Envision a stubborn prophet, unwilling to deliver his message. Imagine the open Mediterranean Sea raging under severe storm weather. Imagine an ancient bustling Assyrian city called Nineveh—think modern day Iraq. The scene is set. Welcome to the book of Jonah.
The book of Jonah belongs in the collection of Minor Prophets. This collection of books (which includes prophets like Amos, Obadiah, and Micah) isn’t referred to as “Minor” because the books included are less important than the Major Prophets. They’re simply shorter than other books of prophecy like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.
Jonah is just four chapters long—only 47 verses. It tells the story of a prophet who runs from God’s commands, gets thrown into the sea by strangers amid a raging storm, is then swallowed by a massive fish, finally decides to obey God, is spit out from that fish, goes on to help save a city from God’s judgement, sees the city spared, gets mad about it, and then complains under a tree. It’s a pretty wild story. Any age can enjoy it!
The book of Jonah highlights the pursuing grace, mercy, and compassion of God.
The book of Jonah also addresses deep heart issues like racism, self-righteousness, and mercilessness. God sends his Jewish prophet to a foreign nation, and an especially wicked one. The prophet doesn’t want his enemies to receive God’s grace and knows that if he preaches judgment to them and they repent, God will likely have mercy on them. So he tells God “No thanks” and runs away from the job.
But through this book we see God pursue two people—he’s after Nineveh’s heart, but he’s also after Jonah’s heart.
God wants to show his undeserved kindness both to the egregiously self-righteous, and to the hopelessly wicked.
Jonah ends with a cliff-hanger leaving the astute reader having to ponder the wonderful and counterintuitive mercy of God. Although you could read it to kids and they’d enjoy it, the message of Jonah will captivate any thoughtful adult as well.
Because it’s so dramatic, you may think this wild story is far removed from your experience—but it really isn’t.
Have you ever wanted to run away from home?
Have you ever let other people deal with a mess you started?
Have you ever been angry because people were given what you feel they didn’t deserve?
In this book, we see how we can often negatively react to God’s kindness to people who we believe don’t deserve it. But, like Jonah, we aren’t mad when God shows us grace. We tend to think we always deserve a second chance.
Though this little book is named after Jonah, it’s not ultimately about him (or us). It’s about God. It’s about the “LORD, the God of heaven, who made the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 ESV) and the God who shows mercy, even to the worst of people—prophet or pagan, religious or rebellious. The book of Jonah highlights the pursuing grace, mercy, and compassion of God.
Do you want to learn more about those aspects of God’s character? We can guarantee you’ll be entertained by this book, but you’ll also be enriched as you learn about the unfathomable compassion of God.
Go ahead, crack open the book of Jonah.