From the Editor’s Notebook
Outline Studies of the Minor Prophets
Jonah: The Book of Missionary Enterprise
Key Word: Commission.
Key Verses: 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 Tar-shish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.”
Jonah has rightly been called the “Onesimus” of the Old Testament. Onesemus was able to run away from his master, but Jonah, while he sought to flee from the responsible commission of the Lord, could never flee from God’s presence, not even in the inward parts of a great fish.
Regarding the book itself, W. Graham Scroggie has commented: “This Book is not really a prophecy, but the history of a prophet. With the exception of chapter ii, it is straight-forward narrative, telling of Jonah’s commmission to Ninevah, and what he did with it.”3
The book forms one of the battlegrounds of modern destructive criticism. Many simply consider it an allegory, with no historical background whatsoever. However, it takes far less faith to accept the book as an excerpt from Jonah’s history than to believe the far-fetched hypotheses of several so-called scholars or higher critics. That Jonah was a true historical person is verified by 2 Kings 14:25, coupled with the more important verification of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Matt. 12:39-41; 16:4; Luke 11:29-30). The book of Jonah is fact, not fiction; history, not fable.
Jonah himself was of Gathhepher, near Nazareth, and therefore a Galilean. Thus the Pharisees were either ignorant of the Scriptures or lying when they said, “out of Galilee ariseth no prophet” (John 7:52). Nahum and Malachi were also of Galilee. Jonah was a prophet of the Northern Kingdom during its most prosperous period, and it is evident from 2 Kings 14:25 that he carried out his ministry during the reign of Jeroboam II (c. 825-782 B.C.). He commenced his prophetic career as Elisha closed his. In fact, some ancient Jewish authorities were of the opinion that Jonah was the widow of Zarephath’s son, whom Elijah raised from the dead. He was a fully accredited prophet, one of his prophecies having been preserved in 2 Kings 14:25-27, and was a contemporary with Hosea and Amos.
Actually, the book of Jonah is autobiographical and its object seems to have been to correct the extreme form of Jewish nationalism which then prevailed, as well as to proclaim the mercy of God for both Jews and Gentiles alike. Jonah disobeyed the Lord because he was afraid that if he preached to Ninevah, the great Assyrian city, it would be spared and in turn the Assyrians would conquer Israel, since Assyria at that time was one of Israel’s most feared enemies.
Jonah is a clear type of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 12:38-42), even as he is also a type of the nation Israel. Somewhere in his writings, E. W. Bullinger has commented: “Jonah is God’s ambassador sent to preach repentance to the Gentiles. So was Israel. He objects to Gentiles being thus blessed, and flees from the unpleasant task. He is visited by a divinely sent storm, and is thrown into the sea. So Israel is now cast into the sea of nations; but, like Jonah, is not lost, for presently Israel will be cast up on the earth, and become the ambassadors of Jehovah, and the conveyors of blessing to the Gentiles.”
1. The Prodigal Prophet (1)
2. The Praying Prophet (2)
3. The Preaching Prophet (3)
4. The Pouting Prophet (4)
Of Jonah’s narrative A. E. Bell has said, “This book is the great foreign missionary sermon of the Old Testament.”4
Along this same line, Scroggie has stated: “That the Book may, and indeed, does, have all allegorical significance, we do not question. It is prophetic in outlook and catholic in spirit. Its subject is not a ‘whale,’ but Foreign Missions. The Book illustrates Faber’s great lines:
‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice
Which is more than liberty.’”5
The book of Jonah is as singular among Old Testament writings as the Epistle of James is among New Testament writings. In a setting of law and God’s purposes concerning Israel, the former book shows the Lord’s heart of compassion toward the Gentiles; whereas in a setting of grace and God’s purposes with respect to Christ and the Church, the latter book shows that God has not forgotten the Jews. In the book of Jonah, then, the Gentiles are in view; while the Letter of James is addressed to the twelve tribes in dispersion.
Jonah and Daniel were especially chosen by the Lord to direct their messages to the Gentiles in Old Testament times, even as the Apostle Paul was divinely chosen in a special way to go and preach to the Gentiles in New Testament times.
The greatest miracle of the book is not Jonah’s preservation in the inward parts of a great fish, but the repentance of a great city like Ninevah at the preaching of one man. The people of Ninevah are a classic example of genuine repentance, even as it is significant to note that there were more than 120,000 children in the city.
That Jonah knew the Old Testament Scriptures is evident from his unusual prayer uttered from the inside of history’s strangest prayer room, for several of the statements recorded by God’s servant are quotations from the Psalms.
It is interesting to note how Jonah has captured the interest of the common man. Almost any child on the street knows that “Jonah is the man who was swallowed by the whale,” even if that may be the extent of his or her knowledge of the Bible. In popular usage anyone who brings you so-called “bad luck” is a “Jonah.” He is probably referred to by secular sources more than any other Old Testament character.
In fact, some just take Jonah for granted, as in the old roadside sign which read:
“The whale put Jonah down the hatch;
But coughed him up, because he scratched!
On the subject of the possibility of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish, perhaps a whale, there is excellent and conclusive literature. After all, if man can devise a ‘metal fish’ — a submarine — driven by nuclear energy and capable of remaining submerged weeks at a time with a crew of some hundred or more men, who is man to deny God, the Creator of the universe, the ability to create and prepare a great fish to swallow His disobedient prophet for three days and three nights?
In the book entitled, The Cruise of the Cachalot by Frank T. Bullen, there is record of a piece of matter ejected from the stomach of a whale the whale-fisher author himself had helped to kill which was estimated to measure “8 feet x 6 feet x 6 feet.”
Furthermore, there are numerous accounts thoroughly authenticated of men who have been swallowed by whales, or by Rhindon Typicus commonly called the whale-shark. An English sailor was swallowed by a whale-shark in the English Channel, and after the capture of the giant fish two days and two nights later he was found inside, unconscious but alive, and he lived to advertise himself as the Jonah of the Twentieth Century. In similar fashion, a sailor by the name of James Bartley of the whaling ship, Star of the East, was thrown into the water when his boat was upset by the struggles of a harpooned whale. His shipmates searched for his body without success only to find him many, many hours later as they dismembered the whale, alive but a raving lunatic. At the end of the third week he had completely recovered from his ordeal and resumed his duties.
The city of Ninevah now in ruins, was discovered in 1845. It is believed to have been founded by Nimrod (Gen. 10:11). In Jonah’s day it was 90 miles in circumference and contained a population of around 600,000. Thus the Scriptures, the Saviour, and the archaeologist’s spade all testify to the city’s historicity and the authority of Jonah’s record.
Among other things, the book of Jonah serves as a contrast between the selfish unbelief and vindictiveness of man and the gracious benevolence and patience of God.
In the book of Jonah the LORD JESUS CHRIST is revealed as THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE.
1 Robert Lee, The Outlined Bible.
2 Eric W. Hayden, Preaching Through the Bible, p. 142.
3 W. Graham Scroggie, Know Your Bible, 1, p. 158.
4 A. E. Bell, The Gist of the Bible, p. 85.
5 Scroggie, op. cit., p. 159.