By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Men in the Old Testament

  • The name Jonah means “dove.” Some people think this is a reference to Israel.
  • Jonah is identified both in his book and in 2 Kings 14:25 as the son of Amittai.
  • He was a northern prophet from Gath-Hepher, in the area of Galilee.
  • His ministry took place in the first half of the eighth century when Jeroboam II was king.
  • In all likelihood, Jonah was not the author of the book that bears his name.
  • When told to prophesy against Nineveh, Jonah went in the opposite direction.
  • Scholars think Tarshish refers to Tartessus in Spain.
  • Clearly, his intent was to get as far away from the Promised Land as possible (and hence away from God).
  • At this point, the reader does not know why Jonah was disobedient, only that he did not share God’s concern for Nineveh – for good or evil.
  • When Jonah got on the ship, he immediately went below deck and fell asleep (no guilty conscience here?).
  • Sudden storms were common on the Mediterranean, but generally not during the sailing season.
  • By asking Jonah to pray to his God, the captain hoped the additional prayer might help or, perhaps if a god had been forgotten and was displeased (hence the storm), the god would be placated and the storm would abate.
  • When their prayers had no effect, the sailors concluded that someone on board must be the cause of their trouble and they decided to cast lots.
  • Jonah did not step forward until the lot fell upon him, but then he confessed his sin.
  • By identifying Yahweh as God of heaven and the sea, he indicated God was Lord over any other gods (including all the pagan ones they had been praying to for help).
  • Because the storm was an obvious manifestation of God’s anger, the sailors believed his words.
  • They asked what they could to do calm the sea.
  • Jonah came up with the idea of throwing him overboard. He trusted that the sea would calm as soon as he was off the ship. (He knew he had brought peril to the innocent sailors and only he could avert it for them.)
  • For the first time, Jonah was showing some accountability for his actions.
  • The sailors, however, thought this was too radical, and tried to head for shore.
  • They could not get to shore because the storm was too severe; they cried out to the Lord for forgiveness in advance of killing an “innocent” man. (Jonah had not been found guilty by any court.)
  • Because the sea did calm after the sailors threw Jonah overboard, they realized God really was Lord over everything, and they offered sacrifices to Him.
  • God protected Jonah’s life by having a great fish swallow him up. (If it had been just a matter of saving Jonah’s life, God could have sent a piece of driftwood. The great fish probably represented Leviathan, the mythological sea monster. In this moment, Jonah would have known that God was not only Lord of the sea but also Lord of the sea monster. God was simply in control of all these events.)
  • While in the belly of the fish, Jonah sang a psalm of thanksgiving (for being saved from drowning).
  • The psalm included a petition for deliverance (to look again toward your holy temple).
  • Finally, he promised to sacrifice and to make good on his vow (though he neglected to say exactly what that vow was).
  • With this, God commanded the fish to spew Jonah upon dry land because God is merciful to those who cry out for salvation – sailors and disobedient prophets, alike. (Note the contrast between Jonah who rejected God’s command and the fish that obeyed immediately).
  • The Lord spoke to Jonah a second time, commanding him to go to Nineveh and speak the message he would be told to speak.
  • The inner wall of Nineveh was probably 7-8 miles around.
  • It is not clear why it would have taken three days to walk through it.
  • In Hebrew, Jonah’s entire prophecy was only five words. The English translation: Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed.
  • It is not known why the Ninevites immediately believed him and began to repent.
  • There is no indication that Jonah tried to seek an audience with the king; nonetheless, the king issued an official decree.
  • Jonah was very angry when God had compassion on them and did not bring the destruction Jonah had prophesied.
  • At this point, Jonah said that’s why he had refused to go the first time, because he knew God was a God of compassion and that he would change his mind.
  • Jonah asked to die. (Perhaps since Jonah felt the word of God no longer made any sense to him [God has compassion on enemies], he had no further purpose in life. The words echo Elijah’s request to die after Jezebel threatened to take his life. Some see an implied request from Jonah asking God to do for him as He had done for Elijah – to show him a deeper meaning to life. [Probably a bit of a stretch]).
  • God asked Jonah, “Are you right to be angry?”
  • Jonah made a shelter east of the city where he waited (scholars think he was hoping God would change His mind again and cause the city to be destroyed. He wanted a good view. If we want to give him the benefit of the doubt, we might think he went there to wait for more information from God about the way He deals with mankind).
  • Most people think the plant was a form of the castor oil plant.
  • The temperature in that area during the hot season could easily reach 100 degrees.
  • The scorching east wind the following day could raise the temperature another 15-20 degrees.
  • Without options for escaping the heat (except for returning to the city of Nineveh), Jonah asked to die again.
  • God asked, “Are you right to be angry about the vine?” This time Jonah immediately replied, “Yes.”
  • But if Jonah could be that concerned about a single plant (that only lasted one day and which he had no part in producing), how could he not understand God’s concern for 120,000 people?
  • Chosen as a prophet to speak on God’s behalf, Jonah thought he knew everything about God’s nature. Yet, he had never given much thought to God’s concern for life outside of Israel.
  • The story ends abruptly, unfinished. We do not know how Jonah answered.
  • There is no further information regarding the life or death of Jonah.


Achtemeier, Elizabeth. "Minor Prophets I." New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996.

Craigie, Peter. "Twelve Prophets." Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1984.

Gaebelein, Frank. "Jonah." Expositor's Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1985.

Mills, Watson and Richard Wilson. Mercer Commentary on the Bible. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1995.

Stuart, Douglas. "Hosea-Jonah." Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1987.

Wolff, Hans Walter. Obadiah and Jonah. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House. Trans. by Margaret Kohl, 1986.

Bible Characters