Most miss out on the significance of this book. All the other miracles and lessons are overshadowed because of the one thing….
Believability and Relevance
Most of the world and even many Christians do not believe this book to be factual. They look at it a lie, tall tale, or like Aesop’s fable which is to teach a truth.
But this is not the case, Jesus Christ gives validity to the book as other parts of the Bible do as well.
A Little Background
It is to a gentile and heathen nation which is unlike what any of the other prophets had to do. Also, the prophet refuses to do what God asks and runs away from his duty — unlike any of the other prophets.
Another unique aspect is that there is only one short prophecy in the book.
Nineveh (in Assyria): Largest city in the world in it’s day, at times from 100,000 to 600,000 people. It took three days to walk around it. It was a city of great sin, corruption and cruelty.
Nahum 3:1 Woe to the bloody city! It is all full of lies and robbery. Its victim never departs.
It is the Assyrians that later take the Israelites into captivity.
There will be more background as we go along.
(You Can Run But You Can’t Hide)
Jonah 1:1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
Jonah means dove, which can be a symbol for:
Nothing is really known about his father Amittai.
As we will see, this book is really more about Jonah than Nineveh but there are other lessons of value that we can pull from it.
We see as evidenced by other parts of the Bible that Jonah is a real character:
2 Kings 14:23 In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, became king in Samaria, and reigned forty-one years.
2 Kings 14:24 And he did evil in the sight of the LORD; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin.
There were two Jereboam’s and this one is Jereboam II (792-750 BC) who is being written about here. This also gives an idea of when Jonah prophesied.
2 Kings 14:25 He restored the territory of Israel from the entrance of Hamath to the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which He had spoken through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet who was from Gath Hepher.
Gath Hepher is in Zebulun [Joshua 19:10-13] so Jonah was Dutch :) [See the Table of Nations]
Genesis 49:13 “Zebulun shall dwell by the haven of the sea; He shall become a haven for ships, [Rotterdam] And his border shall adjoin Sidon.
Maybe this was why Jonah’s first method of escape was the sea.
2 Kings 14:26 For the LORD saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter; and whether bond or free, there was no helper for Israel.
At this point in time, and possibly playing into the pysche of Jonah, was the fact that Assyria was conquering and expanding its empire all around Israel. As we can see from the timeline of events it was not too long after Jonah that the Assyrian empire took the northern tribes of Israel into captivity.
Jereboam II 792-750 BC
Fall of Israel 722 – 718 BC
Fall of Assyria 612 BC (612 destroyed by Medes and Persians and Babylonians primarily)
Jonah 1:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”
Genesis 10:8 Cush begot Nimrod [making him the great-grandson of Noah]; he began to be a mighty one on the earth.
Genesis 10:9 He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD.”
Genesis 10:10 And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel [Babylon], Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.
Genesis 10:11 From that land he went to Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah,
They were a very cruel people as history attests to.
Jonah 1:3 But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
from the presence of the LORD… where did he think that would be?
Psalms 139:7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?
Psalms 139:8 If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
Psalms 139:9 If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
This is interesting in light of Jonah’s extensive knowledge of the Psalms as we see in the next chapter.
There are no other examples in the Bible of a prophet acting like this. He didn’t want to do the job God gave and he ran away from it on top of that.
If we can skip ahead for a second we see why Jonah did not want to do this:
Jonah 3:10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
Jonah 4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.
Jonah 4:2 So he prayed to the LORD, and said, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.
Because he didn’t want God to show mercy to others
Joppa [main port in the area of Israel] to Tarshish is the west and the wrong direction
Tarshish [why tarshish? Was it the gateway to further away. The bottom line is that it was about as far west as you could go on the European continent; doesn’t matter too much because he is never going to make it there]
Jonah 1:4 But the LORD sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.
God begins to work on Jonah
Jonah 1:5 Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.
Doesn’t seem to be too long before they encountered these issues that were brought on by God.
Not the standard type of storm
Jonah 1:6 So the captain came to him, and said to him, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.”
Jonah 1:7 And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.
Not sure exactly what it is to cast lots
Jonah 1:8 Then they said to him, “Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?”
They believed the lots and it was true
Jonah 1:9 So he said to them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.“
Yehovah the Elohim
Jonah 1:10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “Why have you done this?” For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.
Why were they afraid… equated Jonah’s God with the storm.
The men understood cause and effect
Why did you do this?
Jonah 1:11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?”—for the sea was growing more tempestuous.
The men understood cause and effect
Jonah 1:12 And he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.”
Jonah knew it was him and that it was God doing this because of him
Jonah 1:13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them.
Near some land
Jonah 1:14 Therefore they cried out to the LORD and said, “We pray, O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O LORD, have done as it pleased You.”
They prayed to Jonah’s God
very quickly they changed who they were praying to
Jonah 1:15 So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.
Controls the weather
Matthew 8:26-27 rebuked the wind and there was calm.
Jonah 1:16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took vows.
Turned to God and started doing works toward Him
Jonah 1:17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Several fish capable of doing this as well as whales (sperm)
Bottom line – it is a miracle
dag heb. Ketos greek [lookup] ichthus sea monster; sea creature; extinct; specially created?
Miracle #4 1st Preparation appointed
This one issue sidetracks most from the most import aspects of the scriptures
Jonah 2:1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly.
What is the best way to pray?
Jonah 2:2 And he said: “I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, And He answered me. “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice.
Times like this we are most likely to pray when we realize our lack of strength and ability
This has got to be confusing for those that believe in heaven and hell
sheol: pit or grave
See What is Hell for more on this subject
Psalms 30:3 O LORD, You brought my soul up from the grave [sheol]; You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. (Psalm 18:4-5)
[translated grave in both KJV and NKJV]
concept of a hell of torture doesn’t come on to the scene for another 1,000 years
being in the belly was a symbol of being in the grave for three days and three nights
this is why Jesus Christ referred to it.
Matthew 12:40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Now here is the other interesting concept – the word “belly”
is translated womb in other places
equal number of times in the Hebrew and the Greek
belly is the general region
we still use this terminology today
Jonah 2:3 For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me. (Psalm 88:6-7; 42:7)
He may not have been saved immediately
Jonah 1:15 Threw Jonah into the sea and the sea ceased from its raging, SO
Jonah 1:16 Then the men feared the LORD and offered a sacrifice and took vows
Jonah 1:17 “Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah”
The timeline allows for time to pass before the great fish swallowed him
billows [surge of the sea that often breaks at the peak]
waves passing over him
hold your breath for a minute
swim hard for a minute or less
more difficult with clothes
more difficult with waves crashing down on you
The point is that death was sure; it was a foregone conclusion without God’s intervention
Jonah 2:4 Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ (Psalm 5:7)
Psalms 31:22 For I said in my haste, “I am cut off from before Your eyes”; Nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications When I cried out to You.
I will look again toward Your holy temple…. whether this is an allusion to the physical and/or spiritual, at this point he believes that he does have a future ahead of him in spite of the predicament that he is in. but because of Jonah 2:7 it seems that it is pointing more towards the spiritual
Jonah 2:5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head. [Psalm 69:1-2]Jonah 2:6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God. (Psalm 49:15)
He we find more about his situation
The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me… he was all but drowned and his life was forfeit.
Weeds were wrapped around my head. I went down to the moorings of the mountains… typically weeds grow up from the bottom and the connotation of moorings the base or bottom of the mountains as other translations have it.
You have brought up my life from the pit… death or figurative death
he was as good as dead and for all we know, God may have let him die prior to spending three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish
Jonah 2:7 “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple. (Psalm 107:5)
soul fainted within me… as my life slipped or faded away
went up to You, Into Your holy temple…. we see here, more than likely, the temple he was referring to in Jonah 2:4. He describes his prayer as going up to God in His temple.
Jonah 2:8 “Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy. (Psalm 31:6)
KJV: Jonah 2:8 They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.
In both instances they are following or giving credit to
that which is not true
and that which does not last
because they do this they will not be able to avail themselves of the mercy that God has to offer.
I think Jonah is grateful that he has followed the One and True God
AND that he has received mercy for his ungodly acts and ways.
Jonah 2:9 But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.” (Psalm 69:30; 50:14)
What a change of attitude – at least for the time being.
He goes from not doing what God says and compounding it by running away
To being thankful and willing to do all that Jonah has said that he would do and of course this includes going to Nineveh
In the end he declares that God is the only one that can save – both physically and spiritually
What we see in all of this as well is that God brings Jonah to repentance and grants him forgiveness
See Why Repentance for more on this subject
Jonah 2:9 But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.” (Psalm 69:30)
What a change of attitude – at least for the time being. He goes from not doing what God says and then compounding it by running away — to being thankful and willing to do all that Jonah has said that he would do. And of course this includes going to Nineveh.
In the end he declares that God is the only one that can save – both physically and spiritually.
What we see in all of this as well is that God brings Jonah to repentance and grants him forgiveness
Jonah 2:10 So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
Some believe that he was deposited near Nineveh because of Jonah 3:3.
This would mean a trip of ~16,000 miles in three days, around the cape of Africa, through straits and shallow waters that great fish cannot go. These same people say that this is impossible while at the same time believe that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish — they cannot have it both ways.
If I had to guess: God did a reset and brought him back to where he started from or at least near there. This would mean a ~400-500 mile walk was still ahead of him. This translates into being about a month away.
More traditions claim that it was further up the coast from where he left – I won’t bother to mention since the Bible is silent on the subject.
Jonah 3:1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying,
After we repent we get the chance to do it right. God often tests us in much the same manner to see if we really got the point (Philippians 1:6).
Jonah 3:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.”
There was more to the message than we are told as we will see by the actions of the people and even Jonah’s reaction at the end.
Jonah 3:3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent.
This does not mean that he was three days from Nineveh — nonetheless this is why some have to compensate with where Jonah was vomited out by placing him very near that great city.
More than likely it was three days around it or that long to see the sites or to do the circuit Jonah was going to do. According to history, the city wall had a circumference of about eight miles and the the larger extended area of Nineveh made up of several cities was about 55 miles to 60 miles around. This, at 20 miles per day would then account for the three days
Jonah 3:4 And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
first day’s walk… probably the first day of the planned 40 days of preaching and prophesying
“Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”… Now finally: HERE IS THE PROPHECY (that is recorded). This is all of the whole message that we are told even though we know that the core message of prophets is REPENTANCE — which we see in the rest of this chapter.
Jonah 3:5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.
the people of Nineveh believed God … Miracle #6 (Actually this is one of the greatest miracles there is. It far exceeds the supernatural physical events.)
from the greatest to the least of them…. everyone; they were serious about it!
Jonah 3:6 Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.
Sackcloth… it’s texture is rough, a symbol representing contrition.
Jonah 3:7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water.
A fast – throw off their desires and seek God’s will!
Jonah 3:8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.
They beseeched God as much as they could with only a carnal understanding of God and what He wants.
turn… (shûb) word used for repentance. They not only said they were sorry, but showed it in their actions as well.
from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands… This would have to include the northern nation of Israel who were threatened by the Assyrian empire. The problem was that Jonah only saw that Nineveh was being spared, but in reality Israel was being give more time to turn from it’s ways.
Jonah 3:9 Who can tell if God will turn (shûb) and relent (nâcham), and turn (shûb) away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?
This is the root of God’s message; the messages of the prophets; and as we see here the Ninevites received the message of repentance from Jonah loud and clear.
Jonah 3:10 Then God saw their works, that they turned (shûb) from their evil way; and God relented (nâcham) from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
We see this principle in:
Jeremiah 18:7 The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it,
Jeremiah 18:8 if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it.
The main reason for prophecy is not the foretelling of the future, but the repentance of everyone.
This was a great work that had been accomplished! All should rejoice!
Jonah 4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.
This is a wrong attitude — especially for a prophet of God! This is what we are all aiming for. Even for our enemy
Matthew 5:44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
Jonah 4:2 So he prayed to the LORD, and said, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents (nâcham) from doing harm.
He did not want God to show mercy to them, even though God had shown it to him. This was the wrong point of view that God would have to work on once again.
Jonah understood the nature of God and the nature of prophecy is often conditional. Therefore this does not make Jonah a false prophet. This is what God truly wants (Jeremiah 18:7-8)
Jonah 4:3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”
Jonah still has this lesson of mercy to be learned (Philippians 1:6). God was extending mercy instead of judgment, which God had recently done for Jonah when he ran from God. Jonah then became convinced to go Nineveh and now he still does not get it. Because of this he still has to undergo another trial (Jonah 4:6-11).
Jonah 4:4 Then the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
God begins to intervene again.
Jonah 4:5 So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city.
east side of the city… typically the cooler side; some respite once the sun starts its downward descent in the afternoon.
shelter… [sukkah] a booth of temporary nature that can be thrown together quickly.
Jonah 4:6 And the LORD God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant.
God prepared a plant… Miracle #7 [second of four prepared items for Jonah; Jonah 1:17; 4:7-8]
made it come up over Jonah…. seems like it came up quickly
Jonah 4:7 But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered.
God prepared a worm… Miracle #8
Jonah 4:8 And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
God prepared a vehement east wind… Miracle #9
vehement… this is the only place that the word is used in the Bible. The connotation is silence[ing] perhaps in that it was so loud everything else was drown out and could not be heard. It may be akin to the sirocco’s of the region.
It is of particular note that wind is the first and last miracle. The word used in both places is “ruach” which is the same word that is translated “spirit.” This can be seen as a play on words since the power of God was behind and/or in these miracles.
Jonah 4:9 Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”
Jonah felt that he had the right to act this way. This empowerment shows his state of mind.
Jonah 4:10 But the LORD said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night.
pity… compassion for the plight of the plant which suffered due to the worm.
Jonah 4:11 And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?
who cannot discern between their right hand and their left… may refer to children or in another case the adults who were without discernment. This will also account for the differences in the estimated number of pople in Nineveh at the time (from 120,000 to 600,000 people).
It appears that Jonah finally learns his lesson about mercy. This book shows God’s care for not just Nineveh and Israel by extension but Jonah and us too. God’s all-sovereign power and care is available to all.
God has the ability to work out several things at one time. He could have used someone else to go to Nineveh, but He chose Jonah and accomplished a work in him as He did Nineveh and is even doing today in us.
This sums up Jonah:
Psalms 103:10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
Psalms 103:11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
Psalms 103:12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us
.Psalms 103:13 As a father pities his children, So the LORD pities those who fear Him.
Psalms 103:14 For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.
Psalms 103:15 As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
Psalms 103:16 For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, And its place remembers it no more.God does not take away a life; but He devises means, so that His banished ones are not expelled from Him.
James 2:13 …Mercy triumphs over judgment.