Jonah was called by God to call to repentance the inhabitants of Nineveh. Some scholars place Jonah’s ministry in the mid-eighth century B.C., others suggest it was closer to the middle of the sixth century, during or after the Babylonian exile.
Little is known about how Jonah was prepared, but his calling is certainly memorable. When God called Jonah to cry repentance to Nineveh, Jonah ran. Other prophets have been hesitant to accept the Lord’s call (for example, Enoch, Moses, Amos, and Jeremiah), but none except Jonah ran to the farthest regions of the known world. After his experience with the fish, Jonah repented and eventually fulfilled his calling.
Interaction with God
Jonah’s relationship with God perhaps is easier for the common man to identify with than for his peers of chosen prophets. Jonah heard and understood the voice of the Lord, but did not want to heed it because he knew doing so would mean giving up some feelings that he just wasn’t ready to give up yet. He tried running, but God found a way to bring him back. Begrudgingly, he saw that God was more powerful than he and would not give up on him, so he eventually did His errand. And then he pouted when God’s will was done rather than his own.
Regardless of the time period in which the book of Jonah is set, Assyria or the later Babylonian dynasty was the enemy-and a significant one at that. To call to repentance the inhabitants of one of the enemy’s largest cities was distasteful at best, for doing so would be to require God’s chosen people to forgive them their atrocities. Hence, Jonah’s call to bring Nineveh to repentance implied that God was the God not only of Israel but also of all people in the world. At this time when each local culture had its own god or gods and defended them fiercely, this was a challenging doctrine for even the most faithful.
Only one verse of the book of Jonah contains his prophesying (Jonah 3:4), but the teachings are in the story rather than Jonah’s writings or sayings. God is all powerful, and He is indeed the God of all peoples. His love and mercy extends over the enemies of His people as well as His chosen ones.
Prophecies of Christ
“Thou brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God” (Jonah 2:6).
Living with the Prophet
Jonah’s story is one of the best-known of the Old Testament. When he was in the belly of the fish and thought he would die, his thoughts turned to God, and he prayed. God heard his prayer, and Jonah was saved. Listen well to this part of Jonah’s story, for it testifies that you can never be so far removed from God that He cannot hear your sincere prayers. Think of a time when you have felt that God has answered your prayers, and feel again the comfort that you felt then.
The Learning Bible, the book of Jonah
Holy Bible, the book of Jonah
Oxford Companion to the Bible, s.v. “Jonah, the Book of”