There was a prophet whose name was Jonah son of Amitai mentioned in 2Kin. 14:25 who lived during the reign of Jereboam II. Some accept the two as one person. But many commentators also believe Jonah was not the author of this book, that someone else wrote this story about him.
Jonah’s placement in the timeline is unknown. Some place him in Jereboam’s reign because of the above reference, but others consider him to be much later, primarily because of some of the characteristics of his language.
Finally, a word about how this book is seen by lay readers and by commentators. Many say it is a shame that this book is remembered primarily because of its fantastic “whale” story. The greater truth is that the book provides an important lesson to its readers, one of tolerance, emphasizing the Lord’s love of all people. God is willing to accept sincere repentance from any sinner, whatever “faith” he professes.
Whether the story is a matter of history or is a parable or an allegory has captured the attention of many scholars. Most people, with the great exception of Christian literalists, believe it is one of the latter two. If a parable, the author chose an exciting, exaggerated story to convey two critical messages: The Lord’s readiness to forgive in the face of repentance, and an illustration of how many of us who are prejudiced against others are unhappy when the object of our prejudice receives favor. If an allegory, it is meant to compare Jonah to the Jews. His overthrow into the sea represents the exile of the Jews. Jonah’s trying to escape his responsibilities to the Lord is reminiscent of the Jews’ turning away from the Lord; his rescue from the sea is seen as indicative of the redemption of the Jews; and finally, his anger at the Lord’s forgiving the people of Ninevah reminds us Jews of our “suppressed” desire and expectation that the heathens should be destroyed. Whatever is the answer, the message is possibly one of the most important in the bible.
וַיְהִי דְּבַר־יְהוָה אֶל־יֹונָה בֶן־אֲמִתַּי לֵאמֹר׃ 1:1
Jona. 1:1 Now the word of the Lord occurred to Jonah son of Amitai saying,
קוּם לֵךְ אֶל־נִינְוֵה הָעִיר הַגְּדֹולָה וּקְרָא עָלֶיהָ כִּי־עָלְתָה רָעָתָם לְפָנָי׃ 1:2
Jona. 1:2 “Arise, Go to Nineveh, the great city, and proclaim against it, for their evil comes up before Me.”
וַיָּקָם יֹונָה לִבְרֹחַ תַּרְשִׁישָׁה מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה וַיֵּרֶד יָפֹו וַיִּמְצָא אֳנִיָּה בָּאָה תַרְשִׁישׁ וַיִּתֵּן שְׂכָרָהּ וַיֵּרֶד 1:3 בָּהּ לָבֹוא עִמָּהֶם תַּרְשִׁישָׁה מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה׃
Jona. 1:3 Instead Jonah arose to flee from the presence of the Lord to Tarshish. So he went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish, and he paid its fare and descended into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.
Ninevah was the capitol of Assyria. Joppa was the town now known as Jaffa, and Tarshish is thought to be a coastal city in S.W. Spain, then a year’s traveling distance from Israel. Apparently, Jonah chose a very remote city, thinking that God’s presence would remain in Israel.
וַיהוָה הֵטִיל רוּחַ־גְּדֹולָה אֶל־הַיָּם וַיְהִי סַעַר־גָּדֹול בַּיָּם וְהָאֳנִיָּה חִשְּׁבָה לְהִשָּׁבֵר׃ 1:4
Jona. 1:4 Then the Lord hurled a great wind toward the sea and there was so great a storm on the sea that it was thought the ship was breaking up.
וַיִּירְאוּ הַמַּלָּחִים וַיִּזְעֲקוּ אִישׁ אֶל־אֱלֹהָיו וַיָּטִלוּ אֶת־הַכֵּלִים אֲשֶׁר בָּאֳנִיָּה אֶל־הַיָּם לְהָקֵל מֵעֲלֵיהֶם 1:5 וְיֹונָה יָרַד אֶל־יַרְכְּתֵי הַסְּפִינָה וַיִּשְׁכַּב וַיֵּרָדַם׃
Jona. 1:5 And the seamen were so frightened that they cried out, each to his god, then tossed the articles that were on the ship into the sea to be lighter without them. Now Jonah had gone down into the innermost parts of the vessel and had lain down and was fast asleep.
וַיִּקְרַב אֵלָיו רַב הַחֹבֵל וַיֹּאמֶר לֹו מַה־לְּךָ נִרְדָּם קוּם קְרָא אֶל־אֱלֹהֶיךָ אוּלַי יִתְעַשֵּׁת הָאֱלֹהִים לָנוּ 1:6
Jona. 1:6 And the seaman captain came near to him and said to him, “How can you be sleeping? Rise, call out to your God! Maybe that God will think about us that we will not perish.”
וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל־רֵעֵהוּ לְכוּ וְנַפִּילָה גֹורָלֹות וְנֵדְעָה בְּשֶׁלְּמִי הָרָעָה הַזֹּאת לָנוּ וַיַּפִּלוּ גֹּורָלֹות וַיִּפֹּל 1:7 הַגֹּורָל עַל־יֹונָה׃
Jona. 1:7 Now they said one to another, “Come, and we will cast lots so we can know because of whom this evil is for us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.
וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו הַגִּידָה־נָּא לָנוּ בַּאֲשֶׁר לְמִי־הָרָעָה הַזֹּאת לָנוּ מַה־מְּלַאכְתְּךָ וּמֵאַיִן תָּבוֹא מָה אַרְצֶךָ 1:8 וְאֵי־מִזֶּה עַם אָתָּה׃
Jona. 1:8 And they said to him, “Tell us now that for whom this evil is ours; what is your occupation and from where could you have come? What is your country and where from this people are you?”
וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם עִבְרִי אָנֹכִי וְאֶת־יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם אֲנִי יָרֵא אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂה אֶת־הַיָּם וְאֶת־הַיַּבָּשָׁה׃ 1:9
Jona. 1:9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I have been fearing the Lord, God of the heavens, Who made the sea and the dry land.”
וַיִּירְאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים יִרְאָה גְדוֹלָה וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו מַה־זֹּאת עָשִׂיתָ כִּי־יָדְעוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים כִּי־מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה הוּא 1:10 בֹרֵחַ כִּי הִגִּיד לָהֶם׃
Jona. 1:10 Then the men were exceedingly greatly afraid, and they said to him, “What is this you have done?” For the men knew when he told them that he was running away from the presence of the Lord.
וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו מַה־נַּעֲשֶׂה לָּךְ וְיִשְׁתֹּק הַיָּם מֵעָלֵינוּ כִּי הַיָּם הוֹלֵךְ וְסֹעֵר׃ 1:11
Jona. 1:11 Then they said to him, “What can we do about you that the sea may be calmed from being on us?” For the sea was heaving and raging.
After having referred to Jonah with second-person masculine pronouns in verses up to this one, the men speak a feminine pronoun in the word I translate as about you. I am willing to hazard a guess as to why: This is the way the author conveys the men’s perception of Jonah as a coward.
וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם שָׂאוּנִי וַהֲטִילֻנִי אֶל־הַיָּם וְיִשְׁתֹּק הַיָּם מֵעֲלֵיכֶם כִּי יוֹדֵעַ אָנִי כִּי בְשֶׁלִּי הַסַּעַר הַגָּדוֹל 1:12 הַזֶּה עֲלֵיכֶם׃
Jona. 1:12 And he said to them, “Take me and cast me into the sea; then the sea will be calmed from being on you. For I am sure that this great storm is upon you because of me.”
וַיַּחְתְּרוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים לְהָשִׁיב אֶל־הַיַּבָּשָׁה וְלֹא יָכֹלוּ כִּי הַיָּם הוֹלֵךְ וְסֹעֵר עֲלֵיהֶם׃ 1:13
Jona. 1:13 Yet the men rowed to draw back to the dry land, but they were not able, for the sea was heaving and storming about them.
וַיִּקְרְאוּ אֶל־יְהוָה וַיֹּאמְרוּ אָנָּה יְהוָה אַל־נָא נֹאבְדָה בְּנֶפֶשׁ הָאִישׁ הַזֶּה וְאַל־תִּתֵּן עָלֵינוּ דָּם נָקִיא 1:14 כִּי־אַתָּה יְהוָה כַּאֲשֶׁר חָפַצְתָּ עָשִׂיתָ׃
Jona. 1:14 Then they cried to the Lord and said, “We beseech You, Lord, we pray we do not perish for the life of this man, that you do not lay innocent blood upon us, for You, O Lord, have done as You desire.”
וַיִּשְׂאוּ אֶת־יוֹנָה וַיְטִלֻהוּ אֶל־הַיָּם וַיַּעֲמֹד הַיָּם מִזַּעְפּוֹ׃ 1:15
Jona. 1:15 Then they took Jonah and cast him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging.
וַיִּירְאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים יִרְאָה גְדוֹלָה אֶת־יְהוָה וַיִּזְבְּחוּ־זֶבַח לַיהוָה וַיִּדְּרוּ נְדָרִים׃ 1:16
Jona. 1:16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
Two remarks about this verse: First, about half the bibles end Chapter 1 with this verse. The other approximately half add v. 2:1 to this chapter. Which group is “right” is hard to say. But I think this is the more appropriate end for this chapter. On another note, it has been noticed that the seamen made vows after they were rescued. Thus the commentators seem to agree that the men had found the Lord, and now worshipped Him. I’m not sure I can agree with this assessment. Notice it says the men exceedingly greatly feared the Lord. I suspect they were so afraid that they made the vows in order to forestall God’s renewed anger, fearing they might have judged prematurely, and the storm could return.
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