By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)
One of the most interesting stories in the Bible is in regard to Jonah and the “whale.”
Being a disobedient Prophet of God, Jonah fled from the Lord when He commanded that the Word be preached to the people of Nineveh (Jonah 1:1-3). In his rebellion, Jonah decided to turn completely against what the Lord declared and take it upon himself to do as he pleased. The Bible tells us that God had prepared a “great fish” to swallow Jonah (Jonah 1:17).
In this article, we will carefully examine some lessons from this “great fish.”
Great Fish….Whale…Sea Monster?
In Matthew 12, the Lord uses Jonah as an example for us in some of His teaching that He would rise from the heart of the earth, just as Jonah “arose” from the belly of the beast. In this passage, we are told:
Matthew 12:40 (NKJV)-For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the GREAT FISH, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
The Greek word translated here as “great fish” is “ketos.” Notice how it is variously translated:
Matthew 12:40 (CEV)-He was in the stomach of A BIG FISH for three days and nights, just as the Son of Man will be deep in the earth for three days and nights.
Matthew 12:40 (GW)-Just as Jonah was in the belly of a HUGE FISH for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.
Matthew 12:40 (NASB)-for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Please notice the wide diversity in translation here. While a few translations use “whale,” others use “huge fish” (or it’s equivalent), and some even use phrases such as “sea monster” or “sea creature.” Why is there such diversity in the translation of this word?
Easton’s Bible Dictionary-“It is to be noticed of the story of Jonah’s being “three days and three nights in the whale’s belly,” as recorded in Mat 12:40, that here the Gr. ketos means properly any kind of sea-monster of the shark or the whale tribe, and that in the book of Jonah (Jon 1:17) it is only said that “a great fish” was prepared to swallow Jonah. This fish may have been, therefore, some great shark. The white shark is known to frequent the Mediterranean Sea, and is sometimes found 30 feet in length.”
Hastings Bible Dictionary-“2. dâg gâdôl, the ‘great fish’ of Jon 1:17, is in the LXX and in Mat 12:40 rendered in Gr. by kçtos and tr. ‘whale,’ though the Gr. word has a much wider significance. It is impossible to say what kind of fish is intended in the narrative.”
Smith’s Bible Dictionary-“In the first glance, it is necessary to observe that 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,” or “a tunny of enormous size.”
“ketos (2785) denotes ‘a huge fish, a sea monster,’ Matt. 12:40. In the Sept., Gen. 1:21; Job 3:8; 9:13; 26:12; Jonah 1:17 (twice); 2:1, 10.” (W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary Of Old And New Testament Words, 61561 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson Publishers)
“The Greek word translated ‘whale’ in Matt. 12:40 (KJV) is also called ‘a great fish’ (Jon. 1:17), ‘great creature’ (Gen. 1:21; Ps. 148:7 NIV),’ monster’ (Job. 7:12; Ezek. 32:2 NIV). The exact identification of the animal is impossible with present knowledge…Matthew uses the Greek ketos, indicating a great sea monster rather than indicating a particular species.” (Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 56056-56065 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; Holman Reference)
“The word translated ‘fish,’ dag, is the general Hebrew word for any aquatic creature (cf. Gen. 9:2; Num. 11:22; I Kgs. 4:33; Ps. 8:8). The LXX uses ketos, which means a ‘huge sea-fish.’ The KJV causes some misunderstanding, for in Matt. 12:40, which quotes Jonah 1:17 (from the LXX), it translates the word as ‘whale.'” (Billy Smith & Frank Page, The New American Commentary: An Exegetical And Theological Exposition Of Holy Scripture-Volume 19B, Amos Obadiah Jonah, 7122-7130 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; B& H Publishing Group)
“Homer and Herodotus used ketos for any large fish or sea-monster or for a seal. It is used in Euripides of the monster to which Andromeda was exposed. In the Hebrew, in the Book of Jonah, we find dagh or daghah, the ordinary word for “fish”: “And Yahweh prepared great fish to swallow up Jonah” (Jon 1:17). Whales are found in the Mediterranean and are sometimes cast up on the shore of Palestine, but it is not likely that the ancient Greeks or Hebrews were very familiar with them, and it is by no means certain that whale is referred to, either in the original Jonah story or in the New Testament reference to it. If any particular animal is meant, it is more likely a shark. Sharks are much more familiar objects in the Mediterranean than whales, and some of them are of large size.” (Alfred Ely Day, ‘Whales’ in James Orr, M.A., D.D., General Editor, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 180284-180290 (Kindle Edition); OSNOVA)
So, the authorities are pretty clear that “ketos” is not a “whale.”
Let’s notice some lessons which we may learn from the “ketos” sea-monster of Jonah.
The Ketos Teaches Us About The Scriptures
In many ways, the description of the ketos sounds very similar to what we would call a dinosaur. Many are surprised to learn that the Bible is very clear that humans and dinosaurs coexisted. One such example of this evidence is found in Genesis:
Genesis 1:24-27-24 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind”; and it was so. 25 And God made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
Later on Mount Sinai, Moses made the subject very clear:
Exodus 20:9-11-9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
These facts fly in the face of generations of Darwinist propaganda that dinosaurs were somehow exterminated sixty-four million years before humans “evolved.”
However, what is fascinating is that the findings of modern science have been backing up the Scriptural truths about the coexistence of humans and dinosaurs.
For example, writing of the discovery of “soft tissue” found in dinosaur remains, we are told by two authors:
“According to evolutionists, dinosaur bones are at least 60 million years old. More and more evidence is coming to light from the fossil record, however, which casts serious suspicion on evolutionists’ geologic timetable. In 2005, “paleontologists were stunned to find that the soft tissue of a… dinosaur was preserved within a fossil from a Tyrannosaurus rex” (Boyle, 2007, emp. added). Dr. Mary Schweitzer and her colleagues reported the find in Science magazine, describing the demineralized T. rex femur and tibia fragments as “highly fibrous,” “flexible,” and so “resilient” that “when stretched, returns to its original shape” (Schweitzer, et al., 2005, 307: 1952,1953; Schweitzer, et al., 2007, 316: 277). Amazingly, the researchers were even able to squeeze round, dark-red-to-deep-brown microscopic structures from the presumed T. rex blood vessels (Perkins, 2005, 167[ 13]: 195). Scientists were shocked! “Such a thing had never been seen before” (Boyle, 2007). How could an alleged “70-mil-lion-year-old” Tyrannosaurus rex bone still contain soft tissue?…For those who may chalk this up as just some anomaly that should cast no doubt upon the multi-million-year evolutionary timetable, consider what MSNBC science editor Alan Boyle reported two years later: “Today, paleontologists are still stunned—not only to find material that looks like dinosaur cartilage, blood vessels, blood cells and bone cells, but to see the stuff in so many different specimens” (emp. added). Paleontologist Kristi Rogers of Macalester College said: “It’s not just a fluke occurrence…. It’s something that’s more pervasive in the fossil record” (as quoted in Boyle). Scientists have excavated a Tyrannosaurus and a hadrosaur from Montana, a Titanosaurus from Madagascar, and more samples that the famous dinosaur fossil hunter Jack Horner has uncovered in Montana, as well as Mongolia….Although evolutionists continue to describe such dinosaur bones as being “70 million years old,” “miraculously preserved soft tissue” (Gebel, 2007) in a “growing number of tissue samples” (Boyle, 2007) around the world demands a reasonable explanation. Suggesting that these bones sat around for at least 70 million years (or 25.55 billion days) in “porous sandstone” (Morris, n.d.) without completely fossilizing or decomposing, literally is unbelievable. A much better, more logical explanation is that dinosaurs once lived on Earth in the not-too-distant past—only a few hundred or thousand years ago, not 60 + million years ago. If soft, flexible, resilient, highly fibrous dinosaur tissue in many different specimens will not convince the evolutionists to rethink their theories about dinosaurs and humans, what in the world would?” (Eric Lyons & Kyle Butt, The Dinosaur Delusion: Dismantling Evolution’s Most Cherished Icon, 1697-1727 (Kindle Edition); Montgomery, Alabama; Apologetics Press, Inc.).
Other evidences, from a diverse range of scientific disciplines, are likewise confirming the Bible account.
It may be said that science is, in many ways, finally catching up with the Bible!
The ketos teaches us about the reliability of the Scriptures.
The Ketos Teaches Us About The Sinfulness Of Mankind
The Book of Job shows us that God is very concerned about the sinfulness of mankind.
For example, we are told that God tells Job to go and preach to the wicked people of Nineveh:
Jonah 1:1-2-1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”
TheBible tells us here about the “wickedness” of the people of Nineveh.
What is really fascinating is that the word “wicked” pretty much carried the idea of the worst sins possible in the Bible:
“It has been said that there are three classes or kinds of sin in the Hebrew Old Testament. (1) The lightest infractions are those that are called chet, chata, chatta’ah, or chattah, a fault, a shortcoming, a misstep, to sin, err, miss the mark. (2). Of a more serious nature are the sins described by ‘avon, avah, or ‘aven, a breaking of a commandment, iniquity. (3) The most serious sins are those called pesha’ (transgression) and resha’ (wickedness). There is the idea of rebellion involved in pesha’, and of what has become a habit or state in resha’. Psalm 106:6 mentions all three words, “We have sinned (cheta) like our fathers, we have committed iniquity (avah), we have behaved wickedly (resha’).” A similar threefold list is found in Exodus 34:7, “Who forgives iniquity (avon) , transgression (pesha’) and sin (chatta’ah).” (Gareth Reese, Commentary On Romans, 216; Joplin, Missouri; College Press).
The greatest problem that mankind has is the problem of sin. It is because of sin that there is death (Genesis 2:17; Romans 6:23). It is because of sin that suffering was originally introduced into the world (Genesis 3:17). It is our personal sin which separates us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2). It is because of sin that Jesus died to set us free from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:10; Romans 8:1-5). It is because of sin that many people will go to Hell (Matthew 7:21-23).
While many people in our world do not like to acknowledge the fact that sin is real, it is real!
Notice also that sin is not just found among those who are unsaved; it is found in the hearts and lives of God’s people.
Jonah was a Prophet of God, yet he did THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF WHAT GOD SAID NOT TO DO! That is the exact same of “wickedness” that the Assyrians were guilty of.
Through my life, I have met some folks who have told me that they have not sinned since becoming a Christian. I have had others tell me that they have not committed any deliberate or willful sins. All the time, I am thinking to myself, have you read the Bible?
Look at what John tells to Christians:
1 John 1:8-If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
Please notice the present tense of this verse. John is telling Christians, “If you say that you do not continue to sin,” then what is the result? First, you are deceiving yourself; and second, the truth is not in you.
Could language be any more plain that Christians continue to struggle with sin?
Now, is that an excuse for Christians to continue living in sin?
On the contrary, God declares:
Romans 8:12-13-12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Christians need the help of the Holy Spirit in fighting against sin. We have to do our part, but without the help of the Spirit, we will never gain the victory.
Sometimes God’s people have to learn “the hard way” about sin (like Jonah did).
When we take time and carefully consider, however, we see-like Job did-that sin (while pleasurable for a time) always brings about a bitter end.
Hebrews 11:24-26-24 By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26 esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.
James 1:13-15-13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
The Ketos Teaches Us About The Steadfast Love Of The Lord
When Jonah repented, he went and preached to the people of Nineveh (Jonah 3:1-4).
Amazingly, the entire nation repents (Jonah 3:5-9)!
Through the years, skeptics of the Bible have mocked this account, claiming that the idea of a national proclamation of repentance and prayer is absurd. They apparently are not aware of the history of the people of Assyria!
“Exactly the same reporting, interpreting and sending to the king at Nineveh occurred when the subject was earthquakes, and we know that a truly major earthquake occurred in the reign of Ashur-dan III. But whatever the disaster or omen, be it eclipse, earthquake, flood, or famine, the ritual for the king at Nineveh, shar-puhi, was the same. He would ritually vacate the throne and lay aside his royal robes, exactly as the Assyrian tablets recommend that he should, and exactly as Jonah tells us he did (Jonah 3: 6). But we are not yet finished with the close detail. Of all the things which really stick in a critic’s gullet, it is the national repentance of the Assyrians at the preaching of Jonah which each and every one of them categorically deny. It is alleged that such a caving-in is not only unrealistic, but would run entirely counter to the aggressive spirit of Assyria, and it would never have happened. It simply does not make any historical sense. But is that true? No, it isn’t true at all, and we shall now see why. Even before the coming of Jonah, it was the stated practice of the Assyrians to hold a period of national repentance, sometimes of one month’s duration, if there was a likelihood of real danger to the empire. Traces of that practice can be seen in the following two items of correspondence between certain state officials. The first, being a letter from the king of Assyria –Adad-nirari III -to Mannu-ki-Ashshur, the governor of the city and western province of Gozan, is dated to 793 BC, and it says this: “Decree of the king. You and all the people, your land, your meadows will mourn and pray for three days before the god Adad and repent. You will perform the purification rites so that there may be rest (qulū, silence).” 5 The second item is this. It is another royal decree, this time from Ashur-dan III, concerning national repentance after the great earthquake, and it says, “… this mourning in the month Siwan” [simanu] “concerns all the people of the land.” 6 The importance of these details is this. The correspondence shows the intimate working relationship in these matters between the king of Assyria and his nobles (those who ran the cities), and the decree that the period of repentance should include all the people of the land, its meadows, and by implication and the very nature of the decree, even the animals. 7 And what does the decree say which is recorded in the Book of Jonah? It says this: “And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn everyone from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?” (Jonah 3: 7-9) Rather than being exceptional, we can see very plainly from all this that the royally-decreed period of repentance spoken of by Jonah was entirely the norm among the Assyrians. And let us remember this. The Assyrian inscriptions speak of periods of nationwide repentance, where Jonah speaks only of the repentance of Nineveh. God, it seems, required less at the Assyrians’ hands that the Assyrians themselves would normally have required –and Jonah actually says less that the Assyrians would have said. Nevertheless, what Jonah does say is entirely in accord with Assyrian practice and custom in the mid-8th century BC. Nineveh was no stranger to such times of repentance. It was the Assyrian way. Once again, we see that Jonah speaks true.” (Bill Cooper, The Authenticity Of The Book Of Jonah, 572-601 (Kindle Edition)
What was the Lord’s response to these events?
Jonah 3:10-Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
Now, you would think that Jonah was happy about all of this, but we see that his response is quite different than what we would expect:
Jonah 4:1-2-1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. 2 So he prayed to the LORD, and said, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.
Jonah knew that God is merciful, and it was because of this that he had initially fled. In other words, Jonah thought there was a chance that the people of Nineveh would repent and be forgiven of their sins, and he did not want this to happen! Perhaps he thought that if he did not go and preach to the people, God would go ahead and destroy them.
Of course, it is in this that we see one of the truly magnificent lessons from the ketos-the lesson of the steadfast love of God. Please notice Jonah’s description of God very carefully in Jonah 4:2.
He calls God “gracious” (the characteristic of showing unmerited kindness), and “merciful” (the characteristic of bestowing underserved forgiveness). Further, he identifies God as being abundant in “lovingkindness.” The word used here, the Hebrew word checed, is very powerful. We are told:
“checed (2617), “loving-kindness; steadfast love; grace; mercy; faithfulness; goodness; devotion.” This word is used 240 times in the Old Testament, and is especially frequent in the Psalter. The term is one of the most important in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics. The Septuagint nearly always renders checed with eleos (“mercy”), and that usage is reflected in the New Testament. Modern translations, in contrast, generally prefer renditions close to the word “grace.” KJV usually has “mercy,” although “loving-kindness” (following Coverdale), “favor,” and other translations also occur. RSV generally prefers “steadfast love.” NIV often offers simply “love.” In general, one may identify three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: “strength,” “steadfastness,” and “love.” Any understanding of the word that fails to suggest all three inevitably loses some of its richness. “Love” by itself easily becomes sentimentalized or universalized apart from the covenant. Yet “strength” or “steadfastness” suggests only the fulfillment of a legal or other obligation….Even the Creation is the result of God’s checed (Ps. 136:5-9).” (W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 9899-9925 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson Publishers)
This steadfast love of the Lord reaches out to mankind to offer grace and forgiveness (Ezekiel 18:23; Psalm 103:11-14; Hebrews 2:9). It reaches out to offer instruction, even to God’s people who have sinned and rebelled against Him (just as God reached out to Jonah through the ketos-a place where Jonah realized his need for repentance, as Jonah chapter 2 shows clearly).
Sometimes God can allow hard times into our lives to bring about greater good. This is a lesson that I learned even recently!
A couple of weeks ago, my car started acting up. The ABS (I think that means the Antilock Braking System or something) was malfunctioning, causing my brakes to mess up in my car. Well, I took it to my friends at Mastertech, who were able to identify the problem: a faulty sensor was causing the brakes to act strangely.
In the midst of their examination of my car, however, they found something else amiss: someone had taken the hood latch cable and wrapped it around my fuse box, causing several of the fuses to blow. If they had not found that, who knows what would have happened? Two very intelligent gentleman who I respect very much and who know a LOT about cars told me that there is virtually no way that could have been an accident. Indeed, it would have taken about ten or fifteen minutes under my dash for that to be arranged.
Now, I donn’t have any idea how that happened, and I would like to believe that it was an accident (somehow). Nevertheless, the point I am making is this: if my brakes had not started acting up (and if the sensor had not gone crazy), we might never have found out about the huge problems with the fuse box and computer!
God allows things to happen in our lives to bring about good (2 Corinthians 4:16-18; Romans 8:18). We may never fully understand why He allows certain things to happen, but we can learn to trust in His goodness and in His wisdom (as Job himself learned-Job 38-42).
I am personally very thankful to Him for the times that He has forgiven me of sin, and for the times that He has saved me from my enemies and from all kinds of disasters (many, undoubtedly, of which I am not even aware).
Thank You God for your steadfast love!
The ketos also teaches us something else about the steadfast love of God-it is a love that is intimately interwoven with humanity. God’s love for mankind is so very strong that He was willing to allow His Son Jesus to die for our sins on the horrible cross of Calvary (John 3:16). Jesus died for the sins of mankind, was buried, and arose from the dead on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). In fact, what happened with Jonah and the ketos was a foreshadowing of what Jesus Himself would endure (Matthew 12:40)!
Friends, the love of God is faithful and powerful, able to endure and overcome all obstacles and foes (Romans 8:37-39). Why not trust in that love today? Jesus has promised to save all those people who, hearing His Word, will believe in Him, repent of their sins, confess Him before men, be baptized into Christ, and be faithful to the point of death (Acts 2:37-47; 8:35-38; Revelation 2:10). After we become Christians, we will still fall short (1 John 1:8), but God promises to forgive us when we repent and confess those sins to Him in prayer (1 John 1:9; Hebrews 4:15-16; 12:1-2).
Why not obey Him today?
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.