But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. Jonah 3:8
A rather interesting question was submitted in connection with this verse: "Could you please tell who or what the 'beast' is?" It is an interesting question, not so much because it is difficult to answer, but rather, because it has to do with the main theme of the prophecy of Jonah.
A brief summary of the book of Jonah will help us understand this.
Jonah was commanded by God to go to Nineveh, the capitol of Assyria, to preach there. This was surprising because Assyria was Israel's most dangerous enemy. Jonah did not want to go. Perhaps his love for Israel and his hatred of Israel's enemy made him determined to escape God's command.
He took a ship to Tarsus because he was of the opinion that God would not be able to speak to him outside the borders of the land of Canaan. In this he was correct, for God Himself had limited His revelation to the boundaries of Canaan. What Jonah forgot was that God can command winds and storms and whales to do His will.
And so, through God's providential control of winds and storms and whales, Jonah was swallowed by a whale, brought back to Canaan, vomited out of the whale, and once again confronted with God's command: "Go to Nineveh and preach against it."
Jonah went, though reluctantly.
We might notice in passing that Jonah's three day stay in the belly of the whale was very important. First, Jonah's prayer in the whale's belly is almost exclusively taken from the Psalms -- as any good reference Bible will make clear. Second, Jonah's residence in the whale was a sign of our Lord's stay in the grave (Mt. 12:40).
God was insistent that Jonah go to Nineveh for a very specific purpose. God was showing Israel, already in the old dispensation, that His church would someday be gathered from all nations and tribes on the earth. That is, His church is a catholic church in the truest sense of the word. Or, if I may put it a bit differently, God's salvation is universal. It is not universal in the sense that everyone head for head is saved. But it is universal in the sense that God's whole creation is saved; that is, the elect human race and the heavens and the earth in which they dwell.
Christ calls attention to this in His own ministry. He reminds the wicked Jews of the fact that the Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah, while the Jews reject Him Who is greater than Jonah (Mt. 12:41, Lu. 11:32).
If I may interject another remark at this point, it is well to point out that Jesus' words clearly show that the repentance of the Ninevites was genuine. I say that because some commentators argue that it was only an outward repentance which was brought about by Jonah's warnings of judgment. Now, the point of this prophecy is that God's salvation is so universal that even the creation is included in it. This is a recurring theme throughout Scripture. Think, for example, of the sign of the rainbow at the time of the flood (Gen. 9:9-17 -- which mentions "beasts,") and Paul's description of the creation in Rom. 8:10-22.
That theme of universal salvation is picked up again in the prophecy of Jonah in the concluding verse. It is a surprise that God should end this prophecy with the statement: ". . and also much cattle." God saves beasts.
One more point needs to be made in this connection. God's work of saving a catholic church is performed through Christ. By His death on the cross, resurrection from the dead, and exaltation at God's right hand, Christ becomes a catholic Christ. This is why it was necessary for Jonah to be in the belly of the whale the same length of time Christ was in the grave. Jonah was a "sign," the Lord says. Jonah died, was buried and came forth from death in those three days. This is the theme of his prayer, taken from the Psalms: "I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought my life from corruption, O Lord my God" (2:6). Jonah sang this from the whale's belly; Christ sang it in His work of salvation.
Through the whale's belly Jonah went to proclaim a gospel of universal salvation; Christ passed through the cross, the grave, and the resurrection so that a catholic church might be saved, and so that all things might be reconciled to God through Him (Col. 2:20). Now from heaven He pours out a catholic Spirit Who goes into the nations to find and save the elect from every part of the world. And, by the same Spirit, the creation itself is renewed and delivered from the curse to be redeemed through the one "better than Jonah."
Scoffers may mock that no man can live in a whale's belly for three days; C. S. Lewis may say somewhere that the book of Jonah is a fine piece of Hebrew humor. But we proclaim Jonah's prophecy as the everlasting gospel of our salvation.
- Volume: 7
- Issue: 3
Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)
Ordained: October 1955
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965
Emeritus: 2001Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko
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