“For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the great fish’s belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matt 12:40). There are some remarkable incidents in this wonderful and amazing book. Even though it is part of the prophetical books, Jonah’s prophecy was against Nineveh and consisted of only one sentence – “yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4). It is even more remarkable that the whole city of Nineveh, who were the enemies of Israel, repented at these very simple, yet firm words. What is more interesting, or sad, is that Jonah got angry at God because God did not punish Nineveh. In our day, Christians who are true believers in Christ are joyful that others come to know Him as their Saviour, that is why we share the gospel, the good news of salvation.
Before delving further into this book, Jonah is the author of the book of Jonah. It makes sense, doesn’t it? We have proof in the New Testament, the words of the Lord Jesus Himself – see Matthew 12:39-41. Jesus called Jonah a prophet, although Jonah was disobedient to God, he later obeyed and experienced God’s saving grace when he was in the belly of the great fish (or whale). The name Jonah means ‘dove’, but we hardly see this character of him in the first chapter. Jonah clearly disobeyed God’s commission to him and ran away because he did not want to preach the message to the nations, only to Israel. This is the same as Peter in Acts 10 when the risen Lord commissioned him to open the way of the gospel to the nations. Peter had the same attitude as Jonah initially, but later realised that it was the Lord calling him and obediently went to Cornelius. It resulted in the salvation of a household. Was Peter upset or angry? No way! Jonah on the other hand, was angry when Nineveh repented.
Where was/is Nineveh? Sources state that it is in modern-day Iraq. That country was a heathen nation and the enemy of Israel, being part of the Assyrian empire that took the northern kingdom of Israel captive toward the end of 2 Kings.
Some characteristics of the book of Jonah:
- This book is proof of God’s unlimited grace and mercy not only for His earthly people Israel but also for the nation of Nineveh. It shows that God has given these people an opportunity to repent from their evil ways. For Israel or the Jews, respectively, this was very difficult to understand because they thought only themselves as God’s elect people (Matt. 12:41; 16:4; Luke 11:29-32; Acts 10 – 11).
- The book of Jonah is a type of the history of the people of Israel. Israel has failed as a witness for God as has Jonah and has been in the sea of nations for a long time. But Israel has been kept as Jonah was kept in a miraculous way and will be God’s witness for the nations in a future day. The gospel of the kingdom will one day be spread by converted Jews over the whole world.
- Jonah is a type of Christ. In Matt. 12:39-40 the Lord Jesus is speaking to the scribes and Pharisees and said that no sign, but the sign of Jonah will be given to them: “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the great fish’s belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Another sign for Israel was the Lord Jesus’ going out to the nations (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47) as we read in Luke 11:30. If we are going to benefit from reading a book, we need to look for Christ in every book of the Bible. In this point, Christ is in the book of Jonah, although Christ was the obedient, perfect Man.
- Jonah shows the character of the human heart. The human heart which, also as far as true believers are concerned, often reluctantly submits to the will of God, seeks its own honour, looks after itself first and which can be as hard as stone towards other men. Even the truth of God pleases the human heart often only if the own importance can be stressed by it! Jonah had to learn all this the hard way.
The other interesting thing is that the book of Jonah is full of miracles. The miracles look like co-incidents, but the hand of God is behind them all with a purpose to bring Jonah in the right direction.
- The Lord called for the tempest in the sea (chap. 1:4)
- The Lord had the lot to fall upon Jonah (chap. 1:7)
- The Lord had prepared a great fish (chap. 1:17)
- The Lord commanded the fish and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land (chap. 2:10)
- The Lord prepared a gourd (chap. 4:6)
- God prepared a worm and it smote the gourd, that it withered (chap. 4:7)
- God prepared a sultry east wind (chap. 4:8)
These miracles have lessons for us to learn from, which will not be included here in this article. The great fish and the sudden conversion of the people and nation of Nineveh have often been doubted. But the Lord Jesus confirms both as historical facts (Matt. 12:40-41).
Jonah’s repentance in chapter 2 also corresponds with several Psalms, for example, compare chapter 2:2 to Psalm 18:6; 120:1. Jonah 2:3 compared with Psalm 88:6; 42:7. These are examples of several other verses in chapter 2 that can be compared with the Psalms.
In dividing the book, we divide it into four parts, each part with its own chapter.
- Chapter 1 presents the commission given to Jonah, his disobedience, and the consequences as a result.
- Chapter 2 provides the description of Jonah’s prayer, especially at the end when he stated that salvation is of the Lord! (verse 9).
- Chapter 3 contains God’s re-commission to Jonah, and finally Jonah obeyed and went to Nineveh to preach judgement. We also see the repentance of Nineveh and God not punishing that nation at the time.
- Chapter 4 gives an account of Jonah’s anger, discontent, and God speaking to him in correcting him.
This outline is adapted from Arend Remmers and Arno Gaebelein’s notes and outlines of the book of Jonah. The full outline and notes from the above authors are available on www.biblecentre.org, a website highly recommended and full of rich resources.