Luke 11:29-30 (HCSB)
As the crowds were increasing, He began saying: “This generation is an evil generation. It demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.
For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation.
One of the things that we often forget is that Yeshua (Jesus), like Jonah, was also a prophet. Yeshua fulfilled the sign of Jonah. So what does that mean? I have been studying the book of Jonah for the past month as part of a Biblical Hebrew course I have been taking. I have discovered some fascinating symbols in the Hebrew as part of my spiritual journey.
Today, I want to look at the book of Jonah as a typology that Yeshua (Jesus) fulfilled and consider both how the type applies and how the type differs. Let’s start with the gospel accounts and work backwards into the book of Jonah.
Like all prophets, some of what Yeshua shared was not always popular.
Matthew 12:40-41 (HCSB)
40 For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.
41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at Jonah’s proclamation; and look, something greater than Jonah is here!
You are free to disagree with me, but I believe that Yeshua fulfilled the sign of Jonah and was in Sheoul (the place of the dead – the belly of the fish) for three days and three nights before his resurrection (being delivered from the belly of the fish). Why? I am more inclined to take Yeshua at his word rather than the traditions of men. What was Yeshua doing during this time? In the belly of the fish, Jonah had an opportunity to repent and be saved (delivered). In like manner, I believe that Yeshua was giving the people who had died before Him a chance to repent and be saved (delivered) (Acts 2:31 – Ephesians 4:8-10).
Now let’s turn to our text in Jonah. Since this is four chapters of scripture, I will summarize the narrative for you, and draw out key symbols and points as we go.
Jonah was called by God to proclaim a message of repentance to those living in Nineveh, as the evil of the people had risen before the face of God. Jonah rebelled (transgression) against God’s direction, and went to Joppa to find a ship headed to Tarshish, which was the opposite direction of his calling.
Jonah literally went in the opposite direction (nearly 180 degrees), and headed due West – Tarshish, instead of East – Nineveh. In Hebrew idioms, East is considered facing front or the direction of the Sun (Son), and West is turning towards death or away from God. See the map posted below:
Let’s look at some interesting names and symbols in the beginning of the narrative.
Jonah, son of Ammitai
- Jonah – “dove” in Hebrew. This represents his calling (to walk by the spirit) as much as it represented a struggle for him to get there. The dove was also appointed to be a messenger of peace (shalom).
- Ammitai – “My truth” in Hebrew. Jonah was called to be Fathered by the truth found in the Son of Man (Yeshua), not his own understanding of truth.
- Tarshish – while a shipping hub, represented a place of commerce. This name also has a double meaning of yellow topaz as worn on the breastplate of Aaron and may have represented the familiar and comfortable for Jonah. An interesting implication for the name seems to be “soul urge.”
- Joppa – meant “beautiful.” This was the place Jonah found a ship to go to Tarshish. This port town may have represented a ‘gate’ for Jonah and indicated a way of the flesh. There is a way that seems right to a man but ends in death (Prov 14:12).
- Nineveh – capital city of Assyria, a Gentile nation. while the etymology isn’t clear, the most fitting seems to be from Nuna, house of fish. Just as Peter was to become a fisher of men, Jonah was to proclaim a message of repentance to the people of Nineveh.
While on his journey, God appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah ended up in the place of the dead – the belly of the fish for three days and nights until Jonah remembered God and repented (Jonah 2:7-10). God then appointed the fish to deliver him onto dry land (vomited out of Hades, you might say). Jonah was given a second chance to carry out God’s word and went to Nineveh to deliver the word to the nobles and king. Much to Jonah’s disappointment, the king subsequently proclaimed a 40-day fast and repentance from evil and violence, not just for the people, but for the livestock too! When food is withheld from cattle, they will cry out too (moo)! LOL! It wasn’t just the people who were crying out to God to save them, but the livestock too! God withheld his judgment towards the city as a result.
There are several verses in Jonah chapter 4 which reveal things about Jonah’s heart and about God’s heart.
Instead of pity towards the people of Nineveh, Jonah has a pity party. Jonah, clearly doesn’t understand God’s heart towards this Gentile nation. We don’t know all that was in Jonah’s heart, but we do know that often Assyria was considered to be an enemy of Israel. Jonah didn’t want this Gentile nation (them) to be saved, but rather wanted them to be judged and destroyed.
Jonah 4:1-3 (HCSB)
1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became furious.
2 He prayed to the LORD: ‘Please, LORD, isn’t this what I said while I was still in my own country? That’s why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place. I knew that You are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love, and One who relents from sending disaster.
3 And now, LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’
Jonah doesn’t want God to be a God of mercy, but one of judgment. How often do we see that in today’s so-called prophets and churches? How often do we want God’s judgment towards those we think are our enemies?
Jonah had heard about God’s good nature (revealed to Moses and David – Ex 34:6-8, Ps 103), but didn’t really want to come to know this kind of God, especially towards those who didn’t “deserve” mercy.
17 For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
God transacts a trial for Jonah having to do with a castor-oil plant. Jonah chooses not to repent, but to stay in his attitude of judgment and pride (the flesh) versus choosing God’s way which is the life of the spirit (represented by the “oil plant” placed above him for a time).
Jonah 4:10-11 (HCSB)
10 So the LORD said, ‘You cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow. It appeared in a night and perished in a night.
11 Should I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than 120,000 people who cannot distinguish between their right and their left, as well as many animals?’
The number 12 is a type which represents the fullness of a people group. That the king, his nobles, and a town of 120,000 people would all be saved is nothing short of miraculous.
God’s heart was that none would perish, but that all would be saved through him.
- Unlike Jonah, Yeshua was without sin and always did what pleased His Father out of a relationship of love and unity.
- Unlike Jonah, Yeshua didn’t need to repent in order to qualify for his resurrection.
- Unlike Jonah, Yeshua knew the compassion and goodness of God.
- Unlike Jonah, Yeshua immediately embraced the death of his flesh (not my will) and accepted His cross.
- Like Jonah, Yeshua experienced separation from this world and from God (when he took on our sin).
- Like Jonah, Yeshua offers a message to the Gentiles for salvation and that the fullness might be saved.
- Like Jonah, Yeshua witnessed miraculous signs and wonders when he simply did what the Father asked him to do.
Going back to our opening text, the sign of Jonah is really about God making a way of salvation and deliverance for the world (Nineveh). This opportunity comes through Christ who died on a cross, was swallowed up in death and was raised up to life again after three days and three nights. There is an invitation to the world to turn from evil and our violent ways and towards Yeshua and His way of love. While the cross of Christ is offensive and foolishness to some, it is the power of God to save those who believe.
Do you ever wonder if you have avoided the really difficult things we are called to do (our Ninevehs), and instead chosen the ways that are comfortable and prosperous (Tarshish)? I do. I work in commerce, and sometimes wonder if I have chosen the way of Tarshish for my life, but I have to trust in the grace of God to both help me in the choosing and to work out the plans that He has prepared for me.
May the grace of God be with you all as you make your choices and help you fulfill all that our divine Conductor has set in motion for you to accomplish.