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Friday, January 09, 2009

Miracles in Jonah

It strikes me that there are a lot of miracles in the four short chapters of the book of Jonah. I'm probably missing some, but I'll include a few.

1. God hurled a great wind on the sea (1:4) which soon led to the sailors on Jonah's escape boat throwing him overboard. ("Hurled" is the word used in the ESV)

One of my objectives in studying these miracles was to see if there was any evidence that some of God's special interventions in the story were long-standing, previously prepared. I am not any sort of Hebrew scholar, but a feature of the Blueletter Bible shows that the Hebrew word, tuwl, translated as "hurled" in the ESV is the same word used in verse 5 of Jonah 1 to describe throwing over the cargo, and in verse 15 of the same chapter to describe throwing Jonah overboard. This word use does not seem to suggest anything other than that that God reacted to Jonah's action in running away by sending this storm. God certainly could have moved at some time in the past to make this storm possible, but the word use sounds like immediate action in the present.

2. Jonah volunteered to be thrown overboard! That is amazing, in a man who was running away from God in disobedience.

3. The sailors worshipped God.

4. God had appointed (manah) a fish to swallow Jonah. Not only to swallow him, but to preserve his life for some or all of three days, including at least one entire day, and to vomit him up on land when Jonah repented (at least temporatily) of his hatred for the Ninevites, and agreed to follow God's plan for him. This word is used four times in Jonah. Once for the fish, once for the (5.) gourd plant that shaded Jonah, once for the (6.) worm that ate the gourd, and once for the (7.) east wind that made sitting in the desert watching what would happen (or not!) to Nineveh so uncomfortable for Jonah.

*(this paragraph was added after this post was first published.) Although there is no definite evidence to support the idea that God used a pre-existing water animal, gourd, or worm, He may have done so. Manah has a lot of uses. As you can see from the link in the previous sentence, that word is used in 2 Chronicles 5:6 as "number" for the animals that were sacrificed at the dedication of the temple built by Solomon. Surely those were pre-existing beasts! In Psalm 147:4, the psalmist says that God "numbers" the stars, using the same word. These stars must be stars already in existence.

The Bible does not use the word "whale" to describe this creature, in any version that I am aware of, although we can't rule that out, either. Was this creature a specially created being, or was it just one of a species that was found in the sea in this area, specially used by God? We don't know. See here for the Wikipedia's comments on the fish in the book of Jonah. I suppose it would be possible for the beast to have been an ordinary one, but when we consider that Jonah needed Oxygen for an extended period, there must have been some miraculous work at play.

Did this really happen? Well, Jesus apparently thought so, as he used the story of Jonah as a symbol of his own death and resurrection! (Matthew 12:38-41)

8. The people of Nineveh repented of their evil ways! This is the biggest miracle of the book, more important than the fish, the storm, the gourd, the worm. Jesus also took this seriously, warning some of his listeners that, even though they were Jews, the Ninevites in the time of Jonah would be treated better at the last judgment, because they did repent, while some of Christ's contemporaries persisted in the evil ways, and in rejecting Him. (Luke 11:29-32)

Was there another miracle, if and when Jonah realized that the Ninevites deserved a real chance, or did Jonah go off, bitterly disappointed that God had not destroyed them? We don't know. I guess that that's Jonah's story, not ours.

I found no firm evidence for anything other than God's special miraculous work in these miracles.

Thanks for reading.

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