In the weeks to come I will be doing a personal study of Jonah which I will be sharing with you. I invite your input on anything I might say in this study as I may often be reflecting upon possible meanings and interpretations as I see them or as I find in other sources. I will welcome any comments or questions any readers may have. We will now begin our study of the reluctant prophet Jonah.
The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me."
Jonah 1:1-2 (NIV)
Jonah is considered one of the "minor prophets" of the Bible and yet his story is a major story that is often told. As children almost all of us heard the story of Jonah swallowed by the whale. Indeed, if we were to be asked who was Jonah, our answer would often be something relating to the guy in the Bible that was swallowed by a whale and then came out after three days and that would be about it. But who was Jonah and why was he swallowed by a whale?
We first hear about Jonah in the second book of Kings:
He (King Jeroboam II) was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Sea of the Arabah, in accordance with the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher.
2 Kings 14:25 (NIV)
In this verse as in the first verse of the Book of Jonah, we are introduced to Jonah. The name Jonah is Hebrew for dove. The dove is a frequent symbol in the Bible. Jesus gives his disciples instructions that would be similarly applicable to the prophets who were preaching God's Word in Old Testament times.
I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
Matthew 10:16 (NIV)
We are also told that Jonah is the son of Amittai, which in Hebrew means "truth". So we see in the introduction that Jonah, the dove, is the son of Amittai, the truth, which in turn is a fitting description for one who is preaching God's word. This opening verse not only establishes Jonah's role as a prophet through lineage by the symbolic names, but also by the fact that God has spoken to Jonah through two specific examples in the Bible. We establish from the start that Jonah is a prophet of God.
"Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me."
Jonah 1:2 (NIV)
Nineveh was one of the major cities of the world in Jonah's time. It was the capital of the Assyrians. the conquerors and oppressors of Israel. It was a city whose people were against the True God of Israel and Creation. The citizens of Nineveh worshipped idols and led lives of abomination and sinfulness. They did not seem to be the type of people who would be receptive to Jonah's message from God. A prophet's job was a thankless one that might result in persecution or even death. Jonah was probably not too excited about going to Nineveh to give the people the message from God. In fact, he was probably scared.
In the weeks to come we will look at Jonah's story. There are several references to the story of Jonah in the New Testament. We will also look at the significance of what those verses have to say.
Jesus answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
Matthew 12:39 (NIV)
Have you heard God calling you to do something? Where would your Ninevah be? Working with the poor? The homeless? Prison ministry? Outreach to gang members or substance abusers? The mission field in another country?