THE PROPHECY LETTER
Studies in the Prophet Jonah
780 –775 BC
Jonah’s name means “a dove or a pigeon.” It probably reflects the warmth of their mating, according to Strong. He is believed to have been active between the years noted above, thus well prior to the captivity of the Ten Tribes by Assyria, to which he was commanded by YHVH to go and to preach in its great capital city, Nineveh. Even then the wickedness of Assyria was well known.
If these dates are correct, then Jonah was perhaps the earliest of the written prophets of Israel. His career began the illustrious train of witnesses to the veracity and determination of God to guide and correct His People through the witness of inspired men – the prophets.
But Jonah was not confident that he would be able to deliver a competent message to the Assyrians – or perhaps just didn’t see the reason for God’s sending him there – so took matters into his own hands; at Joppa he boarded a trading ship bound for Tarshish, a region far to the west, and well away from Nineveh, his directed target.
Things did not go well from the first!
Jon 1:1 Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai (meaning, voracious; defined as habitually speaking the truth; truthful, honest, a veracious witness), saying,
Jon 1:2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.
We tend to think of the Father paying little heed to the world about us as to its wickedness.
But the record of Noah’s flood contradicts this perhaps subliminal notion.
The whole world was wicked before God and He determined to end the lives of all except Noah and his family of eight righteous individuals. Genesis 6: 5.
Likewise with Sodom and Gomorrah, the record of which is found beginning Genesis 18:20-21.
The returned children of Judah were likewise astray from the Lord’s way; the account is found in the book of Ezra, especially at Ezra 9:6.
Similarly, the sins of great Babylon shall be recognized and recompensed in the near future: cf., Revelation 18:5.
By the same principle, the people of Nineveh were about to be called to account for their wickedness. Their messenger to this end would be the Prophet, Jonah!
But not yet ...
Jon 1:3 But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence (the minniy, or face – not just the presence) of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
The location of Tarshish still remains a mystery, but several places are good prospects for being valid: Tarsus in Cilicia; or, more likely, Tartessus, in Spain; some would claim Cornwall in the British Isles – the “tin isles.” See f.n. in ESword on this verse.
But YHVH was already preparing a deterrent for Jonah. His prophets were not free to express their own opinions or to “do their own thing” when He had commanded them in a matter!
Jon 1:4 But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest (the Hebrew for tempest is sa’ar – a great storm or hurricane)in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.
The ship in which Jonah had booked passage was evidently (judging by its mission) a Tarshish-ship, a heavy, ocean-going vessel made of stout timbers, reinforced against heavy seas in all known ways.
But this storm was sufficient to break up even such a formidable vessel. The plight of the ship and its crew quickly had become critical.
The members of the crew were pagans from this account; each prayed to his own deity; they took measures to lighten the ship of its cargo. Their fear was that all would be lost to this fierce storm!
Like Jesus, who slept well into the tempest on Galilee in later years, Jonah slept in the passenger hold, apparently oblivious of the commotion topside!
Jon 1:5 Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship, and he lay, and was fast asleep.
Jonah appears to have been the only person aboard who was asleep; so the captain sought him out to ask his intercession for their safety. The situation was desperate for all hands.
Jon 1:6 So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.
Perhaps it is now that the crew begins to suspect that one of the persons aboard has brought this imminent catastrophe.
So now someone decides on what he believes to be a more accurate means of determining blame for this unfortunate storm: collectively, they agreed that to “cast lots” was the best way to determine the culprit.
Jon 1:7 And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.
Obviously guided by the hand of the LORD, in order to accomplish His purpose, the lot fell upon the culprit: Jonah.
The incident is reminiscent of the plight which Achan brought upon Israel as recorded in Joshua seven, by taking for himself the fine clothing and precious metals that he had found in the wreckage of Jericho.
To this accredited cause, Israel’s loss of several of its men to a small force at their next target, Ai, is attributed.
So the shipmaster questions Jonah extensively to determine his guilt ...
Jon 1:8 Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou?
Jon 1:9 And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.
Jonah’s testimony here is above all criticism; but it did not conform to the actions that he had previously taken, which had brought this calamity.
Jonah admirably brings an accusation to himself quite readily; he as voluntarily pronounces sentence upon himself, his fear of God is so great.
Jon 1:10 Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.
Jon 1:11 Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous.
Jon 1:12 And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.
Is this on Jonah’s part, a hardened decision to give up the whole mission which God has commanded, essentially committing suicide in order to avoid having to face the ferocious Assyrians?
Or had Jonah decided to rely on the mercy of the Father, trusting that he would be saved from death?
Rather than carry out Jonah’s request immediately, the crew resorts to other stringent measures to bring the ship under control and to save the passengers.
Jon 1:13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.
Their next words seem almost apologetically intercessional on Jonah’s behalf, but the crew does what it has to do to halt the storm’s fierce assault ... they confess that this doing is “of the LORD” in their final words before they cast Jonah to the waves....
They pray fervently that they are not committing an innocent man to the fatal depths.
Jon 1:14 Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee.
Jon 1:15 So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.
Jon 1:16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.
We are left to wonder how extensive the understanding of these pagan seamen had been increased by their brief exposure to one of the LORD’s prophets, for they seem to realize the gravity of the events which have just occurred.
They therefore offered (an unspecified) sacrifice to the LORD.
We wonder what the substance of their “vows” was and whether they pursued the fulfillment of these in future time.
Meantime, the LORD has everything under control.
He had formed a most unusual and unique solution to the problem that Jonah had presented ... and immediately put it into action. Jonah could not and should not escape the mission which the LORD had assigned him to perform!
Jon 1:17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish (had prepared a dag, in Hebrew, the usual term for a wiggling fish; there is no indication that it was a ‘whale’) to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
At this juncture we must consider whether Jonah is alive all this time.
The belly of a great fish is not an hollow cavity containing atmospheric air, such as would be created by a small building; instead, the stomach is, as in other creatures, a collapsed sac capable of expansion to accommodate the foods introduced into it by the creature’s feeding – in this case, its having swallowed Jonah whole!
So we must not visualize Jonah as being alive this entire three days in the fish’s belly. He would be submerged in water and other foodstuffs within the expanded belly (stomach). In our view, Jonah could not possibly have been alive during this period.
But the first words of the next chapter seem to indicate that he was conscious long enough to offer an effectual prayer to his heavenly Father – a prayer for deliverance from this extremity, and seems to have included a huge dose of repentance at his errant ways.
It was a prayer that was acted upon miraculously by deity after three days, an accomplishment which became the specific prototype (“type”) of another wondrous future event – that of the tenure of the LORD Jesus in His grave after his death on the tree.
In Matthew 12:38, we read: Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee (We can easily detect the mincing irony – the mockery – of their words!). 39 But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: 40 For 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. 41 The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.
These words remind us of the words of the apostle in I Corinthians 1: 21, 22 “... it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom.”
Given the incessant preaching of the Savior during His ministry, the scribes and the Pharisees had heard His words of instruction endlessly, but they had made no impression.
In addition, He gave them a sure sign (that of the Prophet Jonah) of His majesty, and the efficacy, the immutability of His mission, but they ignored that as well!
The “sign” that He gave them was embedded deeply in their psyches – was indeed a rich part of their history as God’s chosen and elected people – but it seemed to mean nothing to them when it too was enacted before their eyes.
They excused His disappearance from the tomb with the fantasy that someone had come and stolen away Christ’s body, even though it was guarded by armed Roman soldiers!
Jonah’s desperate plea of his renewed intentions to serve God, even evidence of his repentance, went forth to the throne on high as his brain was being rapidly starved of the essential supply of oxygen necessary for consciousness. His prayer lasts through verse 9, and would require only 37 seconds by actual recitation – well within the length of Jonah’s consciousness before he fell asleep by asphyxiation.
It is also interesting that, although their manner of death was entirely dissimilar, the mechanism of the demise of the LORD Jesus and of Jonah were exactly similar – asphyxiation!
Jonah was deprived of air to breathe. His expiration would have required about two minutes to become irreversible, given his circumstances.
Jesus was deprived of blood cells through prolonged hemorrhaging so that there was a slow but relentless decline of effective transport of oxygen to the cells of his brain and body, resulting in a slow, agonizing death from oxygen deprivation.
His expiration, due to the cruel practice of crucifixion, is recorded to have required about six hours. He was crucified at “the third hour” as recorded in Matthew 15: 25. He expired at “the ninth hour” as recorded in Matthew 15: 34-37.
That time-span is from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.
But the deprivation of oxygen of both Jonah and Christ resulted in their expiration for three days – the clearly presented “sign of the Prophet Jonas” spoken of by Jesus before he was slain!
Jon 2:1 Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly,
Jon 2:2 And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.
Jon 2:3 For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.
Jon 2:4 Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.
Jon 2:5 The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head.
Jon 2:6 I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God.
Notice carefully the utter faith of Jonah as expressed in verses 4 and 6 – both relating to the future from the time of his death.
Jon 2:7 When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.
Jon 2:8 They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.
Jon 2:9 But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.
Jon 2:10 And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.
Jonah, now having been regurgitated upon some shore of the Great Sea, has made his way back to Judea, and evidently reentered into the land of the living quite successfully.
Jon 3:1 And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying,
Jon 3:2 Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.
Jonah has learned his lesson well: one cannot escape the will of YHVH no matter the measures he takes to do so!
Jon 3:3 So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' journey.
The journey of several weeks on foot to Nineveh would require several days walking along the well-traveled roads of that day, presumably from coastal Judea up through Phoenicia, along the treacherous Ladder of Tyre, and northward through the well-settled lands of Eastern Anatolia to Nineveh, which was located on the east bank of the Tigris River in today’s Northern Iraq. The western half of the site has recently been in the news as Mosul, Iraq, a stronghold of resistance during the current war.
This description proves the immense size of Nineveh; three days’ walking was required to thread its tortuous streets from east to west – or from north to south!
Jon 3:4 And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
Forty days! It is often the set period of trial and testing. YHVH is giving the Ninevites only forty days to change their ways in response to Jonah’s preaching.
Impossible? No – not impossible, as we discover ...
Jon 3:5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
Jon 3:6 For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
Jon 3:7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:
Jon 3:8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.
Jon 3:9 Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?
Jon 3:10 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.
We tend to discount God’s redemptive dealings with the nations who, ultimately, are not responsible to him in an intimate way such as are we, His adopted sons and daughters. But this account proves that God is not only concerned with but that HE also guides the affairs of nations in peculiar ways.
We are not informed of the process by which the Ninevites’ repentance came about. It does appear to have been sudden and unanimous ... and sanctioned by the mighty King of Assyria – not a man known for compliance, for humanitarianism, or for bowing to the will of foreign gods.
Did the Assyrians hold a giant council to discuss Jonah’s message?
Did each one decide to repent on his own volition?
Was there some sort of general reaction to Jonah’s words that caused them to veer away from their ungodliness? It seems that the king of Assyria was among the last to hear of Jonah’s words and to repent – but he did so with no seeming reticence!
There is quite possibly another fascinating and germane factor in the story.
It has to do with Dagon, the fish-god of the Philistines, though unmentioned in this account. You see, it is an obscure (at least to ourselves) fact that the Assyrians of Ninevah, to whom Jonah had been sent as a missionary, worshiped the same god as did the Philistines – Dagon – and his female counterpart, the fish goddess Nanshe.
The fact is that Jonah did not proceed to Nineveh in the above narrative as a straightforward affair; he was coerced to go there via miraculous means. There was much fascinating intrigue in his mission!
At this time in history, an adventure such as befell Jonah would have been noised far and wide; it would be the avid subject of folk gossip from Rome to Memphis.
This highly unusual tale of intrigue would be discussed for years on end. But at this early date, the affair was freshly impressed upon all minds...
Jonah likely could be perceived by them as the Superhero of the time.
After all, it would be generally known that he had been sent to Nineveh once before, but had tried to avoid his responsibility and been swallowed by a great fish (their god Dagon was a fish, as was Nanshe - both presumably having special authority with all the fishes of the seas and rivers).
He had been vomited by the great fish upon the shore of the Great Sea and had quite miraculously returned to Judea, but had been once more sent to Ninevah to inform the people of the God of the Hebrews and the specific instructions He had sent to them at the hand of Jonah.
Also, Jonah would probably have been realized by the Assyrians to have been dead for three days while in the fish’s belly, but to have been revived upon being delivered from his tomb.
That was a great miracle ... one of the best fish stories the Ninevites had ever heard!
Their god was immensely powerful after all, for they certainly should have credited Dagon with delivering Jonah from his tomb!
Therefore, whatever Jonah had been commissioned to bring to the Ninevites, they would feel compelled to hear and believe! Their immediate compliance was as seen in the prophet's scroll!
When Jonah came bearing God’s doleful message, the Ninevites unhesitatingly believed every word of it ... because of their perceived intimate involvement of their god, Dagon. The story would have exerted a huge weight upon their superstitious minds!
Pardon the pun, but when Jonah arrived at their city, he created quite a splash! He was the living, bona fide, folkloric man who had been swallowed by the great fish and after three days had been deposited on dry land! His certification ensured their rapt attention...
The Ninevites were therefore indelibly impressed by Jonah’s message; of course he bore a divine message ... after all, he had received divine deliverance from the great fish and had been revivified by miraculous means!
And in their minds, their god had likely enabled the entire miracle!
They gave rapt attention to Jonah and to his message. Their repentance was deeply pervasive, and affected every man and woman of the capital including the usually recalcitrant King!
So the failed deity Dagon of the Philistines and of Assyria, although not named in the account, figured intimately in this unlikely tale of the (at least temporary) redemption of an alien and godless people!
What was Jonah’s reaction to this global repentance of his hated enemy? It was not what one should expect ...
Jon 4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
Jon 4:2 And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.
Jon 4:3 Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.
Jon 4:4 Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry?
Jon 4:5 So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.
The word for ‘booth’ here is sukkah, the same word as used for the booths of the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles. Does this imply that the time of year was in the fall? We cannot be sure.
Jon 4:6 And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.
Even with Jonah’s stubbornness, YHVH still tried to comfort him and provide for his well being; the shade of the gourd vine was extensive and dense, and would shade him from the hot sun of the desert.
But Jonah’s unappreciative attitude needs to be set back upon him; adversity now comes to test Jonah’s attitude and to adjust it permanently ...
Jon 4:7 But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.
Jon 4:8 And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement (in the sense of silent, or sultry; the east wind brings dust and heat from the eastern deserts into the Land, desiccating all vegetation, dehydrating man and beast, and causing failure of the vital food chain if prolonged enough) east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.
But this incident will prove only that the Father still has love for Jonah in His heart, for we know well the words of Jesus (voicing the principles of His Father) in Revelation 3:19 - As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
God’s attempt was to change the sour attitude of Jonah. So He explains His reasons for having created the gourd and its destruction by the worm. But Jonah’s reply to God’s question “Doest thou well ... “ is answered with vehemence: “I do well to be angry ... even if it kills me.”
How often have we replied to sensible questions in kind – in lockstep with Jonah in this instance? Such stubbornness cannot be worthy of a reward of any kind.
We are not informed just what repercussions Jonah’s reply had with his Father. But His reasoning shows us clearly the proper way to view what has happened. The Almighty voices His final answer in the last verse, reasoning with Jonah as to the welfare of perhaps 600,000 people in the city of Nineveh, the ratio of children to adults being taken as about one in five; therefore 120,000 children (those who cannot discern between their right and their left) extrapolating to about 600,000 citizens.
It substantiates the weighty balance of mercy which the Father has shown to over an half million souls, and illustrates to Jonah that his parochial view of the gourd is paltry compared to the fate of so many living, breathing human beings. God is thus shown to be a God of Mercy. Pity that the inhabitants of Nineveh did not maintain their posture of repentance and positive turnabout of their lives and society. The culture was destroyed some years later because of this sort of wickedness by a stronger kingdom, Babylon, which arose to supplant it in every way.
Jon 4:9 And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.
Jon 4:10 Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:
Now YVHV will directly compare His pity with Jonah’s lack of such ...
Jon 4:11 And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore (120,000) thousand persons (young children) that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?
<HEL 11Q> ~4100 words. A Study of Jonah