Christ in the Minor Prophets: No. 6 - Jonah

Jonah 1‑4  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 7
H. P. Barker
No. 6 — Jonah
The Book of Jonah has been assailed again and again by the opponents of Christianity, because of the marvelous nature of the facts which it narrates. These facts, however, have received special authentication from the Lord Jesus Himself.. Skeptics have asked, How could Jonah be for three days and nights inside the fish? But the Lord Jesus affirmed that he was “three days and three nights in the whale’s belly” (Matt. 12:4040For 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. (Matthew 12:40)).
In spite of this, however, the critics have continued their attacks. They have stated —
(1) That no whale has a gullet big enough to allow the passage of a man’s body through it.
(2) That no city of the size of Nineveh, and answering to the description here given, ever existed.
But God has wonderfully confounded the wisdom of the wise. It is now proved beyond all doubt —
(1) That there are whales, found in the very sea upon which Jonah was sailing, quite capable of swallowing a man; and that some whales have throats big enough to swallow half a dozen men at once.
(2) That there was a vast city answering to the description of Nineveh. It has been laid bare by the excavations of Layard and others. In the days of King Sargon (who reigned shortly after the visit of Jonah), it was no less than ninety miles in circumference and covered a much larger area than London does today. It contained large enclosures of pasture land, for the “much cattle” which the Ninevites kept, so that they might have food if their city were besieged.
Thus the Scriptures are vindicated by modern discoveries, and the critics convicted of ignorance. Jonah himself, according to the New Testament, is a type of Christ, both in his sufferings and in his testimony. Yet we might draw the inference from the book that bears his name, that he was by no means even a good man. Disobedient, distrustful, vindictive, sulky, his character is at first sight most unattractive.
But the Lord knew that Jonah was a true servant of His, in spite of failure, and He took care to leave on record a testimony that should enable us to recognize him as such. In 2 Kings 14:2525He restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain, according to the word of the Lord God of Israel, which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, which was of Gath-hepher. (2 Kings 14:25), Jonah is spoken of as Jehovah’s servant, whose prophecy He had Himself fulfilled.
Moreover, it is of interest to note that Jonah’s native place was Gathhepher. This village stood very near to, if not on the exact site of the later Nazareth. The Jews, in their unbelief, declared that “out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.” But in point of fact Jonah was a Galilean, and in this, as well as in other ways, foreshadowed the greater than he, who was also “of Galilee.”
The book of Jonah may be taken up in more ways than one. The evangelist may use it as giving a picture of one who ran away from God. Jonah’s course, like that of man generally, was a downward one. He “went down” to Joppa, and there he found a ship and “went down” into it. Not only so, but he was “gone down” into the sides of the ship to sleep.
But trouble comes, as it always does, sooner or later, to those who wander from God. Strenuous efforts are then put forth by the mariners for Jonah’s salvation. But all was in vain; they could not achieve their desire. The only way of salvation was through that which typified the death and resurrection of Christ, three days and nights in the fish’s belly. And thus he reached “dry land.”
Or the book may be viewed as the history of God’s dealings with one of His servants, and most instructive it is when thus regarded. We learn that God’s will must at all costs be done. Jonah shrank from doing it. He recognized fully that his mission to Nineveh would be the means of mercy being shown to it (ch. 4:2), though his actual message was one of judgment. He seemed to feel that Israel’s truest interests lay in the destruction of the city, and that Nineveh’s preservation would mean Israel’s downfall. Like Moses, and like Paul, his love for his nation was so intense that he would sacrifice himself, and incur the displeasure of God, rather than be the means of preservation to Israel’s foe.
Underlying all this was his lack of faith in God. Yet how graciously the Lord bears with him. He does not rend his service from him, but disciplines him and teaches him, and entrusts His word to him “the second time.” What grace! And amid all the discipline, God’s care for His failing servant ever showed itself.
But though restored to the path of obedience and service, Jonah’s heart was not yet brought into full communion with the heart of God, and the book closes with words of reproof. But the fact that Jonah was subsequently inspired to record this narrative, to write down his faults, and to let God have the last word, is proof that ultimately his restoration was complete.
But the book of Jonah may also be viewed typically. The typical bearing of the narrative was undoubtedly in the mind of the Holy Spirit, for it is in considering it in this light that we find Christ therein.
Let me briefly indicate how this comes out, in the four chapters of the book.
Jonah 1-2
Just as Jonah was bidden to go with a message to Nineveh, Israel was entrusted with a mission to the nations, to testify to Jehovah’s greatness and goodness. But as Jonah failed to do God’s bidding and set sail instead for Tarshish, one of the world’s great commercial emporiums, so Israel shirked her mission, and has made commerce and the acquisition of wealth her object, instead of the testimony of God.
Jonah, by his disobedience, involved those with whom he sailed in storm and tempest. Israel, too, far from being a blessing to the nations around, has brought trouble, through her unfaithfulness, upon all with whom she has had dealings, even as Abram brought trouble upon the house of Pharaoh (Gen. 12:1717And the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram's wife. (Genesis 12:17)).
The upshot of Jonah’s course was that he was flung into the sea. There he became the subject of God’s sovereign and protecting mercy. Even thus has it been with Israel. Overthrown and scattered by the Gentile powers, her sons are to this day dispersed in the sea of the nations. Yet the preserving care of God has followed them, waves of oppression have surged against them, billows of blood have passed over their heads. Hated, persecuted, driven hither and thither, they remain to this day, as a people, one of the wonders of the world, protected, in spite of all their sin, by the mighty hand of God.
The three days and nights which Jonah spent in the deep are no doubt typical of the depths through which Israel has passed, and is yet passing, until the glorious “third day” of national resurrection. A passage in Hosea speaks similarly: “Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for He hath torn, and He will heal us; He hath smitten, and He will bind us up. After two days will He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up and we shall live in His sight” (Hos. 6:1, 21Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. 2After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. (Hosea 6:1‑2)).
Now into the sorrows of Israel, torn and smitten on account of their folly, Christ has in grace entered. Delivered up to the Gentiles, He was by them buffeted, scourged and crucified. But into deeper depths yet He went. The waters came in unto His soul. He sank in “the mire of depth” where there was no standing, into “depth of waters” where the floods overflowed Him. Down even to death the blessed Savior went. “The depth closed Him round about.” For three days and nights He was “in the heart of the earth.”
But from the depths He cried to God, even as we read that Jonah did. And God “brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus.” On the third day Jonah came out on dry land; and on the third day Christ rose in triumph from the grave. How our hearts delight to dwell upon it! The storm that bowed His blessed head is hushed forever now.
Jonah 2 gives us the prophet’s prayer when in the fish’s belly, after his terrible experiences in the deep. He speaks under a sense of God’s deliverance. The chapter is made up almost entirely of quotations from, or references to, the Psalms. And as several of these are Messianic Psalms (that is, Psalms relating to Christ) we have no difficulty in understanding that Jonah’s experiences were typical of those of Christ.
The references will be more easily compared if we place them side by side.
Jonah 2.
I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and He heard me.
Thou hadst cast me into the deep.
All Thy billows and Thy waves passed over me.
I said, I am cast out of Thy sight.
The waters compassed me about, even to the soul.
Yet hast Thou brought up my life from corruption.
When my soul fainted within me I remembered
the Lord : and my prayer came in unto Thee, into
Thine holy temple.
They that observe lying vanities forsake their
own mercy.
Salvation is of the Lord.
In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and He heard me (120:1).
Thou halt laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps (88:6).
All Thy waves and Thy billows are gone over me (42:7).
I said.. I am cut off from before Thine eyes (31:22).
The waters are come in unto my soul aria. 69:1).
Neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption (16:10).
In my distress I called upon the Lord... He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry came before Him (18:6).
I have hated them that regard lying vanities (31:6).
Salvation belongeth unto the Lord (3:8).
How it endears the blessed Lord Jesus to our hearts to trace Him out in all these sufferings, and to know what His experiences were therein. It is not atonement that we are speaking of, nor of the results of Christ’s work, but of the experiences of His soul in that which did indeed make atonement, both for Israel and for us. In dwelling upon a theme like this we are on holy ground. And we must never forget that if He came into depths where sin had brought us, it was His grace that brought Him there. Without taint Himself, the Holy One of God, He stooped to suffer for others, and endured not only that which was judicially upon every man, because of sin, but also that which was governmentally upon Israel. It is in this latter connection, for the most part, that His sufferings are spoken of in the Psalms and the prophets.
Jonah 3-4
In these chapters what is set forth, typically, is Christ in testimony. Jonah, who in a figurative way had passed through the experience of death and resurrection, became a “sign” to the Ninevites. His marvelous story must have become known to them. Hence the reception of his testimony, and the consequent repentance of the whole city.
Now Christ was given as a “sign” to Israel in the days of His flesh, He was the “sign” that was “spoken against” (Luke 2:3434And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Luke 2:34)). But in resurrection He has become a “sign” not only to Israel but to the whole world. The testimony of the risen Christ has been “spoken against” by the Jews (Acts 28:2222But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against. (Acts 28:22)), but has been “sent unto the Gentiles” and heard by them (ver. 28).
Jonah’s preaching among the Ninevites, and its wonderful results, is thus typical of the testimony of Christ among the Gentiles. But how much greater is the antitype than the type! If thousands in Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah, think of the millions that have been reached by the gospel of Christ, and brought thereby to repentance.
And this will be true also in a day that is yet to come. The restored of Israel, brought back to Jehovah after their experience in the deeps, will be used of Him as His messengers to the nations. Instead of shirking their mission, as in the days of old, they will gladly go forth with the testimony of the coming kingdom. And the repentance of Nineveh will again find its antitype, in that day, in the reception of the message by multitudes of Gentiles.
No longer will Israel, like the dog in the manger, wish to exclude the Gentile from blessing, as Jonah did. No longer will there be the “elder son” to be angry at the reception of the prodigal.
The remnant, no doubt, will be exposed to the temptation of following the traditional attitude of the Jew towards the Gentile. But in these last two chapters of Jonah they will find wholesome instruction as to the attitude that God would have them assume. He cares for the poor Gentiles, even as Jonah cared for the gourd. God created them for His own pleasure, and is not unmindful of them. His chosen people will be brought to His own mind regarding them; though for this they will need the “vehement east wind,” and the scorching sun beating upon their heads till they faint. God will have His own gracious way after all, and His blessing shall extend to the ends of the earth. Even the animal creation, the “much cattle,” will enjoy the benefits of that day. The lion shall lie down with the lamb. And God’s mercy will be everywhere the theme of happy song.