AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF JONAH
The Book of Jonah is unique among the prophets in that, instead of containing a group of oracles or visions, it relates an extended episode in the life of the prophet. From 2Kgs.14v25 we learn that Jonah was from Gath-hepher, a town in Galilee, and that he prophesied during the time of Jeroboam II, which means that his book is probably to be dated in the first half of the eighth century B.C.
The story line is simple. God called Jonah to go to the great city of Nineveh and denounce her wickedness, but he fled by boat in the opposite direction, because he feared that the success of his preaching would cause God to show mercy. He was thrown overboard to save those on his ship from a fierce storm, and God arranged for him to be swallowed by a large fish. After three days, the fish spit him out on dry land, and God again called Jonah to preach against Nineveh. This time he went.
His message that Nineveh would be overthrown in 40 days was as powerful as it was brief. The entire city repented, and God cancelled his judgment against them. Jonah became angry because of this; he went out of the city to see what would happen to it. God caused a plant to grow up to shade Jonah, and then He caused it to die. Jonah was again angry, because he needed the shade, but God used the incident to teach him a lesson about forgiveness and mercy. God pointed out that Jonah was more concerned about a plant than he was about a city with more than 120,000 infant inhabitants.
The Book of Jonah occupies an important position in the Old Testament canon, because it so clearly shows that, although God had a special relationship with Israel, He did not abandon his compassion for other nations. In Jonah's experience with the fish, Jesus saw a sign pointing to His own burial, and He used Nineveh's repentance to chide His unrepentant contemporaries (Matt.12v39-41).
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