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The Sign of Jonah

Submitted by on Monday, 18 July 2011No Comment

The Day’s Readings


In Exodus 14:5-8 we find that Pharaoh’s heart had been so hardened that he continues to resist Yahweh to the point that he sends his army after the Israelites whom he has just liberated.  Yahweh had earlier foretold this to Moses saying that He Himself will harden the Pharaoh’s heart.  The phrase is not that difficult to understand once we observe that clay when placed in the fire grows hard.  At first we think that it is the fire that causes it to harden.  But when we look at the way ice cream behaves in a fire, then we would realize that it is the properties of the clay and the ice cream which cause them to react the way they do to fire.  The same “fire” has two different effects not because of the fire itself, but because of those placed in it.   In front of Yahweh and with regard to Israel, the Pharaoh’s heart hardens and he becomes a resolute enemy.  Instead of changing his heart and turning towards the Lord, he turns against Him once more.  This leads to his utter defeat.

In Matthew 12:38-42, the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign.  Jesus sees this simply as another ploy by the Pharisees and scribes to prove Himself.  Jesus seems to rebuff them with his statement about the sign of Jonah.  The fact is that Jesus offers his Resurrection as a final appeal to their hardened hearts.  In the words of Jesus, Jonah becomes a type of the Resurrection – a sign that anticipates Jesus’ rising from the dead. The three days and three nights that Jonah spends in the belly of the large fish anticipates the three days and three nights that Jesus spends in the realm of Death. 

If one looks at the story of Jonah, one would notice that the reluctant prophet, after being swallowed by the large fish begins to pray.  The hagiographer describes this as praying from the depths of Sheol – the realm of the dead.  But the prayer also already anticipates the intervention of God for the sake of Jonah.  When the large fish does throw out Jonah, it would be on the shores of Nineveh.  Jonah does what he was told in the first place; he preaches to the citizens of Nineveh.  Much to his surprise, the people repented and escaped the wrath of God.

Jesus’ Resurrection should have that effect on the Pharisees and scribes.  They should recognize in it an appeal to grace and a call to repentance.  Otherwise, both Jonah and the Queen of Sheba will rise up on Judgment Day to condemn them.  The mention of the Queen of Sheba is an implicit reference to the Son of David – the “greater than Solomon” who will be put to death but rise from the dead after three days.

Exodus 14:5-8
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg LXX Hebrew
5And it was told the king of the Egyptians that the people was fled: and the heart of Pharao and of his servants was changed with regard to the people, and they said: What meant we to do, that we let Israel go from serving us?
6So he made ready his chariot, and took all his people with him.
7And he took six hundred chosen chariots, and all the chariots that were in Egypt: and the captains of the whole army.
8And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharao king of Egypt, and he pursued the children of Israel: but they were gone forth in a mighty hand.
Matthew 12:38-42
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
38Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying: Master we would see a sign from thee.
39Who answering said to them: An evil and adulterous generation seeketh a sign: and a sign shall not be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet.
40For as Jonas was in the whale's belly three days and three nights: so shall the Son of man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.
41The men of Ninive shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they did penance at the preaching of Jonas. And behold a greater than Jonas here.
42The queen of the south shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold a greater than Solomon here.

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