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ous generation seeketh after a gan to say, This is an evil gensign; and there shall no sign be eration : they seek a sign; and given to it, but the sign of the there shall no sign be given it, prophet Jonas : For as Jonas but the sign of Jonas the prowas three days and three nights phet. For as Jonas was a sign in the whale's belly; so shall unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be three days the Son of man be to this genand three nights in the heart of eration. The men of Nineveh the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise up in the judgment shall rise in judgment with this with this generation, and shall generation, and shall condemn condemn it: for they repented it: because they repented at the at the preaching of Jonas; and, preaching of Jonas; and, behold, behold, a greater than Jonas is a greater than Jonas is here. here.
The reference to Jonah as being three days and three nights in the fish's belly is given only by Matthew, not by Luke. There are two reasons why the modern critic does not regard this as evidence that the Book of Jonah is history. In the first place, even if Christ used the words reported by Matthew, such use does not indicate that the book is historical. If a modern speaker, addressing an American audience, were to say, "As Ulysses sailed between Scylla and Charybdis,” this would not indicate that he believed the story of Scylla and Charybdis to be historical. Incidental reference to an ancient story does not indicate that the person who makes the reference vouches for its historical character. But, in the second place, the modern critic does not believe that Christ ever used the words, “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.” He thinks that these words are interpolated in Matthew's account, and do not belong with the words that Christ is uttering. The Pharisees demanded a sign. Christ declares that they shall have no other sign than that of the prophet Jonah. Does he mean no other sign than the resurrection—that is, the greatest of all signs? No. What he means is, the people of Nineveh had no miracle, for there is nothing to indicate that they ever heard of Jonah's strange adventure; they repented at the mere preaching of Jonah, and Christ says that his generation has had the preaching of one greater than Jonah. Mr. Moulton, in his “ Bible for English Readers,” has indicated the true place of this phrase in Matthew, by putting it in his edition of the gospel in a footnote. The modern critic believes that this phrase was added by an early scribe, or possibly by Matthew himself, as his interpretation of Jesus' words; the reader must remember that in those days there was no way to add such an interpretation other than by incorporating it in the text. That this was not Jesus' meaning is further indicated by the fact that the parallel is not a true one. Jesus was not three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. He was buried on Friday; he rose from the tomb on Sunday: he was in the earth one day and two nights. Whether the story is history or fiction is not determined, therefore, by this reference to it in the Gospels. It is to be determined by the structure of the story itself. What is the story?
A prophet is called upon by God to preach to a pagan city. He refuses. He does not believe in
. the heathen; he does not care for the heathen; he does not think religion is intended for the heathen; he refuses to accept the commission. He attempts to fly from Jehovah by fleeing from the province of Palestine, over which alone, according to his narrow conception, Jehovah has jurisdiction; gets into a ship going to Tarshish, and as soon as the ship is fairly out to sea goes to bed and goes to sleep, thinking himself safe. But Jehovah is God of the sea as well as of the land; he sends out a great wind into the sea; the prophet is presently awakened and summoned to the deck, and there is called on to join with the worshipers of other gods in a prayer
meeting in which each one invokes his own god for protection. So he learns his first lesson, that those whom he thought pariahs and outcasts have also some faith in the divine. The storm continues; the sailors cast lots to ascertain who is culpable; the lot falls upon the prophet; he tells his tale and bids them cast him into the sea. This they are unwilling to do, and, ceasing their prayers to their various gods, they row hard to bring the boat to land, but all in vain. Thus he learns his second lesson: the heathen whom he thought pariahs and outcasts, for whom he cared nothing, are humane and care for him. At last they throw him overboard, yielding to his entreaty and compelled by the peril which threatens to engulf them all. The storm ceases, and a great fish which Jehovah
has prepared swallows up the prophet. In the belly of the fish he proceeds to compose a poem, which, when we study it, we find is made up of reminiscences of an ancient psalm. Then Jehovah speaks to the great fish, and the great fish hears and obeys and vomits the prophet out upon the dry land.
One would have thought that this would have been enough to take the narrowness out of the prophet, but it did not. It is difficult to get narrowness out of a narrow ecclesiastic. Jehovah again directs him to go to Nineveh, and he goes, though with unmistakable reluctance. So great is the city that it takes three days to walk from one gate to the other through the centre. He enters the city and begins his mission. He has
He has gone but one day's journey, that is, one-third way through the city, when the whole people of the city accept the message, proclaim a fast, put on sackcloth from the greatest even to the least of them, and are commanded by the king to turn every one from his evil way in hope that God will repent and turn from the fierceness of his anger. So great a result from a single day's preaching was never heard of before or since in the history of the race.
What is very curious, the history of Israel gives no record of any such revival among the Ninevites, and the history of Nineveh contains no suggestion of it. God accepts the penitence of the city, repents him of the evil that he had said that he would do, and does it not, and the prophet is rejoiced ? No! He is very angry; he expostulates. “Was not this,” he says
1 There is no reason to call it a whale; it is not called whale either in the Old or the New Testament; the word in the New Testament rendered whale simply means great fish. According to the narrative, Jehovah prepares a special fish to swallow him, and the fish does what it has been made to do.
2 Psalm lxxxviii. 5–8.
“ ” to Jehovah, “my saying when I was in my own country? That was the reason I fled beforehand into Tarshish, because I knew that thou art a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, and repentest thou of the evil.”i I knew – that is, this is the effect of his expostulation that if I came here and preached, God would not do what I told them He would do, and I should be left in the position of a false prophet. So he goes out from the city, builds him a little hut, and sits down there to see what will happen. God prepares a gourd that serves him as a shield from the sun, and Jonah is glad because of the gourd. Then God prepares a worm to smite the gourd, and it withers, and God prepares a vehement east wind and a hot sun to beat upon the head of Jonah, and in his misery he wishes for death. Then God expostulates : “Dost thou well to be angry for the gourd ?” and the sulky prophet replies, “ I do well to be angry.” Jehovah patiently continues his expostulations : “ Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored, and should not I have pity on Nineveh, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between
1 Jonah iv. 2.