Survey of Jonah
The Book of Jonah is one of the few books of the Bible that is actually written about a prophet, with the prophet being the center of the story. In the story, Jonah received a commandment from God to go to Nineveh and preach what the Lord would tell him to preach. Jonah, however; did not immediately do what the Lord had required him to do. Instead Jonah went the opposite direction. Jonah rebelled from God out of prejudice and selfishness. Jonah knew that if the people of Nineveh were to hear the message of the Lord that they might repent. Jonah also knew the Lord, and that He is merciful. Jonah knew that God would have mercy on the people of Nineveh if they repented. In his rebellion, Jonah has to be chastised severely. Jonah then repents and cries out to the Lord for deliverance. The Lord, in His mercy, gives Jonah a second chance to go to Nineveh and deliver the message the Lord tells him. The story of Johan is referred to by Jesus himself as a sign that the story of Jonah is a revelation from God concerning the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah.
Jonah is accepted to have been written by the prophet himself, although there is no direct evidence of this. The story itself is anonymous, as the story does not identify the writer or when it was written. It is believed that the story took place around 760 B.C. In 2nd Kings 14:27 Jonah is connected with the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel (793-753 B.C.). There was a plague in 765, an eclipse in 763, and then a second plague in 759 that may have made the Ninevites prepared to receive the preaching of Jonah. The theory for this is that the signs of the plagues and the eclipse would have been seen as judgements of God and would have prepared the hearts of the Ninevites. The king calls for fasting and repentance and the Lord hears their cries and shows mercy, even though, none was promised in the preaching of Jonah.
Nineveh is probably the most famous of the capitals of Assyria. Nineveh became the capital of Assyria during the reign of King Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.). During his rule the empire expanded and became prosperous. Nineveh was strategically located east of the Tigris River and 250 miles north of Babylon, in a very fertile region. Nineveh was the center of worship of Ishtar, the fertility goddess. The size of Nineveh as revealed in the bible (Jonah 3.3 and 4.11) was over 120,000 people and took approximately 3 days to walk across. Scholars believe the circumference to have been from 55-60 miles. Some of the inventions we use today that come from Nineveh during this time period are, locks for doors, a time system that kept track of time in a 360 degree circle, paved roads, the first postal system, and flush toilets and aqueducts. Military leaders were known for being exceptionally brutal, and used terror to keep areas under control.
There are a number of miracles in the story of Jonah that are also reflective in the gospels. That include the calming of the sea, Jonah’s being in the belly of the whale for three days, and the grace shown by God to his servant Jonah. These also include the following by chapter and verse:
- Calming of the sea (1.15)
- Preparing of the great fish (1.17)
- Throwing up of Jonah on dry land 3 days latter (2.10)
- Preparing of the gourd (4.6)
- Preparing of the worm (4.7)
- Preparing of the wind (4.8)
- Salvation of the people of Nineveh
There are twelve doctrinal issues that can be drawn from the story of Jonah. James in the epistle of James 1:15 tells that sin in its ultimate form brings death. “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1.15) Sin comes from our own selfish desires. This is then the root that sin has in our lives, that we only seek what is in our own interest. This is the problem that Jonah had. Even though he wanted to rid the world of the wickedness of Nineveh and therefore remove a threat to Israel, God had other plans. Quite possible, God chose the Nineveh, because He knew they were among the most evil people on the earth at that time. In showing them mercy to the people of Nineveh, He lets us know that it is not by our own works that we deserve mercy, but by his grace. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3.5-7) Even as this is a direct show of the mercies of God towards us, no matter what the condition of our life, the portion of Johan being in the belly of the whale was given to us as a testimony of the resurrection of Jesus.
Matthew 12:38-45 tells us that Jesus confirmed the importance of this story. Jesus told the scribes that the sign of his being the Christ was the sign of Jonah being in the belly of the whale. Jesus used this story as a fact that Jonah’s plight in the big fish was accurate and true, and as it was, so would his death, burial, and resurrection. Even more so, if you look at this, Jonah then went and preached and the people were saved. Well the apostles, after Jesus’ ascension, went and preached, and people were saved. “How then shall they call on him in which they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10.14 KJV).
12 Lessons from Jonah
- Sin always has consequences (Jonah 1:4)
- Sin always affects others eventually (Jonah 1:5,8)
- It is a sin to serve God in the wrong place (Jonah 1:3)
- God’s chastening can be unusually strong (Jonah 2)
- Pay your vows (Jonah 2:9)
- Our God is the God of a 2nd chance (Jonah 3:1)
- God is more merciful than some of us expect him to be (Jonah 3:9-10)
- God blesses the city whose king orders them to turn to God (Jonah 3:5-10)
- It is possible for an entire city to get right with the Lord (Jonah 3:5-10)
- Suicide is nearly always a selfish act (Jonah 4:3)
- We should be merciful to others as God has been merciful towards us (Jonah 4:10-11)
- If you don’t believe the story of Jonah then you don’t believe the Gospel (Matthew 12:38-45)
God’s mercies with Assyria did not end with this story. Even though, later in time he still had to judge Nineveh, when they were finally conquered their people were not wiped off the face of the earth. Instead they were ruled by other nations, like Babylon. Assyrians were among the first converts listed by the early church. Assyria became a thriving Christian community that still exists today.
- Jonah Fleeing, 1.1-17
- Johan Praying, 2.1-10
- Jonah Preaching, 3.1-10
- Jonah’s Lesson, 4.1-11
King James Easy-reading Study Bible. Goodyear, AZ, 2002. Print.
Ryrie, Charles Caldwell. The Ryrie Study Bible: King James Version. Chicago: Moody, 2008. Print.
Longman, Tremper. “The Book of Jonah.” Introducing the Old Testament: A Short Guide to Its History and Message. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012. N. pag. Print.
“Ancient Nineveh – Background Bible Study (Bible History Online).” Ancient Nineveh – Background Bible Study (Bible History Online). N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2016.