Scratching the Surface: Lessons from the Book of Jonah

Today I wanted to have a brief look at the book of Jonah and some of the messages we can learn from it. Though, for today’s post, we will be “scratching the surface”, which hopefully will lead us to a more in depth study of Jonah. I hope to bring more posts to a category called “scratching the surface”, which I hope will encourage believers to dive deeper into scripture.

I invite all of you, then, to dive into the book of Jonah!

Brief history 
In the shortest summery I can provide, the book of Jonah places the story and the prophet roughly in mid-8th century BCE. Nineveh is the focus, which was the capital of a powerful Assyria who was Israel’s enemy. Most scholars agree that the main message found in Jonah is God’s concern, which extends beyond Israel to the whole world.
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Please remember, this will be a brief look at Jonah to give readers a starting place for bible study. 

SOME Lessons to Look for: 

  1. You can’t run from God

The reason Jonah ran away from God is easy to miss in Jonah, but is displayed in Jonah 4:2, “He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” 

When you know the history of Israel in regards to Nineveh it becomes clear why Jonah didn’t wish to go to Nineveh to begin with. Eerdman’s handbook to the bible puts it this way, “But he (Jonah) knew God: he knew that if the Ninevites changed their ways God would forgive them. And Jonah wanted this cruel threatening enemy nation destroyed” (1992, P. 448).

Even while Jonah tried to run away, because we aren’t sure if he thought he could get away with it, we can see God working in his life. The Lord sent a great wind (1:4), the fish (v. 17), release of Jonah (2:10), the vine (4:6), the worm (4:7) and the scorching east wind (4:8).

  1. God knows what we need 

I find it interesting that Jonah’s lack of humanity is displayed when he boards the ship instead of heading to Nineveh. The pagan sailors display more humanity by trying to save his life after the storm emerges.

One of the ways we can see this, regarding the sailors, is that the Captain of the ship has a concern for everyone on board the ship in contrast to Jonah’s refusal to provide warning for Nineveh (1:6).

In truth, God seems to provide whatever it takes for us to be corrected. Can you see more evidence of this lesson in the book of Jonah? 

  1. We see true displays of repentance, meaning of repentance.

We can see repentance and even get a glimpse of what heartfelt prayer looks like in this short account of Jonah’s journey. Jonah’s prayer displays a man crying out to God while at death’s door and then he comes to his senses and remembers his loyalty. After he realizes his errors he leaps to obey God’s will and God responds to that obedience.

We also see the city of Nineveh repent and the King of Nineveh issues a decree of repentance, so to speak, ultimately allowing God to display his mercy.

  1. Parallels between Jonah and Jesus

Matthew 12:38-41 says,

“38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”

39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.” 

Some things to note about this passage:

12:39 – Adulterous: refers to spiritual adultery

12:40 – the Greek word does not mean whale but rather, “sea creature” i.e., a huge fish (I mention this because some translation say whale.)

12:38 – The Pharisees wanted to see a spectacular miracle, instead Yeshua cites a historical ‘sign’.

More Parallels: 

Jonah Jesus
1. Life given to save sailors 1. Life given to save sinners
2. Cast to certain death 2. Died
3. Buried in fish’s belly 3. Buried
4. “Raised” to life 4. Raised from dead
5. Incident a sign to confirm his message 5. Incident a sign to confirm his gospel
6. Mission to save the Gentiles 6. Mission to save the Jews and Gentiles

Chart from:

I hope you enjoy everything I have showed you today and I pray that it provides the readers with a good starting point to go deeper into thought on the book of Jonah.

Questions for the Readers: 

  1. What OTHER lessons can you find in the book of Jonah? 
  2. What other parallels can you find between Jonah and Yeshua? 
  3. What other parallels can you find regarding the Jews and gentiles in the book of Jonah and the Jews and gentiles in the New Testament? 
  4. Are there any other observations you would like to note? 

***Please leave your answers to these questions in the comments section below along with your thoughts, opinions and ideas***

Works Cited:

Alexander, D., & Alexander, P. (Eds.). (1992). Eerdmans’ handbook to the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Holy Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

In Tenney, M. C. (Ed.). (1975). The Zondervan pictorial encyclopedia of the Bible.


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