Jesus spoke of “the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matthew 12:39,40) as being one of great significance. Jonah came out alive from “the belly of the great fish” (Jonah 1:17). We believe this was a special fish, one of a kind, not a sort of whale which the LORD appointed to swallow up Jonah. It was a special creature God brought into being, which God ensured was in the right place at the right time. This remarkable event foreshadowed the death and resurrection of Jesus. The time came when “the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon dry land” (2:10), not just a damp sandy beach!
Jonah was then ready and willing to do the LORD’s command and hastened to preach at Nineveh (3:3). Here is a parallel with the disciples of Jesus. After Jesus came out of the grave he gave them a renewed preaching commission; it was now “… to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Today that commission is nearing completion, “but the labourers are few” (Luke 10:2).
There is a further lesson. Note the impact of the sudden cessation of the storm on the sailors. Reluctantly they had thrown Jonah overboard, after they “rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous …” (Jonah 1:13). Initially “each cried to his god” (verse 5), but before they threw Jonah overboard, “they called out to the LORD” to Jonah’s God! They said, “O LORD, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood”. When they threw him overboard “the sea ceased from its raging”. How awesome was this experience. “Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows” (verses 15,16).
We are not told any more about these sailors, but surely this changed their lives. Likewise at least one Centurion and the Roman soldiers who witnessed the awesome events at the death of Christ would be similarly affected. One said, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:38). Some had been aware of his power to do miracles, e.g., Luke 7:2,3. The first Gentile convert was a Centurion! (Acts 10). Probably many Roman soldiers and not a few Centurions, when they finished their service in Israel returned home convicted of the one and only real faith – and shared that faith – truly “then they feared the LORD”