Read Time: 10 Minutes
Jonah is a prophet in Israel in about 690 BC. Elisha had died during the reign of Jehoahaz (Joash) King of Israel. After Jehoahaz dies his son Jeroboam reigns and does evil like Jeroboam the son of Nebat. During the reign of Jeroboam (II), about 30-40 years or a generation after Elisha, Jonah lives (II Kings 13).
Think back in our own history. We have books and videos and movies to remind us of World War II and the Cold War and the first man on the moon but it is not real to us like it was to our parents and grandparents. I remember the man on the moon, but I was still pretty young and its reality fades with time. The same would be true during Jonah's time. The wonderful acts of God that Elisha had performed were merely stories like the exodus from Egypt. Without the Word living and real among the people they drift away and seek other gods. By now the majority of the people in Israel are idolatrous and fewer people remain committed to God's Word. There was a prophet in Israel after Elisha, Amittai, Jonah's father, but we don't know anything about him.
Jonah had made some impression on the people for:
II Kings 14
: 23 In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah
Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel began to reign in Samaria,
and reigned forty and one years.
:24 And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD:
he departed not from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat,
who made Israel to sin.
:25 He restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath
unto the sea of the plain,
according to the word of the LORD God of Israel,
which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah,
the son of Amittai, the prophet,
which was of Gathhepher.
[west of the Sea of Chinnereth (Galilee)]
:26 For the LORD saw the affliction of Israel, that it was very bitter:
for there was not any shut up,
nor any left,
[not any shut up or left-not any place strengthened or fortified]
nor any helper for Israel.
:27 And the LORD said not
that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven:
but he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.
Under the reign of Jeroboam all of Israel from Hamath, the northern territory of Israel unto the sea of the plain, the Dead Sea, the southern border of Israel was restored, having been invaded by Syria. Because the people cried unto God He helped Jeroboam reclaim the cities of Israel as was declared by His prophet Jonah.
Jonah remained steadfast on God's Word to the benefit of Israel. However, it was not to last and the corruption and disobedience in Israel would eventually have devastating consequences. Jonah knew this as he fought for the hearts of God's people.
In order to understand what is going on in the book of Jonah we need a little history and geography lesson. Nineveh is the capitol city of Assyria on the Tigris River in Mesopotamia. They worship pagan gods and are a corrupt people known for their violence and cruelty. At this time they are feeling pressure from neighboring nations. Jonah knew that Israel's demise would come at the hand of Assyria (II Kings 17, about 85 years after Jonah) and so when God told him to go to Nineveh to strengthen them with the Word he didn't want to go. His rationale was that if Assyria was overthrown by their neighbors they couldn't attack Israel. This explains his reluctance to go to Nineveh.
:1 Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
:2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city,
and cry against it;
for their wickedness is come up before me.
:3 But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD,
and went down to Joppa; [on the Mediterranean coast]
and he found a ship going to Tarshish:
[possibly southern Spain all the way across the Mediterranean]
so he paid the fare thereof,
and went down into it,
to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
:4 But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea,
and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.
This must have been tremendously upsetting to Jonah for him to run away, trying to escape his duty to God. God had given him revelation, entrusted it unto him and he was obligated to fulfill it. When he became disobedient he received the consequences of his actions, which is why the ship got in trouble. (See the Idiom of Permission) The other men in the ship found this out and after a valiant effort to try to get ashore they gave up and threw Jonah into the Mediterranean Sea. When the sea stilled they gave reverence to God and vowed to do sacrifices.
2:1 Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his
God out of the fish's belly,
:2 And said,
I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD,
and he heard me;
out of the belly of hell cried I,
and thou heardest my voice.
:3 For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas;
and the floods compassed me about:
all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.
:4 Then I said,
I am cast out of thy sight;
yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.
:5 The waters compassed me about, even to the soul:
the depth closed me round about,
the weeds were wrapped about my head.
:6 I went down to the bottoms of the mountains;
the earth with her bars was about me for ever: [signifying death]
yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God.
:7 When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD:
and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.
:8 They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.
:9 But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving;
I will pay that that I have vowed.
Salvation is of the LORD.
:10 And the LORD spake unto the fish,
and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.
Right before he dies he repents and vows to carry out his mission. So God caused the fish that ate him to vomit him out on the shore. (I know, lovely picture.)
In chapter 3 God repeats His instructions to Jonah and he obeys. The city repents, proclaims a fast puts on sackcloth and is spared their destruction. Once they denounced their ways and turned to God He could stay the hand of adversary.
4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly,
and he was very angry.
:2 And he prayed unto the LORD, and said,
I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying,
when I was yet in my country?
Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish:
for I knew that thou art a gracious God,
slow to anger,
and of great kindness,
and repentest thee of the evil.
:3 Therefore now, O LORD,
take, I beseech thee, my life from me;
for it is better for me to die than to live.
:4 Then said the LORD,
Doest thou well to be angry?
:5 So Jonah went out of the city,
and sat on the east side of the city,
and there made him a booth,
and sat under it in the shadow,
till he might see what would become of the city.
:6 And the LORD God prepared a gourd,
and made it to come up over Jonah,
that it might be a shadow over his head,
to deliver him from his grief.
So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.
:7 But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day,
and it smote the gourd that it withered.
:8 And it came to pass,
when the sun did arise,
that God prepared a vehement east wind;
and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted,
and wished in himself to die, and said,
It is better for me to die than to live.
:9 And God said to Jonah,
Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?
And he said,
I do well to be angry, even unto death.
:10 Then said the LORD,
Thou hast had pity on the gourd, [wanted to spare the gourd]
for the which thou hast not laboured,
neither madest it grow;
which came up in a night,
and perished in a night:
:11 And should not I spare Nineveh,
that great city,
wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons
that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; [innocent people]
and also much cattle?
Jonah did what God had asked and the people repented and believed. Jonah was distraught because his own country would not receive the Word of God; they wanted to continue with their idols and evil. Here this city that was corrupt repents. Jonah wasn't thankful he was bitter. He had become a bit self-absorbed for when God had provided the shade from the gourd (kikayon - an Egyptian word, possibly a tree) he was glad but when it was destroyed he still had no right to be angry. Jonah would rather spare that tree than the innocent people in Nineveh that didn't know any better.
I always wondered why Jonah was so adamant about not going to Nineveh. A little history and geography makes it clear.
We don't know how long Jonah lived. Israel's overthrow probably didn't happen during his lifetime. We do know that Jesus Christ was dead three days and three nights like Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a great fish. By the way, God doesn't tell us what kind of fish this was so we do not know. Some people say it was a whale. If God's Word says fish He means fish and I have no right to say otherwise. It was a great fish. That is what I know. Saying it is other than a great fish is private interpretation which we are to avoid (II Peter 1:20).
Stand steadfastly on God's Word. God has blessed you abundantly; open your arms and receive it.