A Fish Swallowing a Man Whole? | Jonah - "The Lord, his God" | How many days exactly did the people of Nineveh fast? Is this fast the same as Jonah’s fast? | Readings Recommended during Jonah's Fast | Subtly, God Spoke to Jonah | The Sign of the Prophet Jonah | Jonah the Prophet and the Lord Christ | The Prophet Jonah, the Whale, and the Great City of Nineveh | Jonah and Jesus | The Mystery of Jonah | The Flight of Jonah
Jonah (Arabic Younaan) is one of the prophets of the Old Testament. Scholars believe that he prophecied during the time of Yarbaam II (931-910 B.C.). His name in Hebrew means a dove. He was chosen by God to travel to a pagan city, Nineveh the Capital of Ashur “Assyria” the biggest enemy of Israel at the time. Nineveh was in the North east of present day IRAQ. His mission was to preach repentance: “Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1,2). Assyrians were pagan and worshipped many gods including the god “ashur” the god of power.
Jonah Chose not to go, he instead went to Joppa, a Mediterranean Coastal City and got on a ship to “escape” from the face of God! “But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.” (Jonah 1:3-4) God ordered Jonah to Go East, Instead he went west. As you read the book of Jonah, only 4 Chapters, you discover Jonah’s reasoning:
1. He did not want to do it,
2. He thought that those pagans enemies of Judea and Israel deserved damnation, and
3. From his reasoning with God that he thought that god will accept their repentance and forgive them. Jonah the human considered it not fair for god to accept the repentance of these heathen, no god people!
All the reasoning of Jonah was correct, but although he was a prophet, he misunderstood the ways of the Lord, God, Creator of heaven and earth. God definitely accepts repentance when it is from a contrite (repenting) heart. Even pagans deserve God’s mercy, and Jonah could not escape from the face of God no matter where he goes, or what he does.
As the scriptures explain, Jonah went into a deep sleep (something you and I might have done before to escape our problems), while the ship was carried up, down, and sideways by the wind which God caused to blow. The pagan mariners (ship crew), and passengers, since this was an Old Testament event, were all praying to their pagan gods, but Jonah was deep asleep in the lower deck so not to be bothered, a reminder of Adam’s escape from the face of God after he sinned.
Jonah’s strange behavior attracted attention; the captain and crew came to him and asked him why?. Jonah, a prophet confessed openly: “And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land. Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.”
(Jonah 1:9,10). Then Jonah judged his situation: “And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.” (Jonah 1:13)
The mariners still did no want to do what he asked, for fear of God even though they were pagan. But, at his insistence they threw him into the sea.
The Lord God, sent a great whale and ordered the beast to carry Jonah and to throw him out at an appointed place three days walking distance from Nineveh: “Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly, And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.” (Jonah 2:1,2)
The whale(animal) helped execute God’s plan and Jonah had no choice but to obey to completion.
“Jonah walked into Nineveh and immediately the message of his arrival spread everywhere and reached the king of the city. Opposite to Jonah's thinking, the king and the people were ready to repent: ”So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.” (Jonah 3:5,6)
Jonah was angry because God accepted the repentance of Nineveh, so God taught him a lesson: “And the LORD God prepared a gourd (shade Tree), and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd. But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.” (Jonah 4:6,7). Jonah was sad for a small shade tree, which grew in three days and withered away. This was the lesson, if we feel for little things we enjoy and sometimes don’t labor for, how great is God’s desire: ”Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (Timothy 2:4)
Our blessed Coptic Orthodox Church gives us the blessings of three days in February to fast on the example of the people of Nineveh. This particular fast was added to the schedule of fasts of the Copts by Pope Abraam Ibn Zaraa who was of a Syrian origin, was a God fearing merchant who was respected by the community and elevated to the Chair of St. Mark as Pope and Patriarch (62nd) (967-970 AD). The Miracle of moving the Mukataam Mountain happened during his patriarchate. He also documented the Coptic System of dating Church events, called “hessab el-apakty” (The Calculus of remainders).
May we take advantage of this fast to cleanse our hearts from every evil thought and come to the knowledge of the truth. Glory Always be to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. One God. Amen. The blessings of the Prophet Jonah and the Fast of Jonah (Nineveh) be with you always.
Dr. William A. Hanna