On the commemoration of the prophet Jonah today, let us read a devotion from Luther’s Works, Volume 19 (Lectures on the Minor Prophets II).
In the Hebrew tongue Jonah means “dove.” In the New Testament the dove is a symbol for the Holy Spirit, as we see in Luke 3:22 and John 1:32, especially of the revealed Holy Spirit, who is bestowed for the proclamation of Christ in all the world through the Gospel. Thus Jonah with his name is a prototype of the Holy Spirit and of His office, namely, of the Gospel.
Thus all apostles and pastors must also be Jonahs in possession of the dove, that is, of the Holy Spirit, teaching and doing nothing impulsively and without the Spirit. Christ Himself enjoins His disciples in Matt. 10:16 to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves,” that is, to preach the Word of God in its simplicity and purity, without any addition, as the Spirit provides it, and not to deal deceitfully with anyone, neither in works nor in doctrine.
In Hebrew the word “Nineveh” means “pretty,” or “beautiful,” as a neat, well-planned city is beautiful. That typifies the world, which lives and has its being beautifully and attractively in its wealth, pleasures, wisdom, strength, holiness, and honor; but below the surface is sheer abomination and sin before God.
But the fact that Nineveh hears the Word of God, accepts it, fasts, puts on sackcloth, and sits down in the ashes signifies that God’s Word brings fruit, transforms everything, and prompts the city to regard its holiness, power, riches, pleasures, honor, and goods as sin, weakness, poverty, repugnance, shame, and loss and to despise it all. That is the proper way of sitting in the ashes, of wearing sackcloth, and of fasting. Then even the beasts, that is, their bodies, must fast and wear sackcloth, that is, they must mortify their flesh and chastise themselves.
That Jonah is sent from the land of the Jews into a foreign country symbolizes that the Spirit and God’s Word were to be taken from the Jewish people and bestowed on the Gentiles. Thus Christ says in Matt. 21:43: “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.”
Jonah’s flight and the perils he encountered on the sea represent the cross and the persecution which the Gospel will experience in the world. It appears as though the Christian ministry were taking to flight, perishing, and vanishing from the scene. It seems so frail over against the fury of the world, since the persons administering the office are fugitives, that is, feeble and insignificant people. The ocean is the world, vast and mighty with its raging billows. The whale is gruesome and terrifying with its jaws and teeth. This animal represents the prince and god of the world, the devil, who ruthlessly murders and kills through his princes and great lords, etc.
But despite all of these, Jonah is preserved mightily by God’s power, and his message cannot be frustrated either by his own flight or by the ocean’s fury, but it makes its way and penetrates into Nineveh. Thus, though pastors may be weak and the world powerful, God’s Word, the holy Gospel, is still mightier, and no obstacles can impede its progress. And even if all pastors were to be devoured, the Gospel will make its way into the world all the better and transform the world.
It is consoling for us to observe that this was the experience of the apostles. And we, too, must not be terrified by ocean and whale, convinced that our Word or Gospel is mightier than all else.
Devotional reading is adapted from Luther’s Works, Volume 19 (Lectures on the Minor Prophets II), pages 97–98 © 1974 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Lord, help us to rely on Thee and Thine enduring promises! Teach us to go beyond ourselves in Christ, to open ourselves to the world around us, its sighs, its pains, its troubles as well as its beauty and the goodness of those who love us! Teach us, like Thee, to help others and Thy church with healing words and reconciling deeds. Be with us always to strengthen us for another day of joyful and sharing life, in Christ our Savior. Amen.
Prayer is adapted from Space of Joy, pages 32–33 © 1968 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.