The Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) & the sign of Jonah

We have seen how the Injil records the teachings, healings and miracles of the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH).  He often gave invitations to his listeners (and to us) to receive what he offered.  He offered ‘living water’, mercy to sinners, finding the ‘lost’, and invited all who were willing to enter the ‘Kingdom of God’.

These teachings perplexed the religious leaders of his day.  In particular they wondered what authority he had to speak.  For example, did he really have the authority to offer God’s mercy to guilty people, and the authority to pay for entry into the Kingdom of God for all?  So the religious leaders (who are like imams today) asked him for a sign to prove his authority.  The Injil records their conversation:

Isa refers to the Sign of Jonah (Yunus)

38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”

39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.  (Matthew 12:38-41)

Prophet Yunus in History

Isa al Masih (PBUH) answered by pointing to the prophet Jonah (also called Yunus or Yunis).  You can see in the timeline below that the prophet Yunus lived about 800 years before the Prophet Isa al Masih.

Prophet Jonah (Yunus or Yunis) in Historical Timeline

Prophet Yunus in Quran

Yunus PBUH wrote a book that is in the Prophetic writings. The Quran summarizes his book like this:

And indeed, Jonah was among the messengers.

when he ran away to the laden ship.

And he drew lots and was among the losers.

Then the fish swallowed him, while he was blameworthy.

And had he not been of those who exalt Allah ,

He would have remained inside its belly until the Day they are resurrected.

But We threw him onto the open shore while he was ill.

And We caused to grow over him a gourd vine.

And We sent him to [his people of] a hundred thousand or more.

And they believed, so We gave them enjoyment [of life] for a time.

(As-Saffat 37: 139-148)

Prophet Yunus was swallowed by a huge fish because he ran away from the mission that Allah had given him – to preach repentance to the city of Ninevah (close to modern-day Mosul in Iraq).  Islamic scholar Yusuf Ali says about ayah 144 (‘He would have remained inside its belly until the Day they are resurrected’)

This is just the idiom.  This was to be the burial and grave of Jonah.  If he had not repented he could not have got out of the body of the creature that had swallowed him, until the Day or Resurrection, when all dead would be raised up. (Footnote 4125 of Yusuf Ali translation of Quran)

In other words, being inside the fish was a death sentence that would normally only be released on the Day of Resurrection.

The Prophet Yunus from his own Book

Jonah’s book in the Old Testament gives greater details about his time in the great fish.  He tells us:

17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.  From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said:

“In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.
You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers swept over me.
I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight;
yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’
The engulfing waters threatened me
the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.

“When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.

“Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”

10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land  (Jonah 1:17 – 2:10)

What is the ‘Sign of Jonah’?

Normally we expect that when someone’s authority is challenged, as in the authority of the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH), he would respond by showing power, victory or success.  But Isa al Masih defends his authority by referring to when the Prophet Jonah had been 3 days ‘in the realm of the dead’ – the ‘pit’ or grave.  During this time, since Jonah had disobeyed the command of Allah, he had ‘been banished from your sight’ i.e., from the sight of Allah.  The episode of Jonah in the grip of death for 3 days in the black depths, banished from Allah, is a surprising credential of authority from God.  Why would Isa al Masih choose a sign that appears to remove authority?

But this is not the first time we come across weakness and death as a Sign of Allah.  We saw that the prophet Isaiah had prophesied the Coming Servant.  Isaiah prophesied that this Servant would be ‘despised’ and ‘rejected by men’ and would be ‘considered punished by God’ and would be ‘cut off from the land of the living’ and be ‘assigned a grave with the wicked’.  That sounds a lot like what Jonah went through.  Stranger still, it was ‘the Lord’s will to crush him (the servant)”.  Though we may not understand why Isa al Masih (PBUH) chose this Sign of Jonah (Yunus) to defend his authority, this is not an isolated occurence.

The clue that brings understanding is how Jonah ended his prayer in the belly of the fish.  The last phrase of his prayer was “Salvation comes from the LORD”.  We saw how the name ‘Jesus’ is the same as ‘Joshua’ and that this was the prophecy of the coming Branch. But what does ‘Joshua’ mean?  In Hebrew it means ‘The LORD saves’.  In his prayer the prophet Jonah acknowledged that he (and we) need to be ‘saved’ and that it is the LORD who does the saving.  His double-sided truth declared both our need (to be saved) and God as the one who does the saving. The name of Isa al Masih (Yhowshuwa in Hebrew) literally has this same truth that Jonah in the fish finally acknowledged since the name Jesus/Joshua means ‘The LORD saves’.

The Prophet Isa al Masih concluded his conversation with the religious leaders by reminding them that the people of Ninevah (the city where Yunus had been sent to preach) had believed and repented at Jonah’s message – but the leaders who listened to Isa al Masih were not willing to repent.  These leaders were unwilling to acknowledge that they needed saving.  We should examine our own hearts to see if we are like the men of Ninevah (who repented) or the leaders (who did not).  Which of the two are you?

We continue to follow Isa al Masih to see more completely what this Sign of Jonah means and how ‘The LORD saves’ as Isa al Masih’s mission moves to its end.

Introducing The Zabur

Dawood or Dawud (also David – PBUH) is very important among the prophets. The prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) started a new dispensation (ie the way that Allah relates to people) with the promise of descendants and a great nation – and then gave the great sacrifice. The Prophet Musa (PBUH) freed the Israelites from slavery – through the Passover sacrifice – and then gave them a Law so they could be a nation. But what was lacking was a King who would rule in such a way that they would receive the blessings instead of the curses from Allah. Dawood (PBUH) was that king and prophet. He started another dispensation – that of the Kings ruling from Jerusalem.

Who was King Dawood (David – PBUH)?

You can see from the timelines in History of the Israelites, that Dawood (PBUH) lived about 1000BC, a thousand years after Ibrahim (PBUH) and 500 years after Musa (PBUH). Dawood (PBUH) started out as a shepherd tending his family’s sheep. The giant and great enemy of the Israelites – Goliath – led an army to conquer the Israelites, and the Israelites were discouraged and defeated. Dawood (PBUH) however challenged Goliath and killed him in battle. It was so remarkable that a young shepherd boy could kill a giant soldier that Dawood (PBUH) became famous. Then the Israelites went on to defeat their enemies. The Qur’an informs us of this battle between Dawood (PBUH) and Goliath in the following ayah

By God’s will they routed them; and David slew Goliath; and God gave him power and wisdom and taught him whatever (else) He willed. And did not God Check one set of people by means of another, the earth would indeed be full of mischief: But God is full of bounty to all the worlds. (Surah 2:251 – The Cow)

Dawood’s fame as a warrior grew after this battle. However, he became King only after long and difficult experiences because he had many enemies, both abroad and among the Israelites, who opposed him. The books of I and II Samuel in the Bible (al Kitab) recount these struggles and victories of Dawood (PBUH). Samuel (PBUH) was the prophet who anointed Dawood (PBUH) as King.

Dawood (PBUH) was also famous as a musician that composed beautiful songs and poems to Allah. This is mentioned in the Qur’an in the following ayat

Have patience at what they say, and remember our servant David, the man of strength: for he ever turned (to God). It was We that made the hills declare, in unison with him, Our Praises, at eventide and at break of day, And the birds gathered (in assemblies): all with him did turn (to God). We strengthened his kingdom, and gave him wisdom and sound judgment in speech and decision. (Surah 38:17-20 – SAD the Letter)

These ayat affirm the warrior’s strength of Dawood (PBUH), but also the ‘Praises’ which were as beautiful as the songs of birds to their Creator. And as King he was ‘given’ wisdom in ‘speech’ by Allah himself. These songs and poems of Dawood (PBUH) were recorded and form the first book of the Zabur (or Zaboor) – what is known as the Psalms. Because the wisdom of his words were given to him by Allah, these records of Dawood (PBUH) were also Holy and inspired like the Taurat. The Qur’an explains it like this:

And it is your Lord that knoweth best all beings that are in the heavens and on earth: We did bestow on some prophets more (and other) gifts than on others: and We gave to David (the gift of) the Psalms. (Surah 17:55 – Isra)

Suleiman – continuing Zabur

But these inspired writings did not end with Dawood (PBUH) who died at an old age as King. His son and heir was Suleiman (or Solomon – PBUH), also inspired by Allah for his wisdom. The Qur’an describes it like this:

To David We gave Solomon (for a son),- How excellent in Our service! Ever did he turn (to Us)! (Surah 38:30 – SAD the Letter)

And

And remember David and Solomon, when they gave judgment in the matter of the field into which the sheep of certain people had strayed by night: We did witness their judgment. To Solomon We inspired the (right) understanding of the matter: to each (of them) We gave Judgment and Knowledge; it was Our power that made the hills and the birds celebrate Our praises, with David: it was We Who did (all these things). (Surah 21:78-79 – The Prophets)

We gave (in the past) knowledge to David and Solomon: And they both said: “Praise be to God, Who has favoured us above many of his servants who believe!” (Surah 27:15 – The Ants)

So Suleiman (PBUH), continued adding inspired books of wisdom to the Zabur. His books are called Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon.

Zabur continues with further prophets

But with the passing of Suleiman (PBUH), the succeeding Kings did not follow the Taurat and none of these later kings were given inspired messages. Only Dawood and Suleiman (PBUT), out of all the Kings of Israel, had writings inspired by Allah – they were prophets as well as kings.  But to the kings that followed Suleiman, Allah sent prophets with messages of warnings. Yunus (or Jonah) the  prophet swallowed by a large fish was one of these prophets (Surah 37:139-144). This continued for about 300 years – with many prophets being sent. Their warnings, writings and prophecies were also added to the inspired Books of Zaboor. As explained here, the Israelites were finally conquered and deported by the Babylonians to Babylon, and then returned to Jerusalem under Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire. Through this time prophets continued to be sent and give messages – and these messages were written in the last books of Zabur.

Zabur – anticipating the coming of the Masih

All these prophets are important to us because, in the midst of their warnings, they also lay the foundation for the Injil. In fact, the title ‘Masih’ is introduced by Dawood (PBUH) early in the Psalms (the part of Zabur that he wrote) and the later prophets prophesied in more detail about the coming Masih. This was especially important given the failure of the later Kings to follow the Taurat, and the failure of the Israelites to obey the Commands.  The promise, hope and longing of the coming Masih was prophesied in the context of the failures of the people of that day. As prophets they were looking to the future, just as Musa (PBUH) had required in the Taurat. And these prophecies speak to us in our modern-day for those of us who have also failed to live the right way we know we should. The Masih was to be a beacon of hope in the midst of failure.

How Isa al Masih (PBUH) viewed and used the Zabur

In fact, the prophet Isa al Masih himself used the Zabur to help his companions and followers understand the Injil and the role of the Masih. It is states about Isa that

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.  Luke 24:27

The phrase ‘and all the Prophets’ refers to these prophets of Zabur that followed the Taurat of Musa (PBUH). Isa al Masih (PBUH) wanted his companions to understand how the Zabur taught and prophesied about him. Isa al Masih (PBUH) then continued teaching them by:

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.  Luke 24:44-45

When it refers here to the ‘the Prophets and the Psalms’ it means the first book of Zabur that Dawood wrote (the Psalms) and then the later books that were included (‘the Prophets’). Isa al Masih (PBUH) needed to ‘open their minds’ and only then would they be able to ‘understand the scriptures’ (ie the Inspired Books of Taurat and Zabur). Our goal in the next series of articles is to follow what Isa al Masih (PBUH) showed from these books so we too can open our minds and then understand the Injil.

Dawood (PBUH) and the Prophets of Zabur in a Historical Timeline

The image below summarizes most (but not all as there is not room for all) of these prophets.  The width of the bars shows the lifespan of each particular prophet.  The color code of the Timeline follows the status of the Israelites in the same manner as when we followed their history from the Blessings and Curses of Musa.

When Dawood and other prophets of Zabur lived
Historical Timeline of Prophet Dawood (PBUH) and some other prophets of Zabur

We continue in the Zabur by looking at the prophecy of the coming son of the virgin.