Do not be like (Jonah) who called from inside the fish.
At the end of a very long and difficult revelation, Muhammad is told to not be like Jonah.
What does this mean?
Among other things, it obviously means that either Muhammad already knew the story of Jonah from the Jewish Bible – or he was expected to go get a Jewish Bible and learn about it from there!
Let’s check this out further.
Sura 68 – The Pen
Order of Revelation – 2
Traditional order in Qur’an – 68
Sura 68 addresses the following:
1. The sense from the Prophet that his first revelation was actually from an evil spirit. This appears to be confirming what his wife told him – that Muhammad was not crazy / hallucinating / etc.
2. Confirms that God can see what people are doing.
3. Compares the revelations to the Prophet to what others are told by their idols (gods).
4. Says that God can take care of Himself.
5. Tells Muhammad not to be like Jonah.
Part 1 was covered in concerning the first revelation.
Part 2 was covered in God can see what people do
Part 3 was covered in Compare revelations to the Prophet to what others are told by their idols
Part 4 was covered in God can take care of Himself
5. Do not be like Jonah
[68:48] You shall steadfastly persevere in carrying out the commands of your Lord. Do not be like (Jonah) who called from inside the fish.
[68:49] If it were not for his Lord’s grace, he would have been ejected into the desert as a sinner.
[68:50] But his Lord blessed him, and made him righteous.
[68:51] Those who disbelieved show their ridicule in their eyes when they hear the message and say, “He is crazy!”
[68:52] It is in fact a message to the world
This is the closing for Sura 68 – telling Muhammad to not be like Jonah.
Given that no details at all are provided as a reference point to understand what is meant by the command to not be like Jonah, we must conclude that the intent was to go to another source for information. Given that Muhammad was familiar with the Jewish Old Testament – it’s reasonable to assume that this was the intended source. After all – at this time – there was no animosity between them at the time of this revelation. Further, in the event that Muhammad wasn’t completely familiar with the events surrounding Jonah, there was clearly an intent that he go look it up and learn about it. On top of that, there was full expectation that Jonah knew where this came from. Otherwise, just making a statement to someone about some person named Jonah and telling them to not be like that person – it would be totally pointless. Muhammad had to know at least enough about Jonah to be able to know what this meant.
So – let’s see what’s going on here –
Jonah Flees From the LORD
Jnh 1:1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
Jnh 1:3 But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish . He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD.
Seriously – this is how the book starts.
God wants Jonah to go to Nineveh –
and preach against them because of their wickedness.
And Jonah runs away!
One could suspect that this comes up because Muhammad is considering doing the exact same thing.
We’ve already seen from previous articles –
He receives a revelation –
is afraid it’s from a Jinn (an evil spirit)
and is wondering if he’s going crazy.
His instinct is to stop.
But the second revelation tells him to not be like Jonah –
tells him to not run away.
OK – so far this makes sense.
So let’s continue.
After the famous trip in the belly of the fish, God’s way of getting Jonah back on track and on his way to Nineveh, Jonah does finally get to Nineveh. He does preach against them. And they heed his warnings, as we see in Jonah 3 –
Jonah Goes to Nineveh
Jnh 3:1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
Jnh 3:3 Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city—a visit required three days. 4 On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
Jnh 3:6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
Jnh 3:10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened
So far so good.
Jonah makes it to Nineveh. Delivers God’s message. Tells them God may relent if they change their ways. They do make the changes. God does relent. Everything is good!
Or is it?
Jonah’s Anger at the LORD’S COMPASSION
Jnh 4:1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Jnh 4:4 But the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”
Jnh 4:5 Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
Jnh 4:9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?”
“I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.”
Jnh 4:10 But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”
Clearly something’s wrong here.
Jonah is angry at God?
Did not God do exactly what Jonah told the Ninevites He would do?
And yet Jonah is angry at God.
Again – why?
Below is Thomas Cokes’ explanation from his commentary on Jonah –
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly—Seeing that what he had foretold against the Ninevites did not happen, Jonah was afraid, lest he should pass for a false prophet and a deceiver, his ministry be despised, and his person exposed to the violence of the Ninevites. He was therefore very peevish and impatient, and he vents his complaints in the following verse. There is certainly no reason to be solicitous about the justification of Jonah. It affects not the goodness of God, or the truth of Scripture, that imperfect characters are employed to communicate the divine commands. ((Thomas Coke’s Commentary on the Holy Bible. Biblesoft Formatted Electronic Database Copyright © 2014 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.))
He was afraid of being a false prophet.
This is similar to the feelings that Muhammad had.
in Jonah’s case –
he was worried that the Ninevites would heed God’s message –
that they would change their ways – turn away from all the evil –
he was worried that because of this – God would relent and would not destroy Nineveh.
And all of this is exactly what happened.
The message was given.
The people did listen.
They did turn away from all the evil.
God did relent and Nineveh was not destroyed.
(at least not at that time. – The ruins of the city now sit near Mosul, Iraq after a later destruction.)
This begs a very important question –
Exactly which part of Jonah’s actions was Muhammad not supposed to mimic?
- The not running away part seems to make sense.
- However – given Muhammad’s goal on having the Arabs follow one God rather than hundreds – the Jonah analogy seems to be way off course – given that Jonah actually wanted God to destroy the Ninevites – and was most upset that it didn’t happen that way.
At this point –
I’m not going to answer this question. (There will be more in the next article, but I want you to have time to think about this.)
I’m going to point out what appears to be an issue.
- Was it a bad analogy?
Did Muhammad not really know the story of Jonah?
But is that question even relevant –
since the revelation was supposed to have been from the Angel Gabriel –
who certainly was well aware of the meaning of the command to not be like Jonah.
- Was the warning only to apply to part of what Jonah did?
But if that was the case –
why was that not made obvious?
One would not expect a confusing message to come from the Angel of God.
One would expect him to show the way on a narrow path that leads to God.
- Is something else going on?
And I’m going to leave it here.
Something’s apparently wrong –
this message to not be like Jonah –
it doesn’t make sense.
If the goal was to show an Old Testament prophet who wanted the same result that God wanted –
but had reservations about fulfilling the task (as Muhammad clearly had at the beginning)
there are much better examples than Jonah.
For instance – we see this with the great prophet Elijiah – in 1 Kings 18:1-9 –
Elijah Flees to Horeb
1Ki 19:1 Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”
1Ki 19:3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
1Ki 19:7 The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.
Especially in light of what was to come for Muhammad –
would this not have been a better analogy than that of Jonah?
At this time –
I leave it to you to pray to God –
the God of Abraham –
the God who heard Hagar –
the God who protected Ishmael –
pray to Him for insight into this question of what happened with this revelation.
When we honestly pray to Him –
and are open to hearing His answer –
an answer totally in truth –
He will give it to us.
This is part of a continuing series looking at The Qur’an and The Bible to see the relationship between Islam and Christianity.
Click here to see a page listing the current posts, with a short description of each.
The plan is to at least start by going through the Qur’an, in the order in which each of the Sura’s was revealed to the prophet Muhammad.
image from wikimedia.org