The Book of Jonah is more historical than prophetical; for with the exception of one fragment in it – in which Jonah cried and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (chapter 3:4) – there is nothing of prophecy in it. Jonah was one of the earliest of the prophets whose writings are part of the Canon of Scripture. He was a native of a town called Gath-hepher, which was a town in the tribe of Zebulun in northern Israel; and this refutes the words of those in our Savior’s day, who declared that no prophet ever arose out of Galilee (John 7:52). Chronologically, Jonah’s ministry was earlier than Hosea, Isaiah, Joel, or Amos. In 2 Kings 14:25-27, there is mention of a prophecy that he made concerning the recovery of a portion of land from the hands of the Syrians, which rightfully belonged to the kingdom of Israel; and this was fulfilled in the time of King Jeroboam II.
Some regard this account of Jonah as nothing more than a fictitious story that teaches an object lesson. But that is simply not true. The Book of Jonah is a Divinely-inspired historical narrative. And why is that important? Because our Lord Jesus has so interwoven the principal features of Jonah’s history with His own, that the record of this Old Testament prophet and that of the Messiah must either stand or fall together! Jesus declared (Matt. 12:38-42) that He would give no sign to the evil and adulterous generation of His day, except for “the sign of the prophet Jonas; for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Jonah’s situation when he was cast alive into the belly of the fish was a new thing; no similar event ever occurred in the history of mankind. But the resurrection of our Lord Jesus after He had been dead for three days was also a new thing! There is no other similar fact on record. By its very novelty, it was meant to impress the world most deeply; and it has so impressed it, for the resurrection of Christ is the distinguishing feature of Christianity. It stands out, alone and unique, as a new thing in the history of the world!
“Arise,” said the Lord to Jonah; “go to Nineveh!” That great city was one of the mightiest in ancient times. In it were temples, palaces, and houses for a great multitude of people; and beautiful gardens also. Around the city were walls a hundred feet (30 m) high; and these walls were so thick that four chariots drawn by horses might be driven side by side along the top of them. There were also towers – 1,500 of them! – built 200 feet (61 m) high above the walls, all around the city. Along the top of the walls, and in the towers, the Assyrian soldiers to shoot arrows and darts at their enemies when they came to fight against Nineveh. But this city was more than just strong and imposing; it was also very wicked. Their wickedness was a bold and open affront to God. Therefore, Jonah must go to Nineveh at once; and there, on the spot, he must cry against the wickedness of it.
But Jonah would not go. And circumstances seemed to favor him! “How Providential this is!” he must have thought to himself as he stood on the seaside at Joppa and spied a ship that was about to set sail for Tarshish – a place that may very well have been as far away as modern-day Spain, or perhaps even further. Jonah’s plan was to go as far away from God and His command as he could possibly go. But the runaway prophet never reached his faraway destination. While still at sea, the Lord caused a great storm to blow up; and the ship was in danger of being broken to pieces! Naturally, the storm frightened the sailors; and each one of them began to pray to his respective idol for help, but in vain. And so the sailors began to do what little they could to help themselves. They threw out some of the cargo of the ship, in order to lighten it and keep it from sinking. However, Jonah did not know of the danger he was in, for he had gone down to the lower parts of the ship and gone to sleep. So the captain came to him and woke him up, saying, “What meanest thou, O sleeper? Rise up and pray to thy God: perhaps he may pity us and save us from perishing!”
Now the sailors began to talk and reason with one another. These heathen men were right in their conclusion that this storm was a messenger of Divine justice sent to someone in that ship. They said, “Come, let us cast lots that we may find out for whose sake it is brought upon us.” So they did so, and the lot fell upon none other than Jonah himself. And now all eyes of the sailors turned upon the runaway prophet who now stood in their midst, and they began to question him. How embarrassing it must have been for Jonah! If – as he professed – he really feared the God Who made the sea and the land, why was he such a fool as to think he could flee from His presence?
Jonah confessed that this storm was sent because of his iniquity; he accepts it, and justifies God in it. When the sailors’ efforts to reach the shore proved to be futile, they were left with no alternative except to throw the disobedient prophet into the sea; and as soon as they did so, the storm immediately subsided. After the tempest ceased, the sailors made sacrifices and vows to Jehovah. But the Lord had prepared a great fish, which swallowed up Jonah as soon as he was thrown into the waters. And this was indeed a mercy to him! How gracious He was to thus save a drowning man – especially when he was running away from Him, and had disobeyed Him! It was of the Lord’s mercies that the rebellious prophet was not consumed.
Lord, we repent of times when we have lived in disobedience to Your clear commands, and foolishly tried – like Jonah – to flee from Your presence! Amen.
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