Story of Jonah
The Rebellious Prophet
Jonah and the Whale (1:17-2:10)
Jonah and the Ninevites (3:1-10)
Jonah and God's Mercy (4:1-11)
Jonah and the Sailors (1:1-16)

Jonah and the Sailors (vs. 1-16)

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  This Jonah 1 commentary has Hebrew keywords and phrases in bold.  Hold the mouse over the  Scripture links below to compare the King James Version with my translation in brown text. The bullet points indicate detailed notes for each verse in Jonah chapter one.

Interpreting the Story of Jonah and the Sailors


Jonah 1:1
The Word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai:

  • LORD = Yahweh (Exodus 3:14). This is God's personal name revealed first to Moses.
  • Jonah son of Amittai (2 Kings 14:25). This reference to Jonah proves his historical existence.
  • Jonah and the LORD had a detailed dialogue about the Word in 1:1 even though he doesn't record much about it (Jonah 4:2).


Jonah 1:2
"RISE. GO to Nineveh the GREAT city. CRY OUT against it for their EVIL has risen before me."

  • Nineveh, the GREAT city (Genesis 10:12), is populous with many under judgment.
  • CRY OUT against Nineveh. Later, God tells Jonah to CRY OUT to it (Jonah 3:2).
  • EVIL describes the GREAT storm Jonah causes later in the chapter.
  • The verb for has risen carries the imagery of a sacrificial offering before God.
  • Ironically, EVIL rises up while Jonah goes down.


Jonah 1:3
Jonah ROSE to flee to Tarshish away from the presence of the LORD. He WENT DOWN to Joppa. He found a ship going to Tarshish. He paid her fare and WENT DOWN onto it.

  • Jonah only partially obeys. He ROSE but did not GO to Nineveh.
  • Instead he fled away from the LORD.
  • The ship is personified. Jonah pays her fair. The ship seems to accept money.
  • Geographically, Jonah WENT DOWN to Joppa, WENT DOWN onto the ship, and sets sail down to Tarshish.

Jonah 1:4
But the LORD HURLED a GREAT wind onto the sea. A GREAT storm came upon the sea. The ship thought it was going to be smashed into pieces.

  • Since Jonah didn't want to CRY OUT to the GREAT city, the LORD HURLED a GREAT wind.
  • The LORD caused a GREAT storm.
  • The ship has the ability to think (personification).

Jonah 1:5
The Sailors were AFRAID (FEARED). Each one CRIED OUT to his gods. They HURLED the cargo which was on the ship to lighten it from upon them. But Jonah WENT DOWN into the guts of the ship. He lay down. He slept deeply.

  • The sailors FEARED the storm, but Jonah didn't.
  • They CRIED OUT to their gods, but Jonah wouldn't CRY OUT to Nineveh. The contrast between Jonah and the Pagan Sailors is evident.
  • They HURLED the cargo, just as the LORD HURLED the storm earlier in Jonah 1:4.
  • Geographically, Jonah WENT DOWN into the guts of the ship. The ship has guts (personification).
  • Jonah slept deeply. The Hebrew Bible uses the noun derivative of this verb in Genesis 2:21 to describe the deep sleep God put Adam in while removing his rib.

Jonah 1:6
The ship captain approached and said to him, "What are you doing, O' Sleeper? RISE. CRY OUT to your God! Perhaps, your Deity will notice us, so that we will not PERISH.

  • Ship Captain literally translates as the captain of the ropes.
  • The Captain's speech "RISE. CRY OUT!" echoes Jonah 1:2. Jonah wakes up to these words that the LORD spoke to him before concerning Nineveh.
  • God speaks to Jonah about his rebellion through the Ship Captain.
  • Jonah, however, has no more concern for the Sailors than he does for the Ninevites. Both are pagans.
  • But the Sailors worry that they will PERISH.

Jonah 1:7
Each Sailor said to his companion, "Come. Let us cast lots, so that we might know on whose account this EVIL is upon us." They cast lots. The lot fell on Jonah.

  • See a commentary on the ancient practice of casting lots in Israel.
  • The Sailors want to know why this EVIL (the GREAT storm) has come upon them.
  • The lots point the blame on Jonah. His sin has affected the people all around him.

Jonah 1:8
They said to him, "Do tell us. Please! on whose account this EVIL is upon us. What is your occupation? From where are you coming? What is your native land? From what people are you?

  • The Sailors now directly question Jonah with urgency. "Do tell us! Please!"
  • They question Jonah to find out what gods he worships, so they can discern how to appease them.
  • Again the GREAT storm is described as "this EVIL."
  • This is also the second time "on whose account this EVIL is upon us" appears as well.

Jonah 1:9
He said to them, "I am a Hebrew. I fear the LORD the God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land."

  • Jonah answers the Sailors. I'm a Hebrew. Opposed to Gentile Pagans.
  • He claims to fear the LORD. Yahweh is his God, contrary to pagan gods.
  • Fear is an adjective in this verse meaning reverence for the LORD.
  • Jonah cannot escape the LORD. He is the God of heaven, sea, and dry land.
  • Now the Sailors know the God of the sea or Yahweh brought "this EVIL" (the GREAT storm) upon them. Now they can pray directly to the LORD.

Jonah 1:10
The men FEARED with a GREAT FEAR. They said to him, "What is this you have done?" The men knew that he was fleeing away from the Presence of the LORD, because he had told them.

  • FEARED with a GREAT FEAR translates as "extremely afraid" in English Bibles.
  • Both the verb FEARED and the noun FEAR are Hebrew keywords.
  • The narrator explains that the Sailors already knew Jonah's plight.
  • Jonah had already told them he had fled away from the LORD. It's pointless to run from the God of heaven, sea, and dry land.

Jonah 1:11
They said to him, "What should we do to you, so that the sea may calm down?" The sea was becoming increasingly stormy.

  • The Sailors want to know what the LORD of the sea demands of them.
  • They knew that something needed to happen to Jonah to calm the storm.
  • The narrator says that the storm continues to grow increasingly worse by the moment.

Jonah 1:12
He said to them, "Lift me up and HURL me into the sea. Then the sea will calm down, for I know that on account of me this GREAT storm has come upon you."

  • Jonah tells the Sailors to HURL him overboard.
  • In the same way the LORD HURLED the GREAT wind (Jonah 1:4), and the Sailors HURLED the cargo (Jonah 1:5).
  • Jonah admits that he is the reason for the GREAT storm. Note earlier the Sailors asked twice, "on whose account this EVIL" had come upon them.
  • The keyword GREAT has ties with God's judgment on evil behavior; for example: GREAT city, GREAT wind, GREAT storm, GREAT fish.

Jonah 1:13
But the men rowed desperately to return to dry land. They were not able for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy.

  • The conjunction but indicates the Sailors didn't heed Jonah's advice. They cannot escape the LORD of dry land either.
  • The narrator makes it clear the intensity of the storm continues to escalate. Twice now we notice the sea was becoming increasingly stormy (Jonah 1:11).
  • Unlike Jonah's lack of concern for the Pagan Sailors (deep sleep in the guts of the ship), they didn't want the prophet to die.

Jonah 1:14
They CRIED OUT to the LORD and said, "Please O' LORD, Let us not PERISH for this man's life. Do not put upon us innocent blood, for You O' LORD have done as You pleased."

  • Since Jonah finally revealed the LORD's name to the Sailors in Jonah 1:9, they can pray to Yahweh.
  • The narrator states that the Sailors repeatedly CRY OUT to the LORD. In contrast, Jonah doesn't pray.
  • The Sailors beg the LORD not to charge them with the murder of innocent blood.
  • They don't want to PERISH (Jonah 1:6; 3:9).

Jonah 1:15
They lifted Jonah up. They HURLED him into the sea. The sea ceased its raging.

  • The Sailors pick Jonah up and HURL him overboard.
  • The raging sea calms its anger (personification). The sea becomes placid.

Jonah 1:16
The men FEARED the LORD with a GREAT FEAR. They offered a sacrifice to the LORD. They vowed vows.

  • Jonah claimed to FEAR the LORD in Jonah 1:9. But the narrator clarifies that the Sailors truly FEARED the LORD with a GREAT FEAR.
  • Their FEAR of the LORD compares with the size of Nineveh and the intensity of the storm, both deemed GREAT.
  • This chapter began with imagery of a sacrifice of EVIL, but it ends with a sacrifice of obedience to the LORD by Pagan Sailors.
  • Perhaps the narrator foreshadows the Ninevites repentance already here in Jonah chapter one.


Summarizing the Story of Jonah and the Sailors

The character of Jonah unfolds in chapter one. Yahweh tells the prophet Jonah to RISE and CRY OUT against that GREAT city (Jonah 1:2). But instead he WENT DOWN to Joppa and WENT DOWN onto the deck of the ship (Jonah 1:3). Since Jonah doesn't want to CRY OUT against the GREAT city, God HURLED a GREAT wind on the sea (Jonah 1:4). The Pagan Sailors CRIED OUT to their gods while Jonah WENT DOWN below deck and fell into a deep sleep (Jonah 1:5). The Ship Captain found Jonah and said to him, "RISE. CRY OUT!" The prophet awoke from a deep sleep hearing the first words that God had spoken to him concerning Nineveh's judgment in Jonah 1:2. Interestingly, in verse two, the Ninevites are described as EVIL (wicked), but the same Hebrew word characterizes the storm Jonah caused (Jonah 1:7-8). Moreover, the LORD HURLED the GREAT wind onto the sea, the prophet Jonah tells the sailors to HURL him overboard for it is on account of him that the GREAT storm has come upon them (Jonah 1:12). He reluctantly tells them the name of his God. Only now are the Pagan Sailors able to CRY OUT to the LORD, the God of heaven, sea, and dry land (Jonah 1:14). The pagan men HURL Jonah into the sea and make sacrifices to Yahweh; the storm calms (Jonah 1:14-15).