We don’t know a lot about Jonah. We know his name means “dove” and that he was the son of Amittai (Jonah 1:1). 2 Kings 14:25 mentions a prophet named Jonah who was the son of Amittai which seems to be the same person. This passage tells us several things about Jonah. He was from the Zebulonite city of Gath-hepher which was just 4 miles north of Nazareth. It also tells us that he lived and worked during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C.) which means he wrote sometime around 800 BC. Knowing these dates helps us narrow down the king who was reigning in Nineveh (an Assyrian town) when Jonah arrives and preaches. If our dates are correct, it would mean that either Shalmaneser IV or Tiglath-Pileser III was the king. I personally believe it was Shalmaneser since he is mentioned in 2 Kings 17 & 18 as being the king from Assyria who invaded Samaria and defeated the northern nation of Israel.
Many today want to dismiss Jonah as simply myth. They believe it couldn’t really happen, equating it to myths like Hercules and Andromatis. This is only a problem for us if we reject the supernatural and rely solely on what is possible physically. If we believe in God, the supernatural, and the miracles that supersede the physical world, then this shouldn’t be a problem for us. Some want to reduce it to an allegory. The Bible uses allegories (Gal. 5 – the allegory of Hagar and Sarah) but that doesn’t mean this is one. Perhaps, the most important thing about Jonah’s story is the fact that Jesus believed it to be true. In Matt. 12:38-42, Jesus uses Jonah as an object lesson for the Scribes and Pharisees. Thus, I must conclude that Jonah was a real person and prophet of God, who was “…3 days and nights in the belly of the great fish…” (Matt. 12:40).
The heart of the message of Jonah is a powerful lesson for all of us. In chapter 1 we see Jonah running away from God. He is not happy with God’s plans or with the idea that God would forgive someone who was not Jewish. He honestly believed that he could avoid his responsibilities to God by running away, but He always finds us. In chapter 2, we see Jonah in the depths of the ocean, sinking to his death, and he runs to God. Jonah, like so many of us, ran to God once things were out of his control and seemed helpless. We need to learn that life doesn’t have to get out of control and chaotic to go to God with our problems. In chapter 3, we see an almost happy Jonah preaching the fall of Nineveh. He is running with God and being successful. While preaching a simple sermon of coming destruction, the entire city repents in sackcloth and ashes. In chapter 4, we see an angry Jonah who wants to die because Nineveh is spared. He has the nerve to tell God, “see, I told you this would happen!” He is running ahead of God and doesn’t even see it. He is angry enough to die over a plant that withers away, but cold and indifferent about the thousands of people who were spared.
All in all, Jonah teaches us many great lessons that need to be learned. Our God is sovereign, His will and plans are always right, and we don’t have any right to complain about them. He is a God who loves and cares about all people and wants us to be willing to reach out to them so that they can avoid His punishment. He wants us to learn that while we value those things that make our life more comfortable, they are no match for the value of just one soul. Thus, we need to get busy and run with God instead of running away from Him. Lastly, Jonah teaches us that our God is merciful and gracious. He longs to forgive us if we will repent of our sinful ways.
Let me encourage you to spend some time reading Jonah and let its words speak to your heart about what you consider most important in life.