The book of Jonah tells the story of the prophet Jonah who refused to obey the commandment of God to call Nineveh to repentance. He did not want Nineveh to repent; instead he desired to see the city destroyed by the hand of God because of her wickedness since the Assyrians were the primary threat to the nation of Israel. Consequently, when God told Jonah to prophesy against Nineveh, he fled to Tarshish.
The Lord sent a storm threatening the lives of those on the ship with Jonah. They threw their cargo overboard but still were not safe. In desperation, they cast lots to see for what reason God sent the storm. The lot fell to Jonah. He confessed his sin, telling the sailors that he had “fled from the presence of the Lord” (1:10). The valiant sailors desperately tried to navigate their ship to land. When this failed, the sailors followed Jonah’s advice and threw him overboard. The Lord then sent a great calm.
The Lord prepared a huge fish which swallowed Jonah. For three days and nights, he was in the fish’s belly. There he repented and prayed to the Lord. The fish vomited Jonah out on dry ground. The Lord gave his charge to Jonah a second time: “Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I asked you” (3:2). This time, Jonah went and preached to Nineveh.
The city heard the message of Jonah. The sign of the Lord in saving Jonah from death in the fish’s belly served to convince the Ninevites of the truthfulness of his message. They repented of their sins and God did not destroy the city.
Jonah was unhappy. He wanted the Ninevites destroyed. The pouting prophet went to a hill nearby Nineveh and sat to watch the Lord destroy the city. As he sat in the hot sun, the Lord sent a gourd to shade him. The next day the Lord smote the gourd that it withered and died. Jonah was angry that his shade, the gourd, had died. God asked him why he could show sorrow for the loss of a gourd but would expect God to allow 120,000 children who could not distinguish their right hand from their left hand to perish.
What valuable lessons were learned from Jonah? Jonah tried to escape his responsibility before God by running from his presence. He left his hometown, but he could not leave God’s presence. God’s all-seeing eye followed Jonah as he boarded the ship and fled to Tarshish. Like Jonah, many men today are trying to escape their responsibilities to God. Thy could go to the ends of the universe and yet they will not escape the presence of the Almighty. They will be no more successful than was the prophet Jonah. God will still hold men accountable to Him regardless of how far they may run from his presence. Are you running from God today?
The book of Jonah emphasizes God’s control over nature as well. The Lord sent the storm to the sea (1:4). When the men threw Jonah overboard, the Lord sent the calm (1: 15). To save Jonah from death, the Lord prepared and sent a great fish to swallow the prophet (1:17). The Lord later commanded the fish to vomit the prophet out on dry ground (2:10). The book of Jonah emphasizes that “God in heaven, has made the sea and the dry land.” The sea obeyed God. The great fish obeyed God. All of nature obeys God. Will you?
The book of Jonah vividly demonstrates the meaning of repentance. The Lord told Jonah, “Arise, go to Nineveh” (1:2). In his rebellion against God, Jonah fled to Tarshish; he should have gone northeastward but he fled northwestward. When Jonah repented, the Lord again commanded, “Arise, go to Nineveh” (3:2). Penitent Jonah went to Nineveh. The change in the will of the prophet produced a change in his conduct. What will it take God to do to you to cause you to repent?
The conduct of the Gentile Ninevites also demonstrates the meaning of repentance. When Jonah preached in the city of Nineveh saying, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (3:4), the people of Nineveh “believed in God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them” (3:5). What a contrast between this Gentile city which repented when one prophet preached to them and the Israelites, God’s chosen people, who refused to repent when prophet after prophet was sent to them! Their contrition before God, outwardly displayed by their wearing of sackcloth, demonstrated their sorrow for sin and resolution to turn from it. This was true repentance in both Jonah and Nineveh. Will you turn your sins and obey the same gospel preached unto all the world (Mk 16:16)?
In contrast to Jonah, God loved the Ninevites and was just as concerned for their welfare as he was for the Israelites. He saw that there were 120,000 innocent infants and young children who would die should judgment fall on the city of Nineveh. He loved them and cared for them. Consequently, he sent the prophet to warn them of God’s judgment and call them to repentance.
Jonah’s begrudging that God would forgive the Gentiles may very well be an Old Testament answer to the Jews who begrudged the gospel going to the Gentiles, to demonstrate that the nature of God had always been the same in his love for all of mankind. Through the apostle Paul, God revealed his desire for Gentiles to be grafted into the covenant, despite Jewish opposition thereto (Rom. 9).
The Lord Jesus confirmed the historicity of this book by using Jonah’s three days and nights in the belly of the fish as a type of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. “Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeka after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:38-41).
He also used the incident of the miraculous sign of Jonah to the people of Nineveh as a type of the miraculous sign he would give to the world to confirm his message. Compare the sign of Jonah and the sign of Jesus. Jonah: Life given to save sailors. Jesus” Life given to save sinners. Jonah: Cast to certain death in the great fish. Jesus: Died a certain death on the cross. Jonah: Buried in fish’s belly 3 days and nights. Jesus: Buried in the belly of the earth 3 days and nights. Jonah: “Raised” to life. Jesus Raised from the dead. Jonah: Incident a sign to confirm his message. Jesus: Incident a sign to confirm his gospel. Jonah: Mission to save the Gentiles. Jesus: Mission to save both the Jews and Gentiles. When one studies these parallels, he can readily see that Jonah was a type of the Christ. The God who sent his Son to die on Calvary prefigured his death by the events recorded in Jonah.