Jonah was a real person, an historical character who prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II; read 2 Kings 14. 23-27. His name means “dove” and his father’s name Amittai means “the truth of the Lord”. This dove-like man was the bearer of divine truth in a dark, degenerate age. He lived in Gath-hepher, in the tribe of Zebulun, near to Cana of Galilee. His sphere therefore was the Northern Kingdom., and he was a Galilean, John 7. 52.
This book has been widely attacked by a host of sceptics and “higher critics”, no doubt inspired by Satan. The book is a record of actual facts, not an allegorical fiction or a parable intended to impart religious instruction. Unbelief always stumbles at that which displays the supernatural and demonstrates the miraculous. The account is given in a straightforward way, in plain language and without any fanciful and ambiguous words. That this book is a strictly historical narrative is manifestly evident from the manner in which the existence and ministry of this prophet, together with the main facts of his history, are referred to by our Lord (see Matt. 12. 37-41; Luke n. 29-30). The Lord called the experience of Jonah a “sign” of His own resurrection. To deny this history casts doubt upon the knowledge and truthfulness of our blessed Lord, the “faithful and true witness”, Rev. 1. 5. This book is placed among the sacred writings under the direction of the Spirit of God.
When the book was written is uncertain, but Jonah exercised his prophetical office either before or very early in the reign of Jereboam II. He would thus be a contemporary of Hosea and Amos, perhaps ministering earlier than they did and therefore one of the most ancient of the prophets whose writings we possess. His book is historical rather than predictive.
This book being primarily historical, the history of a prophet, it is also biographical – the story of a prophet. The book gives only a very small part of his ministry, and is a continuation of what he had done previously, “Now the word of the Lord came”, 1. 1. The book is a simple narrative with the exception of chapter 2, which is both prayer and thanksgiving. His style is simple, vivid, graphic, and exceedingly frank in its personal disclosures. It is a plain, simple record of fact, and looks forward to the preaching of repentance to the Gentiles, and to their ingathering with believing Israel in the family of God. In fact, God turns from apostate, morally sunken Israel, such as we have learned to know it from the descriptions of the prophets. Jonah, the very messenger who had announced coming deliverance to Jeroboam, turns by divine commission to the Gentiles.
Jonah was commanded by God to go to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire, and carry God’s oral message. The city was surrounded by a wall sixty miles in circumference, fifty feet broad, one hundred feet high, fortified by fifteen hundred towers all two hundred feet high. Six hundred thousand people lived within its walls. Jonah had to travel about 500 miles over mountains, through trackless forests and across burning deserts in constant danger from wild men and animals. Why did he want to avoid delivering God’s message, and decide to journey a considerable distance in the opposite direction? He gives the answer in his prayer to God, 4. 2-3. He knew that the preservation of Nineveh meant the eventual conquest and destruction of Israel. No wonder he fled in the opposite direction. Disaster came to him, and to save the ship and crew, at his own suggestion, he was thrown into the sea. Miraculously preserved, he was later re-commissioned and carried out his instructions to the letter and thus glorified God. Have we not followed this man in many ways? Many are willing to carry out the Lord’s commission in missionary service, but smug complacency and an exclusive spirit rejoice in divine blessing but share nothing of its fulness. Study the book thus: