Introduction to the Book of Jonah

Illustration of Jonah and the whale

Michael Nicholson / Getty Images

Written by the Prophet Jonah, son of Amittai, around 785-760 B.C., the book of Jonah is different from the other prophetic books of the Bible. The audience of the book of Jonah was the people of Israel and all future readers of the Bible and, typically, prophets issued warnings or gave instructions to the people of Israel. Instead, God told Jonah to evangelize in the city of Nineveh, home of Israel's cruelest enemy. Jonah didn't want those idolaters to be saved, so he ran away.

When Jonah ran from the call of God, one of the oddest events in the Bible occurred—the story of Jonah and the Whale. The book of Jonah highlights God's patience and loving kindness, and his willingness to give those who disobey him a second chance.

Landscape

The story begins in Israel, moves to the Mediterranean seaport of Joppa, and concludes in Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian empire, along the Tigris River.

Themes

God is sovereign. He controlled the weather and the great fish to achieve his ends. God's message is for the whole world, not just people we like or who are similar to us.

God requires genuine repentance. He is concerned with our heart and true feelings, not good deeds meant to impress others.

Finally, God is forgiving. He forgave Jonah for his disobedience and he forgave the Ninevites when they turned away from their sins. He is a God who freely gives second chances.

Key Characters

Jonah, the captain, and crew of the ship he sailed on, the king and citizens of Nineveh.

Key Verses

Jonah 1:1-3
The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.
(NIV)

Jonah 1:15-17
Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.
(NIV)

Jonah 2:8-9
"Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord."
(NIV)

Jonah 3:10
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
(NIV)

Jonah 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?"
(NIV)

Outline of the Book of Jonah

  • Jonah doesn't like his duty, so he tries to flee from God on a ship. Jonah 1:1-14.
  • To calm a storm, the crew throws Jonah into the sea, where he is swallowed by a great fish God provided. Jonah 1:15-16.
  • In the belly of the fish for three days, Jonah cries out to God, repents, and swears to carry out his mission. The fish vomits him onto dry land. Jonah 1:17-2:10.
  • Jonah preaches in Nineveh and the people repent. God spares them. Jonah 3:1-10.
  • Angry at God's compassion, Jonah complains when a vine that had shaded him dies. God scolds Jonah for being more concerned with a vine than the 120,000 souls in Nineveh. Jonah 4:1-11.