Invitation to Jonah
The Book of Jonah tells the story of an Israelite prophet who delights that he and his people receive the Lord’s merciful forgiveness and grace yet is disgusted that others should receive the same. As the story unfolds, the Lord disciplines his prophet and then pursues him with questions, all to humble his spiritual pride and transform his heart to become like that of the God he claims to worship. The Lord extends his mercy, grace, and love to all his creation; he wants his people to do the same.
While the book’s author is unknown, we know the prophet Jonah was at work during the reign of Jeroboam II (ca. 782–753 BC) (2Kgs 14:25). The book’s events did not necessarily take place during that reign, since Jonah might also have lived before or after it, but most Israelites would naturally associate Jonah with this general period.
Commentators debate whether the story is historical narrative, like 1 Kings, or fiction, like a parable. In deciding between the two, it may be noted that Jonah has many parallels to the Elijah stories in 1 Kings 17–19: “Like Jonah, these chapters are also about a prophet, are full of miracles (even miracles involving animals; 1 Kings 17:6), and recount at least some events outside Israel (1 Kings 17:8–24).”1 Significantly, 1 Kings as a whole is historical narrative, which suggests chapters 17–19 are to be read as such. And if this is so for 1 Kings 17–19, which parallel Jonah in so many ways, the same could also be true for Jonah. This is the direction I lean. But even if it is a parable, it should be remembered that Jesus taught God’s truth by means of parables; the Book of Jonah can do the same. So, whether historical narrative or parable, we do well to read Jonah with hearts attentive to what the Lord wants to teach his people through this book.
The purpose of Jonah is to make clear that the Lord delights to show his mercy, grace, and love to all his creation and to challenge his people to do the same. It achieves this purpose through brilliant storytelling that makes use of literary devices such as word play, irony, and contrast. The commentary will point these out as they arise, but the following overview will show how such devices help to accomplish the book’s purpose.
In the book’s first half (Jonah 1–2), contrast is drawn between Jonah, who is an Israelite prophet who claims to fear the Lord, and pagan sailors, who worship false gods. Ironically, in chapter 1, the Israelite prophet disobeys the Lord while the pagan sailors fear the Lord greatly. Chapter 2 continues the irony: the Israelite prophet finally promises faithfulness, which he will demonstrate by making sacrifices and vows—the very things the pagan sailors already did in chapter 1! Already, the Israelite audience is challenged to see that pagans can be more spiritually sensitive than God’s people, which should humble any spiritual pride the Israelites might have.
In the book’s second half (Jonah 3–4), contrast is drawn between Jonah and the Ninevites and then between Jonah and the Lord. In chapter 3, the Ninevites respond on the first day of Jonah’s preaching—far more quickly than the three days it took Jonah to pray in chapter 2! Once more, pagans are more spiritually commendable than the Lord’s prophet; once more, spiritual pride in the Israelite audience is challenged. In chapter 4, Jonah is angry at the Lord’s forgiveness toward the Ninevites, a forgiveness the Lord was delighted to grant and that was the very reason for giving Jonah his mission. The Lord did not want the Ninevites’ death; he wanted their deliverance. Israelites should see clearly that the Lord’s heart is very different than Jonah’s and ask themselves, “Whose heart is my heart more like?”
Chapter 4 ends with a well-known object lesson that contrasts Jonah’s pity for a meaningless plant with his own lack of pity toward a city full of people for whom the Lord cares deeply. The book’s last words are a question left for us to answer: Should the Lord not pity sinful people? The implication is that if he should, we should as well.
The book thus underscores that the Lord’s mercy, grace, and love are for all people. In doing so, it also challenges the spiritual pride that has led Jonah—and can lead us—to look down his nose on those he deemed more sinful. For it is only when we remember how desperately we need the Lord’s merciful love, and how freely he has given it to us in Jesus, that we will have hearts overflowing with the same merciful love toward everyone we meet.
“And the Lord said [to Jonah], ‘You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?’”
— Jonah 4:10–11 ESV
I. Jonah Experiences the Lord’s Mercy and Finally Does What Pagan Sailors Have Already Done: Pray to the Lord and Worship Him (1:1–2:10)
A. Jonah Flees from the Lord; Pagan Sailors Fear the Lord (1:1–16)
i. Jonah Disobeys the Lord and Flees toward Tarshish (1:1–3)
ii. The Lord Sends a Storm on the Sea (1:4–6)
iii. Jonah Is Identified as the Reason for the Storm (1:7–9)
iv. The Sailors Reluctantly Throw Jonah Overboard (1:10–15a)
v. The Sailors Come to Fear the Lord (1:15b–16)
B. Jonah Experiences the Lord’s Mercy and Catches up to the Pagan Sailors’ Spiritual Progress (1:17–2:10)
i. The Lord Sends a Sea Creature to Save Jonah (1:17)
ii. Jonah’s Prayer of Thanksgiving (2:1–9)
iii. The Lord Commands the Creature to Vomit Jonah onto Dry Land (2:10)
II. Jonah’s Hard Heart toward the Lord’s Worldwide Mercy, Grace, Love, and Forgiveness; the Lord’s Searching Question for Us: Are You Like Me or Jonah? (3:1–4:11)
A. Jonah’s Second Chance and the Ninevites’ Amazing Repentance (3:1–10)
i. Jonah Obeys the Lord and Goes to Nineveh (3:1–3a)
ii. Jonah Preaches, and All of Nineveh Believes God and Repents of Their Sin (3:3b–5)
iii. The King Issues a Proclamation Calling for City-Wide Repentance (3:6–9)
iv. The Lord Mercifully Forgives and Relents of the Disaster He Had Threatened (3:10)
B. Jonah’s Hard Heart toward the Lord’s Worldwide Mercy, Grace, Love, and Forgiveness; the Lord’s Searching Question (4:1–11)
i. Jonah’s Anger toward the Lord for Showing His Mercy and Love to Outsiders (4:1–4)
ii. The Lord Rebukes Jonah for His Lack of Mercy and Love to Outsiders; the Lord’s Searching Question for Us: Are You Like Me or Jonah? (4:5–11)2
Jonah Flees from the Lord; Pagan Sailors Fear the Lord (1:1–16)
In the book’s first half, we see a strong contrast between Jonah, an Israelite prophet who should model godly behavior but disobeys the Lord, and pagan sailors, idolators who end up taking the lead when it comes to worshipping the Lord. This contrast leads to important lessons for the Israelite audience.
Jonah Disobeys the Lord and Flees toward Tarshish (1:1–3)
1:1–3 The story immediately introduces its two main characters: the Lord and the prophet Jonah. The Lord commands Jonah to go to Nineveh, “that great city,” meaning great in population or in importance, though both are likely in view, since large cities are often important cities, and vice versa. Nineveh was an old city (Gen 10:11–12), had a large population at this point (see at 4:11), and would go on to become Assyria’s capital. Once there, Jonah is to “call out against it” because the Ninevites’ evil has piled up to heaven, and God is about to act.
Few Israelites would have doubted Nineveh’s evil was great. Not only were its people idolators, but the Assyrians were also known for their brutality. Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 BC), an Assyrian king who reigned in the century before Jonah, made this boast after defeating a city: “I felled 3,000 of their fighting men with the sword . . . I captured many troops alive: I cut off of some their arms [and] hands; I cut off of others their noses, ears, [and] extremities. I gouged out the eyes of many troops. I made one pile of the living [and] one of heads. I hung their heads on trees around the city.”3 Israelites would thus not be surprised to hear that an Assyrian city like Nineveh was guilty of great wrong.
But instead of going there to proclaim the Lord’s judgment, Jonah disobeys the Lord. The beginning of verses 1–2 could be translated:
“Arise, go to Nineveh!”
“So Jonah arose—to flee to Tarshish!”
Tarshish’s location is debated but is presumably the opposite direction from Nineveh, since Jonah is fleeing there “from the presence of the Lord” (vv. 2–3). We are not told why he is fleeing. To find out, we must wait until chapter 4. Whatever the reason, Jonah believes a ship to Tarshish can deliver him from the sphere of the Lord’s sovereign rule. But that’s like thinking that by running quickly, you can escape your shadow. As Jonah is about to see, the Lord’s rule extends everywhere.
The Lord Sends a Storm on the Sea (1:4–6)
1:4–6 As a warrior hurls a javelin, the Lord hurls a mighty wind into the sea’s heart, causing a terrifying storm. At any moment the ship could sink! Crying out fearfully to their gods, the sailors hurl cargo overboard so the ship can sit higher in the sea and hopefully not be swamped by the mountainous waves.
All this time, Jonah is below deck, fast asleep. The captain awakens him with shouts, commanding him to cry out to his God. The sailors’ gods have been useless; perhaps Jonah’s God can help—though ironically, the pagan captain is the one telling the Israelite prophet to pray!
Jonah Is Identified as the Reason for the Storm (1:7–9)
1:7–10 Meanwhile, the sailors conclude the storm is divine punishment and cast lots to find the guilty party. When Jonah is chosen, they question him extensively, desperate to know what he did and which deity is punishing him. His answers reveal three things. First, he is a Hebrew; if the sailors were familiar with the Israelites, this could give them a sense of his people, customs, and main deity. Second, he “fears the Lord.” Jonah’s claim here is ironic. “To fear the Lord” can mean “to worship the Lord as one’s God” or, more specifically, “to show proper reverence to the Lord through obedience.” But Jonah is doing neither! Third, the Lord is the Creator, meaning he controls all nature, including this storm.
The Sailors Reluctantly Throw Jonah Overboard (1:10–15a)
1:10–15a The sailors are no longer scared; they’re terrified! The divine Creator is doing this! And they know it’s Jonah’s fault because he had told them he was fleeing the Lord’s presence.4 This leads to another ironic twist: the pagan sailors rebuke the Israelite prophet for his behavior (1:10)!
With the storm worsening, the sailors ask Jonah how to stop it. His response—“Hurl me into the sea”—is not what they want to hear! What might this God do if they killed his follower? Digging their oars into the waves, they try to reach land, but it is useless. The storm is too strong. Only one option remains: Jonah must die.
Crying out to the Lord, the sailors in effect say, “Lord, please don’t hold us responsible for killing this man. It seems you have led us to this point!” And with that, they throw Jonah overboard. The Lord’s hurling the storm onto the sea has finally led to Jonah being hurled into it.
The Sailors Come to Fear the Lord (1:15b–16)
1:15b–16 Immediately, the sea calms. Once more, the sailors “feared . . . exceedingly” (compare v. 10, where the same Hebrew phrase is translated “exceedingly afraid”). Their fear is directed toward the Lord and indicates a profound awe, even fear, of his awesome power (cf. Mark 4:39–41!). In response, they offer him sacrifices5 and make vows to him (most likely of further gifts or service).
And so, the Israelite audience is struck by several ironies: pagan sailors pray while their prophet sleeps; the pagan captain has to command their prophet to pray; the pagan sailors cry out to the Lord, but their prophet does not; their prophet claims to fear the Lord and disobeys, but the pagan sailors fear the Lord and worship him. In the end, it is the pagans who truly fear the Lord, not their prophet!
What is the result? If you were an Israelite who began reading this narrative thinking of the Israelites as a special people who deserve the Lord’s mercy and the Gentiles as wicked sinners who do not, your world has just been turned upside down. The person with whom you identify most in the story—the Israelite prophet—is the wicked sinner who experiences God’s judgment, while those you think most deserving of judgment—the pagan sailors—are shown the Lord’s mercy and respond by worshipping him . . . This is meant to humble you. The people of God can act just as sinfully as anyone else—and are just as deserving of his judgment. At the same time, it is meant to remind you that the God whom you serve delights to show his mercy to all (cf. also Isa. 2:2–4; 19:19–22; 56:6–8)—and has in fact called you for the purpose of bringing his blessing to the world (cf. Gen. 12:2–3; 1 Kings 8:41–43).6
Jonah Experiences the Lord’s Mercy and Catches up to the Pagan Sailors’ Spiritual Progress (1:17–2:10)
The Lord Sends a Sea Creature to Save Jonah (1:17)
1:17 Before Jonah can drown, the Lord again shows his sovereignty over nature by directing one of his sea creatures to swallow Jonah alive, preserving him for three days and three nights (cf. Matt 12:40).7
Jonah’s Prayer of Thanksgiving (2:1–9)
2:1–9 Finally, Jonah prays. His prayer is similar to psalms known as “psalms of thanksgiving,”8 meaning this is a prayer-song, sung in the beast’s belly! Like many psalms of thanksgiving, it consists of four parts.
First, Jonah describes his initial cry for help (2:2). Though he told the sailors to hurl him into the sea, he still prays for deliverance when it happens—and the Lord answers him.
Second, Jonah describes the distress from which he needed deliverance (2:3–6a), namely, drowning, which he paints in graphic detail: being adrift in the open sea, pulled by currents, swallowed up by waves (2:3), finally sinking beneath the waters, being suffocated by seaweed, and going down, down, down (2:5–6a). His description makes clear this is the Lord’s judgment on him: “you cast me into the deep . . . all your waves and your billows passed over me” (2:3, emphasis mine). Even verse 4b is perhaps better translated, “How shall I look again upon your holy temple?”9 Jonah thought his life was over, ended by a judgment from God that he deserved.
Yet he survives! In the prayer’s third part, Jonah describes the Lord’s deliverance (2:6b). The holy temple he thought he would never see again (2:4b) is the very place from which the Lord hears his call for help and sends him deliverance (2:7)! “Jonah experiences the truth that it is never too late to lift his eyes to a God so rich in mercy and love.”10
This leads to the prayer’s conclusion. Jonah contrasts “those who regard vain idols” and thus “forsake their faithfulness” (NASB)11 with the faithfulness to which he recommits: he will pay his vows and make sacrifices of thanksgiving to the Lord (2:8–9). The prayer’s final words underscore a main biblical truth: “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” The Lord’s great power enables him to deliver us, and his great mercy leads him to do so. Salvation thus comes from him: he is salvation’s source, he is the one who brings salvation about, and he alone is the one to whom we must look to be saved.
And so, the Lord’s discipline of Jonah has humbled him, which is always the Lord’s goal. Like a good parent, the Lord often disciplines his children to lead them back to his life-giving paths (Prov 3:11–12; 1Cor 11:32; Heb 12:4–7). In Jonah’s case, it seems to have worked. He has lifted his voice to the Lord and recommitted to follow him faithfully.
The Lord Commands the Creature to Vomit Jonah onto Dry Land (2:10)
2:10 As the chapter ends, the Lord commands the sea creature to vomit its passenger onto dry land. This deliverance is undeserved (and therefore gracious) and perhaps one more instance of humbling (who can be proud while covered in fish vomit?), just to make sure Jonah has learned his lesson.
But it may also be noted that this chapter, like chapter 1, confronts the Israelite audience with a deep irony. Jonah’s promise to make sacrifices and vows (2:9) is something the pagan sailors did three days earlier (1:16)! He’s just now catching up to their spiritual progress! And this should again humble any spiritually proud Israelites who were looking down on others. So also should the fact that the Israelite prophet needed deliverance as much as the pagan sailors. Indeed, the Lord was equally merciful to both. His compassionate grace is not limited to a certain group; it is worldwide. That of his people should be as well—something which Jonah should know as well as any Israelite! Surely one who has experienced such undeserved mercy will be the first to show it to others. Or will he?
Jonah’s Second Chance and the Ninevites’ Amazing Repentance (3:1–10)
In the book’s second half, the Lord’s mercy and grace toward all people is put on full display when he forgives the repentant Ninevites. Jonah’s anger toward the Lord’s response reveals how far his heart is from the Lord’s, and the book ends with a question that challenges us to consider whose heart ours is more like: Jonah’s or the Lord’s?
Jonah Obeys the Lord and Goes to Nineveh (3:1–3a)
3:1–3a The story restarts. The Lord again commands Jonah to arise and go to Nineveh (cf. 1:2). This time, Jonah obeys (3:3a).
Jonah Preaches, and All of Nineveh Believes God and Repents of Their Sin (3:3b–5)
3:3b–5 We now learn a bit more about Nineveh itself. The ESV footnotes, which translate the Hebrew more woodenly, are most helpful here: “Now Nineveh was a great city to God; a visit was a three days’ journey” (3:3b). The word for “journey” can refer to how much time a visit should take as opposed to how long in distance a journey will be (see Neh 2:6). The idea is not that it took three days to walk straight through it. At its high point, Nineveh was only three miles (4.8 km) across and eight miles (12.9 km) in circumference.12 But it had a huge population for its day (4:11), making it a major city that, like major cities today, required more than a day to visit it properly. No wonder that it was “great”—the word can have the sense “important”—to God: it was full of people and thus mattered to him (see 4:11).13
Jonah enters the city and begins preaching the Lord’s message: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be overthrown!” (3:4). The Israelite audience of this story would have understood the warning’s severity since the word for “overthrown” is also used to describe Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction with fire from heaven (Gen 19:24–25). The Ninevites might not have known that story, but they took the Lord’s warning seriously. On the first day of Jonah’s preaching, the people believe what God says and perform ancient Near Eastern actions that show true repentance: fasting (in order to pray, confess sin, and seek forgiveness; see Dan 9:3) and dressing in sackcloth (to show sorrow and contrition; see 1Kgs 21:27–29) (3:5a). Everyone in the city repents, “from the greatest . . . to the least” (3:5b). And note again the contrast: Jonah took three days to compose his prayer and act faithfully; the Ninevites respond faithfully on day one!
The King Issues a Proclamation Calling for City-Wide Repentance (3:6–9)
3:6–9 News quickly reaches the king, who takes off his royal robes, dresses in sackcloth, and sits in ashes (another ancient Near Eastern sign of mourning; see Dan 9:3) (3:6). He then issues a proclamation calling for city-wide repentance: the Ninevites must abstain from all food and drink and wear sackcloth—even their animals must join in!—and they must make earnest prayers and turn from their evil deeds (3:7–8). The king is aware that religious acts of repentance mean little if not joined by repentance in all of life. He then gives the rationale for his proclamation: “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish” (3:9). He does not assume he and his people have a right to forgiveness. But he holds out hope that God might choose to be merciful—which is exactly what happens.
The Lord Mercifully Forgives and Relents of the Disaster He Had Threatened (3:10)
3:10 “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.” Any Israelites who are listening closely would recognize that the Hebrew for “relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them” is the exact same phrase found in Exodus 32:14. In that context, the Lord had threatened to wipe out the Israelites for their idolatry with the golden calf, and yet, in response to Moses’s prayer, he “relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them.” This parallel should again humble the Israelites. They are not above the Ninevites spiritually but in the same position with them: equally in need of God’s merciful grace.
Jonah was also in that position. Note how he had benefited from the Lord’s merciful grace only one chapter earlier! He should therefore be the first to praise God for again showing such mercy and grace, shouldn’t he?
Jonah’s Hard Heart toward the Lord’s Worldwide Mercy, Grace, Love, and Forgiveness; the Lord’s Searching Question (4:1–11)
Jonah’s Anger toward the Lord for Showing His Mercy and Love to Outsiders (4:1–4)
4:1–4 The chapter begins with a wordplay on a Hebrew root. Depending on the context, it can be translated as disaster, evil, displeasing, or discomfort. The Lord had relented of the disaster he had threatened (3:10), and to Jonah this was exceedingly displeasing (4:1)! He praises the Lord for showing him mercy (2:1–9) but is furious when the Lord shows such mercy to others!
Jonah prays bitterly and reveals for the first time why he disobeyed the Lord in chapter 1: he knew the Lord’s merciful, forgiving nature and did not want to preach a warning to the Ninevites, lest they repent and escape judgment (4:2)! Ironically, he quotes from Exodus 34:6–7a, where the Lord describes his compassionate grace that led him to forgive the Israelites for the sin of the golden calf (see comments on 3:10). Jonah is not against the Lord showing such compassionate grace; he is against the Lord showing such compassionate grace to those outside the Israelite nation.
But Jonah’s main problem is not ethnic pride and prejudice. Those are simply symptoms of his real problem, which is spiritual pride: he has forgotten that no one stands on the moral high ground before the Lord. All are guilty. All deserve his judgment. All need his mercy and grace. And that should mean the end of all spiritual pride. It should mean the beginning of a heart of mercy and grace toward all. “Those who compare themselves to others will always find reasons for pride; those who compare themselves to the Lord will realize their own wickedness, cry out humbly for his mercy and salvation, and then extend this mercy to others.”14 But Jonah’s spiritual pride leads him to treat the Ninevites as those undeserving of God’s mercy and grace—and therefore of his own mercy and grace. That’s the danger of spiritual pride: by focusing on the sin of others and forgetting our own, we view others as lower than us and thus unworthy of compassion or grace. They become sinful objects we can write off as undeserving of our mercy and love, or even of God’s.
As Jonah ends his prayer, he asks the Lord to kill him (4:3). “‘Over my dead body’ is his vehement reaction to God’s grace.”15 But the Lord does not grant his wish. He does not want Jonah’s death; he wants Jonah to view all people as he does: important to him; made in his image; the objects of his tender mercy and love. And so, he challenges Jonah: “Do you do well to be angry?” (4:4). In other words, “Think about this, Jonah! You’ve just experienced my forgiveness for your sin! You’ve just experienced my gracious deliverance from the judgment you deserved! Is this the right way to respond when others experience the same mercy and grace?”
The Lord Rebukes Jonah for His Lack of Mercy and Love to Outsiders; the Lord’s Searching Question for Us: Are You Like Me or Jonah? (4:5–11)
4:5–11 Jonah gives no verbal response. Instead, he leaves the city, builds a temporary shelter for shade, and waits to see what might happen (4:5). Even though the Lord has forgiven Nineveh, Jonah hopes destruction still comes.
The Lord uses an object lesson to teach him. Just as the Lord rescued the Ninevites from the disaster he had threatened (3:10), he appoints a plant to grow quickly and provide increased shade for Jonah “to save him from his discomfort” (4:6, emphasis mine; see at 4:1). And whereas Jonah responded to the Ninevites’ deliverance by being displeased exceedingly (4:1), he responds to his own deliverance by being exceedingly glad (4:6). Two cases of someone being delivered from disaster/discomfort, but two very different responses. Jonah still cannot rejoice in anyone’s deliverance but his own. So, the lesson continues.
The Lord appoints a worm to attack the plant so that it dies, then sends a scorching east wind and a blistering hot day so that Jonah becomes faint (4:7–8a). Jonah is so miserable he again pleads for the Lord to kill him and says he is better off dead (4:8b; cf. 4:3). He is at the same place he was at the chapter’s beginning, and so the Lord asks a similar question as before: “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” (4:9a; cf. 4:4). He is again inviting Jonah to think carefully, to gain perspective on what is happening. But Jonah’s temper tantrum continues: “I do well to be angry, angry enough to die!” (4:9b).
The time has come to finish the object lesson. The Lord does so by way of contrast.
He points out that Jonah has compassion on a simple plant that he did not cultivate or cause to grow and that only lived for a day (4:10). If Jonah has compassion on something so insignificant, should not the Lord have compassion on a city so great (4:11)? We might paraphrase:
“Nineveh has more than 120,00016 people in it!17 People made in my image! And they are utterly lost, with no idea of what is right and wrong; they are like little children who cannot even tell the difference between their right hand and their left. And even if you do not care about the people, just think about all those animals! So go ahead, put your plant on one side of a scale and all these things on the other side. Which is weightier? Which matters more? If you can feel sorry for this meager and meaningless plant, should I not feel sorry for all these people made in my image? Jonah, do you not get it?! Are not the animals of the city alone worth more pity than your puny plant?”18
No answer is given to the question of v. 11. It is left hanging in the air for the audience to answer. It’s the Lord’s way of asking you and me, “Are there any Ninevites in your life? Do you happily receive my mercy and grace and yet fail to show the same mercy and grace to others? And not just fail to show the same mercy and grace but, like Jonah, feel justified in doing so?” One of the easiest ways to tell if this is the case is to look at how we interact with others. Consider:
In Jesus, we have experienced God’s abundant grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. If we show these same things to everyone we meet, no matter who they are—no matter their morals, race, nationality, social class, gender, political beliefs, etc.—then we have understood well the lesson of this book and the heart of our Savior. But if we show these things to some people and not to others; if we show these things to those like us but not to those who are different; if we show these things to those we like but not to those we dislike; if we are in any way selective in terms of the people to whom we show God’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness, then we still do not get it. We remain disciples of Jonah, not disciples of Jesus.19
May the Lord humble us with a clear vision of the undeserved mercy and love he has granted us in Jesus. And may our hearts then overflow with that same mercy and love to all we meet—and thus give them a picture of our Savior.
Alexander, T. Desmond. “Jonah,” in Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, TOTC. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1988.
Allen, Leslie C. The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah, NICOT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976.
Keller, Timothy. The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy. New York: Viking, 2018.
Sasson, Jack M. Jonah: A New Translation with Introduction, Commentary, and Interpretation, Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1990.
Sklar, Jay. “Jonah,” in Daniel–Malachi, ESVEC. Edited by Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., and Jay Sklar. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018.
Endnotes & Permissions
1 Jay Sklar, “Jonah,” in Daniel–Malachi, eds. Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 394, noting the work of T. Desmond Alexander, “Jonah,” in Obadiah, Jonah, Micah (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1988), 76.
2 Some of the outline titles have been taken from Sklar, 395–96.
3 Erika Bleibtreu, “Grisly Assyrian Record of Torture and Death,” Biblical Archaeology Review 17, no. 1 (January/February 1991), 57–58.
4 Commentators debate whether he told them before the storm or in response to their questions. Either way, they know he is to blame.
5 Did they do this immediately or once back on shore? We know that ancient Greek and Roman boats could have portable altars, an important feature to appeal for divine aid (Jean Rougé, Ships and Fleets of the Ancient Mediterranean [Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1981], 199–200), though how far back this practice goes is not known.
6 Sklar, 404.
7 If miracles are not possible, then such an event must mean the Book of Jonah is more parable than historical narrative. But if God does exist and has performed far greater miracles (such as raising Jesus from the dead), then a small miracle like keeping Jonah alive in a sea creature’s belly is not problematic. See Timothy Keller, The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy (New York: Viking, 2018), 4. See also Introduction above.
8 See Psalms 18 (cf. 2Sam 22), 30, 32, 34, 66, 92, 116, 118, 138. See also 1 Samuel 2:1–10; Isaiah 38:9–20.
9 See NRSV; TNK; NET. The Hebrew has “yet” (ʾk), the LXX has “how” (which in Hebrew would be ʾyk). The difference is one small letter. “How” better fits the context.
10 Sklar, 408.
11 See also NRSV. “Faithfulness” could also be translated “steadfast love.” ESV and NIV understand “forsake their faithfulness” to mean “lose out on their experience of God’s faithfulness/steadfast love,” which is a possible way to translate but less likely than NASB and NRSV. (Other places that speak of my/your/his faithfulness typically refer to the faithfulness the person practices, not receives, e.g., Num 14:19; 2Sam 7:15; Ps 89:24; see esp. Gen 24:27, which also uses the verb “forsake.”)
12 Jack M. Sasson, Jonah: A New Translation with Introduction, Commentary, and Interpretation, Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1990), 230.
13 Many modern translations understand the words “to God” in the phrase “a great city to God” as a way to say, “very much, exceedingly” and thus translate “an exceedingly great city.” But while “God” by itself might be used elsewhere as a superlative, the phrase “to God” is not (Sasson, 228).
14 Sklar, 410.
16 This aligns with historical data. At its height, Nineveh’s population is estimated at 300,000 or more (Sasson, 312). Or possibly 120,000 was a round number meant to indicate a great amount (cf. 1Kgs 8:63). Either way, Nineveh’s population was large.
17 “It was this same divine compassion that Jesus reflected in his reaction to crowds of people” (Allen, 234; he cites Matt 9:36; Mark 6:34; 8:2).
18 Sklar, 419.
19 Ibid., 421.
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Jonah Flees the Presence of the Lord
1:1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil1 has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.
4 But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. 6 So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”
Jonah Is Thrown into the Sea
7 And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” 9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.
11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” 13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard2 to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. 14 Therefore they called out to the LORD, “O LORD, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.
A Great Fish Swallows Jonah