"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 i.1, 2.
"So Jonah arose and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord." Jonah iii..3.
"And he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown." Jonah iii.4.
"So the people of Nineveh believed God." Jonah iii.5.
"And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that he had said he would do unto them, and he did it not." Jonah iii.10.
"The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonas." Matt. xii.41.
The book of Jonah has been attacked by the destructive critics. Its historicity has been denied. The critics, though certain of almost all of their objections to the Bible, have not all decided whether it is "based on history, or is a nature myth." Keunen has discovered (?) that it is "a product of the opposition to the strict and exclusive policy of Ezra toward heathen nations." Objection is made to the historical statements of the book on various grounds. The objector interposes this difficulty: "Can we conceive of a heathen city being converted by an obscure foreign prophet?"
This objection is of kin to that which can not conceive that by a creative act of God the universe was brought into being, or the inspired statement that "the worlds were framed by the word of God." It is the presence of the supernatural everywhere that is beyond the conception of the critics.
Again, they interpose the difficulty: "How could the Ninevites give credence to a man who was not a servant of Ashur?"
Without presenting the multiplied difficulties that rationalism has supposedly discovered, they may be summed up in their statement substantially, that the book of Jonah is not historical. Whatever else it may be, whether legend, myth or allegory, it is not history.
We turn again from the fancies of "Expert Scholarship" to the testimony of the Bible concerning itself. We discover that the prophet Jonah is referred to several hundred years before the critics have permitted him to live. It is written in 2 Kings xiv.25 that Jeroboam the Second secured the restoration of certain territory, "according to the word of the Lord God of Israel, which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai the prophet, which was of Gath-hepher."
The name of Jonah, of his family, and the place of residence of his family, are definitely stated. The work is accomplished "by the hand of his servant Jonah," and the date of its accomplishment, is so precisely recorded that these statements could have been disproved had they been false. Hence, there was a person named Jonah.
Our Lord has settled the questions of the personality and work of Jonah, if anything can be settled for unbelief. He has affirmed the historical certainty of the two important events which critical assumption declares impossible. The critical Jews were demanding a sign from our Lord. He had wrought many miracles, but they wanted something beyond what he had given, a miracle for their special benefit. He declined to gratify them. Of that generation he said: "There shall no sign be given it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah 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." (Matt. xii.39-41.) As Jonah was miraculously preserved for three days and nights and was brought forth, as by a resurrection, so was the Son of man to be brought forth from the tomb. His resurrection was to be the crowning miracle, the sign forever confronting his nation, Jonah's deliverance from apparent death was such a miracle as convinced the Ninevites that he had a message from God for them, so Christ's resurrection was to become the keystone of the arch on which the whole structure of the redemptive system should rest. "He was raised for our justification." (Rom. iv.25.)
The reader will mark that our Lord referred to the miraculous preservation of Jonah, and his deliverance, as a historical event, recorded in the first and second chapters of the book of Jonah, not as a myth or allegory, but as a historical fact. "As Jonah 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." As the one, so the other. As certainly and literally the one, so certainly and literally the other. If Jonah's preservation and coming forth from the fish that God had prepared was only a legend, then was Christ's death, burial, and resurrection a legend. And in consistency with their critical theory some of the rationalists have reduced them both to legend. For as one was, so was the other to be. The statement is plain, definite narrative, from which there is no escape.
Others of the critical school hold to the historical verity of Christ's burial and resurrection, but assert that he made use of the assumed legend concerning Jonah, as we might illustrate any fact in history by a familiar statement from fiction. To such an assumption we reply that our Lord was dealing with tremendous realities, such as could not be belittled by turning for support or illustration to a fictitious story. He quoted from Old Testament history to illustrate and enforce New Testament truth. On another occasion he said: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life." Shall we hand over to legendary literature the great historical fact of the twenty-first chapter of Numbers -- God's deliverance of the people from the fiery serpents -- by one look at the uplifted brazen serpent by the hand of Moses? We may as well reduce one passage to fiction as the other. "As Jonah ... three days and nights, so the Son of man. As the serpent was lifted up, so the Son of man shall be lifted up." This comparison has a definite meaning. The apostle uses it in his Epistle to the Romans, fifth chapter and twelfth verse. "As by one man sin entered into the world, ... so death passed upon all men for that all have sinned." As certainly as sin entered into the world by one man, so certainly it resulted that death passed upon all men. As Christ's remaining in the grave three days was not a fiction, so Jonah's three days and nights in the great fish that God had prepared was not a fiction.
Our Lord further certifies to the historicity of the book of Jonah by his reference to the great prophet's preaching. The critic's objection is thus stated: "Can we conceive of a heathen city being converted by an obscure foreign prophet?"
Of course, the objection to the record of that mighty moral movement comes from those who have counted God out of Jonah's preaching. If they can eliminate the divine power from that event, they can easily hand the whole record over to what they are pleased to call the "folk lore of the Bible." Here, as ever, the critic must rid the Scriptures of the supernatural.
But our Savior knew that "power belongeth unto God" (Psa. lxii.11), and he put on record the repentance of the Ninevites, saying, "The men of Nineveh shall rise up in judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah." (Matt. xii.41.) But if the book is not history, our Lord's statement is false, for he says the Ninevites did repent.
There is no rational possibility of denying our Lord's positive statement without impeaching his veracity.
His words authorize the following conclusions:
I. There was a prophet whose name was Jonah, as is stated in 2 Kings xiv.25. He was not a myth or figment, but a prophet whose personality is authenticated by Christ himself.
2. There was a city of Nineveh. The skepticism of other days denied the existence of Nineveh. So completely was the prophecy concerning the destruction of Nineveh fulfilled that the enemies of God's Word refused to believe that the city had ever existed, until the excavations of the last century revealed the hidden ruins. But the word of God was true, and in God's time Nineveh was revealed.
3. God sent this same prophet Jonah to Nineveh to preach. Christ tells us what took place under "the preaching of Jonah." It terminated in a great awakening and reformation for:
4. "The men of Nineveh ... repented at the preaching of Jonah."
Did the Savior know what he was talking about? Did he know the truth of the statement he made? Or, knowing (as is assumed) that there were no such events, did he resort to fiction in order to assert the certainty of his own resurrection? If the latter, then we must correct his statement concerning Jonah, and read: "As Jonah has been fictitiously represented to have been three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so, fictitiously, shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
Our Sunday-school teachers, with the words of Christ before them, will be able to give the critics important information. They can report the certainty of the historical facts.