Chapter 1.
Introduction to Jonah

The book of Jonah is one of the main books of the Bible that has been criticized more than any other book. This book is the spot where the enemies of the Scriptures have focused their heaviest artillery. Critics have come to the conclusion that Jonah is the weak link, the Achilles' heel of the 66 books of the Bible. Even the average Christian, who spends little time in the Word of God, is tempted to doubt or question the events of this book. Our attitude toward Jonah reveals our attitude toward the Word of God. If this link gives way and is weak, then the entire chain breaks. If this is declared untrue, then other parts could be declared untrue.

Critics doubt the miracle of the great fish in the book of Jonah. This miracle is no more incredible than the parting of the Red Sea, the pillar of fire and cloud, the manna from Heaven, the water from the rock, or the resurrection of Christ.

Outlandish explanations have been offered to explain this book or Jonah.

Several arguments support the historicity of Jonah.

  1. Known cities are mentioned in this book: Ninevah, Tarshish, and Joppa.
  2. He was a real prophet who lived during the reign of a real king... Jeroboam II.
  3. Jesus recognized the existence and incidents of Jonah.

Matthew 12:38-41—Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. [39] But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: [40] For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. [41] The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.

The moment a person questions the historical record of the book of Jonah, he questions the credibility of Jesus Christ Himself. Jonah was one of four Old Testament prophets whose ministry was referred to by Jesus. Others prophets were Elijah (Matthew 17:11,12); Elisha (Luke 4:27); and Isaiah (Matthew 15:7).

What about the great fish? What about a revival sweeping an entire wicked city? Is it possible? Of course this kind of revival and this kind of creature are possible. The great fish could possibly be the sperm whale which has been known to have swallowed unusually large objects including a 15 foot shark. Whale sharks have swallowed men who later were found alive in the shark's stomach. The word "whale" in the New Testament is ketos which means "great sea monster."

Ninevah is the place Jonah was sent and the place he fled. It is on the east bank of the Tigris River and 550 miles from Samaria. It was a huge city that was protected by outer walls and an inner wall. The inner wall was 50 feet wide and 100 feet tall. The walls were no match for God's message. Jonah's eight word message was more powerful than the atomic bomb, "Yet 40 days and Ninevah shall be overthrown!" God preparing this city for His message. Two plagues had erupted in 765 and 759 B.C. On June 15, 763 B.C., a total eclipse of the sun occurred. These were considered signs of God's anger and may explain why the wicked Ninevites responded readily to Jonah's message around 759 B.C.

The date of Jonah's ministry was from 793 to 753 B.C. Jonah prophesied about Israel's boundaries being restored early in Jeroboam's reign. The prophecy in 2 Kings 14:25 was fulfilled.

2 Kings 14:25—He restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain, according to the word of the Lord God of Israel, which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, which was of Gath-hepher.

Israel in this time was politically secure, spiritually smug, and morally corrupt. Ninevah was in its hey day. Assyria was a great world power until 606 B.C. when it was destroyed. Elisha's ministry had just finished when Jonah's commenced. Jonah preached in Israel during the same time period as Hosea and also Amos, who preached in Judah in the south.

Jonah is believed to be the author of this book. Some question this because he is referred to in the third person in Jonah 1:3,5,9. This is not a strong argument. Moses did the same in the Pentateuch when describing his own actions. The name "Jonah" is not a common name. The only time it occurs in the Bible is in 2 Kings, Jonah and in New Testament references to the book. There is only one Jonah in the Bible.

Jonah was born in Gath-kepher in Zebulun which was two miles north of Nazareth. This was in the land of Galilee. Angry Pharisees overlooked this when they told Nicodemus, "Art thou also of Galilee. Out of Galilee ariseth no prophet."

The name Jonah means "dove." His Spirit-anointed ministry brought about the greatest revival ever recorded. Doves have been messengers from early times. Noah sent a dove from the Ark. It was the Holy Spirit who descended like a dove upon Jesus. Jonah was a messenger in God's service and inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. The dove is a messenger and also a mourner. Jonah's voice and message was a mournful one. He reminds us in a few ways, of Jesus, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

The key characters in this book are God and Jonah. The Lord is the main character.

The key verse of Jonah is Jonah 3:2.

Jonah 3:2—Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.

The key word of the book is "preach" and the key phrase is "arise and go." The purpose of this book is to remind Israel of their missionary responsibility. The book demonstrates God's sovereignty in accomplishing His purposes. The Lord controls life, the elements, circumstances, fish, plants, and worms. This book is one of the clearest demonstrations in Scripture of God's love and mercy for all people. What the book of Acts is to the New Testament, Jonah is to the Old Testament. It shows that God has a concern for the heathen as well as His own people. Because of Jonah's ministry to Assyria, the captivity of Israel was postponed 130 years.

There are six significant subjects in the book of Jonah.

Subject 1—It is the one book in the Old Testament which sets forth the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are great doctrines found in certain books of the Old Testament.

  1. Exodus—redemption
  2. Ruth—the romance of redemption
  3. Esther—the romance of providence
  4. Job—faith and patience in suffering
  5. Joshua—spiritual warfare
  6. Jonah—the resurrection

Subject 2—Jonah teaches that salvation is not by our works. Faith leads to repentance. Jonah is read by orthodox Jews on the Great Day of Atonement... Yom Kippur.

Jonah 2:9—But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.

Subject 3—God's purpose of grace cannot be frustrated. Jonah refused to deliver God's message at first. God was going to get His message to Ninevah anyway. Jonah did not want to be God's witness but that is what he ended up being after the Lord worked in His life. God does not force us to do anything. Jonah was commanded by God to deliver the message, but Jonah had to choose to obey or disobey. After the Lord's chastening, he changed his mind about obeying the Lord's command. In His sovereignty, there are certain things God will not do at all, even though He is God.

1. God can't use His sovereignty for evil. He cannot lie, cheat, or steal.

2. God cannot deny or contradict Himself. He will not go back on His word.

3. God does not tempt us to do evil.

James 1:13,14—Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.

Genesis 22:1—And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

The word "tempt" is nacah which means "to test or prove." The Lord was testing Abraham's faith in this situation, not tempting him.

4. God cannot forgive sin without the penalty being paid. Christ paid the price for sin because there was no other way for mankind to be redeemed. It was the Father's will.

Matthew 26:39—And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

5. God cannot force a gift upon anyone.

6. He cannot force anyone to love Him or accept Him. Force perverts the transaction. Man must freely choose to accept the Lord and eternal life. God is not less sovereign because He cannot lie, sin, or deny Himself. He is not less sovereign because He can't force anyone to love Him or receive eternal life. He is still God. In His sovereignty, He has ordained that men choose to reject or accept His love, salvation, and obedience to His commands. This is His plan, but the responsibility falls upon men to obey or disobey, accept or reject Him.

Subject 4—God will not cast us aside for faithlessness. He may not use you if you are unfaithful, but He will not leave you or forsake you. Like football players on a bench, the Lord may bench us for disobedience or faithlessness, but we are still wearing His uniform. If you are ready to repent, obey the Quarterback, and get into the battle, God will use you. He is the God of the second chance!

Subject 5—God is good and gracious.

Jonah 4:2—And he prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when 1 was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.

Subject 6—God is also the God of the Gentiles. In the Old Testament, God didn't forget the Gentiles. He saved Rahab the harlot, the inhabitants of Ninevah, and Ruth the Moabitess. God is in the business of saving sinners.

An Overview of the book of Jonah

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Disobedience of Jonah

Distress of Jonah

Discovery of Jonah

Displeasure of Jonah

Fleeing from God

Fleeing to God

Flying for God

Flying at God

A Silly Dove without understanding.

A Trembling Dove

A Dove sent forth

A Mourning Dove

In the Storm at sea, rebellious

In the School of God, penitent

In the Service of God, preaching

In the Shadows of God, learning

On his back, sleeping

On his knees, praying

On his feet, preaching

On his face, mourning

Running from the Lord, & rebuked

Running back to the Lord and rescued

Running with the Lord and rewarded

Running ahead of God and rebuked

Prodigal Prophet

Praying Prophet

Preaching Prophet

Pouting Prophet

Types in the Book of Jonah

1. The type of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection.

Matthew 12:38-41—Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. [39] But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: [40] For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. [41] The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.

Jesus is greater than Jonah in that He was the Son of God. His message was greater. Jonah's message was one of judgment, but Christ's message also included grace and salvation. Jonah died for his own sins, but Jesus died for the sins of the world. Jonah's obedience was not from the heart, but the Lord always did His Father's will. Jonah did not love the Ninevites, but Jesus loved all sinners, giving His life for all.

2. The type of the believer's ministry in this age... witnessing to the Gentiles. Joppa was the place where Jonah embarked on a journey that would lead him away from preaching to a Gentile nation. Eight-hundred years later, this is the exact place the Lord tells Peter to receive the Gentiles (Acts 10).

3. Jonah is a type of Israel.

Israel was swallowed by the nations of the world, but was never digested. Jonah was preserved and Israel was too.

Jonah was called to world missions and to be a witness of God's message as was Israel. Jonah refused to fulfill his mission by disobeying God's will and so did Israel.

Jonah was disciplined by being cast into the sea. Israel was scattered among the nations. Jonah repented, was cast out of the fish, and restored to life in the world. Israel had been preserved and restored to life as a nation in 1948. One day, she will acquire her full inheritance when Jesus returns to set up His millennial kingdom.

Some Key Lessons in the Book of Jonah

  1. God's call is man's opportunity.
  2. Man's surrender is God's opportunity.
  3. There is danger in running from God.
  4. There is to be no detour in the path of Christian service.
  5. Religious bigotry and natural pride will keep one from winning souls to Christ.
  6. If we do not judge ourselves, God will chasten us.
  7. When we backslide or run from God, we need to go back where we got off track or where we disobeyed the Lord.
  8. The direction God sends is best. The safest place is the will of God.
  9. The pouting servant of the Lord is a pitiful sight. The praising servant of the Lord is a proper sight.