This prophet was raised up at a crucial moment in the history of Israel; see 2 Kings 14. 23-27. His historical character is vouched for by Christ Himself, Matt. 12. 39-41, and his preservation in the great fish was a “sign” or type of our Lord’s own entombment and resurrection. Both are miraculous, and both are equally credible. 2 Kings 14 records the fulfilment of a prophecy by Jonah. The man himself was a bigoted Jew unwilling to testify to a Gentile city, and angry that God spared it. Typically he foreshadowed the nation of Israel; outside of their own land a trouble to the Gentiles, yet witnessing to them; cast out by them but miraculously preserved; in their future deepest distress, calling upon Jehovah-Saviour and finding deliverance and then becoming missionaries to the Gentiles, Zech. 8. 7-23. He also typifies Christ as the Sent One, raised from the dead, and carrying salvation to the Gentiles.
Nineveh and the Assyrian Empire were a terrible threat to the nation of Israel and all others, and why God should spare them was a great mystery to Jonah, who would rather see them done away with; that is why he was not willing to go and warn them, so that they could turn from their evil way and be spared (as they were for over 100 years). Thus he took ship to get as far away as possible (some 2, 000 miles to Tarshish, perhaps on the tip of the Spanish Peninsular, and where the Assyrian could not get at him).
But he also typifies the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus as spoken by Himself; see Luke 11. 29-32. (It is possible, though not actually stated, that Luke himself was the only Gentile writer in the Scriptures. Examine the differences in his Gospel from the others.) The Evangelists divide the facts concerning Jonah into his experiences in the great fish and his later message to the Gentiles to whom he was sent. He did not want this great hostile Gentile power to be spared, but his experiences afford us an opportunity to see the longsuffering and the delivering power of God, as well as affording a type of the death and resurrection of Christ Himself. There were the “sign of Jonas the prophet” and the “preaching of Jonas”. He came to them as one who had typically passed through death and resurrection, and he undoubtedly bore the marks of such (even as our Lord did) in his own body, and these marks undoubtedly brought about the repentance of the Ninevites, as they could see in him the signs of death, resurrection and judgment.
Unbelievers have doubted whether a whale or big fish could have a throat large enough to do what this one did, but it has been established that there are such which could swallow large objects quite easily, so massive are they. Now our Lord actually died; yet the prophet did not, but was in the place of death and darkness. How he survived we do not know, but a book has been written, the Cruise of the Cachelot (the name for a whale), in which a man had just this experience and survived after the whaie was caught and slaughtered. He had been swallowed whole by this animal which was caught, and he was delivered, but the stomach juices had turned him white. Similarly the Ninevites could not merely hear the words of the prophet, but could see in him the result of the judgment of God, and doubtless it is this that caused them to turn from their sin and implore the forgiveness of God. They saw what God’s judgment was like, Matt. 12. 40-41 Luke 11. 32; they saw the “sign” v. 30, and heard the “preaching”, v. 32. The Lord adds that Israel was an “evil and adulterous generation” when applying it to Israel.
Is not this what we need today His death and resurrection are accounted to us, as Paul’s letters so abundantly testify. What is needed is a people who, in a spiritual way, have died and risen with Christ, being sent to this evil and adulterous generation. “Ye are dead”, says Paul, “and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory”, Col. 3. 3-4. And this is through His great work upon the cross, and His present intercession at the right hand of God. May we rise to it! Men around should be able to see such a people who are dead with Christ and risen with Him, awaiting that great moment of glorification.
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