As both adults and children we read the Bible as if it contains a series of unrelated stories. Flip open to a book of the Bible, read it, and then wrestle with many questions about the details in the story and why the story unfolded the way it did. Rather than exploring further, we shrug our shoulders, put the book back on the shelf and walk away. By giving up too quickly, we miss out on some of the most amazing details that point to Jesus. It’s time to follow our curiosity a bit and see just how eloquently the Old Testament stories point to Jesus. You and your children will develop a deeper understanding of the gospel and a greater appreciation for the Bible when you discover Jesus in the details. Let’s look at how Jonah, washed ashore alive, points to Jesus. 

To Obey…Or Not?!

This week, we are going to meet a man in the Bible who REALLY didn’t want to obey God. That man’s name is Jonah. Jonah was a prophet (or messenger) of God. That means he spoke to the people on behalf of God. That’s an important job and you would want to get the message right. But what if God’s message was extending a second chance to people you didn’t like? That’s exactly what happened to Jonah. God wanted Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh that they needed to ask God to forgive them of their evil ways. If they would not repent (or turn from their evil), then God would destroy them. But if they would repent, God would forgive them. But Jonah didn’t want God to forgive them, they were his enemies!

A History Lesson

The city of Nineveh was a huge city and the people were enemies of Israel. As a society they were brutal and pagan. They had a long history of rebellion toward God, all the way back to their founder, Nimrod. Nimrod, the great-grandson of Noah, is famous for another building project, the Tower of Babel. That building project was an effort by the people to “make a name for ourselves; otherwise, we will be scattered abroad over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:4). This was in direct rebellion to God who had told them (see Genesis 9) to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. As a result of that effort, God caused the languages of the world to be changed so that they would be unable to understand one another. This discontinued their effort to build the tower, but that still didn’t stop Nimrod from his own personal desires to rebel against God..

The Legacy of the Founder

According to the historian Josephus, Nimrod stated he “would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to reach. And that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, Chapter 4). Nimrod didn’t trust God’s promise to never flood the earth again. And he went further to set himself and the people he led squarely against God. According to Josephus, Nimrod “persuaded [the people] not to ascribe [their strength] to God, as if it were through his means they were happy, but to believe that it was their own courage which procured that happiness.” You can see the attitude of Nimrod that turned the people from relying on God to relying on themselves.

Running From God

With this as their history, coupled with their brutal practices of torturing their enemies, you can begin to see why Jonah really didn’t like the people of Nineveh. But Jonah not only didn’t like these people, he didn’t want God to forgive them! That exposes Jonah’s own heart as one unwilling to extend mercy. So, Jonah decided to run as far away from Nineveh as he could get. He boarded a ship headed in the opposite direction. And what happened along the way shows God’s mercy towards Jonah and his mercy towards the people of Nineveh. You can read all about Jonah’s story in the book of Jonah, it’s in the Minor Prophets before the book of Matthew. Take the time to read Jonah’s story and find out how he was washed ashore alive!

Lessons From the Book of Jonah

If we look at the story of Jonah and his encounter with the giant fish, we begin to see some themes emerge. This Biblical story shows off the sovereignty of God. The supernatural storm and God’s control of a giant fish prove his sovereignty over nature. God was clearly in control and God clearly wanted to use Jonah to bring the people of Nineveh to repentance. In addition to God’s sovereignty being on display, his mercy also emerges. God’s patience with the evil Ninevites and with his prophet Jonah is a wonderful display of God’s mercy. Ultimately Jonah submits to God, obeying, and the people of Nineveh repent. The book closes with God making the point that he has the right to have compassion on His creation. And there is still more to this story.

Did You Know Jesus Talked About Jonah?

That’s right! Jesus references this story in the book of Matthew (and Luke). In answering the unbelieving Pharisee’s demands for more signs and miracles from Jesus, he says, ”Evil and unfaithful people ask for a sign! But none will be given except the sign of the prophet Jonah. Jonah was in the belly of a huge fish for three days and three nights. Something like that will happen to the Son of Man. He will spend three days and three nights in the grave. The men of Nineveh will stand up on judgment day with the people now living. And the Ninevites will prove that these people are guilty. The men of Nineveh turned away from their sins when Jonah preached to them. And now something more important than Jonah is here (Matthew 12:39-41).”  Jonah was washed ashore alive after being presumed dead in the belly of a big fish.  Jesus would spend 3 days in the grave, but would be resurrected, very much alive!

How Jonah Points to Jesus

Jesus uses the story of Jonah to emphasize three things. First, Jesus will spend three days in the grave. Jonah was washed ashore alive after 3 days in the belly of the fish. This was pointing to something similar that would happen to Jesus. This prophecy about Jesus did come true! Jesus died for 3 days, and then rose from the dead. Second, the Ninevites repented of their sins and were forgiven by God. Jesus contrasts the Israelites of his day with the Ninevites. The Ninevites, the enemies of Israel, repented and were forgiven. However, the Israelites of Jesus day, his very own people, refused to turn from sin. Jesus shows the stark difference between these two peoples. Repentance leads to forgiveness, refusal to repent leads to a guilty charge. And finally, even though Jonah the prophet pointed to Jesus, we see that Jesus is much better than Jonah. That is the case with each story that points to Jesus. Jesus is better!

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