v1: The prophet sets the scene, telling his own story, and omitting no embarrassing details. There is humility and courage in many biblical writers who include details of their own mistakes and sins.
v2: Nineveh, the great city, built by Nimrod, Gen 10.10-12, renowned for its wickedness. Jonah is already a prophet, 2 Kings 14.23-26, and God chooses him to take the message of repentance; this precedes Nahum's message of judgment upon Nineveh.
Martin Goldsmith points out that the Jewish nation was not specifically commanded to preach the message of God to the Gentiles, but rather to be the light of God in the world, which would attract Gentiles. Thus Jonah represents an exception to the ways of the OT. Since Christ came to bring the message of God to Jews and Gentiles, He is a “greater than Jonah” (Matt 12.41).
v3: Jonah is fearful and fickle. We cannot flee from the Lord's presence, Gen 4.16; Ps 139.7-8; Jer 23.24; neither Jonah nor Nineveh can escape God's work. The word "presence" refers to a place of service and worship, it is presence with intention and meaning. Jonah would serve God, but wanted to avoid this particular task.
Jonah went down; down to Joppa, down into the ship, down into the lower parts of the ship, and down into the belly of the whale. This matches his own testimony; "From the depths of the grave...the deep...the very heart of the sea...the roots of the mountains," (2.2-6). Thus we read of a man rebelling against God, Luke 10.30; 2 Pet 2.21; he experiences the consequences of his own disobedience. We know from personal experience that any can turn from God for a time.
v4: The Lord "sent" a great wind; later He provided a whale, a vine, and a wind; throughout the narrative, God's hand is clearly evident. The word "sent" is also 'hurled,' as when Saul hurled a javelin at David. This indicates the severity of the storm, and why the sailors were frightened. The word is also translated 'appointed' in Dan 1.5,10, indicating that God has a purpose in sending these things. Each one, being part of the natural world, indicates God's control over all things.
v5: Human responses to the problem; prayer to man-made gods, and reliance on human wisdom and strength.
v6: Jonah is asleep when he should be praying; he is not ready, 1 Pet 3.15.
v7: Since their prayers go unanswered, the grew cast lots; such is the disadvantage to prayer to a god who cannot hear. Until they know the true God, what else can they do? Yet God overrules their ignorance.
v8-10: Jonah's lack of testimony; he did not stand out as a man of God. "I worship the Lord," he testified, yet they know he is fleeing from God; such is his inconsistent testimony, his actions not matching his words.
v11-12: We can imagine a conversation shouted over the storm, which is growing stronger. Jonah begins to recognise his own guilt; this is the power of a conscience.
v13: Although the sailors cannot deny Jonah's words, they want to avoid throwing him into the sea, knowing that means certain death. But again, the storm grows "wilder."
v14-16: This incident happened for the furtherance of the gospel, Phil 1.12; such is God's mercy and power. This does not justify Jonah's disobedience, but demonstrates God's mercy. The sailors now pray to the Lord, no longer to "his own god."
v17: See Matt 12.40; Jonah is clearly a type of Christ, inside the whale for three days and nights.