The Old Testament Presents... Reflections of Christ
by Paul R. Van Gorder
The book of Jonah is different from the other minor prophets, for it is the personal experience of the prophet himself. The story is presented much like that of Elijah and Elisha. Though the book contains no direct prophecy, the experience of Jonah is itself a reflection of the message of God.

Jonah, whose name means ''dove,'' was one of the earliest prophets. We know this from the book of 2Kings, where a prediction of Jonah was fulfilled in the days of Jeroboam II (2Kings 14:25).

A.C. Gaebelein has written, ''The typical-prophetic meaning of the story of Jonah is authorized by the words of the Son of God. His experience typifies the death, the burial, and the resurrection of our Lord, as well as the gospel message that goes forth to the Gentiles. Furthermore, Jonah's experience is prophetic also of the entire nation.''

The Lord Jesus Christ Himself put His seal of authentication upon the story of Jonah (Matthew 12:40). Jonah was a man, not a myth; the book is fact, not fiction; it is history, not allegory.

  1. Jonah Planning (ch. 1)
  2. Jonah Praying ( 2 )
  3. Jonah Preaching ( 3 )
  4. Jonah Pouting ( 4 )
JONAH PLANNING (chapter 1)
Jonah's name may indicate that he had a tender nature, but his tenderness was limited to his own people. He was a God-called, God-commissioned man, with a God-given message. His sphere of service was as specific as his call. He was to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, located on the banks of the Tigris River about 280 miles north of Babylon. The Assyrians were the fierce enemies of Israel.

Jonah tried to resign his commission and take a cruise on the Mediterranean. ''He paid the fare,'' taking passage on a ship that was ready to sail to Tarshish (probably Spain). But the same Lord, from whom he was trying to flee, was preparing a wind to bring him to obedience. God's prophet was sleeping the sleep of self-complacency, while the heathen sailors were about to perish. They were praying to their gods, while Jonah was not even praying, just sleeping. When he was awakened, it took a series of humiliating questions to get him to confess. The conscience of those heathen men seemed to be more tender than that of the back-slidden saint.

Jonah was finally cast into the sea. There, a great fish was lying in wait. The Lord had prepared the huge creature to swallow the disobedient prophet.

JONAH PRAYING (chapter 2)
For 3 days and 3 nights, Jonah was in the belly of the fish. There he began to pray. Had he prayed instead of fleeing from God, he would not have had this harrowing experience. Nevertheless, his prayer was real. It had conviction, confession, contrition, and intercession. In his prayer, he quoted from Psalms 18; 30; 31; 42; 69; 120; 130; and 142. In spite of his prayers, pledges, and vows, he was not delivered. It was not until Jonah confessed that ''salvation is of the Lord,'' that God caused the fish to cast him upon the dry land.
Although Jonah had gone through a traumatic experience and had re-affirmed his faith in God, he still needed to fulfill the Lord's commission to him. The Lord said again, ''Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee'' (3:2). Jonah did not hesitate this time. The consequence of his previous experience had made him obedient. He was now a God-called man, with a God-given message, on a God-directed mission.

Jonah delivered a message of repentance. To that city, some 20 miles long and 12 miles wide, Jonah spoke the words [that] the Lord had directed him to give. The Ninevites repented and believed God. We can well imagine what consternation this strange prophet caused as he cried, ''Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown'' (v.4). Jonah was learning a lesson that the apostle Paul later phrased in these words: ''Is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also'' (Romans 3:29). God turned from His fierce anger, and Nineveh was spared, even though God knew that same city would later become the rod in His hand to chasten Israel.

JONAH POUTING (chapter 4)
How strange that this man of God was exceedingly displeased and grieved by the Lord's forbearance and patience with Nineveh. Jonah, no doubt, reasoned that the Assyrians would soon persecute his own people. But his displeasure was largely selfish. His own reputation as a prophet was at stake. He would rather witness the destruction of all the Assyrians than see himself dishonored. But God used a gourd [plant] to teach that poor, foolish servant a wonderful truth. Jonah was disgraced, and was forced to commit his reputation to the keeping of Jehovah. The prophet was more concerned about his own personal comfort than he was about the repentance and salvation of the inhabitants of that great city.

It is remarkable to trace the hand of God behind the scenes of this story. It was God who sent out the wind. He prepared the fish, the gourd, the worm, and the east wind. No less remarkable is the fact that God took note of the little children of Nineveh-- more than 120,000 of them-- and even the cattle (v.11). What a contrast between the great loving heart of God and the narrow, selfish love of His reluctant and disobedient servant. The sinning saint is silenced, and God has the last word.

The great messianic picture reflected in Jonah is of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. We are assured of this as we read these words of our Lord:
An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet, Jonah;
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.'' (Mat 12:39-41)
Dr. M.R. DeHaan once said, ''The miracle of Jonah consists in the fact that God raised him from the dead as a perfect type of our crucified, buried, and risen Lord.'' How appropriate are these words of the resurrected Christ to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: ''Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them, in all the scriptures, the things concerning Himself'' (Luke 24:26,27).

See the Book Notes on Jonah for a verse by verse study of this book.

Return to table of contents for ''The Old Testament Presents... Reflections of Christ,''
written by Paul R. Van Gorder, Copyright 1982 by RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI.
Used by permission [within The Book from].
Further distribution is not allowed without permission from RBC.

For another brief look at this book of the Bible,
see the related chapter in Christ in All the Scriptures, by A.M. Hodgkin.

Go to The Book opening page.