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JONAH - FACT OR FICTION?

SCIENCE AND THE BIBLE #6

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Saturday Evening, July 10, 2004
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

"An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:39-40).


The Scofield Study Bible's note on Jonah 1:17 says, "No miracle of Scripture has called forth so much unbelief. The issue is not between the doubter and this ancient record [the Book of Jonah], but between the doubter and the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 12:39, 40)." That statement is exactly right.

In his wonderful little book, Jonah - Fact or Fiction?, Dr. M. R. DeHaan said,

No book of the Bible has been subjected to more scorn and ridicule by skeptics and infidels than the little Book of Jonah. Yet no book of the Old Testament is better authenticated, and its historical character placed beyond all shadow of doubt. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself vouches for this historicity and literalness of Jonah by seizing upon it as a type of His own literal Death and Resurrection. In Matthew 12:40, Jesus, in answer to His critics, who questioned His authority, says:

"For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

This passage (also referred to in Luke 11:29, 30) immediately lifts the Book of Jonah above the realm of fiction or parable. Jesus places His stamp of approval upon the historicity of the account of the Book of Jonah (M. R. DeHaan, M.D., Jonah - Fact or Fiction?, Zondervan Publishing House, 1957, Introduction, p. 1).

Christ said that the Book of Jonah is true. That settles the matter for all of those who believe in the authority of Christ.

The narrative of the Book of Jonah is simple. God told Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and preach against its wickedness. Nineveh was a pagan city, the capital of Assyria. Jonah was a Jew from Gath-hepher, a city located about 14 miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee, close to the city of Nazareth. Jonah knew that the Ninevites hated the Jews and were very wicked pagans. He did not obey God. Instead he ran away and got on a boat that was headed toward Spain. A great storm arose during the voyage. The sailors felt that God was punishing someone on the ship by sending the storm. By casting lots they determined that Jonah was the guilty person. Jonah admitted it and said that God would spare them if they threw him overboard, which they did - and the sea was calmed.

God had prepared a great fish that swallowed Jonah. From the belly of the fish Jonah prayed for deliverance. God heard his prayer. The fish vomited the prophet out on dry land. God called him to go to Nineveh again, and this time Jonah obeyed. The prophet walked slowly through the great city of Nineveh preaching his message: "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown" (Jonah 3:4). The people of Nineveh had gone through a plague and a solar eclipse about four years before, and this may have contributed to their willingness to listen to Jonah (cf. The MacArthur Study Bible, Word Publishing, 1997, p. 1292). The entire city, from the king down, turned to God in the most astonishing revival recorded in the Bible. God spared Nineveh and saved the people.

The grumpy Hebrew prophet was displeased that God showed mercy to those Gentiles. He slunk away to live on a hillside overlooking the city. God prepared a plant that grew up over the shelter where Jonah lived. The large leaves of the plant made it cooler inside the prophet's shelter. But God sent a worm which attacked the plant, and it died. Then God sent a hot wind that beat down on Jonah's head. God used this for an object lesson - Jonah cared about the plant in the same way God cared about the human beings of Nineveh.

That's the basic story. It's one of the shortest books in the Old Testament, and I think it is one of the most important. I have come to believe that this little book is nearly as important as the five books of Moses. Here are two reasons why I believe that the Book of Jonah is so important.

I. First, the Book of Jonah shows the sovereignty of God.

One of the great themes of Jonah is the sovereign power of God over His creation. Please turn to Jonah 1:9. It's on page 943 of the Scofield Study Bible. Jonah is speaking to the sailors before they threw him into the sea.

"And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, which made the sea and the dry land"
      (Jonah 1:9).

This verse shows that Jonah believed God to be the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth.

The Lordship, or sovereignty, of God is made very clear in the Book of Jonah. Look at verse 17.

"Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah…" (Jonah 1:17).

This was like no other fish that ever lived. It was "prepared" by God. Dr. Harry Rimmer said,

In the book of Jonah in the Hebrew language, the word translated "fish" is the Hebrew word "dag." This word appears in the Old Testament nineteen times, and is translated on each occasion "fish"…In the King James version of the New Testament there is an incorrect translation that makes the fish appear as a whale…The translators, in dealing with this passage [Matthew 12:40] used the word "whale" because it was the only sea creature they knew that was big enough to suit them. The word [in Greek], however, is "ketos" - and simply means a monster from the deep. The Hebrew word for whale is "tannin." The Old Testament Scriptures say that Jonah was swallowed by a great "dag" [fish]. The New Testament says he was [swallowed] by a "ketos," and nowhere does the original writing say that this was a whale (Dr. Harry Rimmer, The Harmony of Science and Scripture, Eerdmans, 1949, pp. 177-178).

God "prepared" that special sea monster. This shows the sovereign power of God.  Thousands of people believe in the Loch Ness sea monster, or Big Foot, or in space aliens - even though there is no real evidence for these creatures.  But those same people think it is unbelievable that God could make a sea creature big enough to swallow a man!  Their problem is this - their God is too small!  

Now look at Jonah 2:10.

"And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land" (Jonah 2:10).

Again, this shows us the sovereign power of God. God made that special sea monster, and God caused it to vomit Jonah out three days later.

The sovereignty of God is also shown in the miraculous revival that God sent to the people as Jonah preached in chapter 3, verses 4 and 5, and in the preparation of the gourd that grew up over the booth where Jonah lived, in chapter 4, verse 6. Thus, the sovereignty of God is a major theme of the Book of Jonah. You must either reject or accept what the book teaches on this subject. Either God was able, or He was unable, to do the things we read about here. Miracles are, by definition, things that God does outside the realm of normal experience by His sovereign power.

II. Second, the Book of Jonah pictures the death, burial, and
resurrection of Christ.

Dr. M. R. DeHaan said,

The Lord Jesus Christ Himself vouches for the historicity and literalness of Jonah by seizing upon it as a type of His own literal Death and Resurrection. In Matthew 12:40, Jesus, in answer to His critics, who questioned His authority, says:

"For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's [sea monster's] belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

(M. R. DeHaan, M.D., Jonah - Fact or Fiction?, Zondervan Publishing House, 1957, Introduction).

The longer I study the Book of Jonah, and Christ's words in Matthew 12:39-41, the more I tend to agree with Dr. DeHaan that Jonah actually died while he was in the stomach of that sea monster. Christ literally died on the Cross, and rose again from the dead. And Christ used the experience of Jonah as the great Old Testament picture of His own death and resurrection. This was also the view of Dr. J. Vernon McGee, who went into great detail on this subject in his Thru the Bible Commentary (Dr. J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson, 1982, volume III, pp. 749-755).

Dr. McGee said,

Was the miracle one of keeping him alive, or was the miracle in raising him from the dead? Since this book [Jonah] illustrates the resurrection, I'm of the opinion that God raised him from the dead (ibid., p. 751).

Dr. Henry M. Morris also leans toward this view. He said,

The Lord Jesus confirmed the historicity of both Jonah and his experience in the "whale" by citing it as a type of his own coming death, burial and resurrection (Matthew 12:39, 40). In fact, these words of Christ probably indicate that Jonah, like Jesus, actually died and was then restored to life (Dr. Henry M. Morris, The Defender's  Study Bible,  World  Publishing,  1995,  note  on  Jonah  1:17).

Let us end our study tonight by standing and reading Matthew 12:38-40 aloud.

"Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:38-40).

You may be seated.

If you have trouble believing what God did to Jonah, you will also have trouble believing that God raised up Jesus literally from the dead. But we believe in a God of miracles. We make no apology for that whatever. The whole Bible is full of accounts of God doing miracles. The Christian faith rests on the miracle of Christ's resurrection. You can take it or leave it.

"An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas" (Matthew 12:39).

That sign is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! Take it or leave it. "There shall be no sign given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas." Christ has risen from the dead! Take it and live! Or leave it and perish! The choice is up to you!


(END OF SERMON)

THE OUTLINE OF

JONAH - FACT OR FICTION?

SCIENCE AND THE BIBLE #6

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

 

"An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:39-40).

(Jonah 3:4)

I.   The Book of Jonah shows the sovereignty of God, Jonah 1:9;
Jonah 1:17; 2:10.

II.  The Book of Jonah pictures the death, burial and resurrection
of Christ, Matthew 12:38-40.

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