The Book of Jonah is set during the reign of Jeroboam II (786–746 BC), when other prophets like Hosea were predicting the fall of the ten tribes of Israel to the Assyrians; which prophecies of an Assyrian attack explain Jonah’s animosity towards Nineveh the capital of Assyria.
The Assyrian wave of captivities began in approximately 740 BC (or 733/2 BC according to other sources) only a few years after the mission of Jonah to Nineveh.
And the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, and the spirit of Tilgathpilneser king of Assyria, and he carried them away, even the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, and brought them unto Halah, and Habor, and Hara, and to the river Gozan, unto this day. (1 Chronicles 5:26)
Far more than a history of a reluctant prophet and the citizens of Nineveh Jonah is an allegorical prophecy about the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and points to God’s mercy to all nations when Christ comes.
Jonah was a contemporary of Hosea, Joel and Amos, giving the lie to the teaching that God only works through one man at a time.
The book starts off with the reluctance of Jonah to preach repentance to Assyria because of the prophecies of Assyria concerning their future treatment of Israel. The book then proceeds with Jonah’s burial at sea, repentance and resurrection from the deep and his warning to Nineveh, which results in the repentance of Nineveh.
Then comes a new understanding of the need to forgive all the terrors and hatreds of the past and welcome all nations into the Family of God.
Verse 1 to 16 sets the stage for the main analogy; which is the burial and resurrection of Christ.
Jonah 1:1 Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 1:2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.
Nineveh is here an allegorical example of all unconverted people.
1:3 But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa [today a sister city of Tel Aviv]; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
Jonah refused to obey God and preach the message of warning and repentance to Nineveh the capital of Assyria.
1:4 But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken. 1:5 Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.
The length of time of the storm is not stated and it could have lasted for a few or for many days.
1:6 So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.
Jonah is then urged to repent and call upon God.
1:7 And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.
1:8 Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou?
1:9 And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.
Then it is revealed that this evil came on them because the servant of God rebelled against his Maker.
1:10 Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him. Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.
1:11 Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous.
1:12 And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.
Jonah then acknowledged his guilt and bids the men to save themselves by casting him into the sea.
1:13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.
1:14 Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee.
1:15 So they look up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.
1:16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.
These men, not wanting to send Jonah to certain death and worked to save themselves including Jonah, until finally they had to obey the voice of the prophet.
1:17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
This great fish was not a whale nor was it a regular fish; it was a special creature created by God for a special purpose. Logically it would have had a special pocket which would have supported Jonah’s life. The secondary stomachs of ruminants and the crops of birds come to mind as examples of similar arrangements, although access to air was also provided to sustain Jonah.
Jonah 2:1 Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly, 2:2 And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell [the grave] cried I, and thou heardest my voice.
Jonah cries out in repentance to God, likening his situation to being in the grave. This is an allegory of the sins of the world being imputed to Christ; and as Jonah was buried in the deep for three days and nights because of sin, Christ was buried for three days and nights in the earth for the sins of the world.
See our article on the three days and three nights in the grave of Christ.
Matthew 12:38 Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee.
12:39 But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: 12:40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
12:41 The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.
Jonah 2:3 For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me. 2:4 Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.
Jonah cried out in repentance, just as nearly all men will cry out in repentance [at their appointed time] and be saved through the application of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ and his bearing of the sins of the sincerely repentant who commit to “go and sin no more.”
Jonah was cast out of God’s sight because of his sin of rebellion, and God the Father could not look upon Jesus when he was bearing the sins of the world; which is an example that sin separates us from God.
Matthew 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Jonah 2:5 The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. 2:6 I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God. 2:7 When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.
This is a prophecy of the repentance of all men in their due time.
2:8 They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.
Those who refuse to repent are rejecting God’s saving mercy.
2:9 But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.
This speaks of the resurrection of Christ and through his atoning sacrifice, the salvation of all sincerely repentant humanity.
2:10 And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.
Jonah was in type also an example of the resurrection, being resurrected from burial in the sea. This is a prophecy and picture of the resurrection of Christ after three days and nights buried in the earth. They was not parts of days and nights but three full days and three full nights.
This is not speaking about Christ being dead for three days and three nights but about him actually being buried in the earth for three full days and three full nights.
Jesus died at 3 PM on Passover Wednesday 31 A.D. and was buried before sunset and the First High Holy Day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. He was then resurrected just after the sun had set ending the Saturday Sabbath at the same time that the high priest harvested the Wave Sheaf.
Therefore Jesus was resurrected on a Sunday just after the sun had set to end the Saturday Sabbath and begin a Sunday. Then the next morning after the Morning Daily Sacrifice, Jesus ascended to be accepted by God the Father and returned to the earth just as the high priest lifted up the Wave Offering to God and brought it back down to the earth.
Jonah 3:1 And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, 3:2 Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.
Jonah was only in the fish for three days and three nights, and a fish could not have traversed the Mediterranean Sea and then gone around Africa and up to Nineveh in three days!
Jonah could have been cast ashore on the coast at any place, including on the Palestine or Syrian coast; at which time God told him once again to go to Nineveh and he would then have traveled there.
This concept that Jonah may have been cast up at the gates of Nineveh is a fairy tale. The fact that Jonah could well have traveled for a long time to reach Nineveh after being cast up by the fish is contained in the phrase: “So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh,” which does not say how many days journey it took to reach the city. It was only AFTER Jonah had reached the city, that he traveled another full day into the heart of the city!
3:3 So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey [across].
3:4 And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
After his resurrection from the sea, Jonah traveled to Nineveh and the length of time of that journey in not revealed; then AFTER arriving at the city Jonah journeyed a day into the city and began to preach the Word of God.
When he returns with his faithful resurrected chosen Jesus Christ and his bride will preach the same Gospel of Warning and Repentance to the whole world. What the called out are instructed to do now, will be done in its fullness after the resurrection of the chosen to spirit!
Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
28:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Jonah 3:5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. 3:6 For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
3:7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: 3:8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. 3:9 Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?
3:10 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.
This great city the capital of Assyria was a typical example of all sinners repenting at the preaching of the Gospel of warning and repentance after the coming of Christ when all humanity if called to God. The repentance of Nineveh is a picture of how all nations will ultimately repent and become grafted into the New Covenant.
A lesson in forgiveness and mercy
Jonah 4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
Jonah had a problem, he did not want these Assyrians to repent; he wanted God to destroy them. This is typical of the attitude of people today who tend to bear grudges and have trouble forgiving one another over the sufferings of the past.
4:2 And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. 4:3 Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.
Jonah was so angry and hateful that he wanted to die so as not to have to live in a world containing the repentant Assyrians. Why? Because the prophets knew that the ancient Israel of that day would be conquered and removed from their land by Assyria [remember that Jonah was contemporary to Hosea, Amos and Joel]! God therefore gave Jonah an object lesson to bring him to repent of his anger and hatred.
4:4 Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry?
4:5 So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.
4:6 And the LORD God prepared a gourd [vine, bush], and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.
4:7 But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.
4:8 And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.
4:9 And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.
4:10 Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:
4:11 And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more then sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?
God then revealed his great mercy towards humanity; teaching Jonah a lesson in humility and mercy and revealing how mercy will be shown to ALL sincerely repentant humanity at their appointed time.
This is especially a lesson for the survivors of today’s great tribulation: When Christ comes and sets things right we must all forgive our enemies to bring in a New World Order of peace and prosperity in the Kingdom of God!