Category Archives: The Bible

Jonah 1:11-16

Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. Therefore they called out to the LORD, “O LORD, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.” So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the LORD and made vows. Jonah 1:11-16

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”[1] These words were spoken by Moses in his last exposition of God’s Law to God’s people before they entered the Promised Land. The “Shema”, as it is called, named for the Hebrew imperative verb that begins it, has historically been recited by the Jews in both the morning and evening. “The LORD” – denoting the covenant name of God He had revealed to His people,[2] the God of the chosen covenant people – “the LORD is one.” That the LORD is one applies to both His unity and uniqueness. That the LORD is one God denotes His unity; though He is God in Trinity, the Trinity is one God in three Persons. That the LORD is one also denotes His uniqueness; there is none like Him, and thus He alone is God; the so-called gods of the nations are nothing. This truth, taught so many centuries before Jonah, would certainly have been well-known to the runaway prophet, just as it was known to his fellow prophets.  The LORD says through His prophet Isaiah, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.”[3] The people of God have always been monotheistic; not only do we worship the God Who is one, but we also worship the only God. However, when the LORD hurled a storm upon the sea, sovereignly commanding the elements to pursue Jonah, the terrified mariners each cried to his god – his imaginary deity – unsurprisingly to no avail. Their gods could not help them, for their gods were nothing; “For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens.”[4] When the lot providentially fell on the finally awakened Jonah, the mariners questioned their passenger about his identity, to which he responded, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”[5] It’s likely that the mariners had heard of the LORD, the covenant God of Israel, from His mighty works on behalf of His people, especially what He had done to Egypt. Here and now in their boat was one who had brazenly disobeyed the God of heaven, He Who made the land and sea; he had told them he was running away from the LORD’s special presence in Israel, and they responded in great fear. Jonah would be the end of them, and their idols could do nothing to stop it.

The prophet writes, Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. Having determined that Jonah was not a common passenger, but a prophet of the LORD Who had hurled the storm upon them, the mariners seek from him instruction in the proper course they must take to assuage God’s wrath. Earlier, the LORD had made the offending Jonah known to the mariners through the use of lots. This was practiced on occasion among the Jews as well. For example, Joshua cast lots for the people in Shiloh to determine the LORD’s will as to the apportioning of the land to the tribes.[6] The LORD also made known His will through His prophets.[7] Jonah was the only Hebrew aboard, and would thus be the one most likely to know what the LORD required for appeasement. And, what is more, though he was a disobedient runaway, he was still a prophet of God. As the sea was already about to rend the ship apart, and was growing worse by the second, something had to be done or every man on the vessel would be drowned. He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know that it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” To Jonah, there was no doubt – he knew that the storm was his fault. Though we are not told explicitly, it is likely that it was by divine revelation that Jonah pronounced this sentence upon himself. After all, he was a prophet of the LORD, though he had sinfully disobeyed God’s command to go to Nineveh. Just as the LORD had hurled the great wind and tempest upon the sea, Jonah was to be hurled into the sea, there to meet his death for his sinful disobedience. The storm had not been sent because of any of the mariners; it had been sent to punish their passenger, and with him thrown to the waves, they could be assured that the storm would cease. It was a terrible sentence indeed, but it was the will of the LORD. We will see this more clearly in a moment.

Interestingly, the mariners, pagans all, seek to show mercy to Jonah. Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. The English translation of the text doesn’t quite capture the Hebrew. Rendered more literally, the text tells us that “the men dug in” with their oars. Rather than throw this man into the sea, they sought with all their might to make it back to the safety of the land. Earlier, we saw that the pagans presented a contrast to Jonah in that they were up and praying (even though they were praying to idols) while the prophet of the LORD was fast asleep in the bowels of the ship. Here, we see another interesting contrast. Jonah, who was unwilling that the LORD should show mercy to the pagan Assyrians of Nineveh, received mercy from the pagan mariners who dug in their oars, straining against the angry sea with every fiber of their weary muscles, and that to save his life. But strain as they might, they were only delaying the inevitable. They already knew that the life of Jonah was forfeit; indeed, he had told them himself that he was the cause of the storm, and that his death would be the only atonement to appease God’s wrath. The mariners were essentially fighting against the will of God, like gnats trying to topple a mountain; it was to no avail. Therefore they called out to the LORD, “O LORD, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.” It is important to note that though these men were all Gentiles, the moral law of God written on their hearts had not been completely erased by the Fall.[8] To hurl Jonah into the sea meant committing the dreadful act of taking a human life. Calvin writes: “Now this place shows, that there is by nature implanted in all an abhorrence of cruelty; for however brutal and sanguinary men may be, they yet cannot divest themselves of this feeling – the effusion of human blood is hateful. Many, at the same time, harden themselves; but they apply a searing iron: they cannot shake off horror, nay, they feel they are detested by God and by men, when they thus shed innocent blood. Hence it was that the sailors, who in other respects hardly retained a drop of humanity, fled as suppliants to God, when the case was about the death of man; and they said, ‘O LORD’, and the expression is repeated; which shows that the sailors earnestly prayed that the LORD would not impute this sin to them.”[9] The mariners knew that the taking of an innocent life was a crime worthy of death.[10] One wonders if the Noahic command in Genesis 9 didn’t still ring in the ears of humanity: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”[11] But Jonah was not innocent, and it would seem that the LORD had left the mariners no other choice but to act as the prophet’s executioners. Jonah had been providentially chosen by lot; the prophet himself had pronounced the verdict and the sentence upon himself; and the storm that battered them at the LORD’s command would not relent. God had made it clear to the mariners that Jonah must die; thus, in throwing Jonah into the sea, they were doing God’s will. So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased its raging. The fact that Jonah’s being hurled into the sea was the will of the LORD was confirmed in that the storm did not merely abate over time, but the sea ceased its raging as soon as Jonah was in the tumultuous waves.

What is the result of all of this? Jonah is in the Mediterranean; his narrative will continue in v.17. The ship and those aboard it are now sailing on smooth waters, the storm having ceased. But what of these pagan mariners? Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows. The events that had transpired led these men to a firm realization of the truth. “The LORD is one.” The covenant God of the Hebrews Who had sent the storm upon the sea and just as quickly made it cease, He is the God of heaven, Who made the sea and the dry land. He is to be greatly revered and honored. Though their sacrifices were not according to the Levitical law, the men manifested their awe and thanksgiving as they knew how – through sacrifice and vows. We’re not told any more about the mariners, but what we’re told is enough. In their sacrifices and vows, they declared, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God!”[12]

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. What does the fact that there is none like the LORD imply about other religions?
  2. Were the mariners misreading God’s providence? How could they know that throwing Jonah overboard was the right thing to do?
  3. Murder is forbidden in nearly every culture. Why is that?

[1] Deuteronomy 6:4

[2] Exodus 34:6

[3] Isaiah 44:6-8

[4] Psalm 96:5

[5] Jonah 1:9

[6] Joshua 18:10

[7] Hebrews 1:1

[8] Romans 2:14-16

[9] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, Vol. 3, trans. by John Owen (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 60.

[10] Romans 1:32

[11] Genesis 9:6

[12] 1 Kings 18:39

Jonah 1:4-10

But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lost fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. Jonah 1:4-10

Jonah had found his way to Joppa, there to find a ship going to Tarshish, as far away from the special presence of the LORD as he thought he could get. He had refused to be the mouthpiece of the LORD by which He spoke a message of judgment to the Assyrians at Nineveh in order to lead them to repent and be spared; in other words, Jonah had relinquished his vocation as a prophet of the LORD and was seeking to flee from his duty. In God’s providence, Jonah found a ship in Joppa headed for Tarshish, and the LORD allowed him to gain passage aboard the merchant ship. It would seem that Jonah’s plan to run away had worked… but the LORD our God is not the God of the land only, but He is “the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” The stormy Mediterranean was God’s obedient servant, even if Jonah was not. And stormy it certainly was. Josephus, writing in the late first century AD, says of Joppa (and another maritime city called Dora, on the coast north of Joppa), that they are “not fit for havens, on account of impetuous south winds that beat upon them, which, rolling the sands that come from the sea against the shores, do not admit of ships lying in their station; but the merchants are generally there forced to ride at their anchors in the sea itself.”[1] The winds were one thing; it also had a semicircular reef 300 feet off-shore, making entrance from the south impossible. Despite its reef and weather, and though once belonging to the Philistines, Joppa had become the main port for Israel during the time of Solomon, as we’ve seen. However, when the Assyrian king Sennacherib came to put down a revolt in 701 BC,[2] he records that he destroyed the city and that it belonged at the time to the Philistines. It would later pass to the Babylonians, Assyrians, Greeks, etc. It is here in Joppa that Jonah successfully boarded a ship to Tarshish… a victory he would soon regret.

The prophet writes, But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. It’s unclear how far the ship had made it before the winds picked up, and with the winds came a tempest so terrible that it was like to break the ship apart. Usually, when we think of hurricanes, we tend to think of the Caribbean; but, Mediterranean tropical-like cyclones, sometimes known as Medicanes, have been known to occur. It’s not that the storm that was now destroying the ship to Tarshish was a medicane (though it’s possible), but the weather of that sea can be extremely treacherous. Consider the storm at sea in Acts 27. Luke writes, “Soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster (sometimes called the Euroclydon), struck down from the land. And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat. After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship. Then, fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along. Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began next day to jettison the cargo. And on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.”[3] Jonah and the mariners are sailing the same sea as would Paul and Luke so many centuries later, and it was just as tempestuous in Jonah’s time as it would be in the time of the Apostles. In both instances, though, we see that the storm is not outside the sovereign control of the LORD. Jonah’s storm has been hurled upon him by the LORD he is seeking to flee; Paul’s storm will be used by God to display God’s sovereignty over the sea and the lives of 276 men.[4] The storm, as are all things else, is directed by “the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” He Who created the universe, providentially controls the universe.

Psalm 107 relates: “Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the LORD, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.”[5] But the frightened mariners do not call upon Him, at least, not at first. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. So deluded are these pagans, that they cry out to gods that are no gods at all; for the LORD our God is one![6] They put out their hands to save themselves; but salvation belongs to the LORD![7] There is one aboard whose prayers would be answered by the living God, but where is he? But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. On deck the men were scrambling for their lives, and for Jonah’s; but the disgraced prophet was nestled below, asleep. Though the mariners were pagans, they were more pious than Jonah, for they were at least awake and praying to their abominations. But Jonah, who knew the living God and had sought to escape His presence, was peacefully slumbering. Matthew Henry writes, “Sin is stupefying, and we are to take heed lest at any time our hearts are hardened by the deceitfulness of it. What do men mean by sleeping on in sin, when the word of God and the convictions of their own consciences, warn them to arise and call on the Lord, if they would escape everlasting misery? Should not we warn each other to awake, to arise, to call upon our God, if so be he will deliver us?”[8] Indeed, this is precisely what the terrified captain does when he finds that Jonah is below decks and sound asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” How shameful that a prophet of God should have to be reminded of his duty by a pagan sea captain!

The prophet continues, And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Solomon writes in the Proverbs, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.”[9] The mariners would have been unlikely to know of this proverb, and were relying on their false gods, or perhaps on some fatalistic philosophy; yet it was the LORD Who manifested the culprit through their use of lots. Just as He is the God of heaven, the God of the sea, and the God of the land, so He is the God of the lot. Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” That which is translated here “on whose account” is more literally, though idiomatically, “for what to whom”; thus, they are asking Jonah what he has done, and to whom he has done it. At this point it would also be expedient to know that the word that is translated “evil” can also be translated “disaster”.[10] Earlier, when the LORD commissioned Jonah to go to Nineveh, He had told Jonah that “their evil has come up before me.”[11] There it had born an ethical connotation; that is, the wickedness of Nineveh was going to result in the disaster that was to come upon them unless they repented at Jonah’s preaching. Here, the disaster that had befallen Jonah and the mariners was the result of the wickedness of Jonah perpetrated against the LORD and against the people of Nineveh, whom the LORD pitied.[12] The mariners ask Jonah of his occupation; one wonders if this was not a prick to the prophet’s conscience. They also ask concerning his nationality and ethnicity, lest he be of a people particularly hated of their gods. And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. That he had told them, probably means that he told them then, and that this was an abridged version of the actual relation. We’re told that the men were exceedingly afraid. Note that LORD is in all-caps in your English Bible, thus denoting the covenant name of the God of Israel. Apparently, these mariners were not ignorant, nor were they obtuse; they had likely heard of the God Who had brought His people out of Egypt with “a mighty hand and an outstretched arm”.[13] He is not some tribal deity like their pathetic chunks of wood and stone;[14] rather, He is the God of heaven, Who made the land and the sea! In the frightened voice of the mariners one can hear the devastated din of despair. “Jonah, you’ve doomed us all.”

Discussion Questions

  1. Why does the LORD sometimes allow our folly to succeed?
  2. For Paul, God’s providential control over the storm was a comfort; for Jonah and the mariners, it spelled disaster. What’s the difference?
  3. Jonah is reminded by the pagan captain to arise and do his duty. What implications does this have for a slumbering church?

[1] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 15.9.6.

[2] Isaiah 36-38; 2 Kings 18-19

[3] Acts 27:14-20

[4] Acts 27:38

[5] Psalm 107:23-30

[6] Deuteronomy 6:4

[7] Jonah 2:9

[8] Matthew Henry, Concise Commentary, Jonah 1:4-7

[9] Proverbs 16:33

[10] רַע

[11] Jonah 1:2

[12] Jonah 4:11

[13] Deuteronomy 4:34; Psalm 136:7

[14] Isaiah 44:9-20

Jonah 1:1-3

We’ve recently begun a study through the Old Testament book of Jonah at the kirk. For those nearby and able, feel free to join us on Wednesday nights; for everyone else, I’ll be posting the manuscripts here with a week’s delay. The LORD bless you and keep you!

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD. Jonah 1:1-3

Jonah was a contemporary of Hosea and Amos; he was a prophet of the Northern Kingdom during the reign of Jeroboam II. We read in 2 Kings, “[Jeroboam II] restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher.”[1] Within only thirty years of the death of Jeroboam II, though, the Northern Kingdom would fall to a conquering world power. First, during the reign of Pekah, the tribes of the Transjordan (Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh) would be captured and sent into exile.[2] In 722 BC, the Assyrians would conquer Israel, which at that time was a vassal state to the greater empire. “Then the king of Assyria invaded all the land and came to Samaria, and for three years he besieged it. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.”[3] Though Israel was blessed with expansion during Jonah’s time, the coming judgment of God against their idolatry had been prophesied “by every prophet and every seer, saying, ‘Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.’ But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the LORD their God.”[4] Amos, for example, prophesied to the Northern Kingdom, saying, “An adversary shall surround the land and bring down your defenses from you, and your strongholds shall be plundered.”[5] Thus, Jonah, the prophet of the LORD, knew that unless Israel repented, they would eventually be destroyed, and that by the great empire of the day, Assyria, the capital of which just happened to be Nineveh.

Imagine, then, if you can, the prophet’s distress when we read vv.1-2. Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” To Nineveh? The LORD commands His prophet to go outside of the Promised Land, and prophesy to a Gentile people; the Assyrians are not only Gentiles, but they are also the very means God will use to bring down the Northern Kingdom of Israel! Why in the world would God send Jonah to warn the Ninevites of their coming destruction? We see a hint already in the way the LORD refers to Nineveh – that great city. Throughout the book we’re told of the massive size of the city of Nineveh. It was three days’ journey in breadth,[6] and contained a population of over 120,000 people.[7] The destruction of Nineveh would mean the destruction of many, many lives. Thus, Jonah was to go and call out against it because of their evil… and Jonah knew exactly why. It was through his preaching that God meant to work repentance among the people. He is “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”[8] Jonah knew the character of God, because God had revealed His character to His people. When Moses was given the revelation of the LORD’s name, “the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.’”[9] Jonah knew from God’s character that if the people of Nineveh heard the word of the LORD and repented, God would forgive and relent from the disaster He meant to do them. Indeed, this chance of repentance is what He continuously gave His own people Israel through His prophets, though they would not repent. Indeed, this same word had been preached by Joel in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The prophet writes, “‘Yet even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.”[10] What would be the result of Jonah’s preaching? Jonah believed it would be the repentance of the Ninevites, and God’s relenting to bring disaster upon Israel’s Gentile enemy and future conqueror.

Thus, we read, But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. What does it mean that Jonah sought to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD? We would first do well to consider the whereabouts of Tarshish. If the coast of Israel made up the eastern border of the Mediterranean Sea, then the strait of Gibraltar was the farthest point in the Mediterranean away from Israel. Through the strait, on the west coast of Spain – that is one possible location of Tarshish. But, even if we’re not completely sure of the precise location, from the context, Tarshish is meant to imply a place far away from Israel, and thus far away from the Temple, where God’s special presence resided. Interestingly, this isn’t the only place we find someone going out from the presence of the LORD. In Genesis 4, after Cain has murdered his brother Abel and has been sentenced by the LORD, we read, “Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”[11] What is likely meant here and in Jonah is not a denial of the omnipresence of God, but both Jonah and Cain were going out from the place of God’s special, and in a sense, immediate, presence – Jonah from the Promised Land and the Temple, Cain out from before the very gates of Eden. Hugh Martin writes, “Most probably, in the days of the first family of our race, the gate of the garden of Eden, where God placed the cherubim and the flaming sword, constituted the seat of sacred worship; occupying the place and serving the purpose which, in after generations, were occupied and served by the tabernacle in the wilderness and in Shiloh, and ultimately by the temple, on Mount Moriah.”[12] Jonah is fleeing the face of the LORD, as He was present with His people in Israel, and more particularly in the Temple. Essentially, in this act, Jonah is refusing to speak the word of the LORD, he is renouncing his office as God’s prophet. If the LORD wants to send a prophet to the Assyrians, wicked Gentiles who would eventually be the undoing of the people of Israel, then He could send someone else; Jonah would have none of it. Much like the elder brother in our Lord’s parable of the Prodigal Son, Jonah is appalled at the mercy of the Father.[13] The correlation between the two – Jonah and the elder brother – will become much clearer in the fourth chapter of the book.

The prophet continues, He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD. Again we see Jonah’s motive in fleeing – to be away from the presence of the LORD. To accomplish this, he goes to Joppa. Joppa was a haven on the west coast of Israel. It was to Joppa that Hiram, the king of Tyre, had sent from Lebanon the timbers used by Solomon to build the Temple in Jerusalem.[14] Now it was from Joppa that Jonah wished to flee the special presence of the LORD in that very Temple. And providence seemed to smile upon him, for when he reached Joppa, he found a ship bound for Tarshish. He paid his fare, climbed aboard, and went down into it. Perhaps Jonah’s going down into the ship was a matter of simply being unused to the seafarer’s life above deck. The people of Israel were not exactly known as the greatest sailors in the Mediterranean world, after all. Or could it be that he was ashamed of his actions? Was he seeking to hide his face, in a sense, from the face of God? Whatever may be the case, Jonah knew that what he was doing was wrong, and in time, the (proverbial and literal) sailing that seemed to be running so smoothly so far, would become a tempest that would toss him up and out, into the very hands of the LORD he was trying to flee.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is there a particular group of people that you feel shouldn’t be granted God’s mercy? Why is this attitude wrong?
  2. How does God work repentance through the preached Word?
  3. We who are in Christ are certainly beneficiaries of God’s grace. Do we often give thanks for God’s gracious acts, and praise Him for His gracious character? Consider David’s confession in Psalm 51.
  4. We, of course, affirm God’s omnipresence. But, biblically, where is God present in a special way today? Consider Ephesians 2:19-22.

[1] 2 Kings 14:25

[2] 2 Kings 15:29; 1 Chronicles 5:26

[3] 2 Kings 17:5-6

[4] 2 Kings 17:13-14

[5] Amos 3:11

[6] Jonah 3:3

[7] Jonah 4:11

[8] Jonah 4:2

[9] Exodus 34:6-7

[10] Joel 2:12-13

[11] Genesis 4:16

[12] Hugh Martin, A Commentary on Jonah (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1995), 35.

[13] Luke 15:28

[14] 2 Chronicles 2:16