In the Fall 2007 issue of JBL is an essay “Jonah Read Intertextually” by Hyun Chul Paul Kim of Methodist Theological School in Delaware, Ohio. The first section of the essay points to numerous linguistic and conceptual parallels between Jonah (“Dove”) and the Noah narrative: Destruction of the earth, including animals; but in this case, the world (Nineveh) is saved along with its animals (note last verse of Jonah). Jonah as dove sent out from ark of the prepared fish. The wind over the earth. The forty days. God “regrets/changes” (Gen. 6:6-7; Jonah 3:10). And more.
It’s clear enough that the Fish that protects Jonah in the literal sea is parallel to Assyria, which is being specially prepared to protect Israel during their time in the gentile sea. The Noah parallels enable us to link the gentile ship of Jonah 1 as well. Jonah is protected in that ship from God’s storm-wind, but that wind is against him. The world is okay, but now Jonah/Noah is in sin and must be hurled into the Flood. The gentiles are saved and turn to Yahweh.
Jonah is put into a new ship, the Fish. While he is there, he repents. Then he is cast out into the gentile world. But he is not cast out only to evangelize. Something more specific is going on. Jonah as repentant Noah now must work with God to make a new ship, an ark, for Israel. Jonah’s preaching, the work of the Spirit, and God’s changing of His mind enable the salvation of Nineveh — including its animals. Nineveh, Assyria, is the new ark.
The storm is coming. The flood is coming. But God will put Israel into a new Ark, Assyria, until the storm passes.
Since Israel did not return from exile until Judah also did, and since Assyria was eaten by Babylon, we are invited to consider the Oikumene set up in Daniel 2 as a continuation of the Ark. In Daniel 7 the progression of Oikumene administrators are compared to the cherubim who guard God’s own throne. With Jonah as background, we can also see them as a progression of administrators of the Ark.
It is often assumed these days that the Jews (Israel and Judah) did not really “come back from exile,” and that the Exile continued until Jesus ended it. New Testament scholars like this idea, but I think they need a bit of help from OT scholars. It’s clear from Zechariah 1-6 that a new covenant came into being when the Jews returned to the land, far more powerful and glorious than the Davidic covenant. The one aspect of the realm of Israel that did not return to power was the king himself. Every other aspect of Israel was resurrected and glorified. I’ve discussed this in my Daniel commentary at length, so there is no need to go into it here.
The Exile that Jesus ended began when Adam was cast from the garden of Eden. There may be some Babylonian Exile motifs used in the rhetoric of the gospels and epistles, but it is the Adamic exile that is what the gospels are ending.
The Oikumene as Ark does not end with Cyrus and the return of some Jews to maintain the central places. God wanted the Jews spread throughout the Oikumene (Zech. 2) as a Jerusalem without walls. Exile and Captivity were over, but the Ark remained. The New World had not arrived. God’s priestly people would need protection from the storm of history for a time to come.
Jesus spoke of the sign of Jonah as the ONE sign of His victory. Often we take this only to refer to His three days in the “heart of the earth” and His resurrection. But it’s more than that. Taking the gospel to the gentiles is also part of the sign of Jonah. We miss out, however, if we fail to see that the book of Acts also ends with the sign of Jonah. Once again we have a huge storm, a ship at sea, a Roman ship. The Oikumene. Paul says everyone must remain on the ship until the ship is wrecked. The wreck of the Roman ship is itself a sign: the Oikumene Ark is ending. Paul and those with him are cast up on the land, vomited from the Fish, leaving the Ark. But not yet fully leaving the Ark, because Paul must go to Rome and AD 70 has not yet arrived. We are seeing the Ark beginning to collapse.
And in one more Jonah allusion, when Paul comes up on the land out of the Fish-Ship, he brings healing to the people of the island (cp. Nineveh) and they receive his witness.
I submit that seeing the Oikumene as an Ark is a helpful perspective. It really is the case that the Persians and the Romans protected the faithful Jews, and for the most part so did the Greek empires. It was when the Jewish priests apostatized in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes that God brought judgment on the Jews. And for a period thereafter the Jews were relatively independent, with one awful king after another, until finally they degenerated into a bloody civil war and asked the Romans to come in and protect them. It is true that the Romans were severe rulers, but every Roman we encounter in the gospels and Acts — and they are all OFFICIALS! — is positive to God’s people. Rebellious Jews were punished, but those who believed God and trusted in His provision of the Ark/Oikumene were protected by the Romans.
All of this would change in the mid-’60s. For the last time, the empire administering the Oikumene would go bad and need to be replace, this time not with another cherubic-empire guardian, but with the cosmos-ruling Son of God.