The Minor Prophets: Jonah

The Minor Prophets Hosea


I. Historical context

    A. 800-750 B.C. (Coffman); “belonging to the reign of Joash…approximately 800 B.C.” (Butler); “The date may be fixed at some time in the general period around 780 B.C.” (Hailey)
    B. Nineveh was a powerful, fortified city on the Tigris River, 250 miles north of Babylon and 500 miles east of Jonah’s home
    C. “The Urartu nation threatened Nineveh in Jonah’s day. National repentance helped them survive the Urartu threat but soon they reverted to their wicked ways and in 612 B.C. God delivered the mistress of the world into the hands of the Babylonians, Medes, and Scythians. So great was her overthrow that three hundred years later Alexander’s Macedonian troops searched for but could not find a trace of her ruins.” (Waddey)

II. About the prophet

    A. “His name, ‘Jonah,’ meant ‘dove’ in the Hebrew; a name strangely inappropriate for a man of his hostile temperament.” (Waddey)
    B. Jonah also appears in 2 Kings 14:25, where it is written of Jeroboam, “He restored the territory of Israel from the entrance of Hamath to the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord God of Israel, which He had spoken through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet who was from Gath Hepher.”
    C. Coffman believes that Jonah himself is the author of this book, pointing to the fact that he was “in all probability, a great and popular hero to the entire Jewish nation,” concluding that “no other person except Jonah would have written a book which casts the prophet himself in such unfavorable light….His disobedience, his petulance, and his anger over the repentance of the Ninevites, etc., exhibit characteristics and attitudes which no later Jew could conceivably have attributed to a national hero.” (Coffman)
    D. “Fairbairn’s interpretation of Jonah’s behavior at the withdrawal of Nineveh’s destruction is tied in with this purpose of Jonah’s mission. Mr. Fairbairn is persuaded that Jonah is so desperately anxious that his own people, Israel, repent he believes the only thing that will bring about this repentance is a terrible manifestation of God’s judgment upon this wicked Nineveh. So when Nineveh is spared, Jonah is ‘grieved and vexed sore,’ not because he is a sadist and delights in seeing thousands of people suffer, but because he is sure that now Israel will not repent.” (Butler)

III. Lessons for today

    A. You cannot run or hide from God

      1. In his futile attempt to flee, did Jonah forget the omnipresence of God? (Psalm 139:7-11; Amos 9:2-4)
      2. “He was fleeing from the presence of Jehovah—something no one can do. No doubt the prophet realized this; but out of his distaste for the work to which he was called, he was determined to make the attempt. He was ‘resigning his job’ as a prophet.” (Hailey)
      3. “Jonah was simply trying to rid himself of the responsibilities of his official status in this one particular task of going to Nineveh. The phrase ‘…presence of Jehovah’ is often used to indicate some official capacity (cf. Gen. 41:46; Deut. 10:8; I Kings 17;1; 18:15; II Kings 3:14; Lk. 1:19). Jonah’s intention was not to hide himself from the omnipotent God, but to withdraw from the service of Jehovah.” (Butler)
      4. “Jonah learned, and through his valuable experience millions have learned, that when God enjoins a disagreeable duty, it is far easier to go and do it than to run away from it.” (McGarvey)

    B. It is the message, not the messenger, that saves

      1. The message was summarized for posterity in a mere eight words (3:4), and despite the messenger’s desire to fail (4:1), “the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them” (3:5)
      2. While we should do our best to present God’s Word so people will understand, it is not our presentation that convicts them – it is God Himself, through His Word (Romans 1:16-17; 1 Corinthians 3:5-7)
      3. If we pay too much attention to a speaker’s eloquence, we may overlook omissions (Acts 18:24-25)

    C. God cares for the entire world

      1. Jonah was sent to Nineveh, a city noted for its wickedness
      2. “God is willing and anxious to save even the heathen nations if they repent. His love is infinite and universal; therefore, His concern is for all.” (Hailey)
      3. We see in the book of Jonah how God defines “the world” as it is used in John 3:16, and we are shown that the “any” of 2 Peter 3:9 includes those men deem unworthy and undesirable
      4. It does not matter where a person is from or what has done in the past, if he is willing to repent and walk in the ways of the Lord, God wants that soul to be saved (Acts 10:34-35)
      5. The book of Jonah “illustrates God’s providential concern for all nations of the world, while rebuking the narrow intolerance of the Hebrews who though God only cared for them.” (Waddey)

    D. The blessings and warnings of God are conditional upon man’s response

      1. The Calvinistic doctrine of “unconditional election” is false and has done great harm to the cause of Christ
      2. God’s message through Jonah was destruction, but God changed his mind because of Nineveh’s response (Jonah 3:10; Jeremiah 18:7-8)
      3. “Still another purpose of this magnificent book is to demonstrate that there is always an element of contingency in the promises of God, whether of judgment and destruction on the one hand, or grace and salvation on the other. Jonah is a vivid example of the truth revealed by Jeremiah….Of course, this is exactly the truth of which Jonah was ignorant; but the experiences related in the book that bears his name abundantly illustrate it….The whole religious world of our day which receives a ‘once saved, always saved’ doctrine of salvation is dwelling in the same darkness. If a wicked man turns from his wickedness and obeys the Lord, he shall be saved; and, if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and disobeys the Lord, he shall be lost.” (Coffman)
      4. “It was not until the repentance of the Ninevites was manifested through works that their salvation was effected by God! Works are both necessary for salvation and a result of salvation. This is a very plain doctrine of both the Old and New Testaments. Even belief is said to be a ‘work’ by the Lord Himself (cf. Jn. 629…).” (Butler)
      5. Still today, God will only save those who are obediently faithful (Mark 16:16; Hebrews 11:6; 1 John 1:7)

Butler, Paul T. (1968). The Minor Prophets: The Prophets of the Decline. Joplin, MO: College Press. [Online at]

Coffman, James Burton. (1981). Commentary on the Minor Prophets, Volume 1: Joel, Amos and Jonah. Austin, TX: The Firm Foundation Publishing House. [Textual commentary excluding introductory notes on each book available online at]

Hailey, Homer. (1972). A Commentary on the Minor Prophets. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Lewis, Jack P. (1966). Minor Prophets. Austin, TX: R.B. Sweet Co., Inc.

McGarvey, J.W. (1896). Jesus and Jonah. Cincinnati, OH: The Standard Publishing Co. [Online at]

Waddey, John. (2011). The Testimony of the Twelve Minor Prophets. Delight, AR: Gospel Light Publishing Company. [Online at]

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