Introduction

What is the Book of Jonah About?

Read this 3-minute introduction to help you find your bearings in the Bible story, and be inspired to read Jonah!

Videos

Historical Context

Jonah 1:1 specifically identifies the content of the book as the prophetic word that the Lord gave Jonah, whether Jonah wrote the account about himself or someone else wrote the account about Jonah.  

—Henrietta Mears 

Source: This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.  

From Bibles.net: Remember that the ultimate author of every book of the Bible is the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). He has written this book to equip you for life, to help you know the true God, and to give you hope (2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 15:4). The Holy Spirit wrote Jonah for your good and to lead you into joy.

Jonah prophesied during the peaceful and prosperous time of Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:23–28), who ruled in Israel (the northern kingdom) from 782 to 753 BC. This was a time when Assyria was not a threat to Israel. 

The Setting of Jonah 

c. 760 BC

Jonah prophesied during the prosperous time of King Jeroboam II of Israel (2 Kings 14:23-28). During this time the Assyrians were occupied with matters elsewhere in the empire, allowing Jeroboam II to capture much of Syria for Israel. The Lord called Jonah to go to the great Assyrian city of Nineveh to pronounce judgment upon it. Jonah attempted to escape the Lord’s calling by sailing to Tarshish, which was probably in the western Mediterranean. Eventually he obeyed the Lord and went to Nineveh, at the heart of the Assyrian Empire.  

Unless otherwise indicated, this content is adapted from the ESV Global Study Bible® (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright ©2012 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Books
Message Series

The Gospel According to Jonah by Christian Lwanda

Check out this phenomenal 4-part message series by Pastor Christian Lwanda. Pastor Lwanda speaks with clarity and passion, helping us understand the themes in Jonah, asking us searching questions, and leading us to Jesus Christ. His prayer is that through this series you would come to know the merciful and gracious God of the Bible.

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Jonah Dictionary

As you read through Jonah, you might come across words and ideas that are foreign to you. Here are a few definitions you will want to know! Note that this dictionary was created for the New International Version (NIV) Bible.

Pure; set apart; belonging to God. God is holy. He is perfect and without sin. Jesus is holy too. He is without sin and dedicated to doing what God wants. Because Jesus died to take the punishment for sin and then rose again, people who believe in him have the power to be holy too. God helps them to become more and more pure and loving, like Jesus.

A statue or other image of a god that is made by people and then worshiped as if it had the power of God. Idols are often made of wood, stone, or metal. Sometimes the Bible calls anything that takes the place of God in a person’s life an idol. God tells us not to worship idols but, rather, to worship only him.

A gift or offering given to God. A sacrifice usually involved killing an animal to pay for sin. The New Testament tells us that Jesus died as the once-for-all sacrifice for sinners and that no further sacrifices for sin are necessary.

(1) To be rescued (or delivered) from evil. (2) To be kept from danger or death. In the New Testament, salvation usually means to be rescued from the guilt and power of sin. By his death and resurrection, Jesus brings salvation to people who believe in him.

The permanent place in Jerusalem where the Jews worshiped God. The first temple was built by King Solomon and the people by following the instructions God had given Solomon’s father, King David. The temple was a very beautiful place. It was destroyed and rebuilt twice. In AD 64, the temple was destroyed again but was not rebuilt.

A promise, usually made to God.

Anything a person does to show love and respect. Some people worship idols. Some people worship the one true God.

What the Bible Is All About NIV Henrietta Mears

Dictionary Source

This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. 

Tough Questions

We have found answers to some tough questions that we anticipate may arise as you read this book of the Bible. We know we can’t answer every question you will have; therefore, we have written this article, so you know how to find answers for your kids: How Do I Answer Tough Questions About the Bible?

Insights

The following insights are from pastors and scholars who have spent significant time studying the book of Jonah.

This book is not ultimately about Jonah. It’s not ultimately about a big fish. It’s not about the mariners. It’s not about the Ninevites. Ultimately, the book of Jonah is about a gracious God who extends his mercy to a people who do not deserve it.  

—Christian Lwanda 

Source: Christian Lwanda, quoted from his message, “The Running Prophet” from his series The Gospel According to Jonah the book of Jonah, preached at Evangelical Community Church of Abu Dhabi on March 6, 2022.

And by the way, Jonah was kind of a microcosm of the whole national failure. Jonah was like a living symptom of national disgrace. The Jews, the people of God, were placed in the world as a witness nation. They were to declare to the world the one true and living God. They were to take the message of the one true and living God to the polytheistic, polydemonistic world. They were to be a light to the Gentiles. They were the chosen people, not as an end, but as a means to an end. They were to be a nation of missionaries. They were to be zealous for other nations to love and worship the true God. And they were to give corporate testimony of the greatness and the goodness and the power and the mercy of their God as demonstrated in their lives, and declare their God to be the true God to the world, and invite the world to come to know the true and living God. Instead, they became racist and full of hate and animosity, and that’s why God allowed at a later time the Assyrians to come and obliterate the northern kingdom for good. 

—John MacArthur

Source: Copyright 2022, Grace to You. All rights reserved. Used by permission. This Grace to You article originally appeared here at gty.org.

The real question is why was the book of Jonah written? What’s the theme? What’s it really about? It’s a great story; it’s a narrative. But what is it really about? Usually the more liberal commentators say it’s about race. It’s about Jonah’s nationalism and his racism. Other people say it’s about mission. It’s about how we must go into all the world and preach the gospel and not be afraid to do that, and not be unwilling to do that. And some people say it’s about grace—not so many do say that, but I’m going to tell you I think if you have to choose between race, grace, and mission, it’s mainly about grace… If you go through the entire book, you’ll see that that’s Jonah’s struggle. Here’s Jonah’s struggle: How can God be both just and merciful to such a wicked nation as the Assyrians?

The answer to that can’t happen inside the book of Jonah. In fact, the answer can’t even happen inside the Old Testament. The reason it can’t is because in the end the only way we’re going to see how God can be both absolutely just and yet absolutely merciful and forgiving at the same time is when you get to the cross. … Really the book of Jonah is mainly about grace and about Jonah’s inability to grasp grace, and his inability to understand how God could be both just and merciful. So, it’s about the gospel, even though the answer to the question doesn’t happen inside the book of Jonah. You have to put the book of Jonah in its context in the whole Bible and see how it points to the New Testament where alone we have the answer to Jonah’s question.

—Timothy Keller

Source: Timothy Keller, quoted from his message, “What A Minor Prophet Teaches Us About Race, Grace, and Nationalism.” This message originally appeared here at The Gospel Coalition.

All the way through—you can’t miss this if you read the book of Jonah carefully—the author of Jonah is constantly contrasting Jonah with the very pagans he despises, and the pagans always make Jonah look bad. And the pagans are always acting more admirably, and acting in a way better than the way Jonah is acting.

—Timothy Keller

Source: Timothy Keller, quoted from his message, “What A Minor Prophet Teaches Us About Race, Grace, and Nationalism.” This message originally appeared here at The Gospel Coalition.

Jonah didn’t run because he feared the Ninevites killing him; he feared God saving them. For Jonah, Nineveh didn’t represent danger to his body as much as his will… 

Jonah didn’t run due to his fear of Nineveh, but his hatred of them. They were cruel. They were wicked. Jonah saw them as less than human, less valuable than the plant that brought him shade. In short, Jonah was a racist. He didn’t view others with the heart of the God of Abraham who promised that he would bless all nations through him in Genesis 12.  

God’s judgment didn’t send Jonah running. The Ninevites’ violence didn’t send Jonah running. God’s mercy toward Jonah’s hated enemies sent Jonah running. Jonah anticipated God’s mercy, and he hated it. The book of Jonah asks us if our hearts beat with God in such a way that we gladly anticipate God saving people quite different from us, even our enemies, that he might glorify himself with an open display of his mercy. 

—Josh Vincent 

Source: Vincent, Josh. “4 Reasons You Should Preach Through Jonah.” 9Marks (February 14, 2019).  

Nineveh was as wicked, by the way, as it was impressive. The Assyrians were brutal, they were vicious. They massacred their enemies, they mutilated their captives; they are known to dismember and decapitate, burn people alive. Indescribable gory forms of torture mark their behavior toward their enemies. And they posed, and had posed for a long time, a clear and present danger to the national security of Israel. By the way, only a few decades after Jonah’s mission, the Assyrians would conquer the northern tribes of Israel and take them captive, 722 BC. So they had been an enemy; and in the future they would be a devastating enemy, removing the ten tribes from the north, bringing that nation to an end, really; and they never would return from that Assyrian captivity. 

Jonah ministered in the northern kingdom. He knew the threat of the Assyrians and he hated them. He ministered during the reign of King Jeroboam II, from 793 to 758. He didn’t want anything to do with the Assyrians. And amazingly, he didn’t want the Assyrians to repent. Now when you don’t want people to repent, that’s deep-seated hatred, that’s deep-seated hatred. He didn’t want to take a message of hope. He didn’t want to take a message of forgiveness. He didn’t want to take a message of grace to these hated pagan enemies, a civilization of murdering terrorists, violent annihilators of everyone who stood in their path. He wanted God to judge them. He wanted God to destroy them. He had an aggressive hatred toward those people. 

Of course, God was fully aware of Nineveh’s iniquity. And, as I said, a century after Jonah and the repentance of the Ninevites during Jonah’s ministry, the Lord would come back and condemn that nation that took Israel captive, and he would condemn them through the prophet Nahum—another prophet a hundred years later would pronounce judgment on them. And at that time, Nahum would indict Nineveh for arrogance, deception, idolatry, sensuality, and violence. 

So a hundred years later, God was going to destroy the Ninevites. But for this generation alive in Jonah’s day, he had plans of salvation for them—a wonderful insight into the sovereign purposes of God. And Jonah was commissioned to deliver the message. But the rebellious prophet didn’t want to see Israel’s enemies receive mercy. In fact, he knew the Lord would forgive the Ninevites if they repented. 

—John MacArthur  

Source: Copyright 2022, Grace to You. All rights reserved. Used by permission. This Grace to You article originally appeared here at gty.org. 

Rebellion is as simple as telling God, “No.”  

. . .

“Salvation belongs to the Lord” (Jonah 2:9 ESV). He [Jonah] recognizes that whether in the sea, or in the belly of a fish, the only deliverance he will ever get is not going to come from any human agency or some power he has. It has to come from God alone. Salvation, deliverance comes from, belongs to the Lord, Yahweh alone.  

—Christian Lwanda 

Source: Christian Lwanda, quoted from his message, “The Praying Prophet,” from his series The Gospel According to Jonah on the book of Jonah, preached at Evangelical Community Church of Abu Dhabi on March 13, 2022.

To whatever extent we hate our enemies and refuse to extend God’s mercy, we are Jonah. But to whatever extent we are fearful of the God who controls the storms and are outside of God’s covenant to Israel, we are Assyria. And when we realize our desperate need for him and we fall down and worship him because we need him, that’s when we are the sailors.  

—Spoken Gospel 

Source: David Bowden and Seth Stewart in the Spoken Gospel podcast, “Jonah 1: Jonah’s Not About a Fish” published by Spoken Gospel on Apple Podcasts.

Jonah’s story reiterates the fact that God is the Savior and that his lovingkindness is not limited by our prejudicial preconceptions. The prophet Jonah considered the Assyrians beyond the reach of God’s mercy. After all, they were the brutal, idolatrous, Gentile enemies of Israel and Israel’s God! But the Lord showed Jonah that his saving grace extends to all who repent and believe in him. In this way, the book of Jonah encapsulates the message of salvation. When sinners recognize the Lord as Sovereign Creator and Judge of the Universe, and cry out to him for mercy, he graciously saves them from divine wrath, giving them eternal life instead. 

—John MacArthur  

Source: Copyright 2022, Grace to You. All rights reserved. Used by permission. This Grace to You article originally appeared here at gty.org.

Jonah Playlist

Discover music inspired by the message and content of the book of Jonah.

Nineveh
by Brooke Ligertwood | Praise & Worship
Here I Bow
by Jenn Johnson | Praise & Worship
Jonah’s Prayer
by Emu Youth & Emu Music | Praise & Worship
Chase Me Down
by Chris Tomlin feat. RaeLynn | Praise & Worship
The Love of God
by Rich Mullins | 70s 80s 90s
Jonah’s Journey
by VeggieTales | Children’s
More Songs