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 its fare, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
All Commentaries on Jonah 1:3 Go To Jonah 1
The Septuagint here is similar. The prophet knows by an inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that the repentance of the people is the destruction of the Jews. In this situation it is not that he is trying to save Nineveh, but that moreover he does not want to see it destroyed. In another place Moses prays for his people: "if you can spare them this sin, spare them; if not, erase me from your book that you have written"; to this prayer, Israel was saved and Moses was not erased from the Book: even better the Lord indeed profited from his servant by sparing his other servants. For when God says, "release me", he shows that he can be held. This is similar to what the apostle says: "I wished to be anathema for my brothers who are Israelites according to their flesh". Not that he desires to die however, for whom to live is Christ and to die is a profit; but he deserves life more when he wants to save others. Besides, seeing the other prophets sent to the lost flocks of the house of Israel to incite the people to repent, and Balaam the divine author of a prophecy about the deliverance of the Israelite people, Jonah feels himself punished by being chosen alone to speak against the Assyrians, the enemies of Israel, in the foreign capital where idolatry and ignorance of God still ruled. And what is more he feared that in spite of his prophesying they would still not be converted to repent, and that Israel would not be completely abandoned. For he knew by this Spirit which had entrusted him with the role of hero among the gentiles, that once the nations had come together in belief, then Israel would surely perish. And he feared that whatever was to happen in the future would not happen in his time. Thus Jonah does as Cain does: he flees from the face of the Lord and wants to flee to Tarshish, which Josephus interprets as that Tarsus of Cilicia, but changes the first letter. This can also be seen in the book of the Paralipomenon, which says that there is a place in India which is called the same. According to the Hebrews Tarshish means more generally 'sea', according to this passage: "by a fierce wind you will break the ships of Tarshish!", or the ships of the sea. And in Isaiah: "cry out, O ships of Tarshish!". I remember that I have already spoken about this several years ago in a letter to Marcella. The prophet did not intent to flee to such a place, but throwing himself into the sea, he just wants to go anywhere. And this is more pertinent when talking of a fugitive or one who is afraid, that he does not choose carefully where he wants to flee to, but just jumps at the first opportunity to take to the seas. We can also say this: he thought that God was "known" only "in Judea", "and in Israel his name is great". After he had seen that God was also in the waves he confesses and declares: "I am a Hebrew and I fear the Lord of heaven", who made the sea and the dry land. But if he had made the sea and the dry earth, why believe when you leave the land that you can escape the creator of the sea on the sea? At the same time when he sees the others sailors saved and converted, he learns that all the wickedness of Nineveh can be saved and converted by a similar confession. We can say too about our Lord and Saviour that he abandoned his home and country: at the incarnation he fled in some manner the heavens for Tarshish, the sea of that age, according to what is written in another place: "here is the sea, great and wide; there are numerous beings, animals great and small; there the boats come in and go out, and this dragon that you created to be crushed". And he says too in his passion, "Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by!", lest at the unified complaints of the people, saying, "Crucify him, crucify him!", and "we have no king except Caesar", the crowd of people should enter all together; and lest the branches of the olive-tree should be broken, and in their place the shoots of the wild olive should grow. He had such honour and love of his country in light of the choice of the patriarchs and of the promise of Abraham, that he said on the cross, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do". Or even since Tarshish can be translated as 'the contemplation of joy', the prophet, coming to Joppa, whose name means 'beautiful', hastens to hurry towards the joy and to rejoice in the pleasure of rest, to give himself completely over of contemplation. For he thinks that it is better to rejoice in beauty and in the variety of knowledge than to save the other people by letting that people die, from whom Christ would have been born.