Jonah Lesson Three

Jonah Lesson Three: Jonah 3:1-10 – Jonah’s Message to Nineveh

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach the message that I tell you.” So Jonah got up and went to Nineveh according to the Lord’s command. 

Now Nineveh was an extremely large city, a three-day walk. Jonah set out on the first day of his walk in the city and proclaimed, “In 40 days Nineveh will be demolished!” The men of Nineveh believed in God. They proclaimed a fast and dressed in sackcloth—from the greatest of them to the least. 

When word reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, took off his royal robe, put on sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he issued a decree in Nineveh: 

By order of the king and his nobles: No man or beast, herd or flock, is to taste anything at all. They must not eat or drink water. Furthermore, both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth, and everyone must call out earnestly to God.  Each must turn from his evil ways and from the violence he is doing. Who knows?  God may turn and relent; He may turn from His burning anger so that we will not perish. 

10 Then God saw their actions—that they had turned from their evil ways—so God relented from the disaster He had threatened to do to them. And He did not do it. (HCSB)

Now that Jonah was released from the great fish, he received a second commission to go and preach a message to the city of Nineveh. Jonah repented from his previous disobedience and followed the command of Yahweh. Let’s take a closer look at the details in this passage.

Chapter two ended with Jonah being vomited onto dry ground. Now, the narrative quickly changes to God giving Jonah the command to preach to Nineveh a second time. Let’s consider this quick transition.

  • Did Jonah expect such a quick deliverance?
  • How much time passed between his deliverance and receiving the word of God?
  • Did Jonah simply wait on the beach, or did he go somewhere in the interim?
  • Scripture doesn’t specify, but it would be safe to conclude that at least a short period of rest occurred between the events allowing Jonah to regain his composure.

Now, let’s move on to the passage.

  • The first two verses of chapter three are almost identical to chapter one.
    • The same three imperatives are there; get up, go, preach.
    • However, in chapter three, the reason isn’t included. This is likely because Jonah already knew the reason, and the emphasis is on delivering the message.
  • The message would come from Yahweh. There are three possibilities to ponder regarding this message.
    • Was it the same message as before?
    • Was it a new message God was giving at this point?
    • Would God give the message to Jonah once he arrived in Nineveh?
  • We don’t know which of the three it was, but we do know the message would be from God, and it would be a formal proclamation similar to one made by an official messenger or ambassador.
  • Because Jonah was obedient this time, we might think he has learned his lesson. However, we’ll find out in chapter four that Jonah’s heart still wasn’t in the right place as he became angry when Nineveh was spared.
  • Starting in verse three, we see the primary contrast between chapters one and three.
    • In chapter one, Jonah got up to flee.
    • In chapter three, Jonah got up in obedience to go to Nineveh.
  • Depending on where Jonah began his journey, the trip would be approximately 500 hundred miles.
    • If Jonah traveled by camel or donkey, the trip would take about one month.
    • If Jonah traveled by foot, the journey would take even longer.
  • Depending on the translation you use, the description of Nineveh may vary.
    • In chapter one, it was described as a “great city” and here as an “extremely large city.” Both descriptions should be interpreted in the same manner. Its greatness was its size, not that it was viewed in a positive light.
    • Some translations add the phrase “to God” after the descriptor large or great. The reader should understand that the original Hebrew implied this, demonstrating God’s dominion over Israel’s biggest enemy.
    • Regardless of the Ninevites’ relationship with Israel, God cares deeply about every person and desires to see them turn from their wicked ways.
    • Historical records also record the vastness of the city and the administrative district of Nineveh.
      • Records from the first-century b.c. say the circumference of the city was fifty-five miles.
      • The administrative district included the cities of Assur, Calah, and Dur-Sharruken. A position supported by Genesis 10:11-12.
    • Regardless of the various possibilities for the size of Nineveh, the point to take from the verse is that Jonah’s mission was a three-day event.
      • Since Nineveh was a major diplomatic center during this period, God’s message could not be shared in a hasty manner.
      • Jonah would have had to travel to various sections of the city to ensure everyone either heard the message first-hand or the message would be spread by those who did hear it.
      • There is also a minority position on the interpretation of a three-day walk. The ancient Oriental practice of hospitality required a visit of three days; the first day for arrival, the second for the primary purpose of the visit, and the third day for the return.

Now let’s move on to the visit itself and the reaction of the city.

  • Although the passage doesn’t give details, it’s probably safe to conclude that Jonah didn’t just wander into Nineveh and start shouting God’s message of impending judgment as he walked the streets. 
  • Typically, the first day of an “official” visit would include meeting with officials and, most likely, the presentation of some type of gifts to the dignitaries. 
  • The official meeting may have taken place in the morning, allowing Jonah to begin preaching by the afternoon.
  • There is scholarly debate about the contents of the message Jonah preached to the city.
    • In Hebrew, the message was only five words long.
    • It was probably more likely the message would have been delivered in Aramaic, the typical language of the region at that time.
    • From chapter four, we can also conclude Jonah didn’t want the city to repent, so it’s possible the message only included the coming judgment.
    • However, proclamations of judgment often were thought to include an implied deliverance if the offenders repented.
      • The inhabitants of Nineveh certainly felt that the judgment was not an absolute certainty.
      • When Jonah said it would occur in forty days, it implied a sense of ambiguity.
        • Was it a message that the judgment was imminent?
        • Did it mean the judgment could be avoided if a change occurred within forty days?
    • There’s another aspect to consider regarding Jonah’s message from God.
      • If this was a proclamation of an unalterable impending judgment, the prophecy ended up being false.
      • However, we know that God doesn’t lie, so the correct understanding of the judgment is that it would occur in forty if Nineveh didn’t change its offensive behavior.
      • Additionally, the book of Jonah never declares that this judgment is a prophecy from God. It is a message to be preached against the city of Nineveh.
      • Jeremiah 18:7-8 also clarifies that when God pronounces a judgment against a nation or kingdom, the judgment won’t occur if they repent of their evil.
  • There are a few key points to take from the warning and judgment in this passage.
    • The seriousness of sin.
    • The certainty of judgment if the sin continues.
    • The warning to those outside the family of God and the use of believers to deliver the message.
    • God’s concern for those outside the family of God and His plan for using disciples in the grand picture of salvation.
  • The city’s response to the message is quite amazing.
    • It is evident from the context of the passage that Jonah’s message spread throughout the city.
    • Not only did the entire city hear the message, they believed the seriousness of the message.
    • Just like the sailors in Jonah 1:5, the Ninehites’ reaction is summarized in three verbs; believed, proclaimed, and dressed in. These verbs describe three stages of response; inward, articulated, and outward.
    • Since the passage doesn’t indicate Jonah preaching beyond the first day, it’s possible the initial proclamation had such an impact that nothing was required beyond that point.
    • It’s not far-fetched to say that a miracle occurred.
      • Because of Nineveh’s reputation and normal behavior, the odds were heavily stacked against a favorable response to Jonah’s message.
      • As a comparison point, when Jeremiah preached against Jerusalem about one hundred years later, he was arrested and imprisoned for treason.
      • Why would the Ninevites accept the strong message from a complete stranger?
      • Think of the questions that might be going through their minds.
        • Who was going to destroy the city?
        • How would it occur?
        • Why should we believe this message?
    • The reason they accepted the message is that they believed Jonah’s God would do it.
      • In the original Hebrew, Jonah uses the word Elohim instead of Yahweh to denote God.
      • Jonah wasn’t proclaiming the God of Israel to an unbelieving nation.
      • He was proclaiming the “supreme God” was about to show His power and judgment.
      • From the book, there is no indication the Ninevites turned from their gods.
      • The Ninevites acceptance of the message doesn’t appear to be a salvation event; it was a postponement of judgment decision.
      • They didn’t have a lasting repentance. Later, the Assyrians would be defeated when Sennacherib invaded Judah during the reign of Hezekiah.
    • The citizens then proclaimed a fast and dressed in sackcloth.
      • Because Jonah’s message was accepted, the citizens proclaimed a fast to ward off judgment.
      • The fast included all groups of citizens, regardless of socio-economic status.
      • Sackcloth was a traditional expression of mourning for the sins of a nation.
  • However, not only did the citizens of the city react favorably to the message, the king did the same thing.
    • From the context of the passage, it appears Jonah’s message first resonated with the common people, regardless of their status, and then made its way to royalty.
    • We don’t know with certainty who the king was, but historical records seem to point to Assur-dan III. 
    • The king reacts with fervor to Jonah’s message.
      • He took off his royal robe and put on sackcloth.
      • He sat in ashes, a sign of deep humiliation.
    • The king then issues a royal decree, an official response to Jonah’s message. The first two are external, and the other two are internal and spiritual.
      • The decree describes four behavioral responses to Jonah’s message.
        • Fasting, consisting of two parts.
          • A general order to not taste anything.
          • A specific order to avoid food and drink.
          • Since the king included animals in the fast, it was an indication of the desperate state of mind of the king.
        • Wearing sackcloth.
        • Pleading with God.
        • Turning from evil and violence.
          • Their lives should match their prayers.
          • It’s a typical Hebrew way of joining the general and the specific.
          • The command is also singular in nature. Each person was to turn from their evil and violent ways.
      • The king’s words in verse nine are very similar to what the ship’s captain said in 1:6.
        • Both were looking for a divine response to their predicament.
        • In the present case, the king was looking for the anticipated judgment to be avoided if they changed their behavior and demonstrated contrition.
  • One can imagine the anxiety the city was experiencing during those forty days.
    • There was hope but no guarantee that God would turn from the proclaimed judgment.
    • Did the anxiety increase as the days ticked down?
    • Did Jonah faithfully make use of the forty-day time period by sharing the truth of God with them?
    • Scripture isn’t clear on any of those points.
  • The fact the Ninevites turned from their evil way demonstrated they at least understood and acknowledged their actions.
  • At the end of the forty days, God saw they demonstrated genuine repentance.
    • They turned from their evil ways.
    • In response, God relented from executing judgment on them.
  • An unmistakable point here is that God has a compassionate heart and is always sensitive and receptive to those who cry out with a genuine heart for mercy.
    • God possesses incredible mercy.
    • God demonstrated incredible love.
    • We find here irrefutable evidence that God doesn’t wish for the destruction of the sinner. Instead, He longs for the redemption and reconciliation of even the most evil of people.
  • The narrative of the sparing of Nineveh in chapter three parallels Jonah’s own experience.
    • Jonah had been the object of divine anger, yet later experienced God’s miraculous redemption.
    • The same thing happened to the Ninevites.
    • The same is true of every believer who takes God’s promise through Jesus Christ of salvation.
      • All have sinned and stand condemned.
      • Through Jesus, all have a path to redemption.
  • There’s one further point to consider here.
    • What God accomplishes through a person may be unrelated to the heart condition of that person, in this case, Jonah.
    • A successful pastor may not be in a close, obedient relationship with God.
    • An unsuccessful past may not have lost touch with God.


  • When given a task by God, do it without delay. Not only should you do it without delay, but you should also do it with a proper heart condition.
  • If you have committed sins, demonstrate repentance with a humble heart. The Assyrians were mortal enemies of Israel. Yet, they were spared judgment, at least for a period of time, because they repented with a humble heart.
  • God is long-suffering. He always wants the lost to come back to Him. But the onus is on the sinner to turn and run to God. Never doubt that God loves every person. Because of that, we should never hold back the message of salvation from someone because we don’t like that person or people group. 

Jonah Lesson Two

Jonah Lesson Two: Jonah 2:1-10 – Jonah’s Prayer

Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from inside the fish: 

I called to the Lord in my distress, 

and He answered me. 

I cried out for help in the belly of Sheol; 

You heard my voice. 

You threw me into the depths, 

into the heart of the seas, 

and the current overcame me. 

All Your breakers and Your billows swept over me. 

But I said: I have been banished 

from Your sight, 

yet I will look once more 

toward Your holy temple. 

The waters engulfed me up to the neck;

the watery depths overcame me; 

seaweed was wrapped around my head. 

I sank to the foundations of the mountains; 

the earth with its prison bars closed behind me forever! 

But You raised my life from the Pit, Lord my God! 

As my life was fading away, 

I remembered Yahweh. 

My prayer came to You, 

to Your holy temple. 

Those who cling to worthless idols 

forsake faithful love, 

but as for me, I will sacrifice to You 

with a voice of thanksgiving. 

I will fulfill what I have vowed. 

Salvation is from the Lord! 

10 Then the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. (HCSB)

Before we start this lesson, let’s take a quick look at the ending of the first chapter. The sailors followed Jonah’s instructions to throw him into the sea. It’s safe to say that Jonah expected to die at that point. Instead, a huge fish swallowed Jonah, and instead of drowning in the sea, he finds himself in a most uncomfortable location. At the same time, Jonah may have started to rejoice in the fact he was alive and able to breathe. It would appear that at this point, Jonah sees a divine intervention in the fact that he didn’t drown and is now alive in a giant fish. Because of God’s intervention in this event, Jonah prays to God in a format that reminds us of a thanksgiving Psalm or prayer. The prayer contains four parts.

  • A summary of answered prayer – verse 2.
  • Details of his personal crises – verses 3-6a.
  • His divine rescue – verses 6b-8.
  • A vow of praise – verse 9.

Now, let’s take a closer look at this passage.

  • As Jonah comes to the realization he is alive, he prays to “his” God.
    • We could skim over the first verse without realizing the significance in the context of Jonah’s prayer.
    • Jonah acknowledges Yahweh’s position as Jonah’s God.
  • Jonah now prays to God as he is going through this trial, admittedly brought on by his own disobedience.
  • Jonah cries for help from “the belly of Sheol.”
    • In Hebrew thinking, it was a place of the dead, located under the earth and separated from God.
    • It was an expression signifying “being in the grave.”
    • Sheol was often thought to be under the floor of the ocean, and Jonah’s current location would place him close to Sheol.
    • The Old Testament understanding of death was close to a process instead of a single event. Jonah was undergoing a death process in the belly of the fish.
    • Jonah believed he was as good as dead as he began his prayer.
  • Jonah then recognizes God’s sovereignty in the event in verse three.
    • God is the one responsible for throwing Jonah into the sea, not the sailors.
    • The waves and breakers belonged to God.
  • In verse four, Jonah expresses both the depths of his despair and the heights of his hope.
    • Jonah has been banished from God.
      • The term “banished” is the same one used in Leviticus 21:7 to illustrate a woman whose husband has divorced her.
      • Jonah was out of favor with Yahweh.
    • However, Jonah had faith his relationship with Yahweh would be restored.
      • The expression “look once more toward your holy temple” may not refer to Jonah visiting the temple in Jerusalem, but Jonah’s intention to pray and his prayers reaching God.
      • It is also an indication Jonah will turn from running from God and accept the commission to take Yahweh’s message to Nineveh.
  • Verses five and six are connected to each other, representing Jonah’s current circumstances.
    • Verse five has similarities to Psalm 18:4 and 69:1. As Jonah contemplated his situation in the belly of the fish, he continued to reflect on his miraculous deliverance from drowning. Not only was he in the ocean depths, but his head was also wrapped in seaweed. The Hebrew word used for the neck is often translated in the Old Testament as “soul.” The wording should be interpreted as a reference to Jonah’s life.
    • In verse six, the phrase “sank to the foundations of the mountains” should be understood as the painful event of descending into his grave.
      • During the time of Jonah, it was a common belief the foundations of the mountains were in the depths of the oceans, covered by water.
      • Jonah was expressing the feeling of being as far removed as possible from other people. He was in the deepest part of the ocean, with help out of reach.
      • The term “prison bars” is difficult to interpret accurately.
        • It could refer to being in the depths of the ocean.
        • It could be a reference to Sheol, which was believed to be a fortified city in the underworld. Once the gates were closed behind a human soul, there was no leaving.
        • Once again, Jonah is expressing the deepness of his despair.
      • However, the last phrase in verse six is the turning point in Jonah’s prayer.
        • Jonah acknowledges Yahweh’s sovereign power. 
        • It’s a reference to the fish rescuing Jonah from the depths of the sea.
        • Jonah had been rescued from a hopeless situation by the power and grace of God.
        • Jonah is overcome with praise for God’s grace and mercy. 
  • Up until this point, we can draw a general conclusion about Jonah’s spiritual maturity; it wasn’t very good. However, through the four short chapters in the book, we do see him experiencing spiritual growth. In one aspect, Jonah is an Old Testament prodigal. Here verse seven is an example of where Jonah undergoes some spiritual growth.
    • In what Jonah may have thought were his last moments alive, he returns to God, who is the only avenue for salvation. 
    • The understanding of the Hebrew word translated to “remembered” is talking about the mental act of focusing attention on something and is almost exclusively used as a basis for taking action.
    • Just as in verse four, the temple does not mean the physical temple in Jerusalem. Jonah understood that his prayer had reached God’s heart.
  • Verses eight and nine conclude Jonah’s prayer, much like many psalms, with words of thanksgiving and praise.
    • A literal translation of the first part of verse eight would read, “those who guard/serve vanities of worthlessness.” The vanities refer to idols. In Old Testament times, these overwhelmingly referred to carved images that depicted some “god.” Today, those idols are anything that takes us away from focusing on God. Some examples are cell phones, social media, celebrities, and material possessions. One could argue there are more idols today than in Jonah’s day.
    • The second part of verse eight refers to idol worshippers missing out on the mercy and grace of God. Just as Jonah received mercy and grace once he turned back to God, idolaters could receive the same grace if they repented.
    • Just as chapter one ended with a sacrifice by the sailors and thanksgiving to God, here Jonah ends his prayer with a sacrifice by his voice of thanksgiving.
    • Jonah repents and says that he will fulfill what he has vowed. The vow was most likely connected to his role as a prophet, which he had walked away from when he tried to run to Tarshish. 
  • The chapter ends with God commanding the fish to vomit Jonah onto land.
  • We could view chapter two as the happiest section of the book.
    • Jonah comes to a decision of repentance for his act of running away.
    • Jonah affirms God’s sovereignty over creation.
    • Jonah is the recipient of mercy and grace in his deliverance.
    • He praises God with a spirit of thanksgiving.

As we look back on chapter two, we can summarize it with a few points.

  • In the first part, Jonah is deals with his own life and failings. He is indicating a willingness to repent.
  • At the same time, when we look at the book in its entirety, we see that Jonah hasn’t come to the point of complete repentance yet.
  • However, he is reflecting on the correct path, knowing that idols are worthless and only God is faithful.


  • Never lose sight of the fact that no matter how big our sin, whether before or after proclaiming Christ as our Lord, we can always restore the relationship if we are willing to reflect on our actions and repent.
  • No matter our circumstances, God can rescue us from them. It doesn’t always mean He will. Sometimes, we get ourselves in a bad situation through bad decisions, and we expect God to “rescue” us. It doesn’t always happen.
  • Never forget that God is sovereign over all creation. He is the creator, and we are the created.

Jonah Lesson One

Jonah Lesson One: Jonah 1:1-17 – Jonah’s Disobedience

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because their wickedness has confronted  Me.” However, Jonah got up to flee to Tarshish from the Lord’s presence. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. He paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish, from the Lord’s presence. 

Then the Lord hurled a violent wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose on the sea that the ship threatened to break apart. The sailors were afraid, and each cried out to his god. They threw the ship’s cargo into the sea to lighten the load. Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down to the lowest part of the vessel and had stretched out and fallen into a deep sleep. 

The captain approached him and said, “What are you doing sound asleep? Get up! Call to your god. Maybe this god will consider us, and we won’t perish.” 

“Come on!” the sailors said to each other. “Let’s cast lots. Then we’ll know who is to blame for this trouble we’re in.” So they cast lots, and the lot singled out Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us who is to blame for this trouble we’re in. What is your business and where are you from? What is your country and what people are you from?” 

He answered them, “I’m a Hebrew. I worship Yahweh, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land.” 

10 Then the men were even more afraid and said to him, “What is this you’ve done?” The men knew he was fleeing from the Lord’s presence, because he had told them. 11 So they said to him, “What should we do to you to calm this sea that’s against us?” For the sea was getting worse and worse. 

12 He answered them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea so it may quiet down for you, for I know that I’m to blame for this violent storm that is against you.” 13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they couldn’t because the sea was raging against them more and more. 

14 So they called out to the Lord: “Please, Yahweh, don’t let us perish because of this man’s life, and don’t charge us with innocent blood! For You, Yahweh, have done just as You pleased.” 15 Then they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. 16 The men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. 

17 Now the Lord had appointed a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the fish three days and three nights. (HCSB)

As we begin our study of the book of Jonah, let’s look at facts known about Jonah.

  • Jonah was the son of Amittai – 2 Kings 14:25.
  • Jonah was from Gath Hepher, located in the territory of Zebulun in the Northern Kingdom – Joshua 19:13.
  • Jonah prophesied either during or shortly before the time of Jeroboam II – 793-753 B.C.
  • Jonah was a successor to the prophet Elisha.

Now, let’s look at historical facts about the city of Nineveh.

  • It was an ancient city dating back to around 4,500 B.C.
  • It was one of the major cities of ancient Assyria.
  • Nineveh was built by Nimrod – Genesis 10:11.
  • During the reign of Sennacherib, it was an extremely important city and, at one point, was the capital of Assyria.
  • It was located on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, opposite the modern-day city of Mosul, north of Zab.
  • Its “greatness” was a reference to its size, not its reputation.
  • Nineveh was Israel’s worst enemy at the time.

Finally, a look at Assyria.

  • It was an ancient empire that was considered the symbol of terror and tyranny in the Near East.
  • It was located in northern Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq.
  • It derived its name from the city-state of Asshur.
  • The city of Asshur was the center for worshipping the sun god Asshur.
  • The Assyrians were known for their brutality.
    • The grandson of Sennacherib, Ashurbanipal, was known for tearing off the hands and lips of his victims.
    • Tiglath-Pileser would skin his victims alive and make large piles of their skulls.
    • They would bury their victims alive.
    • They would impale them on sharp poles exposed to the hot sun.

Now that the stage has been set with an understanding of Jonah, Assyria, and the city of Nineveh, let’s start digging into the first chapter.

I’ll separate the chapter into three parts.

  • God’s command – verses 1-2.
  • Jonah’s response – verse 3.
  • The consequences of disobedience – verses 4-17.

God’s Command

The book begins with the phrase, “the Word of the Lord,” a phrase which only opens one of the books of the Bible in Jonah. The phrase occurs in many other biblical books but in the setting of a larger narrative. The phrase occurs seven times in Jonah, clearly indicating that even though Jonah was attempting to run from Yahweh, God never gave up on Jonah speaking God’s message to the city of Nineveh.

Verse two is short but packed with meaning.

  • “Get up!” is a call to take action. In this case, prepare for the journey and task Yahweh had prepared for Jonah. The prophet was assigned a mission from Yahweh.
  • “Go,” implies a sense of urgency to the mission. Jonah shouldn’t take his time; he must set out immediately for Nineveh.
  • I’ve already mentioned the word “great” is simply a description of the size of the city and not a reflection of a positive reputation in the region.
  • “Preach against it,” indicates a prophetic word from God against the city.
    • Jonah’s message would inform them that their wickedness was known by God.
    • The message would also be a proclamation of a coming judgment for their wickedness if they didn’t repent.
    • At this point, there are no further details about God’s message. However, from various sections of Jonah, we can conclude what those details included.
  • “Their wickedness has confronted Me” gives the reader the sense of the great sin committed by the Assyrians.
    • All sin is an affront to God.
    • Biblical writings include examples of specific groups of people who had become so wicked that God made a special call for localized judgment against them.
    • The Assyrians now had a bullseye of judgment placed squarely on their back.

Jonah’s Response

Verse three contains three main points in Jonah’s decision not to obey God.

  • The destination of Tarshish.
    • The significance of the destination is underlined by the fact Tarshish is mentioned three times in one verse.
    • At this point in history, the Phoenicians were the major sea-faring nation in the Mediterranean. Joppa was the major port in Palestine. 
    • Tarshish was a Phoenician city in southern Spain, just west of Gibraltar.
    • In essence, Tarshish was the westernmost point of the “world” as it was known at the time.
    • Jonah was attempting to flee to the “end of the world” in an attempt to disobey God.
  • Jonah’s decision and following (likely) actions indicated a deep and planned out act of disobedience.
    • The decision to flee to Tarshish indicates Jonah didn’t plan on returning.
    • The cost to sail to “the end of the world” was likely not a small fare. 
    • Jonah would have sold his property and possessions before heading to Joppa.
    • Jonah used the proceeds to pay his fare.
    • What we see is not a spur of the moment; I made a bad decision act by Jonah. Instead, his response to God’s instructions was a deliberate one that required planning.
  • Jonah fled from the LORD’s presence.
    • First, it’s important to note Jonah didn’t believe he could actually escape from the purview of God.
      • Numerous passages in the Old Testament prior to Jonah’s life clearly indicated Israel didn’t believe Yahweh to be a local deity.
      • Jonah affirms this in 1:9 by his description of God.
    • In the case of Jonah, it declares his unwillingness to serve God.
      • We already know that Jonah was a prophet of Yahweh.
      • If a prophet is unwilling to pass along the message entrusted to them, they were renouncing their role as a prophet.
      • Jonah’s actions signify open rebellion against God and His sovereignty.
    • The reader, at this point, may consider that Jonah didn’t go to Nineveh because of fear.
      • Scripture has numerous examples of prophets being called to speak against other nations. And outside of Amos’s visit to Israel, no other prophet had made a “personal appearance” to speak the prophecy in the presence of a foreign or enemy country.
      • In this case, Yahweh was asking Jonah to make a personal appearance and speak a word of judgment against a nation well-known for its brutality.
      • While it’s true Jonah may have feared for his safety, it’s clear that wasn’t the predominant one. If we fast-forward to 4:2, we see the reason is that Jonah “feared” the Assyrians would repent!

We could summarize the first three verses with three statements.

  • God calls people to serve Him.
  • God cares enough about sinners to send a message of hope, love, and grace.
  • No one can run from God.

The Consequences of Disobedience

We see from the very beginning of this section of the passage that God’s response to Jonah’s disobedience wasn’t long in coming. God was going to use Jonah’s disobedience as a “teaching moment” for the wayward prophet. 

Let’s consider the storm.

  • Storms were not uncommon at sea.
  • However, this was no ordinary storm. This was a storm Yahweh would use to teach Jonah a valuable lesson and to introduce himself to the sailors who may not have heard of Him yet.
    • It was a “violent wind” that God sent. We don’t know exactly how strong, but it was strong enough that the ship was in danger of breaking apart. When we add the fact that the ship was going to make a journey to the “end of the world,” it is safe to assume the ship would have been one of the largest in the merchant fleet.
    • God aimed the wind right at the ship carrying Jonah, much like a warrior hurls a spear at an enemy. 
    • The term “threatened” used here is one used in Hebrew to denote a human or divine subject and means to consider or plan. When understood in this light, the ship is personified and was determined to break apart. 
    • We should understand verse four to signify a cooperative effort controlled by God between the wind, sea, and the ship to thwart Jonah’s plan of running away from his calling.

Let’s look at the actions of the captain and the ship’s crew.

  • The storm was strong enough that each one “cried out to his god.”
    • An indication the crew was made up of sailors from multiple countries or locations.
    • Even though these were likely experienced sailors, their reaction indicates a powerful storm and/or a brooding uneasy feeling about the nature of the storm.
  • In an attempt to lighten the load and prevent the ship from sinking, the crew began to throw the cargo overboard.
  • While this was going on, Jonah had gone to the belly of the ship and had fallen asleep.
    • It’s possible he was physically exhausted from traveling to the port and boarding the ship.
    • It’s possible, but not likely, that the tossing of the ship made him sleepy.
    • It’s possible Jonah was suffering from spiritual and emotional exhaustion from his decision to turn and run from God.
  • The captain approaches Jonah and tells him “get up” and to “call” out to Yahweh in the hope that Jonah’s “god” will save them. Each of the phrases in the original Hebrew bears significance.
    • “Get up” is the same phrase Yahweh used when He commanded Jonah to go to Nineveh.
    • “Call” is the same verb as preach. 
    • It’s possible the captain felt it was Jonah who was responsible as he was the only one not making an appeal to a deity.
  • With no progress being made in appealing to the various deities called upon, the sailors relied on a standard practice at the time, the casting of lots.
    • The standard way of casting “lots” was to throw two stones, which were painted on one side.
    • If two unpainted sides landed up, the verdict was “no.”
    • If two painted sides landed up, the verdict was “yes.”
    • If the result was one of each, the lots were thrown again.
    • The casting of lots signified Jonah was in some way responsible for the storm.
  • Although the sailors use a similar phrase, “who is to blame,” both before and after the casting of lots, there is a different nuance to the question being asked.
    • Before the casting of lots, they wanted to know who was responsible for the storm.
    • The question posed after the lots singled out Jonah refers to the sailors wanting to know about Jonah; who he is, why he is on the ship bound for Tarshish, and his country of origin and people group.
    • They wanted answers quickly since their lives were in danger, and they wanted to understand why the storm was happening.

Now, let’s look at the discussion between Jonah and the crew.

  • For the first time in the book, Jonah speaks.
  • Jonah answers their questions with a simple, two-pronged response.
    • First, he was a Hebrew. By calling himself a Hebrew instead of an Israelite, Jonah was using terminology that would be familiar to the crew.
    • Second, Jonah worshipped Yahweh, “the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land.”
    • The original Hebrew for worship used here is understood as “fear” or reverent awe and respect. By using this terminology, Jonah explicitly lets them know it was his actions that caused the storm.
    • Since Yahweh was the creator of the sea and the land, He was the creator of the storm.
  • Once the crew heard Jonah’s answers, they were even more afraid. The expression in the original Hebrew would be understood as “they feared with a great fear.”
  • Their fear was two-fold.
    • They were horrified the storm was a divinely initiated judgment.
    • They were filled with a holy fear because Jonah served a “god” who controlled everything.
    • To run from a god was foolish; to run from the “God of the heavens” was suicidal.
  • Their next question, “what have you done” is not a question that requires a response. It was a question/statement that equaled an admission of horror regarding their situation. The depth of their fear increased.
  • The sailors had now determined who was responsible for the storm and why the storm occurred. They were unfamiliar with the angry deity. Now, they wanted to know what could be done to appease Yahweh.
  • Considering Jonah’s actions to this point, his response to the sailor’s question is quite fascinating.
    • Jonah’s response is a confession of his responsibility.
    • Jonah understands his actions have resulted in a storm that was threatening to sink the ship and kill everyone on it.
    • He then tells the sailors to throw him overboard so the storm would stop.
      • Jonah’s actions don’t exhibit any sense of repentance.
      • Instead, being thrown overboard was simply a solution to the problem.
      • We know from his actions in chapter four he wasn’t showing compassion for the pagan crew. Instead, it seems it was his conscience directing his actions.
      • Jonah wasn’t willing to throw himself overboard. It could be because of fear, or it could be he viewed the crew as agents of God’s punishment.
  • At this point, the sailors are in a quandary. They feared Jonah’s God but weren’t willing, at least not at this point, to throw him into the sea.
  • Their solution was to try to get back to land and rid themselves of the troublemaking cargo.
  • However, their attempts proved futile. The harder they rowed, the worse the storm became.
  • As the situation worsened, they realized the only solution was to follow Jonah’s advice. The solution is an illustration that repenting from rebellion and disobedience often requires a radical solution.
  • Before the sailors follow through on Jonah’s solution, they make a three-fold petition to Yahweh.
    • First, understanding that Jonah is the one responsible for the storm, they make a plea they won’t die because of Jonah’s actions. They might have also feared they might face some type of judgment for throwing Jonah overboard, indirectly killing him.
    • Second, because the sailors were not a witness to Jonah’s actions and Jonah hadn’t been convicted in a legal hearing, they used the term “innocent” when describing Jonah.
    • Third, the sailors indirectly charged Yahweh as “guilty” in the judgment of Jonah. They understood Yahweh’s power and wanted to reaffirm their innocence in the event which was about to take place.
  • The sailors then picked Jonah up and threw him overboard.
    • It appears the effect on the storm was immediate, as the “sea stopped its raging.” 
    • Jonah was proven correct that Yahweh did control the seas.
  • The impact on the sailors was profound. The “fear” they felt was the same reverent fear or awe that occurred in verses five, nine, and ten.
    • In this case, it resulted in submissive actions on the part of the sailors towards Yahweh.
    • We don’t know what they “sacrificed” to Yahweh and what vows they made.
      • The cargo had been thrown overboard earlier.
      • The transport of edible animals on ships was a rare occurrence.
      • It could mean they threw their idols overboard as an acknowledgment of Yahweh’s power.
  • We now get to one of the most recognized and debated verses in the Bible; a fish swallowing Jonah and his “captivity” for three days.
    • First, there is no doubt Jonah’s survival in the belly of a fish for three days is a miracle.
    • Second, for those who believe this part is fictional, if God was able to speak creation into existence, why is it not possible for God to protect Jonah for three days and nights in the belly of a fish?
    • The word “appointed” occurs four times in Jonah and always points to Yahweh’s power to accomplish His will.
    • We shouldn’t get caught up in trying to determine what type of fish swallowed Jonah. Doing so is a red herring to deflect us from the bigger picture in the book. 

When we take a broad summary look at the first chapter of Jonah, we see an illustration of what occurs when followers of Christ backslide in their relationship with Him.

  • There are numerous causes of backsliding.
    • A wrong attitude toward God’s will.
    • A wrong attitude toward witnessing.
    • A wrong attitude toward enemies.
  • The path of backsliding is downward.
    • Down to Joppa.
    • Down into the ship.
    • Down into the sea.
    • Down into the fish.
    • Disobedience always leads downward.
  • The consequences of backsliding are tragic.
    • No longer hearing God’s voice.
    • Losing spiritual energy.
    • Losing the desire and power of prayer.
    • Losing the ability to witness to pagans.
    • Losing influence for good.

However, even in backsliding, God will pursue the backslider to restore the broken relationship.


  • When God has a message or plan for you, pursue it and don’t run from it.
  • Don’t let your actions break your relationship with God.
  • When you realize you’ve been disobedient, repent and return to God in humility and submission.