The Historic Context
The northern kingdom of Israel had lived under the shadow of Syria for most of their history, however in about 800 BC the Syrians were defeated by the Assyrians.
God used the strength of the Assyrian Empire to bless Israel and under the reign of Jeroboam II, the epoch when Jonah was written, Israel were experiencing a period of great prosperity as a result of the restoring the boundaries of Israel from the entering in of Hamath to the Dead Sea, 2 Kings 14:23-29.
The Author and His Mission
Jonah (meaning the dove) is willing to declare peace, but not on Israel’s enemies, the Ninevites. God’s plan was for Jonah to preach to Nineveh, but he knew that if he preached repentance to Nineveh the rising power of the Middle-East, they could repent and God would have mercy on them. So, Jonah evades this commission by going in the opposite direction, embarking at Joppa (today Jaffa) to run away to Tarshish, in the extreme west of the then known world. Through a succession of miracles God brings Jonah back to his mission, which gives birth to the greatest spiritual awakening in history, the collective repentance of the Ninevites.
The Authenticity of the Narrative
The miracles mentioned in this book (a supernatural storm, a fish capable of swallowing Jonah followed by it throwing him up onto the beach after three days, a vine that grew up and withered the following day etc.) cause some to question its authenticity. However, the Lord Jesus Christ himself seals its divine authenticity by his direct reference to Jonah in Matthew 12:38-42; 16:1-4; Luke 11:29-30.
Repentance is the greatest miracle that can take place in our lives. Because of the extraordinary spiritual awakening of the people of Nineveh who repented, God granted them a reprieve of 150 years (see the book of Nahum).
The key words in Jonah are:
God prepared a great fish, God prepared a vine, God prepared a worm, God prepared a vehement east wind. The real work God was preparing, was with Jonah the prophet and his mission to call the Ninevites to repentance.
Great, mighty, exceeding.
Interestingly the Lord Jesus Christ adds to this theme in Matthew 12:41-42 and Luke 11:31-32 to illustrate that he was greater than both Jonah and Solomon.
Section 1 ch 1–2 The Mercy of God towards Jonah
- 1:1-3 The disobedience of the patriotic prophet
- 1:4-16 The punishment of the stubborn prophet
- ch 2 The prayer of Jonah from the belly of the great fish
Section 2 ch 3–4 The Mercy of God towards Nineveh
- 3:1-4 The obedience of the prophet
- 3:5-10 The judgment of Nineveh delayed
- ch 4 The dialogue between God and the revolting prophet