Jonah: Give Light to All in the House
Jonah, the son of Amittai, lived in the times of Jeroboam II. From 2 Kings 14:23 we learn that he belonged to Gath-hepher, in Zebulun. (Josh. 19:13) He predicted that Jeroboam would succeed in recovering his lost territory from the Syrians. Thus, Jonah was a contemporary of Hosea and Amos (about 760 B.C., Hos. 1:1; Amos 1:1). His prophecy, however, does not refer to Judah or Israel, but to the nations or Gentiles, under the type of Nineveh. Jonah is commanded to pronounce judgment upon Nineveh for its wickedness. He fears that the Lord will be merciful, and that his message of judgment would be futile (Jonah 4:2), and therefore disobeys the command. He goes down to Joppa, and takes ship for Tarshish, or Tartessus in Spain. A storm overtakes the ship. The sailors cast lots to find out the cause of their misfortune. The lot falls on the unconcerned Jonah. He confesses his disobedience, and counsels the sailors to cast him into the sea. They seek to avoid this, but they are compelled at last to follow his counsel to save themselves. The sea becomes calm. A great fish swallows Jonah. He prays to the Lord, and after three days, the fish casts him forth upon the land. Again the Lord commands Jonah to go to Nineveh. He proceeds thither. The Ninevites repent, and the Lord has mercy on them. Jonah is angry because his mission seems to have failed. He goes outside the city and asks to be allowed to die. The Lord prepares a gourd to protect the prophet from the sun's heat, for which he is very thankful. The gourd perishes the following night. Jonah has pity for it. Yet he has no sympathy for the ignorant living souls in the city.
That great city with its sixscore thousand inhabitants has a most ancient history. It was a great city even in the days when the book of Genesis was written. (Gen. 10:12) In the days of Jeroboam II, the city proper stood on the eastern bank of the river Tigris. It was a walled city, about nine miles in circumference, "the ruins of which still enable us to form some idea of what was for centuries the wonder of the world." Beyond these walls were suburbs, and beyond these again other towns, all so closely connected that they formed one place called in Scripture "the great city." Judging from the ruins still covering this territory, its circumference must have been about sixty miles, or three days' journey. (Jonah 3:3)
The general teaching of this prophecy is plain, and has been rightly discerned by many commentators. It shows the reluctance of the Jewish nation to fulfill their mission to the heathen, and that the Lordís mercy is not limited to Israel, but to all who turn to Him in true repentance. Jonah is a type of his people. They had the Word, and were commanded to teach it to the Gentiles. (Jonah 1:1-2) They refused. The heathen were their enemies, and they did not desire the Lordís mercies to reach any others than themselves. Jonah asleep in the foreigners' ship well pictures the church's absolute indifference to the welfare of the heathen. The ship in danger is the threatened destruction of the heathen because of the unfaithfulness of the church to the word of the Lord. "By means of the Word the Lord is present everywhere throughout the whole earth." (S. 104) "The Word in the church enlightens all nations and people by spiritual communication." (S. 110) When the church therefore does not live up to the Word, the nations suffer. The nations - those who are in simple good - feel this, and pray for help to remedy it. (Jonah 1:4-6) Through enlightenment, they are led to perceive the cause, which rests with the church. (Verses 7-10) Jonah tells them that they will be freed from danger if they cast him into the sea. The Word instructs the nations that to be saved they must reject the falsities of the perverted church. They must not follow the fallen church's example in making the Word of God of none effect by their traditions and evil life. The nations try to save the church as it is. (Verse 13) But they have no peace until these falsifications are cast away. (Verses 14-16)
The church now suffers temptations. Jonah is taken up by a great fish in which he prays to the Lord. The fish or whale signifies "memory knowledge," "scientifics which pervert the truths of faith, and also, reasoning from fallacies, whence come falsities." (E. 654; A. 7293) The inner parts of these are as "the belly of hell." (Jonah 2:2) The church's temptation here is caused by being aroused to a sense of her situation and the presence of an endless train of false reasonings for excusing her indifference to the nations. As regards the Jews, they hated the nations, and were fearful that the Lord would show them any mercy. Were they justified? The Lord, when on the earth, felt this terrible condition of His chosen people, and was assailed by the fallacious justifications for it. That was a severe temptation to Him. The words of prayer in chapter 2 tell us of the intensity of His suffering in it. Victory came with the confession, "Salvation is of Jehovah." (Jonah 2:9-10)
Then the church is ready to go to the nations, and preach repentance. (Jonah 3:1-4) And the Gentiles receive the Word, and repent. The Lord has respect for their change of heart, and saves them. (Jonah 3:5-10) But the church is not pleased at this extension of the Lord's loving kindness to her enemies. The church needs to be twice cleansedóin heart as well as in thought. Here the real cause of the dissatisfaction and anger is laid bare. It is the jealous heart. (Jonah 4:1-2) The utter baseness of such feelings is made manifest by representation. The lifeless gourd elicits the pity of Jonah. It had furnished shade to him yesterday, and he had been thankful for it. Now it has perished. That which gave him comfort - that for which he had not labored - drew forth his sympathy when it ceased to comfort him. But the thousands of people who were dying because of their ignorance did not touch his heart. Should not the Lord bless the repentant people? Surely!
It is impossible for a Christian to realize the fullness of his or her responsibility all at once. A narrow selfish spirit clogs the understanding. We are jealous for our own personal welfare, and think little of the effect of this spirit upon others. We desire to retain all the Lordís blessings for ourselves, fearful lest the gift of some to others would diminish our own. Above all we hate to have our enemies receive any blessings. They ought to be punished instead. Anyone connected with our misfortunes, or in any way antagonistic to our interests, is no fit subject for receiving blessings.
We desire to promulgate our doctrines, and sometimes think that we love the Gentiles, all outside our church, and would be only too glad to have them enjoy the blessings we have. We do not regard others as the Mohammedans look upon the Christians! We are sometimes deceived when we are put to the test, being brought into actual personal contact with one who differs from us. We are then tempted to put the letter before the spirit: to make more of the raiment than the body, or of the meat than the life. We are apt to place too much importance upon the letter. Unity is made to depend upon uniformity, harmony upon literal agreement. But charity or love is the only bond that will set at rest all difference of opinion, and draw the Christians to their supposed enemies. This cannot take place until Christians, upon whom the responsibility rests, overcome every taint of jealousy. Human nature prompts us to provide for self and one's own before others, and regardless of the well-being of others. It is reflected in the miserly, parsimonious, covetous spirit everywhere prevalent. We have to learn to live for the sake of others as much as for ourselves, learn to work in the spirit of doing unto others as we would that they should do unto us, not attempting to monopolize the Divine blessings. Then we appreciate more fully that every least act of disobedience to the Divine law as we know it affects the nations. It is like light put under a bushel and thus failing to give light to all that are in the house.