by Al Maxey


The name Jonah (Hebrew: Yonah) means "dove." He was the son of Amittai, of the tribe of Zebulun (Joshua 19:13), and from the city of Gath-hepher which is in the region of Galilee. It is believed by some of the Jewish Rabbins that Jonah is to be identified with the dead son of a widow from Zarephath who was raised to life by Elijah (I Kings 17), however there is no basis at all for such an assumption. In II Kings 14:25 Jonah is mentioned as being a prophet of God during the reign of King Jeroboam II (793-753 BC). Jonah foretold of the wide extent of this king's conquests and the expansion of Israel's territory under his leadership.

As a result of the above very popular prophecy, which was fulfilled in a relatively short time, "Jonah must have enjoyed great popular respect as a true prophet .... this may explain his reluctance to accept a less popular commission .... and cause him to lose substantial face" (New Layman's Bible Commentary).

Technically, the book of Jonah is anonymous, however Jewish tradition holds that the author is Jonah himself. In more recent years it has come to be believed that "the book is about Jonah rather than by him." "It is chiefly a book about a prophet instead of being a collection of oracles of the prophet. Only eight words are needed to report Jonah's preaching -- Jonah 3:4" (Jack P. Lewis).

Jonah is the only "minor prophet" ever to be mentioned by Jesus Christ. He is also the only OT figure that Jesus Himself likens unto Himself (Matthew 12:39-41; 16:4; Luke 11:29-32). Although some contend this book is a fable and that Jonah never actually lived, the biblical evidence is to the contrary. II Kings 14:25 speaks of him as an actual historical figure. So does Jesus Christ. Josephus (an early Jewish historian) also regarded him as historical rather than fictional (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 9, Chapter 10, Sections 1-2). Also, when Paul wrote that Jesus "was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (I Corinthians 15:4), he may well have been alluding, at least in part, to Jonah's experience.

The intertestamental writers (The Apocrypha) also regarded Jonah as an actual historical figure. He is listed among "The Twelve Prophets" in Sirach 49:10. Tobit 14:4 refers to "God's word which was spoken by Jonah against Nineveh" (although the Codex Sinaiticus reads "Nahum" at this location rather than "Jonah"). In III Maccabees 6:8 the deliverance of Jonah is one in a series of God's great acts of mercy of the past that forms a part of the prayer of Eleazar.

The Greeks have long expressed their deep veneration for the prophet Jonah. In the 6th century AD they dedicated a church to him --- (compare this action with what Peter sought to do in Luke 9:33).


From II Kings 14:25 we know that Jonah lived during the time of Jeroboam II (793-753 BC). He was sent to Nineveh --- the capital city of Assyria --- to deliver a warning from God that unless they repented they would be destroyed. There are several historical clues which seem to point to a date for this prophecy somewhere in the late 750's BC --- perhaps around 758 BC:

Through the preaching of Jonah, and the repentance of the people of Nineveh, the city was spared at this time. However, history tells us their repentance was fairly short-lived. Soon they had fallen back into their sinful way of life. The prophet Nahum was then sent to these same people. However, they failed to repent (as they had with Jonah), and thus were destroyed in 612 BC.


Perhaps the greatest difficulty connected with this book is the matter of determining the method of interpretation. Until the 18th and 19th centuries, Jonah was regarded almost exclusively as historical fact. However, in the 20th century many other theories have been put forth as to how this book should best be interpreted. The following are the major theories of interpretation proposed:

The fact that this account should be regarded as historical, however, does not mean there are no parabolic or allegorical or spiritual lessons to be derived from it. "This does not rule out the presence of typical lessons illustrated by the historical incidents" (The Ryrie Study Bible).


The fact that there are obvious miracles recorded in this book has caused some --- who doubt or deny the miraculous power of God --- to label this work as fiction. There are several miracles recorded here, but "so much has been made of the 'fish story' that one is tempted to forget all else about the book of Jonah" (Jack P. Lewis). The various miracles recorded in the book of Jonah are:

Dag Gadol is the Hebrew phrase which literally means "great fish." The Jews had no special word for "whale" (the word used in the KJV). Since the word dag may refer to a fish of any species, including the whale (which technically is not a fish at all), "it is reasonable to adhere to the traditional interpretation at this point, since no true fish --- as opposed to a marine mammal --- is known to possess a stomach as capacious as a whale's" (Gleason L. Archer, Jr.).

"The ability or inability to accept a miracle
depends on whether or not one spells
his God with a capital 'G'"

--- Homer Hailey


The overall message of the book is basically twofold:

  1. God's love and concern is for all people, and anyone who is willing to repent and turn to God can find salvation (Acts 26:19-20; II Peter 3:9).

  2. God is a universal God. There is but ONE God, and He alone is to be the God of all people. Jonah preached to a monotheistic people, but the god they worshipped was Nebo. He warned them they must repent and turn to Jehovah, and worship and serve Him only.

Some of the other great lessons of the book of Jonah are: