THE MIRACLE OF JONAH
That the Book of Jonah is no allegory, no parable, is as
certain as anything in literature can be. For (1) the book is obviously meant by its author
to be a straightforward historical narrative. (2) The People of God - the only people guided
by inspired prophets - so regarded it for a thousand years. (3) No writer in the sacred Canon ever
introduces prodigious miracles, or miracles at all,
into a parable. (4) The psalm uttered by
Jonah from the depths of the seas would be totally out of place in an allegory,
and is only consistent with a plain narrative of historical fact. (5) Nor would any Jew, composing a fiction,
select a well-known Prophet - at that time the greatest in
For generations Rationalism countered the miracle by pointing
to the gullet of a whale - a few inches across - as proving the miracle
fabulously grotesque. For decades this
passed as Science. Even as lately as
1867 a warm defender of the miracle, Dr.
Alexander Raleigh, says: “That a whale could not swallow a man, without
miraculous expansion of its narrow throat, is certain.” Yet what are the facts? It is true of the Greenland Whale, but it is not true of the Spermaceti Whale
found in the Mediterranean, and it was in the
In view of the fact that Ketos, the word used both by the Septuagint and by our
Lord, meant originally a sea-monster, and only later a whale, the narrative of
a leviathan, neither whale nor mammal, caught off
The miracle consisted in the preservation of Jonah; “God prepared a great fish” (Jonah 1: 17) - not by exceptional creation, but by supernatural adjustment.
But the whole heart of the miracle is its spiritual import and it is finally corroborative of its truth, and of a value beyond all price, that we have our Lord’s own profound and detailed exposition. “If it could be shown,” says Dean Farrar, “that Jesus intended to stamp the story as literally true, every Christian would at once, and as a matter of course, accept it.” Now our Cord evidently considered the miracle of the greatest importance; and in answer to the challenge for “a sign from heaven” - a direct, open, vivid miracle from God - He says that the miracle of Jonah was such. He says:-“Jonah became” - for he was not originally such – “a sign” - a ‘sign’ is a miracle viewed as evidence, something supernatural to authenticate a truth “unto the Ninevites” (Luke 11: 30) - that is, an embodied miracle because of what he had passed through. “And the people of Nineveh believed God” (Jonah 3: 5): the moral marvel of an entire city prostrate before God because of one man come up out of Death, not only was as prodigious in the moral sphere as the disgorged Prophet in the physical, but foreshadowed a Messiah disgorged by Death, and believed on far and wide among the great Gentile cities of the world.
So our Lord proceeds:- “Jonah” - not his corpse – “was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale” (Matt. 12: 40); whether in swoon, or conscious, or actually dead, is not stated; but his prayer implies consciousness. The fact of the miracle could not be stated in words simpler or plainer: Jesus assumes and endorses it. For He who multiplied fish, for the mouths of thousands, could equally prepare a fish, for one man’s lodgement - incomparably the lesser miracle: He who could shut the lion’s mouth, while He opened, could also restrain, a whale’s devouring maw: He who located a coin inside a fish down in the glimmering depths, could manifestly find, and deliver, an entombed prophet in the heart of the seas. All the miracles of the
Jehovah-Christ are woven of one tissue, and utter one revelation.
For the very prodigiousness of the miracle which, down all the ages, has been its stumbling block, ought to have been its principal clue. For God works in cycles, and history is again and again a forecast of prophecy - the past is the future in little; and a type bulks large in proportion to the importance of the antitype. The Florentines said of Dante:- “There goes the man who has walked in Hell”: much more must the Ninevites have said of Jonah, still dripping, as it were, from his plunge to the roots of the mountains – “There goes the man who has re-crossed the Bourne from which no traveller returns.” So our Lord’s comment is the unveiling of the heart of God in the miracle. “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale” - and so became an accepted marvel to the whole family of Semitic peoples, possibly to all nations – “so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12: 40). Jonah’s was the huge moon of the Old Testament’s most startling miracle cast by its far vaster and un-risen sun, the supremest miracle of all the ages.
So the three days and three nights exactly delimit the parallel; and reveal God’s design in a miracle not so great in quality - the preservation of the Youths in fire was an intenser miracle - as huge in its panorama; for it pictured the Lord’s marvellous underworld experience for the redemption of the race. A storm raised by the wrath of God, and threatening all on board with instant destruction; both outcast, both flung, as the reason of the wrath, to the raging tempest; the storm centring on One - Christ made sin, and sacrificed for all on board; a great peace following at once on a great sacrifice; drowned in the depths - “all Thy waves and Thy billows,” cried both in identical words (Psalm 42: 7) in the Hebrew, “have gone over me” - wrath-billows for sin; swallowed by death, and actually in Sheol - “out of the belly of Sheol,” Jonah says, “cried I”;* resident in Hades for three days and three nights - the three greatest days of the prophet’s life, in which he got his power to revolutionize vast Nineveh, as the Lord, the world; emerging, at last, perfectly delivered – wrath-free, sin-free, death-free; both embodied miracles from the grave; each no longer now “a minister of the Circumcision,” but moving over the world for salvation among surging, sobbing, praying multitudes of the Gentiles. So was this enormous miracle none too huge to shadow forth the transcendent experiences of the Son of God in the salvation of the world.
[* It is possible that the Fish, with the Prophet, entered Sheol. The False Prophet emerges from Hades by way of the sea (Rev. 13: 1); and as infernal animals come out of Sheol (Rev. 9: 3), so it must be possible for earthly animals to enter it. Korah and his company went down alive into Sheol - (Num. 16: 33). That Jonah actually died, his spirit entering Sheol while his corpse remained in the Whale, seems negatived by typology: a type of resurrection could hardly be resurrection.]
A Modern Jonah
Dear Sir,- That a man can exist as
Jonah did, though unconscious, and for less time, experience has proved. M. de Parville, editor of the Journal
and himself a man of science,
reports a case which he himself thoroughly sifted. A harpooned whale, mad with pain, and in his
death-agonies, upset a boat from the English whaler “Star of the East” off the
Criticisms, however, challenging the veracity of the narrative will be found in the Expoistory Times for June and August, 1906.
I am, etc.,