When I was in my teens, I remember visiting a friend to spend my summer vacation. She lived in Lagos, Nigeria, and it was my first time visiting the city. My friend was the kindest person to me. She took me in almost as a daughter, but she wasn’t the holiest of people. She did things to get money like almost 99% of the people in Lagos. Unbeknownst to me, my mum was getting worried about my whereabouts. There were no cellphones back then, so she hadn’t heard from me in weeks and had become really worried. She began to pray to God and beg him to bring me home.
Apparently, the same time she began praying was the same time my friend’s mum suddenly grew a disdain for me. She said I was bad luck and she didn’t want me in her house anymore. I felt horrified, like why would anyone think of me as bad luck?
Long story short. I went home depressed and sad to an ecstatic mother. I didn’t understand why she was so excited, especially because I had just been kicked out of what I thought was a nice vacation. She said she had been praying for me to come home. I said; “what kind of prayer is that?” (in a high pitched scared kinda voice). I told her I had just been chased back home. We all laughed as a family that night, but it was the first time I got an inclining as too how powerful my mum’s prayers were (or how powerful prayers from a heart in pain can be).
Anyways, I told that story to tell a different story we’ve all heard. It’s the Story of Jonah and how he got swallowed up by a giant fish.
In Matthew 16 when the Pharisees and Sadducees (the ruling religious sect of Jesus’s day) came to him asking for a sign from heaven, Jesus responded in Vs 4 with;
“A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.”
Jesus then left them and went away”
This answer is repeated again in Matthew 12 vs 39…
Most of us settle with the idea that he was referring to Jonah being in the belly of the fish for 3 days. Meaning; he (Christ) would be in the belly of the earth for 3 days. Thus, fulfilling Jonah’s cry in Jonah 2 vs 2:
“In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry”.
But what if Jesus was alluding to the entire story of Jonah?
How did Jonah end up in the belly of the fish? The story begins with Jonah receiving the word of Adonai asking him to go preach to Nineveh. Because their evil was so great it had come up before him.
Jonah ran away because he knew God was merciful. He thought Nineveh deserved retribution for their wickedness. So, he ran as swiftly as his feet could carry him. Far as possible as he thought he could get away from God. But instead, God ended up scaring the people he was travelling with so they would cast him away from them.
When he landed in the Fish’s belly (in the depths of shoel), he realized there was no getting away from God. So, he obeyed. He went to preach just like he was instructed, and the rest, like we know it, is recorded in the book of Jonah.
Now let’s talk about Nineveh. –
Nineveh was the flourishing capital of the Assyrian Empire and was home of Sennacherib, the king of Assyria during the days of Prophet Isaiah and Judah’s King Hezekiah.
A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog post titled “2 latin words in the bible that made it into folklore and everyday life” (if you haven’t read it, please read it and let me know your thoughts 😊). In that post, I briefly alluded to the Assyrian Empire as the rising Empire in prophet Isaiah’s story (we can apply this to Jonah’s story too).
In that post, I also tried to lay foundation for the fact that In the Hebrew scriptures, there’s no idea of a Lucifer who is all powerful and against God. Instead, there’s an understanding of an Almighty God who rules over all and raises/destroys empires.
I tried to raise some fundamental questions like; How did we get from this Hebraic understanding, to a world that now ascribes power to a name that came from a dead language (latin). And if Jesus calls himself In Revelations 22:16 “the bright Morning Star”, does that mean he’s calling himself Lucifer? since Lucifer means Morning Star…
Back to today’s topic – the Sign of Jonah
I’ve come to understand that when Jesus was giving the answer of the sign of Jonah, he wasn’t just talking about his death and his resurrection. He was saying just like in the days of Jonah, he too was sent with a message of repentance to the rising empire. In this case, we would be talking about Rome. But it wasn’t just Rome. He was talking to everyone to whom the gospel of the kingdom had come. To the religious rulers as well as to the illiterate rejects of that generation (and ours)…
He was reminding us of how the prophet Isaiah lived in the same timeline as the prophet Jonah. and while Isaiah was tasked with prophesying their fall, Jonah was tasked with preaching repentance to them. (In Jesus’s day, and today, Isaiah is considered a major prophet, while Jonah is considered a minor prophet (and possibly an allegory) not given huge priority).
While many where praying for Rome’s fall during it’s peak, Jesus came with a message of repentance to everyone. As many as were willing to listen and obey. Because he knew he was the embodiment of that rising empire. He was the beginning of it and the end of it. Hence, he said before his arrest; “now is the judgment of this world. Now shall the prince of this world be cast out” – John 12:31
Today, it’s easy to preach fire and brimstone without realizing that if the word hadn’t come to you on the backs of those who were headed for the same fire and brimstone, you would be in that same pit.
Let’s learn to embrace and understand his word’s; “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13 vs 34&35
In Jonah’s Story, Jonah loved the gourd but didn’t love the people of Nineveh. God taught him a lesson on priorities. The question this post is trying to ask is; Are you doing things because you want to be proven right? Or are you doing things because you genuinely care and love your neighbor as much as you love yourself?