Character Sketches » Jonah
Foolish men posing as honest critics have been attacking God's word in an effort to discredit its authority and genuineness. Their research not only fails to prove it wrong, but rather gives strength to its position as the Word of God. One of the main points of the critics attacks is the book of Jonah. The entire book would be acceptable easily except for verses 1:17 and 2:10. These verses show that Jonah was swallowed by a fish and stayed three days before being vomited out on dry land.
Many theories have been advanced concerning the book of Jonah. Grimm regards it as a dream produced in that sleep that fell upon Jonah as he lay on the sides of the ship. Herman vonder Hordt believes it is a historical allegory descriptive of the fate of Mannaseh and his grandson Josiah. He believes Tarshish to represent the kingdom of Lydia, the ship to be the Jewish nation whose captain was Zadok the high priest, and Jonah cast into the sea was Mannaseh's captivity in Babylon. Bertholdr, Rosenmuller, Gesenius and Winer believe it to be an allegory based on the Phoenician myth of Hercules and the sea monster. Less thought that Jonah was tossed into the sea and then picked up by a ship which had a large fish for a figurehead. Anton thought that Jonah hid in a dead whale that was floating near the spot that he was thrown overboard. Many regard it as mere fiction designed to teach a moral lesson. Advocates of this theory are Herder, Semler, Michaelis, Staudlin, Eichorn, Augusti, Meyer, Parean and Mayer. Michaelis and Semler believe it was to show the Jews how unjust their arrogance and hatred of the heathen was. Eichorn and Jahn believe it was to show the Jews that other people exceed them in pious behavior and obedience to God. Kegel believes Jonah was written to comfort and encourage prophets in difficult and dangerous ventures for the Lord. Krahmer believes the theme of Jonah is the relationship between the Jews and Samaritans. Finally Maurer believes it teaches the sin of not obeying God by the severe threat to the occupants of the city of Nineveh. Obviously none of these hypotheses are anything more than vague and without foundation and Maurer's theory gives only a small portion of the whole.
The central figure of this book is the prophet Jonah whose name means “Dove.” He is quite honest and a humble man who writes freely of his own faults with no attempt to exonerate himself. Jonah was from Gath-hepner near Nazareth, therefore a Galilean, proving that the Pharisees lied when they said “Out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.” Nahum and Malachi also came from Galilee. The only thing known of his family is that his father was Amittai, and nothing more is know of him.
There is no time period given for Jonah, but he is believed to be the Jonah of 11 Kings 14:25 because his father is identified in that verse. This clearly puts him in a time slot of either in the time of Jereboam II or earlier during the reign of Jehoahaz. In either case he is the most ancient of the prophets whose writings we possess and may have been a contemporary, and as some think, a disciple of Elisha. Jonah predicted the successful conquests of Jereboam II, the enlarged territory and brief prosperity under his rule.
Jonah's call was very direct and very specific. Obviously he was an experienced prophet when the call came because the book begins with the word “now” which would seem to indicate a continuation of his ministry. It has been said, “The call of God is like the call of the sea; no one hears it but the one who has the nature of the sea in him.” God's nature had to be in Jonah before he could hear God's call. He was called to go to a heathen people with a message of warning from God of their impending doom. He fled to Joppa to catch a ship to Tarshish in direct disobedience to the Lord. Many ideas have been considered as to why Jonah fled. Some are fear of being a false prophet in the eyes of the heathen, scorn of a foreign and hostile race, desire for the destruction of the Assyrians or a false dignity that might have made him feel it was below his position to minister to uncircumsised idolators. Hatred of the Assyrians seems to be the most obvious since Jonah himself states, “Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish for I knew that thou are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.” (Jonah 4:2) If he wanted God to be merciful to Nineveh he would have went gladly. Whatever the reason he didn't get far for God had a plan and Jonah was the instrument to fulfill that plan. Jonah answered God's second call, a great revival resulted and Jonah was taught a lesson.
Now we come to the most disputed verse in the book of Jonah – Chapter 1, verse 17. Knowing God, it seems absurd that men find it so difficult to believe he could prepare or create a fish big enough to swallow a man. Realizing an unbeliever's lack of knowledge concerning God and the unbeliever's ignorance of God's great power it's easy to understand why they would reject the idea of this fish. Nevertheless, God's word simply says, “Now the Lord had prepared a great fish......” The general objection to this account is that no “whale” has a throat large enough to swallow a man. The word fish in this book is the Hebrew word “dag” and this word is found nineteen times in the Old Testament and translated fish every time. The whale is not a fish but a mammal, and it would be scientifically incorrect to call it a fish. In the New Testament where the King James Bible shows Jesus using the word whale, it is incorrectly translated. The word there is ketos which means a monster of the deep or any large fish. Supposing it to be a whale still would not disprove it because it is reasonable and scientifically possible that a whale
could have swallowed Jonah.
Whales are of two groups called denticete and the mysticete. Among the denticete are
the bottle-nosed or beaked whales. Those are not over 30 feet long. These whales have
a throat big enough to swallow a man but the problem is that they have teeth and chew
up their food. The mysticete, however, have no teeth. They have plates in their mouth through which they strain their food. One type of mysticete eats by opening their mouths, submerging their lower jaws and rushing through water at a high speed. When their
mouth is filled they strain out the water and swallow what's left. These whales migrate everywhere and can be found in some of the most out of the way places. The largest
types of whale belong to this group. The largest whale known to man is called a Balaenoptera Musculus which is commonly called the sulpher bottom. There is a record
of a sulpher bottom which was 95 foot long and weighed 147 ton. This whale could have easily swallowed a man.
A whale also has an air storage chamber in its head because it cannot live without oxygen. In a very large whale this storage compartment could measure fourteen feet long, seven feet high and seven feet wide. If a whale swallows anything too big to swallow down it thrusts it up into this chamber. If there is a large object in its head it will swim to land, lie in shallow water and eject it. A man could easily live in this compartment for three days. It was earlier stated, however, that whales aren't fish and so it is likely that Jonah was swallowed by something other than a whale. We must then ask what creature swimming the deep sea would have feeding habits that would make him the fish of Jonah. There is only one and it is a shark known as the Rhinodon Typicus. This shark sometimes reaches fifty feet, and the longest on record is seventy feet. This shark has no features that we think of when we see sharks in our mental images with their huge, sharp teeth. They are toothless like the mysticete and feed the same way. This shark can easily take in a whole man. Many instances have been recorded where this has happened, and in one a man came out alive after two days and sustained no harm from the incident. This is fully documented and the man was on display in London as the “Jonah of the Twentieth Century.” The final authority is the Word of God, with or without scientific research, and
the fact that Jesus spoke of it adds all the remaining proof of it's veracity as an actual historical incident.
From the fish and the dry land Jonah finally went to Nineveh. In Genesis 10:11 God's Word states that Ashur built Nineveh along with some other cities. Nineveh was by the side of the Tigris River in Asia. It stood on a plain and had high walls all around it. It was about 60 miles in circumference and had 600,000 people. The city had plenty of gardens and fields beside their houses where may cattle fed. The walls were said to be 100 feet high and wide enough to drive three chariots across the top side by side. The people were Assyrians, Israel's greatest enemy, which could explain Jonah's desire for them to go on
in their sins and reap the wrath of a Holy and Almighty God. Nineveh was called a city of murderers, idolators and liars. The sin of Nineveh was so great that God felt that it should be destroyed, but God's mercy is prominent in that he gave them 40 days advance notice and an opportunity to repent. Praise God! Nineveh did repent and God was merciful to them.
The greatest lesson in this story is that of God's wonderful grace, love and mercy for all men who will repent of their evil. His patient working with a backsliding prophet and his mercy on an idolatrous and sinful nation are unparalleled . Truly King David, the Psalmist knew this God when he wrote, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy to them that fear him.” Psalms 103:8,10 and 11 King James Version
C. R. Lord © 1980