Jonah The Righteous

Jonah is often pictured as 'the runaway prophet'–a not so pleasant compliment. However, were we to see him through more favourable glasses, would he still be Jonah the reluctant, or Jonah the righteous?

The Sages encourage us to observe our fellow-man positively. The basis for this wise teaching is God's Word. He instructs His people to "Love your neighbour as yourself." (Leviticus 19:18) We do not like it when our actions and words are misconstrued. So then, neither should we be toward others.

In 2 Kings 14:25, the prophet is referred to as "His servant, Yonah" , a commedable title indeed, which is in contrast to the negative and more common label given him. Perhaps consideration of this servant of God, in a more positive light, is appropriate.

Yonah, the Hebrew name for Jonah, means 'dove'. The first record of a dove in Scripture is when Noah released a dove from the ark to determine whether the flood waters had rescinded after the ark came to rest on Mt Ararat. (Genesis 8:8ff) On the first occasion, the dove returned to Noah. Seven days later Noah released the dove a second time. On that occasion, the dove returned with an olive twig in its beak. The picture is one of peace and reconciliation. Mankind would begin anew through Noah and his family. The dove ( yonah ) symbolized the restored relationship between God and man. The prophet Yonah was a man of God who was called to a mission of peace and reconciliation.

The Divine call came to Yonah, "Arise, go to Nineveh . . . " (Yonah 1:2) It was a special mission requiring one who was trustworthy and obedient–a servant of the Lord. Only he who was holy could bring the message of holiness. Yonah arose, but he did not go to Nineveh, directly.

"But Yonah arose to flee to Tarshish . . . " (Yonah 1:3) Since he did not immediately go to Nineveh, an initial observation may be that Yonah was disobedient, or at the least reluctant. However, the prophet did not need to travel to Tarshish to disobey; he only had to remain in Israel. But Yonah arose.

Tarshish is mentioned three times in verse three, which beckons our attention. So like a thirsty traveller by a refreshing spring and valley view, let us stay awhile and drink in the view.

Let us note that the phrase "from the presence of the LORD" is mentioned twice, also in verse three.

Firstly, " . . . Yonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. " It is as if this was the only place in which he could go.

Secondly, in order to get to Tarshish he had " . . . to go with them . . . from the presence of the LORD." The impression is that Yonah must travel with people with whom he would not normally associate.

Add to this imagery, the repetition of the descending steps also in verse three. It is as if he were traversing a downward path, which grew darker with each step. "He went down to Joppa . . . and went down to it (the ship) . . . " Like a stranger in a strange land, he must rely on the sailors for assistance " . . . to go with them to Tarshish..." . The path was dangerous and the surroundings unfamiliar.

Note too, in verse three, the specific mention that Yonah paid for his passage. Ordinarily, payment for such a journey is accepted, but in view of it being mentioned it is noteworthy.

As a man of God, travelling an unfamiliar path, Yonah must pay his way– "he paid the fare . . . " – descending into the depths of darkness.

It can be likened to the Messiah, who, as the ultimate Servant of the Lord, would pay the ransom for the forgiveness of sin and thereby be required to descend into the kingdom of darkness, the realm of sinners and the wicked. The Messiah paid the fare of sinners. In the same way, Yonah, on a Divine assignment, paid the fare to descend to Tarshish.

According to the account, the LORD sent a great wind whipping up the seas into a terrible storm (Yonah 1:4). All onboard were in danger as the ship threatened to break apart. The crew did not hesitate to throw the cargo overboard to lighten the load in the hope of escaping the storm, but to no avail–their lives were still in peril.

Incredibly, while all this was happening, "Yonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep." (Yonah 1:5)

The repetition of "had gone down" and "into the lowest parts" reinforces the unfamiliar surroundings. Note too, Yonah had descended even further; he had entered the lowest parts, as if to emphasize the world of darkness.

What was the prophet doing in this place? He was in a deep sleep. Sleeping is the closest form to death. The picture is that Yonah was not of this world. As a man of God, he was dead to the world of sin. He does not partake of wickedness. His eyes are closed to the desires of this world. His thoughts are untainted. Deep in sleep, he is far from temptation. All his senses are "dead" to the snares that would normally pull men down into the lower realms. As a man of righteousness, Yonah was not "alive" to the world of the unrighteous.

Significant too, is that the prophet was sleeping. It is not normal for anyone to be sleeping while a ship is being tossed like a cork on the raging seas. Neither is it normal for anyone to be asleep while cargo is being thrown overboard, nor while everyone else is shouting and yelling as would be expected in scenes of general chaos and panic, in fear for their lives. Yet, Yonah was the only one onboard who was in a deep sleep. The scene was not normal–Yonah was on a Divine mission.

"So the captain came to him, and said to him, 'What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.'" (Yonah 1:6)

It is interesting that the captain is mentioned. Unlike Yonah, the captain was awake. He was "alive" to the world of darkness. It is as if the captain was familiar with this world. He was a common traveller. Symbolically, the captain could be likened to the Captain of Darkness, who knows the way of sinners–he knows those who stray from the path of truth and holiness.

Of special note is that the captain identifies Yonah as a "sleeper" . By addressing him in this way, the captain affirms that Yonah was a stranger–he was not from these parts, he was sleeping.

A picture begins to emerge that portrays Yonah as being righteous–a servant of the One True God.

Note, the prophet did not reply to the captain's question. Instead, he appears to be patiently waiting.

In contrast, the crew have gathered to cast lots in order to determine, firstly, who has caused the trouble, and secondly, how to secure safe passage.

Yonah is silently watching the proceedings, waiting patiently. Then after lots were cast, the crew identified the prophet to be the culprit. The crew were frantic.

"Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you from?" (Yonah 1:7)

The crew were at their wits end, and desperate to be saved. In contrast, Yonah is courageous and bold.

"So he said to them, 'I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land." (Yonah 1:9)

Yonah revealed his ancestry, and the links began to form. He was a descendant of the great Patriarch Abraham, the friend of the One True God. The famous Hebrew who left the safety and security of his home and family in Ur–in obedience to the call of God– to journey as a stranger in the land of Canaan, which God had promised to him and his descendants forever. So too, Yonah had left the safety and security of the land of Israel to board the unfamiliar environs of this mission.

Yonah was a Hebrew, and in the service of the God of Israel. " . . . and I fear the LORD . . . " He was a devoted, faithful servant–and he stood on the ship's deck declaring his loyalty.

The same God of the great Patriarchs was the One whom Yonah served–the Creator of heaven and earth; He who made the sea and the dry land and who set the boundaries of the sea. He is the One True God. He is LORD God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel.

Without apology or shame, Yonah declared his faith. Unlike the crew who feared the storm, Yonah was not anxious, because he was a servant of "the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land."

The news was not well received by the crew. Gripped with fear, they were uncertain of what the future held. What would become of them? It was all very well for this servant of God to accept "the raging seas" as par for the course, but what about them? The crew were not the least interested in being "stage props" for some random Divine mission. Frantic, they pleaded with Yonah, "Why have you done this?" He did not reply–he is still the only one onboard ship who is calm.

"Then they said to him, 'What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?'–for the sea was growing more tempestuous." (Yonah 1:11)

The question is significant: "What shall we do to you . . . " , because despite the imminent peril, the crew were not inclined to simply grab 'the runaway' and throw him overboard. Instead, they honoured him by deferring to his counsel, and would follow his instruction in order to secure safe passage, thereby placing their future in his hands.

Undoubtedly, Yonah was the cause of the storm, yet, he was at the same time their lifeline–their Saviour. The situation required the crew's right action towards Yonah in order to secure their future. Also, by waiting for Yonah's counsel, the crew were attributing great things to him. They knew that they could not calm the storm directly, but believed that somehow Yonah could.

This is a remarkable picture symbolizing an ancient truth. Yonah was to the crew, as the nation of Israel is to the nations.

Just as the crew were dependant on Yonah, so too, the nations rely on Israel to reveal God's Word–to know Him, to learn of His ways, and be informed of His plan of redemption for the world. Salvation comes to the nations through the people of Israel. In this regard, Yonah was to the crew, as the Messiah is to the nations, and was therefore pointing to Him.

As a light to the nations, Israel shines the way to the Messiah. Representative of the people of God, Yonah, the Hebrew, was shining the way.

In the same way that Yeshua the Messiah is God's Saviour for the world, so too, Yonah would be for all onboard the ship.

Faith and obedience to Yonah's instruction would result in everyone onboard being saved. Similarly, all who put their faith in the Messiah will be delivered from everlasting pain and death, and saved for everlasting life and the World to Come.

"And he said to them, 'Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me." (Yonah 1:12)

Far from being innocent bystanders, the narrative describes the sailors' personal involvement –it was crucial. The sailors had to send Yonah to his death, in order to save themselves.

Yonah would not have saved anyone if he had jumped in the raging sea at his own initiative. Also, if he was not righteous, Yonah would have perished in his sin and none would be saved. The sailors had to take the servant of God with their hands, lift him up and throw him in, sending him to certain death.

This is a graphic picture which highlights the importance of Israel to the nations, and in particular, points to the Messiah.

When the Messiah came He announced that He was the only Saviour: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) He is the Hope of Israel, and the Light of the nations.

The sailors picking up Yonah and throwing him to certain death is a depiction of the nations toward the Messiah, and in particular, those who repent, and believe that He gave up His life for them–God's Anointed is "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" . (John 1:29) Just as the sailors' actions sent Yonah to his death, so too, the sin of the world brought death to the Messiah.

Initially, the crew attempted to return to land, but their efforts proved fruitless. Moreover, the raging seas only worsened. This further emphasizes the Divine mission. If God simply required Yonah on land, why make it harder for the crew to reach the shore, where Yonah could have alighted and been on his way. But God wanted Yonah at sea, and more specifically, onboard the ship, enroute to Tarshish.

With the raging seas worsening, eventually the crew " . . . cried out to the LORD and said, 'We pray, O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man's life; and do not charge us with innocent blood; for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.'" (Yonah 1:14)

Again, note that the crew honour Yonah, and esteem him to be a holy man. From their perspective, his life was worthy to continue. Perhaps they reasoned, "Since he was a prophet of God then they would stumble in darkness, and the community would loose a wise man (a great light), if he were to die. " . . . please do not let us perish for this man's life . . . " . They consider his life more valuable than their own.

While implying their own guilt before God, they affirm Yonah's innocence: "and do not charge us with innocent blood . . . " . And then from their perspective, Yonah is a servant of God on a Divine mission: " . . . for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you." They admit that each event had been Divinely orchestrated, and every person chosen, painting a picture of a Higher purpose.

"So they picked up Yonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging." (Yonah 1:15) The instant Yonah touched the water, the storm ceased. The crew could only watch in horror . . . amazement. Barely seconds had passed and the raging sea was no more; they were saved–hallelujah! The sea was calm and they were alive–it was a miracle.

"Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took vows." (Yonah 1:16)

Yonah had not only saved them from mortal danger, but he had also introduced them to the One who can save the soul–the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob–they feared the LORD. Previously, they had worshipped idols and had not known the God of Israel, but now they had received His mercy.

In these crucial series of events, the prophet is pointing to the Kinsman Redeemer, Yeshua the Messiah, who has laid down His life, so that all who call upon His Name and believe in Him, are forgiven and receive eternal life. "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

"He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the Name of the only begotten Son of God." (John 3:17-18)

"Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Yonah." (Yonah 1:17) Three days and three nights later, Yonah was raised from the dead, and on his way to Nineveh. Likewise, Yeshua the Messiah rose from the dead after three days and nights.

When the Messiah was asked for a sign, He replied, "'An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Yonah.

'For as Yonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

'The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Yonah; and indeed a greater than Yonah is here.'" Matthew 12:39-41)

There is forgiveness and peace with God, for every man, woman, and child, in Yeshua the Messiah. May there be many who believe on Him.