We know very little about Jonah. He is identified as the son of Amittai (1:1). 2 Kings 14:25 says Jonah was from Gath Hepher, which is in Zebulun. We do not know if he simply lived there or was of the tribe. In the same text, Jonah is credited with foretelling the restoration of a piece of land to Israel in the days of Jeroboam, which no doubt was a more popular prophecy than the doom and gloom and judgment spoken by his contemporaries (Amos & Hosea).
Jonah is unique among the prophets. Others spoke about Israel’s enemies, but Jonah was called to go speak to Assyria—to take a message of repentance. Not wanting to go to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh, Jonah headed West to Joppa where he boarded a ship for Tarshish, Spain which was 3,000 miles in the wrong direction.
Jonah’s concern about saving Nineveh was justified, for about 20 years later (740 BC), Assyria would begin raids in Israel, and another 20 years later (721 BC), they would destroy Israel. How ironic, the nation who had one prophet sent to them and just 40 days to repent of be destroyed repented—but Israel, who had multiple prophets sent to them spanning more than 200 years did not repent and were destroyed.
It seems the ship carrying Jonah across the Mediterranean Sea didn’t get far. The Lord stirred a great wind upon the sea, causing a storm which brought fear to the hearts of the sailors. Eventually Jonah admitted to the captain of the ship that he was the reason for the storm and the solution was to throw him overboard. At first they would not, but tried to row to shore. When that did not work, they prayed to the Lord and threw the prophet into the sea. It ceased raging and the men on the ship made sacrifice to God and took vows.
Jonah would spent the next 3 days and nights in the belly of a great fish which the Lord had prepared. This gave him time to consider his ways. When the fish spit him up onto dry land, Jonah headed for Nineveh where he declared, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (3:4). We’re told “…the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them” (3:5).
The people heeded Jonah’s warning and repented of their wickedness (3:8) and God relented from destroying them (3:10). Most preachers are overjoyed when people respond to the message of repentance and salvation. Jonah was not. He was upset to see their repentance and equally angry to see God relent from destroying them (4:1-2).
Next week we continue with Micah…