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What is the meaning of the Biblical story of Jonah in Christianity?

Just like any other story that appears in the Bible, the story of Jonah was “written for our learning, that through patience and through comfort of the scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). And here are 10 Great Lessons from the Book of Jonah by Wayne Jackson that every Christian will find quite interesting and edifying:

The book of Jonah is filled with valuable information and timeless lessons. Perhaps we could reflect upon a few of these matters.

Jonah’s Story Validated by Christ

First, we should note that this marvelous narrative has suffered the brunt of the critics’ barbs for a long while. Because of the incident of Jonah being swallowed by the sea-creature, many modern scholars contend that the document is purefiction (cf. Goodspeed 1946, 149).

Jesus Christ, however, did not so view it. He appealed to the narrative asgenuine history (cf.Matthew 12:39-41), and this settles the issue for all who have any regard for the Savior’sdeity.

Aside from the fact that this event doubtless involved a miracle, the circumstances are not beyond the realm of possibility even from a natural viewpoint (as employed in the providential operations of God). In fact, a number of similar cases have been documented in relatively modern times.

In the early 1900’s, a seaman was swallowed by a large sperm whale near the Falkland Islands. After three days, he was recovered, unconscious but alive, though there was some damage to his skin (Wilson 1927, 636). Some, however, dispute the credibility of this story.

Moreover, some critics argue that the book of Jonah depicts the prophet as being swallowed by a “great fish” (Jonah 1:17), while the New Testament suggests that the creature was a “whale” (Matthew 12:40). And, as any school boy knows, a whale is a mammal, not a fish.

The fallacy of this ill-conceived argument lies in the fact that both the Hebrew word dag, and the Greek word ketos, are generic terms that can apply to any aquatic creature (cf.ASVfn). There is no error here.

The Sovereignty of Jehovah

The book of Jonah demonstrates the sovereignty of the Almighty as he employs his creation to accomplish the divine plan. The Lord controlled the elements of weather (Jonah 1:4, 11, 13, 15; 4:8), and he prepared a sea-creature, a vine, and a worm to do his bidding (Jonah 1:17; 4:6, 7).

God’s Interest in All People

This inspired document revealsthe international interest of God, even in the Mosaic era.

Though Jehovah was working primarily through the Hebrew nation as an instrument for the sending of the promised Seed (Genesis 22:18), nevertheless, his compassion for all the people of the earth was abundantly manifested. And the sending of the “missionary,” Jonah, to these Gentile Ninevites was a clear demonstration of this.

God Is in Control

This narrative illustrates a truthso frequently suggested in the Old Testament, namely, that the Lord, not man, is in control of the destiny of nations.

Jehovah rules in the kingdoms of men and disposes of them according to his divine standard (cf. Psalm 22:28; Proverbs 14:34; Daniel 2:21; 4:17). Those who think that nations stand or fall because of a “strong national defense” are woefully ignorant of biblical principles.

Nineveh was given forty days to repent. As a result, the nation was spared destruction for about a century and a half. Later, however, when Assyria degenerated again, she was destroyed and the prophet, Nahum, addresses this very matter. Nineveh fell to the Babylonians in 612 B.C.

Mankind Is Accountable to the Lord

The book of Jonah demonstrates that ancient peoples who were outside of that Mosaic covenant relationship with Jehovah were nonetheless accountable to Heaven’s moral law.

Jehovah looked down upon Nineveh and observed the wickedness of this people (Jonah 1:2). Since sin is the transgression of divine law (1 John 3:4; cf. Romans 4:15), the Ninevites were obviously subject to such.

This powerful truth is in direct conflict with the modern theory which contends that those who are “outside of the church” are not subject to the marriage law of God (the design of which is to regulate human morality — cf. 1 Corinthians 7:1ff; Hebrews13:4). The whole purpose of this novel concept, of course, is to justify adulterous relationships within the family of God!

People Can Change

This record reveals the power inherent within the word of God when such comes into contact with honest and good hearts (cf. Luke 8:15). Though Jonah’smessage was very brief (as indicated above), it produced the desired effect.

Again, some critics have faulted the divine account at this point, claiming that so trifling a sermon could hardly have produced the results described. But the objection, which stems strictly from subjective bias, ignores the biblical evidence, not the least of which is the testimony of Christ that “the men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah” (Matthew 12:41).

Besides that, historical records reveal that the notable city had suffered severe plagues in 765 and 759 B.C. The soil had thus been conditioned for Jonah’s “revival.”

Too, somehow or another the citizens of Nineveh had learned of the prophet’s “resurrection” from the belly of the “fish,” for, as Jesus noted, Jonah was a “sign” to that generation even as the raised Lord would be to his (cf. Luke 11:30).

Repentance Requires Works

This instructive account, together with the inspired New Testament commentary which discusses it, underscores an important dimension to repentance.

Jesus declared that “the men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah” (Matthew 12:41), while the book of Jonah itself informs us that God “saw their [the people of Nineveh] works, that they turned from their evil way” (Jonah 3:10).

Thus, repentance is not, as some allege, a mere sorrow forsin. Rather, it requires a turning away from evil conduct.

Moreover, this passage revealsthat repentance is awork, and since repentance is essential to salvation (Luke 13:3,5; Acts 17:30), it conclusively follows that salvation is notexclusiveof all types of works!

The Punishment of Hell

An intriguing passage in the book of Jonah illustrates a vitalpoint about the punishment of the wicked after death.

In graphically poetic language, the agonizing prophet described his horrible ordeal in the sea-monster’s belly as an experience akin to being in “hell.” He exclaims:

“I cried by reason of my affliction unto the Lord .. . out of the belly of hell cried I” (Jonah 2:2).

The Hebrew term isSheol. Here it denotes the abode of the wicked prior to the Judgement.

Since crying out by reason ofafflictioncertainly indicates conscious suffering, one may conclude that the state of the wicked dead is that of conscious torment—a truth affirmed elsewhere in the sacred record (cf. Luke 16:23; 2Peter 2:9,ASV).

J.W. McGarvey has an excellent discussion of this point in his essay, “Destiny of the Wicked” (n.d., 429, 430).

Conditional Prophecy

Jonah’s message to Nineveh reveals that prophecy is sometimes conditional.

The prophet declared that the great city would be destroyed in forty days. But it survived fora century and a half beyond that time.

Clearly, therefore, the prediction of doom was conditioned upon Nineveh’s response to the prophetic message.

Millennialists would do well to learn from this principle of prophecy.

For example, Israel was promised an inheritance of the land of Canaan. That promise, however, was conditioned upon their fidelity to God (cf. Joshua 22:4,5; 23:1ff), and the time eventually came when they lost their deed to Palestine.

Modern Israel has no intrinsic right to that Middle Eastern real estate.

Typology in the Book of Jonah

The book of Jonah presents a beautiful type of the resurrection of Christ from the dead.

Though some modernists argue that the concept of a bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead was unknown in Old Testament times, Jesus demonstrated otherwise. He declared:

“[F]or as Jonah was three days and nights in the belly of the sea-monster; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).

Clearly, the Lord viewed Jonah’s three-day entombment as a foreshadowing of his resurrection from the grave, by which, of course, Christ was declared to be the Son of God with power (Romans 1:4).

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