Book of the Week 32: Jonah

Hebrew Name: Yonah

Human Author: Jonah son of Amittai                                

OT or NT: Old Testament

Number of Chapters: 4

Basic Facts

  1. Jonah is the thirty-second book of the Bible.
  2. In terms of literary genre, Jonah is classified as a book of prophecy.
  3. Jonah is a prophet to the city of Nineveh, the capitol of Assyria.
  4. The Hebrew name for the book of Jonah is Yonah, which means “dove.”
  5. Jonah is initially disobedient when God calls him to be a prophet.

Story of the Book

The book of Jonah tells the story of Jonah’s calling as a prophet to the city of Nineveh. (Nineveh is the capital of Assyria.) God calls Jonah to preach a message of repentance to Nineveh, but Jonah is initially disobedient and sets sail in order to flee to Tarshish and escape from God’s call. God causes a storm which threatens Jonah’s ship to come up on the sea. Jonah, with a guilty conscience, volunteers to be thrown overboard in order to assuage God’s anger over his disobedience. God sends a large fish which swallows Jonah whole. After three days and three nights, the fish vomits Jonah upon the shore, and God renews Jonah’s call to give a message of warning to Nineveh. This second time, Jonah obediently preaches God’s message to Nineveh, and the people of Nineveh repent. God relents from sending judgment upon Nineveh because of their repentance, and Jonah is angry with God for showing mercy. God rebukes Jonah and says that it is right that He (God) should be concerned about the spiritual welfare of the great city of Nineveh.

Jesus Foreshadowed in Jonah

Jesus is foreshadowed in Jonah in a way that is not immediately apparent in the Old Testament text. Jonah’s initial disobedience when he tries to run from God’s call results in Jonah's being swallowed by a great fish (Jonah 1:12-2:10). Later, in the ministry of Jesus, this event in the life of the prophet Jonah is described as a sign. When a group of Pharisees asks Jesus to perform a sign, Jesus responds saying: “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just 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. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here" (Matthew 12:39-41). In this way, Jesus describes the time Jonah spent in the belly of a fish as a sign of Jesus’ time spent in the grave between His death and resurrection (Matthew 17:22-23; Luke 9:21-22). Jesus also commends the people of Nineveh in a way, for they repented at Jonah's warning concerning God’s coming judgment, but the people Jesus is speaking to do not repent even though they see Jesus face to face.

In a more general sense, Jesus is foreshadowed in Jonah as a picture of God’s mercy and compassion. When the people of Nineveh repent of their sins, God relents from sending disaster (Jonah 3:3-4:11). All who repent and believe in Christ receive mercy and grace from God and deliverance from our sins on account of Him (Hebrews 4:14-16).