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by Donald C. Fleming
In contrast to other prophetical books, the book of Jonah does not record the name of its author. The book takes its name from the chief person in the story, a prophet who at one time correctly predicted the growth of the northern kingdom Israel under Jeroboam II (see 2 Kings 14:23,2 Kings 14:25 and associated map). A further contrast to other prophetical books is that Jonah contains little of the prophet’s actual preaching. The book is mostly narrative and, again in contrast to most of the prophetical writings, is mostly in prose.
Purpose of the book
During the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 BC), the nation Israel enjoyed such prosperity that people easily developed selfish nationalistic attitudes. (For conditions of the time see background to Hosea.) Even God’s prophet Jonah was affected by this narrow-minded spirit.
No doubt Jonah was satisfied to see the fulfilment of his forecasts of Jeroboam’s victories. He would have been far more satisfied to see the downfall of Assyria, whose rising power was about the only threat that Israel saw to its own independence. Already Assyria’s capital Nineveh was threatened by an enemy from the north. Jonah was therefore surprised and angry when God told him to go and warn Nineveh of the coming attack. He was to urge the people to repent of their wickedness so that they might avoid a terrifying destruction (Jonah 3:4-5,Jonah 3:10).
Jonah’s first reaction was to refuse to go, for he would rather see Nineveh destroyed than spared such a fitting judgment. Jonah needed to learn that God was the controller of all nations, and he would have mercy on any people or nation as he wished, even on the wicked Ninevites.
As for God’s people, since they had often experienced the love and mercy of God, they should show similar love and mercy to others. God took no pleasure in destroying people, and neither should they. Rather they should, like God, desire their repentance and forgiveness (Jonah 4:11; cf. Acts 11:18; Romans 3:29; Romans 9:15).
Jonah’s disobedience and its results
A psalm of thanksgiving
The Ninevites’ repentance
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29