Voices for Revival – Study of Minor Prophets (Pre-Exilic Period)
Book of Jonah
The Book of Jonah is the 5th of the Minor Prophets. Jonah is the son of Amittai, from Gath Hepher in Zabulun. The Book of Jonah is written by Jonah himself approximately between 785 – 760 BC.
Jonah’s ministry began during or shortly before the reign of Jeroboam II. The event took place in the period of Assyrian weakness between the death of Adad-nirari III in 782 BC. and the seizing of the Assyrian throne by Tiglath-pileser III in 745 BC. God sent Jonah to Nineveh to warn it of the imminent danger of divine judgment. Jonah served as a prophet to the kingdom of Israel and Nineveh.
Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. Nineveh was the most important city in Assyria and would soon become the capital of the huge Assyrian empire. Assyria was Israel’s great enemy and Israel was later conquered by Assyria in 722 BC.
The king of Israel at that time was Jeroboam II , Israel’s most powerful king who reigned Israel for approximately 41 years. Other prophets serving at that time were Amos and Hosea.
Conditions of the People:
Besides describing Ninevah as “wickedness” in Jonah 1:2, violence in Jonah 3:8 and evil ways in Jonah 3:8,10), Jonah didn’t elaborate much about Nineveh’s wickedness. It was in the Book of Nahum where the prophet, Nahum provided us with more insight about the wickedness of Nineveh.
Nahum said that Nineveh was guilty of :
(a) Evil plots against God in Nahum 1:11
(b) Exploitation of the helpless and its cruelty in war in Nahum 2:12-13
(c) Idolatry, Prostitution and witchcraft in Nahum 3:4
(d) Exploitation of the plunder of other nations’ wealth in Nahum 3:16
In this allegorical approach, the book is merely an extended parable. Thus:
a. Jonah is really Israel
b. The sea is Gentile nations in general
c. The fish is the Babylonian captivity.
Nevertheless, we reckon that the historical approach is the correct view in the book, the reasons being:
a. The account presents itself as actual history
b. The author of 2 Kings (14:25) refers to Jonah as a historical person. His hometown is given along with the name of his father and the king he served under.
c. Jesus testified to the literal account of Jonah (Mat 12:38 – 42, Mat 16:4, Luke 11:29 – 32) Although there were critics who argued the impossibility of Jonah’s surviving three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, the Book of Jonah is obviously a Historical Narrative as it was a true account that happened. Jonah was mentioned when the Pharisees wanted to see a miraculous sign from Jesus to confirm that He is the Messiah. Jesus replied them , “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here…” It was also mentioned by Jesus as a picture of His death and resurrection in Matthew 12:38 – 42.
The purpose of Jonah’s mission was to bring the people of Nineveh to repentance. Taking the book as a whole, it was a revelation to God’s people of God’s all-sovereign power and care. It showed the extend of God’s grace i.e. the message of salvation was for all people.
There are 4 themes in the book of Jonah:
(a) We see God’s sovereignty. God was in control when Jonah tried to run away from his mission.
(b) Second, God’s Message of salvation to all the world. God had given Jonah a purpose ie. to preach to the great Assyrian city of Nineveh. Jonah hated Nineveh and so he responded with anger and indifference. Jonah had yet to learn that God loves all people. Through Jonah, God reminded Israel of their missionary purpose.
(c) Third, Repentance. When Jonah went to Nineveh, there was a positive response from the people. They repented and turned to God. God will forgive all those who turn from their sin.
(d) Lastly, God’s Compassion. God’s message of love and forgiveness was not for the Jews alone. We learned that God has great love, patience and forgiveness from His forgiveness of the people of Nineveh and His mercy towards Jonah who ran away from God.
The key verse of the Book of Jonah is in Chapter 4:11 – “But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” This verses demonstrates God’s sovereign love and compassion for all people and no-one is beyond redemption.