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The Prophets: Jonah
Jonah, from the Hebrew name pronounced yo-naw, meaning a dove, was a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel (see The Prophets: North and South) at the time when the Assyrian Empire (see Ancient Empires - Assyria) was a growing threat to Israel. Ironically, Jonah was sent to prophesy to the Assyrians, warning the Assyrians to repent, so that they would not be destroyed before their God-given task of destroying Israel because of their unfaithfulness to the LORD. Jonah naturally would rather have seen the Assyrians devastated because they were a growing threat to Israel (i.e. Jonah at first put his patriotism to Israel ahead of his obedience to the LORD God that Israel was rebelling against), so Jonah attempted to flee on a ship - and hence his famous encounter with a "great fish."
"1:1 Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 1:2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. 1:3 But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. 1:4 But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken." (Jonah 1:1-4 KJV)
"Three days and three nights"
Jonah was a contemporary with other prophets (each of whom will be studied individually in this series) who were given to warn Israel directly, but Jonah was sent to warn Israel's enemy Assyria, to keep themselves from being destroyed before they were to be set loose upon Israel if Israel refused to heed the warnings of the other prophets (which Israel did not - and so the LORD brought about The Galilee Captivity). With his at-sea lesson learned, Jonah went to Nineveh, Assyria's capital city, and warned them. Much to Jonah's regret, He was successful at getting the Assyrians to repent.
"3:1 And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, 3:2 Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.
The object lesson was that just being "Israel" does not make one righteous. It's a matter of what you do, not who you think you are. Ironically as well, Assyria was the northern part of Babylon, the country where Abraham came from (see Israel's Iraqi Roots); Jonah was warning Abraham's own relatives back in the old country. Jonah found himself in a quandary - he was aware that the LORD forgives anyone who repents, but Jonah didn't want the people of an enemy nation to repent, even though they were an enemy nation merely as an agent of the LORD's wrath.
"4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. 4:2 And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil." (Jonah 4:1-2 KJV)
The Messiah spoke directly of Jonah's "three days and three nights" and the repentance of the people of Nineveh.
"12:40 For as Jonas 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.