In the Old Testament God did some wild stuff and that is putting it lightly. Often His extraordinary acts were to validate not only who He was but the message being presented. Throughout the rich history (yes I refer to it as history if only to break the fairy tale image we associate with the Old Testament) Jonah’s story goes beyond interesting. For two reasons these four chapters stand out in a crowd. The first reason is the ministry and mission of Jonah. Being one of the first missionaries to people other than his own, unlike the other prophets, God assigned him to reach out to the inhabitants of Nineveh. While this displeased him, we will see that despite his resistance, God uses Jonah all the same. Secondly his story was doubly interesting because it is highly likely Jonah is one of the only people in creation to be swallowed by a beast of the sea and live to tell the tale. Seriously! Over and over we see the creative and often bizarre ways God dealt with folks, but this one really takes the cake. Even the boldest of highlighters cannot highlight the examples of God’s compassion mercy, and creativity in this book.
There are two major parallels to Christ within Jonah. Just as Jonah was within the whale for three days and nights, so would Christ be in death, which Christ himself points out in the following verses.
Matthew 12: 38-41 -38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
The second parallel is both Christ and Jonah’s points of origins. When the Pharisees told Christ that no prophet ever came from Galilee they showed how hell bent they were to be rid of him. Being a Pharisee they would have known the Old Testament on a very in depth level knowing that Jonah would have also been from the region of Galilee.
John 7: 40-52 – 40 When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” 41 Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? 42 Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” 43 So there was a division among the people over him. 44 Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.45 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” 46 The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” 47 The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? 48 Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? 49 But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” 50 Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, 51 “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” 52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”
Now that I have given some background and points of interests regarding Jonah, I want to present some of my thoughts as I studied and contemplated his life for myself.
Jonah Flees the Presence of the Lord
1:1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
4 But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. 6 So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”
Jonah Is Thrown into the Sea
7 And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” 9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.
11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” 13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. 14 Therefore they called out to the Lord, “O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
A Great Fish Swallows Jonah
17 And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
In Jonah 1 we see that despite resistance things are going to either be God’s way or God’s way. We can see that here and even now. In the end things are going to be done according to how God wants them, so we can either fight and be hindered or embrace and grow. So God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and what does he do, he goes the other way. Listening to your human self often leads one to do that. You would either have to be very brave or very foolish to do what he did and seeing as he was just as human as we are I would say he was the latter. It is interesting that even though Jonah fought God people were impacted with or without his cooperation. In light of his disobedience the sailors aboard the ship came to know God all the same. In my opinion this is a cool illustration of God not needing to uses us. Does God want to use us? Absolutely! However His will is going to be accomplished with or without us and we have to choice to partake in His work or not. Seeing Jonah choosing not to and his disobedience we are also told the consequences for his actions . . . .He was swallowed by a fish.
2:1 Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, 2 saying,
“I called out to the Lord, out of my distress,
and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.
3 For you cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
4 Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
yet I shall again look
upon your holy temple.’
5 The waters closed in over me to take my life;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
6 at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
O Lord my God.
7 When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the Lord,
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
8 Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.
9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the Lord!”
10 And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.
Christians have a very tainted view of consequences and hardships, so many of us see them in a negative light when really God intends them for positive effects. Some will say Jonah’s redemption came after being swallowed by the fish, I believe though it came before. Jonah knew the storm was God and that there was no escape and being thrown in was an acceptance to turn back. Once devoured he prays, whether or not he prayed the same thing over and over for the three days is beyond me, but what we have is what we have and it is significant indeed. In Jonah’s prayer we are give many details of the character of God. Repenting of his rebellion he focuses on what he knows to be true and real delivering himself from his mindset prior to being digested. We are talking about a man in some giant sea creature in case your minds still are not wrapping around that. A man, alive, in a fish, for three days, and we think some of out trials are hard. What a laugh. Finally Jonah is vomited from said animal. I am going to say regardless of whom you are there would not be much dignity to be had in that moment, but I would think you would still be in shock and awe over the events that transpired to really notice. Just as the realization of being in over his head turned him back to God, so should the same be proven for us. God uses trials to teach us and grow us, not to drive us away. A soldier can never be a proper soldier until he is actually on the battlefield relying upon what he knows.
Jonah Goes to Nineveh
3:1 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
The People of Nineveh Repent
6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
Having been spat out Jonah decides to obey God’s instruction of him to go to Nineveh. You would have been an idiot not to. His message to the people is simple, and almost as if it were just to coast by in what God wanted him to do. Whether or not the three days of travel wore off the effects of what happened, or we are not given the full account of his message, whatever the case we see the pride of Jonah’s humanity shining through once more. His obedience to travel to Nineveh resulted in their repentance and trust in God. What opportunities do we miss from not being obedient? If God can use us even in our disobedience how much more can we allow God to do in being obedient? While we may never see people believe to the caliber that Jonah did, that does not make the work to be done any less significant. Faithfulness is our responsibility no matter what it entails. Little or big, none of this is ours and we are to use in it a way that is in accordance with God and his character. Jonah gives his message and they repent. Because of the outcome God spared Nineveh.
Jonah’s Anger and the Lord’s Compassion
4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
5 Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. 6 Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 10 And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
In the last paragraph I said the pride of Jonah’s humanity began to shine through once more, and here we see it at its peak. Jonah was a Jew, obviously. The people of Israel carried a pride for their nation which caused them to view gentiles and lesser. Jonah delivered God’s message but he did it to serve himself and not the Lord. Because God spared the city it made Jonah angry. In the midst of his anger we see the Lord’s continued faithfulness in the provision of a plant to give him shade. God remained faithful to Jonah despite Jonah being faithless. Not getting his way Jonah threw a fit. People dislike it when God does something in a way they would rather Him not do, it comes with being human. Within a day God then destroys the plan he had provided. Again Jonah gets upset. His lashing out was completely self involved. He cared more about a plant than what he did the many people in the city. Still God displayed compassion and mercy. Jonah’s situation is like a lot of what we see today. Here we are given a great spectrum of how opposite the character of God is from the character of humans. Even someone who believed like Jonah still revealed their flesh and what that looks like in comparison to God. Being Christians it seems as if we have this automatic sense of entitlement. Almost like being a Christian we are supposed to be blessed with easier lives, better stuff, a husband or wife, and a never ending string of vanities and shallow things. God has given us things we have not earned and become more concerned with things than we do people. So then when He takes them away we get upset as if we deserved what we had to begin with. Caring about our lives more than we do others we get caught up in that and fail to effectively minister to those around us. God may still provide and impact people in our wake, but it will never be to the full capacity as it would be if we were following Him. Human condition or lack of dependence, whichever excuse fits us best, the book of Jonah shows us a lot about just as it does ourselves. Didactic or instructive, the contents of this short book have a lot of deep truths to take in.