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THE ENSIGN MESSAGE

A BRIEF STUDY ON JONAH, THE MAN AND THE BOOK

By

New Zealand

November 2014

Jonah, whose  name  means  dove was  the  son of Amittai and lived in Gathhepher. Very little is known about Jonah  other than  that  he  had  prophesied to Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II. Now, he was commanded by God to preach to the city of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire. It is believed Nimrod was the builder of Nineveh as he is described as extending his kingdom from the land of Shinar in the south to Assyria in the  north. 1

Nineveh was a city which took three days to walk round, in the heart of which  was  the  great  palace area surrounded by walls 100′ high and so thick that four chariots abreast could  ride  along  the  top; hopefully two travelling clockwise and two anti­ clockwise. A moat 200′ wide defended the city on three sides whilst the fourth side  was  protected  by the River Tigris. To this mighty city which dominated the ancient world and which was the centre of trade, commerce, military might, pagan religion and wealth beyond compare, 2 was Jonah the prophet called. He was horrified that such a city should be given the opportunity to repent. To him it was fit only for condemnation never to rise again, so he ran  away from  God.

As we all know it is impossible to run away from God for his  presence  is  everywhere,  constantly  by our sides. It beggars  belief  that Jonah  should consider such a move. So he set sail for Tarshish from the seaport of Joppa (known as Jaffa today) being of major importance since it  was  the  only  harbour  on the entire coast of Palestine from Mt Carmel to Egypt. Bible historians have sought to identify  this  ancient city. There were Judahite settlements in the south of Spain, in particular Tartessus,  an  iron smelting centre in that area also noted for silver and tin. Israel’s nearby heathen nations were convinced that ships passing beyond the Pillars of Hercules (Straits of  Gibraltar) were going to the ends of the earth where no gods exercised  control.   Jonah   was,  therefore,   intending to get as far away from God as he possibly  could and we have every reason to  believe  he  was heading  for the Cassiterides, known as Tin Islands, and known today as Britain , which were noted  for their talent in the metal industry. The ancient ships of biblical Tarshish were the first navigators to transport tin and lead  from Britain  to the  nations  of  the empiric world.3

Isaiah (23:6) locates Tarshish in the isles. Pass ye over to  Tarshish; howl ye  inhabitants of the  isle.

Isaiah (60:9) Surely the Isles shall wait for  me and the ships of Tarshish.

 Jonah was now on his way unaware that God was not going to let him get much further! A violent storm blew up so Jonah took to his berth and fell asleep. The ship’s crew were frantic and in such fear for their lives that the Captain called upon every man to pray to his god. He was amazed to find Jonah sleeping it off. But Jonah was an honest man and confessed the cause of the storm was all his fault. Reluctantly the sailors cast him into the sea, without first trying hard to row to land. They were amazed at the miracle as the sea immediately becalmed and they worshipped the Lord God making vows to him.

Jonah was now about to drown but the Lord God protected him and prepared a great fish to swallow him up and save him from the perilous deep. This great fish referred to as a whale by our Lord in Matthew 12:40, for some think is irrelevant, but, as a matter of interest to our readers, Smith’s Bible Dictionary has this to say on the subject.

“….The Greek word cetos used by St Matthew is not restricted in its meaning to “a whale”, or any Cetacean; like the Latin cete or cetus, it may denote any sea-monster, either “a whale,” or “a shark,” or “a seal”. Although two or three species of whale are found in the Mediterranean Sea, yet the “great fish” that swallowed the prophet cannot properly be identified with any Cetacean, for, although the sperm whale has a gullet sufficiently large to admit the body of a man, yet it can hardly be the fish intended, as the natural food of Cetaceans consists of small animals, such as medusa and crustacean. The only fish, then, capable of swallowing a man would be a large specimen of the white shark (Carcharias vulgaris), that dreaded enemy of sailors, and the most voracious of the family of Squalidae. This shark which sometimes attains the length of thirty feet, is quite able to swallow a man whole. The whole body of a man in armour has been found in the stomach of a white shark and Captain King, in his survey of Australia, says he had caught one which could have swallowed a man with the greatest ease. Blumenbach mentions that a whole horse has been found in a shark. “

The following is an excerpt from Alan Campbell’s book  ‘Light from Jonah’.

“According to Sir Francis Fox … this was the experience of James Bartley in 1891. A whaling ship called the “Star of the East” was operating in the vicinity of the Falkland Islands, and launched two boats to deal with a big bull cachalot. One of the  boats was upset by a blow from the tail of the whale , and James Bartley was swept overboard and disappeared. The whale was subsequently killed and the crew began to dismember it cutting open the body to remove the blubber. They worked all day and part of the following night, and next morning in opening the belly of the whale, James Bartley, like Jonah of old, was found to be alive, in a state of deep shock, his skin bleached to a deadly whiteness that remained through his life. After his two and a half day ordeal Bartley was in a raving condition , but within three weeks with care and attention  he  recovered  his senses and was able to give an account of his experiences. He recalled moving along a smooth passage, the throat of the whale, and the stifling heat inside its belly. God had preserved his life in order to confirm the truth of the Biblical  record .”4

Inside the belly of the great fish Jonah felt as though he was in the depths of hell. Chapter 2 is devoted entirely to his prayer to the Lord. So he ran to the Lord “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“. He felt he had been cast out of his sight as his soul “fainted within him” but he remembered the Lord and promised to sacrifice  again  with the voice  of thanksgiving “.

 The Lord had a job for Jonah to do and nothing would prevent him seeing that that task was accomplished. Jonah was  dumped  on  to  a  beach and in due time arrived at Nineveh. Nineveh is some distance inland from the Mediterranean Sea but Jonah’s survival inside the fish would have been so  astounding as to be relayed by messengers. Consequently because the Ninevites worshipped the fish god, Dagon, Jonah was accepted by them when he finally set foot in their city, no doubt having had opportunity to clean himself up and change his clothes. Furthermore, could it be that his skin was bleached to a deadly whiteness, creating the appearance  of  someone  from the  supernatural?

Now Jonah was running with God and only one day ‘s journey into the city he was busy calling the people to repent which they did from the least  of them to the greatest . Jonah presented the word of the Lord faithfully and the city was spared of destruction, the people proving their sincerity by the donning  of  sackcloth  and ashes.

Jonah was far from satisfied. He could not comprehend the nature of the Lord God in sparing such a wicked people. He ran ahead of God and climbed over to the east side of the city where he sat and sulked, yet still expecting at any moment soon to see that city utterly destroyed. Yet a loving heavenly father protected Jonah by producing a large plant (Ricinus communis, or castor oil plant)5 forming an excellent shelter for the sun-stricken prophet.

The House of Israel has followed a similar pattern and continue so to do by running away from God, getting into difficulties and running to Him, running with Him for a while before departing the route and running ahead. They first ran away from him when they formed the northern ten-tribed nation, epitomising the first prodigal son. It was not long before their new king Jeroboam, turned their hearts away from the Lord God. They squandered their inheritance with riotous living and for their sins were led away captive by the Assyrians .

It was many years before they ran to God having learned their lesson but they took this counsel among themselves that they would leave the multitude of the heathen and go forth into a further country where never mankind dwelt6. So began the centuries long trek towards the Isles and the Scandinavian countries where they ran with God by following the Law of the Lord firstly by the teaching of the Druids and later by the coming of the disciples with Joseph of Arimathea.

There are hundreds of facts confirming the repetition of history but the most moving to me is the time when in 1940 during World War II there was great fear of an invasion from Germany. King George VI called the nation to prayer and the people responded  in a remarkable way. As a result of their calling upon God there was the miracle of Dunkirk where half a­ million service men were trapped on the beaches with no escape. All the little boats  that  were  available somehow managed to obtain enough petrol (seriously rationed) to follow the larger vessels. Often they could travel in their wake, thus conserving petrol. Once at Dunkirk they were able to sail much more closely to the beaches. From there they ferried the men to the larger vessels. Over 300,000 men were saved instead  of only about 20,000  expected.

In our hour of need as a nation we cried out to the Lord God Almighty and he heard us. Our soldiers would have felt they were in hell while suffering from German aircraft as they patiently waited in line, often waist deep in the sea, for their turn to be taken to the ships, or even taken back to Dover in small craft. Not only were men rescued but the rescue was made possible because the English Channel was unusually calm.

Britain has done the same thing. We ran with God immediately following the war grateful for the victory. It did not take many years though before the people returned  to their old ways  and  enjoying  the fruits of new products and a more comfortable way of living, our churches have become emptier. By entering the Common Market (so-called) we have run ahead of God, our leaders telling us it is for the best, although some of them knew exactly what  they  were  doing and the detrimental effect it would have upon us as a nation. We are no longer a healthy nation suffering economically, (although the wealthy do not appreciate this) and very definitely With health. There is so much contamination in our food chain with all sorts of additives and preservatives, processed foods and “ready-to-eat” products, to say nothing of all the insecticides used in spraying crops before they are harvested. In this we have run away from God and his laws with the result we are experiencing the “plagues of Egypt.” 7

Still our people refuse to believe the necessity of keeping  the law of the Lord  as delivered  by  Moses, producing all sorts of apparent contradictory texts from the New Testament declaring a new covenant is now in place.

At some future date we will  run to God because of the great fear of the coming tribulation. He will hear us and return to save us [“..there should no flesh be saved“]8 from then on we will forever run with God and never run ahead of   God.

(Footnotes)

1 Smith’s Bible Dictionary & Genesis 10:8-10

Light  from Jonah by Alan Campbell  BA

3 Drama of the Lost Disciples, George  Jowet

Daily Telegraph  17 February  1928

5 Smith’s Bible Dictionary

6  II Esdras  13:41

7  Deuteronomy  28: 58-62

8 Matthew 24:22

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