“Introduction to the Book of Jonah,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2014)
“Jonah,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual
As students study the book of Jonah, they will learn valuable lessons that are relevant to their lives. After Jonah attempted to avoid preaching repentance to the people of Nineveh, he learned the futility of trying to flee from Jehovah. Jonah’s miraculous deliverance from a “great fish” (Jonah 1:17) can teach us that the Lord extends His mercy to us when we repent. Jonah’s second opportunity to preach the gospel and do as God asked can reassure students that the gospel of Jesus Christ offers second chances for all who humble themselves and repent, as Jonah did. By studying the account of Nineveh’s repentance, students can also learn about the love and mercy God has for all those who turn to Him. Finally, the Lord’s rebuke of Jonah’s displeasure at seeing the Lord spare the people of Nineveh can teach students about the importance of overcoming any resentment they feel concerning God’s mercy toward those who repent.
Although this book is clearly about the prophet Jonah, it was written by a later, unknown author (see Bible Dictionary, “Jonah”). Jonah, who was the son of Amittai, was from a town called Gath-hepher in Zebulun, a territory in Israel (see Jonah 1:1; 2 Kings 14:25).
It is not certain when the book of Jonah was written. However, Jonah ministered and prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel, which lasted from about 790 to 749 B.C. (see 2 Kings 14:23–25; see also Bible Chronology).
Unlike other prophetic books in the Old Testament, the book of Jonah is not a record of Jonah’s prophecies but a narrative about the prophet’s experiences. The account contains details that appear to be exaggerations, which has raised questions for some readers about how much of the book is historical. Nevertheless, its literary elements make it a “beautiful poem” (Bible Dictionary, “Jonah”) containing valuable lessons. Jesus Christ referred to Jonah’s three days and nights in the belly of the whale as a sign of His death and Resurrection (see Matthew 12:39–40; 16:4; Luke 11:29–30).
Jonah’s actions may reflect the hostile feelings and attitudes some Israelites held toward the Gentiles. The book’s testimony of God’s mercy to the Ninevites echoes the messages of Old Testament prophets who taught of God’s concern for people outside of Israel (see Isaiah 49:6; 60:3; Jeremiah 16:19), and it foreshadows the future incorporation of Gentiles into the Church in New Testament times.
Jonah 1 God calls Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh. Jonah flees in a ship. A storm arises and threatens to sink the ship. Jonah confesses he is to blame for the storm, and he is cast overboard and swallowed by a great fish.
Jonah 2 Jonah repents. The Lord hears his cries and delivers him from the belly of the great fish.
Jonah 3 God again calls Jonah to preach to Nineveh. Jonah goes to Nineveh and prophesies of the people’s destruction. The people respond with fasting and humility, and the Lord revokes their punishment.
Jonah 4 Jonah is angered by the Lord’s decision to show mercy to the people. The Lord teaches him about His concern for the salvation of the people of Nineveh.