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Sermon Bible Commentary

Jonah 1

 

 

Verse 1-2

Jonah 1:1-2

The main features of the case are: (1) A Divine commission and command distinctly and authoritatively given, with some of the reasons for it annexed, although with others certainly not fully revealed. (2) A state of reluctance and suspense ever verging towards actual disobedience—expressing itself, now in remonstrance, now in request for exemptions, now in moody and distrustful silence. The situation is none so rare. The principles involved, and the lessons arising, are for all time.

I. We take occasion to force the supreme and unchallengeable obligation of the Divine will when clearly expressed. There can be no higher obligation to man or angel than that. Obedience, promptly, fully given, is the most beautiful thing that walks the earth. Prompt and simple obedience, when we are sure that God speaks, is the way to clearness, virtue, honour, strength, safety, peace.

II. The corresponding lesson is the exceeding danger of a mood of hesitation or remonstrance. All the sorrows of the sea sprang, like harvest, from Jonah's wrong mood at the time of his call on land. We should watch with great self-jealousy the moral hesitations of the will, and the silent petitionings for delay or exemption, and the attempts to have the case reasoned out more fully after the command has been heard, and the conviction of duty clearly produced. All such heart-movements are fraught with peril. Divine light is given for "walking" and "working." The Divine voice speaks, whether in the written law, or the living conscience apprehending it, only to be obeyed. In matters of expediency and prudence wait for the afterthoughts. In matters of conscience and present duty take the first thoughts that arise, for they are the divinest.

III. A practical difficulty with many will be to find a sufficient analogy between a call like this, a high call of God to an inspired prophet, requiring a service that would be memorable in the history of the world, and the simple calls of duty to Christian service—daily work. "There seems to be little resemblance. Little fitness, therefore, in a summons expressly supernaturally given, when applied to the ever-recurring duties and humble scenes of common life." On the contrary, there is all the fitness that need be desired. The Christian convictions, although produced insensibly and slowly, wrought out of knowledge, prayer, and effort, yet, in authority, take rank with the highest. They are the last results of a very long process. They are the fruit of the action of the Spirit of God, making use of all that has been done in the world for man's redemption.

A. Raleigh, The Story of Jonah, p. 30.


References: Jonah 1:1-3.—J. Menzies, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 49; W. G. Blaikie, Homiletic Magazine, vol. vi., p. 165.


Verse 3

Jonah 1:3

I. We cannot understand the conduct of Jonah fully. We cannot judge it fairly without considering some things which seemed to him to be reasons against compliance with the Divine call. (1) It was a long way, many hundreds of miles, and a great part of it through a desert. (2) The thing to be done was very difficult. (3) It would be natural that he should despair of any great success. (4) He may have thought that, in the event of attaining a spiritual success, failure must come in another way. (5) It is quite clear that the prophet had some dark forecast of evil to his own country, from the probable turn which matters would take, if his mission at Nineveh should be successful.

II. "He rose up to flee from the presence of the Lord." The meaning of that expression we take to be that he retired, or wished to retire, from the prophetic office, at least for a time, and from that peculiar and sacred nearness to God which a true prophet, in service, always had. He knew that if he continued in that presence it would move soon, as did the pillar of old, and that he must go eastwards to escape, if possible, from that necessity. He went out of the presence westwards as fast and as far as he could. It is certainly worthy of notice that the way he fled was almost the direct opposite of the way he would have gone if he had done God's bidding.

III. He went down to Joppa. Always, to leave the presence of God is to go down. Down from communion, from a conscious faith, from quietness and assurance, from steady, firm obedience. Down into strife without victory, into toil without fruit. Down into mere bargain-making, mere money-making, mere pleasure-seeking, mere time-wasting. The success and glory of true life can be found only by keeping the upward road, in hearing and following the voice which says perpetually, "Come up hither."

IV. Jonah tells us with a minuteness and particularity evidently intentional, "he found a ship going to Tarshish," and "paid the fare thereof, and went down into it," etc. What is the prophet's object in such careful minuteness? (1) It may have been to keep himself in remembrance, and tell all the world how many steps there were, so to speak, in his downgoing. (2) He may have meant to teach us that the outward aspects of providence to us at any one time constitute a very insufficient and unsafe guide in matters of moral duty.

A. Raleigh, The Story of Jonah, p. 52.


I. While Jonah works God waits. When Jonah falls asleep, God begins to work. The scene is thus arrestive and striking. The man hasting away for days from "the presence," out among second causes and exterior things, into a blank world of indifference. Then God, with a touch of His hand, raising up those second causes, which hitherto had seemed to favour the flight, into an irresistible combination for the arrest and recovery of the fugitive. Men dig pits and fall into them. They weave webs and by a touch of His hand they are snared and taken.

II. "The mariners were afraid and cried every man unto his god." Not all to one heathen deity, but each man to his own god. When God is forsaken, men forsake each other. They lose the power of mutual sympathy and help in the highest things. Only the true worshippers have that great power—the power of social sympathy—working in full strength among them. And yet we have no ground for uttering one word of reproach or blame against these men. They did all that could be expected of them. They prayed and wrought. They cried to their gods, and cast the wares out of the ship; a clear and good example to all men who are in straits.

III. Let us take our last lesson from the heathen captain. (1) He teaches us by his example. He is master of the ship, and he feels that, in an hour of peril especially, it lies within his province to incite and constrain all who sail in the ship, and who, therefore, as passengers or sailors, are under his care, to the discharge of their very highest duties. Remember that you have religious duties to the full breadth and length of your mastery. (2) He teaches us by his words. These words of his have aroused many a sleeper besides Jonah. They have been heard through the ages since, as watchman's cry, as trumpet's sound, to awaken and save souls from death.

A. Raleigh, The Story of Jonah, p. 76.


References: Jonah 1:3.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi., No. 622; Ibid., Evening by Evening, p. 56; E. Monro, Practical Sermons, vol. ii., p. 283; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 270.


Verse 4

Jonah 1:4

I. Apparently with great unanimity, the sailors fall upon a scheme to discover the cause and reason of the storm, or at any rate, the person on whose account it has come. They all pray, and then cast lots. They did not mean it as a desperate chance stroke. In their intention it was a religious act. As such it was accepted, for the lot fell upon Jonah. God uses the honest, although blind, endeavours of His creatures to discover truth and duty, to reveal to them in a measure what they are seeking, and at the same time to go on with the development of His own perfect providence. He takes what there is in the form of worship and service of Him, if it is the best that men can achieve in the circumstances.

II. The lot fell upon Jonah. The words spoken by the shipmaster at his berth, the falling of the lot upon him, the hurried questions of the crew, and the howling of the elements around, "awoke" him in the highest sense. He rose up as from a hideous dream, and stood once more before God and man, in openness, sincerity, and truth. "And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land." Few scenes in history have a darker grandeur than this confession of Jonah to these heathen sailors, when he knew that in a very short time he was to be cast into the sea. There is about his conduct a self-abnegation and a moral sublimity which are rarely found, among even good men.

III. Note the several expressions used in Jonah's confession. (i) "I am an Hebrew." The name by which the Jewish people were known to foreigners. The name came to them when as emigrants they passed the great river, the river Euphrates. Passers-by in life, not settlers anywhere on earth. Men of pilgrim spirit, seeking rest and home beyond death. (ii) "I am an Hebrew, and I fear"—i.e. serve, not I am afraid of, but, I serve in reverence, and trust, and love,—"the Lord"—Jehovah, the one living and true God—self-existent, self-sufficient, supreme, eternal. (iii) "The God of heaven"—a lofty title, often used in the Scriptures, and nearly always by God's servants, in speaking to heathens, signifying the creation, possession, and rule of the whole visible universe.

A. Raleigh, The Story of Jonah, p. 99.


References: Jonah 1:4-6.—W. G. Blaikie, Homiletic Magazine, vol. vi., p. 165. Jonah 1:4-7.—J. Menzies, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 75. Jonah 1:5, Jonah 1:6.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii., No. 469; S. Martin, Westminster Chapel Pulpit, 5th series, No. 2. Jonah 1:6.—Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 173; J. N. Norton, Golden Truths, p. 138. Jonah 1:7-10.—W. G. Blaikie, Homiletic Magazine, vol. vi., p. 167. Jonah 1:11-17.—Ibid., p. 245; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 166. Jonah 1:12, Jonah 1:13.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x., No. 567.


Verse 15

Jonah 1:15

I. Among the many marvels of this Book not the least is that Jonah, the discovered culprit, should be constituted judge in his own case. (i) The sailors' appeal to Jonah was in fact an appeal to God. It carries with it a reverential recognition of His hand. (ii) Also, we must see in this question a recognition of the honesty and recovered manhood of Jonah. (iii) No doubt they had some regard also to his prophetic office, and to the fact that he did not seem to be released from it. He might, therefore, for all they knew, still be carrying about with him some supernatural powers, which, although held for a while in suspense, might perhaps yet avail for their deliverance.

II. There seems to have been no delay in the giving of the answer. "And he said unto them, Take me up and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you," etc. Is this simply a human answer, dictated by the workings of natural conscience, and expressive of the desire of a despairing heart, to have done with life altogether? Or is it the answer of God Himself, to whom really, as we have supposed, appeal was made? Surely there can hardly be a doubt that the latter is the true supposition. His words show that he had a proper regard for the inviolable sacredness of his own life—that he recognized the principle, that only its Fountain and Giver could have the right to say when and where and how it was to be again given up to Him. The answer of Jonah is a virtual condemnation of suicide in any, in all, circumstances.

III. Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land. These men knew the value of life—and not of their life alone, but also of that life that had brought all their trouble. And thus we alight upon the beautiful principle of our moral life, that every good thing in our spirit and action has a tendency to reproduce itself in others who are in any way related to it, especially, of course, if it is called forth for their advantage.

IV. Wearied and panting, the sailors cease at length from the bootless strife, and gather about the man whom they cannot save. Prayer precedes the last sad act that shall part them and their passenger for ever. (i) The prayer is to Jehovah, the true God. (ii) They prayed earnestly. (iii) They prayed submissively. (iv) It is a prayer for exemption from the guilt of innocent blood. (v) The defect of the prayer, if it has one, is this—they do not pray for Jonah.

And now at length, all being done that could be done to avert the sad necessity, and done quite in vain, they proceed to the solemn execution of the sentence. "So they took up Jonah—"lifted him, the meaning is, with respect and tenderness, bearing him as if with some sad honour to his grave, he himself making no resistance—"and cast him into the sea." The elements are appeased and satisfied.

A. Raleigh, The Story of Jonah, p. 122.


I. Notice the storm raised. In the storm we have a striking image of life. For life is a voyage. We start from many ports, we touch at many others, we encounter many perils from wind and wave, we meet many storms; but they come from Him who "gathereth the winds in His fists." None of us must reckon on a continued calm if the sun shine on us for a little while, and think it will never rain again. If things go smooth and prosperously, we conclude that our mountain stands so strong it will never be moved. But you cannot have lived long in the world without learning that there are clouds in the brightest sky, a moth in the loveliest robe, a worm in the tallest cedar, and dross in the purest gold. Yet, if we do not lose our hold of Christ, we know that the sun is always in the sky, though we cannot always see it; and that He has said of every storm which He sends: "When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee."

II. We have here the storm hushed, and hushed by God. He remembered Jonah. He might have left Jonah to perish there, but He delivered him and brought him back from the gates of death. He can hush any storm. His clear, Divine, voice may be heard ringing above every tempest of life: "It is I be not afraid."

J. Fleming, Penny Pulpit, No. 782.


Verse 17

Jonah 1:17

We have no external history of the days spent by the prophet in his living grave. Neither he nor anyone else can tell how far he travelled, how long he rested, what were the aspects of the scenery, how many "small and great beasts" were met on the journey—that strange but fruitful journey "through the paths of the seas." But we have a very intense and clear history of his inward life.

I. There was evidently a great and sudden quickening of consciousness. The man who speaks in this holy psalm hardly seems the same person whom we have seen in flight—dark, moody, silent, despairing. Now, and all at once, he seems to leap again into life—clear, fervent, passionate life. The burial of his body is the resurrection of his soul.

II. Rapidly this new consciousness became distressful. His soul fills itself fuller than the sea, with affliction. The reserved sorrow of long sinning comes all at once. He feels "cast out of God's sight," and shivers in the utter loneliness.

III. Then he began to "look"—upwards to earth, eastwards to the Temple where he knew that the lost Presence was richly manifested. "Ah, if I could but go there! If I might see but once again the priest, the altar, and the mercy-seat! I could then be content to die. But at any rate I will look. If I die looking, still I shall look till I die."

IV. The look soon became a cry: "I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord."

V. He began to be grateful. There was daybreak in the land of the shadow of death. The sweet bloom of the morning smote down into the rayless depths, and revealed there the strangest sight those depths have ever disclosed—a living oratory and a thankful worshipper.

VI. Then, apparently, his soul passed into the more active state of renewed personal consecration to God.

VII. The final state of his mind is a state of entire dependence, involving a quiet and trustful surrender of the whole case to God. "Salvation is of the Lord."

A. Raleigh, The Story of Jonah, p. 145.


References: 1:17-2:10.—J. Menzies, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 94. Jonah 1—Parker, City Temple, vol. iii., p. 457. Jonah 1-4—J. Foster, Lectures, 2nd series, p. 1. Jonah 2:1-7.—W. G. Blaikie, Homiletic Magazine, vol. vi., p. 247. Jonah 2:2-10.—Ibid., p. 248.



 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Jonah 1:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/sbc/jonah-1.html.

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