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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

Jonath

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THE Prophet Jonah was both the elder son and the unmerciful servant of the Old Testament. He was the elder son. For, as he came nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked him what these things meant. And he said to him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in; therefore, his father came out and entreated him. And the Lord entreated Jonah to leave his withered gourd and his sunbeaten booth, and to come in and share the joy of the spared city. Jonah was the unmerciful servant of that other New Testament parable also. O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee?

Everybody has the Book of Jonah by heart. How the word of the Lord came to Jonah, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness is come up before me. And how Jonah fled to Tarshish, and would not go to Nineveh; and how, on going down to Joppa, he found a ship going to Tarshish; so be paid the fare thereof, to go down to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. The runaway prophet parted with far more than his proper passage-money that day. He paid the advertised fare in the current Joppa coin, with the image and superscription of Jeroboam ii. stamped upon it. But no booking-clerk in Joppa could have counted up to Jonah all it would cost him all his future life on earth to have fled to Tarshish from his duty to Nineveh, and from the presence of the Lord his God.

Dr. Pusey tells us that the ships of Tarshish corresponded very much to the great East Indiamen of the days of his youth. And that to 'break the ships of Tarshish with an east wind' was a sailors' proverb for a terrible storm among the seafaring folk of those ancient days. But she would need to be a far more skilfully constructed, and a far more solidly built, and a far more scientifically navigated vessel than even an English East Indiaman that would engage to carry a disobedient prophet away from his post, and to land a guilty sinner in a harbour where God's hand would not hold him. As it was, the ship of Tarshish now in question soon began to give forth signs that she was not chartered to carry to Tarshish such a contraband cargo as that prophet of God was who now lay in her sides fast asleep. For no sooner was she well away to sea than the Lord sent out a mighty wind against that guilty ship, till every moment it seemed to all on board that she would go to the bottom. You may think the mariners to have been too superstitious, but you must judge gently of a crew of heathen men taken so suddenly between the jaws of death. Come, they said, this is no common storm. Come, therefore, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is come upon us. Did you ever hold your breath while God and man were casting the discovering lots of life or death over you? What is thine occupation? And whence comest thou? What is thy country, and of what people art thou? I am an Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of Heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land. Why hast thou done this? And what shall we do unto thee? And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you; for I know that it is for my sake that this great tempest is come upon you. So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea; and the sea ceased from her raging.

Before we leave this remarkably-written chapter of this every way remarkable little book, let me again call your attention to the power and the piety of the Bible style. 'The Lord hurled out,' as old Coverdale excellently translates it, 'a great wind into the sea.' And Jonah himself says, speaking of that sea long after, 'Thou didst cast me into the deep; and all Thy waves and all Thy billows passed over me.' The science of storms was still in its first infancy in Jonah's day; but even if it had already attained a greater maturity and sure-footedness than it has come to down even to our own day, that would not have debased, or in any way undeified, this sacred writer's so strong and so splendid style. The advance of science does not involve the retreat of religion. Nor does the uniformity and harmony of Nature enable her to dispense with the sleepless oversight of her Creator. The heavens may become still more astronomical than they yet are, without that making them any the less conspicuously the immediate movement of the Divine Hand. And the sea herself will yet be found to ebb and flow, and toss and storm, according to fixed and foreseen laws, without thereby blotting out God's footprints in the deep, or causing any less praise to arise to Him from a smooth sea or any less prayer from a storm. Our meteorology has still a multitude of confused and restless phenomena to register, and a great mass of carefully-taken inductions to reduce to a rule: but, all the time, our Bible keeps impressing upon us that bad weather overtook Jonah for his bad behaviour; and that his disobedience before God bad disturbed an equilibrium that was far too delicately poised for any earthly instrument of heat or cold, or dry or moist, to take account of.

That terrible storm arose because of quite open and quite easily ascertainable disturbances in the surrounding and overhanging atmosphere. Yes; most certainly and most indisputably it did. But it also arose,-the less reason does not deny the greater, nor does the proximate cause supersede the ultimate,-it also, and much more, arose, says the word of God, because there was a controversy being carried on that day between God and His vagabond servant. Saints and sinners, prophets and mariners, are not made for the sake of the sea and the sky, but the sea and the sky are made for the sake of saints and sinners. Seas and skies and storms and fair weather all work together under the most complex and the most majestic laws for our good. Every disobedient sinner suddenly startled out of his sleep at midnight is wiser than all his teachers when he repents, and prays, and vows, and refuses to be comforted by the most correct barometric calculations. There is the making of a rare man of science in that young transgressor who wakens with a start, and cannot sleep for fear as the Great White Throne flashes into his prayerless room, and the last trump makes his sinful bed to shake.

After the terrible tempest, and the still more terrible outcome of the sin-discovering lots, and after his being taken up and cast out by the mariners into the raging sea, and by God into the belly of hell, and after his life was brought up from corruption, and his prayer came into God's holy temple; after all that you would have said that Jonah, so purified in such a furnace, would now be the best prophet that God had ever had. He will be the very best ambassador that could possibly be sent to the king of Nineveh. With a great joy in God Jonah will be an ambassador to beseech the king of Nineveh and all his nobles and all his people to be reconciled to the righteous God of Israel. He had so tasted the bitterness of death in his own soul; and, then, after that, he had so tasted that the Lord is gracious-Jonah will preach repentance with a will. Yes. He who had been three days and three nights in such remorse was surely the very preacher to be sent to a people who were, every man of them, within forty days of destruction. Come and see a man who has just come up out of hell, whispered the trembling people of Ravenna to one another, as Dante staggered through their streets. Come, said the men of Nineveh, and hear what the prophet from Israel has to say to our city, for he has just been vomited out of the fish's belly to preach repentance to us, and to our city.

Till the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, and turned every one from his evil way, and from the violence that was in their hands. And till God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way: and God repented of the evil that He had said He would do unto them: and He did it not.

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And he said, Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech Thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live. I do well to be angry, even unto death. What ails Jonah? Why is God's prophet in such a passion? Why is it better for Jonah to die than to live? Even Calvin confesses that he suspects some of his own explanations and apologies for Jonah to be but specious pretences, as they are. Jonah would thank no man for his specious apologies for him. Jonah did not write his noble book in an apologetic interest. He wrote his book in sackcloth and ashes. And, as it was written, so it must be read, if it is not to be read in vain: if it is not to be wholly misread, and its lessons wholly lost.

Biting my truant pen,
Beating myself for spite,
Fool, said my muse to me,
Look in thy heart and write.

Jonah was exceedingly displeased, and he was very angry at the repentance and deliverance of Nineveh, because, like all his people in the house of Israel, he both feared and hated Nineveh with his whole soul. Nineveh, as Jonah knew, was predestinated and prepared, and prophesied of God to he the fast-coming scourge and the cruel prison-house of the conquered and captive Israel. And, such was the power and the policy of Nineveh, and such was the sin and the weakness of Israel, that Jonah could look for not one atom of hope for his country unless it was in the great and insufferable wickedness of Nineveh, and in the swift and sure judgment of God against Nineveh. And thus it was that every report that came across the wilderness of the increasing wickedness of Nineveh, Jonah rejoiced in that, and took comfort out of that both for himself and for his people. It was the best thing that could happen to Jonah when the word of the Lord came to him and said, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness is come up before me. Jonah's heart beat high with hope that Nineveh was now so near her destruction. And if only all possibility of her repentance and reformation could be kept back from Nineveh for forty days, then all might yet be well with Jonah and with his foredoomed people. But, with such a God as his God was, Jonah had no security. With a God so given to mercy at the first sign of repentance in a sinner, Jonah felt that Israel was not safe till Nineveh was completely destroyed, and for ever blotted out. If I go and preach that preaching to them; if I go and warn and alarm them; and if they repent and turn them to God; then it were better I were dead. Perish my prophet's place: perish the presence of God and all, rather than that I should take a single step to preach repentance to Nineveh! And Jonah rose up to free to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, with the result that all the world knows. And, then, when he was shut up to choose between preaching in Nineveh, or making his bed in the belly of hell; and, then, when his compulsory preaching ended as he felt sure it would end-it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. 'Were it known to us,' says Dr. Pusey, 'that some European or Asiatic people were to carry our own people captive out of our land, more than would be willing to confess it of themselves, would still inwardly rejoice that such a calamity as the earthquake of Lisbon befell the capital of that people.' Ay, and far short of our captivity, let any Continental people, by the education and the industry of their workmen, threaten to take away some of our foreign markets from us, and what an outburst of scorn and indignation will immediately sweep over our land. What is that upstart Germany that she should make better merchandise and sell it cheaper than England! What is that volatile France that she should with such insistence demand what we intend to do in Egypt! And what is our secular rival Russia that she should seek an outlet to any ocean east or west! Does Britannia not rule the waves by Divine right and by her ironclad fleet! Let England expand and increase, and let all the other nations of the earth keep silence. It displeased Jonah exceedingly that the Lord had not destroyed Nineveh, and he was very angry. And not only between contending and competing nations, but much more so between contending and competing churches. With what Jonah-like displeasure do we Free Churchmen and Dissenters hear that an Established Church is prospering, and with what a like uneasiness do State Churchmen read that our Sustentation Funds stand firm. We hear much worse news than that a certain church is likely to have to withdraw from some of her mission-fields because her people will not support her work. We are not overwhelmed with sadness when we read of a morning how her greatest orators drew but a thin house on that subject last night. Better the heathen perish than that such prosperity should attend the labours of our rival. Better that the whole city lapsed than that her communion-roll should so run over. How angry Jonah is still made-he never forgives you-if you have any good to say of any other church than his own, or of any party in his own church than his own party. Till you come down to this,-if you have any good to say of any man but himself. Poor Jonah! who had to make his choice between the belly of hell and the possible repentance, and preservation, and prosperity of Nineveh. But far poorer, and far more to be both blamed and pitied, you and I who have to make our choice between that same arrest and imprisonment and a life of service and of continual prayer and good-will for all our enemies. Behold, I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people. I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation!

John Calvin is certainly correct when he says that Jonah had far more respect to his own reputation as a prophet of the divine judgment to Nineveh than he had either to the good of Nineveh or to the glory of God. And we are all like Jonah in that respect. Our reputation is our first and our chief regard in all that we do. At any rate, when I watch the working of my own heart in this matter, and then write honestly out of my own heart, this is what I am compelled to write: I am Jonah. In the matter of my own reputation as a preacher, that is. For I used to say, Let me die first before I am eclipsed by another in my pulpit, and among my people. I fought with a Jonah-like fierceness against the remotest thought of my reputation ever passing over, in my day at any rate, to another. I kept my eyes shut to the decay going on around my pulpit till I could shut my eyes to it no longer. And then, when the proper cure came for that decay, how unwelcome at heart all the time that cure was to me. Jonah was exceedingly displeased at the success of his mission to Nineveh, and I myself have taken a part in missions in my ministry also, the success of which sometimes makes me sick at heart. 'I beseech Thee now, O God'-they are Augustine's words-'to reveal me to myself still more than Thou hast yet done; so that I may confess myself to my brethren, who have promised to pray for me.' 'And those things, my brethren'-they are Paul's words-'I have in a figure transferred to myself for your sakes, that ye might learn in me not to think of men above that which is written. We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised'-and deserve to be.

But Jonah came to himself again during those five-and-twenty days or so, from the east gate of Nineveh back to Gath-hepher, his father's house. 'He travels the fastest who travels alone.' Week after week, Sabbath day after Sabbath day, alone with God and his own thoughts in that sacred wilderness made Jonah another man. So much so, that by the time that Jonah crossed the Jabbok, and spent the night at Peniel, Jonah was prepared not only to go to whatever work God sent him, but far more than that, and far better than that, Jonah was now prepared to pay his vow, and to write his book, and to say in every humiliating chapter of it-Come and hear, all ye that fear God; I will declare what He hath done for my soul. And, long before the first day of atonement after his flight to Tarshish came round, Jonah had his autobiography ready to bind it with cords to the horns of the altar. And thus it is that we have now lying open before us to this day the very identical psalm that Jonah sang every new morning on his way home from Nineveh to the land of Israel. And a splendid and a fruitful psalm it is for the use of all redeemed and restored sinners, and especially for the use of all redeemed and restored ministers of such sinners. I cried by reason of mine affliction to the Lord, and He heard me. Out of the belly of hell cried I, and Thou heardest me. I am cast out of Thy sight, yet will I look again toward Thy holy temple. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever; yet hast Thou brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God. They that observe lying vanities-their own reputation, that is-forsake their own mercy. But I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.


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Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Jonath'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wbc/j/jonath.html. 1901.

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