by Al Maxey

Issue #255 ------- July 7, 2006
Prejudice is the child of ignorance.
William Hazlitt (1778-1830)

The Prophecy of Jonah
Background & Critical Analysis

The name Jonah (Hebrew: Yonah) means "dove." He was the son of Amittai, of the tribe of Zebulun (Joshua 19:13), and from the village of Gath-hepher, which is in the region of Galilee. It was believed by some of the Jewish rabbinate that Jonah is to be identified with the dead son of a widow from Zarephath who was raised to life by Elijah (1 Kings 17), however there is no basis at all for such an assumption. In 2 Kings 14:25 Jonah is mentioned as being a prophet of God during the reign of King Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C.). 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 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" (Dr. 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. 2 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" (1 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 3 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 A.D. they dedicated a church to him --- (compare this action with what Peter sought to do in Luke 9:33).

Date & Occasion of Jonah

From 2 Kings 14:25 we know that Jonah lived during the time of Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C.). 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 B.C. --- perhaps around 758 B.C. Notice the following:

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 very same people. However, they failed to repent (as they had with Jonah), and thus were destroyed in 612 B.C.

Interpretations of Jonah

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).

Miracles of Jonah

The fact that there are obvious miracles recorded within 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" (Dr. Jack P. Lewis). The various miracles that are 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" (Dr. 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

Major Messages of Jonah

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; 2 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:

Reflections on CD
Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

by Al Maxey
Order Your Copy Today
Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in Ghana, West Africa:

Bro. Al, Thank you for your continued articles sent to me. I have received so many articles from you which is most important and soul uplifting to me. They always enlighten me about the Scriptures. All your articles are good, but today's about the thorn in the flesh is most extra special to me. I have been sick continuously for getting to a year now, but I used this text, including Philp. 1:21; 3:1-8; 4:10-13. These texts prove to us about Paul's passion to leave here and to go and stay with Christ. Every Christian needs to contemplate it always. Thank you. This article has fortified my faith. May God richly bless you and endow you with all the necessary knowledge and wisdom to write more articles to uplift our Christian virtue.

From a Reader in Australia:

Bro. Al, Your article "A Thorn in the Flesh" was another classic gem of wisdom, to which I can relate and with which I agree with the conclusions drawn. I can relate because when I was in my early teens I suffered with stammering whenever I was called to speak in public. It came to a head one Sunday morning when I was to pray in the morning worship and I couldn't because of the stammer. Well, I never did anything in a public forum for God for the next twenty plus years until I was attending another church and was again asked to "give thanks for the bread." Well, I agreed in faith that the Lord would give me strength for the task and that He would be glorified. He was faithful and did give me the strength. Now, some thirty plus years later, I still receive strength for the task of speaking in public. I now feel that my "thorn in the flesh" is a strength rather than a weakness, because the Lord anoints me to do the task on each and every occasion. I still need to rely upon Him. The "thorn" certainly stops one from relying on their own strength, and stops one from becoming "puffed up." May God bless you, brother, for your in-depth knowledge and faithful studies. You are a faithful servant, and if anyone is an encourager, it is you! Thank you!

From a Missionary in Fiji:

Dear Bro. Al, I've been a reader of your Reflections for about two years. Thanks for the insights and thoughts. We've been missionaries here in Fiji for the past 14 years, and planted this present congregation in 1997. We began with our family of five and a young convert. Starting as a house church (and continuing as a house church) we have grown from 6 to 60, and it has been a great experience returning to the Scriptures and making application instead of transplanting an American church here in Fiji. May God continue to bless your ministry!

From a Minister in California:

Al, Hope you had a great vacation in the "Show Me" state. It's good to have you back on the firing line. Enjoyed the "Thorn in the Flesh" article. Your thorough research is a blessing. I recommended your Reflections to a preacher, counselor, and friend in Michigan. He was not familiar with you, but is very interested in your ministry. He has served for many years as a full-time counselor on the staff of the -------- Church of Christ. Hopefully you'll hear from him soon. He is planning on retiring to New Mexico next year.

From a Reader in Indiana:

Dear Al, Thank you so much for writing about the "Thorn in the Flesh." Life is daily filled with sufferings that are so real to ourselves and others. It's good to be reminded about Paul and the Paradise awaiting us that is so amazing it can't even be spoken of, and the grace that exists for us now. I have read in Victor Frankel's writings that you can endure any kind of suffering if you see meaning in it. The thought of coming to Satan's attention is frightening. Yet I know we are to have faith during those times. Your writings build faith, and cause me to think and reason. I really look forward each week to your insights.

From a Minister in Oregon:

I was so saddened to read about what the Memphis School of Preaching did to your reader from Nevada! Is that the love we are taught by Jesus? I'd like you to know that I am doing better now, and am even considering finding the "right" place to minister again: be that a new church plant, or a campus ministry, or an existing church. I will be a bit pickier than I had been before, however, because I don't want to leave this area only to be hurt again. But, wherever God calls me I'll go, as I don't want to be a Jonah. It has been six months since leaving that church in Washington, and we have healed a lot. I just wanted the readers to know. I forget which issue of your Reflections it was mentioned in, but I know that some may be wondering how we are doing. I still enjoy your Reflections, and read them right when you send them.

From an Elder in Missouri:

Al, First off, welcome back home, and welcome back to my Inbox! Your study of Paul's "thorn" was right on target. I find it amazing how easily we get so lost in "arguments" about what the thorn was, and lose sight of the true meaning and focus of humility and service to God. It is God's strength and power that should be lifted up and praised, instead of our humble gifts that He allows us to use for a short while. One thing I definitely appreciate about your articles, and especially about the tone of them, is your humility. I noted your comment in the remarks section at the bottom of your last Reflections: that you made sure that it was understood your advice to the hurting congregation was not given as being from some kind of personal "authority," or whatever word might be chosen. Rather, you, as a humble servant of the Lord, were called upon to aid these brethren, and you followed through in your normal style with compassion and studied suggestions. One more thing -- a topic I'm not sure you have covered in your Reflections [I will have to look at the CD's and on your web page] is that of modesty. This seems to be a hot topic around here at present.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Bro. Al, First of all, I enjoy your Reflections and have gained much insight from your studies. I preach at a rural Church of Christ in Tennessee. Currently, I am writing a Bible study workbook on the Holy Spirit that we are using in our Wednesday night class. So far, I have completed 5 chapters, and I'm getting ready to deal with the indwelling and empowering of the Holy Spirit that you discuss in Reflections #204. I pretty much agree with your interpretation on the Holy Spirit's indwelling and empowering. In our study I have stressed that Peter said that when we repent and are baptized, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, which I believe is the Holy Spirit Himself, as you stated. Of course, the difficult question is how does this gift affect our everyday lives? I have repeatedly told the class that if the Holy Spirit doesn't do something for us and empower us in some fashion, then it's not a gift. Since Peter said it is a gift, then the Holy Spirit must empower us as the Bible says, and we, as Christians, must accept this by faith. Can we prove it objectively? No. But neither can we prove objectively that we are forgiven of our sins.

From a New Reader in New Jersey:

Al, Please put me on your list for the weekly Reflections postings. Thank you. What I saw on your web site looked interesting and informative. Looking at the original meanings for the Greek and Hebrew gives much more understanding of our Bibles and helps us to separate the Truth from the vain philosophies of men.

From a Ministry Leader in California:

Bro. Al, Paul's struggle with his own "thorn in the flesh" has given great comfort and help to those of us who are struggling to overcome, and those who have overcome through Christ Jesus, the sin of addiction and it's attendant spiritual and physical consequences. Those of us who have experienced the grace of God in this respect realize that we are damaged physically in that we no longer have the privilege of drinking alcoholic beverages. Also, we need to use extreme caution when using certain prescription drugs. Paul's struggle with his issue greatly comforts us (recovering addicts and alcoholics) because we see that it is indeed possible to glorify God through a physical weakness. Whenever I am personally in a situation in which alcohol is being served, and I realize that I cannot participate, I, once again, devote myself to God. Whenever I choose not to drink, it is a personal act of worship to the One who delivered me from the misery of addiction. Those of us who are recovering from this sin feel a special kinship with our dear brother Paul and his struggles to glorify God through weakness. When we admit our inability to save ourselves and turn to a loving God for help, He is glorified, and His grace proves sufficient for us. Drugs and alcohol have no place in our lives because Christ's love fills us up, and God's Holy Spirit gives us more joy and peace than any pharmaceutical solution ever could. I have heard from some in recovery that they feel that Paul's thorn may have even been alcoholism! While I personally do not see that the Scriptures give us any evidence of this, you can see how strongly we feel a kinship with Paul in his sufferings and his successful attempts to glorify God through them. Needless to say, the apostle Paul is something of a hero to us in the recovery community.

If you would like to be removed from or added to this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may all
be purchased on CD. Check the ARCHIVES for
details and past issues of these weekly Reflections: