BOOK OF JONAH
Though this book does not cite a specific author, tradition ascribes the authorship to its main character, the prophet Jonah, son of Amittai (Jonah 1:1). Jonah (Heb., lit. “dove”) was a real person from Gath Hepher near Nazareth (2 Kings 14:25). This Hewbrew prophet was called by God to proclaim His message to the pagan nation of Assyria, while God used other prophets (Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah) to prophesy to Israel during the same time period.
The date of the prophet Jonah’s ministry is generally accepted as between 800 and 750 B.C. Nothing about the book is incompatible with an eighth century B.C. composition. Some scholars support a later time after the Babylonian exile or the destruction of Nineveh, although these arguments are not conclusive. The Book of Jonah records historical events that occurred before the great city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, was destroyed (about 612 B.C.; see Jon. 3:3). Jeroboam II was king of Israel (782-753 B.C.; 2 Kings 14:25) and Uzziah was king in Judah (792-740) B.C.). During this period, the Assyrian king was probably Ashur-dan III (772-755 B.C.).
The Book of Jonah was initially set in Israel, where the prophet lived in the town of Gath Hepher near Nazareth. When Jonah fled from God’s assignment in Nineveh, he went to Joppa, a port city along the Mediterranean Sea to catch a ship sailing in the opposite direction to Tarshish. After his brief encounter with the “great fish,” Jonah returned to land. The last two chapters of the book were set in Assyria (present-day Iraq) after the prophet journeyed in obedience to Nineveh.
The Book of Jonah teaches that only true repentance can bring salvation, and it also demonstrates God’s compassion toward all (Jonah 4:2, 11; see Mic. 1:1, note). God wants all people truly to repent and receive salvation. Readers will discover Jonah to be a minor prophet with a major message.
While the original audience of the Book of Jonah is unidentified, clearly the Lord gave Jonah a message of hope for the wicked Assyrians and a message of restoration for believers who rebel. Taking that message to the enemies proved to be Jonah’s greatest challenge. The impact of the Book of Jonah has continued through the generations, even among the Jews. The book is read in its entirety in the synagogues in the afternoon of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). This liturgical use of the book is helpful in understanding its message of hope and assurance for God’s chosen people.
The Book of Jonah is a historical account of a major event in Jonah’s life. Most of Jonah is narrative with almost no proclamation, while other prophets are almost all proclamation and little narrative. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ verified the historical significance of the prophet Jonah and this book (Matthew 12:39-41; Luke 11:29, 30).
Several significant, but sometimes overlooked, themes are found in the Book of Jonah. Though only forty-eight verses in length, the message of Jonah is important. The following are among its obvious themes:
Salvation comes only from the Lord. The Book of Jonah teaches that salvation is not by works, but by grace through faith (Jonah 2:8, 9; see also Ephesians 2:8).
The God of the Hebrews has always expressed concern for the whole world. Jonah explained that Yahweh God lovingly offers salvation even to people we would prefer to hate (Jonah 4:9-11).
God is a God of beginning anew. The prophet experienced God’s forgiveness when he was unfaithful and was offered another opportunity for obedience (Jonah 3:1). Nineveh likewise received the opportunity to repent.
Jesus used the experience of Jonah in the belly of the fish to explain His death, burial, and Resurrection (Jonah 1:17; Matthew 12:38-41).
Jonah Flees From the Lord
1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
3 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.
4 Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”
7 Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”
9 He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
10 This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)
11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”
12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”
13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.
17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
January 22 Devotional-Jonah 1
Steps to following God’s call on your life
Step 1. Hear God’s plan for you. Verse 1 says, “1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
Jonah knew God’s plan. What is God calling you to do? When you spend time in God’s Word, in prayer, and in quiet times of being still with God, ask Him to reveal His plan for you. As you look around at your circumstances and situations in your daily life- has God shown you a need or a direction?
Step 2: Make a decision to answer God’s call OR NOT. What is keeping you from doing what God wants you to do? Maybe you are supposed to prioritize worship, quit a habit, lead a study, take a stand at work, make a change in your life, … How can you get started today?
Step 3: Watch God work through you. Jonah’s obedience started with acknowledging that he was running from God- At the time, he did not know when he went overboard how his story was going to end or how God was going to use him, BUT GOD DID!
Maybe you are being obedient and following God’s direction for your life, how have you seen God working?