Old Testament Exegetical Commentary: Jonah

Subject: Religion
Type: Reflective Essay
Pages: 7
Word count: 1831
Topics: Theology, Church


Jonah was a prophet of God whose purposes, as recorded in the book of Jonah, was to convey the God’s message to the city of Nineveh. The city of Nineveh was a great in relation to God’s perception inferred in God’s own words “Go to the great city of Nineveh” (Jonah 1:2 New International Version (NIV). The city is great because God is concerned about it and undertakes to save it against His wrath, because the city of Nineveh had turned to be greatly sinful “because its wickedness has come up before me” (Jonah1:2). The prevailing conditions forcing Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and preach against it as the Lord had ordered was the great storm that occurred in the sea, causing Jonah to be thrown out of the boat into the sea. The major characters in the book of Jonah are God, also referred to as the Lord, who issues a command for Jonah to go to Nineveh and the prophet Jonah himself, who is a rebellious prophet of God. The other characters include the sailors, who are afraid of the storm and throws Jonah into the sea, and the king of Nineveh and the people of Nineveh, who repent upon hearing the word of God. The major argument of the book is that God is merciful and very patient even with those who disobeys Him, and that God’s purpose of revival cannot be deterred or hindered by any obstruction. The major themes of the book of Jonah are disobedience and revival, teaching that despite disobedience, turning around and seeking revival is all that God seeks of humanity. There are four major divisions of the book of Jonah, comprising of the commissioning and fleeing from God (Jonah 1:1-17), turning back to God (2:1-10), delivering God’s message (3:1-10), and the Lord’s compassion (Jonah 4:1-11).

Fleeing from the Lord

Jonah was a prophet of God who prophesied during the reign of the King Jeroboam II, during a time when the city of Nineveh was an important city of Assyria, a nation that posed a great threat to the nation of Israel. God commissioned Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh to preach against it, because it had turned very wicked (Jonah 1:1-2). The city of Nineveh was great both in God’s eyes and in its significant influence as the capital of the Assyrian empire. The city had become a major threat to the people of Israel, considering that following its establishment and fortification as the Assyrian bedrock, the Assyrian empire started the initiative of conquering Israel. Therefore, instead of Jonah obeying the word of God, Johan chose to run away. “But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish” (Jonah 1:3). There are fundamental reasons that account for Jonah’s disobedience of God’s word and his decision to run away from God. First, Jonah was determined to run away from God’s assignment, since he considered the city an enemy and a great threat to Israel. Secondly, Jonah as a prophet of God understood that Israel was the God’s chosen nation, and the rest of the nation’s fell out of God’s place and plan for salvation, thereby understanding that God’s intent of saving Nineveh was probably to punish Israel. The reign of King Jeroboam II, just like that of his father, was characterized by the worship of idolatry and many other sins in Israel, which God had prohibited of His people.  Therefore, by Nineveh, the Assyrian capital finding favor in God’s eyes, and by the virtue of Assyria being a major threat to the nation of Israel, Jonah understood its negative implications to the nation of Israel. Indeed, Jonah makes it well known of his displeasure regarding Nineveh and by extension Assyria finding favor with God, by confirming that his earlier fears had happened. Johan laments “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish” (Jonah 4:2). Jonah’s intention was to hinder Assyria finding favor with God, and thus forestall the possible destruction that would be caused to Israel by Assyria.

Nevertheless, Jonah’s attempt to prevent Assyria from finding favor with God did not work, because while on his way to Tarshish, God caused a great storm in the ocean. The captain and the sailors were frightened by the storm after praying to their idol gods with no success, and required Jonah to pray to his God also (Jonah 1:4-6). The revelation that Jonah was a Hebrew who worshipped the Lord, God who created the sea and dry land terrified the sailors. The sailors perceived the storm to be from God, and considered that Jonah must have done something wrong against God. At this point, Jonah realized that God had caught up with him and confessed that he was the cause of the troubling storm when he stated, “I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you” (Jonah 1:12). 

The turning back towards God for the captain and the sailors started at this point, when the feared God, made sacrifices and vows to the Lord, God, recognizing Him as the true God after throwing Jonah into the sea and the sea growing calm. The book states, “At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him” (Jonah 1:16). In turn, the Lord started showing his compassion by providing fish to swallow Jonah and create an environment for him too to turn back to God. The turning towards light demonstrated at this point of book is important to underline that although man might be rebellious towards God in many instances, When God finally catches up with Man, man must bow before God, acknowledge his sins and seek to do away with the sins.

Turning back to God

After his failed attempt to run away from God and finding himself in distress within the belly of the fish, Jonah repents, and the Lord hears his cries and delivers him. The turning back to God depicted by Jonah is abrupt, and shows that when in distress, it does not matter the circumstances or the sins one has committed, but it matters that one is able to remember God (). The book affirms this argument through the statement “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me” (Jonah 2:1). Jonah’s approach towards turning to God is one of complaint and remorse in the first instance, but one, which turns into an act of faith and acknowledgement of God, through thanking and showing gratitude to God. Jonah’s prayers (Jonah 2:1-9) are poetic, identifying with the poetic nature of the prayers of the old presented to God by great men of faith like David did in the book of psalms. The supplications presented to God by Jonah also changes tune from observatory and descriptive supplications, to supplications of deep faith and trust in God. For example, from (Jonah 2:3) “You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas” to “those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them” (Jonah 2:9). 

Jonah’s prayers and supplications inspires man to find comfort in God in times of distress, and call out on God even when it is apparent that man has clearly fallen out with God because of his sins. The prayers and supplications underlines that man does not have to prayer to God because he is able to or when he has reasons to thank God, but on the contrary, man must do it as an act of sacrifice to God. “But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you” (Jonah 2:9). Most fundamentally, when man acknowledges sins to God, becomes remorseful, and commits to change and live in accordance with God’s commands, God listens. Additionally, when man is able to give thanks to God in spite of his difficult circumstances, God is pleased, and the book shows a promise that God will here and turn His anger away from man. The book of Jonah declares it thus “and the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land” (Jonah 2:10).

Delivering God’s Message

The book of Jonah further shows that the Lord is a God of second chances. Therefore, after delivering Jonah from the belly of the fish, the Lord commissions Jonah to go to Nineveh a second time, and deliver His message stating “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time” (Jonah 3:1). Additionally, after having an encounter with God, it becomes possible for man to change his heart and act according to the Lord’s will. The commissioning of Jonah to go and preach in Nineveh the second time was simple, where God did not need to give a reason why Jonah needed to go, and Jonah obeyed (Jonah 3:3). 

God does chasten his people and through God’s chastening, it becomes possible for people to accept God’s intervention in their lives. Therefore, Jonah left to go an preach to the very people he hated and feared without hesitation, and the King of Nineveh and all people of Nineveh accepted God’s message and changed their ways without hesitation too (Jonah 3:7-9). God relented His anger on the city of Nineveh and did not destroy it (Jonah 3:10). The act i]of saving Nineveh was an indication that God was displeased with the people of Israel’s sin, and thus was ready to save their enemies so the nation of Israel could suffer the wrath of God through their Assyrian enemies.

Lord’s Compassion

The Lord teaches Jonah is concern for the salvation of the whole world. God’s compassion is demonstrated by the fact that although Jonah continued to display a proud and unloving heart, God still showed Jonah his love and compassion. Jonah ought to have been happy and rejoice that the Lord had mercy on both him and Nineveh, and delivered both of them from calamity. However, Jonah was still unhappy that God had delivered Nineveh from destruction, and he showed his happiness through complaining to God, and even blaming God for being compassionate. Jonah was angry with God for saving Nineveh and for letting the plant that provided him with shade to die (Jonah 4:5-8). However, God only reacted by showing Jonah how selfish he was when he asked him “the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4). 

The book of Jonah concluded by sending the message to us that God’s salvation is meant for all humanity and for all nations. God is the creator of all humanity and He intends to save the whole world, including those who are deeply entrenched in sin (Jonah 4:9-11). The book of Jonah’s narration was therefore a prophesy and a foreshadowing of the coming of Jesus Christ, whose mission was to save both the Israelites and the Gentiles.

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  1. Ackerman, Arthur W. The Purpose of Jonah’s Mission to Nineveh. The Biblical World 12, 3: (1898), 190-195.
  2. Allen, Leslie C. Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah. Grand Rapids, 1994.
  3. Childs, Brevard S. Jonah: A Study in Old Testament Hermeneutics. Scottish Journal of Theology 11.1: (1958), 53-61. 
  4. Clements, R. E.  The Purpose of the Book of Jonah. Congress Volume Edinburgh 28: (1979), 16-28. 
  5. De La Torre, Miguel A. Liberating Jonah: Toward a Biblical Ethics of Reconciliation. Orbis Books, 2007.
  6. Limburg, James. Jonah: A Commentary. Louisville, Ky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993.
  7. Youngblood, Kevin J. Jonah: God’s Scandalous Mercy. 2013.
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