By Dr. Lawrence Butler, The Bridge Church, Pembroke.
Editor’s note: This is from a series of lessons on the Book of Jonah presented by Dr. Lawrence Butler.
Who was Jonah?
The story of Jonah has been ridiculed by some scholars as mythical and is considered little more than legend. To many it is inconceivable that a fish could swallow a man, and then that he would survive and be capable of travelling such a great distance to preach.
However, the man Jonah was vouched for by was none other than Jesus Christ himself. Jesus characterized his death and entombment as being similar to Jonah’s experience in the fish’s belly.
In addition, Jesus rebuked the people of his day for failing to repent at his preaching when the men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah. “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” (Matt. 12:41).
We do not know who the author of the book of Jonah is, but Jonah either wrote it himself or he related his story to another. The Jews considered him to be a real historical character.
Notable prophet –
Jonah was so well known that Jesus referred to him without explanation.
To make this point, consider II Kings 14:25: “He restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain, according to the word of the Lord God of Israel, which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, which was of Gathhepher.”
Jonah may have been afraid – The Ninevites were somewhat similar to some of our enemies today who are so vicious. Would they even listen to him, or just quickly destroy him in some horrible fashion?
He believed in the exclusivity of the Hebrews –
By that I mean that he thought God only cared about and loved the Hebrews. He probably felt, and most likely his countrymen did also, that God hated everyone except the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Now God calls him to go preach to the Assyrians, the staunch enemy of Israel. They were known as cruel warriors.
They would cut off the heads of people they defeated in battle and pile up their skulls. They would filet the bodies of their victims, including men, women and children.
Jonah would probably have had some joy in delivering the message from God, but he was skeptical that the Lord would actually destroy Nineveh. He voiced this complaint at the end of the story.
Jonah felt no joy in the mercy God showed toward these repentant people even though it was God’s mercy that spared him.