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Lesson: Introduction to the Book of Jonah

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Introduction to Jonah

Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, which dominated the Ancient Near East for about 300 years (900–605 B.C.). It began its rise to world power about the time of the division of the Hebrew kingdom, at the close of Solomon's reign. It gradually absorbed and destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel.

Thus, Jonah, whose name means "dove," was called by God to be a messenger. His message would prolong the life of the enemy nation that was already in the process of exterminating the northern kingdom of Israel, his own nation. No wonder he fled in the opposite direction—he was in patriotic dread of the brutal and relentless military machine that was closing in on God's people.

Jonah was a native of Gath Hepher. He lived in the reign of Jeroboam II (793–753 B.C. ) and helped recover some of Israel's lost territory ( 2 Kings 14:25 ). Thus, Jonah was a statesman as well as a prophet. His mission to Nineveh might even have been considered treasonous by some.

Assyrian Kings Who Were Involved with Israel:

• Shalmaneser III ( 858 – 824 B.C.) . Began to "cut off Israel " ( 2 Kings 17:3 – 4).

• Adad - Nirari III ( 810 – 782 ). Took tribute from Israel . Jonah’s visit.

• Tiglath-pileser III ( 745 – 727 ). Deported most of the northern part of the northern kingdom, Israel.

• Shalmaneser V ( 727 – 722 ). Besieged Samaria.

• Sargon II ( 721 – 705 ). Deported the rest of Israel (See Isaiah).

• Sennacherib (704 – 681). Invaded Judah (See Isaiah).

• Esar - Haddon (681 – 669). Very powerful.

• Ashurbanipal (668 – 626). Most powerful and brutal.

• Two weak kings followed (626 – 607) , and the giant empire fell in 605 B.C.

Is the Book Historical?

Because of the fish story, unbelieving minds rebel at accepting the book as factual. They call it fiction, or an allegory, or a parable, or a prose poem. Jesus unmistakably regarded it as historical fact (Matthew 12:39–41). It takes considerable straining to make anything else out of Jesus' language. He called it a "sign" of His own resurrection. He put the fish, the repentance of the Ninevites, His resurrection, and the Judgment Day in the same category. He surely was talking of reality when He spoke of His resurrection and the Judgment Day. Thus Jesus accepted the Jonah story, and for us that settles it. We believe that it actually occurred just as recorded; that Jonah himself, under the direction of God's Spirit, wrote the book, with no attempt to excuse his own unworthy behavior; and that the book, under the direction of God's Spirit, was placed among the sacred writings in the temple as a part of God's unfolding revelation of Himself.

The fish. The word means "great fish" or "sea monster," rather than "whale." Many "sea monsters" have been found large enough to swallow a man. However, the point of the story is that it was a miracle, a divine attestation of Jonah's mission to Nineveh. Except for some such astounding miracle, the Ninevites would have paid little attention to Jonah (Luke 11:30).

God's Purpose in Sending Jonah to Nineveh

• Mainly, it seems to have been intended by God as a hint to His own nation that He was also interested in other gentile nations. Israel was jealous of its favored relationship with God and was unwilling to share the Lord's compassion with the Gentiles.

• It may have postponed the destruction of Israel, for "violence" was one of the things the Ninevites repented of ( Jonah 3:8 ).

• Jonah's home was Gath Hepher (2 Kings 14:25), near Nazareth, the home of Jesus, of whom Jonah was a "sign."

• Jesus quoted Jonah's rescue as a prophetic picture of His own resurrection on the "third" day (Matthew 12:40).

• Joppa, where Jonah embarked to avoid preaching to another nation, was the very place God chose, 800 years later, to tell Peter to receive people from other nations (Acts 10).

So, all in all, the story of Jonah is a grand historical picture of the Messiah's resurrection and mission to all nations. (The other prophet who spoke against Nineveh was Nahum.)

(Note: The above information is from Halley’s Bible Handbook Computer CD.)

The book of Jonah is one of the books in the minor prophets. This book is unlike the other prophetic books in that it lacks specific prophecies for the time of the end. It is almost entirely the story about an incidence with God and one of His prophets.

The meaning of the name Jonah means dove. He was the son of Amittai which means ‘my truth" or the "truth of God." Jonah is the son of the "truth of God." Jonah was blunt and to the point. He was honest. We find that Jonah spoke of what was on his mind. Even with God, he told God exactly what he thought. Jonah was truthful.

Jonah’s service as a prophet is documented during the reign of Jeroboam II back in 2 Kings 14:25.

The story of Jonah shows that God can and does have compassion and mercy to those who obey Him regardless of their descent or nationality.

Nineveth was a great city. It was situated on the eastern bank of the Tigris River.The Tigris River flows south from the mountains of southeastern Turkey through Iraq. Nineveth’s ruins are across the river from the modern-day city of Mosul, in the Ninawa Governorate of Iraq.

Nineveh is described (Jonah 3:3ff; 4:11) as an "exceeding great city of three days' journey", probably in circuit. This would give a circumference of about 62 miles.

The book of Jonah depicts Nineveh as a wicked city worthy of destruction. God sent Jonah to preach, and the Ninevites fasted and repented. As a result, God spared the city.