Hello and welcome to episode 70 of The Berean Manifesto brought to you by The Ekklesian House. This is Pastor Bill and over the next 10 minutes or so we’re going to take a look at Jonah and the Big Fish.
Most people have at least heard the story of Jonah, or at least some facsimile of it. They even made a VeggieTales movie about it. But, the story of Jonah is so much more than just a tale for children or a fable. Both Matthew and Luke recorded that Jesus referenced the events of Jonah’s biblical tale when the Pharisees and Sadducees asked Him for a sign that He was the messiah.
First let’s take a look at the story. Jonah receives word from the Lord to go to Nineveh and preach against it because their evil had come to His attention. The people of Nineveh were enemies of the Israelites, and Jonah knowing how evil the people of Nineveh were and that God was probably just going to forgive them because He is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and one who relents from sending disaster, (Jonah 3:2)” Jonah books passage on a ship heading the opposite direction of Nineveh to Tarshish and heads below deck to take a nap.
The ship gets caught in a great storm, the sailors cry out to their individual gods, and start throwing cargo overboard to lighten the ships load. The captain wakes Jonah up and they cast lots to find out who’s responsible for the storm. The lot singles out Jonah and he tells them that it’s his fault that the storm has overtaken their ship and that they should throw him overboard to stop the storm. They try to row the boat against the storm, refusing to throw Jonah out, and when that fails they go ahead and throw him overboard. When they do, the storm stops and a great fish swallows Jonah. He stays in the belly of that fish for three days and three nights.
In the last podcast, episode 69, we talked about pride and humility. Jonah was full of pride; pride in himself and his own righteousness, pride in the Hebrew people and in their embrace of righteousness. Out of this pride Jonah thought he knew better than God on what the fate of the inhabitants of Nineveh should be. The Lord commands the fish to spit Jonah out on dry land and God once again tells Jonah to go to Nineveh. Jonah heads to Nineveh and begins to preach. After one day the people of Nineveh all the way up to their king are ready to repent of their ways. The king declares a fast from food and water for all people and cattle, and commands that everyone, including the cattle, wear sackcloth.
Let’s take a look at Nineveh itself for just a moment. In Jonah 3:3 it says that the city was “a three-day walk.” Just reading through the story you might take that to mean that Jonah was spit out on the beach a three day walk from the city, but that’s not what that means. Large cities at this time were measured by how long it would take you to walk around its walls at the average speed of 20 miles per day. Historically that measurement ads up, the geographer Strabo wrote that Nineveh was larger than Babylon and the historian Diodorus Siculus recorded Nineveh as being an oblong parallelogram about 20 miles long, and 12 miles across surrounded by large walls 100 feet high, so broad that three chariots could drive side by side on them, and that it was defended by 1,500 towers 200 feet in height.
After walking only 1/3 of the journey that he would need in order to preach to the whole city Jonah has succeeded in having the word from the Lord reach everyone in the city. Is it just that Jonah is a highly convincing orator who won over the hearts and minds of over a hundred and twenty thousand men, not to mention the woman and children? I mean, the message he brought was that God was going to destroy the city and its people in forty days because of their evil ways. Doesn’t really seem like the kind of message that changes minds and turns hearts.
In episode 69 we also talked about the Philistines stealing the ark of the Covenant and taking it to the temple of Dagon the merman, or as I’ve learned since recording that podcast is pronounced Daw-gahn. The people in Nineveh also worshipped Dagon as well as a mermaid named Atargatis; although they may have known her as Nanshe, or as the Grecians called her Derceto. The worship of either Dagon or Atargatis was surrounded by a holy reverence of fish, since both were fish from the waist down. Their priests wore hats shaped like fish heads and skirts covered in fish scales. It was common for devotees to refuse to eat fish since that was the food of their gods.
Just imagine what it would have been like for these people who their whole life revered fish as holy creatures and worshipped gods who were half fish themselves to see a giant fish spit out a man on the beach. What must they have thought of Jonah? They might have even thought that he was Baal, the fabled son of Dagon. It’s no wonder that they jumped to repent when he spoke, and that word of what he was foretelling spread so quickly. And since Baal is supposedly half bull it would explain why when they repented they even had their cattle fasting and wearing sackcloth with them.
The people of Nineveh repenting is what God wanted, it’s what God sent Jonah to Nineveh to achieve. Seeing their repentance God decides not to destroy them anymore, which makes Jonah angry. Even after spending three days and three nights in the belly of a fish, and having over 120,000 people turn from their evil ways to righteousness Jonah is still holding onto his pride. He goes as far as to give God an ultimatum, Destroy Nineveh or kill me. Jonah then heads just outside the city and finds himself a good seat to watch the destruction of Nineveh under a shelter of twigs and branches; a destruction that never comes. The last we hear of Jonah God is chastising him for caring more about his own comfort than the survival of the people of Nineveh.
We have to take the example of Jonah to heart, and let go of our pride. God knows better than we do how things work. It is important that we all, each and every one of us, examine our hearts, lay down our pride, and embrace humility. Take up only the work given to you by the Holy Spirit and let the Holy Spirit do His work.
This is Pastor Bill saying, “Until next time…”