Introduction to Jonah
Author and Date
Jonah prophesied during the peaceful and prosperous time of Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:23–28), who ruled in Israel (the northern kingdom) from 782 to 753 b.c. This was a time when Assyria was not a threat to Israel.
The Lord called Jonah to go to the great Assyrian city of Nineveh to pronounce judgment on it. Jonah attempted to escape the Lord’s calling by sailing from the seaport of Joppa to Tarshish, which was probably on the shores of the western Mediterranean. Eventually he obeyed the Lord and traveled overland to Nineveh.
The primary theme in Jonah is that God’s compassion is boundless, not limited just to “us” (Jonah and the Israelites) but also available for “them” (the pagan sailors and the Ninevites).
- God is in sovereign control over all events on the earth.
- God is determined to get his message to the nations.
- People need to repent from sin in general, and from self-centeredness and hypocrisy in particular.
- God promises that he will forgive when people repent.
The story of Jonah includes seven episodes, with the first three paralleled by the second three. The final episode stands alone as the climax of the story:
- A. Jonah’s commissioning and flight (1:1–3)
- B. Jonah and the pagan sailors (1:4–16)
- C. Jonah’s grateful prayer (1:17–2:10)
- A'. Jonah’s recommissioning and compliance (3:1–3a)
- B'. Jonah and the pagan Ninevites (3:3b–10)
- C'. Jonah’s angry prayer (4:1–4)
- D. Jonah’s lesson about compassion (4:5–11)
The Setting of Jonah
c. 760 b.c.
Jonah prophesied during the prosperous time of King Jeroboam II of Israel (2 Kings 14:23–28). During this time the Assyrians were occupied with matters elsewhere in the empire, allowing Jeroboam II to capture much of Syria for Israel. The Lord called Jonah to go to the great Assyrian city of Nineveh to pronounce judgment upon it. Jonah attempted to escape the Lord’s calling by sailing to Tarshish, which was probably in the western Mediterranean. Eventually he obeyed the Lord and went to Nineveh, at the heart of the Assyrian Empire.