There are two places in the Bible where the city of Joppa shows up, and in case you have forgotten, the Holy Spirit does not do anything on accident. So, why would God have Joppa show up only twice? What’s going on there? The two places that Joppa appears are in the book of Jonah 1:3 and in the book of Acts 9:36-43. This is on purpose, so let’s look at it.
In the book of Jonah, we have the prophet fleeing from the presence of God by attempting to escape in a pagan ship docked at Joppa. You know the story, God told Jonah to go to the Gentiles and preach to them to call them to repentance that they may not be destroyed under the anger of God. Jonah does not want to do this, so he flees from God and boards a ship brimming with Gentiles. These Gentiles, at the end of chapter 1, are converted and believe in Yahweh (Jonah 1:14-16). Despite Jonah’s rebellion, God saves sinners.
Then, in the book of Acts we have Peter in Joppa where he, by the power of God, resurrects a dead Gentile. We are told that this dead woman’s name is Tabitha, which means Dorcas. This is an interesting detail. Why would Luke, and the Holy Spirit, see it fit to tell us that Tabitha’s name translated means Dorcas, and what does Dorcas mean? Tabitha/Dorcas, means Gazelle. So, why is that important, and why is this important at Joppa?
A gazelle is a clean animal according to God’s Law, which means God’s people could eat it, but it was not permitted to be an animal used in worship as a sacrifice. Understand some biblical symbolism here: the Israelites are represented by clean animals that can be used in worship (goat, sheep, bulls, pigeons, doves) and the clean animals that cannot be used in worship represent converted Gentiles.
We also have to remember that uncleanness in the Bible is symbolic of death. Peter is able to approach a dead body, which was not permitted before Christ, because the uncleanness of death has no hold over us because of the Resurrection. Peter, in Joppa, raises a converted Gentile from the dead. Peter is a new Jonah.
Peter, we are told, also stayed with a tanner named Simon. Then, from Joppa, Peter is commanded to go to Caesarea and preach to the Gentiles there (sound familiar?). Peter protests to God about the laws of cleanliness (life and death), and God says that what He has made clean, Peter should not defile (Acts 10:14-15). As animals represent people, it becomes clear to Peter that God is doing two things: 1. Christians have no dietary laws any longer, and 2. Gentiles can now be full members of God’s church.
Then Peter goes to the Gentiles willingly (unlike Jonah) and preaches the Gospel to them, and they receive the Lord’s baptism and are saved. This is what Jonah should have been doing, drawing the Gentiles in to convert and worship the One True God.