The Book Of JONAH
God calls Jonah to be a prophet to the wicked city Nineveh, but Jonah
rebels and flees across the sea in the opposite direction. When God
sends a storm to stop Jonah, the prophet is thrown overboard. God sends a
fish to rescue Jonah, and in the fish's belly Jonah sings a song of
thanks. The fish spits Jonah up on the shore near Nineveh and God calls
Jonah a second time. Jonah goes to Nineveh, preaches a short sermon, and
the whole city repents. Afterward, Jonah admits to God that the reason
he had fled in the first place was that he had known that God would be
merciful to the city--and Jonah had wanted the city destroyed. God is
not happy that Jonah is so selfish, so God uses a plant to try to teach
Jonah that God loves all creatures.
The book of Jonah ends with a question. God asks Jonah, "Should I not be
concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a
hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand
from their left, and also many animals?" Jonah does not answer. The
question is left for the reader to answer. Should God be concerned even
about such sinners as those who live in Nineveh? And if God is,
shouldn't we also be concerned?
The author of the book of Jonah is anonymous. We know nothing of the
author other than what we can intuit from the book. Some people think
that Jonah wrote this book, but unlike other prophetic books, the book
of Jonah is entirely a story about Jonah and does not contain
collections of messages spoken by the prophet. This makes it unlikely
that Jonah was the author.
The date when Jonah was written is uncertain. Because of certain
features of the language of the book and because of its theological
themes, many scholars conclude that the book was written sometime
between 500-400 B.C.E., after the Babylonian exile. At that time, there
was great tension between Jews and Gentiles in Judah and that is a major
theme of the book.
Jonah is about a prophet who rebels against God and flees from God's
command. But God redirects the fleeing prophet, who ends up preaching a
message that brings the wicked city of Nineveh to repent.
How Do I Read It?
Jonah is a story. When a person reads a story, he or she pays attention
to things such as plot and characters. In terms of Jonah's plot, one
basic issue is, "What will God do with a prophet who disobeys God's
command?" A second central issue is, "On whom will God have mercy--just
the Israelites, or also Nineveh and other places and people of great
evil?" There are two central characters: Jonah and God. The basic issue
with God is the question of whether God will have mercy on rebellious
and wicked people--such as those who live in Nineveh or a prophet who
rebels. The basic question with Jonah is whether he can learn to
accommodate his own sense of right and wrong to the realities of God's
AUTHOR: Rolf Jacobson, Associate Professor of Old Testament
The Book Of JONAH
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.
Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and
went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: 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.
the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast
forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of
them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay,
and was fast asleep.
6 So the
shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper?
arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we
they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we
may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and
the lot fell upon Jonah.
said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is
upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy
country? and of what people art thou?
9 And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.
were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him. Why hast thou done
this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD,
because he had told them.
11 Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous.
12 And he
said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall
the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest
is upon you.
the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the
sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.
they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech
thee, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not upon us
innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee.
15 So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.
16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.
17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
1 Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly,
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.
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: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my
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.
1 And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying,
2 Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.
Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD.
Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' journey.
4 And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
5 So the
people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on
sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he
laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in
7 And he
caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree
of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor
flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:
8 But let
man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God:
yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence
that is in their hands.
9 Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?
God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God
repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and
he did it not.
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, and merciful, 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?
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
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.
said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast
not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and
perished in a night:
should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more then
sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand
and their left hand; and also much cattle?