Why was it necessary for the sailors to pick Jonah up and throw him into the sea (1:12, 15) instead of him just jumping? It almost sounds like he is handicapped somehow, but then he does other things like going down into the hold of the ship, apparently by himself. He also builds a shelter in chapter 4. Was he just so afraid that he couldn’t jump into the water? Even then I would expect a mob of sailors could pressure him into jumping without physically picking him up and throwing him. Thoughts?

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    He did not wish to commit suicide.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 9, 2021 at 23:46
  • 2
    Since it was storming, they wanted to make sure Jonah would clear the perimeter/wake of the boat.
    – tblue
    Jul 10, 2021 at 0:33

7 Answers 7


Self murder (suicide) is sinful according to Exodus 20:13. Jonah believed that if he went from the ship into the sea, that he would die and the storm would cease. However, if he jumped himself, that would be sinful since it would be suicide. Instead, he told the sailors to cast himself into the sea.

In the same way, Jesus willfully died on the cross but did not commit suicide. The Roman soldiers executed Jesus.

The parallels between Jonah and Jesus are numerous.

  • really? how do 3 days and 3 nights added up for jesus?
    – VNPython
    Jul 19, 2023 at 6:51

I read this is a literary theme in the Bible, namely that we pass into darkness passively (by outside forces) and deliverance happens by God.

When viewed in the context of this template, we see why Jonah would be passive (needs to be thrown overboard) rather than actively jumping in. Indeed, even though the book of Jonah records his actions, from the moment of his deep sleep (a metaphor for death) he stops being the actor and becomes the acted upon until his deliverance. I encourage you to re-read 1.5-2.9 and observe the amount of passivity. He does nothing except confess who he is and then, once in the depths, hope for deliverance.

Other examples:

  • Abraham, from the moment of his deep sleep, experiencing the horror of great darkness, takes no part in the momentous covenant and oath swearing. God does all the work of swearing the covenant with himself. Gen 15.12-21

  • Joseph is completely passive when thrown into the pit. There is not even a record of him complaining or trying to free himself. Gen 37.18-28.

  • The Israelites were expelled from Egypt by Pharoah after the death of the firstborn, they did not choose to leave. During the epic battle between Moses and Pharoah, the Israelites themselves were passive and made no decisions for themselves, all the action was a battle between Moses/God and Pharoah.

  • Jesus was crucified by the Romans. He did not answer in his own defense or try to free himself, nor did he take actions to take his own life. The crucifiction is a picture of passivity. This is another aspect of why his death and resurrection was the sign of Jonah. This is the "led" part of the sheep being led to the slaughter.

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    Joseph did plead with is brothers, his brothers said so themselves in Genesis 42:21: Then they said to one another, “We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us.”
    – Millard
    Jul 21, 2021 at 3:32
  • And when you say Jesus was passive, are you suggesting he was unable to decide for himself, or that he chose not to? Because he definitely had a choice: "Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?"
    – Millard
    Jul 21, 2021 at 3:33
  • @Millard Jesus’ passivity is intentional because He was taking on our role and our fallen passive response in the face of darkness, to defeat sin. And He is so holy that it took an enormous battle with satan tempting Him to essentially stay holy and not do it for us before He could, during which He sweat blood (a condition indicative of hydrohemotosis if I remember the term, where struggle so intense capillaries burst). It doesnt say that Jesus is inherently passive, far from it. He rose from the dead for one thing. He is now the Lord of the Universe. Macarthur preaches beautifully on this.
    – Al Brown
    Jul 25, 2021 at 6:44

Jonah 1:

7Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.

With lots, the sailors found out that Jonah had something to do with the storm that was threatening their lives.

8 So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”

9 He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

The sailors learned that the Lord made the sea and control the sea.

10 This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)

11The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”

The sailors had to appease the God who stirred up the storm. How?

12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”

Why did the sailors have to pick Jonah up?

The sailors had to perform an act to appease the Lord.

  • Oh. Thanks so clear. I feel almost silly now having wondered the same thing til reading that
    – Al Brown
    Jul 25, 2021 at 6:47

The answer may be rather simple: The strong waves and heaving of the sea would have made it difficult for anyone, especially one who was not accustomed to sea travel, to even walk on the deck of the ship, must less manage to cast himself off from it without getting hung up on the rigging or striking some part of the ship. Nor could a single sailor have helped to hurl Jonah far enough to clear the ship on his way down--it would have taken a team effort.

Jonah himself seems to have been quite cooperative with the effort--even urging the men to do it. It seems unlikely he would have been unwilling to cast himself into the sea had he been able. After all, had he not already run away from God, showing his willingness to disregard God's orders? Why should he then be overly concerned about his guilt with ending his own life?


It's occurred to me that Jonah simply didn't want to die. He's a prophet after all, so if you inquire about the will of God he'll tell you, even if it involves his own homicide, simply as a matter of fact. Doesn't mean he's going to jump into the ocean for you.

  • I am thinking of Jesus His words, when He talked about the sign of Jona, foreshadowing His redemption work. If your suggestion is true, then we would have to think that Jesus did not want to give His life, but had to be forced and we know He willingly gave up the Spirit.
    – sara
    Jul 26, 2021 at 13:14
  • @sara, I don't think the moral position of Jonah was what Jesus had in mind. Jonah was a disobedient prophet and literally tried to run away from God's will. When he finally submits to God's will, only after being killed and raised from the dead, he gives a one line sermon and then throws a tantrum about it for the rest of the book. I think Jesus was only referring to the resurrection miracle. Jonah is not a good moral example.
    – Austin
    Jul 26, 2021 at 15:04
  • @sara, Jonah to me is one of the Bibles most rediculous prophets, that informs my perspective on his motivations. Thanks for helping me to see that not all people view him this way.
    – Austin
    Jul 26, 2021 at 15:23

I believe Jonah was trying one last time to get out of doing what God told him to do. He wasn’t going to kill himself to get out of it. One last time he could try to get out of going to that city. And as an added bonus have someone to blame.

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    – Community Bot
    Jul 19, 2023 at 4:01

Rely solely on the Old Testament, seems like Jonah is relying on the imagery in the Binding of Issac (Genesis 22), in which God calls for human sacrifice, even if He ultimately does not follow through. A second reading is the penal approach shown in Joshua and Judges, in which God is enacting Justice on those who break his commands. If you accept the very late dating of the book, then it might also be mirroring the Wisdom of Solomon (chapter 2) and/or Deutero-Isaiah (suffering servant poems), in which one person bears injustice for the sake of the wider community.

In the New Testament, Jonah is used alongside the above examples as types for Christ. In that sense, much like in Wisdom 2, Jonah is killed/damned by those afraid of the blasphemy he committed, which God shows to be part of his providence in bringing Jonah back from the dead for the sake of spreading His message. Jesus provides a good framework for interpretation if you accept the incarnation of course.

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    Jul 19, 2023 at 13:43

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