2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. 3 But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. JONAH I.
IT seems a strange reluctance that the prophet Jonah had to go at the Divine command, and strive to arrest the wickedness of Nineveh. That city was then the great city of the world. Through the enterprise of its inhabitants, and the vigour and perseverance of its rulers, its power was felt far and wide, and those vast structures were built which have lately been largely explored, and which testify to the magnificence of the empire, and the splendour of the capital. With palaces so grand, and so much enriched by art, with immense bazaars, and miles upon miles of streets, vast avenues fifteen miles long, and all the varied signs of wealth and greatness which the mighty metropolis of the then most powerful nation of the world exhibited, its inhabitants must have had feelings like those which animated the old Romans when they spoke of Rome as the Eternal City. But wealth and security allured to luxury and self-indulgence: the monarchs of Assyria became distinguished for voluptuousness, and the example of a pampered court weakened virtue and integrity throughout the land. The signs of a tottering state were already multiplying, and though the end was deferred through several reigns, it surely came, The last king, whose name, Sardanapalus, became a type of soft self-indulgence and magnificent vice, lost both crown and life in the overthrow of the empire and the burning of the capital by the Medes and Babylonians.
So is it ever with a luxurious and unprincipled state, and a vicious and frivolous people. The enchanting dream of thoughtless folly and giddy pleasure extends, until integrity and virtue become empty names, the jeers of fools, despised and neglected, and a fatal though gilded rottenness extends and saps away the entire strength of the nation. When the dread hour of trial comes, such a state falls like a tree whose heart has all gone. It has stood a mere shell, deprived of all power of endurance, and it sinks a prey to its own weakness. Virtue alone gives safety to a people. Wickedness is a leprosy which taints and destroys all national vigour, as well as individual health. Sin let loose speaks punishment at hand. So has it ever been, so will it ever be. The wages of sin is death, for men and nations. So Babylon found it, and so Nineveh. Only righteousness exalteth a nation.
It was a strange circumstance, then, that, being a prophet of the Lord, and a preacher of righteousness, Jonah should have hesitated to fulfil his sacred mission. He resided in Galilee at Gath Hepher, in the days of Jerboam, the second of Israel (2 Kings xiv. 25), and was a great comfort to his nation, But, in this he was fully their type; he supposed God entirely taken up with the Israelites, having no regard for other nations. One great error of the Israelitish people was, that Jehovah was their national God, preferring them to all others, and absorbing His Providence entirely in care for them. They knew that the Lord had done wonderful things for them, had led them from bitter bondage, and constituted them a nation endowed with privileges and benefits most bounteous and tender. They had not learned, however, that what the Lord had done for them was not for them only, but, as He had declared to Abraham that “in him and his seed all nations should be blessed.”
When the world in general was in sin and darkness, Israel was appointed to receive and preserve the Word of God. When there was scarcely any real spiritual church left among men, they were made the representative of a church, a figure an outward shadow of a church, until a true inward church could be restored by the Lord Jesus. The oracle, the temple, the sacrifices, the prophets, the splendours of worship were theirs, but they were theirs not for their own sakes alone, but through them for all mankind. Each nation has its mission, equally with each individual. Nothing lives for itself. It is part of the great whole, and is intended to contribute to the universal well-being, The sun shines not for himself, but to warm and brighten all around him. The fountain springs not for itself only, but to send forth its rill or stream to refresh men and animals, and fertilize the land. The flowers bloom and the trees bear for the general good, not for selfish existence. So was it with Israel. They were constituted to preserve the great truths that there was one holy and good Father of all worlds, and of the vast family of man, That His Word ought to guide all, and He only should be worshipped. This was their mission, their glorious part in the ordination of Divine Providence. Doing this, they were fulfilling their charge; they were the salt of the earth, a city set upon a hill. They were set up, however, that they might diffuse light, not that they might hide it. Their national selfishness; however, led them to suppose that they were particular favourites, and they must hide their light under a bushel. They imagined that God only regarded them, and other nations were contemned, and uncared for, by Him who cares for the sparrows. There is in every human heart a spirit of egotism, which suggests phantasies like this; and instead of-repudiating such monstrous notions, not Jews only, but other nations, and not nations only, but sects and parties, great and small, and sometimes very small, have set forth this narrow. and unworthy folly, and made a religion of it. But God is no respecter of persons or nations. “He is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.” “God is love. It is not the will of our Father in the heavens, that one little one should perish.” “God willeth that all men should come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved.” To teach Jonah this, the exhortation was given to him which we find in our text-“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their-wickedness is come up before me.”
Here was a great city, of probably a million of people, immersed in luxury and vice, hastening to ruin. The Lord was caring for them, and providing the means of repentance and salvation. Here, too, was a prophet, the inhabitant of a small town , in a small country, but absorbed by the idea that he had no concern with these multitudes who were-perishing. Jonah would not go if he could help it. He thought the Lord was only present in Israel, and he fled “from the presence of the Lord,” and went down to Joppa.* * Joppa was the seaport of Palestine. Thence voyages were taken and commerce fostered. Going to Joppa, spiritually means to addict one’s self to acquire knowledge,-quite a good thing in itself, but not when we should be DOING the work of repentance.
This avoidance of the work of preaching repentance, and going into a ship, was indeed what Jonah really did. He “paid his fare, and entered upon his voyage to Tarshish, probably a part of Spain now called Tartesus. This was then near the pillars of Hercules, then regarded as synonymous with the end of the world. In all this Jonah was a type, a type of his nation, and of a large portion of mankind at all times and in all nations. They avoid applying themselves to repentance; they prefer to betake themselves entirely to some doctrinal system, and thus go sailing in a ship when they ought to be subduing wickedness. To go to Tarshish is to sink into the lowest trifles of life, and to spend one’s time in frivolity, “From the end of the earth I will cry unto Thee when my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the Rock that is higher than I ” (Ps. lxi, 2).
A ship corresponds to a system of doctrine, because by its means we can sail over the sea of human knowledge safely. Noah was saved in a species of ship; our Lord frequently taught from a ship; and as we all have to make the voyage of life, it is essential that we should have a good stout ship, “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep.” The word nave, for the body of a church, derived from the Latin word navis, a ship, was no doubt used from some perception of doctrine, being as valuable to enable us, to pursue our spiritual journeys over the sea of thought, as a ship to navigate the wide world of waters.
But a person may engross himself too much in doctrine. He may be attending to doctrine, when he should be engaged in the struggles of life, in the work of religion. This was what Jonah was doing. He ought to have been preaching to ignorant and perishing multitudes, repentance and salvation from sin; but he went on board a ship, out of the way, and there he went to sleep. The sea is a symbol in the world and in the Word of the vast element of external thought, in which men live as fishes in a sea. In all its aspects the sea resembles the phases of the general mind, and in an individual case the sea means the thoughts ,of the natural man. Sometimes the general state in which we live is like a placid sea; all is calm, quiet, and silvery, like a vast mirror. We sail smoothly along, the waters below reflecting the bright grand heavens above, and we enjoy the tranquil pleasure. A condition like this is represented by the sea of glass mingled with fire, on which John saw those standing in heaven, who had gotten the victory over the beast, and had the harps of God (Rev. xv. 2). At other times the sea is restless, unquiet, and with much that is unpleasant about it. The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast upmire and dirt. “There is no peace, saith my God, to “the wicked ” (Isa. lvii. 20, 21).
There are occasions more terrible than this, when the sea is wild and furious, and ships, ill-made or with rotten timbers, fail and flounder, and even the best vessels are tossed and buffeted, and have a hard struggle for existence. These are spoken of in Scripture constantly as mental storms, David says, “Let not the water-flood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me ” (Ps, lxix. 15). “Deep calleth unto deep, at the noise of thy waterspouts ; all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me ” (Ps. xlii. 7). These mental tempests will come, and they require a good spiritual ship.
Jonah, however, evidently wished to have a smooth life, and thought he could get out of the difficulty of reproving and overcoming wickedness, by getting into a ship, and closing his eyes. The Jewish nation strove to do the same, even to the last. They were far busier about their traditions, their washing of hands and pots, as matters of religion, their tithings of mint, anise, and cummin, than about the weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faith. This was mentally getting into their ship, rather than do the work assigned them by the Lord, to preach repentance and obedience to Him.
They are not alone in this. Myriads at the present day do the same, They enter a church, that is to say they confess a doctrine, and enrol themselves amongst its adherents. They pay their fare, they give their warm assent, and undertake the support of their particular form of religion, and attend to its external requirements, and then, like Jonah; they go into the sides of the ship and fall fast asleep. They have cleansed the outside of the cup and the platter, but the inside, the thoughts of the mind, and the affections of the heart, are taken up with self and selfish fancies, just as much as the worldliest of the worldly. External pleasures and greatness charm them as much as others; the demands of fashion are as imperious for them, and similar vices, if not the more deadly secret lusts of the soul, are as little combatted against in them, as in those who make no profession against whatever the Divine commands forbid. Cease to do evil, and learn to do well, in reference to fashionable evils, and sins not shocking to the ordinary usages of society, is a Divine law which gives their inward consciences no concern. Jonah is fast asleep. They have paid their fare; they meet all the demands made upon them ; and they consider that things are all right, or ought to be. Some are so besotted as openly to say they leave religion to the ministers, whom they pay to attend to It. They are dead asleep to the awful words spoken by the Highest, “Ye must be born again.” Their tempers, hasty or sulky as the case may be, are unsoftened and unrenewed by the adorable spirit of Him who said, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” They are vigorous at self-indulgence; but for the advancement of real religion they are fast asleep.
Going to sleep, however, has never been found to be a successful ay of overcoming difficulties. The evils increase. What might have easily been removed becomes rooted and ramified. We should be up and doing. Success means going early to work and working well. The very worst of all ways of accomplishing anything IS GOING TO SLEEP. To such sleepers the Apostle Paul cried, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light” (Eph. v. 14). Too many, however, instead of walking in the holy light of Divine Truth, lie quiet, slumber on, and think all is right,–they have paid their fare, and are in the ship. Yet the storms of life will come. Prepared or unprepared, trials will arise, and occasionally become fierce tempests; and woe to him whose conscience has not been purified and renewed, only benumbed by mental opiates.
Such will find the storm rage wildly, and no remission. They will trim their sails, and cry in wild alarm, but the tempest will not be stilled. The waves and the billows will roll over them. They mount up to the heaven, they go down into the depths, their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end. They have fled from the presence of the Lord, the only stiller of tempests; and now the sea rages, and becomes tempestuous more and more. At length inquiry is made throughout the whole mind; and Jonah is wakened up. By the secret providence of the Lord, represented In the narrative before us by the casting of lots, it is seen that upon Jonah is all the blame. Jonah sees it himself. The sleepy religion is fully wakened up, and filled with terror and self-condemnation. Confession, is made by the conscience that it is a Hebrew, that it has been born for heaven, and ought to have been doing the work of heaven. A great dread comes over the soul. All the intellectual powers, represented by the mariners, are filled with awe and amazement at the folly of man, and the majesty of Divine Omnipotence. Self-condemnation comes on. The soul condemns itself to utter unworthiness, as only worthy of the earth to which it has clung, or to hell itself. It is totally unfit for the church, it prays to be cast overboard, to be rejected as a worthless thing, as a mere cumberer of the ship. Before anyone is saved, he must become lost. The Son of Man comes to seek and to save those who are lost. This is represented by Jonah being cast overboard.
Now, the Lord, however, had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah (verse 17). There has.. often been great difficulty felt in this announcement, that the Lord had prepared a great fish, that the prophet for three days and nights existed in a trance state buried in the animal, for the sake of the spiritual lesson to be taught. Yet, when we remember the far greater wonders which indeed formed the very life of the Israelitish Dispensation,-the deliverance from Egypt, the passage of the Red Sea, the supply of Manna In the wilderness for forty years, all for the sake of that representative Church which was for the time “SALT OF THE EARTH,” the preservative of religion and the world—we need not hesitate at the statement that the Lord prepared a fish to swallow Jonah. Far more wonderful are the amazing laws which operate every day in the mighty world of waters. Who raises the tide, and moves the enormous mass of ocean with so much gentleness, that when we look upon the wondrous scene we lose the idea of omnipotent effort in the perfect ease? Who governs the myriads of living creatures which inhabit the watery world, assigning to each its food, and its particular geographical province, as perfectly as the birds of the air and the beasts of the land have their climates and, regions adapted to each? All these things are wonderful to the thoughtful mind, and not less wonderful because they are common. The Lord prepares and sustains them all for the purposes of infinite love and wisdom, and for the same gracious purpose He prepared this great fish for Jonah.
In spiritual things, fish—because they inhabit and enjoy the waters correspond to the appetites for knowledge and science which explore and enjoy the sea of information. When science is kept subordinate to the higher and grander aims of the religious life and virtue, the soul is in order, and the mind has all manner of beautiful and useful ideas, clear courses of thought flow like clear streams, swarming with graceful fish. -Distinct conceptions are the fish mentioned by the prophet Ezekiel as living where the waters of the sanctuary came (xlvii-9).
It is possible, however, for a person to be too much absorbed in science, and too little concerned about his affections, or about his conduct. He may be curious to know, busy to conceive and to argue, but heedless of loving the Lord and His kingdom, slow to recognize the higher and more generous impulses of the angelic part of our nature. Such persons are cold-blooded and flat like a fish. They are altogether enveloped by the lower intellect, and are often a painful compound of great knowledge and great vanity. The Word describes Pharaoh, king of Egypt, as such a one. It is written, “Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, ‘who has said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself” (Ezek. xxiv. 3).
Vanity often says, My river is my own, and I have made it for myself, and does not know that its poetry, its painting, its eloquence, its wealth, its greatness, whatever it may be, is a talent from the Lord, a gift as surely of His as our life is, and should be used for Him. But to be absorbed in scientific life, and in the cares, anxieties, and carnal indulgences of sense, with scarcely a thought or feeling for eternal interests, is to be swallowed up in a great fish. It is a paralysis of the best side and the higher region of man, And if we learned that he had chosen this condition, and prided himself upon it, and imagined he was rather a superior kind of man, our hearts would be filled with pity. Yet this is just what the man of science is, who rejects all higher things. It is Jonah buried in the fish.
Happily, the Lord prepared the fish. The Lord does not leave us, though we flee from His presence. He over-rules our earthly affairs, and our very talents, so that, if possible, our hearts may again be turned to Him. Sometimes by failure and afflictions, sometimes by observing the afflictions of others, sometimes by family sorrows, sometimes by a dear one being taken away, sometimes by all our plans being scattered, and in a thousand ways known and over-ruled by Infinite Love, men are trained for the better life; because the Lord has prepared all things, that they may form His immortal children for their everlasting good.
Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights, because these times represent in the Divine speech a full experience, both of the full joys and the full sorrows, the full lights and the full shades, of a merely external life, until we are taught how narrow, poor, and low is the life of mere science and earthly thought, and we are all brought, like Jonah, to pray that we may be drawn from the darkness of earth into the glorious sunlight of day once more, a day to become brighter and brighter until we are settled in the perpetual glory of heaven.
Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY –From The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)