Jonas is great! Forget the belly of a whale stuff. How about a prophet that doesn't want to be a prophet, runs away so he won't have to be, but that doesn't work and he can't escape God, then goes ahead and is a prophet, then gets upset that it worked! Not the kind of guy you put in books that are supposed to be sacred, bellies of whales or no bellies of whales, unless you're not making this stuff up.
Jonah is not commonly commemorated in the Western church calendar, but our beloved synod LCMS does on 22 September, the same date as the Eastern church commemorates him (which can also be 5 October depending on whether you use the Julian or Gregorian calendar).
Here's the deal. God tells Jonas to go to Nineveh and tell them their city will be destroyed if they don't repent of their evil ways. What's the big deal about that? Well, Nineveh is the capital of Assyria, and Assyria is the country who wiped out ten of the twelve Jewish tribes, the Biblical Israel, in 722 BC so bad they're still called the "Lost Tribes of Israel".
Jonas doesn't want them to repent and be spared, he hates them and wants them destroyed. Why would God offer a chance to the people who wiped out ten of the twelve tribes he called out? Makes no sense, and Jonas wanted no part of it, so he takes off in the other direction by boat to Tarshish.
So God sends a big storm at sea, and the pagan sailors figure one of their gods must be mad at them for something. But God makes it so even their lot-casting shows it's not them, it's Jonas. They confront him and he admits it, saying their only hope is to throw him overboard, which they don't really want to do, but realising it's their only hope, do it.
Enter the whale. Well, big fish, the Bible says; it never says whale nor is it certain whether the fish is one of the ones existing, like maybe a whale, or one created by God for the purpose of Jonas. And the answer doesn't even matter. The point is, he is conveyed to land after three days, and goes to Nineveh and delivers God's message.
Then the real miracle in the book happens. They actually listen and repent! From the king on down, the whole nation repents, starts fasting and stuff like that. God sees this and averts the destruction, and Jonas is not happy about it. He goes out of the city and takes up a good vantage point to see the destruction. It doesn't come but God causes a plant to grow to give him some shade, then the next day has a worm take it down, and now Jonas is really mad at the whole deal, thinks God was gonna forgive them anyway and just wants God to kill him.
Then God gives him the lesson -- what are you all mad about? Upset that I didn't destroy Nineveh, and did destroy the plant? Well guess what, you didn't bring that plant about, I did, and if you're mad about a plant that wasn't even yours why should I not be concerned about a city of thousands of people who don't know right from wrong, and animals too? Get over yourself.
This short book teaches some of the most radical stuff in the Hebrew Bible. Most obviously, that God accepts repentance, but more than that, God accepts repentance from everyone, not just Jews with whom the covenant of the Law of Moses was made, but Gentiles too, all people. And more than that (which Christians typically miss) that this universal care of God should not be grudged by the people of the covenant to everyone else.
For which reason the Book of Jonah is read in its entirety on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, at the afternoon service, called minha, which in Christian usage became Vespers. The Torah portion for this service is Leviticus 18, a moral chapter about who you shall and shall not sleep with, and the haftorah, or related reading from the Prophets, is the Book of Jonah.
Holy crap, what's all that about? Isn't Jonah just about prefiguring the three days Jesus was in the tomb, isn't it all about Jesus and we can leave all this Jewish stuff behind? Well, that would be fine except Jesus didn't leave all this Jewish stuff behind, he fulfilled it, and if you don't know what it is, you won't likely get what the fulfillment is either.
Also part of the haftorah, read right after the Book of Jonah, is Micah 7:18-20. In Jonah, everybody acts better than the Jews -- the pagan sailors act better than Jonah, and the Assyrians actually repent whereas after prophet after prophet the Jews had not, had only superficially, had relapse after relapse.
On top of that, God doesn't even require the Assyrians to come under the Law of Moses or convert to anything, but simply adhere to the universal morality he set forth to all Man in the Seven Noahide Laws in Genesis 9 and ratified again in Acts 15, of which sexual morality, the subject of the Torah portion on Yom Kippur minha, is traditionally number the fourth.
Then Micah brings the focus to the people of the Covenant, not all Man, but the Jews. "Who is a God like unto Thee" is not in terms of a show of power, but of mercy, passing by the sins of the remnant of his heritage, whose "anger" is not of his nature but rather mercy in which he delights, and to which he will be faithful, casting sin as if into the depths of the sea, not to come back again as did the prophet Jonas but to stay there, even as was promised to Abraham the first Jew.
And so it came to pass in Jesus, like Jonas overcome by the sinfulness of Man whether under the covenant of the Law of Moses or the covenant with all Man under Noah (Noe), thrown into the depths for three days, and after being the full and final Day of Atonement on Good Friday came forth on Pascha with the message and the reality of repentance and forgiveness to all Man, not to be begrudged to any one.
And that's the sign of Jonah.
+ Johann Gerhard, Theologian + - 17 August AD 1637 [image: Johann Gerhard] Born 17 October 1582, Johann Gerhard, a Lutheran theologian in the tradition of Martin Luther (1483-1546) and Mar...
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