Notes on Jonah 1:1-9

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Jon 1:1, KJV 1 Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,

The Book of Jonah begins immediately with God’s call to Jonah. According to 2 Kings 14:23-25, Jonah prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II, king of Israel (the 10 northern tribes). His father was Amittai and his hometown was Gath-Hepher. If this is the same city as “Gittahhepher (Joshua 19:13)”, the city was located in the land of Zebulun.

2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.

Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire and had been for many years, perhaps centuries. Assyria was located in modern day Iraq. At various times, the Assyrian Empire reached as far away as Egypt (Isaiah 52:4).

The reader is encouraged to study more about the Assyrians in any of the conservative commentaries or other Bible study helps. The Assyrians made some monuments for themselves: Shalmaneser’s “Black Obelisk”; and Sennacherib’s Prism or the “Taylor Prism”, describing the attack of Jerusalem during Hezekiah’s time, are two of these. In addition, they made “bas-relief” carvings as monuments to commemorate events as diverse as conquest of a city to a lion hunt!

3 But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

Joppa was clearly a seaport town or harbor—few of these are mentioned in the Old Testament (OT). According to several Bible maps, Joppa was north of Gaza and in the land given initially to the tribe of Dan, before many of them, if not all, migrated to the northern regions of Canaan. Jonah would have truly been going “down” to Joppa as apparently the land of Gath-hepher was at a higher elevation.

Some debate exists about where “Tarshish” was located. One possible location was “Tartessus” in modern day Spain. Since Spain was the western edge of the Mediterranean, Jonah may have thought he was going to the end of the earth! He certainly went in the opposite direction of Nineveh, which was many miles to the northeast. The true reason is given in the last part of this verse: he wanted to get away from God’s presence—even though this was impossible! David wrote of God’s omnipresence (i.e., God is everywhere, and there is no place where God is not) in Psalm 139, especially verses:7-10.

4 But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.

This was not the only time ships had to face severe weather. Many years later, Paul, Luke, and over 250 other men risked death when a storm raged in the Mediterranean area (see Acts 27). But this time, the LORD Himself caused the wind to blow and the tempest to rise, all because of a rebellious prophet.

5 Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that (were) in the ship into the sea, to lighten (it) of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.

Contrast the fear of these pagan sailors, praying to powerless idols, with the relative calm of Jonah. He had paid the fare for the trip; now, sadly, he was about to pay even more.

6 So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.

How did the shipmaster know that Jonah was down in the ship’s hold or cabin or wherever he was staying? At any rate, he did find Jonah, and asked him a pertinent question.

Again, this shows the utter futility of worshiping any deity besides the True God. Nearly every nation had its own list or families or series of “gods” and “goddesses”: Baal, Ishtar, El, Isis, Osiris, Nebo, Asshur. Zeus, to name several. All of them had their devotees but none of them had the power to do anything like the true God. The shipmaster may have known little about the God of the Hebrews but he wanted Jonah to pray for their safety, regardless.

One final observation: the text, as written, seems to indicate Jonah was still asleep and the shipmaster had to wake him up!

7 And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil (is) upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.

We are not told when the sailors cast lots to see who was guilty. Casting lots was used also to determine that it was Achan who had kept some of Jericho’s items for himself (Joshua 7); to determine between Saul and Jonathan in 1 Samuel 14; even to decide which of two goats would be a sacrifice and the other the “scapegoat” according to Leviticus 16:8.

There were other times when people would cast lots; the last time this was mentioned in the Bible was Acts 1:26 when the Apostles cast lots to determine who would take the place of Judas Iscariot.

8 Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil (is) upon us; What (is) thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what (is) thy country? and of what people (art) thou?

Note the flurry of rapid fire questions. The lots were cast, and Jonah was picked, so he had to be guilty! At first glance, this indicates how little they knew of Jonah. He was a passenger, they were the crewmen, and there may have been limited interaction at best between them.

9 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).

According to the text, Jonah does not answer all their questions. He did confirm he was a Hebrew but he didn’t say where he was from, nor what his occupation was (could they have understood what a backslidden prophet was?). He did say more, as will be seen in the next verse.

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