When I was a child watching cartoons on the television, there was a character named Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties. Every week he would get caught up in some suspense with the bad guys, and end up hanging off a cliff or trying to save his girlfriend Nell, who was always put in some perilous situation. The drama was quite intense, and they always left off with, “will our hero save her in time?”
Well, this story about Jonah is not so different, as Jonah is thrown into a turbulent sea. No one reading this thinks he has a chance. Then, a massive fish swallows him whole. How often does that happen? And, contrary to what we see in Pinocchio, there is no chance of survival in the belly of any fish. Therefore, Jonah, whom we have previously demonstrated from scripture, dies. God, however, in the form of the hero, comes to the rescue and brings him back to life.
God’s call comes to Jonah a second time. He gets up, walks an incredible distance to Nineveh, and declares that their destruction will come in forty days. He does not give them an option, and yet the entire town repents and acknowledges God. Having spent enough time around pastors. You would think anyone doing the preaching would be elated to have a whole community change their lives and come to repentance, but not Jonah.
So, let’s go back to where we left our (dead or dying) “hero,” Jonah, as he says –
“But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD.” Jonah 2:9 NASB
I am splitting Jonah 2:9-10 to make a point. When we read, we ignore small details, such as what Jesus said about Jonah.
Matthew 12:39-40 CJB He replied, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign? No! None will be given to it but the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40) For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea-monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the depths of the earth.
One of these details, as you see above, is the idea that Jonah was a sign, and that sign had everything to do with him being in the belly of a fish for an exact length of time. Because some will only read this and not the previous posts, I repeat the understanding that Jewish tradition taught that the soul did not leave the body until it had been dead for three days. Jesus, contrasting himself to Jonah, spoke volumes to the scribes and Pharisees when he said this. They immediately understood that Jonah was, without a doubt, dead.
So, where does that leave Jonah? Dead, in the belly of a great fish.
Jonah 2:10 Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.
Lacking details, we are left to speculate as to when Jonah is brought back to life. Perhaps the answer lies in Jonah 3:1-2. The NASB entitles this next section; Jonah Goes to Nineveh, and thus chapter three really begins.
Did God merely throw Jonah aside? The obvious answer is no. However, there are those that would preach such a message, emphasizing how God now has to get another person to do the job you could not, or would not do. In the judgmental minds of many, God had every reason to reject Jonah? And yet He did not. No, God wanted and needed this man; even more, God needed Jonah’s current experience. Hence, we get the notice that the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time.
Jonah 3:1-2 NASB Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2) “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.”
There is one other aspect of this story that I have recently become aware of, and that is The fish god Dagon.
“Dagon figures into the story of Jonah, as well, although the deity is not mentioned by name in Jonah’s book. The Assyrians in Ninevah, to whom Jonah was sent as a missionary, worshiped Dagon and his female counterpart, the fish goddess Nanshe. Jonah, of course, did not go straight to Ninevah but had to be brought there via miraculous means. The transportation God provided for Jonah—a great fish—would have been full of meaning for the Ninevites.” From the article “Who was Dagon in the Bible?” As posted on www.gotquestions.org.
Just moments before he had been dead in the belly of a fish, and now we find him on the beach lying face first in the hot sand. For all, we know God saw fit to have witnesses to the event. God says arise, and almost simultaneously, Jonah, suddenly aware that life has come surging back into his body, begins to respond. The brain that should have been irreparably damaged now hears the voice of God, as He says, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.”
Arise is the Hebrew word qûm: A verb meaning to arise, to stand, to stand up. The basic meaning of this word is the physical action of rising up.
So, although the implications of raising Jonah from the dead are there, it is not clear from these words alone. What am I suppose to believe about this, that a dead man was told to get up and go to Nineveh, or that Jonah never died? Neither of these scenarios is plausible. At some point, life came back into Jonah, and the beach is the only practical place for that to happen.
I mentioned what I had found about Jonah, to a dear friend. Without my prompting, he added, it is possible that the person who witnessed Jonah being spewed onto the beach may have been an Assyrian. It is possible that this person quickly jumped on his camel and rode back to Nineveh and told them about this fish man, and that he is headed this way. Considering that on two maps, the distance from the ocean to Nineveh is at least 300 miles at its shortest distance. Where is Jonah, with no money or food and water, going to get provisions for such a journey? That is unless someone who believed in fish gods told everyone he met what he saw and that the man was coming. Not knowing any of this Jonah may have approached wells and asked for a drink, only to encounter fearful looks as they backed away and left him to help himself. Vendors in the marketplace may have pushed their children behind their backs handing the man anything he wanted.
Why is any of this important? Because Jesus told the Pharisees, they would get no sign but the sign of Jonah. If I were looking for signs: getting spewed dead, onto a beach, by a whale, and then being brought back to life, while potentially having someone witness the event, then relating what they saw to the target audience, that a fish man was coming could be considered a sign.
Did Jesus, who compared Himself to Jonah and some significant sign, have any signs of His own? Without a doubt, as the sky went dark at midday; no bones were broken, just as prophecy said; he was beaten beyond recognition as scripture told us; the stone that covered His grave was rolled away and, he arose from the dead, just as he said he would.
Note one other thing here. God tells him “and proclaim to Nineveh the proclamation which I am going to tell you.” Jonah does not even know what the message is going to be. Surely it will be ominous and quick in coming.
Jonah 3:3 MKJV And Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the Word of Jehovah. And Nineveh was a very great city of three days’ journey.
Once he arrives at Nineveh, where he is to proclaim a message that only then will he be privy to, we are made aware that the town takes three days to walk through, and God has made it clear that all of Nineveh would hear the message.
Jonah 3:4 MKJV And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried and said, Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!
Jonah’s word for the people was perfect by his standards – “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” He wanted them dead.
I mentioned how the worship of Dagon is not revealed to us in this story.
Is it something we should ignore? No, for it answers many questions. For example, how would an Israelite walk unscathed through a land of savages that have a record of killing his people? Had I not stumbled upon the information about Dagon, the fish god, I cannot say I would have even thought to pursue such a lead, even though it has always troubled me. Knowing that they worshiped a fish god, and Jonah was spewed from a fish, he would have instant credibility, as apparently Jonah’s god had greater power.
The response to what Jonah said was instantaneous.
Jonah 3:5 NASB Then the people of Nineveh believed in God, and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them.
I always thought that the people responded in kind, as the king covered himself in ashes. It seems that the king followed the lead of his people.
Jonah 3:6 NASB When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes.
Why being covered in ashes represents some form of remorse, I don’t know, but it seems to be universal.
Jonah 3:7-8 NASB He issued a proclamation, and it said, “In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. 8) “But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth, and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands.
What are the mandates this king made?
Nobody and nothing are to eat or drink.
Man and beast must be covered in sackcloth.
And let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands.
The alarming aspect is the recognition, on the part of the Assyrians, that this message was a direct result of their wickedness and the violence of their hands. The next thing we see is often used as a truth we apply to our own lives. Regardless of who said it, it does demonstrate the nature of God, something Jonah understood.
Jonah 3:9 NASB “Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.”
The Ninevehites were right, for God has relented on multiple occasions.
Jonah 3:10 NASB When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.
We will deal with Jonah’s response to all this mercy in the next chapter. It is the reason Jonah ran from God and His potential message in the first place.
Now, what do we do with the disappointment we feel as God shows someone mercy, when we, by our judgment, believe they deserve nothing less than hell’s flames?
Don’t think this kind of logic is so odd, I wasted most of my life, dwelling on the painful repayment process several men owed me for the damage they did to me as a youth in the church. This entire train of thought falls under the category of un-forgiveness, something we come to realize is a waste of energy, as we grow in the knowledge of the God we serve.
Reread verse ten. The writer used the word relented.
Relented is the Hebrew word nâcham. It means to sigh, that is, breathe strongly; by implication to be sorry, that is, (in a favorable sense) to pity, console or (reflexively) rue; or (unfavorably) to avenge (oneself).
So, while God may have had pity or consolation toward Nineveh, that did not mean that He forgot what He said.
The Prophet Nahum seems to speak in code about the destruction of Nineveh. Although the entire book of Nahum is as the Amplified Bible calls it, “THE BURDEN or oracle (the thing to be lifted up) concerning Nineveh [the capital of Assyria].” We are not given clear details as to why Nineveh was brought to ruin, and, we are not given details as to who conquered them, nor how. And yet, history demonstrates that God’s judgment did come to pass against them.
Nineveh shall be overthrown!
Nahum 3:7 NASB “And it will come about that all who see you Will shrink from you and say, ‘Nineveh is devastated! Who will grieve for her?’ Where will I seek comforters for you?”
Regardless of when it happened God stayed faithful to His word. Still, the purists will say, Ah, but God said forty days! For a God that lives outside of any known dimensions we have, time means nothing. One of the places in scripture this is evidenced is in Daniel’s prophecy about the Messiah’s return for His own. It is expressed in terms of 70 weeks of years. We, the church, are stuck between the 69th and 70th week, a time period that has now lasted over 2000 years. Does this bother God at all? No, as He is appropriately waiting for the full number, which only He knows, to come into the kingdom.
Again, just because we have no details in scripture about some items, is no reason to ignore historical background information, or the lessons we are meant to learn. A common thread we all fall prey to – whether you are a follower of Christ, or, as the Jewish mind thinks, an idolatrous Gentile – is the foolish belief that just because you did not get caught, then God must not care or see. Oh, He sees everything, for there is nothing that is hidden from His view. And, I think Jonah came to understand this concept clearly.