REGARDLESS OF WHEN THE BOOK OF Jonah was written, Jonah himself can be located with fair accuracy. According to 2 Kings 14:25, Jonah son of Amittai was a prophet from Gath Hepher who predicted the military successes of King Jeroboam II (about 793 to 753 B.C.). If one were to play a game and ask what verbal link comes to mind when the word Jonah is uttered, probably most people would reply, “big fish” or “whale” or the like. Yet we should not forget that the big fish occupies textual interest for precisely three verses—three out of forty-eight. The comment of G. Campbell Morgan is still appropriate: “Men have looked so hard at the great fish that they have failed to see the great God.”
The greatness of God is highlighted by Jonah’s twin confessions (Jonah 1:9; 4:2). Here we reflect on the first: “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land” (Jonah 1:9).
(1) From our perspective, as from Jonah’s, this confesses that God made everything, that he is the Sovereign Lord over the entire universe. Probably the pagan sailors did not understand quite so much. For them, the gods have various domains. If this Hebrew claims that the God from whom he is fleeing is the Creator of the sea (whatever else he made), for them the claim would gain credibility precisely because of the storm.
(2) But for Jonah (and for us), the claim has two other overtones. First: not only has God made the sea, but everything; and he is in charge of everything. So there is no escaping this God. Even if Jonah were to find a way to get to shore safely, this God can track him down anywhere. Jonah painfully recognizes that there is no fleeing from this God—if “the hound of heaven” is on your trail and resolves that you will not get away. That is why he invites death. Second: the sheer greatness of God is what makes sense of God’s determination to give the wicked city of Nineveh an opportunity to turn from its sin. If monotheism is true, if there is but one God, then in some sense this God must be God of all, not just the God of the covenant people. This Jonah could not stand. He could see that just over the horizon Assyria would become a formidable foe of his own people, the people of God—and here is God giving them ample opportunity to repent.
(3) From a canonical perspective, here once again is the missionary God—far more committed to reaching toward “outsiders” than his people are. Here too he prepares the ground, step by step, for the Great Commission that mandates believers to herald the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the whole world.