Book of Jonah and Jonah, the Person


Summary of the Book of Jonah

The book of Jonah is Narrative History and a Prophetic Oracle. The prophet Jonah wrote it approximately 785-760 B.C. before Assyria conquered Israel’s Northern Kingdom.

Key personalities include Jonah, the captain and the ship’s crew and the people of Nineveh.

The purpose of this book is to show that God is a merciful and gracious God. Although the wicked city of Nineveh deserved to be crushed immediately, God was patient towards them. A reluctant prophet, Jonah originally ran from God before delivering a message of repentance to the nation of Nineveh.

Chapter 1 – God directed Jonah to go to Nineveh however; Jonah disobeyed, boarded a ship and headed for Tarshish. The sailors of the ship became concerned because of the great storm that brewed and Jonah explained that God was bringing judgment upon him. The sailors threw him into the sea where he was swallowed by an enormous fish.

Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.  And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and nights (1:17).

Chapter 2-3 – After God had the fish cough him up, three days later; Jonah obeyed God and went to Nineveh to fulfill his mission. Jonah preached a message of repentance and to his surprise and deep disappointment, the sinful city repented.

So 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 (3:5).

Chapter 4 – God deals with Jonah and teaches him about His love and compassion.

And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country?  Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou are a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil (4:2).

Nineveh’s repentance must have been short-lived; it was destroyed in 612 B.C.

Jonah

Jonah son of Amittai appears in 2 Kings as a prophet from Gath-hepher (a few miles north of Nazareth) active during the reign of Jeroboam II (c.786-746 B.C.), where he predicts that Jeroboam will recover certain lost territories.

Jonah is also the central character in the Book of Jonah and ordered by God to go to the city of Nineveh to preach to the pagans of Assyria so he tried to run away from God by fleeing on a ship. But Jonah was thrown overboard and swallowed by a great fish. Later, the fish spit him out on the shoreline.

Jonah Preaching to the Ninevites (1866) by Gustave Doré

Then, Jonah chose to obey God and went to Nineveh to preach. His preaching was successful and 120,000 people in Nineveh turned to God in obedience, sparing themselves punishment and death from God.

Jonah’s time inside the fish is used as an example of Jesus’ burial in Matt 12:38-41.

The basic theme of Jonah is that God declares His love for all men, whether they are Israelites or not. Jonah was unable to love the Assyrians properly, but God did and desired nothing for them but their salvation, and so He sent a prophet to preach repentance.

Jonah means “dove”. The Bible’s book of Jonah is the 5th of the twelve Minor Prophets. Unlike the other prophet books, Jonah’s is not a collection of prophetic speeches, but a short narrative.