Jonah, On A Spiritual Journey – A Hebrew Wordplay

Bible Art Story

Throughout the Hebrew scripture, many of the stories are filled with various kinds of wordplay. From Psalms to poetry, Proverbs, words of wisdom and prophecy. While others include humorous play on words, puns, alliteration, acrostics, parables, metaphors, gematria, and many others. Today we are going to uncover a wordplay found in the narrative story of Jonah.

Jonah son of Amittai, was a Prophet who heard God’s voice to go to Nineveh to proclaim judgment upon it. But in his rebellion, instead, Jonah, however, started to flee to Tarshish from the Lord’s service. Tarshish is a port on the Mediterranean, it’s a city known for its wealth and merchant fleet. 1 King 10:22 The king had a fleet of trading ships at sea along with the ships of Hiram. Once every three years, it returned, carrying gold, silver and ivory, and apes and baboons.

Bible Art Story 2Jonah ‘went down’ to Joppa and found a ship to Tarshish. If you take a close look, the word ‘went down’ or ‘go down’ in Hebrew is (‘Yarad’ יָרַד). A significant spiritual state and journey that we will be looking at throughout the passage. And the verse continues saying, He paid the fare and ‘went aboard’ (the same ‘Yarad’ יָרַד) to sail with the others. As we read on, the LORD later cast a mighty wind that causes a great tempest on the sea water. To a point of bringing danger upon the ship from breaking. Meanwhile, Jonah had ‘gone down’ (‘Yarad’ יָרַד) into the hold of the vessel where he ‘lay down’ (‘Yarad’ יָרַד) and fell asleep. From the Jewish Study Bible, the article states that he was in a very ‘deep sleep’, perhaps akin to a trance.

Then the men on the ship cast lots to find out on whose account the misfortune has come upon them. They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. With nowhere to turn to, Jonah finally admitted that he was a Hebrew and that he was fleeing from the service of the LORD. And because of his disobedient, he had caused the hands of the LORD to send such mighty wind in order to wake him up. Out of fear, the men said to him, “What must we do to you to make the sea calm around us?” To which he replied, “Heave me overboard, and the sea will calm down for you.” Nevertheless, the men tried to spare his life by trying to row harder, hoping to reach the shore. But they could not for the storm of the sea was growing stronger.

They had no other choice but only to ‘heave’ Jonah overboard, and the sea stopped raging. Even though the word here is not ‘Yarad’, I personally like to put it as being ‘thrown down’ with the similar emphasis from the action to go down.

In chapter 2, the LORD provides a huge fish to swallow Jonah; and Jonah remained in the Fish’s belly three days and three nights. One of the spiritual lessons that we all can learn from this passage is, often time, people need to come to a point in their life when a tough situation turns up, like when we are thrown into the deep water. Will then we start to learn. We can choose to always walk in His presence daily.

Deep in the darkness of the fish’s belly, Jonah started to pray. Here, Jonah finally comes to his senses and realized that he has indeed, gone down so far and decided to turn (Teshuvah) in repentance. In chapter 2:7, Jonah prays the very same word ‘Yarad’ used to descript his spiritual journey. “To the roots of the mountain, I ‘sank down’ (‘Yarad’ יָרַד), the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit.”

God’s presence is always high above. As often time in the Bible, the prophets and the righteous always would go up to the mountain to seek the LORD. But when we start to walk away from Him, we seemed to walk downhill, until we end up in the belly of the fish.

Therefore, let us “draw near to God and He will draw near to you” – James 4:8. And let us humble ourselves before Him today, for “He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm” – Psalm 40:2.

So, how is your spiritual walk today? Are you walking closer towards God or further away?

Jonah and Jesus

  1. Jonah pictured the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 12:40 “For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.” In this passage, Jesus was referring to Jonah as a picture of the coming Messiah.
  2. Jonah’s body was entombed in the fish’s belly, while Jesus’ body was entombed in a rich man’s tomb.
  3. Later Jonah was seen alive and preached to the people of Nineveh, Jesus was also seen alive and preached to His disciples. Luke 11:30 Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.
  4. Jonah’s name means “Dove”, in which the Holy Spirit of the Lord came down upon Jesus like a dove. Matthew 3:16 “When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.”
  5. Jonah’s father Amittai, means “certainty, truth and trustworthy”. The very picture of our heavenly Father! 2 Samuel 7:28 “And now, O Lord GOD, You are God, and Your words are true”, Exodus 34:6 “And the LORD passed before Moses and proclaimed, “The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth.”




Study References: 1.  2. The Jewish Study Bible, Tanakh Translation

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