Darby's Bible Synopsis
Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
Introduction to Jonah
Nineveh-which represents the world in its natural greatness, full of pride and iniquity, regardless of God and of His authority-had deserved the righteous judgment of God. This is the occasion of all the development of God's dealings that we find in this book. Jonah is called to announce this judgment. The wretched tendency of the nature of man, to whom the testimony of God is committed, is to invest himself with the importance of the message with which he is charged. That God may so invest him in His grace we see in the history of that grace; that the man who bears the message should do so is but pride and vanity. The result with such is, that they cannot bear with the grace that God exhibits towards others, nor with any communication of His mind or nature through any other means than their own, even although it should be in grace. It is they who must do the thing themselves; it is they who must have the glory of it; and thus all their thoughts of God are limited to their own point of view-to the portion committed to them of God's message. Compare that which we have seen in the case of Moses and of Elijah, those eminent servants of God. The sense of that supremacy in God which can pardon is too much for the heart; it cannot be borne. The self-renunciation that seeks only to do the will of God, be it what it may, leaves God all His glory, and, if He glorifies Himself by shewing grace, can bless Him for it most heartily. Without this we shall like to wield the sword of His vengeance-a thing more in harmony, alas! with our natural hearts, and more adapted to increase our own importance.
"Wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, as Elias did?" is the natural expression of the heart. For vengeance is the manifestation of power. Grace leaves sinful man to enjoy mercy-will not bring in power, but spares those against whom power might have been exercised. On the other hand, it is God alone who can shew grace. The threat of vengeance is connected in the mind with the man who has received authority to announce it. The message and the messenger are both feared. A pardoned man is at the time more occupied with his own joy, and with Him that pardoned, than with the messenger of pardon. Moreover, when grace is shewn, it connects itself with the alarm inspired by the threatened judgment. And if the messenger be not himself imbued with the spirit of love, he feels himself in the presence of a God who is above his thoughts; and he is afraid of Him, because he does not know Him. He fears also for his own importance, if this God should be more gracious than the narrowness of his heart would desire and the message committed to him expressed.
Such was the case with Jonah, although he feared God. He flees from the presence of Jehovah, feeling that he cannot reckon upon Him to satisfy the little exigencies of his contracted heart (compare Jonah 1:3; Jonah 4:2). God is felt to be above the desires of man's heart. On the other hand, the truth of God pleases us when we can invest ourselves with it for our own importance. Thus it was with Israel. Israel were the depositary of God's testimony in the world, and gloried in it as clothing themselves with honour, and Israel could not bear with the exercise of grace to the Gentiles. It was by their opposition to this that the Jews filled up the measure of their iniquity to bring the wrath of God upon them (compare Isaiah 43:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:16).
Two principles, then, on which in fact the testimony of God may be rendered, are unfolded in this prophecy. First of all, man is called to render this testimony as a mark of faithfulness to God, for which he is responsible. This is the position in which we have already seen that Israel was placed. Their whole history is before us in confirmation of this thought. Blessed by God with nearness to Himself, Israel should have been a witness to the whole world of what the only true God was. But, wholly incapable of apprehending His grace towards the Gentiles (although the house of Jehovah was at all times the house of prayer for all nations), Israel failed even in maintaining their own faithfulness, and consequently therefore in that which was the only means of making the world, as such, to understand the true character of God. Instead therefore of being made a blessing to others, they only involved them in the divine judgments that were to fall upon themselves. This is the picture which Jonah sets before us in his own history at his first receiving the message of God. The same thing will take place at the end of the age. Israel, unfaithful to God amid the billows of this world, insensible through their blind unbelief to the judgment which is ready to swallow them up, will drag into the results of their own sin all the other nations; and then the intervention of God will bring the latter also to acknowledge His power and His glory.
Let us here remark, that the principle we are speaking of is always true. If those to whom God in His grace has committed a testimony, do not employ this testimony in behalf of others according to the grace that bestowed it, they will soon become unfaithful in their own walk before God. If they truly acknowledged God, they would feel bound to make known His name, to impart this blessing to others. If they do not own His glory and His grace, they will assuredly be unable to maintain their own walk before Him. God, who is full of grace, being our only strength, it cannot be otherwise.
The first picture, then, that is set before us is that of a man called to be God's witness in the midst of a proud and corrupt world, which follows its own will, without regarding the authority or the holiness of God. But this man is not sufficiently near to God to enter into the spirit of His holy and loving ways; and therefore, knowing that He is gracious, shrinks from the task of representing such a God before the world. To invest himself with God's name for his own honour, Jonah, the Jew, would not refuse. But to bear the burden necessary to the maintenance of the testimony of such a God, so gracious, so longsuffering, as well as holy, this was too hard a thing for the proud and impatient heart of a man who desired to have his own will carried out in judgment, if the others would not obey it in holiness.
Observe, that although Jonah ought to have lifted up his voice against Nineveh, it is from the presence of Jehovah he fled, not from the carnal opposition of the city. Christ, our blessed Lord, is the only One who accomplished the task of which we speak. He is the faithful witness. We may compare Psalm 40, in which He speaks of the manner in which He undertook and accomplished it-He who dwelt in a glory that placed Him so entirely above such a position, that sovereign grace alone could bring Him down into it-a glory however which alone made Him capable of undertaking and accomplishing it, in spite of all the difficulties which the enmity of man put in His way. And great as His glory was, He accomplished the undertaken task of service as a duty in the humility of obedience, and that even unto death. See in Psalm 40:1-2 how far He went, and how-sheltering Himself from nothing-He puts His trust in God. He becomes man to accomplish this task (Jonah 1:6-8). He performs it faithfully (Jonah 1:9-10), not concealing the truth and righteousness of Jehovah from the congregation of Israel. In Verse 11 and following Verses (Jonah 1:11 ff), under the deep pressure of the position He was in from man's iniquity and His taking up the cause of His people, He commits Himself to the tender mercies of Jehovah, praying (after having rendered testimony with a perfect patience) for judgment on His enemies, the enemies of God's testimony. For it is the time, under the Jewish economy, of judgment.
Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.
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.
So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.
Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.
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.