The miracle of Jonas the prophet – by the late Anba Epiphanious

The books of the Old Testament are full of prophecies about the Lord Jesus from His birth, until His ascension to heaven, and then His second coming to judge the living and the dead. The words of any of the prophets of the Children of Israel are not devoid of prophecies that shed light on any stage in the life of the Lord Jesus. Even Balaam, the Gentile prophet who was a stranger to the people of Israel, predicted the coming of the Lord Jesus in the flesh, so he said: “I see him, but not now. I behold him, but not close. A star will come out of Jacob, a scepter will rise out of Israel….” (Numbers 24:17). Thus, all prophets participate in prophesying about the person of the Lord Jesus.As for Jonas the prophet , he was distinguished from many prophets. He did not only predict the coming of the Lord, but he himself became a symbol indicating the death and resurrection of the Lord.This is what the Lord Jesus made clear when a group of Scribes and Pharisees asked to show them a sign from heaven, and He replied to them, saying: “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonas. For as Jonas was in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights…. For as Jonas was a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man also be to this generation” (Matt. 12: 39, 40; Luke 11:30).

Historical overview:

Jonas son of Amittai, whose name means dove, was born in the village of Gittahhefer, which lies on the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali (Joshua 19:13), and it is about five kilometers northeast of the city of Nazareth. Its location is now “Khirbet Al-Zawra” near the village of “Mashhad”, where there is now the “tomb of the Prophet Younis”, in which it is believed that the Prophet is buried, and St. Jerome (from the fourth century) mentions that he visited this tomb.There is no mention in the book of the Old Testament about this prophet outside the Book of Jonas except in the Book of the Second Kings (2 Kings 14:25), where it is mentioned that he prophesied in the days of King Jeroboam son of Joash, King of Israel (793-735 BC).The prophet Jonas prophesied during one of the most difficult periods that his nation went through. For all the modern kings who ruled Israel were very wicked in the eyes of the Lord, and the punishment of the Lord was imminent to befall them. God used the prophet Jonas to warn the people so that they might repent, so God would return and have mercy on them and save them from their enemies. And it seems that God’s intervention and His mercy on this people was the result of Jonas’ preaching among them: “For the Lord saw the affliction of Israel, that it was very bitter: for there was not any shut up, nor any left, nor any helper for Israel. And the Lord said not that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven: but he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.” (2 Kings 14:26, 27).The reason for deliverance from the enemies, which was accomplished by the king, is not due to the repentance of the people and the king, as much as it is due to the mercy of God upon his people.

Because despite Jonas’ call to them to repent, the king did not turn back from his evil ways and did not offer repentance to the Lord: “In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel began to reign in Samaria, and reigned forty and one years. 24 And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord….. He restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain, according to the word of the Lord God of Israel, which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonas, the son of Amittai, the prophet, which was of Gathhepher.” (2 Kings 14: 23-25).

As for the kings of the state of Assyria, contemporaries of this king, and one of whom repented as a result of the calling of Jonas, they are Adad-Nirari III (810-782 BC), Shalmanasar IV (782-772 BC), and Assyria Dan III (772-754 BC), and Assur-Nirari the Fifth (754-746 BC).There are some historical evidences that prove that in the days of King Adad-Nirari III, a religious revolution took place, followed by a kind of belief in one God, or at least in a greater God. Some historians link this revolution with the call of the prophet Jonas to the people of Nineveh.It seems that the people of Nineveh were very evil in the eyes of the Lord, as more than one prophet predicted their destruction.The prophet Nahum says in his prophecy: “Woe to the bloody city! They are all full of lies and kidnapping. Predation does not go away….it is not a remedy for your brokenness. Your wound is incurable” (Na 3:1, 19).As well, the prophet Zephaniah prophesied about it, saying: “And He will make Nineveh a desolate wasteland like a wilderness….This is the joyful city, quiet and secure, saying in its heart: I am and there is no one else” (Zephaniah 2:13,15).

The message of Jonas the prophet:

In order to know the message of this prophet, we must refer to the book that bears his name, which is the book of the prophet Jonas, because this book presents to us one of the most important theological mysteries, and it is the mystery that Paul the Apostle called in his letter to the Ephesians:

“If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:2-6).

It is clear that the mystery of Christ here is that God is not only for the Jews, but for the Gentiles as well.The prophet Jonas wanted to convey these ideas to his people Israel, and he knew very well that it would be difficult for them to accept this idea, because he himself had once completely rejected the concept. Why?Whenever the people of Israel sinned and deviated from God’s path, God warned them that He would chastise them by way of the Gentiles.Therefore, the children of Israel looked at the Gentiles with intense hostility and wished for them continuous punishment, and they never thought of the possibility of salvation for these people. And they tried to search in the sayings of the prophets about the prophecies that predicted ruin and destruction for them, and there are many of them.
If they found any clue in the words of the prophets about the possibility of salvation for these peoples, they tried to interpret it in an incorrect symbolic way, so as to remove any possibility of their salvation from their thoughts.Among the few clues that indicate God’s acceptance of the Gentiles, which the prophets mentioned incidentally, is the prophet Isaiah’s saying in his prophecy about John the Baptist: “A voice crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the wilderness (that is, among the peoples that did not know God) a way for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3).Isaiah also speaks about the return of all Gentiles to the fold of the Lord: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established on the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow to it” (Isaiah 2:2). It is clear that these prophecies were referring to the era of the coming of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus.

Such were the clues of the prophets. As for Jonas the prophet, instead of presenting theoretical teachings and sayings about God’s acceptance of the Gentiles’ repentance, he had to tell them the story of God’s dealings with him personally in the mission in which God sent him to the Gentiles to call them to repentance.

What made it clear to them that he initially rejected the idea of the Gentiles repenting and returning to God. And how he tried to escape from the face of the Lord so that he would not go and preach the good tidings to the Gentiles, so they would repent and return and God would forgive them. During his escape to Tarshish (which may be one of the ports of present-day Spain), God stirred up the sea against him, and the ship almost sank, so the sailors had to throw him into the sea, where God prepared for him a whale that swallowed him and kept him safe, then spewed him out on land. Jonas submitted to God’s command and went to preach to the people of Nineveh, who, as soon as they heard the warning, they repented to God, fasting a pure fast which in turn made God have mercy on them and forgave their sins.God had taught Jonas a lesson he would never forget, and He now wants his Jewish brothers to learn this lesson. Here is the Church of the New Testament who also benefited from this lesson, codifying a special fast similar to the fast of the people of Nineveh in order to instill in the hearts of its children always that God does not only rejoice in the repentance and return of the sinner to Him, but that He is also not the God of a particular church or a particular people, but He is the God of all creation: “Who wants all people to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4), and that: “In every nation, he who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him.” (Acts 10:35)In addition to this mystery revealed by the Prophet, which is the mystery of God’s acceptance of the Gentiles, he also emphasizes the life of repentance. It tells us about the repentance of the pagan sailors and their belief in God, God of the earth and the sea, and in their repentance they made vows to God and offered a sacrifice (Jonas 1:16). It also tells us of the repentance of the people of Nineveh, from their oldest to their youngest, and their return to God, remorseful and sitting in sackcloth and ashes (Jonas 3:59). He also tells us, albeit with a hidden sign, of his own repentance.If the Prophet did not explicitly mention to us that he repented, but in writing this book he explicitly acknowledged the wrong path he took. Finally, he tells us about God’s remorse for the evil that he wanted to inflict on the people of Nineveh, and that the repentance of this people made God turn back from his threat to annihilate this country: “When God saw their deeds that they turned back from their evil path, God repented of the evil that He had spoken to do to them, and He did not do it.” (Jonas 3:10).In the past, God wanted to find only ten pious people in Sodom and Gomorrah who would make Him turn back His anger and forgive them, but He did not find (Genesis 18:32). Furthermore, He wanted to forgive Jerusalem if He had found one righteous in it: “Roam the streets of Jerusalem and see, and find knowledge and search its squares. Do you find a person or is there a worker of justice who seeks the truth, so I forgive her?” (Jer 5:1)As for the pagan city of Nineveh, it repented and turned back to God, so it obtained salvation, and it deserved, as Christ testified to it, to stand before the throne of God to condemn the cities that did not repent and accept the word of God: “The men of Nineveh will rise up in judgement with this generation and judge it, because they repented at the call of Jonas.” (Matt. 12:41).

Sign of the Prophet Jonas:

How did Jonas become a sign?The Gospel of Saint Matthew answers, saying: “Just as Jonas was in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights” (Matthew 12:40). St. Luke’s Gospel adds: “For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation.” (Luke 11:30).The Pharisees asked the Lord to show them a sign from heaven, forgetting all the signs and miracles that He did among them. So the Lord showed them that this evil generation, which exceeded the people of Nineveh in its evil, needed another kind of signs, because the people of Nineveh repented as a result of Jonas’ calling without asking him for a sign to prove the truthfulness of his words.That is why the Lord Jesus saw that they needed the sign of His incarnation and descension to our world, the sign of His death and burial in the grave for three days, then His resurrection from the dead, raising with Him all those who believe in Him in that generation and in all generations: “He raised us with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places” (Eph 2:6).The sailors plotted against Jonas and threw him into the sea, and the belly of the whale became for him like “the bottom of the abyss” (John 2:2).Thus the Jews revolted against the Lord and crucified Him, and He was buried in the “subsoil of the earth.”And just as God kept Jonas safe and sound in the belly of the whale, and he was living in the hope that he would see God’s temple again: “But I return to look at your holy temple” (Jonas 2:5). This is how the prophecy said about the Lord Jesus that He was buried in hope: “Even my body will also rest in hope. For you will not leave my soul in the grave, nor will you allow your Holy One to see corruption” (Acts 2:26,27; Psalm 16:9,10).Just as Jonas came out of the belly of the whale after three days and three nights, and went and preached to the people of Nineveh, so the Lord rose from the dead on the third day and announced the good news of salvation to all creation. What is meant by “three days, three nights” is not three full days, because in the language of the Bible, and in the ancient Jewish literature in general, any part of the day is called a full day (example: 1 Kings 20: 29; Esther 4: 16, 5: 1; Luke 2:21).

Jonas’ descent into the belly of the whale and his safe exit was a sign for the people of Nineveh, which gave them life after the death sentence had been passed on them, “After forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonas 3:4). Thus, the death and resurrection of the Lord became the cause of eternal life for all who believe in Him, after we were all under the judgment of death because of the judgment that befell Adam and his descendants: “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.22  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.’’ (1 Cor 15:21-22)





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