Sunday, November 26, 2017

Unlocking The Secret Of Jonah And The Whale

Of all the major Bible stories, Jonah and the whale is one of the most well known. The book of Jonah is found in the Old Testament, and is fairly short, only consisting of four chapters. 

JONAH CHAPTER ONE: Jonah is told by God to go to the Gentile city of Nineveh and preach His judgment against them because of their wickedness. However, Jonah went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord, boarding a ship to Tarshish. But the Lord hurled a great storm against the ship, and the sailors threw Jonah overboard after he admitted the storm was his fault. The sea suddenly calmed, and instead of drowning, the Lord arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. He was inside the fish for 3 days and 3 nights. 

JONAH CHAPTER TWO: Jonah prays to God earnestly from inside the fish, and God orders the fish to spit him out on dry land. 

JONAH CHAPTER THREE: In chapter three, Jonah obeys God by going into Nineveh and telling them that they will be destroyed in 40 days. However, the king of Nineveh ordered the entire city to repent and turn from their evil ways. Because of their change of heart, God changed His mind and did not carry out their destruction. Now if the book of Jonah ended right there, at the end of chapter three, it would be a great story with a perfect ending. But then there's chapter four. And in chapter four everything goes downhill. 

JONAH CHAPTER FOUR: Jonah becomes angry at God for not wiping out the people of Nineveh. He's so mad, he pouts and even says he would rather die than live! Jonah and God never reconcile their positions, and the book ends on a sour note. Why such a lousy ending?

Over the years, I've often wondered why this book ended this way. Why would Jonah have such a bad attitude? Why end the book without any resolution, without any reconciliation between Jonah and God? Well, if you look at the big picture, there is a reason. And it's an amazing one, and one you may miss by just reading it at face value. Yes, there's more than meets the eye!

THE SECRET: Now here's the secret of Jonah and the whale. Although I believe the events of Jonah actually happened, God was using Jonah's life experiences to paint a picture, a prophecy, of things to come. Without even realizing it, Jonah was playing out a drama that was symbolizing something much larger. 

You see, the entire life story of Jonah is a living illustration, a condensed story, of the Jewish nation's ultimate rejection of Jesus, the Messiah! Here's what I mean. Look at it this way - Jonah represents the nation of Israel.

Jonah running from God points to the Jewish nation in the Old Testament turning away from God and toward idols. Jonah being swallowed by the whale is a picture of the Israelites taken captivity by the Babylonians. The whale spitting out Jonah is a picture of the Israelites being freed from captivity and returning to Jerusalem (Nehemiah rebuilding the wall). And Jonah rejecting God's mercy and grace on the Ninevites symbolizes the Jews', especially the Pharisees', ultimate rejection of God's offer, through Jesus, to save the Gentiles as well as the Jews. 

So, considering the above parallels, no wonder the book of Jonah ends the way it does. The ending makes perfect sense. And not only that, the book of Jonah contains something more - a prophecy within a prophecy. Jonah's three days inside the whale is the famous prophecy that Jesus Himself recognized as pointing to His three days in the grave and His ultimate resurrection from the dead. 

There's even another interesting twist to the story. In Jonah chapter four, when Jonah is sulking in anger, he leaves Nineveh and sits outside the city. However, God raises up a leafy plant to shade Jonah from the hot sun, but soon causes the plant to die. This could be a prophecy of the coming Messiah, who would be on earth only a short time to make an offer of peace and grace by dying on the cross. 

The book of Jonah is an amazing book of prophecy. Like many other Old Testament books, it hints of God's sovereign plan from the beginning of time - that He would send His one and only begotten Son, Jesus, to come to the earth to offer salvation to everyone who believes, both Jew and non-Jew alike. Praise God!