Though verse and chapter divisions were not part of the original Hebrew manuscripts, their inclusion in our modern Bible has given rise to the question of where to place Jonah 1:17. Though many Bible translations and commentaries place 1:17 as an opening event to chapter 2, it seems best to keep it as a fitting conclusion to chapter 1. The choice of where to place verse 17, while seemingly insignificant, actually makes a difference on how one reads the story.[1] If it begins chapter 2, it simply sets the stage for the prayer of Jonah. Verse 17 is read this way: God delivered Jonah with a great fish, and now Jonah is going to thank God for it. But if the verse is the conclusion to the previous events, then the verse is read this way: Jonah asked to be thrown overboard and the reluctant sailors complied, but despite Jonah’s wishes, this was not the end of Jonah for God miraculously sent a great fish to keep Jonah from drowning. On the other hand, Stuart makes a good point that if the book of Jonah is a series of scenes, 1:17 fits best with chapter 2 since the entire scene takes place inside the great fish.[2] Maybe it is best to see 1:17 as a “hinge” verse which transports the reader from the recently-calmed surface of the sea to the spiritual storm deep under the surface which is now raging in the heart and mind of a prophet and the belly of a fish.

Jonah 1:17. After Jonah is cast into the sea, Yahweh prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. If the sailors saw the fish, they likely would have viewed it as a personification of the sea god, Yamm.[3] And though the terminology is different than the instructions of God to Jonah in 1:1-2, it seems that there may be a contrast between Jonah’s rebellion and how the fish obeys God (cf. also 2:11).

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Notes:

  1. Estelle, 64.
  2. Sasson, 148-149; Stuart, 469.
  3. Walton, 109.

Jonah 1:15. After praying to God and asking forgiveness for what they were about to do, the sailors picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea. A Jewish commentary on Jonah describes the sailor’s actions in this way:

They took him and placed him into the sea up to his knees, and the storm abated. They lifted him back on board, and the sea became agitated against them. They placed him back up to his neck, and the sea-storm abated. Once again they lifted him back among them, and the sea again agitated against them. Finally, they cast him in entirely, and immediately the sea-storm abates.[1]

Though humorous and fanciful, the text does not indicate that the sailors “tested” the words of Jonah in such a way. Instead, it appears that after trying as hard as they could to reach the shore, they finally realized that they were all dead unless they cast Jonah into the sea. As a result of their actions, the sea stopped raging, just as Jonah said it would. From this, the sailors would have come to believe that what Jonah said about God was correct, that He could be appeased through human sacrifice.

Jonah 1:16. The calming of the storm does not alleviate the fear of the sailors, however, but adds to it. Though the winds and waves immediately calm down, the sailors now see how great and powerful is Jonah’s God. And though it is unlikely that they became monotheists or really knew anything about God other than the misleading and miniscule bit of information Jonah had given them, they greatly feared Yahweh. The sailors show progress in their fear, moving from fearing for the lives (1:5), to fearing from what Jonah told them (1:10), to finally fearing Yahweh.[2]

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Notes:

  1. Sasson, 141.
  2. Alexander, 103.

1:14. Before they cast Jonah into the sea, they cried out to Yahweh. Up until now, they have been crying out to their own gods (1:5), which has not worked, and they have even pled with Jonah to cry out to his God (1:6), which he has not done. So now, they take it upon themselves to cry out to Yahweh.

They are uncomfortable about casting Jonah into the sea, and so they pray to God, asking that He would not destroy them for this man’s life. They know that what they are about to do is wrong, even though Jonah told them that this is what would appease God. Nevertheless, they want to make sure that God does not charge them with innocent blood. Based on what Jonah has told them, the sailors do not believe Jonah is innocent.[1] They know that he has committed the worst of all possible sins in refusing to defend God’s honor. Some believe that their statement about innocent blood means that they fear putting Jonah to death without a trial.[2] But this is modern notion of law and justice. Jonah has freely admitted his sin, and told the sailors what his punishment must be.

Therefore, by asking God to not charge them with innocent blood, the sailors are reminding God that Jonah is not innocent. They are in effect saying, “God, we are putting your man to death, but you heard him, he is not innocent, and he told us how you want to punish him.” Inherent in their plea, of course, is the implication that while Jonah is not innocent, they themselves are innocent bystanders, and God’s attempt to discipline His wayward prophet has threatened their lives. They pray that when they give Jonah up to the sea, that God will leave them alone, and not destroy them along with Jonah.

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Notes:

  1. Bewer, 39.
  2. Stuart, 463.

Jonah 1:13. The sailors now understand that Jonah’s great sin has led them all into great danger, but they have no desire to commit human sacrifice, and so rowed hard to return to the shore. The term rowed hard is used elsewhere of digging holes in a wall (Ezek 8:8; 12:5ff), tunneling into a house (Job 24:16), and trying to burrow into sheol to escape the wrath of God (Amos 9:2). So the word refers to a desperate and feverish attempt to escape the wrath of God.[1] In the case of the sailors, they are trying to burrow through the wrath of God in the storm.

Some have criticized this part of the story, since all mariners worthy of their wages know that the worst thing to do in a storm is head toward shore. In a storm such as this one, the boat and all who were on it would get dashed to pieces upon the shore if they reached it. Some suggest that this proves that the story of Jonah is invented, and the author who made this story knew nothing of proper sailing procedures.[2] Others have argued that the sailors knew they were about to drown in the storm, and so decided to test their luck on the shore, though even that would likely result in their death. Finally, there is the theory that the sailors were not trying to land on shore, but were trying to get as close as possible before throwing Jonah overboard, thereby giving him a fighting chance to reach shore on his own.

The word return (Heb. shuv) is often the word used for “repent” and as repentance is a key theme in the book of Jonah, it is interesting that the first time the word is mentioned, it is used in connection with sailors trying to get the boat back to land. It is interesting that this is the first use of this word because it well illustrates the basic concept of repentance. In Hebrew thinking, repentance consists of two elements: turning away from evil and turning toward good.[3] Since the storm has been referred to as “evil” (1:7-8), the attempt to leave the sea illustrates the first element of repentance, that of turning away from evil. Furthermore, since the sea holds death, getting to land would mean life. So getting to land illustrates the second aspect of repentance, turning toward good.

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Notes:

  1. Sasson, 130.
  2. Ibid., 141-142, 341.
  3. Harris et al., 909.

Jonah 1:12. Jonah does have a suggestion for the sailors, but it is not the one the reader expects to hear. Since God sent the storm in response to Jonah fleeing eastward toward Tarshish rather than going west toward Nineveh, the simple solution to calming the storm would be for the sailors to turn the boat around and head west. God wants Jonah’s obedience, and the proper way for Jonah to repent would be have the sailor turn the boat back toward Joppa. Instead, and much the reader’s surprise, Jonah said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea.” There are two actions in Jonah’s commands, both of which have parallels to the preceding events. First, Jonah instructs the sailors to pick him up. This could also be translated as “lift up” and some have read into this a vague prophecy about how Jesus was later lifted up on the cross, and so Jonah’s actions are interpreted as a noble attempt to be a vicarious sacrifice for the sailors, just as Jesus was a vicarious sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.[1] Such an interpretation goes against the entire narrative and flies in the face of the way Jonah is presented in this story. Jonah is not nobly offering himself over to death for the sake of the sailors. Jonah is still trying to escape God’s instructions to go to Nineveh.

Instead, the phrase pick me up is an allusion to the casting of the lots in verse 7. As was mentioned there, people who cast lots believed that it was their god who drew the stone up out of the bag or container in which the lots were shaken. Jonah is connecting himself with his lot which was pulled up from the bag. He is saying, “Just as God picked up my stone, so also you must pick me up.”

The next part of Jonah’s instructions—that he be hurled into the sea—is an allusion to verse 5 where the sailors hurled their cargo overboard. Since he was down in the bowels of the boat with the cargo, he is saying that they should throw the last piece (himself) overboard.

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Notes:

  1. Estelle, 58-60.

Jonah 1:10. Upon hearing what Jonah said about his nationality and his God, the men became extremely fearful. When the storm was raging about them and they were about to drown, the men were afraid (1:5). The word used for fearful is the same word Jonah used in his claim to fear Yahweh (1:9). Their fear is a result of what Jonah told them about God being in creator of all, the God of the sea and land, and seems to be more genuine than Jonah’s fear of God. Based on what he told them, they had no hope of surviving this storm, for Jonah had offended the most powerful God of all. Their fear is amplified further when they learn why God had sent this great storm upon them.

They said to him, “How could you do this?” In this story, the sailors put voice to the question the reader should be asking. How could Jonah so blatantly disobey God? Why would he seek to flee to Tarshish, rather than go to the wicked city of Nineveh to pronounce judgment upon it? Their question is an exclamation of shock and horror: “How could you? What have you done?”[1]

But in their culture, the blatant rebellion against God was not the biggest issue. The biggest area of concern was that he was fleeing from defending Yahweh’s honor. In an honor-shame culture, such behavior was unheard of. Defending your personal honor and the honor of your family were the highest goals. Sometimes, if a certain person dishonored their family, they would gladly commit suicide as this was the only way to partially regain some of the honor that had been lost. For Jonah to refuse to defend the honor of God was to commit the worst of all possible sins. His refusal to defend God’s honor was to invite the full force of God’s wrath upon him.

Although verse 9 only includes a short answer from Jonah to the sailor’s questions, it appears that Jonah told them more than what is recorded. He told them how he was refusing to defend God’s honor, and that is why God was out to destroy him. The sailors were dismayed at such news because it was suicidal for any person to refuse to defend his deities’ honor. The sailors were unlucky enough to get caught up in a destructive storm sent by a powerful God who had been insulted and offended in the worst possible way. Jonah’s explanation was a sentence of death to the sailors.

Jonah 1:11. Nevertheless, the sailors hope that maybe there is still a chance of surviving this storm. Since Jonah is the cause of the wind and the waves, they said to him, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?” They recognize that Jonah’s God is out to punish him, and so they wonder if there is something they can do to Jonah so that God’s anger will cease. They want to know if they can appease God. They are getting desperate now because the sea was growing more tempestuous. They do not want to die because of what Jonah has done, and are hoping that if they punish Jonah somehow, maybe God’s wrath will subside and the wind and waves will die.


Other chapters from Jonah

| Coming Soon |

Also check out The translation of Jonah in the Grace English Bible

For full Bibliographic Data for the books listed below, go to the Jonah Bibliography


Notes:

  1. Bewer, 37; C. F. Kiel and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament: Minor Prophets, trans., James Martin, vol. X (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 395; Sasson, 120; Stuart, 462.

Jonah 1:9. This is the central verse in chapter 1. The structure of this chapter forms a chiasm with 1:9 at the middle.[1] As such, the reader is intended to note with great care what Jonah says about himself and about God.

Jonah begins by answering their last question first, the question about his nationality and people. “I am a Hebrew,” he answered. Jonah answered their last question first because in his mind it is the most important. For Jonah, his national identity as a Hebrew, as a member of the chosen nation of God is of utmost importance. Jonah is proud of being one of God’s chosen people on earth.

The sailors would have known some information about the Hebrews, for they had just docked at Joppa, and likely had done some business with Hebrew merchants. They doubtless would have seen some of the ways that the Hebrews worshiped their God and heard some of what the Hebrews believed about Him. Though there was much idolatry in Israel at this time, they might have found it curious that no shrine or temple to the God of the Hebrews existed in Joppa. To the average foreigner, the Hebrew form of worship seemed very odd and even irreligious. To properly worship a deity, one needed to go to a shrine or temple and make sacrifices or leave gifts there for the deity. But since the Hebrew people did not generally erect shrines all over the place or build temples in every city, many foreigners thought that the Hebrew people did not care enough about their God to provide numerous places of worship for Him. If they were told that God had instructed them to not build temples and shrines in every city, the only other conclusion a foreigner could come to was that God did not care much for His people, since He made it so difficult for them to worship Him. However, the text does not say what the sailors thought about all this, or what they knew (or didn’t know) about the God of the Hebrews.

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Notes:

  1. See Alexander, 106-109; Hannah, 1465.

Jonah 1:8. Since the lot singled out Jonah as the one responsible for this storm, they bombard him with “religiously loaded questions”[1] First, they seek to know the reason that this evil has come upon them. As in verse 7, they refer to the storm as evil (Heb., raa; cf. 1:2, 7; 3:7-8, 10; 4:1-2, 6). The reader knows the storm is from God, and must ask themselves whether or not the storm is evil. From the sailor’s perspective, the storm appears evil, but from God’s perspective, it is divine discipline upon a disobedient prophet. Jonah knows this, but since he refused to defend the honor of God by going to Nineveh, will he defend God’s honor to the sailors by admitting his fault and justifying God?

Next they ask, “What is your business?” This question could be understood in two ways. First, it could be that they want to know what his job is. At that time, occupations were frequently connected with certain deities. Craftsman and laborers would often join guilds, and part of the responsibilities of being in a guild was to pay honor to the god of that guild. Furthermore, certain occupations were more honorable than others, while some jobs, such as making tents or tending sheep, were viewed as particularly shameful. The sailors figured that if they could learn Jonah’s occupation, this might help explain the reason for the storm that has come upon them.

The other possibility is that they want to know what Jonah is doing on their ship. In this case, the question could be translated “What is your business on this ship?” Though he paid the fare to have them take him to Tarshish, they now want to know why he was traveling to Tarshish. Leaving your hometown, people, and family was generally considered deviant behavior in an honor-shame culture.[2] In this context, this second way of understanding of this question is more likely.[3] Now that the sailors know that their lives are threatened because of Jonah, they want to know why he got on their ship. Usually only merchants hired out ships, and the sailors know Jonah is not a merchant because he did not bring any cargo on board. So they want to know what he is doing on their ship.

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Notes:

  1. Allen, 208.
  2. John J. Pilch, The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1999), 171.
  3. Alexander, 105; Bewer, 36; Sasson, 114.

1:7. The sailors have prayed to their gods without affect, and have cast all the cargo overboard, yet the storm still threatens to take their lives. So the men try to determine whose fault it is that this storm has come upon them. They cast lots to learn why the storm came upon them. Casting lots was a common practice in the Ancient Near East to help people determine the will of the gods in various situations (cf. Josh 7:10-26; 1 Sam 28:6; Prov 16:33).[1] The word lot (Heb. goralot) can mean a variety of items, such as bones, stones, arrows, dice, and wood.[2]  Some believe that colored stones or identifiable markers which provided by each person, and after praying for direction from the gods, the pieces were put into a pouch or container and then shaken vigorously up and down until one of them came out. In this way, it was thought that the god pulled out or “lifted up” the lot.[3]

Note also that the sailors refer to the storm as evil (Heb. raa; cf. 1:2, 8; 3:7-8, 10; 4:1-2, 6). From a human perspective, this storm was about to take their lives, and so it was evil. They are about to learn that Jonah’s God is the source of this storm. This introduces to the reader the concept of “evil” in the book of Jonah, and it becomes a major theme later in the story.

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Notes:

  1. Bewer, 35; Hannah, 1466; Sasson, 108; Stuart, 459.
  2. Harris et al., 171-172; Sasson, 109, 111. Sasson includes a theory from Muslim embellishments of this story where the sailors cast lead balls upon the sea, and only Jonah’s did not sink.
  3. Walton, 107; John H. Walton, Victor Harold Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Downers Grove: IVP, 2000), 778.

Jonah 1:6. It is likely that as the sailors pulled up the cargo from the hold of the ship, they saw Jonah sleeping and reported this to the captain. So the captain went to him to find out how it was Jonah could fall down to sleep in such a storm. His question is full of incredulous amazement. “How can you possibly sleep in such a storm?” In effect, the captain is asking, “What is the matter with you?” [1]

The captain tries to spur Jonah to action. He calls on Jonah to “Rise up! and “Cry out to your god! The call of the captain for Jonah to arise and cry out echoes God’s call for Jonah to arise and cry out against Nineveh (1:2).[2] The captain’s words remind Jonah of his “dastardly desertion from his prophetic duty.”[3] But beyond this, the reader of this story is supposed to share the shock of the ship captain. What kind of man sleeps during such a storm? What kind of person seems not to care whether they live or die? What kind of man does not pray to his god in the face of imminent death?

Of course, the reader knows something the captain does not. The captain thinks that if Jonah prays, perhaps Jonah’s god will pay attention and they will not be destroyed.  But the reader knows that Jonah is disobeying God, and that the reason they are all about to die is because of Jonah’s God. Jonah’s God sent the storm, and in this situation, praying to Him will not help. What God wants is obedience; not prayer.

So does Jonah pray? It appears he does not. Though the captain woke Jonah up, and pled with him to pray, the text says nothing about Jonah crying out to God. Ellison makes the unlikely suggestion that Jonah did not pray because he had never been at sea before and did not know that anything out of the ordinary was going on.[4] No, the reason Jonah does not pray is because Jonah knows that such a prayer is pointless and may only anger God further. In this situation, God does not want prayer; God wants obedience—God wants Jonah to go to Nineveh.


Other chapters from Jonah

| Coming Soon |

Also check out The translation of Jonah in the Grace English Bible

For full Bibliographic Data for the books listed below, go to the Jonah Bibliography


Notes:

  1. Bryan D. Estelle, Salvation Through Judgment and Mercy: The Gospel According to Jonah, The Gospel According to the Old Testament (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2005), 43.
  2. Alexander, 103.
  3. Allen, 208.
  4. Ellison, 371.