The Greatest Fish Story Ever Told

Posted: September 10, 2015 in Jonah, Route 66

Route 66: Jonah, “The Greatest Fish Story Ever Told”

It’s one of the most famous stories in the Old Testament, and also one of the most misunderstood.  The account of Jonah is not a Biblical version of the Pinocchio story, where a poor misunderstood victim gets trapped in the belly of a whale.  It’s not even a morality tale, by which we’re warned to do what’s right, or face the consequences dished out by God (though that’s perhaps a side-application).  The account of Jonah is a proclamation of the grand mercy & grace of God, shown not only to an underserving people, but an undeserving prophet.  And even more than that, the account of Jonah is a grand preview of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In short, this tale of a disobedient prophet describes the gospel.  And that’s no fish-tale exaggeration!

Jonah is a familiar story to most Christians, if not most western people, and that brings with it some benefits and dangers.  The benefit is that this is not new territory for us, being that many of us were first introduced to Jonah in Bible storybooks given to us as kids.  The danger is that we’re so familiar with it, that we might miss the main point.  We know the broad storyline, and we miss the grace found within the details.  Be careful of that as we dig in tonight!  We want to look at Jonah with fresh eyes, seeing what God intended to communicate to His people when this was first written.

Strictly speaking, the book of Jonah has an anonymous author.  Although the narrative is about Jonah, the author never directly reveals his own identity during the course of the writing.  That said, most assume that Jonah himself IS the author, writing in the 3rd person after the events took place.  This makes the most sense, considering that Jonah’s own prayer from the belly of the fish is recorded – something that would have been impossible for another author to know, apart from the supernatural revelation of God.  That is of course a possibility, but the simplest explanation is likely the best: Jonah is the author.

Although very little background information about the prophet is given in the Book of Jonah, we actually know a bit about him from other Biblical accounts, as Jonah is one of the few minor prophets listed outside his own book.  2 Kings 14:23–25, "(23) In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, became king in Samaria, and reigned forty-one years. (24) And he did evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin. (25) He restored the territory of Israel from the entrance of Hamath to the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord God of Israel, which He had spoken through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet who was from Gath Hepher." That Jonah was the son of Amittai is confirmed to us in Jonah 1:1, so this is obviously a reference to the same man.  From the account of 2 Kings, this places Jonah chronologically towards the end of the northern kingdom (782-753BC), as a citizen of Israel/Samaria, not far from the Sea of Galilee.  God apparently spoke through the prophet on more than one occasion, most likely using him among the people of Samaria prior to sending him on his mission to the Ninevites.

Historically speaking, this brings a lot of context to light in regards to his mission.  Nineveh was the ancient capital of Assyria – the very nation God was preparing to use in His discipline of Israel/Samaria.  The Assyrians were a brutal people as they came to conquer, known for hauling their captives away with fishhooks thrust through their mouths.  They worshipped the fish-god Dagon (mentioned also as being worshipped among the Philistines), and although the Assyrians were far-away from coastal waters, the fish was highly esteemed among them.

So put it together: God sent a Samaritan prophet through a fish to go proclaim a message of repentance to a pagan people who worshipped a fish-creature…the same people God would use to bring judgment upon the people of Samaria.  It’s no wonder why Jonah ran the other way!  No doubt he was pretty confused at the plan of God.  Jonah well understood the growing might of the Assyrians, and if he paid attention to the messages of the other prophets (which is likely), then he would have known that the Assyrians would bring great destruction upon Israel.  This isn’t a people that Jonah would want to see receive the mercy of God.  Yet God would give it, and Jonah would personally become a personal display of the power of the Almighty Creator God over the false gods worshipped by the Assyrians.

Interestingly enough, this pagan city would respond far better to the word of God than God’s own covenant people.  Although God repeatedly called Israel/Samaria to repent (to no avail), Jonah speaks one short message during one brief visit to Nineveh, and the entire town repents!  The pagans demonstrated the kind of heart-humility desired by the Lord, showing up the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  In one sense, the repentance of Nineveh was yet another confirmation of the need for Israel’s judgment.  When even the pagans repent, the people of God have no excuse to do the same.

Sadly, the repentance of the Ninevites did not last.  The prophet Nahum will later proclaim another message to the people of Nineveh, and in it God declares that their judgment is certain.  But at least one generation repented.  The preaching of the gospel is never in vain, and even a few who are saved are more than worth the effort!

Because of the fantastic details in the Book of Jonah, the story has come under a lot of criticism from skeptics and liberal theologians.  They scoff at the idea of a man being swallowed by a fish, kept alive for three days, and spit back onto the shore.  It has all of the trappings of a myth (so they say), so it needs to be interpreted as a myth.  There are (at least) two major problems with that idea:

First, when God is involved, nothing is impossible.  God, by definition, is supernatural…He is above / beyond the rules of nature.  If (as liberals believe) that any account of the miraculous is to be dismissed as fiction, then there’s nothing much left of the Bible as a whole.  The truth of the matter is that God is fully capable of doing the miraculous.  The proof is in the creation all around us, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and in the new birth we received when we came to faith.  No serious Christian can truly doubt the miraculous; we’d have no salvation without it.

Secondly, we have it on the highest of authorities that the account of Jonah is historical.  Testimony comes from none other than Jesus Himself.  On no less than two occasions, the Lord Jesus referenced Jonah as the preeminent sign that pointed to Jesus’ coming work at the cross & resurrection.  Matthew 12:39–40, "(39) But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. (40) For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."  We’ll look at the sign itself in more depth later on, but suffice to say that Jesus believed that the events of Jonah historically happened.  If Jesus taught it, we ought to believe it.

The book itself is rather short, being only four chapters.  Although we might quibble a bit with the placement of the chapter breaks, the narrative divides relatively easily between them.

  • The Flight (1)
  • The Fish (2)
  • The City (3)
  • The Aftermath (4)

The Flight
This is by far the most famous section of the Book of Jonah, demonstrating how the prophet ran from God & the surprising complacency Jonah demonstrates towards his calling and the people around him.

Background (1:1-3).  God’s call & Jonah’s response #1.
Jonah is confirmed to be the “son of Amittai” (1:1), showing him to be the same prophet listed in 2 Kings 14.  Most importantly, the clear call of God is given to him, and there is no doubt as to what God has commissioned him to do.  Jonah 1:2, "(2) “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”"  Paraphrase: “Get up & get going to a people you hate & tell them about Me.”  Most people say they want to obey God – but not too many would want to obey a command like that.  How many of us are willing to go (like many missionaries) to a people that hate us & want to see us dead, and go tell them the gospel of Jesus?  God wants Arabs saved just like He wants Americans saved.  God wants the gospel to go to the non-believer in the Bible belt AND to the Muslim in the Middle East.  Obviously, that’s a very specific calling, and God certainly equips those whom He calls…but when God calls, we need to obey.  When it’s clear instruction, we need to clearly follow.

  • The problem for us many times is that we don’t follow the clear instruction of the word of God.  Leave aside cross-cultural missions for a moment, and just look at the commands to love our neighbors & our enemies as ourselves.  Or the command to forgive those who have sinned against us (up to 70×7 times, etc.).  How quick are we to obey?  There are times we might wonder what the will of God might be for our lives, but there are other times that it is crystal clear.  When it is, we ought to obey!  (And when it’s not, we still need to obey…trusting God to reveal Himself as time goes on.)

Of course Jonah did not obey.  Instead, this great man of God – this prophet used mightily of the Lord – turned tail and ran the other direction.  In fact, he planned to go as far as he could to get away from the command of God.  The Bible says that Jonah went to Joppa (a port city), and got a ticket on a boat going to Tarshish.  How far away is that?  To Jonah’s mind, this was the opposite end of the earth.  As bad as all of that looks, the reality was even worse.  The Jews were famously fearful of the sea.  There’s a reason why so many of the psalms speak about being covered over by deep water & why only one king out of all of the kings are ever mentioned to have built a navy of any kind.  For being a coastal people, they spent very little time offshore.  And yet, where did Jonah go?  Straight to the open water.  His hesitancy to disobey God was far less than his fear of the sea, and Jonah got on a boat trying (in vain) to flee “from the presence of the LORD.” (1:3)

  • There are times we sin out of neglect – there are times our sin simply sneaks up on us – and then there are times that we actively plan out and scheme how far we can rebel against God and get away with it.  This was one of those times for Jonah.  Beware!  Times like that inevitably come with dire consequences.  When those thoughts start running through your head is the time to spend some serious time in prayer.

The storm (1:4-16)
Jonah’s complacency (1:4-9).  Along the way, a massive storm comes out of nowhere and things are so bad that it seems like the ship is about to fall apart (1:4).  Jonah’s reaction?  He has none…he’s down in the bowels of the ship fast asleep! (1:5)  Everyone else in the crew was panicking & crying out to whatever god he worshipped, but Jonah doesn’t have a care in the world.  His determined sin made his heart hard, completely complacent to the people & circumstances around him.  (And often-times, that’s a part of our sin.  We’re so caught up in what WE want to do, that we simply don’t care about the people around us.)  Of course the captain comes to Jonah & has to shame this prophet into praying (think about that for a moment!), and even then Jonah doesn’t say anything.  Surely he knew this was the actions of God towards him, and yet he remained silent, allowing everyone around him to panic & bear his consequences for him.  Finally lots are cast, Jonah is found out & he proclaims his faith in God.  Jonah 1:9, "(9) So he said to them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”"

  • What’s the problem here?  Jonah said it, but his actions denied it.  He claimed to fear the LORD God (Yahweh, the Great I AM) – he claimed to fear the God who made the sea that was now roiling beneath them…and yet he did nothing.  His testimony was shot by his sin and his apathy.
  • Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation?  You’ve finally admitted that you’re a Christian & people look at you & say, “Really?  I couldn’t tell.”  God forgive us!  Certainly God can save the lost with or without our obedience (as was the case with the sailors), but far better for us be used by the Lord as a good example, rather than a poor one!

Jonah’s counsel & the sailor’s conversion (1:10-16). The sailors call Jonah out on his disobedience, knowing that he had fled from the Lord (1:11).  They also call him out for a solution.  This was his fault, so he ought to know how to fix it.  With the sea getting worse & worse, there wasn’t time to waste.  Jonah, in fact, did know the solution, but it wasn’t one that sounded like it came from a sane person: Jonah 1:12, "(12) And he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.”"  We know the story, so this almost sounds logical to us, but we need to think about this from the perspective of the pagan sailors at the time.  This prophet of God just told them that the way to appease God was to personally pick up the prophet, cast him overboard, and leave him to drown in the sea.  (Why Jonah couldn’t just step out of the boat, I have no idea!)  To the sailors, this would have sounded like madness.  This would have seemed like a plan to make an angry God even angrier.  It’s no wonder they didn’t want to follow through!  Yet it was the truth.  After struggling against this word from God, they finally surrendered to it.  They prayed that God would forgive them for any sin, and they cast Jonah overboard.  And what happened?  Instant peace & calm!  Surely that would have made an impact upon them…and it did, as they came to faith.  Jonah 1:16, "(16) Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows."  This is not the description of a group of pagan sailors; this is a description of people who worshipped the Living God of Israel.

  • It’s easy to see why.  Even here, we see a glimpse of the gospel.  God’s anger was being poured out on all, and when God’s chosen man was seemingly put to death, God’s anger was appeased & people came to faith.  This is what took place at the cross!  Obviously in that case, the direction of God’s anger was different.  There, it rightly was directed towards us (whereas in Jonah’s case, it was directed as Jonah) – but when God’s chosen servant bore our punishment – when He took the wrath of God upon Himself – we experienced peace and tranquility with God.  Only then was it possible for us to come to faith & worship Him rightly.  Jesus satisfied the wrath of God – He is the propitiation for our sin.  Amen!

The Fish
Humbled by God – recommitted unto God.
God’s provision #1 (1:17): He gave a fish.  This probably should go with Ch. 2, though the editors likely left it with Ch. 1 due to the narrative, as opposed to the psalm/poetry that is recorded in Ch. 2.  But this was God’s provision for Jonah.  Well in advance of the time, God “prepared a great fish” (1:17) for Jonah, where he remained for three days & nights & received the first recorded submarine ride in history.

As to what kind of fish it was that swallowed Jonah, we don’t know.  Obviously the ancient Hebrews did not have the system of biological/zoological classification that we have today, and various kinds of sea animals might have been included in the category of “fish.”  That said, it doesn’t seem likely that it was a whale that swallowed Jonah.  While certainly possible for a God who works the impossible, the types of whales that are capable of such a feat don’t generally frequent the waters of the Mediterranean Sea.  Sharks, however, are another story.  Great White sharks could conceivably grow large enough to swallow a man whole.  Plus, their digestive system works far more slowly than mammals such as whales, and Great Whites are found in most coastal waters, including the Mediterranean Sea.  Just this year (April 2015), the largest Great White ever recorded on film was found.  Named “Deep Blue,” this shark is over 20 feet long & scientists believe it to be around 50 years old (and pregnant at the time it was filmed!).  Something that size (or bigger) could easily have swallowed Jonah.

That said, keep in mind that none of this takes away from the supernatural miracle it was to keep Jonah alive.  Not only did this sea creature capture Jonah as precisely the right time – not only did the sea stop roiling the moment Jonah was thrown overboard – but Jonah was neither crushed nor digested nor suffocated during the three days and nights he was in the belly of the great fish.  Truly that is a miracle, by any definition!

Again, don’t miss the point that God prepared it all in advance.  He knew Jonah was going to sin, and God prepared this creature long ago, causing it to grow larger and larger year after year until the time was right.  God brought the creature through the raging storm to the precise place Jonah would fall.  And God prepared all the means necessary for Jonah to survive the entire time.  Keep in mind, the whole reason Jonah was there was due to his sin…and God had made provision for Jonah even in that.  THAT is grace!

Jonah’s prayer (2:1-9)
Crying out to God (2:1-2a).  For the first time in the book, Jonah is shown praying to God.  There is no objection recorded when he runs from God’s command – no argument, no question “why?” – just simple disobedience.  Here, however, Jonah cries out in faith.  He understands it was the Lord God who brought him to this place, and he trusted that God would answer him (2:1).

Description of the pit (2:2b-6).  Notice how Jonah describes his temporary home: “the belly of Sheol.” This is common terminology for the grave, and from Jonah’s perspective, he was as good as dead.  This was like being buried, just like every other corpse.  He described his watery circumstances (2:3,5), but also looked forward in faith.  He trusted that one day he would once again look upon the “holy temple” of God (2:4) – he knew that God would once more bring up his “life from the pit” (2:6).

  • This is language of death & resurrection!  It’s no wonder that Jesus referred to this as the singular sign of the Messiah, because this is exactly what He Himself would ensure.  Jesus would be buried, and He would once more come up from the pit.  What Jonah wrote in the midst of his discipline is what Jesus could affirm in the midst of His obedience.

Renewal of faith (2:7-9).  Although it would have been easy for Jonah to despair in the fish stomach (who wouldn’t?), he continually prayed to the Lord God and affirmed the basic character of God as being that of “Mercy.” (2:8)  Others could pray to idols, but they would be forsaking their only hope if they did so.  Mercy can only be found in the one true God – salvation is only of Him (2:9), and Jonah trusted that he would one day be able to offer sacrifices to God again.

  • Ch. 1 shows Jonah to be a man of little faith, but Ch. 2 shows him to be a man of great faith.  What made the difference?  The discipline of God.  It’s when Jonah was allowed to endure the consequences of his sin that he finally turned back to the Lord and trusted in God’s good work.  BTW – that is the point of God’s discipline.  When it comes to His children, God never disciplines us for the joy of punishment.  He disciplines us because He loves us & wants us to be restored back to Him.  As long as He lets us walk around in our sin like an unbeliever, then our hearts remain far from Him.  But when He convicts us by His Spirit – pierces us to the heart by His word – disciplines us through various consequences, that’s when we experience the godly sorrow that leads us to repentance.  That’s when our hearts are humbled, and we once again seek the Lord in faith.  No one wants to experience the discipline of God, but through it our faith can be increased by leaps & bounds.

God’s provision #2 (2:10). 
God’s first provision for Jonah was to be swallowed by the fish; God’s second provision was for Jonah to be vomited up by the same.  It may be gross, but it was grace.  After all, God could have let Jonah remain in the fish.  God could have let the fish spit him out in the deep.  Instead, God took Jonah to the exact place on shore God wanted him to be, and cast him there.  PLUS…there is grace in giving Jonah another chance.  God wasn’t done with his prophet, and God basically put him back to the starting line & began again.

The City
The grace of God – repentance
God’s call & Jonah’s response #2 (3:1-4)
Regarding that second chance, it was exactly that as God gave Jonah virtually the same command: Jonah 3:2, "(2) “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.”"  There are a few differences from Ch 1: God doesn’t detail the wickedness of Ninevah, and God doesn’t give Jonah immediately the words to say, but rather says that He’d tell Jonah later.  Even so, the basic intent is the same.  “Get up, and get going.”  Grace is found in the second chance!  Did Jonah take it?  Yes!

This time Jonah obeyed.  It would have taken him some time to actually travel to Nineveh, but he was faithful to take the journey.  Apparently God gave Jonah the message along the way, and Jonah preaches the shortest revival sermon in history: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (3:4)  Question: Was that really all Jonah said?  We don’t know.  That’s certainly all that was recorded, though it’s possible that Jonah would have said much more during his time there.  That said, even if that was all that Jonah preached, it was enough.  It was the declaration of God’s judgment, and Jonah’s very appearance would have given credibility to his words.  Here was a man who had a story of being in the belly of a great fish, and the scars to prove it.  His skin would likely have been bleached by stomach acid.  His stench would have been on him for who-knows-how-long.  For a people who worshipped a fish-god to encounter a prophet like this with a story like that, it would have gained a lot of attention!

  • Question: Is this really enough of a message to preach the gospel?  Yes.  Jonah spoke the bad news, and his life demonstrated the good news.  The bad news was that their sin was known before God, and the God of Israel had all the power that was necessary to overthrow their city & utterly destroy them.  He was the God of all creation, even over the fish of the sea.  His wrath was aroused, and it was mighty.  The good news was that God is the merciful God, the gracious God, who even brought up His disobedient prophet up from the virtual grave.  If He would show grace to a person like that, certainly He might show grace to others.
  • That’s the same sort of message we share when we tell others of Jesus.  The bad news is that we’ve all sinned against God, and He knows it.  No matter what our particular sin might be, we deserve His ultimate wrath, and He was the power to give it.  The good news is that He is the merciful God, the gracious God who brought up His Son from the dead after Jesus died in our place.  And if God would save someone like me through Jesus, surely He would save someone like you…and that is exactly His promise!

Nineveh repents & God relents (3:5-10)
Whether Jonah preached once or many times over the course of his time there, the people heard his message and responded.  Starting with the king & proceeding to the pauper, every single person in the city humbled himself, fasted, and prayed mightily to God, hoping for the potential of mercy.  This people who had never known the true God in the past, turned to Him now in hopefulness, and God responded.  He “relented from the disaster that He said He would bring upon them” (3:10), and He showed Himself to be the merciful God that He is.

  • Never hesitate to be humble.  Never resist true repentance.  Obviously the Bible isn’t advocating just going through the motions of humility; it’s talking about something that was sincere.  God sees the sincere humble heart.  God sees those who turn to Him in true faith.  It may be too late to avoid certain temporary consequences, but it is never too late to humble ourselves before the Almighty God.  As long as we have breath, we can still repent and place our trust in Him.

The Aftermath
Anger at God – selfishness
Jonah’s complaint (4:1-4)
So Jonah saw the greatest evangelical revival in history (100% conversion rate!), and how does he respond to the success of his message?  He pouts.  He becomes “displeased” & “angry” (4:1).  All along, he knew God’s heart to be a merciful one, but the problem was that he didn’t want God to be merciful this time.  He would have welcomed God’s mercy upon the Israelites, but not the Ninevites.  Jonah wanted this enemy of Israel destroyed; not prolonged.  So what does he do?  Jonah actually complains about the character of God: Jonah 4:2, "(2) So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm." 

  • We hear many complaints about God from skeptics today, but how many times have you heard a complaint about God’s lovingkindness & mercy?  Usually people complain about Him being too judgmental; not too merciful.  Of course the modern skeptics are just as wrong about God as Jonah was.  He isn’t “too” anything…He’s absolutely perfect!  God’s character is righteous & just in all of its aspects.
  • That said, has there ever been anyone you haven’t wanted to see saved?  Is there anyone (besides Satan) whom you would be absolutely fine with if they went to eternal hell?  If we’re honest, we might all think of someone.  Be careful!  We are no less deserving of hell than the worst mass murderers in history.  We may have committed less grievous sins, but we still sinned…and the wages of sin is death, period.  If we’ve broken the law in one point, we’re guilty of the whole thing.  Guess what?  We’re guilty.  If we were shown grace, we ought to want others (even our worst enemies) to experience that same grace.  Truly that is part of what it means to love our enemies & pray for those who persecute us.

As for Jonah, he’s so upset by all of this, and even prays to die.  Back in the fish, he wanted to live to sacrifice once more at God’s temple, but in light of the mercy God showed to Nineveh, Jonah would rather die.  Jonah threw a 1st class temper tantrum, and God rightly calls him on it.  In fact, God is going to give him a visual parable to illustrate the ridiculousness of it all.

The plant (4:5-8)
Jonah leaves the city & heads off to the outskirts/wilderness.  He thought perhaps God might relent from His relenting & decide to destroy the city after all.  He made himself a crude shelter & decided to wait it out.  While he waited, God “prepared a plant” (just as He had prepared a great fish) to grow into such a size as to provide “shade” for him. (4:6)  One day the plant rises up, and Jonah’s grateful.  The next day God “prepared a worm” (4:7) & the shade was gone.  The weather got worse & Jonah was truly miserable in it all, wishing to die.  (Keep in mind, he could have gone into the city at any time for food, shelter, and water…this was Jonah in his stubbornness outside.)

The pity of God vs. the pity of Jonah (4:9-11)
This is when God spoke up once more to Jonah, asking him basically the same thing that God asked him about the mercy shown Nineveh.  Was it right for Jonah to be angry? (4:9)  These were things that God did – did Jonah have the right to be angry about any of it?  Was that his place?  Incredibly, Jonah as the gall to answer yes – “even to death!” (4:9)  The prophet is so arrogant by this point, he believes he can cast judgment on God and His ways.  (Beware!)

God proceeds to point out Jonah’s lunacy in it all.  The prophet had more compassion on a plant than on people.  He cared more for a weed than on wee ones – the children of Nineveh who would have been destroyed.  Jonah could at least have cared for the animals in the city, and he took no thought even of them.  Jonah was just as selfish outside the city as he had been on the ship in the middle of the storm.

And that’s how the story ends.  There is no “happily ever after,” not even for Nineveh.  After all, remember that they go on to be judged by God when they go back to their old evil ways.  For a brief period of time they repented, which pleased God, but ticked off God’s prophet.  Jonah had been reluctant to obey the first time, and despite a display of sincere faith, he still throws a fit at the end.  What’s the deal?  What’s the point of including a story like this in the Bible anyway?

The deal is that this may have been the end of Jonah, but that wasn’t the end of his story.  We have to wait until the New Testament for that.

Postscript: The Sign.
The whole occasion of Jonah may have remained just a weird footnote among the OT prophets, had it not been for one person: Jesus Christ.  Certainly the power and mercy of God was on display, in the lives of Jonah, the sailors, and the people of Nineveh – but there was a greater thing God was doing even through Jonah’s disobedience.  God was providing the ultimate confirming sign of His Son.

Jesus specifically referred to this, when challenged by the Pharisees to provide a sign, verifying His right to teach the things He did & do the things He did.  Jesus answered with the Scripture we quoted earlier: Matthew 12:39–40, "(39) But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. (40) For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."  This weird, disobedient, arrogant prophet did something that was so incredible that nothing like it in the history of the world had ever taken place, and none would ever happen again except for one time: to provide proof that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.  How would Jesus prove His teachings were true?  How would Jesus prove His identity was as it claimed?  By giving the sign of the prophet Jonah – by rising from the dead after three days.

For Jonah to go into the fish was for Jonah to die.  Whether or not he literally died there, no one knows.  What we do know is that Jonah felt as if he were dead.  Remember, he said that he was in Sheol, the grave.  To the Pharisees, Jesus declared that He would do the same thing, only it would not be in the belly of a fish, but in the heart of the earth.  Jesus would be buried for three days and rise again…and that is exactly what He did.  The sign of the prophet Jonah is the sign of the resurrection.  The sign of the resurrection is the proof that Jesus is the Son of God.  Romans 1:3–4, "(3) concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, (4) and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." We can trust that Jesus is who He says He is, because Jesus did what He said He would do: rise from the dead. 

Our faith in Jesus Christ is based in the sign of the prophet Jonah.  And THAT is the most significant aspect of it all!

Some Biblical characters serve as examples of what to do; others show what NOT to do. More often than not, Jonah is the latter.  Initially disobedient, running the other way, completely selfish and complacent about the lives of others – this isn’t exactly a role model we would hold up to others.  Thankfully he eventually humbled himself, trusted in God, and followed through in obedience…but sadly, he went back to his old ways.

The good news here isn’t Jonah; it’s God.  Through it all, God was merciful.  He was merciful to the pagan sailors, who would have never otherwise worshipped the God who created the seas.  He was merciful to Nineveh, who would have never otherwise humbled themselves before God more powerful than the idol Dagon.  He was even merciful to Jonah – a prophet who deserved utter judgment, but instead received grace…even when he wasn’t willing to extend it to others.  Our God is the all-powerful God to be sure, but He is also the merciful God & we are the recipients of that same mercy & grace!

The good news is also in the resurrection.  Jonah’s disobedience gave a platform for the very thing upon which our faith hinges: the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  That is the ultimate sign of the Son of God, and should we doubt everything else, we never need doubt the resurrection of Christ.  That provides the foundation for everything else.  One of the worst prophets in the Old Testament paved the way for the greatest act of all history: the resurrection – and for that, we can be thankful!

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