Most people have heard of Jonah. They know him as the man swallowed by a big fish and lived to tell about it. Now a lot of people don’t believe that this ever happened however most believers do believe it because we know that God and do anything even preserve the life of a man swallowed by a fish. If He could bring a man back to life, never die again, who had been killed, and placed in a sealed guarded tomb a man in a fish for three days is nothing. What we may not know is how and why Jonah ended up in the fish in the first place.
The Old Testament book identifies Jonah as being from Gath-hepher, near Nazareth which was in the area of Galilee in the northern kingdom of Israel (Israel split into two nations after the death of Solomon with the northern kingdom retaining the name Israel and the southern kingdom came to be known as Judah).
2 Kings 14:25 (NLT2) Jeroboam II recovered the territories of Israel between Lebo-hamath and the Dead Sea, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had promised through Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath-hepher.
Jonah is unique in a couple of ways. He is one of the few prophets from the northern kingdom of Israel. Most were from Judah even those who prophesied to Israel, the northern kingdom.
Jonah is also unique in that although he is reported to have prophesied that Israel would recover some territory, the book of Jonah recounts the story of God’s commandment that he go yo preach and warn Israel’s enemy, Assyria, in its capital city of Nineveh.
Jonah 1:2 (NLT2) “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
The story gets interesting when instead of obeying God Jonah decides not only to disobey but to go in the opposite direction by ship.
Jonah 1:3 (NLT2) But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the LORD. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the LORD by sailing to Tarshish.
We know what happens after that. God orchestrates the events so that Jonah ends up in the “belly of a big fish”.
Jonah 1:4, 12, 15-17 (NLT2)4 But the LORD hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. 12 “Throw me into the sea,” Jonah said, “and it will become calm again. I know that this terrible storm is all my fault.” 15 Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once!16 The sailors were awestruck by the LORD’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.17 Now the LORD had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.
We know the rest of that part of the story. Jonah prays and God delivers him for the fish’s belly.
Jonah 2:1-2, 10 (NLT2)1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from inside the fish.2 He said, “I cried out to the LORD in my great trouble, and he answered me. I called to you from the land of the dead, and LORD, you heard me! 10 Then the LORD ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach.
Jonah then decides to obey God and go Nineveh. He preaches, hey repent and God does not destroy the city, much to the Jonah’s displeasure.
Jonah 3:1- 4:2 (NLT2)1 Then the LORD spoke to Jonah a second time:2 “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.”3 This time Jonah obeyed the LORD’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all.4 On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!”5 The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.6 When the king of Nineveh heard what Jonah was saying, he stepped down from his throne and took off his royal robes. He dressed himself in burlap and sat on a heap of ashes.7 Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city: “No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all.8 People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence.9 Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.”10 When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened. 1 This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry.2 So he complained to the LORD about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.
Why Is Jonah Important?
Jonah was one of only four writing prophets (books that have the name of the prophet who wrote or whose actions are chronicled) that Jesus mentioned by name during His earthly ministry.
Mark 7:6-7 (NLT2)6 Jesus replied, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.7 Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’ (emphasis mine)
Matthew 24:15-16 (NLT2)15 “The day is coming when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about—the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing in the Holy Place.” (Reader, pay attention!)16 “Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. (emphasis mine)
Matthew 23:35 (NLT2)5 As a result, you will be held responsible for the murder of all godly people of all time--from the murder of righteous Abel to the murder of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you killed in the Temple between the sanctuary and the altar. (emphasis mine)
Jonah however gets more than a mere mention. Jesus identified Himself with Jonah’s three days in the fish’s belly as a prediction of His own death and resurrection.
Matthew 12:39-41 (NLT2)39 But Jesus replied, “Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign; but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah.40 For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.41 “The people of Nineveh will stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for they repented of their sins at the preaching of Jonah. Now someone greater than Jonah is here—but you refuse to repent. The book of Jonah presents a picture of Christ’s death and resurrection hundreds of years before they actually occurred.
When Jonah got the command from God to preach to the Assyrians he refused because of his desire to see God punish them. He didn’t want to be the one to alert them and give them a chance to seek God’s mercy, which is what they did when he did finally go to Nineveh.
Because of his disobedience God had to break Jonah of his selfishness so the he could relay His message. His time in the fish and his deliverance is a convincing example of salvation coming for the Lord alone.
Jonah 2:9 (NLT2)9 But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise, and I will fulfill all my vows. For my salvation comes from the LORD alone.”
Jonah also learns, and conveys to us, that God’s power is supreme and that He is the one who decides where and on whom to pour out his salvation and mercy.
Jonah 4:10-11 (NLT2)10 Then the LORD said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly.11 But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”
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Donald Jacobs is an ordained minister with the spiritual gift of teaching. He is the Associate Pastor of a non-denominational church in Los Angeles, CA.