Understanding The Bible
Return to Syllabus
Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible
OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETIC BOOKS
JONAH: Expanded appendix
Jonah was an accredited prophet ministering in the Northern Kingdom in the reign of Jeroboam II. See 2 Kings 14:23-29. He prophesied approximately 785-770 BC (Whitcomb).
This book is concerned with Nineveh, capital of Assyria.
OUTLINE (Carroll adapted)
THE PROPHET'S TWO COMMISSIONS 1-3
The first commission and its consequences 1-2
The great commission 1:1-2
The great disobedience 1:3
The great storm 1:4-13
The great fish 1:14-17
The great prayer of repentance 2:1-9
The great deliverance 2:10
The second commission and its consequences 3
Successful: Nineveh repents 4-10
THE PROPHET'S TWO FITS OF ANGER AND JEHOVAH'S TWO QUESTIONS 4
Very angry 1-4
Angry again. God's object lesson 5-11
FOUR WAYS OF READING JONAH (or any
Scripture) (according to Ironside's suggestion)
I. Historically or literally: i.e., to accept the document at its face value.
The text is obviously unadorned. No
man would write a story about how
disgracefully he had acted just to be writing a story of strange adventure. It is a simple record of fact, frankly stated.
Jonah was an accredited prophet of
the northern kingdom, under Jeroboam II, whose prophecy concerning the
enlargement of that kingdom had been literally fulfilled, 2 Kings 14:24-27;
Dt. 18:21-22. His book is part of the Word which holy men of old spake as they
were moved by the Holy Spirit, of which not a jot or tittle shall be broken.
The actions of Jonah are
psychologically in accord with the circumstances, 1:2-3; 4:2. He was a
misled patriot, unwilling to prolong the existence of his country's worst
There is no good reason why the
story should not be received at face value. The only excuse one could
possibly have for rejecting the story is unbelief in the ability of God to
perform a miracle. Unbelief in God's power is no reason, just an excuse. It is
inexcusable in a Christian, who to be saved had to believe in two
miracles: the resurrection of Christ (Rom. 10:9) and God's ability to raise us
unto life from death in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:5). Nor can the unsaved
man logically refuse to believe in a God of miraculous power, with a universe
of marvelous design and order all about him, the origin and continuance of
which can be explained only by God's miraculous power and wisdom. A God who
cannot work miracles for the welfare of His children is not a God at all. If
God cannot do what I cannot do, why should I worship Him?
The old objection which unbelief has
insisted upon in rejecting the story is no longer tenable, i.e., that a whale
could not swallow a man.
Of course, strictly speaking, it never was tenable, because the Bible does not say that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. Only an unnecessary and unfortunate translation of the Greek word in Mt. 12:40 has given the universal conception that what swallowed Jonah was a whale. The word used in both the Hebrew and the Greek means "sea monster" or "great fish." It might have been such a great fish as filled three railroad flat cars and was exhibited some years ago all over the country. It might have been a great shark. Or it might have been something quite different from any fish that men now know or have ever known, for God may have created a new creature just for this occasion. The text of 1:17 would permit this: "The Lord prepared a great fish."
The time was when the Christian who was uninformed as to the true meaning of the word translated "whale" in Matthew's Gospel had to believe the Bible despite all that was then known about whales (e.g., the Salvation Army lassie and the skeptic).
I once went to the Harvard University museum and saw a stuffed whale on exhibition. The guide was careful to point out the narrow neck. He made some "wise crack" about Jonah. Of course, that kind of a whale could never have swallowed Jonah or anyone else.
Some well-meaning Christians have made the situation worse, trying to explain it by saying that there would have been room in the whale's large mouth for Jonah to be curled up, although the Scripture distinctly says "whale's belly."
This narrow-throated whale was technically known as the "misticiti biniti." However, Frank T. Bullin, in The Cruise of the Cachalot, told the story of his studies aboard a whaler. He revealed an entirely different species of whale, the "spermaciti, " which has a large throat. Some whales were found which could swallow a cow or horse with no difficulty. This species secretes a gelatinous substance in its stomach which is invaluable to whalers. Just before dying, it vomits forth this substance and pieces have been found floating around as large as 8x6 feet!
Also, there are authentic accounts of men who have been swallowed by whales. Two at least have lived to tell the tale. A classmate of mine at seminary told of how his father had been on a whaler in the North Sea. One day in rough weather a man was washed overboard and disappeared. Next day a whale was pulled aboard, slit open, and to the amazement of all, there was their friend! He was a little the worse for wear; the intestinal juices had already bleached him a little, but he was resuscitated and went all over Europe telling his experience. Therefore, the old objection to the story falls. Only uninformed ignorance denies fact. Whales can swallow men, and men have been swallowed and have come out alive.
This is not the miracle of the story. The miracle is in the following circumstances:
(1) The great fish being right there at the proper time and place.
(2) The immediate stilling of the storm when Jonah fell into the water.
(3) His preservation and resuscitation (or resurrection) out of apparent (or real) death after three days and nights.
(4) His being taken to the proper place, and being vomited forth at the nearest possible place to his destination.
(5) The providential coincidences, if not miracles, of the fourth chapter.
I am not trying to avoid miracles. I rejoice in a God who can and does perform miracles, but I am showing that the usual old objection to the book is not based upon scholarship but upon uninformed ignorance.
Finally, it is reassuring to hear the One who is the Truth and who cannot lie saying: "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the sea monster's belly, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Mt. 12:40). Thus our Lord not only authenticated the Old Testament account of Jonah's experiences, but made these very historical, literal details THE sign to unbelieving Israel! In other words, He said that if they really believed the story of Jonah (the story of what a miracle-working God can do), they would have no difficulty in believing His claims as substantiated by His resurrection! If the story of Jonah is not true, Jesus did not rise from the dead. The two are indissolubly linked together. Thus in the final analysis the whole issue is: Who is Christ? Is He trustworthy? My whole soul answers: "Yes, Lord, I believe!" Does yours?
SAYS MAN CAN LIVE FOR TIME IN WHALE
Writer Supports Story of Jonah with Modern Instances of Sailors Swallowed. One Bleached for Life.
(This article by Ambrose J. Wilson of Queen's College, Oxford, was condensed from the Princeton Theological Review and appeared in the Philadelphia Bulletin.)
Jonah 1:17 and 2:10 - "And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. . .And the Lord spoke unto the fish and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land."
Could a whale have swallowed Jonah? Mr. Wilson presents evidence that men within modern times have been swallowed by whales and cast up alive.
It is shown by a study of the structure of the sperm whale and its habits that it is perfectly possible for a man to be swallowed alive and, after an interval, to be vomited up again; also for him to remain alive for two or three days within the whale. The great fish in question would be the sperm whale or cachalot, the species which inhabits southern waters, where Jonah was voyaging. It differs from the whalebone whale of northern waters. It attains a very large size and may measure 70 or 80 feet in length.
The mouth of a whale of this species (about 60 feet long) would be 20 feet in length, 15 feet in height, and 9 feet in width, according to Sir John Bland Sutton, president of the Royal College of Surgeons. The sperm whale has no tongue--or, at least, it is exceedingly small.
Again and again impossibility has been urged on the ground that the whale's gullet is too small. The whalebone whale feeds on tiny mollusks, but the sperm whale is able to swallow prey of large bulk. It subsists for the most part on the octopus, the bodies of which are much larger than a man. The manager of a whaling station in the extreme north of Britain stated that the largest thing ever found in a whale was the skeleton of a shark 16 feet long.
The next question is: Could a man live in a whale?
There would be air enough to breathe of a sort. This is necessary to keep the whale afloat. The heat would be oppressive, about 104 degrees. Again, the gastric juices would be extremely unpleasant, but not deadly. It cannot digest living matter; otherwise it would digest the walls of its own stomach.
Mr. Wilson recounts the story of a man swallowed by a whale and vomited alive. The incident was investigated by Sir Francis Fox and two French scientists, one of whom was the late M. de Parville, a scientific editor, who was "one of the most painstaking scientists in Europe."
"In February, 1891, the whaling ship 'Star of the East' was in the vicinity of the Falkland Islands, and the lookout spotted a sperm whale. Two boats were launched and in a short time one of the harpooners was enabled to spear the whale.
"The second boat attacked the whale but was upset by a lash of its tail and the men were thrown into the sea. One man was drowned, and another, James Hartley, having disappeared, could not be found.
"The whale was killed and in a few hours was lying by the ship's side, and the crew was busy with axes and spades removing the blubber. They worked all day and part of the night. Next morning they attached some tackle to the stomach, which was hoisted on the deck.
"The sailors were startled by something in it which gave spasmodic signs of life, and inside was found the missing sailor, doubled up and unconscious. He was laid on the deck and treated to a bath of salt water which soon revived him... He remained two weeks a raving maniac... At the end of the third week he had entirely recovered from the shock and assumed his duties.
"Bartley remembers the sensation of being thrown out of the boat into the sea... He was then encompassed by a great darkness and he felt he was slipping along a smooth passage of some sort which seemed to move and carry him forward. The sensation lasted but a short time and then he realized he had more room. He felt about him and his hands came in contact with a yielding, slimy substance that seemed to shrink from his touch.
"It finally dawned upon him that he had been swallowed by the whale.. .He could easily breathe, but the heat was terrible. It was not of a scorching stifling nature, but it seemed to open the pores of his skin and draw out his vitality...'
"His skin, where it was exposed to the action of the gastric juice. . .face, neck and hands. . .was bleached to a deadly whiteness and never recovered its natural appearance, though otherwise his health was not affected by his terrible experience."
Sir John also records "upon undoubted authority" that an Edgartown (USA) whaling vessel, after striking a whale, lost one of her boats, which was bitten in two by the whale;
and the whale "took Marshall Jenkins in her mouth and went down with him." On returning to the surface, the whale ejected him on the wreckage of the broken boat, "much bruised but not seriously injured. "
Mr. Wilson comments that an explanation of the story of Jonah by scientific methods does not deny the power of Divine intervention.
(End of quotation from Mr. Wilson)
II. Typically or Christologically
We have already anticipated this second way of reading Jonah in Section I above. Every Scripture, either directly or by contrast or allusion, pictures Christ or truths related to Christ's person or work. If we do not see Christ upon every page of our Old Testament, we are not reading it rightly. "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." How rich is the typical significance of Jonah!:
Jonah, the Jew, pictures another Jew who
was cast by Gentiles into the depths of death, where all the waves and billows
of God's wrath upon sin passed over Him.
He asked James and John, "Are ye able to be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?" He was drowned beneath the waters of God's wrath upon your sin and mine! (Ps. 42:7; Jonah 2:3). To all intents and purposes, Jonah was dead, as far as the Gentile sailors were concerned, as soon as he hit the water.
But just as Jonah's body was miraculously
preserved and resuscitated after three days, so neither did "God's Holy One
see corruption" (Ps. 16:10).
Further, Jonah's spirit, it appears clear
to me, actually was separated from
his body and, like our Lord's spirit, descended into sheol or hades, that is, into the unseen world where the spirits of both believing and unbelieving dead went after death, prior to our Lord's resurrection. In chapter 2, verse 1, we read that Jonah prayed out of the belly of the great fish. But in verse 2 it does not say "I am crying unto the Lord" (present tense), but it describes a previous prayer which he had made by saying: "I cried unto the Lord, out of the belly of sheol cried I, and thou heardest my voice!"
So the prayer of Jonah in the fish is a prayer of thanksgiving in which he records the fact that a previous prayer which he had made from the heart of sheol had been answered by Jehovah, the proof of which and occasion for which is that his spirit had been permitted to return to his body in the fish's belly: "yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption" (v.6).
Thus Jonah is a complete type of Christ in the words of Psalm 16:10. So God did not leave Jonah's soul in sheol, for which he praised God (2:6, 9). No wonder our Lord gave Jonah the prophet as a sign, for it was a perfect type!
The storm was stilled by Jonah's death
So by the death of another Jew, the storm of wrath was stilled and Gentiles gave thanks (2 Cor. 5:19).
Jonah was cast forth from the fish. So the
great enemy, death, could not hold the Prince of Life. It could swallow Him
but could not destroy Him (Acts 2:24; 3:15).
After being restored, Jonah went and
preached to Gentiles with great results results (3:2-3).
So Christ, upon resurrection, went and preached peace to Gentiles, with a multitude of Gentiles as a harvest (Eph. 2:17; Acts 19:18).
III. Dispensationally or interpretationally
To what age is it addressed?
This is important because although all Scripture is FOR our admonition and profit, not all Scripture is addressed directly TO us in direct and primary application. "Distinguish the ages and the Scriptures agree, " is the sound advice of Augustine which has been disastrously overlooked by many interpreters and expositors.
This Scripture is addressed to the age of Law and reveals God's attitude toward Gentiles who, though in the age of Law, are not "under Law."
On the one hand we see that in this period before the cross "the heathen" were held responsible for sin as deliberate rebellion against the true God, with the necessary judgments of God pronounced against them. On the other hand we see the mercy and grace of God accepting and recognizing genuine repentance, even though it did not follow the exact details of God's particular and distinctive revelation of approaching Him through the temple ceremony of that Law age.
This should give us light on God's dealing with those in any age who are not directly responsible for the revelation of that age by reason of the fact that they have never heard it. We learn from the book of Jonah that:
(1) The heathen are responsible for their sin and conscious of it.
(2) Judgment on their sin is a divine necessity, unless
(3) By genuine repentance. God is given the moral opportunity to further exercise gracious forbearance.
It is significant that Assyria eventually returned to sin and, in accordance with Nahum's prophecy, was utterly destroyed, all the more severely because of the added light concerning the true God that Jonah's ministry had given. This fact establishes four more principles:
(4) Judgment is executed according to the amount of light and spiritual opportunities.
(5) There is a cumulative effect of either national sin or righteousness...
(6) Although God judges each generation as a unit.
(7) Nations do not have souls and must be judged "in this life, " in the world now. Individuals may be judged after death, but not nations.
Are there any dispensational lessons in
the passage before us, any illustrations of God's dispensational dealings? We
find in this book that we have a beautifully detailed illustration of Israel
pictured by Jonah.
(1) Jonah typifies Israel, which was out of proper relation to God because of disobedience in carrying out the divine commission to witness to Gentiles concerning the One True God, Jehovah, and the necessity of His judging sin.
(2) Yet, though part of the nation is fast asleep in indifference (pictured by Jonah asleep), there is a portion (pictured by Jonah awakened) who witnessed to the true God, despite the fact that disobedience had brought the nation to the place where they were. For example, Daniel and his friends.
(3) The world's unrest (storm) is blamed on the Jew (the lot fell on Jonah). Representative Gentiles (Rome) cast her to her supposed death in the agitated sea of nations (Isa. 60:5).
(4) However, God miraculously preserved Israel, as He did Jonah. She is murder-proof and suicide-proof. No nation has been able to destroy the racial identity of the Jew, nor has Israel been able to hide her identity by intermarriage with the Gentiles. Jonah said, "Cast me forth. " Israel said, "His blood be upon us and our children," practically suicide; but Israel still persists!
(5) In Jonah's deep distress he repented. Israel will repent in her
hour of trial, the day of Jacob's trouble, the Great Tribulation; Zech. 12:10: "They shall look on Him whom they have pierced."
(6) Jonah called upon God and was heard. Israel will call upon God and be heard (Hosea 6:1-3).
(7) Jonah was called forth from apparent death. Israel will be
nationally revived (Ezk. 37). (We already saw this accomplished as of May, 1948.)
(8) Jonah was recommissioned of God and preached to the Gentiles of judgment with tremendous results. So, in the days ahead, Israel will be spiritually restored as witnesses and preach with glorious results, e.g., Rev. 7.
IV. Spiritually or morally
Are there any spiritual lessons by application? They are abundant. Here are a few:
v. l "The word of the Lord came to Jonah." Have you heard God calling?
v.2 "Arise, go, cry against it." A great
commission indeed. But we have a greater commission; not for Nineveh, but for
all the world! (Mk. 16:15;
v. 3 "But Jonah.. .went down to Joppa." A great disobedience to a great commission with its inevitable spiritual results. "Down!" (1:3); "down, into the sides of the ship" (l:5b); "down, to the bottom of mountains" (2:6).
v.4 "The Lord sent out a great wind into the sea. " God often sends trouble to chasten (child-train) wayward believers.
v.5 "But Jonah.. .was fast asleep, and the
shipmaster came and said, 'What meanest thou, 0 sleeper? arise, call upon thy
The world goes on amid stress and trouble under God's wrath, and yet so many Christians are asleep, giving no warning, offering no remedy. What a shame that it often takes someone outside the church (newspaper/magazine men, etc.) to point out the fact that the church is not accomplishing what it should.
vv.5-16 A picture of the need of man, and of his ineffectual efforts to save himself:
Man's need of salvation
The sailors realized their need in the midst of the tempest. God uses the afflictions of life to awaken a sense of need. Sometimes He has to back up a hearse to the front door to make some families listen to Him. God's disciplines lead us to sing: "Sweet are Thy messengers... Send grief and pain."
The natural man's reaction is always "I must do something... "(v.5)
They attempted to save themselves by throwing the cargo overboard. Likewise many people attempt to save themselves by reformation--giving up this habit, throwing that habit overboard. But the storm persisted!
Attempted to row ashore (v.l3), using all their strength. Many make the mistake of thinking that good works will get them safely to the shore--working hard in the church, pulling together... "But they could not, for the sea wrought and was tempestuous."
The only way of deliverance
The sailors finally believed the message of the prophet of God and gave evidence of their faith in an act of faith (v. 15). So, when people believe the message of the messenger of God and prove their faith by laying hold on the Jew (whose death and resurrection are essential), the storm ceases and they give praise to God.
And, so on...
Return to Syllabus
200 Manor Avenue
Langhorne, PA 19047
United States of America
|"Mason's Notes" Study materials on this website are made available here free, through the generosity of Cairn University, and may be copied for use in Bible study groups, in limited numbers, providing that no charge is made for them. No further distribution or use of these materials is allowable under U.S. or International Copyright Law without the express permission of Cairn University.|