Deep Inside the Whale
by Steven Boot
July 9, 2013
The purpose in writing this article is share some teaching about one of the most profound and yet misunderstood prophets of the bible; Jonah. It is my belief that his experiences with God and the message that he gives to the nations, will again be repeated within the end times church and Israel. The name Jonah in Hebrew means “Dove”, he symbolizes the ministry of the Holy Spirit declaring reconciliation between God and the world. Just as “the dove” returns to Noah in the ark from the waters and as it descended upon Jesus during his river baptism; so “Jonah,” brings a salvation message over the backdrop of immersion in the waters.
It’s helpful to our understanding of this book to appreciative some of the Hebrew words used in the text, as they give valuable insights to the symbolism used within the passages. For there is within Jonah a number of significant words in Hebrew that play on one another, either in terms of being repeated, sounding similar and/or context. Hence in grasping some of the nuances of these key phrases, we’ll get a clearer idea to the intent of the writer. For instance structurally, the four chapters of the book intertwine and interact with one another; with chapter ones initial “call” of Jonah getting repeated and expanded again in chapter three at Nineveh. We get insight to the fourth “salvation “chapter, by looking at the way it echoes”s from chapter two, when Jonah was delivered in the great fish. To not include the importance of structure and symbolism in interpretation, results in a tendency then for the intended message to get diminished. That’s why sadly, even in largely Evangelical circles, Jonah”s teaching gets sidelined to a kind of comic book story. A kind of grumpy, reluctant old man tale ; rather than an echo of the foreshadowing ministry of The Messiah to come.
Jonah’s importance is further underlined by two significant uses of the book. The first is that he is read and studied by the Jewish people for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The Orthodox Artscroll commentary on “Yonah”, states that this small book speaks to the concepts of repentance, atonement, and forgiveness, which underlie Judaism. In other words it gives a revelatory glimpse to the nature of God’s forgiveness, his means of atonement and a symbolic story of the sacrifices necessary to redeem Israel and the nations.
The second importance is given by Yeshua himself, who refers to it as a means to understanding his own sacrifice (Matthew 12:40)” For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights , so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights .” (HCSB) . It also speaks significantly to the coming spiritual judgment of an unrepentant generation/ people of God . (Luke 11:29)..” This generation is a wicked generation; it seeks for a sign, and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah. “(NASB)
For our purposes we are going to concentrate our attention on the story of the plant that occurs in the last main chapter of the book. And in particular the use of three significant Hebrew words . Hopefully it will give some insight on what Jonah is trying to speak to in this curious book.
I. The Plant Qiqayon ×§Ö´×™×§Ö¸×™×•Ö¹×Ÿ € . That delivers. Jonah 4:7
The word used for the plant that grows up over Jonah (giving relief over the Israelite) is Qiqayon . It is possibly derived from the root word; qayah, meaning to vomit, disgorge or cast up. It can be linked to the salvation narrative of chapter two, where the Great fish similarly delivered or threw up the prophet onto the shore, qayah (Jonah 2:10). The text then says this plant then provided shade (×¦ÖµÖ¼×œ tsel) for him and was also a means of deliverance/rescue(× Ö¸×¦Ö·×œ natsal); hence it may be showing through a series of word plays, a parable type message about a ‘deliverer’ arising over Israel. After the salvation message is given to the great city (Nineveh ) then the plant that”s “cast up” for deliverance for the Galilean, gets attacked or wounded . Similar to where Jesus, the tender shoot/ growth of The Lord, is broken after the great ‘hoshanna’ saving events of Jerusalem.
Note that when the Ninevites entered into their great salvation, Jonah got upset and angry. As too the Jewish leaders got vexed in Yeshua’s day; they too were expecting a different kind of Messianic act. Someone who”d focus on the redemption of Israel, not the nations. I believe this is the reason why Jonah ran away in the first place. It wasn’t fear of speaking, but rather he knew that if Nineveh could repent at the Grace of God, it would condemn the unbelief of Israel even more. As Yeshua commented in Matthew 12:41, “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at Jonah’s proclamation; and look — something greater than Jonah is here!” Jonah is spiritually jealous; he is wishing that the revival that has come to the “wicked” Gentiles will be given to his own covenant people. That God would change his mind and revisit Israel. The same as Paul pleads with God in Romans 9:3 and 11:14.
But perhaps that is not all there is to this symbolic message, as we will see in our next word, the attacking and shaming of this very plant; may be a foreshadowing of the cross.
II The worm (Jonah 4:7)Tola ×ªÖ¼×•Ö¹×œÖµ×¢Ö¸×”
Of all the insects that God could have used to attack the plant, he choose a particularly unusual one, the crimson grub “Tola” ×ªÖ¼×•Ö¹×œÖµ×¢Ö¸×” . It is the worm that they used to dye lamb”s wool to crimson, it creates an indelible pigment that cannot naturally be washed away. In Isaiah 1:18, Israel’s sins are like scarlet, they are literally red like the Tola (the worm); that can only be the cleansed to white (wool) by God’s power. This same word is used as well in Psalms 22 to describe the crucifixion of God’s deliverer 22 :6″ But I am a worm, and not a man, scorned by men and despised by people.” As the article in the AOI newsletter says, this crimson worm ‘mother’ actually dies on the trunk of the plant. It covers her young with this red dye and then three days later drops to the ground, white wax in colour (as snow). http://www.discovercreation.org/newsletters/TheCrimsonOrScarletWorm.htm
III The wounding attack. Jonah 4:7 Nacah. × Ö¸×›Ö¸×” €
This preceding worm doesn’t merely eat the plant or attaches itself to the stalk; it hits or wounds it. The word Nacah × Ö¸×›Ö¸×” € means to bodily strike or attack. It is significant because of its association with other salvific Old Testament events. Like when Moses uses his staff to turn the water into blood, he Nacah or beats it ( Exodus 7:17).When he hits the rock in Exodus 17:6, to provide water ( note another water association ) he ‘wounds ‘ it. The chosen suffering servant of Isaiah 50:6 is similarly “struck” on the back. The one who bore our grief”s is “smitten /Nacah” of God in Isaiah 53:4.
The Lord first appoints in verse seven a means of shade (deliverance) to ease Jonah’s discomfort (from his pain/sorrows/troubles) then God ”beats’ or strikes it down. Providing us with a prophetic image or foreshadowing of the suffering servant who was to come.
There”s a number of symbolic messages we can then attest to in Jonah. It may be showing us that whilst salvation might have come to the Ninevites (Gentiles). It will be a temporary state of affairs; because ultimately in the end God would again turn his compassion back to Israel and will rise up a deliverer for them. A stricken redeemer will come, in whose death their sins will be made as white as snow. Jonah is perhaps still angry that this event had not occurred in his day (Jonah 4:9) but God will in time have over his people a great means of deliverance.
Like Jonah we can be jealous for the salvation of Israel, but we mustn’t be blind to the effect the hardness of heart has on people. God will save anyone who is willing to listen and repent, no matter what their background or past. The least in God”s kingdom is still greater than the most prestigious in the natural.
When we look for God’s judgment upon the ungodly, it should be done with the intention of bringing them to repentance; not to our vindication. Yes the Lord judges, but he still provides a door of salvation, which can be opened to remove the crimson sins.
Lastly Jonah teaches us that The Lord is as interested in the messenger as he is in the message. We too, in looking for the salvation of Israel, must ourselves first go to the depths of repentance and turning. We too will need to go in the great fish (whale), experience the deep waters and be asking for forgiveness. The attitudes of our hearts will also be exposed and require cleansing. As the Holy Spirit leads us in His work to the nations, the shadow or shade of the cross must be present over us.
If you have any comments or feedback to this article, please feel free to send them to Steven at Canadamoriel@gmail.com