The story of Jonah (784-772 BC) is not a myth. It is a factual occurrence, for Jesus refers to this incident when predicting his own death, burial, and resurrection (Matt. 12:40). Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, and the Son of Man to His generation (Lk. 11:30). Reference is made to this in the same context as Solomon and Sheba are referred to, thus claiming validity.
Jonah lived in the Northern Kingdom of Israel and prophesied of the prosperity that Israel enjoyed in the days of Jereboam II (II Kings 14:25). It would seem that he must have lived about this time, or maybe a little earlier. His name means "dove," and his ministry to Ninevah certainly was Spirit-anointed, resulting in one of the greatest religious revivals on all time. See Matt. 3:16 for another anointing by the Spirit. Jonah is the only prophet to whom the Lord directly likened Himself.
Jonah was a Hebrew prophet commissioned to preach to a Gentile audience in Ninevah, one of the most important cities of Assyria. Jonah probably ascertained well enough that Assyria would some day be an instrument in God's hands to punish the sins of his own people, so nothing would have pleased him more than the overthrow of Ninevah. The news, "yet forty days and Ninevah shall be overthrown," must have sounded like music to his ears. Far from wanting Ninevah to repent and escape the wrath of God, he longed to see the sentence executed (4:2). The "hour-glass" of judgment had begun, and it seems that Jonah deliberately fled to Tarshish so that the last bit of "sand" from the "hour-glass" (representing divine patience) would run out and wrath would be executed.
Jonah's experiences in the fish's belly were so terrible that he called that awful prison house, in which his disobedience had landed him, "the belly of hell." Jonah's thoughts in the hours of anguish turned to the psalms. He quoted from many of them in his passionate outburst of prayer (31:22; 42:7; 88:6,7).
Jonah discovered that his efforts to thwart the divine will were futile, and all his agonizing experiences in vain. (See all the misery he could have avoided if only he had done in the beginning what he was supposed to do.) Once cast upon the ground, he was again faced with the mandate, "forty days, for those days would not begin until the hour that Jonah began to walk the streets of Ninevah, and not before.
His eight-word message (3:4) rang like the knell of doom through Ninevah, bringing immediate response as the city repented in sackcloth and ashes, much to Jonah's disgust. God reasoned with His discontented prophet, seeking to show him the sinfulness of his resentment. The point was well taken, because Jonah wrote the book that bears his name, keeping back nothing of his own sorry part in the story. The book of Jonah is an example of the magnitude of God's grace, reaching even to "lost sinners of the Gentiles."
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