Jonah is one of the shortest books in the bible, but so full of meaning and prophecy, that one can hardly ignore it. In fact - it is one of the first books newcomers read, being such a wonderful and even far-fetched story of someone being swallowed by a whale and later spit out on a beach.
So whilst it is a miracle, we will not stop there, but probe deeper into the underlying meaning, especially since Jesus Christ told us that He was giving us the sign of Jonah, when asked for a sign (by the people). Mat 12:39 But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: v:40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Jonah was sent to a far-away land (Nineveh) to preach repentance to them, so, in the very first verse we already have the mission of Jesus Christ.
The story of the storm at sea while Jonah slept, is so typically the story of Jesus Christ that one cannot but see the agreement between the two stories. Jesus also had his storm while he slept. Mar 4:37 And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. v:38 And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? It also seemed that Jonah did not care whether Nineveh perished. In fact, he was very cross with God that God did not let them perish after he preached in their streets. In the last chapter we find strange words being uttered by Jonah, to the effect that it would be better if he died. It is clear from the text that he had no reason to beg to die, because only his disappointment with God, for showing mercy to Nineveh and not to him, and the warm wind which killed the wonder tree, convinced him of saying that - two trifling reasons. But, it was inserted twice to tell us that it is important being a reference to Jesus Christ who wanted to die for our sins - a very important reason.
Let us pick up the story after Jonah was cast overboard, at his own behest and swallowed by the whale. We can see that Jonah knows God and the scriptures well, for we find him in theses anxious moments saying this wonderful prayer - a prayer which quotes from at least eight psalms - and which I quote here : Jon 2:2 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. v:3 For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.(Ps.42:8) v:4 Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight (Ps.31:23); yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.(Ps.5:8) v:5 The waters compassed me about (Ps.40:13), even to the soul (Ps.69:2): the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. v:6 I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God. v:7 When my soul fainted within (Ps.107:5)me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee (Ps.18:7), into thine holy temple. v:8 They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy (Ps.144:2). v:9 But I will sacrifice unto thee (Ps.50:14,23) with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.
Whilst Jesus Christ tells us that Jonah's time in the fish was similar to His time in the underworld, we cannot help but notice that the seaweed was tied around Jonah's head as the crown of thorns was tied around Christ's head. However, when we look deeper into the prayer, we see that Jonah is not really praying for himself, but for the salvation of mankind and ends beautifully with: Salvation is of the Lord. We can also clearly see that this is a serious plea for life eternal, because he refers to words like 'the belly of hell', 'out of thy sight', 'even to the soul', 'the earth with her bars was around me for ever', 'brought up my life from corruption', 'my soul fainted within'. These are serious words of being lost and longing for salvation.
On this note I feel to quote from a non-biblical source, but one which gives us an unauthentic look at what happened in the underworld during this time - where Jonah was now, and where Christ paid a visit during His three days in the underworld. And it comes from the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus Part 2.
But before that, two verses from scripture :
Ps. 24:7 Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. v:8 Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. The reference here is clearly not of Jesus Christ entering heaven again, but of Him entering hell. If it was heaven, he would not have ordered the gates to open or tell them who he was. Everyone there knew Him.
Mat 27:52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, v:53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
Here is how it happened:
1 And as Satan the prince, and Hell, spoke this together, suddenly there came a voice as of thunder and a spiritual cry: Remove, O princes, your gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in. When Hell heard that he said unto Satan the prince: Depart from me and go out of mine abode: if thou be a mighty man of war, fight thou against the King of glory. But what hast thou to do with him? And Hell cast Satan forth out of his dwelling. Then said Hell unto his wicked ministers: Shut ye the hard gates of brass and put on them the bars of iron and withstand stoutly, lest we that hold captivity be taken captive.
2 But when all the multitude of the saints heard it, they spake with a voice of rebuking unto Hell: Open thy gates, that the King of glory may come in. And David cried out, saying: Did I not when I was alive upon earth, foretell unto you: Let them give thanks unto the Lord, even his mercies and his wonders unto the children of men; who hath broken the gates of brass and smitten the bars of iron in sunder? he hath taken them out of the way of their iniquity. And thereafter in like manner Esaias said: Did not I when I was alive upon earth foretell unto you: The dead shall arise, and they that are in the tombs shall rise again, and they that are in the earth shall rejoice, for the dew which cometh of the Lord is their healing? And again I said: O death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory?
More of that in a later part, if you wish.
In the end two remarkable things happened. Firstly Jonah was rebuked and secondly Nineveh was saved. And why was that? For the simple reason that Nineveh repented and Jonah did not.
Of course Jonah was very disappointed with this outcome. He wanted Nineveh (whom he thought did not deserve mercy) to be destroyed, and himself (whom he thought did deserve mercy) to be comforted. The facts speak differently, and we can learn from this. It is always us who deserve mercy and the other man who should be punished. We are of the same view even today.
And then lastly I close with the gourd:
Jon 4:6 And the LORD God prepared a gourd ( a wonder 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. v:7 But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.
These last words are spoken of Christ Himself, our wonder tree who grew up quickly (to shelter us) and died quickly - for the sins of this world.