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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Jonah 1



Verses 1-17

Jonah 1:1 to Jonah 2:1, Jonah 2:10. Jonah vainly Seeks to Evade the Mission to which God Appoints Him.—Jonah is bidden by Yahweh to proclaim judgment on Nineveh for its sin, but he hurries in the opposite direction, to Tarshish (p. 381). Why he refused to proclaim such congenial tidings appears only in the sequel (Jonah 4:2). In a very striking way the author indicates the intellectual limitation of Jonah's conception of Yahweh. "He rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord." Three times the phrase occurs, and where every word is meant to tell, the repetition is significant. It is true that Jonah believes that Yahweh can destroy or save Nineveh, and he even confesses Him as "the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land." But this formal confession of monotheism was cancelled by the localising of Yahweh, which made it possible for the prophet seriously to contemplate getting away from Him, if he only went far enough. This state of mind was characteristic of Judaism, which, asserting monotheism, yet by its particularism really denied it. Jonah cannot, however, get away from Yahweh, who sends a storm, so that the ship is in peril. The description of the sailors is very significant. They are representatives of the heathen world. When the storm threatens to break their vessel, they act up to the measure of the religion they possess, and each cries unto his god. At the same time they do their utmost to save the ship by sacrificing its wares. Jonah had, before the storm broke, gone into the innermost part of the ship, and while the heathen were praying and working he was fast asleep. The captain, like the crew, is deeply religious, and is amazed that in such straits any should neglect to pray. The character of the sailors comes out also in their treatment of Jonah. It would not have been surprising if, in harmony with ancient superstition, they had inferred at once the stranger's guilt, and sought to save their lives by casting him into the sea. But they become convinced of it only when the lot has fallen upon him. When they learn the nature of his sin they are terrified, and since he is the prophet of so powerful a God, they ask him what they must do. In Jonah's answer, bidding them cast him to the waves, we are tempted to see the one redeeming feature in his career; but it would probably be a mistake to lay stress on it. It was necessary for the development of the story that Jonah should be thrown into the sea, and the author would be unwilling to represent the sailors as taking the initiative in this. Jonah recognises that his plan of escape from Yahweh has failed, but Sheol may furnish a refuge he has not been able to find in Tarshish. Even after they have learnt that Jonah must be cast into the sea, they refuse to do it except as a last resource. They strain every nerve to get to land, but the tempest increases, and their efforts to save the prophet prove unavailing. But before they carry out his bidding they pray to Yahweh that He will not lay innocent blood to their charge, and indicate that it is only in obedience to His clearly expressed will that they sacrifice the prophet. The sea at once grows calm when Jonah as been cast into it, and the sailors fear Yahweh exceedingly, and sacrifice to Him and make vows. In this way the writer impresses two lessons on his reader. One is the high moral and religious excellence that exists in the heathen world, the other is the readiness of the heathen to turn to Yahweh. Against this background the character and conduct of Israel stand out in most unattractive colours. It may further be pointed out that the writer is in line with earlier prophets when he suggests that the political convulsions which overwhelmed other nations in the victorious advance of Assyria and Babylon occurred on account of Israel.

When Jonah is cast into the sea, Yahweh instructs a great fish to swallow him. Here we may touch the mythological conception of the dragon of the lower ocean. But this is of no moment for the general idea of the book. The episode of the fish is clear enough when we remember that Jonah is Israel and compare Jeremiah 51:34; Jeremiah 51:44. There it is said that the king of Babylon has swallowed Israel like a dragon, and again that Yahweh will compel Bel to disgorge that which he has swallowed. In other words, the story of the fish represents the Exile and the Restoration. In exile Israel prays to Yahweh and is released from captivity.

Jonah 1:5 b. Marti brings out the contrast with the sleep of Jesus during the storm on the lake (Mark 4:35-41): "Jonah was tranquil since he thought he was far from God's hand, Jesus confident since He knew Himself to be hidden in God's hand."

Jonah 1:9. I fear: read perhaps "I am fleeing from."

Jonah 1:17. prepared: render "ordered."


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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Jonah 1:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.

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