The story of the Lord’s call to Jonah is remembered because of the “whale.” (Old Testament Scripture tells us that it was a large fish.) But there is far more to this story. You may recall that the Lord told Jonah to go to Nineveh and declare His judgment against them. Nineveh was east of Israel. Jonah went west, by ship.
A tremendous storm arose and the sailors feared for their lives. The sailors cast lots to find out who was the cause of the storm. The lot fell on Jonah. Jonah told them that he was running from the Lord. He instructed the sailors to throw him overboard. When the sea then became calm the sailors greatly feared the Lord and offered a sacrifice to Him and made vows.
Jonah apparently drowned in the sea. He prayed to the Lord “out of the belly of hell” (Jonah 2:2) (sheol – the underworld, the abode of the dead – Strong’s H7585) Jonah apparently drowned, sank to the bottom of the ocean, and the Lord restored him from corruption, or death. (Jonah 2:6) God had prepared a large fish to swallow Jonah who then spent three days and three nights in the fish (Matthew 12:40), but he praised the Lord, and vowed to make a sacrifice to Him at the Temple “with the voice of thanksgiving.” (Jonah 2:9) Then the Lord caused the fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land. (Yuck!)
When we read this Old Testament story, we think it occurred to the exclusion of everything else. My pastor pointed out that there were witnesses. The sailors greatly feared the Lord and they told everyone what happened when they came to land. There were probably people that saw the huge fish vomit a man up on the beach. A story like that would spread like wildfire, despite the lack of the Internet.
When Jonah obeyed the Lord and came to Nineveh, his reputation had preceded him. He declared, “Forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” When he gave the Lord’s message to them, they believed him, and immediately repented. Jonah was probably the only successful prophet in the Old Testament. From the king down to the lowliest person, the entire city of Nineveh fasted, prayed and repented. And the Lord in His wonderful grace, did not overthrow the city.
The Lord Jesus told the Jews that just as Jonah was a sign to the people of Nineveh, He (Jesus) was a sign to them. He further stated that the men of Nineveh would rise up in judgment against “this generation” because they repented at the preaching of Jonah. Then Jesus said, “Someone greater than Jonah is here today.” (Luke 11:29-32)
Jonah was a foreshadow of the Lord Jesus. First, Jonah offered himself for the lives of the sailors (Jonah 1:12), just as Jesus offered Himself for our lives by dying on the Cross. Jonah died, but was resurrected, just as Jesus died and was resurrected. Jonah had spent three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, just as Jesus spent “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40)
How thankful I am for Jesus dying in my place. Praise His name, forever!