book of jonah
The Book of the Prophet Jonah is an ancient and very brief account concerning a variety of some very dramatic events. As such, it is not easy to have perfect knowledge concerning many of the un-written details which might have a tendency to make one wonder about its accuracy. Howbeit, this is not justification to dismiss the book as the fruit of someone's wild imagination, nor to conclude that the writer was only setting forth a parable with some mysterious and deeper meaning. Especially this is the case because Yeshua Himself testified that Jonah spoke accurately. E. W. Bullinger put it perhaps most succinctly in his Companion Bible.
- The Century Bible says that "we are not to conclude that the literal validity of the history of Jonah is established by this reference" (note on Matt. 12:40, page 206). But, apart from the fact that the Lord referred to the Queen of Sheba in the very next sentence, and thus places Jonah on the same level of "literary validity", the question is placed beyond all controversy by the further fact that seven times in John's Gospel the Lord declared that every one of His words that He uttered was given Him to speak by the Father. Those who strike at these words of Christ are striking at God Himself, and are making the whole of Divine Revelation of none effect. All the puerile and fanciful assumptions used for arguments are swept away with one stroke, and are overwhelmed by this one decisive and conclusive fact.
Thus, because the Lord spoke of Jonah, as He did with the Queen of Sheba, as literal historical facts, then we are bound to find solutions to certain difficult sayings in the book, and not just dismiss it because we don't yet understand the full breadth of it. We might not be able to say for sure that such and such is the case, but at least we can look at alternative solutions to the problems.
The very first passage tells us that these are the words of Jonah the son of Amittai. If this is correct, and we have no reason to believe that it isn't, then we have an approximate date for the book because 2 KINGS 14:25 tells us of a Jonah, son of Amittai, who prophesied in the days of Jeroboam, king of Israel. This Jeroboam reigned from 786 to 746 B.C., so Jonah also must have lived around this time.
The second verse then tells us that the LORD had told Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach against it. Commentators often assume that Nineveh equals Assyria but that may be a false assumption. Nineveh was a prosperous ancient city located on two major trade routs, one going east and west and one going north and south. Assyrian kings expanded Nineveh from 883-889 B.C., but it didn't become the capital city of Assyria until 703, probably long after Jonah's time.
But, as verse three tells us, Jonah disobeyed GOD and instead of going to Nineveh he fled to Tarshish. Most commentators assume that Tarshish was in the wester Mediterranean, somewhere around Spain. Howbeit, there is no evidence that that is the case. According to Lexham's Bible Dictionary, "Tarshish's location remains one of biblical scholarship's most puzzling and contentious topics". It could have been located in the Mediterranean but other ancient authorities suggest that it was in the Indian Ocean, perhaps on the Horn of Africa (Aramaic translation) or even on the shores of India (Jerome). We should keep these options in our minds as we consider the fish that swallowed Jonah, which is our next verse in question.
- JONAH 1:17 Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Some imagine that the fish was a whale, but the passage doesn't say that. It only tells us that it was some great fish which was prepared by the LORD. Evidently a whale, though very large in itself, has a rather small throat and cannot swallow a man. That the LORD prepared the fish, doesn't mean that GOD created a special fish to do this chore. The Hebrew word manah means appoint or assign, and never means create. Even so, there are many different kinds of sea creatures which are able to swallow a man.
The second chapter of JONAH records his prayer to GOD for his deliverance after being swallowed by this sea creature. Many find fault with this because they struggle to understand how anyone could make this lengthy prayer under these dire circumstances, but we are not to suppose that Jonah wrote the prayer as he was being eaten alive. Some time later, after his resurrection he evidently wrote down this entire account. The chapter ends with the LORD answering the prophets prayer and commanding the fish to vomit him out upon dry land.
We should consider where the LORD had him deposited. If the LORD wanted him to preach to Nineveh, wouldn't it make sense that the LORD would deposit him in the vicinity of Nineveh? Why after all this would the LORD simply return him to where he started? Nineveh was located on the Tigris River and it was certainly possible that the beach upon which he was vomited was the very shoreline of Nineveh itself.
If this is indeed what happened, then that would explain why the residents of Nineveh were so easily won over by his preaching. Perhaps they had heard that he had been miraculously raised from the dead after being vomited there by some sea creature. It would also explain what Yeshua meant when He declared that this sign of Jonah to the Ninevites would parallel His own resurrection (MATTHEW 12:40). The eye witnesses of Jonah's resurrection probably broadcast to the entire area that fact, as did the witnesses of Yeshua's resurrection.
But some might wonder, how and what kind of sea creature could swallow Jonah out in the ocean and then swim all the way up the Tigris River to Nineveh? It would have to be some large fish, which was also able to survive in both fresh water and salt water. Pretty unlikely, most would think. But there is such a sea creature. The Bull Shark can reach an astounding length of 13' and has been known to swallow a man. And, the Bull Shark is adept in both salt-water and fresh. Being able to swim 25 mph the Bull Shark could swim that distance in the time allowed, 3 days and 3 nights. During the springtime the Tigris River is so full that it could easily accommodate practically any shark.
In the third chapter we are told that Nineveh was "an exceeding great city of three days journey" and most commentators doubt this because excavations reveal a city much smaller. Howbeit, there are two simple explanations which can easily settle this apparent discrepancy. First, the three days journey may not refer to a trip across the city but rather around the city, (see Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, page 760), and secondly, Nineveh may not refer to the city proper but also include the district surrounding it, as we might refer to the metropolis of several cities of millions of people simple as New York.
In The Jerome Biblical Commentary, we quote on this passage,
- . . . . A. Parrot (Nineveh and the Old Testament) explains that people who lived far from Assyria might have understood by the word "Nineveh" the area that is known as the Assyrian triangle, which reaches from Khorsabad to Nimrod in an almost unbroken string of settlements about 26 mi. long.
Then from Smith's Bible Dictionary, we read on page 220;
- . . . . Layard says: "If we take the four great mounds of Nimrud, Koyunjik, Kharsabad, and Karamles, as the corners of a square, it will be found to agree pretty accurately with the 60 miles of Herodotus, which makes the three days "journey of Jonah."
See also, The Westminster Dictionary of the Bible, page 429 and The New Bible Dictionary, page 836.
Some commentators also understand the phrase "was an exceeding great city" to mean that it was no longer as such and thus this book must have been written many years after the city's demise. But the word translated was often means had become, Nineveh had become an exceeding great city.
If one chooses to think that the Bible is full of contradictions then the Book of Jonah may fulfill his needs, but, if he believes that the scriptures are inspired, then he will want to look a little harder before he just dismisses them out of hand.