The Book of Jonah is one of the shorter books found in the Bible. Jonah is classified as a minor prophet, not based on importance, but based on the short size of the book. After several entries of Creation Science, Apologetics, and History, I believe it best to take some time to revert back to Biblical Theology, for this entry at least. (Photo credit to Bible Hero Posters)
While yes, Jonah is history, like everything else found in God's Word, there's a lesson to be learned, and that is what we will be taking a look at today. So let us take a look at the account of Jonah. It occurred around 785 BC. This four-chapter book details the journey of Jonah the prophet, son of Amittai, (Jonah 1:1) from Gath Hepher. (2nd Kings 14:25) God said to Jonah, "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." (Jonah 1:2)
Jonah is told by God to deliver a message to the city: Turn from your ways or you will be destroyed. That may sound harsh, but the sins that they were committing in this city broke all of God's Commandments time... after time... and time again. Jonah probably would have obliged, had he not heard the name of the city.
The Ninevites were enemies of Israel, known for their violent nature, and Jonah wanted to be as far away from Nineveh as possible. So what did he do? "He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for [Tarshish.] After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord." (Jonah 1:3)
Jonah went below deck to catch up on some sleep. Then things started happening. "Then the Lord had sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent arose that the ship threatened to break up." (Jonah 1:4) The crew of the ship came to the conclusion, after lightening the ship by tossing cargo over, that one their gods must be angry with one of them. Waking Jonah, they cast lots, which fell on Jonah.
Jonah admitted that he was running away from the true God, and terrified, they asked him what to do. He replied, "Pick me up and throw me into the seam and it will become calm. I know it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you." (Jonah 1:12) The men chose to try to reach land, but they could not, because the sea grew more harsh, and so they did as Jonah said, and they threw him overboard.
The sea grew calm, and God sent a "huge fish" (Matthew 12:40) for Jonah. "Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights." (Jonah 1:17) There is some discrepancy as to what exactly this fish was, as the Bible does not say, it only says it was a "huge fish."
Jesus mentions Jonah in Matthew 12:40, and the word ketos is not restricted in its meaning to whale or a cetacean. "It may denote any sea-monster, either a whale or shark, a seal, or a tunny of enormous size." Now, we find that white sharks do exist in the Mediterranean, as well as the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, and are often about thirty feet in length. Though sharks usually first bite its prey, it has been known to swallow whole. There are recorded cases in which bodies of men, one clad in armor, and even a full horse, are found. Also, naturalists have recorded that sharks do have a habit of throwing up whole and live prey they had swallowed, though again, the prevailent idea is that Jonah was swallowed by a whale.
Regardless, Jonah was in the belly for three days and three nights, during which he had no food or drink, but prayed fervently, asking God for forgiveness, for a second chance. So three days after he had been swallowed, "the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land," the same land where Nineveh was located. (Jonah 2:10) God again told Jonah, "Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I gave you." (Jonah 3:2) This time, Jonah obeyed.
Since the city was so large, it took Jonah three full days to get through it. He proclaimed that Nineveh had 40 days and the city would be overthrown. When the news reached the King, he proclaimed a fast, and "when God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened." (Jonah 3:10) But this seemed wrong to Jonah, and he was angry.
God asked him, "Is it right for you to be angry?" Jonah's reply is not recorded. Jonah went out of the city and sat down, making a shelter because he wanted to see what God would do to the city. "Then the Lord God provided a gourd and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the gourd." (Jonah 4:6) But the next day, God sent a worm, which ate the gourd, and when the Sun rose, it was "scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head. He wanted to die, and said, 'It would be better for me to die than to live.'" (Jonah 4:8)
God again asked if it was right for Jonah to be angry about the gourd, and this time, he did reply. "It is, and I'm so angry I wish I were dead." Do you know what God said after that? "You have been concerned about this gourd, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hands from their left - and also many animals?" (Jonah 4:10-11)
That is the end of the book. We are never told what became of Jonah, whether he lived or died, whether he asked for forgiveness or continued in arrogance. However, from a character standpoint, I can see Jonah doing the same thing Job did many years before. "I'm sorry God." In essence, God had said, "You care more about your plant than about the souls of these people."
What is the lesson here? Think of the account this way: God asked Jonah to do something, and he refused, running away. God sent a storm, and when Jonah was thrown from the boat, a huge fish swallowed him up. Jonah asked fro forgiveness, and was forgiven, was redeemed, and he was given one, though he, like so many of us, cared more about his needs, more about himself than about the lives - the very souls - of others.
In essence, this is the life of a Christian. How? God has asked us to come to him, to be saved by his Son, and many people turn away from Him due to unbelief or other reasons. But God offers EVERYONE a Second Chance, even in our foolishness - God offers redemption for the lost. That is the "moral of the story," so to speak. Even if you are already Christian, we all could use forgiveness, redemption, every now and again.
From what we can tell, Jonah finally learned from his mistakes. As people, we can learn from our mistakes and use that experience to improve our lives, or we can choose to ignore what we learned and continue on. Which do you chose? Jonah was a hero of faith in the sense that he was redeemed, just as we can be redeemed in Chirst. The account of Jonah and the fish has been popularized by the media in recent years, despite its length.
Do you need redemption? Do you need forgiveness? Jesus offers that. Freely. All he asks us to do is that if we believe that he died and rose again, and if we repent of our sins and ask God for forgiveness, we will be saved. What if you do not think you are in need of forgiveness? If that is the case, take a look at a recent entry titled "The Ten Commandments - Have We Followed Them All?" Thank you for taking the time to read this entry, and as always, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org Take care, and God Bless! Troy Hillman
Tuesday, September 14
at 7:20 PM
Raised in an evangelical branch of Christianity, I later became captivated by the Franciscan tradition within Christianity and its emphasis on living out the faith prayerfully, mindfully, and simply. Over the past few years while earning my Bachelor's degree in Theological Studies, my focus has shifted from orthodoxy to orthopraxy, and from debate to dialogue.. I have remained open to new theological possibilities and explorations, ever-endeavoring to learn more and love deeper. I have a deep love of all things astronomy, history and theology and consider myself a "geek" and lover of sci-fi and fantasy. In my writings, I seek to harmonize these passions to create and explore the vast possibilities available to us. I wish my readers peace and all good!