Jonah and the Whale
By Jack Kelley
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
The Word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1-2).
Jonah’s name translates into English as dove and his father’s name as truth, and Nineveh means progeny, so right away the story is intriguing to those of us who lean toward the mystical view. A dove showed Noah that God’s judgment upon earth had truly ended and the flood waters were receding (Gen.8:11). Peace had been restored between the Creator and His creation. For the very poor, a dove was the prescribed offering for sin, restoring peace between the sinner and God (Lev. 5:7). The Spirit of the Lord descended upon Jesus “like a dove” in Matt. 3:16 and we know that He came to restore peace between mankind and God (Col. 1:19-20). The story of Jonah involves restoring peace between the people of Nineveh and God and so it’s fitting that He sent Dove, the offspring of Truth to warn His progeny.
But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. (Jonah 1:3). Nineveh and Tarshish were at opposite ends of the known world. Nineveh was a great and wicked gentile city on the banks of the Tigris River in what’s now Eastern Iraq, and Tarshish was either modern Spain or England depending on which commentator you prefer. I lean toward England since the Phoenicians traded extensively there and their name for the place roughly translates into Britannia. This view also makes more sense to me in interpreting Ezekiel 38:13. But suffice it to say that God told Jonah to head east (Jonah came from the Galilee: 2 Kings 14:25) and he booked passage on a boat heading west. By the way this little tidbit shows us how little the religious leaders of Jesus’ day knew of the history of their prophets. In attempting to prove that Jesus couldn’t be a prophet, they said, “A prophet does not come out of Galilee” (John 7:25) when in fact both Jonah and Nahum came from there. (The name of Peter’s home town Capernaum means village of Nahum.)
The Perfect Storm
On the voyage to Tarshish, they encountered a terrible storm, so bad it threatened to capsize the boat. Believing the storm to be sent from God, the sailors finally determined that Jonah was the reason for it, and so he asked them to throw him overboard. As soon as they did the storm subsided, and God sent a great fish that swallowed Jonah and kept him inside for 3 days and 3 nights (Jonah 1:4-17).
If you read chapter 2 literally and consult the original language you’ll have to conclude that Jonah died and while his body remained inside the whale, his spirit went to Sheol, the abode of the dead. Sheol is a Hebrew word translated Hades in Greek, or Hell in English. It’s located in the center of the Earth and before the cross, it’s the place where every one went upon dying, because Jesus had not yet settled the sin problem once and for all. Sheol was separated by a great chasm into two areas, a place of comfort for the faithful and a place of torment for those who had rejected God. The place of comfort was popularly called Paradise, or Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22-26). When Jesus died, He went there and took the one crucified with Him who had asked Him to “Remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.”(Luke 23:42-43) When He rose from the grave He took the faithful dead with Him into Heaven (Matt 27:53) since His shed blood had finally erased the sins their sacrifices had only temporarily set aside. Since then all who die in faith go directly to be with the Lord (Phil 1:22-23).
Could I Try This Again?
While in Sheol Jonah asked for and received another chance to be faithful. The end of his prayer is remarkable in that it speaks of the Grace of God and declares the name of Jesus (Yeshua; translated Salvation comes from the Lord Jonah 2:8-9.) When the whale spit the resurrected Jonah onto dry ground, he went to Nineveh and began to preach, and was both astonished and angered when those wicked gentiles immediately began to repent from the King on down. “I knew you would do this,” he cried to God, “That’s why I ran to Tarshish. I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Jonah 4:1-2). Then God caused a vine to grow and die as an object lesson to show Jonah that he was more concerned about the vine than about the people of Nineveh. But from God’s point of view we are all His children, Jew and Gentile, saint and sinner, and deserving of a chance to repent and live. When we respond favorably, all is immediately forgiven and forgotten. Remember, Nineveh means progeny.
The Sign of The Prophet Jonah
When for the umpteenth time the Jews asked Jesus for a sign, He said no sign would be given except for the sign of the Prophet Jonah. “For as Jonah was 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of the huge fish, so the Son of Man will be 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of the Earth” (Matt 12:40). This reference validates Jonah’s role as a prophet in Israel, verifies the accuracy of his story and points to the Lord’s own resurrection. But what’s the deeper meaning to all this?
First, Jonah is like all of us. Seeking God’s grace for our own deliverance, we desire only justice for our enemies and are often angry when He shows them mercy. But the story of Jonah is also a parable of Israel and the Gentiles. Israel also failed in her first effort to fulfill her mission as God’s witness (Isa. 43:10-13) and ceased to exist as a nation. And just as in Jonah’s failure a boat load of sailors came to know the Lord and were saved (Jonah 1:15-16), so in Israel’s failure a multitude of gentiles have come to know the Lord and be saved. But Jonah returned from the dead and in his 2nd attempt the people of Nineveh repented and were spared from judgment to regain their lives. Israel has also returned from the dead. And in the remnant of Israel’s faithfulness at the end of the age more multitudes of God’s progeny will repent and be spared from judgment to receive eternal life.
And now you know the adult version.