Introduction to Jonah
Jonah is undoubtedly the most familiar of the minor prophets, because of the famous story of Jonah and the whale. Also because of this story involving such a unique miracle, Jonah is the object of more skepticism than any prophet except Daniel. Nevertheless the book has been fully accepted as canonical and historical by both Jews and Christians until modern times.
Jonah (his name means “Dove”) was a prophet of Israel, rather early in the line of writing prophets. His home was in Gath-sepher, in Galilee, in the land of Zebulun, and he was identified as a real prophet in Israel, evidently during the reign of Jeroboam II (note II Kings 14:23,25). There is thus no warrant for considering him as merely a fictional character in a legendary tale, as many modern scholars have assumed.
The conclusive evidence of Jonah’s historicity, of course, is that he was so identified by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Matthew 12:40), who, like Jonah, was a prophet from Galilee. Even more significantly, Christ accepted the reality of Jonah’s miraculous experience in the great fish, even making it a prophetic type of His own coming death and resurrection. Finally, He accepted the almost equally amazing miracle of the repentance of Nineveh under Jonah’s preaching (Matthew 12:41; Luke 11:29-30,32).
In connection with the latter, it should be emphasized that Nineveh was the great capital of Assyria, the empire that would later invade Israel and carry its people off into captivity. The Assyrians had the reputation of being the most cruel and licentious people of any of the great nations of antiquity, so such a national repentance under the preaching of an Israelite prophet was a most amazing phenomenon. Yet its authenticity is confirmed not only by Jonah, but by Christ Himself!
This national conversion lasted only about a generation or so, for Assyria and Nineveh later once again incurred God’s wrath for their wickedness, and the prophet Nahum eventually pronounced their coming destruction (Nahum 3:1,7).
It is striking to note that, with most of the pre-exilic prophets ministering in Israel and Judah, this divinely directed ministry of Jonah was to a great heathen nation. Although Israel was God’s chosen nation, He has never abandoned His concern for all nations, even a nation like Assyria.