The Suffering and Glory of Christ in Jonah

Jonah being swalled by the great fish

This paper explores how the Prophet Jonah typologically prefigures Jesus Christ.

Introduction (Jonah 1:17-2:10)

17 And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. 1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish,  2 saying, “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.  3 For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.  4 Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’  5 The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head  6 at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.  7 When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.  8 Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.  9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!”  10 And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. (ESV)

Genre.  The Book of Jonah is grouped with the Minor Prophets (“minor” because of their brevity compared to the longer prophetic books).  But the Book of Jonah is unique in the prophetic literature since it focuses more on the prophet’s person and experience than on his message.  This gives the book a flavor something like an extended parable.   The bulk of Jonah 1:17-2:10 is poetry (vv. 2-9) and therefore should be read and interpreted according to the standard conventions of poetic writing, with careful attention allotted to metaphor, imagery, and theological significance.

Characters.  The entire book is a story, making use of many standard character archetypes.  Jonah is a main character who is also round in the sense that he undergoes development throughout the narrative.  The other main character is God who is also round in that he forgives Jonah and relents of the destruction he had determined for the Ninevites when they repent of their violence and disobedience, and also that he demonstrates judgment and mercy on Jonah.  The minor characters comprise two groups: the pagan mariners who become God-fearers and the wicked occupants of the Assyrian capital of Nineveh who also repent of their sin and idolatry.  The great fish also serves as a character of sorts, being the messenger of God to Jonah and agent of his salvation.

Author.  It is uncertain who wrote this short anonymous book, but the prophet Jonah is probably the best choice.  We know that Jonah was a historical person (2 Kings 14:25) and not just a fictional character, and that only Jonah would know all the character’s thoughts which the book entails.

When and Where It Was Written.  Assuming Jonah wrote the book, we know that he ministered in Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C.).  There is not enough evidence to date the book more specific than this.  It is enough to know that Jonah was written prior to the exile of the northern kingdom of Israel into the Assyrian empire (722 B.C.).

Old Testament Redemptive Historical Context

God’s salvation plan for history is found in seed form in Genesis 3:15 (“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel”).   This episode, when God speaks to the serpent in the Garden of Eden promising to create strife between Satan (and his seed) and the woman (and her seed), is progressively advanced through the entire OT.  It comes to fulfillment in Jesus as revealed in the NT, and continues to find fulfillment today until the return of Christ at the end of history.  Jonah is a prophet of the LORD God, the God of all creation and the God of Israel.  In this respect he belongs to the woman’s line of descent who are at war with the serpent’s children.  But Jonah needs the correction of the Lord and therefore needs God to renew the enmity between the prophet and the serpent.  The story of Jonah, especially manifest in his psalm of repentance sung from the belly of the great fish, narrates the protoevangelion as Jonah must learn that God’s enemies will indeed bruise the heel of God’s people, and this non-fatal trial of suffering must come before the victorious blow to the seed of the serpent’s head.  Jonah cries out in prayer to his God from the depths of suffering, repenting of the enmity he created between himself and the Lord, and is raised up from the pit of despair to the hope and experience of salvation.  Craig Blomberg explains how sin and salvation are key themes in Jonah.

(Continue reading here)

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