Jonah: A Study in Ridiculousness

Turning Jonah into a caricature
robs this book of its truths

No other Old Testament book elicits more repudiation in the veracity of the Bible than the book of Jonah. The standard belief that a man is swallowed by a fish, survives and then preaches repentance to a very powerful militaristic nation that turns to God is beyond the belief of modern man; as well it should for that is not really the truth of this book.

Many fanciful explanations were developed to explain Jonah until it became simply a story for children as the above graphic illustrates. This disbelief developed a disbelief in the accuracy and the truth of the Bible even in the minds of Christians. Christendom developed various explanations and allegories for the true meanings of this book. This were developed out of ignorance of both the historicity of Jonah’s day and the experience of Jonah himself.

Unfortunately most people only know
about the gourd, worm and fish of Jonah

Jonah’s story is much more fascinating than most people realize. Assyria was an ancient empire. The national philosophy of Assyria was embodied in its main deity, Ashur, who was the embodiment of Nimrod the warrior man-god ruler of Babel. Thus, the unifying tenet of the Assyrian Empire was expand or suffer an apocalypse. When Assyria could not expand then it would enter a period of stagnation. This had occurred in Jonah’s time period. Contrary to popular understanding, Nineveh was not the capital of Assyria during Jonah’s day. It was a very ancient city being the first Nimrod built after Babel. It housed the temples of Ishtar, goddess of fertility and war, and Nabu, god of destiny and writing. Nineveh was a provincial city in Jonah’s day. The capital of the empire was Assur though the king was weak and governors pretty much ruled their provinces independently.

In addition, Israel was only the northern kingdom of a divided nation after the reign of Solomon. It was composed of a majority of tribes with Ephraim being the largest. Idolatry had been prevalent in the northern territory ever since its inception with the grandson of Moses,Jonathon, officiating as high priest in the northern territory of Dan (Ju 18:27-31). Once the unified kingdom of Israel divided the northern kingdom, also known as Israel, set up Golden Calf worship with temples at both Dan {northern region} and Bethel {southern region}. This was to prevent the people from pilgrimaging to Jerusalem and eventually wanting to reunite. Unfortunately, this idolatry was distorting God’s message of morality {Ten Words} and salvation {sacrificial temple rites} embodied in His Law given to His people in the wilderness (See Exodus 20). The worship of idolatry had so weakened the people that they were in danger of being obliterated by surrounding nations such as Syria and Assyria. God gave Israel the prophet Jonah demonstrating His mercy toward them. Jonah advised the king allowing the king to strengthen Israel bringing it some peace and prosperity for a time (2Ki 14:23-27). Thus, Jonah was the only prophet given to Israel who did not condemn the nation but prepared it. This did not negate the condemnation of the other prophets. However, Jonah probably developed a double-minded attitude toward Israel, wishing to see it prosper regardless (Ja 1:5-8).

Unfortunately, people have been taught that Jonah survived three days and nights alive in the “belly of the fish”. This is where the modern mind bails out. The Christian falls back to the false position that God can “do anything He wants,” which is not correct. God is bounded by His nature just as the lost person is controlled by their sin natures (Ja 1:13). Thus, the lost person points to this book as being ridiculous justifying his rejection of the entire Bible and God’s salvation. The Christian’s untenable position only further justifies the lost person’s rejection of the Bible and the view that Christians must be fools.

Yet, a careful reading of chapter two of Jonah reveals that Jonah was not alive in the fish – he was dead and in Sheol. Thus, there was no need for Jonah to breath, eat or drink for that time period. Several people had been raised from the dead before Jonah and Lazarus is probably the most known person to today’s Christians. If you ask, “If Jonah was dead how could he pray?” you misunderstand the nature of death. The body is finite and will either suffer death or will be changed during the Rapture (Read 1Co 15). The soul never ceases to exist once created. The soul passes to either Hell {Old Testament Sheol} or Paradise {Heaven} depending on one’s relationship with God. Just as Lazarus was aware of his existence in Hell, so Jonah was aware of his existence in Sheol. His prayer plainly says this.

I bring these issues to light because the lost use Jonah as a straw man argument to reject the Bible and the Christians emulate the same mistakes of Jonah. Jonah was caught up in his love of Israel. I believe he understood that if Nineveh responded to God’s message of repentance then Israel would stand condemned because of their rejection of God’s truth for idolatry. Jonah was willing to allow thousands to die in their sins {spend eternity in the Lake of Fire} in order to preserve a temporary respite for an unrepentant Israel. He, though a true prophet, had become double-minded and unstable.

American Christians equate salvation with
Patriotism which distorts the Gospel

American Christians, and probably Christians of other nations as well, see the world through their worldview defined by the public education of their particular nation-state. This education is designed to make compliant, useful citizens for the furtherance of each particular nation-state. Christians cannot afford to be so jingoistic if we are to take Christ’s Gospel into the world for all peoples. Doing this condemns those who cannot separate the Gospel from the patriotism to an eternity in the Lake of Fire. This brings divisions into the churches which the Bible condemns (1Co 3:1-9). The Gospel unifies all believers into ONE body and we should be preaching and teaching the Gospel without nationalism emphasizing this unity for everyone without demanding that we all be unified around Americanism (Ga 3:25-29; Ep 4:1-7). Anyone who brings division into the churches is doing the work of Lucifer and not the work of Christ. All who come into the body of Christ through biblical salvation based on the finished work of Christ alone are welcomed. All of us were immoral, unloving, pitiless demigods in our lost state. Christ has been developing us into His image daily ever since our salvation. It is a great evil for us to then return to our former state and view others as less than ourselves. This was the sin of Jonah, a prophet of God who struggled with his fleshly nature as do WE ALL. Rather than study fables let us see the truth of Jonah, learn from Jonah and rejoice in the mercy of God toward us and toward all who hear His word of Grace.

Author: LeeS

Retired naval nurse, Dad, Husband, Christian who seeks to share the Bible with those who want more than the superficial milk given out in the majority of today's churches. God has taught me through hard experiences as well as through book learning (Master's of Ministry, Doctor of Ministry).