The Study of the Book of Jonah
Please take note of the heading of this particular article of our Searchings Series. It is entitled “A Study of the Book of Jonah”. It is not intended to be an exposition, yet some of the manifestations therein may seem so, but rather a substantive Study. The book is only four chapters of the Old Testament, one of the smallest, yet one of the fullest in its instruction and interpretation. The goal however, in this particular article, is to impress upon our readers, the substance of the message, rather than the context of the whole. This Book can be viewed upon as 1) the backsliding of Israel, and 2) the backsliding of a Christian. More importantly, 3) it portrays the glory of our Lord’s suffering through the crucifixion, 4) His resurrection and 5) consequent turn, to the gentiles, in order to establish His Church. It is of the latter, we wish to impress upon our readers. Thus, not an exposition, but rather a Study! May God allow us to expand upon the former references in future articles, to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Through our past several writings, we are struck with a recurrent theme which comes before us. It appears that the Holy Spirit seems to prompt us into a study which has manifested itself in these following statements: “Then certain of the Scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, (a mockery of Jesus) we would see a sign from thee. But He answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah: For as Jonah 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.” Matt. 12: 38 – 40. Then, in Matthew 16: 4 “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah. And he left them, and departed.” Further; “And when the people were gathered thick together he began to say. This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonah the Prophet. For as Jonah was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation.”
The subject of this discourse is obviously the “Sign”. The Scribes and Pharisees brought up the subject, by saying: “Master, (which was a mockery for they had no regard to Christ) we would see a sign from thee.” And then our Lord mentions the word several times in the related references. And in those He states: Matt: 12, 39; “And there shall no sign be given, but the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Then in Matt; 16, 4, “There shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Luke: 11, 29, “they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonah the prophet.”
We can most certainly verify the fact that Jonah was a prophet of God, but more importantly, why such an emphasis on the “sign” and that no sign shall be given, but the sign of Jonas the Prophet”? The answer is obvious, the Jews always sought a “sign”, as does the natural man. This is why man, in general, always seeks fortune tellers, psychics, prophesiers, etc. It is of the natural man, not the spiritual. The natural must “see” for himself; the spiritual “accepts” by faith. This is a criticalturning point throughout Holy Writ.
We must keep in mind all that takes place in Matthew 12. It is often referred to as the “Rejection” chapter of the Bible. The Scribes and Pharisees (Jews) rejected Jesus as the Christ v. 14; “Then the Pharises went out and held a council against him, (Jesus) how they might destroy him.” Then Christ rejects them; v. 30; “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.” Now here we find (the Church or Christiandom), in the very middle of this conflict. For the Christian is not to seek or look for a sign, but to listen for a shout! The Christian is to rely upon faith, not by sight. Nevertheless, the Scribes and Pharisees want a sign. Thus in Matt.12: 38, “Then certain of the Scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying. Master, we would see a sign from thee.” Christ reply’s in Matt. 12; 39—40: He answered and said unto them: “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah; For as Jonah 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.”
To the unlearned, “babes” in Christ, and those who are unacquainted with Holy Writ, we shall attempt to explain the significance of what has been stated above. What we have before us is a major transition or dispensation in doctrine of the Holy Scriptures. Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity is divorcing Himself from His earthly ministry to the nation of Israel, and turning to the Gentiles. This was foretold in the Old Testament, by the prophets, which brings us back to the Book of Jonah.
Recall the words of our Lord in Matt; 12, 40: “For as Jonah 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”. What our Lord was referring to in this passage was His own death, burial, and resurrection
Let us go to the Book of Jonah. For the sake of brevity, please allow me the latitude to remarks pertinent for our subject. I would encourage you to read the entire Book of Jonah, as there is much learning for those who wish to become more acquainted with the teachings thereof.
We shall start at the beginning, which in our day and age seems a novel concept! Jonah, 1: 1--3, “Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai; saying: “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before Me. 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 the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” One might ask, why would Jonah blatantly disregard the direct command of God? In this instance, to go into an entirely different direction than what God had instructed. The answer is two fold.
First, typical of a backslidden saint, he arose at the command of the Lord yet, not to obey the Lord; but to follow his own desires and inclinations. Instead of going east, he started directly west, the complete opposite direction. Thus we see in this picture of Jonah, a saint unto the Lord, as a backslider to the very command God himself gave to him. Can we relate?? Is this not common to our everyday experience? Of course! Who is in charge here? We think we are, but alas, God directs our ways, in spite of ourselves.
Secondly, Jonah was a Jew, and he figured the Lord certainly made a mistake asking him to intercede before the Gentile city of Nineveh and pronounce judgment from God. To every Jew, it was inbred, that God had no respect unto Gentiles, quite the opposite. Let us get it straight, the Jews were the chosen people, or to which the Jews have always laid claim, and rightly so, and Jonah was a Jew, even more so, a prophet of God; so undoubtedly and most assuredly God had made a mistake, by asking Jonah to go preach unto the dislikeable Gentile city of Nineveh. At the very least, this was at the heart of what was in the mind of Jonah.
It is noteworthy that three things stand out in these first few passages as it relates to our subject. First, Nineveh was a Gentile city, whereas Jonah was a prophet to the Jew. Second, he paid the fare thereof, and decided to take a nap and went to sleep, in the bosom of the ship and further was thus hidden from the presence of the Lord. There is so much teaching here, that it is difficult to stay on course because we could fill-up a volume. Nevertheless, to remain upon our subject, let us paraphrase. So, Jonah gets on the boat and a great storm ensues. The mariners cast lots to determine why this tremendous storm has fallen upon them and the lot falls upon Jonah. He is still asleep in the bottom of the ship, (once again, typical of today’s Christians, “fast asleep” while the Scriptures tell us to be especially watchful, “at this hour” just before our Lord returns; such as He asked His disciples to be with Him in the Garden while He prayed. Note; they fell asleep because the hour was late.).
The shipmates arouse him and confront him and he accepts the responsibility; “And he (Jonah) said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you” (Jonah 1: 14—17) Please observe Jonah knew he had sinned and backslid. “Wherefore they cried unto the Lord, and said, We beseech thee, O Lord, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O lord, has done as it pleased thee. So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging. Then the men (mariners) feared the Lord exceedingly, (because they knew they had just thrown overboard a man of God) and offered a sacrifice unto the Lord, and made vows. Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights”. It is my prayer that at this stage, our readers have begun to connect the dots. Does the term, Three days and three nights, ring any kind of a bell?? What we are about to observe, and to which our Lord referred to throughout Matthew chapter 12, is His own death, burial and resurrection.
We shall quote the entire 2nd chapter of the book of Jonah: Which is only 10 verses. “Then Jonah prayed unto to the Lord his God out of the fish’s belly. And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice. For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me. Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple. The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption. O Lord my God. When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in to unto thee, into thine holy temple. They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving: I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord. And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.”
It is at this juncture that I hope to expound, reveal and explain, to our readers the relationship between the Book of Jonah, as a picture of our Lord, and the manifestation thereof. The pivot point and definition of this particular Study.
First we seek to reveal the message and explanation of the sign Jesus kept referring to. Let us return to vs. 12: “And he (Jonah) said unto them. Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.” Notice, Jonah volunteered to give up his life for the sake of his shipmates. Similarly, observe the words of Jesus: “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many”. Matt. 20: 28 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” John 15: 13. And lastly; “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself.” John 10: 17—18.
Several things are to be noted from Chapter 2 of Jonah, which parallel the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Christ, howbeit not necessarily in chronological order. In verse 5, Jonah says, “the weeds were wrapped about my head”. This reflects the “crown of thorns”, worn by Jesus during His crucifixion. In verse 4, Jonah states, “I am cast out of thy sight”. This is in perfect accord with the words of our Saviour, when from the cross, He cried out; “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Remember God cannot look upon sin, and Christ took upon Himself, all the sin of the world, in order to redeem the world. Thus upon the cross, God turned His back upon Jesus, the Christ. God had indeed forsaken Jesus; for those awful three hours that Jesus hung upon the cross. This is also why there was darkness for three hours. No “light” could come forth, because God had left the scene. God is Light. Genesis 1: 1—3, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void: and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” Psalm 119: 105; Thy word is a lamp unto my feet; and a light unto my path. Vs 130; The entrance of thy words giveth light.
We hear Jonah proclaim in verse 3; “For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.” Thus the same with Christ; waves and floods of sin, from the beginning of mankind until the end of the age, pounded upon our Lord while suspended between heaven and earth. “The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me” vs. 5 & 6. “When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord” vs. 7. “I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, out of the belly of hell cried I". vs.2.
It is also revealed in these passages where Christ spent His time during the three days and three nights from His death upon the cross, and the placement of His body in the tomb, until that resurrection morn. He spent His time in hell! Many would object to this theory, but allow me to quote the Lord Himself: “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.” Matt 12: 40. Where is the heart of the earth? Obviously in the center of the earth. Jonah even states, “I went down to the bottoms of the mountains, the earth with her bars was about me”, vs 5 & 6.
I challenge each reader, of this article, to study and ascertain why Christ went to Hell! What was His purpose? What did He do? What was the result thereof? I’ll give you a hint. Read Luke 16: 19—31 and keep in mind that there were two compartments in Hell, either Paradise (Abraham’s bosom) and or Sheol and Hades, the torture chambers. These verses in Luke are referred to as the parable of “the Rich man and Lazarus (not Lazarus who Jesus raised from the dead during His earthly ministry, but another Lazarus, which was a common name, in those days). Also keep in mind that a parable is an earthly saying with a heavenly meaning. This one spoken by the Lord, Himself.
One other point must be made and perhaps the most important of our commentary, because it applies to our Nation today, as we are considered a Gentile nation, just as Nineveh was a Gentile city. “And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.” Ch. 2:10. Chapter 3: 1—“And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time saying. Arise, go unto Nineveh that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee’. Allow me to quote the scripture and note the manifestationwhich follows in the next paragraph. II Chronicles 7: 14, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
The fact that Nineveh was a Gentile city, is why Jonah did not want to go there in the first place. He was a card-carrying Jew for heaven’s sake and the Jews wanted nothing to do with Gentiles. Note the sequence! ‘So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey. And Jonah began to enter into the city a one day’s journey, and he cried and said; “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.” Ch: 3: 3—5. Vs. 10; “And God saw their works that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.” Note two important results of the above passage! First, the city of Nineveh was three days journey; but Jonah entered the city in one day! He was given a second chance; our Lord is indeed “longsuffering toward His own”. Jonah must have run each step of the way to make the journey in one day in order to preach to these Gentiles. You can’t blame him, after his experience, I think I would have run too. Secondly the people of Nineveh, “believed God” humbled themselves, prayed, sought God, and turned from their wicked ways! Could this possibly apply to our nation today??? Without doubt!
To conclude this study; anyone can see the portrayal here, between the sign of Jonah and the fulfillment by the “Master”. The Scribes and Pharisees in mockery, said to Jesus, “Master”, we would see a sign from thee.” He retorted; “No sign shall be given, but the sign of Jonah, For as Jonah 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.” And further Jesus replies to them; “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here.” Matt: 38—41. Meaning of course, Jesus Christ Himself! He is the Lord!!
May God the Father, our Lord Jesus, and the Holy Spirit
bless you in your study of His Holy Word!