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Bible Commentaries

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Jonah Overview



Introduction to Jonah

The prophet Jonah, who was at once the author and in part the subject of the book which bears his name, is, beyond question, the same who is related in the Book of Kings 2 Kings 14:25 to have been God‘s messenger of comfort to Israel, in the reign of Jeroboam II. For his own name, in English “Dove,” as well as that of his father, Amittai, “The Truth of Yah,” occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament; and it is wholly improbable that there should have been two prophets of the same name, sons of fathers of the same name, when the names of both son and father were so rare as not to occur elsewhere in the Old Testament. The place which the prophet occupies among the twelve agrees therewith. For Hosea and Amos, prophets who are known to have prophesied in the time of Jeroboam, and Joel, who prophesied before Amos, are placed before him; Micah, who prophesied after the death of Jeroboam and Uzziah, is placed after him.

A remarkable and much-misunderstood expression of the prophet shows that this mission fell in the later part of his life, at least after he had already exercised the prophetic office. Our translation has: “Jonah rose up to flee from the presence of the Lord.” It has been asked, “How could a “prophet” imagine that he could flee from the presence of God?” Plainly he could not. Jonah, so conversant with the Psalms, doubtless knew well the Psalm of David Psalm 139:7, “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit, and whither shall I flee from thy presence?” He could not but know, what every instructed Israelite knew. And so critics should have known that such could not be the meaning. The words are used, as we say, “he went out of the king‘s presence,” or the like. It is literally “he rose to flee from being in the presence of the Lord,” i. e., from standing in His presence as His Servant and Minister.

Then he must have so stood before; he must have had the office, which he sought to abandon.

He was then a prophet of Israel, born at Gath-hepher, “a small village” of Zebulon Joshua 19:13, which lies, Jerome says, “two miles from Sepphorim which is now called Diocaesarea, in the way to Tiberius, where his tomb also is pointed out.” His tomb was still shown in the hills near Sipphorim in the 12th century, as Benjamin of Tudela relates; at the same place “on a rocky hill 2 miles East of Sepphuriah,” is still pointed out the tomb of the prophet, and “Muslims and the Christians of Nazareth alike regard the village (el-Meshhad) as his native village.” The tomb is even now venerated by the Muslim inhabitants.

But although a prophet of Israel, he, like Daniel afterward or his great predecessor Elisha, had his mission also beyond the bounds of Israel. Whenever God brought His people into any relation with other people, He made Himself known to them. The mode of His manifestation varied; the fact remained uniform. So He made Himself known to Egypt through Joseph and Moses; to the Philistines at the capture of the ark; to the Syrians by Elisha; to Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar by Daniel, as again to Darius and Cyrus. The hindrances interposed to the edict of Darius perpetuated that knowledge among his successors. Yet further on, the high priest Jaddua showed to Alexander the prophecy of Daniel “that a Greek should destroy the Persian Empire.” For there is no ground to question the account of Josephus. The mission then of Jonah to Nineveh is in harmony with God‘s other dealings with pagan nations, although, in God‘s manifold wisdom, not identical with any.

To Israel the history of that mission revealed that same fact which was more fully declared by Peter Acts 10:34-35; “I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him.” This righteous judgment of God stands out the more, alike in the history of the mariners and of the Ninevites, in that the character of both is exhibited advantageously, in comparison with that of the prophet. The prophet brings out the awe, the humanity, the earnestness of the natural religion, and the final conversion of the sailors, and the zealous repentance of the Ninevites, while he neglects to explain his own character, or, in the least, to soften its hard angles. Rather, with a holy indifference, he has left his character to be hardly and unjustly judged by those who, themselves sharing his infirmities, share not his excellences. Disobedient once, he cares only to teach us what God taught him for us. The mariners were spared, the Hebrew prophet was cast forth as guilty. The Ninevites were forgiven: the prophet, rebuked.

That other moral, which our Lord inculcated, that the pagan believed and repented with less light, the Jews, amid so much greater light, repented not, also lay there, to be drawn out by men‘s own consciences. “To the condemnation of Israel,” says Jerome, “Jonah is sent to the Gentiles, because, whereas Nineveh repented, Israel persevered in his iniquity.” But this is only a secondary result of his prophecy, as all divine history must be full of teaching, because the facts themselves are instructive. Its instructiveness in this respect depends wholly upon the truth of the facts. It is the real repentance of the Ninevites, which becomes the reproach of the impenitent Jew or Christian.

Even among the Jews, a large school, the Cabbalists (although amid other error), interpreted the history of Jonah as teaching the resurrection of the dead, and (with that remarkable correctness of combination of different passages of Holy Scripture which we often find) in union with the prophecy of Hosea. “The fish‘s belly, where Jonah was enclosed, signifies the tomb, where the body is covered and laid up. But as Jonah was given back on the third day, so shall we also on the third day rise again and be restored to life. As Hosea says, ‹On the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight.‘” Talmudic Jews identified Jonah with their Messiah ben Joseph, whom they expected to die and rise again. The deeper meaning then of the history was not, at least in later times, unknown to them, a meaning which entirely depended on its truth.

The history of his mission, Jonah doubtless himself wrote. Such has been the uniform tradition of the Jews, and on this principle alone was his book placed among the prophets. For no books were admitted among the prophets but those which the arranger of the canon believed (if this was the work of the great synagogue) or (if it was the work of Ezra) knew, to have been written by persons called to the prophetic office. Hence, the Psalms of David (although many are prophetic, and our Lord declares him to have been inspired by the Holy Spirit Matthew 22:43; Mark 12:36.,) and the book of Daniel, were placed in a separate class, because their authors, although eminently endowed with prophetic gifts, did not exercise the pastoral office of the prophet. Histories of the prophets, as Elijah and Elisha, stand, not under their own names, but in the books of the prophets who wrote them. Nor is the Book of Jonah a history of the prophet, but of that one mission to Nineveh. Every notice of the prophet is omitted, except what bears on that mission.

The book also begins with just that same authentication, with which all other prophetic books begin. As Hoses and Joel and Micah and Zephaniah open, “The word of the Lord that came unto Hosea, Joel, Micah, Zephaniah,” and other prophets in other ways ascribe their books not to themselves, but to God, so Jonah opens, “And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah, the son of Amittai, saying.” This inscription is an integral part of the book; as is marked by the word, saying. As the historical books are joined on the sacred writings before them, so as to form one continuous stream of history, by the and, with which they begin, so the Book of Jonah is tacitly joined onto other books of other prophets by the word, “and,” with which it commences. The words, “The word of the Lord came to,” are the acknowledged form in which the commission of God to prophesy is recorded. It is used of the commission to deliver a single prophecy, or it describes the whole collection of prophecies, with which any prophet was entrusted; Micah 1:1; Zephaniah 1:1. “The word of the Lord which come to Micah or Zephaniah.” But the whole history of the prophecy is bound up with, and a sequel of those words.

Nor is there anything in the style of the prophet at variance with this.

It is strange that, at any time beyond the babyhood of criticism, any argument should be drawn from the fact that the prophet writes of himself in the third person. Manly criticism has been ashamed to use the argument, as to the commentaries of Caesar or the Anabasis of Xenophon. However the genuineness of those works may have been at times questioned, here we were on the ground of genuine criticism, and no one ventured to use an argument so palpably idle. It has been pointed out that minds so different, as Barhebraeus, the great Jacobite historian of the East, and Frederick the Great wrote of themselves in the third person; as did also Thucydides and Josephus, even after they had attested that the history, in which they so speak, was written by themselves.

But the real ground lies much deeper. It is the exception, when any sacred writer speaks of himself in the first person. Ezra and Nehemiah do so, for they are giving an account, not of God‘s dealings with His people, but of their own discharge of a definite office, allotted to them by man. Solomon does so in Ecclesiastes, because he is giving the history of his own experience; and the vanity of all human things, in themselves, could be attested so impressively by no one, as by one, who had all which man‘s mind could imagine.

On the contrary, the prophets, unless they speak of God‘s revelations to them, speak of themselves in the third person. Thus, Amos relates in the first person, what God showed him in vision Amos 7:1-8; Amos 8:1-2; Amos 9:1; for God spoke to him, and he answered and pleaded with God. In relating his persecution by Amaziah, he passes at once to the third Amos 7:12, Amos 7:14; “Amaziah said to Amos; Then answered Amos and said to Amaziah.” In a similar manner, Isaiah speaks of himself in the third person, when relating how God sent him to meet Ahaz Isaiah 7:3; God commanded him to walk three years, naked and barefoot Isaiah 20:2-3, Hezekiah‘s message to him, to pray for his people, and his own prophetic answer; his visit to Hezekiah in the king‘s sickness, his warning to him, his prophecy of his recovery, the sign which at God‘s command Isaiah gave him, and the means of healing he appointed Isaiah 37:2, Isaiah 37:5-6, Isaiah 37:21; Isaiah 38:1, Isaiah 38:4, Isaiah 38:21.

Jeremiah, the mourner over his people, more than any other prophet, speaks and complains to his God in the midst of his prophecy. In no other prophet do we see so much the workings of his inmost soul. Such souls would most use the first person, for it is in the use of the first person that the soul pours itself forth. In the relating of himself in the third person, the prophet restrains himself, speaking only of the event. Yet it is thus that Jeremiah relates almost all which befell him - Pashur‘s smiting him and putting him in the stocks Jeremiah 20:1, Jeremiah 20:3; the gathering of the people against him to put him to death, his hearing before the princes of Judah and his deliverance Jeremiah 26:7-8, Jeremiah 26:12, Jeremiah 26:24; the contest with Hananiah, when Hananiah broke off the symbolic yoke from his neck and prophesied lies in the name of God, and Jeremiah foretold his death Jeremiah 28:5-6, Jeremiah 28:10, Jeremiah 28:12, Jeremiah 28:15, which followed; the letters of Shemaiah against him, and his own prophecy against Shemaiah Jeremiah 29:27, Jeremiah 29:29-30; his trial of the Rechabites and his prophecy to them Jeremiah 36:1, Jeremiah 36:4-5, Jeremiah 36:26-27, Jeremiah 36:32; his purpose to leave Jerusalem when the interval of the last siege gave him liberty Jeremiah 37:2-6, Jeremiah 37:12-21; the false accusations against him, the designs of the princes to put him to death, their plunging him in the still deeper pit, where there was no water only mud, the milder treatment through the intercession of Ebedmelech; Zedekiah‘s contact with him Jeremiah 38:1, Jeremiah 38:6,12-28; Jeremiah 32:2-5, his liberation by Nebuzaradan, his choice to abide in the land, his residence with Gedaliah Jeremiah 40:2-6; Johanan‘s hypocritical inquiring of God by him and disobedience Jeremiah 43:1-13, the insolent answer of the Jews in Egypt to him and his denunciation upon them Jeremiah 44:15, Jeremiah 44:20, Jeremiah 44:24.

All this, the account of which occupies a space, many times larger than the book of Jonah, Jeremiah relates as if it were the history of some other man. So did God teach His prophets to forget themselves. Haggai, whose prophecy consists of exhortations which God directed him to address to the people, speaks of himself, solely in the third person. He even relates the questions which he puts to the priests and their answers still in the third person Haggai 1:1, Haggai 1:3, Haggai 1:12-13; Haggai 2:1, Haggai 2:10, Haggai 2:13-14, Haggai 2:20; “then said Haggai;” “then answered Haggai.” Daniel relates in the third person, the whole which he does give of his history; how when young he obtained exemption from the use of the royal luxuries and from food unlawful to him; the favor and wisdom which God gave him Daniel 2:13-27, Daniel 2:46-47, Daniel 2:49; how he was brought into Belshazzar‘s great impious feast, and interpreted the writing on the wall; and was honored Daniel 5:12-13, Daniel 5:17, Daniel 5:29; how, under Darius, he persevered in his accustomed prayer against the king‘s command, was cast into the den of lions, was delivered, and prospered in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian Daniel 7:15, Daniel 7:28; Daniel 8:1, Daniel 8:15, Daniel 8:27; Daniel 9:2; Daniel 10:2, Daniel 10:7; Daniel 12:5. It is no longer his own history. It is the revelation of God by him. In a similar manner, John, when referring to himself in the history of His Lord, calls himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” In Revelation, he authenticates his visions by his own name Revelation 1:9; Revelation 21:2; Revelation 22:8; “I, John.” Moses relates how God commanded him to write things which he wrote, in the third person. Paul, when he has to speak of his overpowering revelations, says 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, “I knew a man in Christ.” It seems as if he could not speak of them as vouchsafed to himself. He lets us see that it was himself, when he speaks of the humiliations 2 Corinthians 12:7, which God saw to be necessary for him. To ordinary people it would be conceit or hypocrisy to write of themselves in the third person.

They would have the appearance of writing impartially of themselves, of abstracting themselves from themselves, when, in reality, they were ever present to themselves. The men of God were writing of the things of God. They had a God-given indifference how they themselves would be thought of by man. They related, with the same holy unconcern, their praise or their blame. Jonah has exhibited himself in his infirmities, such as no other but himself would have drawn a prophet of God. He has left his character, unexplained, unsoftened; he has left himself lying under God‘s reproof; and told us nothing of all that which God loved in him, and which made him a chosen instrument of God also. People, while they measure divine things, or characters formed by God, by what would be natural to themselves, measure by a crooked rule 1 Corinthians 4:3. “It is a very small thing,” says Paul, “that I should be judged of you, or of man‘s judgment.” Nature does not measure grace; nor the human spirit measure the Divine Spirit.

As for the few words, which persons who disbelieved in miracles selected out of the Book of Jonah as a plea for removing it far down beyond the period when those miracles took place, they rather indicate the contrary. They are all genuine Hebrew words or forms, except the one Aramaic name for the decree of the king of Nineveh, which Jonah naturally heard in Nineveh itself.

A writer, equally unbelieving, who got rid of the miracles by assuming that the Book of Jonah was meant only for a moralizing fiction, found no counter-evidence in the language, but ascribed it unhesitatingly to the Jonah, son of Amittai, who prophesied in the reign of Jeroboam II. He saw the nothingness of the so-called proof, which he had no longer any interest in maintaining.

The examination of these words will require a little detail, yet it may serve as a specimen (it is no worse than its neighbors) of the way in which the disbelieving school picked out a few words of a Hebrew prophet or section of a prophet, in order to disparage the genuineness of what they did not believe.

The words are these:

(1) The word ספינה sephı̂ynâh literally “a decked vessel.” is a genuine Hebrew word from ספן sâphan “covered, ceiled”. The word was borrowed from the Hebrew, not by Syrians or Chaldees only but by the Arabians, in none of which dialects is it an original word. A word plainly is original in that language in which it stands connected with other meanings of the same root, and not in that in which it stands isolated. Naturally too, the term for a decked vessel would be borrowed by inland people, as the Syrians, from a notion living on the seashore, not conversely. This is the first occasion for mentioning “a decked vessel.” It is related that Jonah went in fact “below deck,” “was gone down into the sides of the decked vessel.” Three times in those verses Jonah 1:3-5, when Jonah did not wish to express that the vessel was decked, he uses the common Hebrew word, אניה 'onı̂yâh It was then of set purpose that he, in the same verse, used the two words, אניה 'onı̂yâh and ספינה sephı̂ynâh מלח mallâch is also a genuine Hebrew word from מלח melach salt sea, as ἁλιεύς halieus from ἅλς hals “salt,” then (masculine) in poetry “brine.” It is formed strictly, as other Hebrew words denoting an occupation.. It does not occur in earlier books, because “seamen” are not mentioned earlier.

(3) החבל רב rab hachôbêl “chief of the sailors,” “captain.” “Rab” is Phoenician also, and this was a Phoenician vessel. It does not occur earlier, because “the captain of a vessel” is not mentioned earlier. One says, “it is the same as שׂר s'ar chiefly in later Hebrew.” It occurs, in all, only four times, and in all cases, as here, of persons not Hebrew; Nebuzaradan, טבחים רב rab ṭabbâchı̂ym 2 Kings 25:8, “captain of the guard,” סריסים רב rab sârı̂ysı̂ym Daniel 1:3, “chief of the eunuchs;” ביתוּ רב כל kôl rab bayithô Esther 1:8, “every officer of his house.” שׂר s'ar on the other hand, is never used except of an office of authority, of one who had a place of authority given by one higher. It occurs as much in the later as in the earlier books, but is not used in the singular of an inferior office. It is used of military, but not of any interior secular command. It would probably have been a solecism to have said החבל שׂר s'ar hachôbêl as much as if we were to say “prince of sailors.” חבל chôbêl which is joined with it, is a Hebrew word not Aramaic word.

(4) רבו ribbô “ten thousand,” they say, “is a word of later Hebrew.” Certainly neither it, nor any inflection of it occurs in the Pentateuch, Judges, Samuel, Canticles, in until which we have the word רבבה rebâbâh It is true also that the form רבו ribbô or derivative forms occur in books of the date of the captivity, as Daniel, Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. (In 1 Chronicles 29:7, twice, Daniel once, Ezra twice; Nehemiah thrice.) But it also occurs in a Psalm of David, and in Hosea (Hosea 8:12 Ch.) who is acknowledged to have prophesied in the days of Jeroboam, and so was a contemporary of Jonah. It might have been, accordingly, a form used in Northern Palestine, but that its use by David does not justify such limitation.

(5) עשׁת ית yı̂th ‛âshath “thought, purposed,” is also an old Hebrew word, as appears from its use in the number eleven, as the first number which is conceived in thought, the ten being numbered on the fingers. The root occurs also in Job, a Psalm Psalm 146:4, and the Canticles. in the Syriac, it does not occur; nor, in the extant Aramaic, in the sense in which it is used in Jonah. For in Jonah it is used of the merciful thoughts of God; in Aramaic, of the evil thoughts of man. Besides, it is used in Jonah not by the prophet himself but by the shipmaster, whose words he relates.

(6) The use of the abridged forms of the relative pronoun שׁ she for אשׁר 'ăsher twice in composite words בשׁלמי beshelmı̂y Jonah 1:7, בשׁלי beshelı̂y Jonah 1:12, (the fuller form, למי באשׁר ba'ăsher lemı̂y Jonah 1:8, also occurring) and once in union with a noun שׁבן shebbên (Jonah 4:10. (2)).

There is absolutely no plea whatever for making this an indication of a later style, and yet it occurs in every string of words, which have been assumed to be indications of such style. It is not Aramaic at all, but Phoenician and old Hebrew. In Phoenician, “esh” is the relative, which corresponds the more with the Hebrew in that the phollowing letter was doubled, as in the Punic words in Plautus, “syllohom, siddoberim,” it enters into two proper names, both of which occur in the Pentateuch, and one, only there, מתושׁאל methûshâ'êl Genesis 4:18, “a man of God,” and מישׁאל mı̂yshâ'êl (Exodus 6:22; Leviticus 10:4; also in Daniel and Nehemiah), the same as Michael, “who is like God?” literally, “Who is what God is?”

Probably, it occurs also in the Pentateuch in the ordinary language Genesis 6:3. Perhaps it was used more in the dialect of North Palestine. Probably it was also the spoken language Judges 6:17; 2 Kings 6:11. Two of the instances in the Lamentations are words in the mouth of the pagan, Lamentations 2:15-16), in which abridged forms are used in all languages. Hence, perhaps its frequent use in the Song of Solomon (Ecclesiastes 1:3, Ecclesiastes 1:7, Ecclesiastes 1:9 (4), 10,11(2), 14,17; Ecclesiastes 2:9, Ecclesiastes 2:11 (2), 2,13,14,15,16,17,18(3), 19(2), 20,21(2), 22,24,26; Ecclesiastes 3:13-15, Ecclesiastes 3:18, Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 4:2, Ecclesiastes 4:10; Ecclesiastes 5:4, Ecclesiastes 5:14 (2), 15 (2), 17; Ecclesiastes 6:3, Ecclesiastes 6:10 (2); Ecclesiastes 7:10, Ecclesiastes 7:14, Ecclesiastes 7:24; Ecclesiastes 8:7, Ecclesiastes 8:14, Ecclesiastes 8:17; Ecclesiastes 9:5, Ecclesiastes 9:12 (2); Ecclesiastes 10:3, Ecclesiastes 10:5, Ecclesiastes 10:14, Ecclesiastes 10:16-17; Ecclesiastes 11:3, Ecclesiastes 11:8; Ecclesiastes 12:3, Ecclesiastes 12:7, Ecclesiastes 12:9).

This, in itself, requires some ground for its use, beyond that of mere date. Of books which are really later, it does not occur in Jeremiah‘s prophecies, Ezekiel, Daniel, or any of the 6 later of the Minor prophets, nor in Nehemiah or Esther. It occurs once only in Ezra Ezra 8:20, and twice in the First Book of Chronicles (1 Chronicles 5:20 שעמהם ; 1 Chronicles 27:27 שבכרמים ), whereas it occurs four times in the Judges Judges 5:7; Judges 6:17; Judges 7:12; Judges 8:26, and once in the Kings (2 Kings 6:11 משלנו .), and once probably in Job (Job 19:29, ending with שדין .). Its use belongs to that wide principle of condensation in Hebrew, blending in one, in different ways, what we express by separate words. The relative pronoun is confessedly, on this ground, very often omitted in Hebrew poetry, when it would be used in prose. In the Canticles, Solomon does not once use the ordinary separate relative, אשׁר 'ăsher the 19 instances in the Psalms, almost half, 9, occur in those Psalms of unique rhythm - the gradual Psalms Psalm 122:3-4; Psalm 123:2; Psalm 124:1, Psalm 124:6; Psalm 129:6-7; Psalm 133:2-3; four more occur in two other Psalms Psalm 125:2,8,10; Psalm 136:23, which belong to one another, the latter of which has that remarkable burden, for His mercy endureth forever. Three are condensed into a solemn denunciation of Babylon in another Psalm. (Psalm 137:8 (2), 9. The remaining ones are Psalm 144:15, שככה and Psalm 146:3, Psalm 146:5). Of the ten Psalms, in which it occurs, four are ascribed to David, and only one, Psalm 137:1-9, has any token of belonging to a later date. In the two passages in the Chronicles, it occurs in words doubly compounded (1 Chronicles 5:20 שעמהם ; 1 Chronicles 27:27 שבכרמים ). The principle of rhythm would account for its occurring four times in the five chapters of the Lamentations Lamentations 2:15-16; Lamentations 4:19; Lamentations 5:18 of Jeremiah, while in the 52 chapters of his prophecies it does not occur even once. In Job also, it is in a solemn pause. Altogether, there is no proof whatever that the use of שׁ she for אשׁר 'ăsher is any test of the date of any Hebrew book, since:

(1) It is not Aramaic.

(2) It occurs in the earliest books, and

(3) not in the latest books.

(4) Its use is idiomatic, and nowhere except in the Canticles and Ecclesiastes does it pervade any book.

If it had belonged to the ordinary idiom at the date of Ezra, it would not have been so entirely insulated as it is, in the three instances in the Chronicles and Ezra. It would not have occurred in the earlier books in which it does occur, and would have occurred in later books in which it does not. In Jonah, its use in two places is unique to himself, occurring nowhere else in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the first, its Phoenician form is used by the Phoenician mariners; in the second it is an instance of the spoken language in the mouth of the prophet, a native of North Palestine, and in answer to Phoenicians. In the third instance, (where it is the simple relative pronoun) its use is evidently for condensation. Its use, in any case, would agree with the exact circumstances of Jonah, as a native of North Palestine, conversing with the Phoenician mariners. The only plea of argument has been gained by arguing in a circle, assuming without any even plausible ground that the Song of Solomon or Psalms of David were late, because they had this form, and then using it as a test of another book being late; ignoring alike the earlier books which have it and the later books which have it not, and its exceptional use (except in the Canticles and Ecclesiastes), in the books which have it.

(7) It is difficult to know to what end the use of מנה mânâh “appoint ” or “prepare,” is alleged, since it occurs in a Psalm of David Psalm 61:8. Jonah uses it in a special way as to acts of God‘s Providence, “preparing” before, what He wills to employ. Jonah uses the word of the “preparing” of the fish, the palm-christ, the worm which should destroy it, the East wind. He evidently used it with a set purpose, to express what no other word expressed equally to his mind, how God prepared by His Providence the instruments which He willed to employ.

(8) There remains only the word used for the decree of the king of Nineveh, טעם ṭa‛am This is a Syriac word; and accordingly, since it has now been ascertained beyond all question, that the language of Nineveh was a dialect of Syriac, it was, with a Hebrew pronunciation, the very word used of this decree at Nineveh. The employment of the special word is a part of the same accuracy with which Jonah relates that the decree used was issued not from the king only, but from the king and his nobles, one of those minute touches, which occur in the writings of those who describe what they have seen, but supplying a fact as to the Assyrian polity, which we should not otherwise have known, that the nobles were in some way associated in the decrees of the king.

Out of these eight words or forms, three are naval terms, and, since Israel was no seafaring people, it is in harmony with the history, that these terms should first occur in the first prophet who left the land of his mission by sea. So it is also, that an Assyrian technical term should first occur in a prophet who had been sent to Nineveh. A fifth word occurs in Hosea, a contemporary of Jonah, and in a Psalm of David. The abridged grammatical form was Phoenician, not Aramaic, was used in conversation, occurs in the oldest proper names, and in the Northern tribes. The 7th and 8th do not occur in Aramaic in the meaning in which they are used by Jonah.

In truth, often as these false criticisms have been repeated from one to the other, they would not have been thought of at all, except for the miracles related by Jonah, which the devisers of these criticisms did not believe. A history of miracles, such as those in Jonah, would not be published at the time, unless they were true! Those then who did not believe that God worked any miracles, were forced to have some plea for saying that the book was not written in the time of Jonah. Prejudices against faith have, sometimes openly, sometimes tacitly, been the ruling principle (on which earlier portions of Holy Scripture have been classed among the latter by critics who disbelieved what those books or passages related. Obviously no weight can be given to the opinions of critics, whose criticisms are founded, not on the study of the language, but upon unbelief. It has recently been said, “the joint decision of Gesenius, DeWette and Hitzig ought to be final.” A joint decision certainly it is not. For DeWette places the book of Jonah before the captivity; Gesenius and Ewald, when prophecy had long ceased; Ewald, partly on account of its miracles, in the 5th century, b.c.; and Hitzig, with his accustomed willfulness and insulatedness of criticism, built a theory that the book is of Egyptian origin on his own mistake that the קיקיון qı̂yqâyôn grew only in Egypt, and placed it in the second century, b.c., the times of the Maccabees. The interval is also filled up. Every sort of date and contradictory grounds for those dates have been assigned. So then one places the book of Jonah in the time of Sennacherib, i. e., of Hezekiah; another under Josiah; another before the captivity; another toward the end of the captivity, after the destruction of Nineveh by Cyaxares; a fifth lays chief stress on the argument that the destruction of Nineveh is not mentioned in it; a sixth prefers the time after the return from the captivity to its close; a seventh doubted not, “from its argument and purpose, that it was written before the order of prophets ceded”, others of the same school are as positive from. its arguments and contents, that it must have been written after that order was closed.

The style of the Book of Jonah is, in fact pure and simple Hebrew, corresponding to the simplicity of the narrative, and of the prophet‘s character. Although written in prose, it has poetic language, not in the thanksgiving only, but whenever it suits the subject. These expressions are unique to Jonah. Such are, in the account of the storm, “the Lord cast a strong wind,” “the vessel thought to be broken,” “the sea shall be silent” (hushed, as we say) i. e., calm; “the wind was advancing and storming”, as with a whirlwind; (the word is used as to the sea by Jonah only), “the men plowed” or “dug” (in rowing) “the sea stood from its raging.” Also “let man and beast ‹clothe themselves‘ with sackcloth,” and that touching expression, “son of a night, it (the palma-Christi ) came to being, and son of a night (i. e., in a night) it perished.” It is in harmony with his simplicity of character, that he is fond of the old idiom, by which the thought of the verb is carried on by a noun formed from it. “The men feared a great fear,” (Jonah 1:10, Jonah 1:16. יראה ייראו ) “It displeased Jonah a great displeasure,” (Jonah 4:1. רעה ירע ) “Jonah joyed a great joy.” (Jonah 4:6, שמחה ישמח ) Another idiom has been observed, which occurs in no writer later than the judges.

But, in the history, every phrase is vivid and graphic. There is not a word which does not advance the history. There is no reflection. All hastens on to the completion, and when God has given the key to the whole, the book closes with His words of exceeding tenderness lingering in our ears. The prophet, with the same simplicity and beginning with the same words, says he did not, and he did, obey God. The book opens, after the first authenticating words, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it, for the wickedness is come up before Me.” God had commanded him to arise; the narrative simply repeats the word, “And Jonah arose “ - but for what? to flee in the very opposite direction “from being before the Lord”, i. e., from standing in His presence, as His servant and minister. He lost no time, to do the contrary. After the miracles, by which he had been both punished and delivered, the history is resumed with the same simple dignity as before, in the same words; the disobedience being noticed only in the word, a second time. “And the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry unto it that cry which I say unto thee.” This time it follows, “And Jonah arose and went to Nineveh.”

Then, in the history itself, we follow the prophet step by step. He arose to flee to Tarshish, went down to Joppa, a perilous, yet the only sea-port for Judaea (1 Kings 5:9; 2 Chronicles 2:16; and after the captivity, Ezra 3:7). He finds the ship, “pays its fare” (one of those little touches of a true narrative); God sends the storm, man does all he can; and all in vain. The character of the pagan is brought out in contrast with the then sleeping conscience and despondency of the prophet. But it is all in act. They are all activity; he is simply passive. They pray, (as they can) each man to his gods; he is asleep: they do all they can, lighten the ship, the ship-master rouses him, to pray to his God, since their own prayers avail not; they propose the lots, cast them; the lot falls upon Jonah. Then follow their brief accumulated inquiries; Jonah‘s calm answer, increasing their fear; their inquiry of the prophet himself, what they are to do to him; his knowledge that he must be cast over; the unwillingness of the pagan; one more fruitless effort to save both themselves and the prophet; the increasing violence of the storm; the prayer to the prophet‘s God, not to lay innocent blood to them, who obeyed His prophet; the casting him forth; the instant hush and silence of the sea; their conversion and sacrifice to the true God - the whole stands before us, as if we saw it with our own eyes.

And yet, amid, or perhaps as a part of, that vividness, there is that characteristic of Scripture-narratives, that some things even seem improbable, until, on thought, we discover the reason. It is not on a first reading, that most perceive the naturalness either of Jonah‘s deep sleep, or of the increase of the mariner‘s fear, on his account of himself. Yet that deep sleep harmonizes at least with his long hurried flight to Joppa, and that mood with which men who have taken a wrong step, try to forget themselves. He relates that he “was gone down” Jonah 1:5, i. e., before the storm began. The sailors‘ increased tear surprises us the more, since it is added, “they knew that he had fled from before the presence of God, ‹because he had told them.‘” One word explained it. He had told them, from whose service he had fled, but not that He, against whom he had sinned, and who, they would think, was pursuing His fugitive, was “the Maker of the sea,” whose raging was threatening their lives.

Again, the history mentions only that Jonah was cast over; that God prepared a fish to swallow him; that he was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights; that he, at the end of that time, prayed to God out of the fish‘s belly, and at the close of the prayer was delivered. The word “prayed” obviously includes “thanksgiving” as the act of adoring love from the creature to the Creator. It is said that Hannah prayed 1 Samuel 2:1, but her hymn, as well as Jonah‘s does not contain one petition. Both are the outpouring of thanksgiving from the soul, to which God had given what it had prayed for. As, before, it was not said, whether he prayed because of the shipmaster‘s rebuke or not, so here nothing is said in the history, except as to the last moment, upon which he was cast out on the dry ground. The prayer incidentally supplies the rest. It is a simple thanksgiving of one who had prayed and who had been delivered Jonah 2:3. “I cried unto the Lord, and He heard me.” In the first mercy, he saw the earnest of the rest. He asks for nothing, he only thanks. But that for which he thanks is the deliverance from the perils of the sea. The thanksgiving corresponds with the plain words, “that he prayed out of the fish‘s belly.” They are suited to one so praying, who looked on in full faith to the future completion of his deliverance, although our minds might rather have been fixed on the actual peril. It is a thanksgiving of faith, but of stronger faith than many moderns have been able to conceive.

The hymn itself is a remarkable blending of old and new, as our Lord says Matthew 13:52: “Therefore is the kingdom of heaven like a householder, who bringeth out of his treasure new and old.” The prophet teaches us to use the Psalms, as well as how the holy men of old used them. In that great moment of religious life, the wellremembered Psalms, such as he had often used them, were brought to his mind. What had been figures to David or the sons of Korah, as Jonah 2:5; Psalm 69:2, “the waters are come in even unto my soul” Jonah 2:3; Psalm 42:8; “all Thy billows and Thy waves passed over me,” were strict realities to him. Yet only in this last sentence and in one other sentence which doubtless had become a proverb of accepted prayer Jonah 2:2; Psalm 120:1, “I cried out of my trouble unto the Lord and He heard me,” does Jonah use exactly the words of earlier Psalms. Elsewhere he varies or amplifies them according to his own special circumstances.

Thus, where David said, “the waters are ‹come in,‘ even unto my soul,” Jonah substitutes the word which best described the condition from which God had delivered him, “The water compassed me about, even to the soul.” Where David said (Psalm 31:22, נגזרתי ), “I am cut off from before Thine eyes,” expressing an abiding condition, Jonah, who had for disobedience been cast into the sea, uses the strong word (Jonah 2:4 (5), נגרשתי ), “I am cast out from before Thine eyes.” David says, “I said in my haste;” Jonah simply,” I said;” for he had deserved it. David said Jonah 2:7 (8)); for when he rebelled, he forgot Him. David said Psalm 31:7, “I hate them that observe lying vanities;” Jonah, who had himself disobeyed God, says mournfully Jonah 2:9, “They that observe lying vanities, ‹forsake their own mercy,‘” i. e., their God, Who is mercy.

Altogether, Jonah‘s thanksgiving is that of one whose mind was stored with the Psalms which were part of the public worship, but it is the language of one who uses and re-casts them freely, as he was taught of God, not of one who copies. No one verse is taken entirely from any Psalm. There are original expressions everywhere The words, “I went down to the cuttings-off of the mountains,” “the seaweed bound around my head;” “the earth, its bars around me forever:” perhaps the coral reefs which run along all that shore vividly exhibit him, sinking, entangled, imprisoned, as it seems, inextricably; he goes on; we should expect some further description of his state; but he adds, in five simple words, “Thou broughtest up my life from corruption, O Lord My God.” Words, somewhat like these last, occur elsewhere Psalm 30:3. “thou hast brought up my soul from hell,” agreeing in the one word “brought up.” But the majesty of the prophet‘s conception is in the connection of the thought; the seaweed was bound around his head as his grave-clothes; the solid bars of the deep-rooted earth, were around him, and … God brought him up. At the close of the thanksgiving, “Salvation is the Lord‘s,” deliverance is completed, as though God had only waited for this act of complete faith.

So could no one have written, who had not himself been delivered from such an extreme peril of drowning, as man could not, of himself, escape from. True, that no image so well expresses the overwhelmedness under affliction or temptation, as the pressure of storm by land, or being overflooded by the waves of the sea. Human poetry knows of “a sea of troubles,” or “the triple wave of evils.” It expresses how we are simply pas sive and powerless under a trouble, which leaves us neither breath nor power of motion; under which we can be but still, until, by God‘s mercy it passes. “We are sunk, overhead, deep down in temptations, and the masterful current is sweeping in eddies over us.” Of this sort are those images which Jonah took from the Psalms. But a description so minute as the whole of Jonah‘s would be allegory, not metaphor. What, in it, is most descriptive of Jonah‘s situation, as “binding of the seaweed around the head, the sinking down to the roots of the mountains, the bars of the earth around him,” are special to this thanksgiving of Jonah; they do not occur elsewhere, for, except through miracle, they would be images not of peril but of death.

The same vividness, and the same steady directions to its end, characterizes the rest of the book. Critics have wondered why Jonah does not say, on what shore he was east forth, why he does not describe his long journey to Nineveh, or tell us the name of the Assyrian king, or what he himself did, when his mission was closed. Jonah speaks of himself, only as relates to his mission, and God‘s teaching through him; the tells us not the king‘s name, but his deeds.

The description of the size of Nineveh remarkably corresponds alike with the ancient accounts and modern investigations. Jonah describes it as “a city of three days‘journey.” This obviously means its circumference, for, unless the city were a circle, (as no cities are,) it would have no one diameter. A person might describe the average length and breadth of a city, but no one who gave any one measure, by days or miles or any other measure, would mean anything else than its circumference. Diodorus (probably on the authority of Ctesias) states that (Jonah 2:3. So too Q. Curtius v. 4.) “it was well-walled, of unequal lengths. Each of the longer sides was 150 furlongs; each of the shorter, 90. The whole circuit then being 480 furlongs (60 miles) the hope of the founder was not disappointed. For no one afterward built a city of such compass, and with walls so magnificent.” To Babylon “Clitarehus and the companions of Alexander in their writings, assigned a circuit of 365 furlongs, adding that the number of furlongs was conformed to the number of days in the year”.

Ctesias, in round numbers, calls them 360; Strabo, 385. All these accounts agree with the statement of Strabo, “Nineveh was much larger than Babylon.” The 60 miles of Diodorus exactly correspond with the three days‘ journey of Jonah. A traveler of our own at the beginning of the 17th century, John Cartwright, states that with his own eyes he traced out the ruinous foundations, and gives their dimensions. “It seems by the ruinous foundation (which I thoroughly viewed) that it was built with four sides, but not equal or square. For the two longer sides had each of them (as we guess) 150 furlongs, the two shorter sides ninety furlongs, which amounteth to four hundred and eighty furlongs of ground, which makes the threescore miles, accounting eight furlongs to an Italian mile.”

No one of the four great mounds, which lie around the site of ancient Nineveh, Nimrud, Kouyunjik, Khorsabad, Karamless, is of sufficient moment or extent to be identified with the old Nineveh. But they are connected together by the sameness of their remains. Together they form a parallelogram, and this of exactly the dimensions assigned by Jonah. “From the northern extremity of Kouyunjik to Nimrud, is about 18 miles, the distance from Nimrud to Karamless, about 12; the opposite sides, the same.” “A recent trigonometrical survey of the country by Captain Jones proves, I am informed,” says Layard, “that the great ruins of Kouyunjik, Nimrud, Karamless, and Khorsabad form very nearly a perfect parallelogram.”

This is perhaps also the explanation, how, seeing its circumference was three days‘ journey, Jonah entered a day‘s journey in the city and, at the close of the period, we find him at the East side of the city, the opposite to that at which he had entered.

His preaching seems to have lasted only this one day. He went, we are told, “one day‘s journey in the city.” The 150 stadia are nearly 19 miles, a day‘s journey, so that Jonah walked through it from end to end, repeating that one cry, which God had commanded him to cry out. We seem to see the solitary figure of the prophet, clothed (as was the prophet‘s dress) in that one rough garment of hair cloth, uttering the cry which we almost hear, echoing in street after street, Jonah 3:4, “נהפחת נינוה יום ארבעים עד ‛ôd' arbâ‛ı̂ym yôm nı̂ynevêh nêhpâcheth “yet forty days and Nineveh overthrown!” The words which he says he cried and said, belong to that one day only. For on that one day only, was there still a respite of forty days. In one day, the grace of God prevailed. The conversion of a whole people upon one day‘s preaching of a single stranger, stands in contrast with the many years during which, God says (Jeremiah 7:25, add 13; Jeremiah 11:7; Jeremiah 25:3-4; Jeremiah 26:5; Jeremiah 29:19; Jeremiah 32:33; Jeremiah 35:14-15; Jeremiah 44:4), “since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day, I have sent unto you all My servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them, yet they hearkened not unto Me.” Many of us have wondered what the prophet did on the other thirty-nine days; people have imagined the prophet preaching as moderns would, or telling them his own wondrous story of his desertion of God, his miraculous punishment, and, on his repentance, his miraculous deliverance. Jonah says nothing of this. The one point he brought out was the conversion of the Ninevites. This he dwells on in circumstantial details. His own part he suppresses; he would be, like John the Immerser, but the voice of one crying in the wild waste of a city of violence.

This simple message of Jonah bears an analogy to what we find elsewhere in Holy Scripture. Doubtless, the great preacher of repentance, John the Immerser, repeated oftentimes that one cry Matthew 3:2, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Our Lord vouchsafed to begin His own office with those self-same words Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15. And probably, among the civilized but savage inhabitants of Nineveh, that one cry was more impressive than any other would have been. Simplicity is always impressive. They were four words which God caused to be written on the wall amid Belshazzar‘s impious revelry Daniel 5:25 - פרסין תקל מנא מנא menê' menê' teqal perası̂yn (Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin ). We all remember the touching history of Jesus, the son of Anan, an unlettered rustic, who, “four years before the war, when Jerusalem was in complete peace and affluence,” burst in on the people at the Feast of Tabernacles with one oft-repeated cry, “A voice from the East, a voice from the West, a voice from the four winds, a voice on Jerusalem and the temple, a voice on the bridegrooms and the brides, a voice on the whole people;” how he went about through all the lanes of the city, repeating, day and night, this one cry; and when scourged until his bones were laid bare, echoed every lash with “woe, woe, to Jerusalem,” and continued as his daily dirge and his one response to daily good or ill-treatment, “woe, woe, to Jerusalem.” The magistrates and even the cold Josephus thought that there was something in it above nature.

In Jerusalem, no effect was produced, because they had filled up the measure of their sins and God had abandoned them. All conversion is the work of the grace of God. That of Nineveh remai


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Bibliography Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Jonah:4 Overview". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

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