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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 11–17
Verses 11–17

It is plain that Jonah is the man for whose sake this evil is upon them, but the discovery of him to be so was not sufficient to answer the demands of this tempest; they had found him out, but something more was to be done, for still the sea wrought and was tempestuous (Jonah 1:11), and again (Jonah 1:13), it grew more and more tempestuous (so the margin reads it); for if we discover sin to be the cause of our troubles, and do not forsake it, we do but make bad worse. Therefore they went on with the prosecution.

I. They enquired of Jonah himself what he thought they must do with him (Jonah 1:11): What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm to us? They perceived that Jonah is a prophet of the Lord, and therefore will not do any thing, no, not in his own case, without consulting him. He appears to be a delinquent, but he appears also to be a penitent, and therefore they will not insult over him, nor offer him any rudeness. Note, We ought to act with great tenderness towards those that are overtaken in a fault and are brought into distress by it. They would not cast him into the sea if he could think of any other expedient by which to save the ship. Or, perhaps, thus they would show how plain the case was, that there was no remedy but he must be thrown overboard; let him be his own judge as he had been his own accuser, and he himself will say so. Note, When sin has raised a storm, and laid us under the tokens of God’s displeasure, we are concerned to enquire what we shall do that the sea may be calm; and what shall we do? We must pray and believe, when we are in a storm, and study to answer the end for which it was sent, and then the storm shall become a calm. But especially we must consider what is to be done to the sin that raised the storm; that must be discovered, and penitently confessed; that must be detested, disclaimed, and utterly forsaken. What have I to do any more with it? Crucify it, crucify it, for this evil it has done.

II. Jonah reads his own doom (Jonah 1:12): Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea. He would not himself leap into the sea, but he put himself into their hands, to cast him into the sea, and assured them that then the sea would be calm, and not otherwise. He proposed this, in tenderness to the mariners, that the might no suffer for his sake. “Let thy hand be upon me” (says David, 1 Chron. 21:17), “who am guilty; let me die for me own sin, but let not the innocent suffer for it.” This is the language of true penitents, who earnestly desire that none but themselves may ever smart, or fare the worse, for their sins and follies. He proposed it likewise in submission to the will of God, who sent this tempest in pursuit of him; and therefore judged himself to be cast into the sea, because to that he plainly saw God judging him, that he might not be judged of the Lord to eternal misery. Note, Those who are truly humbled for sin will cheerfully submit to the will of God, even in a sentence of death itself. If Jonah sees this to be the punishment of his iniquity, he accepts it, he subjects himself to it, and justifies God in it. No matter though the flesh be destroyed, no matter how it is destroyed, so that the spirit may be but saved in the day of the Lord Jesus, 1 Cor. 5:5. The reason he gives is, For I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you. See how ready Jonah is to take all the guilt upon himself, and to look upon all the trouble as theirs: “It is purely for my sake, who have sinned, that this tempest is upon you; therefore cast me forth into the sea; for,” 1. “I deserve it. I have wickedly departed from my God, and it is upon my account that he is angry with you. Surely I am unworthy to breathe in that air which for my sake has been hurried with winds, to live in that ship which for my sake has been thus tossed. Cast me into the sea after the wares which for my sake you have thrown into it. Drowning is too good for me; a single death is punishment too little for such a complicated offence.” 2. “Therefore there is no way of having the sea calm. If it is I that have raised the storm, it is not casting the wares into the sea that will lay it again; no, you must cast me thither.” When conscience is awakened, and a storm raised there, nothing will turn it into a calm but parting with the sin that occasioned the disturbance, and abandoning that. It is not parting with our money that will pacify conscience; no, it is the Jonah that be thrown overboard. Jonah is herein a type of Christ, that he gives his life a ransom for many; but with this material difference, that the storm Jonah gave himself up to still was of his own raising, but that storm which Christ gave himself up to still was of our raising. Yet, as Jonah delivered himself up to be cast into a raging sea that it might be calm, so did our Lord Jesus, when he died that we might live.

III. The poor mariners did what they could to save themselves from the necessity of throwing Jonah into the sea, but all in vain (Jonah 1:13): They rowed hard to bring the ship to the land, that, if they must part with Jonah, they might set him safely on shore; but they could not. All their pains were to no purpose; for the sea wrought harder than they could, and was tempestuous against them, so that they could by no means make the land. If they thought sometimes that they had gained their point, they were quickly thrown off to sea again. Still their ship was overladen; their lightening it of the wares made it never the lighter as long as Jonah was in it. And, besides, they rowed against wind and tide, the wind of God’s vengeance, the tide of his counsels; and it is in vain to contend with God, in vain to think of saving ourselves any other way than by destroying our sins. By this it appears that these mariners were very loth to execute Jonah’s sentence upon himself, though they knew it was for his sake that this tempest was upon them. They were thus very backward to it partly from a dread of bringing upon themselves the guilt of blood, and partly from a compassion they could not but have for poor Jonah, as a good man, as a man in distress, and as a man of sincerity. Note, The more sinners humble and abase themselves, judge and condemn themselves, the more likely they are to find pity both with God and man. The more forward Jonah was to say, Cast me into the sea, the more backward they were to do it.

IV. When they found it necessary to cast Jonah into the sea they first prayed to God that the guilt of his blood might not lie upon them, nor be laid to their charge, Jonah 1:14. When they found it in vain to row hard they quitted their oars and went to their prayers: Wherefore they cried unto the Lord, unto Jehovah, the true and living God, and no more to the gods many. and lords many, that the had cried to, Jonah 1:5. They prayed to the God of Israel, being now convinced, by the providences of God concerning Jonah and the information he had given them, that he is God alone. Having determined to cast Jonah into the sea, they first enter a protestation in the court of heaven that they do not do it willingly, much less maliciously, or with any design to be revenged upon him because it was for his sake that this tempest was upon them. No; his god forgive him, as they do! But they are forced to do it se defendendo—in self-defence, having no other way to save their own lives; and they do it as ministers of justice, both God and himself having sentenced him to so great a death. They therefore present a humble petition to the God whom Jonah feared, that they might not perish for his life. See, 1. What a fear they had of contracting the guilt of blood, especially the blood of one that feared God, and worshipped him, and had fellowship with him, as they perceived Jonah had, though in a single instance he had been faulty. Natural conscience cannot but have a dread of blood-guiltiness, and make men very earnest in prayer, as David was, to be delivered from it, Ps. 51:14. So they were here: We beseech thee, O Lord! we beseech thee, lay not upon us innocent blood. They are now as earnest in praying to be saved from the peril of sin as they were before in praying to be saved from the peril of the sea, especially because Jonah appeared to them to be no ordinary person, but a very good man, a man of God, a worshipper of the great Creator of heaven and earth, upon which account even these rude mariners conceived a veneration for him, and trembled at the thought of taking away his life. Innocent blood is precious, but saints’ blood, prophets’ blood, is much more precious, and so those will find to their cost that any way bring themselves under the guilt of it. The mariners saw Jonah pursued by divine vengeance, and yet could not without horror think of being his executioners. Though his God has a controversy with him, yet, think they, Let not our hand be upon him. The Israelites were at this time killing the prophets for doing their duty (witness Jezebel’s late persecution), and were prodigal of their lives, which is aggravated by the tenderness these heathens had for one whom they perceived to be a prophet, though he was now out of the way of his duty. 2. What a fear they had of incurring the wrath of God; they were jealous lest he should be angry if they should be the death of Jonah, for he had said, Touch not my anointed, and do my prophets no harm; it is at your peril if you do. “Lord,” say they, “let us not perish for this man’s life. Let it not be such a fatal dilemma to us. We see we must perish if we spare his life; Oh let us not perish for taking away his life.” And their plea is good: “For thou, O Lord! hast done as it pleased thee; thou had laid us under a necessity of doing it; the wind that pursued him, the lot that discovered him, were both under thy direction, which we are herein governed by; we are but the instruments of Providence, and it is sorely against our will that we do it; but we must say, The will of the Lord be done.” Note, When we are manifestly led by Providence to do things contrary to our own inclinations, and quite beyond our own intentions, it will be some satisfaction to us to be able to say, Thou, O Lord! has done as it pleased thee. And, if God please himself, we ought to be satisfied though he do not please us.

V. Having deprecated the guilt they dreaded, they proceeded to execution (Jonah 1:15): They took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea. They cast him out of their ship, out of their company, and cast him into the sea, a raging stormy sea, that cried, “Give, give; surrender the traitor, or expect no peace.” We may well think what confusion and amazement poor Jonah was in when he saw himself ready to be hurried into the presence of that God as a Judge whose presence as a Master he was now fleeing from. Note, Those know not what ruin they run upon that run away from God. Woe unto them! for they have fled from me. When sin is the Jonah that raises the storm, that must thus be cast forth into the sea; we must abandon it, and be the death of it, must drown that which otherwise will drown us in destruction and perdition. And if we thus by a thorough repentance and reformation cast our sins forth into the sea, never to recall them or return to them again, God will by pardoning mercy subdue our iniquities, and cast them into the depths of the sea too, Mic. 7:19.

VI. The throwing of Jonah into the sea immediately put an end to the storm. The sea has what she came for, and therefore rests contended; she ceases from her raging. It is an instance of the sovereign power of God that he can soon turn the storm into a calm, and of the equity of his government that when the end of an affliction is answered and attained the affliction shall immediately be removed. He will not contend for ever, will not contend any longer till we submit ourselves and give up the cause. If we turn from our sins, he will soon turn from his anger.

VII. The mariners were hereby more confirmed in their belief that Jonah’s God was the only true God (Jonah 1:16): Then the men feared the Lord with a great fear, were possessed with a deep veneration for the God of Israel, and came to a resolution that they would worship him only for the future; for there is no other God that can destroy, that can deliver, after this sort. When they saw the power of God in raising and laying the tempest, when they saw his justice upon Jonah his own servant, and when they saw his goodness to them in saving them from the brink of ruin, then they feared the Lord, Jer. 5:22. As an evidence of their fear of him, they offered sacrifice to him when they came ashore again in the land of Israel, and for the present made vows that they would do so, in thankfulness for their deliverance, and to make atonement for their souls. Or, perhaps, they had something yet on board which might be for a sacrifice to God immediately. Or it may be meant of the spiritual sacrifices of prayer and praise, with which God is better pleased than with that of an ox or bullock that has horns and hoofs. See Ps. 107:2 We must make vows, not only when we are in the pursuit of mercy, but, which is much more generous, when we have received mercy, as those that are still studying what we shall render.

VIII. Jonah’s life, after all, is saved by a miracle, and we shall hear of him again for all this. In the midst of judgment God remembers mercy. Jonah shall be worse frightened than hurt, not so much punished for his sin as reduced to his duty. Though he flees from the presence of the Lord, and seems to fall into his avenging hands, yet God has more work for him to do, and therefore has prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah (Jonah 1:17), a whale our Saviour calls it (Matt. 12:40), one of the largest sorts of whales, that have wider throats than others, in the belly of which has sometimes been found the dead body of a man in armour. Particular notice is taken, in the history of creation, of God’s creating great whales (Gen. 1:21) and the leviathan in the waters made to play therein, Ps. 104:26. But God finds work for this leviathan, has prepared him, has numbered him (so the word is), has appointed him to be Jonah’s receiver and deliverer. Note, God has command of all the creatures, and can make any of them serve his designs of mercy to his people, even the fishes of the sea, that are most from under man’s cognizance, even the great whales, that are altogether from under man’s government. This fish was prepared, lay ready under water close by the ship, that he might keep Jonah from sinking to the bottom, and save him alive, though he deserved to die. Let us stand still and see this salvation of the Lord, and admire his power, that he could thus save a drowning man, and his pity, that he would thus save one that was running from him and had offended him. It was of the Lord’s mercies that Jonah was not now consumed. The fish swallowed up Jonah, not to devour him, but to protect him. Out of the eater comes forth meat; for Jonah was alive and well in the belly of the fish three days and three nights, not consumed by the heat of the animal, nor suffocated for want of air. It is granted that to nature this was impossible, but not to the God of nature, with whom all things are possible. Jonah by this miraculous preservation was designed to be made, 1. A monument of divine mercy, for the encouragement of those that have sinned, and gone away from God, to return and repent. 2. A successful preacher to Nineveh; and this miracle wrought for his deliverance, if the tidings of it reached Nineveh, would contribute to his success. 3. An illustrious type of Christ, who was buried and rose again according to the scriptures (1 Cor. 15:4), according to this scripture, for, as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so was the Son of man three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, Matt. 12:40. Jonah’s burial was a figure of Christ’s. God prepared Jonah’s grave, so he did Christ’s, when it was long before ordained that he should make his grave with the rich, Isa. 53:9. Was Jonah’s grave a strange one, a new one? So was Christ’s, one in which never man before was laid. Was Jonah there the best part of three days and three nights? So was Christ; but both in order to their rising again for the bringing of the doctrine of repentance to the Gentile world. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.