Jonah 1

1Now the word of Yahweh[1] came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2“Rise up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it because its evil is an affront to My honor.”[2] 3So[3] Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish, despising Yahweh’s honor.[4] He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. He paid the fare and went down into the ship to go with them to Tarshish, despising Yahweh’s honor.

4So Yahweh hurled a great wind upon the sea. It became such a great storm upon the sea that the ship threatened[5] to break into pieces. 5The sailors were so afraid, each man[6] cried unto his god, and hurled[7] the cargo which was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the deepest part of the ship, had lain down, and had fallen down in a deep sleep.[8] 6So the captain went to him and said, “How did you fall down into sleep? Rise up! Cry out to your god! Perhaps your god will pay attention to us and we will not be destroyed.”

7The men spoke to each other, “Come! Let us cast lots to determine which of us has brought this evil upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.[9] 8And they said to him, “Tell us, now! What is the reason that this evil has come upon us? What is your business? Where do you come from? What is your nationality? Who are your people?”

9“I am a Hebrew,” he answered. “I fear Yahweh, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

10The men became extremely fearful,[10] and they said to him, “How could you do this?” They knew that he was fleeing from defending Yahweh’s honor,[11] because he had told them. 11They asked, “What shall we do to you that the sea may calm down for us?” For the sea was growing more tempestuous.

12And he said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea, and the sea will calm down for you, for I know that it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” 13But the men rowed hard to return to the shore, but they could not, for the sea was growing even more tempestuous around them.

14So they cried out to Yahweh, and said, “We pray, O Yahweh, do not destroy us for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood, because You, O Yahweh, have done what pleases You.” 15Then they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea stopped raging.

16Then the men greatly feared Yahweh, and they sacrificed to Yahweh, and made vows. 17But Yahweh prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.[12]

Other chapters from Jonah

| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |

The Grace Commentary on Jonah


  1. I know that some might be uncomfortable with my choice of translating the personal name of God in full. See the Translation Goals and Guidelines on the About Page for an explanation of why I have done this.
  2. Lit., “before My face.” Many translators simply put this as “before Me” which is a fine translation of this Hebrew idiom, except that readers then miss the parallel idea in 1:3 where Jonah tries to flee from the face of Yahweh. So “before My face” is not just a Hebrew idiom for saying “before Me” but is a way of referring to the place of one’s honor. One primary value in Ancient Mediterranean culture revolved around gaining and maintaining honor. The head or face of a person symbolically represented a person’s honor. Slapping a person on the face, spitting on their head, shaving their hair, or plucking their beard were more than just insults; they were actual attacks upon the person’s honor and that of their extended family (Neyrey 2005, 34-35). So the common Hebrew idiom of “before My face” is an allusion to that person’s honor. In the case of God, since the wickedness and evil of Nineveh has come before God’s face, it has also become an affront to the honor of God. God cannot sit idly by and allow this challenge to His honor to go unanswered.
  3. Most translations use the adversative conjunction “But.” I chose the word “So” because I wanted the text to retain the paradoxical surprise of a prophet of God doing the exact opposite of what God said. The word “But” gives away the surprise too soon. The surprise should come when the reader r reads that Jonah went to Tarshish. Up until that point, the reader should be expecting a prophet of God to do what God says and go to Nineveh, but upon reading that Jonah went to Tarshish, the reader should be shocked, thinking “Wait. What? Let me read that again.”
  4. Here and at the end of the verse. Lit., “from before the face of Yahweh.” As indicated in 1:2, Mediterranean culture valued honor, and honor could be represented bodily in the head and face (as well as with the right hand and arm). But honor could also be represented geographically, in one’s home, country, and capital city (Neyrey 2005, 34). By leaving the land of Israel and fleeing to Tarshish, Jonah was trying to leave the place of God’s honor, and hopefully, escape God as well. Jonah’s actions constitute a second significant challenge to God’s honor which rivals even the challenge from the people of Nineveh. Jonah, as part of “God’s family,” is behaving more shamefully toward God than were the people of Nineveh.
  5. It is the ship that threatened to break apart, not the storm that threatened to break the ship. It is as if the ship is groaning in protest. One can almost hear the snapping and shivering of the timbers in the Hebrew: vehaohniyah chisheva lehishaver.
  6. The reference to each man  makes the reader ask the question, “Even Jonah?” This question is answered in the rest of the verse.
  7. Note the parallel between God hurling the wind upon the sea and the sailors hurling their cargo upon the sea.
  8. I have tried to show the repeated idea in this verse (and the verses that follow) of Jonah’s spiral “down” into disobedience. The deepest part of the ship is also where some of the cargo would be stored. By being in the recesses of the ship, Jonah is symbolized in this story as a piece of cargo. While the sailors throw all their cargo into the sea to lighten the load, the cargo they keep on board that is truly weighing the ship down is a piece of cargo named Jonah. This is some foreshadowing about what will soon happen to Jonah. While they were down there pulling all their cargo up and tossing it over, some of the certainly noticed Jonah sleeping there, and reported it to the captain.
  9. The word used to describe Nineveh in 1:2, “evil,” is now used to refer to Jonah. Through the casting of the lots, Jonah is shown to be just as evil as Nineveh.
  10. Lit., “the men feared a great fear.”
  11. See note on 1:3.
  12. Jonah 1:17 is actually Jonah 2:1 in Hebrew, but to follow conventional English texts, it has been left as 1:17.

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