesis 41:12; Exodus 1:16; 1 Samuel 4:6, for the former use; and for the latter, Genesis 40:15; Exodus 2:7; Exodus 3:18). Convinced that God had miraculously pointed him out as the culprit on whose account the storm was sent, and goaded by the stings of conscience, Jonah loses all his previous indecision and spiritual stupor, and in a manly and straightforward way confesses the truth without disguise. The LXX; reading differently, renders, δοῦλος κυρίου εἰμὶ ἐγώ, "A servant of Jehovah am I." This makes a tautological statement with the next words, and leaves one of the sailors' questions unanswered. I fear the Lord. I worship, reverence Jehovah, who is not a local deity like the false gods whom you adore, but the Creator of heaven and earth, the Maker and Ruler of sea and dry land. So Abraham calls the Lord the God of heaven (Genesis 24:7), and Daniel (Daniel 2:37, Daniel 2:44) uses the same expression (comp. Psalms 96:5; Jeremiah 10:11).
Exceedingly afraid. They understand now the greatness of Jehovah and the terrible risk incurred by one who offends him. There was a widespread acknowledgment of the power of Jehovah among the heathen (see Exodus 15:15; Joshua 5:1; 1 Samuel 4:7; and comp. Judith 5:21). Why hast thou done this? better, What is this that thou hast done? (Genesis 3:13). This is not a question of inquiry, for he had already told them that he had fled from the presence of the Lord; but rather an exclamation of horror and amazement at his folly and sin. That one who worshipped the Almighty Creator should disobey his command seemed to them outrageous and inexcusably criminal. The prophet does not spare himself in giving the history of the transaction. To be thus rebuked by heathen sailors must have added to the poignancy of his remorse. The presence of the Lord (see note on Jonah 1:3).
§ 3. On hearing. Jonah's confession, the sailors appeal to him, as a worshipper of Jehovah, to tell them what to do to him that the storm may cease. He bids them cast him into the sea, which, after some demur and after renewed efforts to escape, they proceed to do. Upon this the storm immediately abates.
What shall we do unto thee? They recognize that the tempest was sent as a judgment on account of Jonah's sin; at the same time, believing him to be a prophet of Jehovah, under whose wrath they were suffering, they ask his advice in this emergency; if it was a crime to receive him, what shall they do to him to expiate the offence and to appease the anger of God? That the sea may be calm unto us; literally, may be silent from upon us, so as no longer to bear down upon us. Wrought, and was tempestuous; literally, was going and was tempestuous; Septuagint, ἐπορεύετο καὶ ἐξήγειρε μᾶλλον κλύδωνα, "The sea was moving and lifting the surge still more;" Vulgate, ibat et intumescebat. That is, according to the Hebrew idiom, "grew more and more tempestuous" (comp. Exodus 19:19; Proverbs 4:18).
Jonah, brought to a better mind, perhaps divinely inspired, pronounces his own sentence. "I know," he says, "that the fault is mine, and deserves death, therefore take me up, and cast me forth into the sea." He will not he his own executioner, but will patiently bear a death righteously inflicted by others, whoso safety he was endangering by his continued presence.
The generous sailors, however, are loth to execute this sentence on a prophet of the Lord, and make a supreme effort to reach the land, and thus obviate this severe alternative. Rowed hard; literally, digged (Job 24:16; Ezekiel 12:7); Septuagint, παρεβιάζοντο, "used violent efforts." They endeavoured to force their way through the waves with oars, as the use of sails was impracticable. The expression is like the classical phrases, infindere sulcos, scindere freta, arare aquas, and our "to plough the main." To the land; to get them back to land. The wind was off shore, and they had taken down the sails, and tried to row back to the harbour. τοῦ ἐπιτρέψαι πρὸς τὴν γῆν, "to return to the land". The sea wrought (see note on Jonah 1:11).
They cried unto the Lord. They prayed no longer to their gods, as before (Jonah 1:5), but unto Jehovah, the God of Jonah. Let us not perish for this man's life. Let us not incur death for taking this man's life. They seem to know something of the Noachic law that punished murder (Genesis 9:5, Genesis 9:6). Lay not upon us innocent blood. Charge us not with the guilt of shedding innocent blood (Deuteronomy 21:8). For thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased thee (1 Samuel 3:18). The whole affair has happened according to thy will. The tempest, the lot, the sentence, are all the working of thy providence. The prophet throughout brings into prominence the contrast between the behaviour of these heathen and his own, and would teach his nation a lesson thereby.
They took up, with a certain reverence. Ceased from her raging; literally, stood from its anger; Septuagint, ἔστη ἐκ τοῦ σάλου αὐτῆς, "stood from its tossing." The sudden cessation of the storm showed that it had been sent on Jonah's account, and that the crew had not sinned by executing the sentence upon him. Usually it takes some time for the swell to cease after the wind has sunk: here there was suddenly a great calm (Matthew 8:26).
Feared the Lord. They recognized the supernatural element in the transaction, and conceived an awe and fed, of Jehovah, who had wrought these wonders Offered a sacrifice unto the Lord. Many commentators think that they sacrificed on reaching shore, as they had thrown the cargo overboard, and would have had no animal to offer. The Chaldee renders accordingly, "They said that they would offer sacrifices." But the text implies that they sacrificed immediately on the cessation of the storm. They may naturally have had some animal on board fit for offering. And made vows. Vowed to make other offerings when it was in their power. Henderson compares Virgil, 'AEneid,' 3.403, etc.—
"Quin, ubi transmissae steterint trans aequora classes
Et positis aris jam vota in litore solves."
"And when thy fleet hath safely crossed the seas,
And, raising altars on the shore, thy vows
Thou shalt perform."
It has been supposed that these sailors embraced Judaism and became proselytes. At any rate, they showed themselves in the light of believers on this occasion.
§ 4. Cast into the sea, Jonah is swallowed alive by a great fish, is whose belly he remains unharmed three days and three nights. Had prepared; Septuagint, προσέταξε, "appointed;" so in Jonah 4:6, Jonah 4:7, Jonah 4:8 (comp. Job 7:3; Daniel 1:10, Daniel 1:11). The fish was not created then and there, but God so ordered it that it should be at the place and should swallow Jonah. The prophet seems, from some expressions in his psalm (Jonah 2:5), to have sunk to the bottom of the sea before he was swallowed by the fish. A great fish; Septuagint, κῆτος (Matthew 12:40). There is nothing in the word to identify the intended animal, and to call it "a whale" is simply a mistranslation. The white shark of the Mediterranean (Carcharias vulgaris), which sometimes measures twenty-five feet in length, has been known to swallow a man whole, and even a horse. This may have been the "great fish" in the text. Was in the belly of the fish. God used the natural agency of the fish, but the preservation of Jonah's life in the animal's belly is plainly supernatural. It is, indeed, analogous to the life of the child in its mother's womb; but it has besides a miraculous element which is unique, unless it was an actual death and revivification, as in the ease of Lazarus. Also God ordained this transaction as a type of the resurrection of Christ. Three days and three nights; i.e; according to Hebrew usage, parts of the days and nights; i.e. one whole day, and parts of the day before and after this. Jonah was released on the third day (comp. Matthew 12:40 with 1 Corinthians 15:4; and Esther 4:16 with Esther 5:1). The historical nature of this occurrence is substantiated by Christ's reference to it as a figure of his own burial and resurrection. The antitype confirms the truth of the type. It is not credible that Christ would use a mere legendary tale, with no historical basis, to confirm his most solemn statement concerning the momentous fact of his resurrection.
A city's sin.
By its very nature sin is individual, personal; for it is the estrangement of the spiritual being and life from God. Yet, as men live in communities, and as these communities possess moral qualities and habits determined by the character of the component units, there is such a thing as the sin of a tribe, of a city of a nation. This is more obvious when it is remembered that states are personified in their rulers and representatives, whose words and actions must be taken as those of the community at large. The Scriptures, from the record of the Tower of Babel downwards, exhibit national responsibility as connected with national error and unfaithfulness. Among the lessons of this Book of Jonah, this lesson regarding a nation's moral life and accountability is not the least valuable.
I. A CITY'S SIN IS COMPATIBLE WITH ITS POLITICAL GREATNESS. Nineveh was "that great city." It was situated upon the noble river Tigris; it boasted a splendid and ancient history; it was of enormous extent, being, according to the historians, eighteen leagues in circumference; it had a population reckoned by hundreds of thousands; in short, it was one of the greatest and most famous of the cities of the ancient East, and was the capital of one of the most powerful of kingdoms. Recent discoveries have familiarized us with the civic life of the population of the city of Nineveh. Yet the wickedness of Nineveh was great. Magnitude, population, wealth, luxury, splendour, power,—all are, alas! consistent with forgetfulness of God, and with rebellion against his authority who is King of kings and Lord of all the nations upon earth. How signally was this the case with pagan Rome! And are there not cities in professedly Christian lands, the abodes of power and of pleasure, whose sin cries aloud unto God?
II. A CITY'S SIN IS OFTEN DISREGARDED BY HUMAN OBSERVERS, AND EVEN BY RULERS. The citizens take pride in their "gorgeous palaces," their "solemn temples," in magnificent public works, in stately ceremonies, in all the complicated apparatus of civilization, luxury, refinement, and enjoyment. The men in authority are content if outward order is observed, if regulations of police are respected, if the reports of health are satisfactory, if trade flourishes. But it is often forgotten that beneath this outward show of prosperity there may exist moral corruption and religious indifference, or even defiant infidelity. God may not be glorified; he may be hated and disobeyed. And yet no concern may be awakened, no contrition felt.
III. A CITY'S SIN IS OBSERVED BY THE ALL-SEEING GOD. What graphic language is this, "Their wickedness is come up before me"! Under this old Hebrew idiom a great religious truth is discernible. Nothing escapes the notice of him who searcheth the hearts of the children of men. Not only so. God looks upon the sins of the citizens, not as a statistician or a politician might look. He is grieved with men's irreligion; he is "angry," i.e; "with the wicked every day." We must not attribute to the Deity any emotions which would be unworthy of a human ruler. But it is not derogatory to God, it is honouring him, to think of him as distressed and dissatisfied with human rebellion, and to remember that his regard is that of a wise and righteous Ruler, who is concerned for the spiritual state of those whom he rules for their own good and for his glory.
IV. A CITY'S SIN MUST BE MET BY A RIGHTEOUS TESTIMONY, REBUKE, AND WARNING. It must not be forgotten that men's sins are often attributable to evil example, to common custom, to the force of habit, to forgetfulness and carelessness. For this reason is it needful that the preacher of righteousness should exhibit a just and lofty standard of national and individual virtue; that he should faithfully expose and denounce prevailing errors, follies, and injustice; and that he should remind men of their amenability to the tribunal of an Omniscient and Almighty Ruler. There is too little of this frank and fearless treatment of social corruption; the pulpit is to blame for this; and it is to be desired that Christian preachers should hear the Word of the Lord bidding them go and "cry against" the wickedness of great cities, and warn the citizens of the ruin they are bringing upon themselves. And above all is it important that the wicked should be summoned to repentance, and that the penitent should be directed to that Saviour who is the assurance of Divine pity, and the channel of Divine forgiveness, to all who come to him with contrite sorrow and with lowly faith.
Fleeing from the Lord.
There is something wonderfully simple in this language, and something wonderfully childish and naive in the action here described. Yet when Jonah, who should have gone eastward, turned his face towards the west, when he went down to the port of Joppa and took ship for Tarshish, though he was acting in a way sinful in itself and most disastrous for him, he was teaching for all time and for all readers of Scripture a lesson of human infirmity which is to us chiefly precious as preparing the way for a lesson of human repentance and of Divine forgiveness and acceptance.
I. THE MOTIVE WHICH LEADS MEN TO WISH TO FLEE FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD IS BAD. There are various impulses which may tend to drive men away from the all-searching eye of the Supreme. Some, like Jonah, may wish to avoid a service to which they cherish repugnance; for which, perhaps, they feel personally disqualified. Others may wish to hide their sins from One who, they know well, must regard them with displeasure. In any case, though the degree of culpability may vary, the motive is unworthy. The child should hide nothing from the Father; the Christian should never ask—Where shall I hide from thy presence? but should rather rejoice in the nearness, the interest, the favour, of his Maker and Saviour.
II. THE METHOD WHICH MEN ADOPT IN ORDER TO FLEE FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD IS ABSURD. Change of place cannot take us out of the territory of the Omnipresent King. Jacob found that when at Bethel; the Lord was in that place, though he knew it not. Jonah learned that God's hand held in its hollow the raging sea; the same hand that fashioned the dry land from which he fled. It is now more common for those who would flee from God to betake themselves to the society of the profane, the licentious, the ungodly; thus they seek at least to banish the thought of God, if they cannot escape from his all-regarding eye.
III. THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF FLEEING FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD IS OBVIOUS. That is to say, obvious to all who reflect upon the nature and the attributes of the Eternal. And it is well that all who are tempted to wish that relations between themselves and their Creator were suspended should reflect upon this impossibility. In God we live and move and have our being. We may forget him, but he does not overlook us. We may be out of harmony with his highest purposes, but we cannot cease even for one moment to be subjects of his kingdom, whether contented or discontented, loyal or rebellious.
IV. THE CONSEQUENCES OF ENDEAVOURING TO FLEE FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD ARE AFFLICTING. In his favour is life. It is well to walk in the light of the Lord. They who depart from God forsake their true happiness. The presence of the Lord of all is necessary in order to strength and success in our work. A messenger from God above all men needs the consciousness of the Divine favour; for him to flee from God is to sacrifice his life, to throw up his vocation, and, except God have mercy upon him, to destroy his spiritual prospects.
V. GOD'S FORBEARANCE AND COMPASSION MAY BRING BACK THOSE WHO TRY TO FLEE FROM HIM. The narrative tells not only how Jonah. fled, but how God followed him; how God did indeed chasten his servant, but did not forsake him; how Providence overruled his sinful conduct and secured his spiritual good. We need not despond, even if we have, as it were, turned our back upon God. "He restoreth our soul." He so reveals his grace that, instead of fleeing from his presence, we come to find in that presence fulness of joy.
Nature and God.
There is a Hebrew directness and energy in this language describing the storm which overtook the unfaithful prophet. Some would be satisfied to say that we have here simply a poetico-theological expression descriptive of a natural phenomenon. But surely the Hebrew idiom here employed is the vehicle of a great truth. The Lord does send the wind and raise the tempest; and the Lord also calms the waters and stills the storm.
I. THE ATHEISTIC VIEW IS THAT NATURE IS A REALITY AND GOD A FICTION. Many scientific, and non-scientific, readers too will say—The storm did arise, but this was in accordance with natural laws, and there is no room and no need for the hypothesis of a Deity. Facts are facts, and regularities and uniformities are undeniable; but with explanations, with personal agencies, we have nothing at all to do.
II. THE PAGAN VIEW IS THAT NATURE IS THE OUTWARD EXPRESSION OF THE PRESENCE AND ACTIVITIES OF INNUMERABLE DEITIES. According to the heathen, the sea and the land, the woods and the fountains, had their several deities, whose actions accounted for all changes. In the tempest, Jonah's fellow voyagers cried every man unto his god. The mood of the deity might vary, his purpose might change.
III. THE SUPERSTITIOUS VIEW lS THAT NATURE IS GENERALLY INDEPENDENT OF GOD, BUT IS SOMETIMES VISITED BY A DIVINE INTERFERENCE. When all things proceed in an even course, it is supposed that there is no need to presume a Divine presence. But when anything happens which is unusual, this is taken to be an evidence of the interposition of a superior Power. The calm is Nature's work, the storm is God's. A capricious, arbitrary Providence is the superstitious man's deity.
IV. THE RATIONAL AND RELIGIOUS VIEW SEES GOD IN AND BEHIND NATURE IN ALL HER CHANGES. God is the Author of Nature's laws. "The sea is his, and he made it; and his hands formed the dry land." Divine purpose, intelligence, wisdom, benevolence, are to the thoughtful and pious mind manifest in all the scenes and operations which Nature presents to us. We need not be pantheists, and identify God and Nature, in order to see and to glorify God in all his works.
Danger and devotion.
The conduct of the seamen, who themselves, when encompassed 'by danger and when threatened by death, both called upon their gods and besought Jonah to imitate their prayers and vows, may have been superstitious in its accessories, but it was certainly right in principle.
I. DANGER REMINDS US OF OUR OWN POWERLESSNESS. In the presence of the great forces of nature—the hurricane, the earthquake, the volcano—man feels his own physical feebleness and helplessness. He is mightier than all these forces in that he can think and feel, purpose and act, whilst they blindly and unconsciously work out a higher will. But in his body he is incapable of resisting, of measuring himself against, these tremendous powers.
II. DANGER REMINDS US OF THE UNCERTAINTY AND BREVITY OF HUMAN LIFE. By some "accident" from without, or by some "disorder" within, the life of the body will certainly be brought to a close. The lightning may smite or the waves may swallow up the healthiest frame—may close the most useful and beneficent life. The treacherous sea, as in this narrative, threatens to engulf the mariner and the passenger.
To thee the love of woman has gone down,
Brave hearts and true are gathered to thy breast?
III. DANGER DRIVES THE SINNER TO SEEK GOD'S MERCY. To many the hour of peril is the only hour of prayer. Lips that have only used the name of the Eternal Majesty in ribald profanity, when white with fear utter that name in earnest entreaty for pity and for deliverance. When human help is vain, then the godless call upon the great Helper, God. How worthless such prayer often is experience sadly teaches. "The river past, the saint forgot." Yet it is well that men should be awakened, however rudely, from their self-sufficiency and false security.
IV. DANGER DRAWS FORTH THE CONFIDENCE AND THE PRAYERS OF THE PIOUS. How many are the records of shipwreck which tell of the peace and trust, the fortitude and hope, of the true Christian, when those around have abandoned themselves to despair l He who believes the gospel knows that God "thinks upon him," and knows that he so thinks upon his own for good. It may be that an unexpected deliverance will be wrought; but it will be the case that, whatever the Father above may suffer to happen to the body, the soul shall be safe in heavenly keeping unto life eternal.
A good confession.
What an insight this story gives us into the life and habits of travellers in ancient times! Curiosity is always entertaining; but the inquisitiveness of these seamen bound for Tarshish, as they questioned their passenger regarding his occupation, his race, and his religion, is a revelation of their character, and affords an opportunity to the prophet to avow his religious faith. Jonah was not willing to obey God; yet he was not slow to confess God. There is much to admire in his language.
I. IT WAS AN INTELLIGENT CONFESSION. God is to many little more than a name; religion merely a form of words. There are those who are satisfied to name the name of their hereditary deity. Jonah's acknowledgment was accompanied by statements which prove his faith to have been something more than traditional. He described the Jehovah whom he worshipped as the God of heaven, the Maker of the sea and of the land. The words remind us of the opening of the Apostles' Creed. To confess God truly is to recognize his attributes and his method of dealing with the sons of men. It is not enough to utter mechanically a form of words.
II. IT WAS A BOLD CONFESSION. Instead of being alarmed by the dangers of the deep, the prophet seemed now to recover the self-possession which he had lost. In the presence of the angry elements and the anxious sailors, and above all in the presence of the Lord of nature and of man, Jonah confessed his God. Was there in this conduct something of the spirit embodied in the words, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him"?
III. IT WAS A REVERENT CONFESSION. "I fear the Lord;" i.e. revere, worship, and honor him. They who know him aright may well offer to him the veneration and adoration which angels delight to present. Who would not fear his great Name? Alas! that the name of God should ever pass irreverent lips!
IV. IT WAS, HOWEVER, A CONFESSION WHICH WAS INCONSISTENT WITH THE PROPHET'S CONDUCT, AND WAS THEREFORE HIS CONDEMNATION. How was it that he, who so honourably confessed his God in the tempest, had fled from that God, and disobeyed his plain commands? Could he use this language and not feel that it censured himself for so acting as he had done? It is well that we should verbally acknowledge God, that we should sincerely confess his right over us. But it may be that when we recite our Creed, and make our confession, we shall learn to think of our frequent inconsistencies with the profession which we avow. The knowledge of God may bring us to the knowledge of ourselves; and confession may lead to penitence, and so to reconciliation.
Whatever difficulties the facts of this narrative may occasion in the mind of the reader, it must be admitted that it abounds with principles of the deepest interest and value. How could the lesson of self-devotion, of self-sacrifice, be more impressively taught than in the language of Jonah recorded in this verse? The unquestionable realities of federal human life, and of substitutionary suffering and sacrifice, are brought before us in a vivid and impressive form.
I. DIVINE PROVIDENCE APPOINTS THAT THE WRONG DOING OF MEN SHOULD INVOLVE SUFFERING TO THEIR FELLOW CREATURES. "For my sake," said Jonah, "this great tempest is upon you." No observer of human life can doubt that the greatest sufferers are not always the greatest sinners; they are often those who are brought into trouble, sorrow, and affliction through the conduct of those connected with them. The child suffers for the father's sins; the wife, for the husband's improvidence; the people, for their rulers' selfishness and negligence. We may not be able to explain this fact, we may not be satisfied with explanations of it which other people accept; but it would show an ignorance of human life to question its reality.
II. THE SAME PROVIDENCE APPOINTS THAT SUFFERINGS WILLINGLY UNDERGONE BY MEN SHOULD BE THE MEANS OF BENEFIT TO OTHERS. "Cast me forth," said Jonah, "into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you." Here again we are brought into contact with an undoubted fact in human society. The sufferings, hardships, and self-denial of parents are the means of comfort, culture, and well being to their children. Great men benefit society by means of their labours, their self sacrifice. Few persons reap a harvest of gladness and peace and prosperity, the seed of which has net been sown with toil and with tears. It is the highest exercise of patriotism to devote one's self to death for the country's weal; and the highest exercise of benevolence, when called upon by duty, to die for the welfare of humanity.
III. BOTH THESE PRINCIPLES ARE MOST CONSPICUOUSLY EXEMPLIFIED IN THE SACRIFICE OF OUR DIVINE REDEEMER.
1. The sins of men brought Jesus to the cross of Calvary.
2. The sufferings of Jesus bring men to the enjoyment of the Divine favour. "By his stripes we are healed."