The Sign of Jonah the Prophet
Yeshua gave the only sign, the sign of Jonah (Yonah) the Prophet, to prove that He was the Anointed One of YHVH, the Messiah of Israel. Why would He do this, if not to tell us something we do not usually see. YHVH gave the evidence the Pharisees were seeking for His Son’s Messiahship. And His Son pointed directly to it: the Sign of Jonah.
Yeshua the Messiah did many wonders and signs while He was walking on the earth. They all are recorded in the four Gospels and the Book of Acts of the Apostles, preserved for us along with the Apostolic epistles. Aside of these writings, little is known regarding Yeshua.
The second century Jewish priest, general, and later Roman historian, Flavius Josephus wrote about Him, as follows,
Now there was about this time Yeshua, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Messiah. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Messianic so named from him are not extinct at this day. Josephus, Antiquities, Book 18, Chapter 3:3
From this account of Josephus, we see that the wonderful works and the Torah teachings He did were still in the memory of the Jewish culture at the time when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. Josephus called Him “a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man“, “the Messiah” and who appeared to His disciples on the third day.
The sign for the long-awaited Messiah: the sign of Jonah
Because Yeshua was doing great and many wonders and signs, He was asked by the Pharisees to give a sign from Heaven to prove that He was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel foretold by another great prophet Mosheh (Moses) our teacher.
Yehovah your Elohim shall raise up for you a prophet like me from your midst, from your brothers. Listen to Him, according to all you asked of Yehovah your Elohim (Deu 18:15-16)
His coming was expected in the time frame He did come, that is why He was asked whether He was the prophet Elohim promised to rise from their midst, about whom Mosheh told them to await. And indeed, the Messiah did come as a man, if it is lawful for us to call Him a man, as foretold by the prophets, and did many great wonders.
It was not accidental that while Yeshua was doing the miracles of healing and casting demons, the religious leaders asked Him to give any proof that He was sent from heavens. And it was not accidental that in answering to them, He gave the only sign that He was the Messiah they had awaited: the sign of Jonah.
An evil and wicked generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Yonah. For as he was three days and three nights in the bowels of the fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth, buried for three days and three nights. (Mat 12:38-40 Hebrew Gospel of Matthew by George Howard, Mercer University Press, 1995)
Yeshua never called his brothers and sisters evil and wicked, not even all Pharisees and scribes, but that small clique of corrupted religious leaders who would condemn Him to death. And He was condemned to death in order to fulfil the will of the Heavenly Father to give His only begotten Son to pay the penalty for forgiveness of our sins; penalty which otherwise would been on us.
Again, why would Yeshua give Israel the only sign, the sign of Jonah the Prophet, to prove that He was the Messiah of Israel, if not to tell us something more. And this will be the talking point of this article: the Sign of Jonah.
Yonah as a shadow picture of the Messiah
In order to understand Yeshua’s prophetic words, we need to go back to the source of His prophecy and see what He could have possibly meant when He made this statement before the Pharisees. We will read from the Book of Yonah Chapter 2.
Yonah the Prophet was sent by YHVH to witness to Nineveh the great city and cry out against it, because their evil has come up before Him.
Yonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of YHVH, and went down to Yapho, and found a ship going to Tarshish. YHVH sent out a great storm and the seamen were afraid. After they found out that Yonah must have been the cause of the great storm, they threw him out of the ship.
But, YHVH prepared a great fish to swallow up Yonah. And the great fish swallowed up Yonah and he was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Then Yonah prayed to YHVH out of the fish’s belly thus:
I called out of mine affliction to Yehovah, and He answered me; from the womb of the underworld cried I, and You heard my voice. Because You did cast me into the depth, in the heart of the seas, and the flood was round about me; all Your waves and Your surges passed over me. And I said: ‘I am cast out from before Your eyes’; yet I will look again toward Your set-apart temple. The waters compassed me about, even to the soul; the deep was round about me; the weeds were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars closed on me for ever; yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Yehovah my Elohim. When my soul fainted within me, I remembered Yehovah; and my prayer came in to You, into Your set-apart temple. They that regard lying vanities forsake their own mercy. But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; that which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is of Yehovah. (Jon 2:1-11) [1:17 and 2:1-10 in the Christian Bibles]
And YHVH spoke to the fish and it vomited out Yonah on the dry land. Now, let us pay close attention to the Yonah’s words of affliction in bold, as they may help us see a shadow picture of someone.
The common interpretation of the whole story of Yonah is that he was swallowed up by a great fish, a whale, and after three days and three nights while still alive he was vomited out on the shore.
But in order to see the shadow picture of our story, we need to go into the Hebrew text of Yonah, and first word in question is the one which the KJV translators translated as “hell.” This is word is the Hebrew word she’ol.
We cannot find any explicit definition in the Scripture that clearly defines the word she’ol. However, from the textual context where this word is used in the Hebrew Scripture, we can find evidence that she’ol does indeed have other meaning and applications that have nothing to do with “hell”.
Let us go further back to the Book Genesis and recall Yoseph’s story. The story started with the selling of Yoseph in slavery by his brothers and the lie they made up for their father Ya’akov. Upon hearing, Ya’akov became very grieved and his sons and daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And this is what he said in his grief, as we read in Gen 37:35 Jewish Publication Society translation,
Nay, but I will go down to the grave to my son mourning. (Gen 37:35 JPS)
Now, we know from the narrative that Yoseph did not go to the grave because he was alive, which Ya’akov did not know. He believed his sons’ story that Yoseph was eaten by wild beasts. So, in Ya’akov’s mind Yoseph was dead and his bones scattered in the wilderness, because he believed he was eaten by beasts. In other words, Ya’akov did not know where his son was.
Therefore, by no means Ya’akov could have said “I will go to the grave to my son”, as translated by the JPS translators, because Yoseph was not buried in a grave, but according to his sons’ story, eaten by a beast. Whatever Ya’akov meant, when he said that, he meant something else but a grave. It is important to notice that he did know where his son’s body was.
As Yoseph’s body could not have possibly been in a grave, Ya’akov knew that one day when he would die he would be with him (in she’ol). We should notice that Gen 37:35 is the place where this Hebrew word is first used and the context of the story is telling us that the meaning of she’ol is an “unknown” place where the dead go. Keep in mind that the patriarch believed his sons’ story and did not know where Yoseph was, hence, she’ol means unknown place.
However, the Hebrew word שְׁאוֹל she’ol, is commonly translated as “grave” or “pit” and even “hell” as found in KJV, but this meaning is completely unacceptable. If the righteous Yoseph went to “hell”, none of us stays on a safe ground. None.
Therefore, “hell” must be excluded from any possible translation. Furthermore, she’ol comes from the root verb שָׁאַל sha’al, which simply means to inquire, to ask, hence when one asks or inquires, he asks about something unknown.
The second application of this word, as found in Num 16:30, Num 16:33, and Job 17:16, is that she’ol is a place loosely translated as “underworld”, but as we learned from the Yoseph story, this place is not a grave.
Or, if we have to summarize all we learned about this obscured Hebrew word is that she’ol is an unknown, for the Hebrews, subterranean place of the dead, or an underworld. And this is how the ancient Hebrew understood this word and this is how the present author has translated “she’ol”: an underworld of the dead.
The sign of Jonah as a precursor of the Passion of the Messiah
With that being said, we return to Yonah’s story to understand where he could have possibly been for three days and three nights.
And unsurprisingly, we find the same Hebrew word she’ol, as it was used in Genesis. That Yonah died in the stomach of the fish and that there was a gap of three days and three nights between v.9 and v.10 is apparent, since Yonah could not have stayed alive in the place, she’ol, where the dead rest. Therefore, we may conclude that Yonah indeed died, as he was swallowed by the fish, and after three days and three nights YHVH resurrected him on the shore.
It does not take too much effort to see the shadow picture of Yeshua’s prophecy of Himself and of His death and burial in the belly of the earth for three days and three nights, and ultimately of His resurrection from the dead.
We should also notice that the entire prayer Yonah prayed in spirit to YHVH from she’ol looks like a precursor of the passion of the Messiah on the execution stake. This should not be taken as accidental. Neither should we take as accidental the very words of Yonah with which he ended the prayer:
But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; that which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is of Yehovah.
The purpose of Yeshua’s ministry was to sacrifice His own life to pay penalty for forgiveness of sins. This prayer ultimately ends in Jon 2:10 (2:9) with the peculiar phrase לַיהוָה יְשׁוּעָתָה yeshuata leYehovah, “Salvation is of Yehovah” which is the very meaning of the Messiah’s name: Yehoshua.
Let us read again Yeshua’s own prophetic words concerning His death, burial, and resurrection,
For as he (Yonah) was three days and three nights in the bowels of the fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth, buried for three days and three nights. (Mat 12:38-40)
Only when we read anew the above words in the light of the words of Yonah the Prophet, the statement Yeshua made concerning the sign of Jonah (Yonah) makes a perfect sense. He gave His brothers the answer they needed to hear.
For more insight on the Messiah’s dead, burial, and resurrection, the reader may refer to the articles The Appointed Times of YHVH—the Festival of the Unleavened Breads and the Messiah and The Appointed Times of YHVH—the Festival of the First-fruits and the Messiah from the series The Appointed Times of YHVH.
The Bible code in the sign of Jonah
What else can we learn from our journey throughout the Scripture but more wisdom? Let us read again from (Jon 2:1 JPS) (1:17),
And Yehovah prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
In Hebrew we read from the Leningrad Codex of the Tanak,
(Jon 2:1 WLC) וַיְמַן יְהוָה דָּג גָּדֹ֔ול לִבְלֹעַ אֶת־יֹונָה וַיְהִי יֹונָה בִּמְעֵי הַדָּ֔ג שְׁלֹשָׁה יָמִים וּשְׁלֹשָׁה לֵילֹֽות׃
Counting backwards every twelfth letter in blue, from left to right, starting from the letter yud in the last word for “nights”, spells out the name of the Messiah of YHVH: Yeshua.
This is how the Father has encoded the evidence the Pharisees were seeking. And His Son pointed directly to it: the sign of Jonah the prophet.
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.