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The Gates of Hell

Jeremiah said the people would return to possess the Land, and he even redeemed some land as a sign. But before that event, the Land itself would be cleansed from idolatry by a flood. This is was not a physical flood as it was in the days of Noah, but a social one. The wild “Sea” of the nations would be united under Assyria and then Babylon, and sweep all the Canaanite kings away, including the idolatrous rulers of Israel and Judah.

Jonah’s prayer describes the grave
as a prison with gates or bars,
a stronghold where the dead
are justly incarcerated,
awaiting judgment.

The book of Jonah is the story of a prophet who was submerged just as Israel would be. Knowing Deuteronomy 32 (as all prophets would), Jonah understood that his being sent to a Gentile city was for the purpose of provoking Israel to jealousy. It was unlikely that his initial disobedience was due to a hatred of Nineveh. He realised that his ministry, what became “the sign of Jonah,” meant that Israel could then be judged by God under the Law of Moses.

We see the same process in the ministry of Paul, whose testimony to the nations preceded the end of Old Covenant Israel:1This observation is from lectures by James B. Jordan on the book of Jonah, available from www.wordmp3.com.

And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46)

Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” (Acts 28:28)

But I say, did Israel not know? First Moses says: “I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation, I will move you to anger by a foolish nation.” (Romans 10:19)2These observations are from lectures by James B. Jordan on the book of Jonah.

The ministry of the prophets was Covenantal. Being God’s “repo men,” their job was warn Israel that the blessings of God, including the Land, would be “repossessed” according to the Law.3For more discussion on the shape of Covenant theology, see Bible Matrix II: The Covenant Key. So it makes sense that the shape of the book of Jonah follows the Covenant pattern.

The book of Jonah is also structured as a symbolic death-and-resurrection, a process of planting and harvest. A single seed (Jonah) dies for the sake of a great ingathering. The strange ending of the book makes more sense when we identify Israel’s annual festal (harvest) calendar as its deep structure.

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TRANSCENDENCE

Genesis – Word rejected: Jonah recognizes God’s directive to warn the king of Nineveh as a judgment upon Israel and rebels against it (Word to Jonah)


HIERARCHY

Exodus – Waters: Jonah exiles himself, embarks on a ship and passes through the sea (death of Nineveh)


ETHICS

Leviticus – Priesthood established: The Lord appears in a storm. Jonah reveals that his God is the One who made the Land and the Sea, and the Gentile sailors are converted. Jonah sacrifices himself for them (death of Jonah)
Numbers – A Jealous God: Jonah is swallowed by a sea beast and is “threshed” for three days (transformation in the grave)
Deuteronomy – Priesthood received: Like the Ark which plagued the Philistines, Jonah is vomited by the fish back into the Land. He preaches “the Law” to the brutal Ninevites (resurrection of Jonah)


SANCTIONS

Joshua – Waters: Jonah recognizes Nineveh’s repentance as a sign of judgment upon Israel— Assyria’s repentance would only make her stronger (resurrection of Nineveh)


SUCCESSION

Judges – Word rejected: Jonah is not happy with this ironic expansion of the kingdom. God shades him with a miraculous “booth” and then kills it from underground. He reminds Jonah of the purpose of the Feast of Tabernacles: Gentile salvation (Word to Jonah)

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At the centre of the chiasm, Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the sea beast is not only chiastic, it follows exactly the same pattern. It alludes not only to the de-Creation of Noah’s flood, but also to the bondage of Israel in Egypt. Soon, Israel’s mountains would also be covered, by Assyria, and then by Babylon, and this desperate cry of Jonah would be the prayer of God’s people in captivity.

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TRANSCENDENCE

Word (Lament) – Sabbath: I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.


HIERARCHY

Waters (sin covered) – Passover: For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.


ETHICS

Priesthood (given) – Firstfruits: Then I said, I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.
Wilderness (tomb) – Pentecost: The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.
Priesthood (received) – Trumpets: When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.


SANCTIONS

Waters (sin expelled) – Atonement: Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.


SUCCESSION

Word (Thanksgiving) – Tabernacles: But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!

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  • Notice the mirrored references to the Holy Temple on either side of the Testing holy fire. Just like Jonah’s “temple,” the captivity would transform Temple worship from rebellion against the external decrees of God concerning idolatry into a miraculous internal faithfulness. Israel never worshiped graven images again.
  • Jonah’s prayer describes the grave as a prison with gates or bars, a stronghold where the dead are justly incarcerated, awaiting judgment. King Hezekiah also used this language (Isaiah 38:10).
  • There was only one Man who could set these captives free. By repeating the sign of Jonah, He would bind the “strong man” guarding the gates, and then He would plunder the house (Matthew 12:24-29, 39-41).

ART: Jonah by Michael O’Brien www.studiobrien.com

References   [ + ]

1. This observation is from lectures by James B. Jordan on the book of Jonah, available from www.wordmp3.com.
2. These observations are from lectures by James B. Jordan on the book of Jonah.
3. For more discussion on the shape of Covenant theology, see Bible Matrix II: The Covenant Key.

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