About the Book of Jonah
This book records what happened to a man called Jonah. Jonah lived in Gath Hepher, a town in Israel. Israel is east of the Mediterranean Sea. It is the home of God’s special people, the Jews.
We also read about Jonah in one other part of the Old Testament. This is in 2 Kings 14:25. The king was Jeroboam the Second. He ruled in the 8th century BC. A country near Israel, called Syria, had taken some of Israel’s land by war. We read that Jonah spoke God’s words to the Jews. He said that the people in Israel would win back this land by war from Syria. And that is what had happened. So people knew Jonah as a prophet. But Jonah’s book is not about the words that Jonah spoke. It records something that happened in his life.
We do not know when the writer wrote the book. It may have been about 750 BC. Jonah may have written the book. Or another prophet may have written it. Usually these prophets of God spoke only to the Jews in Israel and Judah.
1 The LORD spoke to Jonah, Amittai’s son. 2 He
said ‘Go to the large, important city called Nineveh. Tell the people in the
city that they do wrong things. I have seen what the cruel people there are
doing. Lots of really bad things happen there.’
Nineveh was a city north east of Israel. Nineveh was in the
country that today people call Iraq. The people in Nineveh were very powerful.
They were happy about this. They thought that they were very important. At one
time, Nineveh was the most powerful place in all the countries in the East. It
became a capital city.
The countries near Nineveh joined into one group. They were
powerful and they ruled together.
But the people in Nineveh and in this group did very wrong
things. The people did cruel things to each other. They had many troubles. It
was a dangerous place to live.
In the 8th century BC, this group of people had fought the Jews who lived in the north of Israel. They had become the rulers of the north part of Israel. They had made the people in north Israel leave their country. So Jonah thought about the people in the group as the enemy.
This book’s writer may not have written down all the words that God spoke to Jonah. God may have said that it would be bad news for the people in Nineveh. Jonah knew that God had thoughts to punish them.
3 But Jonah ran away from the LORD. He went towards Tarshish. He went down to Joppa. There he found a ship that was ready to sail to that port. After he had paid for the journey, he got into the ship. He sailed to Tarshish to run away from the LORD.
Jonah went in a different direction from Nineveh.
Joppa was a small town near the Mediterranean Sea. People kept
boats and ships there. Tarshish was also a place near the Mediterranean Sea. It
was south west of Israel. We do not know quite where it was. Maybe it was near
Spain. Or it was somewhere where there were not many people. Sometimes a writer
uses the word Tarshish to mean any place far away. A person would have to go
there by ship. It was certainly not in the direction of Nineveh!
4 Then the LORD sent a strong wind on the sea. There was a powerful storm. The storm almost broke the ship into pieces. 5 All
the sailors were afraid. Each of them shouted in a loud voice to his own god.
They threw the things that the ship carried into the sea. They made the ship’s
weight as light as they could. But Jonah had gone below deck. He lay down and he
slept. He slept in a way that it would be difficult for anyone to wake him up.
6 The ship’s captain went to Jonah. He said, ‘You should
not be sleeping! Get up and speak in a loud voice to your god! Maybe he will
listen to us and we will not die.’ 7 Then the sailors said to each other, ‘We will throw dice to find out who has caused this trouble.’ They threw dice. And they found out that Jonah had caused the storm.
8 So they asked Jonah, ‘Who has caused all this trouble
for us? What is your job? Where do you come from? What country do you live in?
Where were you born?’
9 Jonah explained. He said, ‘I am a Jew. I worship the LORD, the God of heaven. He made the sea and the land.’ 10 This made the sailors really afraid. They asked Jonah, ‘What have you done?’ They knew that he was running from the LORD. He had already told them that.
People believed that there were gods for each person, gods for
each family and gods for each country. The country’s god was the most important
god. So they wanted to know who Jonah was. They wanted to know which country he
Jonah said that he worshipped God. The word for God was the word that the Jews use for their own God.
11 The water in the sea was moving up and down. It was so
high now that water sometimes came into the ship. So the sailors asked Jonah, ‘What
should we do to you? The water is coming into the ship. How can we stop that?’ 12
Jonah replied, ‘Lift me up and throw me into the sea. The sea will not move up
and down any longer. It will become flat again. I have done something wrong. So
you are in a storm.’
13 But the men did not throw Jonah into the sea. They rowed and they tried to return to the land. But they could not do that. Still the water in the sea moved up and down. It was even higher than before.
14 Then the men spoke in a loud voice to the LORD. They said, ‘This man has done nothing wrong. But we will have to kill this man. But LORD, please do not let us die because of this. Do not say that we have done something wrong. LORD, you have sent this storm for your own reasons.’
When the sailors spoke in a loud voice to the LORD, they used the name that Jonah used for God.
15 Then the sailors took Jonah and they threw him over
the side of the ship. The water in the sea did not continue to move up and
down. It became flat. 16 When they saw this, the men were afraid of the LORD. They respected him and they offered a sacrifice to him. And they promised God that they would do certain things. This was a serious promise.
17 But the LORD had made a very large fish or sea animal. The fish caught Jonah in its mouth. God had chosen the fish to take the whole body of Jonah. Jonah went down immediately from the mouth into the fish’s stomach. Jonah was inside the fish’s stomach for three days and three nights.Chapter 2
1 From inside the fish, Jonah prayed to the LORD his God.
2 He said,
‘I was really afraid.
So I spoke to the LORD about my trouble.
And he answered me.
From the deep hole, I shouted for help.
And you listened when I cried.
3 You threw me into the deep water.
I fell into the middle of the sea.
The water moved all round me.
It carried me along.
The high water came down over me.
The white water covered my head.
4 I said,
“You have sent me away so that you can no longer see
But I will look again towards the place where I can worship you.”
5 The water all round me made me afraid.
The deep water caused me to think that my life was in
Plants in the sea covered very near round my head.
6 I went far down in the water.
I went down to the ground.
I could not go any deeper.
I did not know how I would ever come up again.
But you brought me up from the deep hole.
You are my LORD, my God.
7 While I was dying, I remembered you, LORD.
I prayed. And you heard me in the place where I can worship you.
8 Some people want to keep things that have
They worship them.
So they do not receive God’s love that could be for
9 But I will give sacrifices to you.
I will sing and I will thank you.
I will do what I have promised to do.
The LORD has saved me.’
Jonah went down far under the water. He was nearly dead. He felt like someone who was going into a deep hole. That is how he described it. This may mean a place far from God. Or it is the place that Jews call Sheol, the place of dead people.
God had saved him from the water so Jonah thanked him. These words may have been his own words. But they are also like some songs that are in the Old Testament. So Jonah may have known a song like this and he may have used it.
The words that Jonah spoke showed that his mind was working
well. So he was not very sick.
10 And the LORD spoke to the fish. The fish caused Jonah to leave its stomach and to come back out of its mouth. Jonah landed on to the dry ground.Chapter 3
1 God spoke to Jonah for the second time. 2 He
said, ‘Go to the large, important city called Nineveh. Tell all the people
there the message that I will give to you.’ 3 Jonah obeyed the LORD and he went to Nineveh.
Nineveh was a very large city. A person would need three days to
travel all through it.
4 Jonah started to travel into the city. When he had
travelled for a day, he shouted out to the people. He said, ‘40 more days and
God will destroy Nineveh.’
Jonah may have said the 8 words that we read here. Or he may
have said more than that.
5 The people who lived in Nineveh believed God. They were ashamed about how they had lived. So they told everyone that they must not eat anything for several days. All the people put sackcloth on. The most important people and the least important people did that.
6 When the king of Nineveh heard about this, he got up from his throne. He took off his king’s clothes. He covered himself with sackcloth and he sat down on the dirty ground.
The king’s land would be much larger than a city. The writer
uses the words ‘king of Nineveh’ here because the book is about Nineveh. It is
not about all the powerful countries that he ruled as a group.
7 Then the king spoke to all the people in Nineveh. He
said, ‘I and the important people who work for me have made a rule. No man or
animal or any group of animals must taste anything. They must not eat or drink.
8 Men and women must cover themselves with sackcloth. They must cover all the animals with sackcloth, too. Everyone must shout in a loud voice to God. They must do this immediately. Everyone must do good things, not bad things. They must not fight other people. They must not be cruel people any longer. 9 Nobody knows what will happen. Even now, God may change his mind. He
may not be angry any longer. He may be kind to us and so we may not die.’
In the past, God had destroyed some towns called Sodom and Gomorrah.
The people in those towns had done cruel things. But God had not spoken to the
people there first. He destroyed the towns immediately.
10 God saw what the people in Nineveh did. He saw that
they did good things now. They no longer did wrong things. So he was kind to
them. He did not destroy their city as he had said.Chapter 4
1 But Jonah did not like that. He was certainly not
happy. He became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD. He said, ‘LORD, I spoke to you about this when I was at home. So I went quickly to Tarshish. I knew that you are a kind God. I knew that you understand people. You help them. You are full of love and you do not become angry easily. You are a God who thinks about causing bad things to happen to people. But then you decide not to do it. 3 Now, LORD, kill me. It is better for me to die than to live.’
4 But the LORD replied, ‘You have no reason to be angry.’
5 Jonah went outside and he sat down at a place to the
east of the city. There he made a small hut for himself. He sat under it so
that the sun would not burn him. He waited. He wanted to see what would happen
to the city.
Maybe Jonah made the hut with some branches and leaves. It would
cover him for a short time.
6 But God made a plant. The LORD God caused it to grow up over Jonah so that the sun would not burn Jonah’s head. He made it so that Jonah would feel good. Jonah was very happy about the plant.
The plant grew as big as a tree and it had big leaves. Maybe
it grew to 10 feet (3 metres) high. God caused this to happen. This was not a
usual plant! The plant was better than the hut.
7 But God had also made a worm. At dawn on the next day the worm ate some of the plant. So then the plant died. 8 When the sun
rose, God caused the wind to blow from the east. The wind was very hot. The sun
made Jonah’s head very hot. He became weak and ill. He wanted to die. He said, ‘It
would be better for me to die than to live.’
9 But God said to Jonah, ‘Should you be angry about the
‘I should’, he said. ‘I feel so angry that I want to die.’ 10 But the LORD said, ‘You like this plant. It is important to you. But you did not plant it or cause it to grow. It grew up quickly during the night and it died before dawn. 11 But Nineveh has more than 120 000 people. They cannot
understand the difference between right ways and wrong ways. Also, they have
many cows. That large city is important to me.’
The book finishes very quickly. Jonah could not think what to
say to God after that.
This book is about Jonah but it is also a book about God. It is more about God than about Jonah. It shows us who God is. It tells us what he does. He made the world and he rules over it. So we read about the storm, the fish, the plant and the worm. God starts life and he can finish it. God does not want people to do wrong things but he shows love. So we read how God saved Jonah and also the sailors and Nineveh.
This true story shows that it is impossible for someone to run
away from God. God knows everything. He is everywhere.
God never makes mistakes. He is powerful. He can do whatever
he likes. But he is always the same as a person. He does not change but he
knows about all future events. He is angry when people do wrong things. But,
after that, they may be really sorry. If they are, God is no longer angry. He
shows his love.
The most important idea in this book is that God shows his love to everyone, not only to the Jews. Then Jesus came to earth. Now, God shows that he loves people from every country. ‘You have no reason to be angry’ is an important group of words in the book. We ought to be happy that God shows love to everyone. We must believe that God wants to be kind to everyone. He wants to be kind even to those who have done very wrong things.
- before Christ came to earth.
- it seems that dice are small things like coins.
People used these to decide what to do. Usually, each one had a dark colour on
one side. The other side had another colour. People threw two (or more) dice into
the air. The dice would fall to the ground. If both dice had a dark colour on
top, the answer was ‘no’. If both dice showed the other colour, the answer was ‘yes’.
If there was one dark colour and one other colour, the person threw the dice again.
- the place where God lives and rules.
- God’s special people.
- the south part of Israel when Israel became two
- the special name that God used for himself when he talked to the Jews.
- Old Testament
- the first part of the Bible. It is about
events during the time before Christ came to earth.
- a person who speaks on behalf of God. He tells
people what God is thinking. Some prophets tell people about future events.
- to cause trouble for someone because he or she
has done bad things. It is to teach someone not to do wrong things again.
- this is when someone wants to make a person
happy. So he or she wants to do the right things. It is because that person is
important to him or her. That person is special, for example, a father. Or that
person has authority, for example, a king.
- to put long pieces of wood into the water again and
again to move a boat or a ship.
- sackcloth is a material. It is dark in colour. It is not comfortable to wear. People make it from goats’ hair. Jews would wear sackcloth when they were sad or ashamed.
- something that people give to God. Sometimes a
person gave it to thank God. Sometimes a person was sorry about what he or she
had done. Often a sacrifice was an animal. Someone killed it and then that
person burnt it.
- the place where people go when they die.
- a chair that a king or queen sits on to show that
they rule a country.
- a long thin animal that lives in the ground, under
the dirt. It is small like an insect. It does not have any bones.
- to give thanks to God and to show him that we love him very much. To respect him more than anyone else.
Hugh Martin ~ The Prophet of Jonah - His Character and Mission to
Nineveh ~ Banner of Truth Trust
I. L. Jensen’s ~ Survey of the Old Testament ~ Moody Press
Elizabeth Achtemeier ~ New International Biblical Commentary -
Minor Prophets I ~ Hendrickson
Douglas Stuart ~ Word Biblical Commentary, Hosea-Jonah ~ Word
James Limburg ~ Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching
and Preaching, Hosea-Micah ~ John Knox Press
© Wycliffe Associates (UK), 1997-2012
This version published February 2012
The translated Bible text has been through Advanced Checking.