This is the first in a four part series on Jonah.
The first chapter of Jonah has some particularly fun Hebrew word-play going on. The first word God says to Jonah is to qum (“arise” or “rise up”) and go to Nineveh. When he gets to Nineveh he is supposed to qara (“proclaim”, “cry out”, or “call out”) against it.
Of course Jonah rises up, but not to go to Nineveh. Rather he rises (“qum”) to flee to Tarshish. When Jonah flees to Tarshish he goes down (“yarad”) to Joppa and then goes down (“yarad”) onto the ship. Once on the ship, Jonah descends even further (“yarad”) into the hold of the ship and falls asleep. The use of yarad (“descend” or “go down”) is a literary way of describing Jonah’s fleeing to Tarshish as a descent away from the presence (literally “face”) of the LORD. Jonah qum in order to yarad rather than qum in order to qara.
But God desires to reach the people of Nineveh and Jonah is his man for the job… whether Jonah wants to be or not. God will not let Jonah off the hook. After all, the LORD is “the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (v. 9). In other words, God is sovereign over everything. He has a purpose in mind and Jonah is God’s man for that purpose.
Verse 4 says that God hurled a great wind and storm upon the sea causing havoc with the boat. When the captain of the ship finds Jonah below, his words to Jonah mimic God’s words to Jonah. “Rise up (“qum”) and call on (“qara”) your god!” The captain’s words remind us that Jonah is going the wrong way. He is descending instead of rising up. Not only that but Jonah doesn’t cry out (“qara”) to his God, instead it is the sailors who qara to the LORD.
There really isn’t anything good about Jonah in this chapter. But what is important about this story is that it really isn’t Jonah’s story. It is the story of God’s concern for the people of Nineveh, a people detested by God’s chosen. As this series continues we will see that God’s interaction with Jonah portrays God’s complete sovereignty and expansive grace because, as we will see, in God’s pursuit of Nineveh, God still takes time out to rescue Jonah from himself.