Three days and three nights - Our Lord rose from the grave on the day but one after his crucifixion: so that, in the computation in this verse, the part of the day on which he was crucified, and the part of that on which he rose again, are severally estimated as an entire day; and this, no doubt, exactly corresponded to the time in which Jonah was in the belly of the fish. Our Lord says, As Jonah was, so shall the Son of man be, etc. Evening and morning, or night and day, is the Hebrew phrase for a natural day, which the Greeks termed νυχθημερον, nuchthemeron . The very same quantity of time which is here termed three days and three nights, and which, in reality, was only one whole day, a part of two others, and two whole nights, is termed three days and three nights, in the book of Esther: Go; neither eat nor drink Three Days, Night or Day, and so I will go in unto the king: Esther 4:16. Afterwards it follows, Esther 5:1. On the Third Day, Esther stood in the inner court of the king's house. Many examples might be produced, from both the sacred and profane writers, in vindication of the propriety of the expression in the text. For farther satisfaction, the reader, if he please, may consult Whitby and Wakefield, and take the following from Lightfoot.
"II. If you number the hours that pass from our Savior's giving up the ghost upon the cross to his resurrection, you shall find almost the same number of hours; and yet that space is called by him three days and three nights, whereas two nights only came between, and one complete day. Nevertheless, while he speaks these words, he is not without the consent both of the Jewish schools and their computation. Weigh well that which is disputed in the tract Scabbath, concerning the separation of a woman for three days; where many things are discussed by the Gemarists, concerning the computation of this space of three days. Among other things these words occur: R. Ismael saith, Sometimes it contains four אונות onoth, sometimes five, sometimes six. But how much is the space of an אונה onah ? R. Jochanan saith, Either a day or a night. And so also the Jerusalem Talmud: 'R. Akiba fixed a Day for an onah, and a Night for an onah .' But the tradition is, that R. Eliazar ben Azariah said, A day and a night make an onah : and a Part of an onah is as the Whole. And a little after, R. Ismael computed a part of the onah for the whole." Thus, then, three days and three nights, according to this Jewish method of reckoning, included any part of the first day; the whole of the following night; the next day and its night; and any part of the succeeding or third day.
In the whale's belly - That a fish of the shark kind, and not a whale, is here meant, Bochart has abundantly proved, vol. iii. col. 742, etc., edit. Leyd. 1692. It is well known that the throat of a whale is capable of admitting little more than the arm of an ordinary man; but many of the shark species can swallow a man whole, and men have been found whole in the stomachs of several. Every natural history abounds with facts of this kind. Besides, the shark is a native of the Mediterranean Sea, in which Jonah was sailing when swallowed by what the Hebrew terms גדול דג dag gadol, a great fish; but every body knows that whales are no produce of the Mediterranean Sea, thought some have been by accident found there, as in most other parts of the maritime world: but, let them be found where they may, there is none of them capable of swallowing a man. Instead of either whale or shark, some have translated גדול דג dag gadol, Jonah 1:17, by a fishing cove, or something of this nature; but this is merely to get rid of the miracle: for, according to some, the whole of Divine revelation is a forgery - or it is a system of metaphor or allegory, that has no miraculous interferences in it. But, independently of all this, the criticism is contemptible. Others say, that the great fish means a vessel so called, into which Jonah went, and into the hold of which he was thrown, where he continued three days and three nights. In short, it must be any thing but a real miracle, the existence of which the wise men, so called, of the present day, cannot admit. Perhaps these very men are not aware that they have scarcely any belief even in the existence of God himself!
We would see a sign from thee - See Luke 11:16, Luke 11:29-32. A “sign” commonly signifies a miracle - that is, a sign that God was with the person or had sent him. Compare the notes at Isaiah 7:11. Luke adds that this was done “tempting him;” that is, trying him, doubting if he had the power to do it. If these persons had been present with him for any considerable time, they had already seen sufficient proofs that he was what he claimed to be. They might have been, however, those who had recently come, and then the emphasis must be laid on “we” - we, as well as the others, would see a proof that thou art the Christ. In either case it was a temptation. If they had not seen him work a miracle, yet they should have believed it by testimony. Compare John 20:29. Perhaps, however, the emphasis is to be laid on the words “from heaven.” They might profess not to doubt that his miracles were real, but they were not quite satisfactory. They were desirous of seeing something, therefore, that should clear up their doubts - where there could be no opportunity for dispute. A comet, or lightning, or thunder, or sudden darkness, or the gift of food raining upon them, they supposed would be decisive. Possibly they referred in this to Moses. He had been with God amid thunders and lightnings, and he had given them manna - “bread from heaven” to eat. They wished Jesus to show some miracle equally undoubted.
An evil and adulterous generation - The relation of the Jews to God was often represented as a marriage contract - God as the husband, and the Jewish people as the wife.
See Isaiah 57:3; Hosea 3:1; Ezekiel 16:15. Hence, their apostasy and idolatry are often represented as adultery. This is the meaning, probably, here. They were evil, and unfaithful to the covenant or to the commandments of God - an apostate and corrupt people. There is, however, evidence that they were literally an adulterous people.
There shall no sign be given to it - They sought some direct miracle “from heavens.” Jesus replied that no “such” miracle should be given. He did not mean to say that he would work no more miracles, or give no more evidence that he was the Christ, but he would give “no such miracle” as they required. “He would give one that ought to be as satisfactory evidence to them that he was from God, as the miraculous preservation of Jonah was to the Ninevites that he was divinely commissioned.” As Jonah was preserved three days by miracle and then restored alive, so he would be raised from the dead after three days. As on the ground of this preservation the Ninevites believed Jonah and repented, so, on the ground of his resurrection, the people of an adulterous and wicked generation ought to repent, and believe that he was from God. “The sign of the prophet Jonas” means the “sign” or “evidence” which was given to the people of Nineveh that he was from God - to wit, that he had been miraculously preserved, and was therefore divinely commissioned. The word “Jonas” is the Greek way of writing the Hebrew word “Jonah,” as “Elias” is for “Elijah.”
For as Jonas was three days - See Jonah 1:17
This event took place in the Mediterranean Sea, somewhere between Joppa and Tarshish, when he was fleeing from Nineveh. It is said that the “whale” seldom passes into that sea, and that its throat is too small to admit a man. It is probable, therefore, that a fish of the “shark kind” is intended. Sharks have been known often to swallow a man entire. The fish in the book of Jonah is described merely as a “great fish,” without specifying the kind. It is well known that the Greek word translated whale, in the New Testament, does not of necessity mean a whale, but may denote a large fish or sea-monster of any kind. - Robinson, Lexicon.
Three days and three nights - It will be seen in the account of the resurrection of Christ that he was in the grave but two nights and a part of three days. See Matthew 18:6. This computation is, however, strictly in accordance with the Jewish mode of reckoning. If it had “not” been, the Jews would have understood it, and would have charged our Saviour as being a false prophet, for it was well known to them that he had spoken this prophecy, Matthew 27:63. Such a charge, however, was never made; and it is plain, therefore, that what was “meant” by the prediction was accomplished. It was a maxim, also, among the Jews, in computing time, that a part of a day was to be received as the whole. Many instances of this kind occur in both sacred and profane history. See 2 Chronicles 10:5, 2 Chronicles 10:12; Genesis 42:17-18. Compare Esther 4:16 with Esther 5:1.
In the heart of the earth - The Jews used the word “heart” to denote the “interior” of a thing, or to speak of being in a thing. It means, here, to be in the grave or sepulchre.
The men of Nineveh - Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire.
It was founded by Asshur, Genesis 10:11. It was situated on the banks of the River Tigris, to the northeast of Babylon. It was a city of vast extent, and of corresponding wickedness. It was 48 miles in circuit; its walls were 100 feet high and 10 thick, and were defended by fifteen hundred towers, each 200 feet in height. It contained in the time of Jonah, it is supposed, six hundred thousand inhabitants. The destruction of Nineveh, threatened by Jonah in forty days, was suspended, by their repentance, two hundred years. It was then overthrown by the Babylonians about six hundred years before Christ. During the siege a mighty inundation of the river Tigris took place, which threw down a part of the walls, through which the enemy entered, and sacked and destroyed the city. This destruction had been foretold one hundred and fifteen years before by Nahum Nahum 1:8; “But with an overwhelming flood he will make an utter end of the place thereof:” and Nahum 2:6; “The gates of the river shall be opened, and the palace shall be dissolved.” Its ruins have been lately discovered by Layard, and have contributed much to the establishment of the truth of Scripture history. Those remains are on the east side of the river Tigris, nearly opposite to the city of Mosul.
Shall condemn it - That is, their conduct, in repenting under the preaching of Jonah, shall condemn this generation. They, ignorant and wicked pagan, repented when threatened with “temporal” judgment by a mere man - Jonah; you, Jews, professing to be enlightened, though threatened for your great wickedness with eternal punishment “by the Son of God” - a far greater being than Jonah - repent not, and must therefore meet with a far heavier condemnation.
The queen of the south - That, is, the Queen of Sheba, 1 Kings 10:1
Sheba was probably a city of Arabia, situated to the south of Judea. Compare the notes at Isaiah 60:6.
From the uttermost parts of the earth - This means simply from the most distant parts of the habitable world “then known.” See a similar expression in Deuteronomy 28:49. As the knowledge of geography was limited, the place was, “in fact,” by no means in the extreme parts of the earth. It means that she came from a remote country; and she would condemn that generation, for she came “a great distance” to hear the wisdom of Solomon, but the Jews of that age would not listen to the wisdom of one “much greater” than Solomon, though present with them.
The sons of Joseph were far from being in sympathy with Jesus in His work. The reports that reached them in regard to His life and labors filled them with astonishment and dismay. They heard that He devoted entire nights to prayer, that through the day He was thronged by great companies of people, and did not give Himself time so much as to eat. His friends felt that He was wearing Himself out by His incessant labor; they were unable to account for His attitude toward the Pharisees, and there were some who feared that His reason was becoming unsettled. DA 321.1Read in context »
Now the Pharisees and Sadducees came to Christ, asking for a sign from heaven. When in the days of Joshua Israel went out to battle with the Canaanites at Bethhoron, the sun had stood still at the leader's command until victory was gained; and many similar wonders had been manifest in their history. Some such sign was demanded of Jesus. But these signs were not what the Jews needed. No mere external evidence could benefit them. What they needed was not intellectual enlightenment, but spiritual renovation. DA 406.1
“O ye hypocrites,” said Jesus, “ye can discern the face of the sky,”—by studying the sky they could foretell the weather,—“but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” Christ's own words, spoken with the power of the Holy Spirit that convicted them of sin, were the sign that God had given for their salvation. And signs direct from heaven had been given to attest the mission of Christ. The song of the angels to the shepherds, the star that guided the wise men, the dove and the voice from heaven at His baptism, were witnesses for Him. DA 406.2
“And He sighed deeply in His spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign?” “There shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas.” As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, Christ was to be the same time “in the heart of the earth.” And as the preaching of Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so Christ's preaching was a sign to His generation. But what a contrast in the reception of the word! The people of the great heathen city trembled as they heard the warning from God. Kings and nobles humbled themselves; the high and the lowly together cried to the God of heaven, and His mercy was granted unto them. “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation,” Christ had said, “and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.” Matthew 12:40, 41. DA 406.3
Every miracle that Christ performed was a sign of His divinity. He was doing the very work that had been foretold of the Messiah; but to the Pharisees these works of mercy were a positive offense. The Jewish leaders looked with heartless indifference on human suffering. In many cases their selfishness and oppression had caused the affliction that Christ relieved. Thus His miracles were to them a reproach. DA 406.4
That which led the Jews to reject the Saviour's work was the highest evidence of His divine character. The greatest significance of His miracles is seen in the fact that they were for the blessing of humanity. The highest evidence that He came from God is that His life revealed the character of God. He did the works and spoke the words of God. Such a life is the greatest of all miracles. DA 406.5Read in context »
As Jonah entered the city, he began at once to “cry against” it the message, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Verse 4. From street to street he went, sounding the note of warning. PK 270.1
The message was not in vain. The cry that rang through the streets of the godless city was passed from lip to lip until all the inhabitants had heard the startling announcement. The Spirit of God pressed the message home to every heart and caused multitudes to tremble because of their sins and to repent in deep humiliation. PK 270.2
“The people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he causeth it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything: let them not feed, nor drink water: but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn everyone from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from His fierce anger, that we perish not?” Verses 5-9. PK 270.3Read in context »