Jonah 1:2
God looketh on the heart. And none but God can. It is an obscure and tortuous place - "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" Its chaos and darkness, transparent to the Divine Spirit, are impenetrable to any creature's eye. Even the new heart is not all new. Persistent among the grace germs are bacteria of sin, inseparable and morbific. In Jonah this baneful combination is obvious. He neither loved God supremely nor his neighbour as himself. If he had, the action here recorded could never have been done, nor the feelings which prompted it have found a home in his heart. To fly from God's service because it involved the helping of men is a course consistent it may be with grace, but only with grace alloyed, inchoate, and overlaid with the mind of flesh.

I. IN GOD'S ARMY IT IS EITHER DESERTION OR DUTY. "Jonah rose up, to flee from the presence of the Lord." There was a Divine presence from which Jonah was not so ignorant as to attempt escape. He shows familiarity with the Book of Psalms (Jonah 2:2-9), and doubtless knew with the psalmist (Psalm 139:7-10) that there was no place outside God's omnipresence. But there was a special presence of God in the land of Israel. He was present in gracious hearts, and in the ordinances and offices of the Church. This special and gracious presence Jonah, like Jacob (Genesis 28:16), seems to have considered peculiar to the Holy Land. He had a notion probably that the institutions arising out of it were purely local also, and that flight to heathen Spain would break the spiritual connection and void his prophetic office. His flight was "not from God's presence, but from standing before him as his minister... he renounced his office" (Pusey). And the act was logical in one aspect, however criminal. Enlistment in God's service means something. It is not playing at campaigning. It is not a kind el spiritual antumn manoeuvres, which merely give spice to a periodical outing. It incurs responsibility and involves obedience.

"I slept, and dreamed that life was beauty.
I woke, and found that life was duty." That all must find who are spiritually awake. There is work for all, and his task for each. And it has got to be done. In the Divine code stand the regulations of the service, and they are not to be trifled with. Idleness is out of the question; insubordination is not to be named. Jonah felt this. "He rose up to flee." He could not point blank refuse, and stand his ground. Do something he must, when the word went forth. He will not preach, and so he has got to fly. It is so always. A man cannot remain at his post and strike work. The eye of the Master would look him through, and his presence compel obedience. The mutineer is in the same hour a deserter. He can maintain the one character only by adopting the other. Our spiritual duties arise out of our spiritual relations, and are at the same time their necessary expression. The alternative with us is "both or neither." Refuse God's work, and you put yourself out of his service.

II. BIGOTRY IS AN INEVITABLE WEAKENER OF THE MORAL SENSE. Some think Jonah refused to summon the Ninevites to repentance for fear they might take him at his word. Their reformation just now would not have suited his views. As heathen he disliked them, and as wicked he could use them as a foil for wicked Israel. Nineveh penitent, on the other hand, after one Divine warning, would have contrasted strongly with Israel impenitent after centuries of prophetic appeal, and he dreaded the repentance which would have been the occasion of such a damaging comparison. But this is clearly an exaggeration of Jonah's reeling in the matter. No prophet of God, no servant of God, could connive at sin against God in order to the destruction of men. To do so would be incompatible altogether with the religious character. Still, Jonah would have been more or less than a Jew if he had not been a bigot. He would not wantonly have compassed Nineveh's ruin. But being a bigot, and an egoist as well, he was so indifferent to the fate of the heathen city as to be ready to sacrifice it rather than risk the lowering of his own prophetic reputation, in all this we see the tokens of a weakened moral sense. Bigotry is an unequalled hardener of the heart. It is narrow, cold, sour, and carping. It denies or belittles all good outside its own ecclesiastical circle. Whilst blind to extern religious excellence, it is indifferent to extern religious attainment. It takes covert pleasure in the sins and weaknesses of rival Churches; it would regard their failure and collapse with mean complacency; and it would almost as lief see men remaining in sin as reformed by effort not its own. The tendency to look every man and Church on our own things is a natural one, and grows. And it necessarily involves the other tendency, its universe, to look away from the things of others. This is the very antipodes of the "mind of Christ." That believes in the dignity of man as man. It sets a unique value on human life. It regards the question of a human destiny as one of stupendous interest. It makes the securing of it a personal concern. It never asks, "Am I my brother's keeper?" for the fact is with it an axiomatic truth. Loving its neighbour as itself, its moral attitude inspires its active one - "do good to all." It regards life as wasted if not lived for men, and the time as lost in which it does not "save some."

III. INGLORIOUS DUTY IS MOST IN DANGER OF BEING LEFT UNDONE. Jonah had an idea how his mission would end. As a prophet, he knew that Nineveh would repent, and on repentance be spared, his prophecy to the contrary notwithstanding (Jonah 4:2). And the prospect was humbling to his self-love. The affair could bring him little credit. He was simply to deliver an empty threat, a threat the utterance of which would serve God's purpose, and so prevent the necessity of carrying it out. How was he to get up a prophetic reputation by performing such a task? Warnings heeded and predictions fulfilled are the chief credentials of a prophet. The first is both in itself and in its practical results, by far the more important. But the second is more of a personal interest to the prophet as involving his credibility more directly. Hence in proportion as he is "yet carnal" and self-seeking it will bulk more largely in his regard. A Paul could say, "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord," and mean it thoroughly. But the perfect self-sinking of the apostolic rule was an unscaled height to the egotistic prophet. He wanted a name and official distinction more than the exhibition of God's mercy and the reformation of wicked men. Accordingly, he refused to assume an equivocal position, although he knew, and because he knew, it would lead to these prime results. And servants his counterparts are still found in God's work. The men who "do good by stealth, and blush to find it fame" no doubt exist. But the blushes traceable to this source are a small proportion of the blushes current. He has reached a high spiritual level who no lives to God that personal considerations are as nothing in his work. Position and visibility, to say nothing of considerations more sordid still, are elements in the situation, hard to keep subordinate, harder still to ignore, when the Christian worker is making choice of fields. A place in the most distant mission field may single out a worker from the crowd, and the missionary pioneer finds temptations to pose before the Church as strong as beset the brightest metropolitan star. The large giver, moreover, or the great organizer, has as many temptations to self-seeking as either. It is so through all departments of activity and in all the walks of life. The work that brings fortune and fame will have thousands competing for a chance to do it. The only duty in practical danger of being shirked is the duty to be followed into obscure places, and done with only the eye of God to note our faithfulness.

IV. RETREAT FROM GOD IS RESOLUTE, AND AIMS AT ENTIRE ISOLATION. Josiah started at a run. He evidently meant to get away, and threw all his energy into the effort. He went, too, in a direction exactly the opposite of the one in which he had been sent. God had said, "Go northeast," and he went southwest. He set out. moreover, for the remotest place he knew of, Spain being the "far West" of those early times. He went about it also in the most business-like way, going to Joppa, the great seaport, and booking a berth on one of the. great ships of Tarshish, to break which was the magnum opus of the east wind (Psalm 48:7). All which things are no doubt an allegory. The sinner's drawing near to God is done at a snail's pace. Loving this sinful world, he hangs back long before he starts. Answering feebly as yet to the drawing of grace, and breaking cord after cord in the tearing of himself away, the motion toward God at first is show and painful, like that of a weak oarsman against a rapid stream. But like a stone down hill, and drawn by mighty gravitation, the motion away from God is by leaps and bounds (Romans 7:19, 22, 23). You have seen at the docks the seamen straining at the windlass, as, after minutes of strenuous effort, they have pulleyed a bale of merchandise high in air. And you have seen, when they let go the winch, how swiftly the handle flies and, as the rope unrolls, the bale comes rushing down. And such is retrogression in contrast to progress in the religious sphere. So much more quickly do men fall than rise, that a few days' backsliding is enough to neutralize the growth of years. Then so opposite to God is the sinful heart that its departure from him is absolute turning back. Swerving would be bad, aberration would be worse, but regression is worst of all; and such is religious backsliding. It is spiritual tergiversation. The renegade turns his back on right, and takes a way the very opposite. He obeys Satan and follows sin, the antipodes respectively of God and good. If God's way be light, his is darkness; if upwards, his is downwards infallibly Then there is no spiritual half-way house. God in his mercy may arrest him on the way, but the renegade starts for Tarshish, the spiritual remotest point. A stone detached from the house top has no stopping place short of the ground. Turn your back on God and heaven, and Satan and hell are, humanly speaking, your destination. Moreover, defection from God is not an aimless drifting, but intelligent and of purpose. It is a course wittingly taken and studiously kept. The deteriorated moral nature presses head and hand into its service, to survey and construct the road by which it would reach the shrine of its chosen idol. At the Joppa of occasion, advisedly sought, is chartered the ship of ways and means, to bring us to the Tarshish of accomplished sin, the goal of our godless hearts.

V. A MAN WILL ALWAYS FIND CIRCUMSTANCES FAVOURABLE TO THE COURSE HE HAS RESOLVED TO TAKE. Jonah found a ship about to sail to his destination, got accommodation on board, and had the means to provide a berth. Things seem as if arranged on purpose to facilitate his flight. Had it been otherwise, we sometimes think the prophet's "Hegirah" might have been stopped earlier, and a good deal of suffering saved. But that would be a shallow philosophy of human action. Physical surroundings cannot thus shape our moral course. Intelligence makes its own use of them all. Purpose is formed; action is decided on; and then the circumstances are examined to see what mode of action they can most easily be made to help. The ship, the berth, and the passage money to Tarshish were available to many besides Jonah, yet he only prostituted them to the purpose of shirking duty. They lent themselves to his project, because the project had, in the first place, been adjusted to them. So if a thief finds an open window, and no policeman in sight, the circumstances are said to favour a burglary. If a would be murderer finds the same state of things, then we say the circumstances favour assassination. But if a man who would neither kill nor steal finds them so, they favour no project of his, and so are either put right or passed unheeded. Circumstances favour neither good nor evil particularly, but each man makes use of those that fit his own purpose, and passes the others by. We hear often of wicked men who are the victims of circumstance. And there are some such, no doubt. But the cases are fewer and logically weaker than you might think. Here are two country youths apprenticed in town among a godless set. One turns out a profligate, and friends pity him and say, "He got into bad hands: what bettor could we expect in such a place?" But the other, with the Same surroundings exactly, turns out, as often happens, an honest tradesman and a godly man. And if you examine you will find that he has honest men for his friends, and Christian people for his associates, and enjoys beneficial influences in every relation of life. In other words, ha is in a new set of circumstances altogether, favourable to the religious life, and which his own conduct has drawn around him. The circumstances have not made the men, but the men have practically made the circumstances. And so we reason out the truth which God reveals, "To the pure all things are pure," etc. (Titus 1:15). We are greater than our environment. "Each man creates his own world The soul spreads its own hue over everything; the shroud or wedding garment of nature is woven in the loom of our own feelings. This universe is the image and counterpart of the souls that dwell in it. Be noble minded, and all nature replies - I am divine, the child of God; be thou too his child and noble. Be mean, and all nature dwindles into a contemptible smallness" (Robertson). "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." To you and me the world will be a new world when we are new creatures in Christ. It is not what it was, but a transfigured thing, when we view it "the eyes of our understandings being enlightened," and make all its elements tributary to a new life in Christ. - J.E.H.







Go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it. &&&
Proposition. That though by no means exclusively, yet in cities that are great and luxurious, integrity is exposed to peculiar snares, and depravity cherished to an extraordinary growth.

I. EXPLAIN THIS PROPOSITION.

1. We confine human depravity to no combination of circumstances. In some situations, it is true, the poison may evolve its noxious qualities more fully and freely than in others; but in one way or another it makes itself manifest in all. It is not intended to represent this depravity as in itself essential to our nature. Sin is not essential, but accidental, to our nature.

2. It should also be observed, that in great cities there are even advantages which are nowhere else to be so fully enjoyed. The children of this world, wise in their generation, instantly discern the advantages of city situations, in reference to their particular pursuits. Beside the civil and intellectual, there are moral and religious advantages which, in more sequestered situations, we can scarcely hope to enjoy. In cities there is an easy and regular access to the ordinances of grace.

3. There are peculiar temptations, to which more obscure situations are liable. In solitude the mind is in danger of being filled with prejudices, and the heart with passions, which at once destroy present tranquillity and endanger future well-being.

II. ILLUSTRATE THE SUBJECT BEFORE US. That in populous cities corruption peculiarly prevails. Consider —

1. The multitude of transgressors.

2. The aggravated nature of the sins there particularly indulged.

3. The individual sinner usually attains a degree of presumptuous hardness, not common in less frequented scenes.

III. THE CAUSES FROM WHICH THIS PECULIAR DEPRAVITY PROCEEDS.

1. The depravity of the heart is the groundwork of the whole.

2. Neglect of parental instruction.

3. The infectious power of example.

4. The chilling influence of the world.

5. The seducing influence of luxury.

(James Simpson.)

This same event comes to every man. Do not suppose that Jonah is a lonely creature afar off in the ages somewhere, having an experience unique and incommunicable. The experience of Jonah is the experience of every good man. What is your call in life? To go wherever wickedness is, and cry against it. Nineveh has perished, but Ninevitish iniquity is upon our streets, is throwing its shadow upon our thresholds, is sending a keen wail of pain and blasphemy through the very air that blows about us. Every child of God is to be a protesting prophet. Every earnest man is to have no difficulty in finding the word of condemnation when he comes into the presence of sin. If we could realise this call, all the Lord's people would be prophets. Is it not a burden to speak against wickedness? Where is the man that dare do it? It is easy to condemn wickedness generally. The difficulty is to say to the individual — "Thou art the man." Almost anybody can stand up before a thousand people, and speak against iniquity in the mass. But he must be a lion from God that dare say to the individual criminal," I charge you, in the name of the Living One, with doing things that are wrong." Still, it is well that we should have men who stand up in the midst of cities, and who let the cities know that there are eyes upon them that see things in moral relationships, and aspects, and consequences: and woe betide the cities of the earth when the voice of the prophet is no longer heard in them. It is a harsh voice, it is a piercing cry; but believe it, and regeneration comes, and restora tion and lost peace return, and things are set right before the face of God.

(Joseph Parker, D. D.)

The city to which he was com missioned was remarkable for its magnitude and its wickedness.

1. Nineveh was a great city in many respects.

(1)It was of great antiquity (Genesis 10:9-12).

(2)It was great in respect of its power. It was the chief city of the mightiest monarchy in the world.

(3)In respect of its wealth.

(4)In respect of its extent. Probably sixty miles in circumference.

(5)In respect of its population. Probably 600,000 persons resided within its walls.

2. Nineveh was a guilty city. Cruelty was the characteristic vice. No man in Nineveh was secure from the violence to which its people were prone.

3. Nineveh was a Gentile city. It was this circumstance which chiefly rendered the commission addressed to Jonah so remarkable. It was so unusual that it startled Jonah. God displayed His interest in the welfare of mankind at large, even at that remote and unripe epoch. The Israelites were slow to learn that God did thus interest Himself in the welfare of the Gentiles. Now consider the disobedience of Jonah to the mandate addressed to him. The prophet's object was to flee from the presence of the Lord; i.e., to get as far as possible beyond the range of those manifestations of the Divine presence which were peculiar to Palestine and its neighbourhood. Jonah sought to escape from such a consciousness of the Divine presence as he had been accustomed to experience in his own country, and may have regarded as peculiar to it. The presence of the Lord had become intolerable to Jonah from the moment that his want of sympathy with the Divine will in relation to Nineveh had become apparent to himself. Moreover, Jonah was an official of high rank in the theocracy, and his words may mean, "I will resign my office rather than undertake this duty." But he had no right to resign the office he held in the service of Jehovah. His guilt and presumption are apparent; but have we not been as guilty and presumptuous as he; shrinking from duties that we knew were laid upon us?

(Samuof Clift Burn.)

Boston Homilies.
A natural interpretation of the book is this, — Jonah had as great contempt for the heathen as his bigoted brethren of Israel. He was sent on a mission of mercy to his political enemies. As he had never learned to love his enemies, he fled from so distasteful a service. He was disciplined in the stomach of a fish till he was willing to deliver formally the commission given. He preached in Nineveh, still hating those who, if spared, might overthrow Israel. He was further disciplined by the lesson of the gourd. He at last learned the lesson of pity, and rejoiced in the good that accrued to his enemies, singing, "Salvation is of the Lord."

I. THE PROPHET'S COMMISSION TO BLESS HIS ENEMIES. About God sent Jonah with a message to Nineveh, which was regarded by Israel as its natural enemy.

II. JONAH'S REFUSAL TO ACCEPT A MISSION OF MERCY TO HIS FOES. Jonah was not a son of Satan, but a wilful servant of the Lord, who, by reason of false views, failed to comprehend Jehovah's broad policy in the government of this world.

III. HOW GOD HUMILIATED HIS PROPHET BEFORE HEATHEN SAILORS. Humiliating must have been the confession that he who knew move about holy things than all others on board was afraid to trust and obey his own God.

IV. HOW THE HEATHEN SAILORS MADE FRIENDS WITH JONAH'S GOD. The prophet's acknowledgment of his fear of Jehovah struck a nameless terror to the consciences of the crew. They did their best to save him from his fate, but all was in vain. When Jonah was cast overboard, and the storm ceased, they felt that Jonah's God was the true God, and must henceforth be their God.

(Boston Homilies.)

Homilist.
I. GOD SPEAKING TO MAN IN MERCY.

1. Here He speaks. "The Word of the Lord." His Word to Jonah, like His word to all men, was clear, brief, weighty, practical.

2. Here He speaks to an individual. He speaks to all men in nature, conscience, history; but in sovereignty He singles some men out for special communications.

3. Here He speaks to an individual for the sake of a community. "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city." Why does God call it a great city? To men it was considered "great," great in numbers, pomp, pretensions, masonry. But to God it could only be great in sin, for sin is a great thing to God; it is a black cloud in His universe. For the sake of this city, in order to effect its moral reformation, and therefore to save it, Jonah receives a commission. "Arise," shake off thy languor, quit thyself for action, and to work out the ideas of the Infinite. No other creature on earth has this power.(2) God's method of helping humanity. God enlightens, purifies, and ennobles man by man. We have this "treasure in earthen vessels."

II. MAN FLEEING FROM GOD IN DISOBEDIENCE. "But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish, from the presence of the Lord." Here is a threefold revelation of man.

1. His moral freedom. God did not coerce Jonah, did not drive him to Nineveh. Man has power to resist God — a greater power, this, than can be found in all the heavenly orbs, or in the whole history of material organisms. This power invests man with all but infinite importance, links him to moral government. "Ye do always resist the Spirit of God."

2. His daring depravity. Alas! men have not merely the power but the disposition to oppose God. This is their guilt and their ruin; it is what men are doing everywhere, trying to break the shackles of moral responsibility, trying to elude the Infinite.

3. His egregious folly. His endeavouring to escape from God was —(1) Not merely an impulse, but a resolution. Had it been a sudden wish it would have been bad. He "rose up." He rallied and marshalled his energies.(2) Not merely a resolution, but an effort. He "went down to Joppa." The probability is, that he went with the greatest speed to Joppa, the Jaffa of this day. When he reached the spot, how long he was about the quays in search of a suitable vessel.(3) Not merely an effort, but a persevering effort. It was not one or two or three spasmodic efforts and then over. When he found a suitable vessel he "paid the fare thereof." Ah, what fares men pay in the career of sin!

(Homilist.)

1. When God has a work to do He is never at a loss for agents to accomplish His purposes. The Lord, on some occasions, fixes on instruments which appear to us the least suitable. All fitness is of God; He finds none fit for His service till He makes them so, and He can qualify the most defective. Should any ask why God fixed upon Jonah, and preferred him before any man on earth for this important service? We answer that God giveth no account of His matters; and though His footsteps are in the great deep, He never errs in judgment. The Word of the Lord came to Jonah. He knew who spoke to him, and what He said, — yet he was disobedient to the heavenly call.

2. The commission which God gave to Jonah. Great cities are great evils, seminaries of vice, and schools for profligacy. The more the fallen children of men herd together, the more deeply they corrupt one another. Cities may be great in many respects, and yet little in God's account, because they are low in all real excellence.

3. Nineveh was ripe for destruction. Mark carefully, that all our sins go up before God, and are registered in His book of remembrance, with a view to the day of judgment. Cry against this "great city." "Their" sins have .cried long and loud against Me, and now My vengeance from heaven shall cry against them. When sinners kindle anger in the bosom of God, who is love itself, great must be their guilt, and tremendous will be their judgments when love turns to wrath. Nineveh is ripe for ruin; God is coming in His wrath against it; yet He halts by the way, and sends His messenger first, to say that He Himself is coming.

(Thomas Jones, of Creaton.)

Jonah was a suitable agent, but he was not indispensable. God called him, but He could do without him. To be the bearer of such a message as that which is here recorded could not in itself be pleasant, but it was highly honourable. To refuse to speak in such a case, at Divine bidding, was almost to take part with the wrong-doers, and is recorded in this book, by Jonah's own hand, to his personal discredit. There is but this one reason for the mission stated here; but there were at least several other reasons in reserve — some gently hinted, some unrevealed until ages afterwards. God, as we know, not only kindled in the indignation of justice against what was wrong, but He longed for the repentance of the wrong-doers, and for the manifestation of His mercy among them when thus penitent. He thought, too, of the future; of the use He would make of that people when His people should be led among them captive. As He sent Joseph into Egypt, He will send Jonah into Nineveh, to provide a remedy for a coming evil, a home for a captive people. He thought, too, of the far future of the world, and of the spiritual use to be made of the penitence of that wicked people in the proclamation of His mercy by the Gospel. He has made the Ninevites "a pattern" to all cities and ages — a proof that shall be known as long as history remains, that if a whole city, full of sinners, turn unto the Lord, they shall live. Whether Jonah knew much of these and such like reasons or not, it is certain that he knew quite enough to make the road to Nineveh, far and difficult as it might be, the Lord's highway of duty and life to him; and any way else he could find, the devil's road of crookedness, danger, and death.

(A. Raleigh, D. D.)

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