Jonah ~ “Dove”

Authorship and Audience

Based on some of the specific details known by the author (e.g. ch. 2), I believe it is possible and probable that Jonah himself is the author of this book. We know from 2 Kings 14:25 that Jonah had at least one other prophecy foretelling the expansion of Israel's borders. If Jonah himself did write this book, it may have been written retrospectively after Jonah started to better submit to what God was trying to do with the gentiles.

Date and Context

Based on 2 Kings 14:25, we know that Jonah's life had at least some overlap with that of Jeroboam II's reign from 793 to 753 BC. As Jonah had prophesied, Israel (the Northern Kingdom) had expanded her borders and was enjoying what would be one of the more prosperous times in her history. Nineveh would later fall in 612 BC (see Nahum).


  • God's Righteousness and Inevitable Judgement. This book begins with a command given to Jonah that he go to Nineveh and announce the judgement God was planning to pour out on the city. From this, we see that God is righteous and cannot stand evil. Also, we see another instance of the recurring pattern that disobedience and rebellion against God demands judgement.
  • God's Mercy and Compassion. In this book, we see that God is immensely merciful and compassionate. He relents of the judgement He had planned to bring against Nineveh (4:11), sends a fish to save Jonah (1:17), and calms the sea for the sailors (1:15). God is so characterized by mercy and compassion (see Exodus 34:6) that Jonah cites this as the reason he fled from God's command in the first place (4:2). He was sure God would end up being compassionate and relent concerning calamity (for some, unwritten reason, he didn't want this to occur).
  • God's Patience. The book of Jonah also reminds us of God's tremendous patience. God is patient with Jonah even in his rank disobedience (ch. 1). He is patient with the Ninevites in sending Jonah to them to warn them of the coming judgement forty days before it occurs rather than punishing them outright (3). God is patient in the foolishness of Jonah after God choose to show mercy and compassion on Nineveh by not sending judgement (4). If the Bible is true in describing every sin as a personal offense against God, then God has displayed patience which ought to bring us to our knees in worship!
  • YHWH is the God of Gentiles as well as Jews. It is fascinating that Jonah's initial mission is to gentiles (the Ninevites) and, even in his disobedience, more gentiles (the sailors) come to trust in YHWH. It is clear from this book that God is not a God who is only concerned with Israel and the Jewish people, but also with the whole world including gentiles. All of the attributes of God described above (righteousness, mercy, compassion, and patience) are all demonstrated to gentiles in this book. In fact, this book goes so far as to make the one Jewish follower of YHWH, Jonah, seem unfaithful and stubborn relative to the gentiles with whom he comes in contact. In many ways, the gentiles in this story are foils for Jonah (and it is the gentiles, not Jonah, who display a right attitude toward God).


0. Jonah Flees the Presence of YHWH [1:1-16]

I. Jonah in the Fish [1:17 - 2:10]

II. Jonah in Nineveh [3:1-9]

III. God's Mercy and Jonah's Anger [3:10 - 4:11]


  • I believe that many (I dare say 'most') Christians have a wrong view of this book. From their perspective, a simple outline of the events in this book would be something like:

    First, Jonah disobeys God's command to go to Nineveh by sailing for Tarshish (ch. 1). Jonah is then thrown overboard during the storm and swallowed by a "great fish" (1:17). Jonah repents (ch. 2) and goes to Nineveh where he does what God had originally asked him to do (ch. 3). After all of this, Jonah slips back into his former attitude (from ch. 1) where he wishes that God had not show His mercy and compassion to the Ninevites (ch. 4).

    This outline, however, is not accurate. The primary problem is that it misunderstands Jonah's prayer in Jonah 2. Not every prayer, even one recorded in the Bible, is necessarily completely sound from a theologically perspective. In this case, it is easy to view this prayer as one of repentance when, in reality, Jonah never repents. In fact, while he does thank God for His deliverance, he overemphasizes his own role in his salvation (see verses 2:4 and 2:7). Jonah does not seem to understand what the sailors said in 1:14: "... for You, oh YHWH, have done as it pleased You" (emphasis added).

    Most of what Jonah does and says in this book is wrong and, in many ways, unrepentant Jonah is a foil for the repentant gentiles he meets throughout this story. It is the gentiles who are exemplary in responding to God in this book and not Jonah.

  • The book of Jonah contains what is one of the most fantastic stories in the whole Bible: Jonah getting swallowed by a "great fish" (1:17). There has been much ink spilled on this subject already and I have nothing to contribute to the discussion more than to say that if God created the universe, He can certainly control a fish and supernaturally preserve the life of anyone He wills inside or outside of a fish. I caution the reader to not get too caught up in the details of the fish as this is not the focus presented in the text. The focus is that God can save whom He wills, when He wills, how He wills, and for reasons He knows and wills.
  • It is interesting to note that when Jonah flees, he is fleeing "from the presence of YHWH" (see 1:3 and 1:10) - as if that were possible. Jonah is trying to flee from God's presence and His authority which, at least, demonstrates that Jonah has a bad attitude and relationship toward God (and it may indicate that Jonah has a poor view of God's sovereignty and plan for all mankind).
  • Because the book is so short and we are not given a lot of historical and contextual background in the book itself, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the revival described in 3:5-9 is one of the greatest described in the entire Bible (probably second only to the future, Jewish revival described in Revelation 7:4-8). It appears that the vast majority of the population of Nineveh (around 120,000 young children according to 4:11), humbled themselves and repented (3:10). What a wonderful image! And, what a stark contrast between the gentiles, who quickly humble themselves and repent, and Jonah, who never repents.
  • This books is interesting as there are many unwritten events and sentiments going on throughout the book. For a few examples:

    • It is interesting that we know nothing of the nature or substance of the Ninevites' disobedience to God.
    • Based on 4:2, Jonah demonstrates a strong dislike for the Ninevites and wants them to face judgement for what they have done, but we aren't told exactly why this is the case.
    • The discussion between Jonah and the sailors in chapter one (1:8-10) is strange in that we only gets bits and pieces of their interchange and even that appears to be jumbled and possibly not in chronological order (specifically 1:10).
    • Jonah's proclamation to Nineveh (3:4) is recorded as nothing more than a sentence fragment. We are not sure if there was more to his message than this and if this was an appropriate communication of the message God had told him to preach (see 3:2). It is certainly interesting that the Ninevite's radical response (3:5-9) does not line up with the short, incomplete, and fragmented proclaimation of God's word issued by Jonah.

    Some of these characteristics make it hard to fill in some of the exact details of Jonah's story, but it is important to recognize that the author is telling us and focusing our attention on that which his audience needed to know. In this book, it appears that the primary purpose is not to focus on anything Jonah did, but to highlight God's work even among the gentiles.

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