Notes on Jonah 1:10-17

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Jonah 1:10 Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.

Now the sailors were “exceedingly afraid”, worse than they had been before. Jonah had told them he had fled from God’s presence, so the sailors asked him why he did it.

This may have been an awakening moment for those pagan sailors. They had prayed to their various deities but nothing seemed to be working. It is debatable how much they had known about YHWH, the God of Israel, but here they were, face to face with a servant of this God.

11 Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous.

They had cast lots and found Jonah to be the guilty person, the reason why they were suffering in this storm. Now they were all wondering what to do with their guilty person. There may be a reason why they asked him this question.

Some pagan religions practiced human sacrifice. Some of Israel’s kings had gone into idolatry and offered one or more of their children in such a manner (condemned in Deut. 18:10): Manasseh of Judah was the most notable (2 Kings 21:6, 2 Chronicles 33:6) but Mesha, king of Moab, offered his oldest son as a burnt offering when Moab was defeated by a coalition of Israel, Judah, and Edom (2 Kings 3).

Some of this may stem from the story of Abraham and Isaac, when God tested Abraham by asking him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. God stopped Abraham from going through with this but apparently that didn’t stop other religions from corrupting the story into something hideous.

12 And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest (is) upon you.

Jonah knew he was the reason for the storm. He was willing to sacrifice his own life for those of the sailors and any others on the ship. He also knew that if he was gone, the storm would also be gone.

13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring (it) to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.

Clearly the sailors didn’t want to throw Jonah overboard. They tried their best to return to shore but the conditions made it impossible for them to make it back.

14 Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee.

Note the prayers from the sailors: before, they were calling (desperately?) on their various deities; now, they were calling on the LORD, the God of Jonah, asking Him to spare their lives. They were apparently asking forgiveness for what they were about to do.

15 So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.

Exactly as Jonah had explained to them.

16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.

See how their faith had progressed: they accused Jonah, then seeing this miracle, they seemingly became believers in the God of Jonah. They had been afraid, (v.5), then “exceedingly afraid (v. 10)”, but now they feared the LORD “exceedingly” and made vows. This was one voyage they couldn’t forget!

It seems doubtful they would have made a burnt offering aboard a ship in the ocean. They had already thrown their cargo overboard (v.5) so there may not have been much remaining on this ship. At any rate, God honored their sacrifices, whatever they were, and accepted their vows as well.

17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Although not stated, Jonah would have had to go “down” into the sea and later, into the fish’s belly. Note the number of times the word “down” is used in this chapter alone. Even worse was the fact that Jonah had deliberately tried to run away from God. Now he is paying a severe price for this.

This verse is one of the most criticized in all of the Bible. Some deny this event ever took place; others question if a marine animal could swallow a man, whole, and keep the body inside for three days and nights. Regardless of what people may think, say, or write, Jesus Christ used this event as a prophecy of His own death, burial and resurrection (Matt 12:39-42, 16:1-4; Luke 11:29-32).

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)

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