As I said a few weeks ago we as a church are committed to “Leading the people of God, into the enjoyment of God, through the Word of God, for the glory of God” and because of that we are going to continue walking our way through books of the Bible here in Sunday worship. Today we begin a new series; it’s called “Jonah.”
But before we begin there is a matter I should clarify. It has been a long debated whether Jonah is actual history or a parable. Did you know that? Here are both sides and my opinion.
Those who think Jonah is a parable usually argue these points. First, Jonah is different than other prophets because he doesn’t say a lot. Second, there are extraordinary events in it like the great fish who swallows Jonah, the repentance of the entire city of Nineveh, and the growth of the plant at the end. None of these would happen in real life, they say. Third, there are exaggerations present as well. Repentance of animals (3:7-8), and saying that the size of Nineveh is 3 days walk (3:3) when it was smaller historically. Now viewing this as a parable has problems. Parables are normally short. Parables are normally simple. Parables are normally accompanied with an explanation. Jonah is and has none of these things
Those who think Jonah is a historical account (me) argue like this. It really happened, it was a historical event. Jonah 1:1 is very similar to other prophetic books. If it’s a parable did Jonah’s father Amittai not really exist? The Word of the Lord really did come to Jonah. Jonah is also identified (2 Kings 14:23-28), further proving he was a real historical person. The note in 3:7-8 about the animal’s repenting is in my opinion a call for ALL of Nineveh to repent. What about Jonah’s comment that it takes 3 days journey through Nineveh? Perhaps it is a parallel to 3 days in the fish, or Jonah could be referring to the amount of time it took to preach his message throughout all Nineveh. Or “greater Nineveh” could include the outlying areas as well. How could a whole city, especially one as large as Nineveh repent? “With God all things are possible.” (Luke 18:27) Lastly, Jesus refers to Jonah in Matthew 12. Was Jesus merely referring to a story that was popular in Jewish culture? No. Jesus spoke of the real historical account of Jonah as a sign of His own death and resurrection. If it didn’t really happen, would it be legitimate for Jesus still to use it as a sign? All the other examples in Matthew 12 are true events, why not this one?
Clearly you can see that I believe Jonah is a real historical person, who really was swallowed by a great fish, who really did have a heart change toward his enemies, and who really has a large lesson to teach us today. So too that lesson we turn.