The book of Jonah is not easily categorized or studied. Its perceptual constructs blur the line between novel and concrete events to recreate the mental and spiritual puzzle the author endured when God supernaturally breached the borders of his freewill to orchestrate an authentic ministry. Jonah’s written contribution is enormously valuable, as it seems to present the negative side of the generalized pattern of a preacher’s test: calling; prayer/communication; ministerial evidence; and, obedience and compassion. For the most part, it is an account of what not to do. It comforts those called into ministry by illustrating how colossal God’s movements and disciplines can be—done only to an extent that confronts and corrects disobedience and evil, both within and without His preacher. The purpose of this paper is to provide an exegetical and interpretive commentary of the book of Jonah, based upon its narrative theme of a preacher’s test, for contemporary use as a practical guide for those coming into ministry.
In Hebrew, the name “Jonah” means “dove,” which implies “peace; anointing; or being sent by God,” replicated in the New Testament by the “Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting” on Jesus after His baptism (Matt 3:16). The book is prophetic, “characterized as being the word of the Lord” (Jonah 1:1) and dated between 825-782 B.C. in that II Kings 14:25 sets Jonah’s prophesy “during the reign of Jeroboam II” (824-783 B.C.). The book is the Old Testament version of Acts, with the mercy and sovereignty of the Lord, in both the orchestration and result of ministry, as the main theme. Through a series of fantastical/actual, unfortunate/fortunate events—the viewpoint of which shifts based upon spiritual perspective (i.e., man’s/God’s, natural/divine), and Jonah’s humorous eight-word sermon, God supernaturally led 120,000 souls to repentance and halted “the Assyrian captivity of Israel…some 130 years” (Jonah 3:4, 4:11). The Lord commissioned Jonah to go to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh—a great city of wickedness, “second in size only to Babylon,” in what is now “modern-day [Mosul] Iraq.” Nineveh was a threat to the northern kingdom of Israel in Jonah’s time and was characterized by idolatry and violence, “known in the ancient Near East for the brutal atrocities it inflicted on its war captives.”
The book of Jonah is “unique in that the entire prophecy is written in the third person,” yet this does not discredit Jonah’s authorship, so much as reflect the literary or stylistic device of biblically appointed exemplification and holistic inclusion; and others, such as Daniel, Isaiah, and Jesus, often did the same (Is 37:21; Dan 1:8-9; Matt 12:39-41; Heb 12:2, NKJV). In addition to this exceptionality, “Jonah was the only Old Testament prophet to attempt to run from God.” The book is masterfully designed to be the ultimate preacher’s test, in that it is a “didactic, prophetic narrative” full of ministerial lessons in perception, divine use and humility after a direct encounter from God (Jonah 1:1, 4, 17; 2; 3:1; 4:4, 9-11). Jonah is “clearly presented as a historical and not a fictional figure,” which refutes the notion that the book is a work of fiction. Although it contains parabolic features, Jonah moves beyond the status of a parable in its divine supernatural-over-natural sovereignty; literary, dichotomistic complexity; and proven socio-political historicity, such as known cities, legitimate names, and actual events (i.e., Nineveh, Tarshish, Joppa; Amittai; Assyrian hostility to Northern Kingdom). Jesus’ affirmation and validity of both Jonah’s status as a prophet and the specific content of the book (i.e., three days/nights in the belly of the sea monster) adds to its literal credibility and literary impact which aims at ramping up one’s experiential belief via the witnessing of God as He intervenes beyond the natural line to orchestrate ministerial purpose amidst circumstantial opposition (Matt 12:40-41; Luke 11:29-32). Though the book of Jonah is rooted in historical events, the literary genre is a tragedy/comedy which offers no psychological or spiritual boundary between the minister and God. The book of Jonah leaves no protective wall between natural and supernatural physicality, in that the extent of man’s free will becomes a bubble that is burst once God directly presents His omnipresent reality and His omnipotent will. In short, Jonah exemplifies there is no place, internal or external, where one can hide from God.
Jonah is “not the principal person in the book; God is.” Critical scholars “with their antisupernatural bias, have denied the authenticity” of the book, discrediting factual basis based upon the growth rate of the shade plant or the existence of a fish capable of swallowing a man. The plant “may have been a castor-bean plant (Ricinus communis) which grows rapidly in hot climates to a height of twelve feet [and] easily withers if its stalk is injured.” The King James Bible Commentary contests the nonexistence of the fish:
Other commentaries have suggested the fish was a dogfish, which has a stomach so large that once the body of a man in armor was found in it. Still others suggest that the fish was a shark, some of which grow to a weight of ten thousand pounds and to a length of thirty to forty feet, and in whose stomachs full-grown horses have been found.
The question posed here is not the existence of a colossally-sized shark, but how a horse became lost at sea so as to be swallowed by one, coupled with the odds of man finding that shark and opening its stomach. Likewise, while both the fish and plant can be naturalistically authenticated, this debate circumvents the pervading message of the book—God orchestrates circumstance. This understanding is the true analytical and perceptual challenge to the reader and an appointed messenger of God will be required to negotiate it, given one gets their orders from God Himself, not man (Exod 20:3; John 10:4-5; Gal 1:11-12; Acts 9:1-19; Rev 2:7). The book of Jonah reveals that God’s utilizes His sovereignty to influence obedience in those entering ministry, in a type of preacher’s test.
The Preacher’s Call (Chapter One)
Jonah 1:1 begins with a personally spoken [amar; to say] “word [dabar] of the Lord” to which there were no other recorded witnesses other than God and Jonah alone. Along with equating Jonah’s commission to that of other Old Testament prophets (i.e., Is 38:4; Dan 9:2; Jer 25:3), this phrase demands Jonah’s full belief in the ability to hear from God personally in order to obey and act on it. The measure of Jonah’s belief and obedience (which is inconsistent) to the voice of God sets the story along its ministerial course (which is, associatively, rocky). God lays this private, communicative relationship down as the foundation for everything to follow, therefore, the orderly pattern for Jonah’s ministry is God’s spoken word (Jonah 1:1-2; 3:1-2); Jonah’s listening (3:3); Jonah’s speaking (3:4); and, finally, Jonah’s writing (1-4). According to this framework, no matter the scope or scale of a ministry, the basis of its beginning, middle and end is God’s spoken word and the listener’s belief in and obedience to it (Jonah 1:1, 4:10-11). “Son of Amittai” means “son of my faithfulness,” and Jonah presumed himself of Godly character by being Hebrew, and stating, “I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land” (1:9). The main themes of the book include “God’s sovereign control over events on the earth” and “the full assurance that God will relent when people repent,” and, as Jonah exemplifies, these themes also apply to those appointed by God who exhibit unbelief regarding a ministerial call or who are in disobedience to God’s will.
As aforementioned, “Jonah” means “dove,” and there are several symbolic references which equate Jonah with Noah’s experience in Genesis 8: sending out a bird to find land (Jonah 1:1; raven/dove, Gen 8:6-11); the time frame of forty days (3:4; Gen 8:6); the specific mention of livestock/animals (4:11; Gen 8:1); and the notion of an ark (or fish) miraculously delivering God’s elect from sea to land in the merciful sense of second chances. In addition, Nineveh succumbed to a literal flood in 612 B.C. in its capture by the Medes and Babylonians. In 1:1-2, Jonah is initially commissioned by God to call out, or proclaim [qara], against Nineveh, reminiscent of the New Testament proclamation of the Gospel message where the act denotes “preaching by a herald sent from God” (kerusso; Phil 1:12-18). Nineveh was a “great” [gadol] city—a word used eleven times throughout the book (Jonah 1:2, 4, 12, 16, 17; 2:5; 3:2, 3, 5; 4:1, 11) as a “stylistic technique [to show a] giantesque motif” which presents the notion that both the divine method and effect of one’s ministerial call is immeasurable by any natural standard. In his lesson to the minister, Jonah portrays that no natural circumstance should be viewed as too bizarre, too large, or as merely pointless—God is providential and limitless. He will do what He wants, how and when He wants. In addition to being “an exceedingly great city of three day’s journey” or, comparatively, the “New York City of Jonah’s time,” the wickedness, or ra’ah, of the city was also great. Ra’ah, denotes “evil, disaster, or discomfort” and is used eight times throughout the book (Jonah 1:2, 7, 8; 3:8, 10; 4:1, 2, 6). In order to confront this evil, God sends Jonah—an event which begins with the term, “Arise” [qum], used commonly in the Old Testament as a commission by God “to stand, to be established, to send, to accomplish, to cause to be valid and to come forth,” with ties to the New Testament command of resurrection from death into new life [egeiro] (Matt 12:38-42).
Jonah, however, “went down [yarad] from the presence of the Lord,” a term which signifies a spiritual and literal descent from grace into such things as “battle; the threshing floor; sinking into water; or, going down to Sheol (Jonah 2:2-3).” Rather than arising to God’s call, Jonah descended spiritually and, therefore, physically traveled in the direct opposite direction of Nineveh and “boarded a ship at Joppa, bound for Tarshish, about 2,500 miles west.” Elizabeth Achtemeier states:
The author of this story is using word symbols to portray the terrible implication of Jonah’s disobedience. To flee from the Lord means death. In good storytelling fashion, that is not spelled out for us at the beginning, but is revealed gradually as the narrative proceeds. Jonah decided that he, rather than Yahweh, knew what was the best course of action, he set himself to correct God, and that is always dangerous.
The term “Tarshish” is used in Jonah 1:3 three times, perhaps symbolically signifying three long journeys at sea (Is 23:1, 14) or spiritual bouts or stages in contention with the Lord, paralleled by Nineveh’s metaphorical, or literal, size of three days’ journey or walk (mahalak; Jonah 3:3). This figurative/literal linguistic continuity utilized within the book of Jonah reveals a “supernatural-to-natural” manifestation in Jonah’s life and ministry, which progresses within the pattern of the numeral three. This notion is reinforced in chapter four by God’s three questions—the first and last of which remain unanswered (Jonah 4:4, 9, 11), and the second answered poorly (4:9b), all in accordance to Jonah’s actual ministry (1:3; 3:4; 4:1, 5, 9). The questions of chapter four and the spoken commission by God (1:1-2; 3:1-2) are disobeyed by Jonah at a rate of two-thirds. His one-third acceptance of ministry was done only at the threat of death and miraculous navigation in the form of a fish orchestrated by God. Jonah’s desire for God to punish the Ninevites he had just preached to revealed his impure motives as their spiritual leader (Jonah 3:4; 4:1, 5, 9). In addition, “went down” and “from the presence of the Lord” are phrases mentioned twice, while Jonah entered into Nineveh at a time or distance of only one day (echad; Jonah 3:4). Why did he not travel all three days? Part of the tragedy of the book of Jonah is the ministerial opportunities that seem to be missed due to Jonah’s contention with God’s methods. Branson Woodard considers the book of Jonah a biblical tragedy, similar to the fate of Samson or Saul:
[This is a book] which reveals the calamitous dimension of the downfall of a Hebrew protagonist. The recipient of a divine call to missionary service—and of chastisement for his obstinate disregard of Yahweh’s grace—Jonah is a tragic figure whose spiritual estrangement throughout the narrative intensifies his death-in-life. Jonah is being sent to the Gentile people. His other alternative is the infinitely more dangerous, unholy and unloving option of refusing Yahweh’s call altogether. For Jonah to ignore his mission is to ignore his God—a crisis indeed.
In consideration of the three questions of chapter four, and only one negative answer given, it would appear that Jonah 1:3 indicates two spiritual and physical/experiential attempts of Jonah to yarad, or descend, from the Lord’s presence, as evidenced by his heading for Joppa (where Peter’s ministry began and led to his “vision of tolerance” for the Gentiles in Acts 9:36-43; 10). This is done in the midst of his heart refusal of the three opportunities in Nineveh replaced here by the three mentions of Tarshish (opposite direction of God’s calling/questions). The last ministerial event regarding Nineveh is unrecorded, as God’s third question concludes the book (Jonah 4:10-11). Jonah gives no answer to God, and the only indications given in the text are the three mentions of Tarshish (1:3) as literary clues that Jonah likely denied any future ministry and dropped communication with God (Jonah 1:3; 4:9b, 11). The thin ray of light is his authorship of the book and Jesus’ personal endorsement (Matt 12:40).
God’s Orchestration of Circumstance
Upon Jonah’s disobedience of 1:3, the Lord intervened and orchestrated unavoidable circumstantial change. He “hurled” a great [gadol] storm against the ship with exact precision and power enough that the sailors’ efforts proved futile (Jonah 1:5, 13). “Hurled (hiphil of twl) is used of [Saul] throwing a spear [at David] in 1 Samuel 18:11 and for casting lots in Proverbs 16:33,” where David escaped Saul’s attempts to kill him twice, reflective of Jonah’s two descents from the presence of the Lord (1:3), and where, respectively, lots are plainly decided by the Lord (Prov 16:33). In another similar but briefly detailed account, the Lord “met Moses and sought to put him to death,” until Moses fully obeyed God’s commission (Exod 4:24). Likewise, Jeremiah asks the Lord, “Why is my pain perpetual and my wound incurable,” to which the Lord replies, “If you return [and give up your mistaken tone of distrust and despair], then I will give you again a settled place of quiet and safety, and you will be My minister; and if you separate the precious from the vile, you shall be My mouthpiece” (Jer 15:18-19; AMPC). In these life/death crises of division between good and evil, teachers are indeed judged more strictly according to God’s methods as krisos, or judge, with the outcome being recovery (a type of salvation/resurrection) or death (Jas 3:1). Wayne Slusser states:
Similar to Jonah, people [today] run from God. For whatever reason, it seems that the Christian’s agenda…always looks better than what God sovereignly provides. Often in a distressful and hopeless situation, Christians realize what they brought upon themselves is a break in fellowship with God. The real perplexity [of Jonah] is that all the while he was trying to run from God, the ultimate conclusion is that he found himself banished from God’s presence.
In addition to physical duress, cargo and finances (in the form of fare) were lost over the course of God’s discipline (Jonah 1:3, 5).
Jonah’s predicament may be reflected against Matthew 8:23-34, in that both accounts involve a boat or ship and a great storm which was life-threatening (Jonah 1:4-5; Matt 8:23-25) and also have the main character asleep in the hold (Jonah 1:5; Matt 8:24). In Jonah’s account, the captain woke him up, ordering him to “arise” [qum], and in the New Testament account, Jesus was awakened to “save us” [sozo] creating a reinforcing parallel between the Lord’s resurrection and salvation. In Matthew 12:40, Jesus states, “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” In addition, in both accounts of departing “to the other side of the sea,” the messengers arrive at the exact predestined location upon a shore, casting out evil or demons (Jonah 2:10, 3:1; Matt 8:18-34). The difference is that Jesus’ reaction to the storm (God’s predestined and active will) was calming and, due to obedience, void of the further dejection, descent, and trauma unique to Jonah’s experience of being thrown into the sea by his fellow shipmates and swallowed by the great fish (Jonah 1:15, 17).
In Jonah 1:8, the sailors demand to know on whose account the calamity [ra’ah] has struck them. They inquire about Jonah’s occupation (I know your record of works…) and country of origin (I know where you live…) in a line of interrogation that is echoed in Revelation where Christ addresses those who are able to “hear, listen to and heed what the Spirit says,” which applies to Jonah (Rev 2:11, 13; 3:8, 15; AMPC). Obedience to the spoken word of God is crucial, from the individual (Jonah 1:1-2; 3:1-2; 4:10-11) to the church as a whole (Jonah 3:4-5, 10), as Revelation 2:11 states, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” The speaker must first hear, then be willing to be a mouthpiece so the Spirit can speak to the churches/masses—through him. Jonah is a literary and personal example of the methods God uses to make His preacher. The account of Jonah 1:4-16 has many parallels to Acts 27-28 such as: the external threat of death via a great wind, or act of God (Jonah 1:4; Acts 27:14); loss of cargo (Jonah 1:5; Acts 27:18); the salvation of the sailors (Jonah 1:16; Acts 27:44); and the internal threat of death via man (Jonah 1:15; Acts 27:42). Both accounts detail journeys with the symbolic “three day” time frame (Jonah 1:17, 3:3; Acts 27:19, 28:7, 12, 17).
Ra’ah is translated as trouble, disaster, or calamity (NASB), but essentially means evil, or the opposite of living and goodness. Calamity is a term which describes baptism [bapto], in this case, moving beyond a symbolic water baptism to that orchestrated by the Spirit of God via natural disaster and other perceptually expanding events. Considering Jonah’s descent from the presence of the Lord, ra’ah was visited upon him by necessity until he relented and submitted to God’s will. It is probable that Jonah was plagued with doubt as the miserable subsurface to his blatant acts of disobedience. In Acts 27:23-25, Paul alone hears from an “angel of the God to whom I belong,” yet he publically attests, “I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told” (Acts 27:25). Paul exhibited the utmost confidence in God’s ability to communicate to him (even via angels), and in his God-given ability to hear from God correctly, by wielding the authority to preach God’s spoken word to other people. This skill, required of God’s preacher, also requires much faith in God. This Old/New Testament comparison of preachers leaves readers with Jonah’s eight-word sermon set beside Paul’s lifetime of proclamation—and that passed on to generations (Phil 1).
The Preacher’s Prayer (Chapter Two)
Paul is a minister who hears from God and is so sure of this trait that he is willing to be a public mouthpiece for God, regardless of circumstances or personal or spiritual acceptance or rejection (Phil 1:27-30). However, Paul first had his road to Damascus encounter and the Lord spoke to him, similar to the command to Jonah: Arise, and go into the city… (Jonah 1:2, 3:2; Acts 9:1-9). Three days of not seeing (similar to Jonah in a dark fish’s belly, Jonah 1:17) was followed by immediate preaching or ministry, effective and sustained by God as evidenced by Paul’s escape from death, in a type of God’s reversal of ra’ah (Jonah 3:4, 5, 10; Acts 9:20-25). Jonah 2 details his conversion into new or resurrected life and acceptance of ministry in a prayer similar to the general pattern of many Psalms, or more specifically to Psalm 107:23-32, where he calls upon the Lord in distress (Jonah 2:1; Ps 107:26), is overwhelmed by billows to the point of death (Jonah 2:3-5; Ps 107:27), leans upon the Lord alone for salvation (Jonah 2:6-7; Ps 107:29), and finishes in praise and thanksgiving with a vow to God in the effective leadership, or ministry, of others (Jonah 2:7-9; Ps 107:31-32). This conversion to obedience begins with holy communication, where God answered Jonah and heard Jonah’s voice (2:2)—a quality which God is sadly denied in return (Jonah 4:4, 10-11).
In his prayer of baptism, Jonah recounts the things he had witnessed regarding God’s power of natural orchestration (Jonah 2:3-6), which resembled a life-threatening form of bapto, or “submerging; dipping under; sinking or immersion in water; or to be overwhelmed with calamity.”  Jonah describes being cast into the deep, first by man, then by God (Jonah 1:15, 17; 2:3). He was engulfed, surrounded or encompassed [aphaph], twice by the waters and the flood to the point of “turning around” [sabab]. This term is inclusio in the text, bracketing Jonah’s turning away from sin (darkness in the belly of the fish/Sheol) and looking (with the heart) toward God’s Holy temple (Jonah 2:4), which may equate Jonah’s double-baptism experience (water/man; Spirit/fish) to two of God’s calls to ministry (Jonah 1:1-2; 3:1-2). Jonah is in the heart of the seas with billows passing over him to the point of death (Jonah 2:3-5). This form of God’s baptism was done to cleanse and purify Jonah, so that he could be reborn [gennao], as the “belly” [meeh] of the fish may be translated “womb” (Jonah 2:4, 6-10; 3:1-5; John 3:5; Acts 1:5). He resurfaced as a speaker for the Spirit of God to use (Jonah 3:4).
This traumatizing physical experience included a mental or perceptual element to overcome, described as “weeds…wrapped around my head,” in that a naturally elective descent from God (Jonah 1:3, 5) results in an exponential descent to the depth of Sheol which Jonah could not have foreseen (Jonah 2:2). Here Jonah is brought so low, he encounters the “roots of the mountains” and is surrounded by the “earth with its bars around me forever” (Jonah 2:5). Jonah is describing, what is at least a type of, hell. Similarly, in Matthew 12:40, Jesus places Jonah in the belly of the sea monster and the Son of Man in the heart of the earth. “Weeds” [suph] logically refer to seaweed, which might have been wrapped around Jonah’s entire body, but the phraseology strictly limits it to his head, which reveals Jonah’s psychological challenge in dealing with matters of life, death, and God’s impending decision regarding his case, and the term also infers the “reeds of the Red Sea,” a story Jonah may have been considering.
The weeds wrapped around Jonah’s head, and his associative psychological duress, resemble the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head during His crucifixion, as well His mental anguish prior to it (John 19:1-7; Matt 26:36-46). In Jonah’s mind, as he was awaiting God’s decision to save or take his life, he was deciding if he would minister for God and lead the Ninevites should God part his version of the “Red Sea.” Was Jonah waiting on God’s decision for three days and nights, or was God waiting on Jonah’s decision (Heb 12:11)? Though Jonah was psychologically, physically and spiritually a “bruised reed,” in a state of Kingdom of God inversion (descending to the roots of the mountains; Jonah 2:6), the Lord pardoned him from the “earth with its bars,” saving Jonah’s life by speaking [amar] and, therefore, causing the fish to vomit Jonah “up again,” or qo, onto dry land, making him free indeed (Is 42:3; Matt 12:20; John 8:36). In this occurrence, similar to Peter’s “walking on water” faith upon which the Lord builds His church, Jonah rises up in spirit, soul, heart and mind, at least enough to effectively preach eight words (Jonah 2:6-9, 3:4; Matt 14:22-23, 16:18).
Vow to Ministry
Jonah’s vow to the Lord (I will sacrifice to You) is vocal (with the voice of thanksgiving and a gift to preach), in answer to the Lord bringing his life “up from the pit” (Jonah 2:6-9). This transition includes a ministerial element built into the resurrection in that Jonah considers the spiritual state of the Ninevites (those who regard vain idols and forsake their faithfulness) in repentance of his own, and vows “I will pay,” in confession of his former error, owing his salvation to the Lord (Jonah 2:8-9). Jonah is “thrust into the harvest,” similar to the prayer of Matthew 9:38, when the Lord commands the fish to vomit Jonah up onto the dry land. Jonah has been catapulted into ministry to the traumatic extent which would: solidify his faith that he indeed heard from God; make him bold enough to speak to any human being or group no matter how hostile; and be respectful enough of God’s authority as owner and master of his life.
The Preacher’s Evidence (Chapter Three)
Along with Jonah’s resurrection, as “Salvation is from the Lord,” he is asked to “pay” his vow and keep his word uttered in private prayer as he is recommissioned a second time via God’s spoken word to “Arise” and “go” (Jonah 2:9; 3:1). As the fish was appointed, or manah, and commanded by God via His spoken word, so is Jonah, as God repeats His command (Jonah 1:1-2, 17; 2:10; 3:1-2). With the term, manah, the book of Jonah, “shows [the Lord’s] sovereignty over the creatures of the sea; in 4:6 it shows his power over plants; in 4:7…over crawling creatures; and in 4:8 it shows his power over the wind.” In Jonah 3:1-2, God humorously grants Jonah a second opportunity to perform as well as water, plants, creatures and the wind. The Lord did not change the place of Jonah’s ministry, but the preaching intensifies from a generalized “cry” [qara] to “proclaim [qara] the proclamations which I am going to tell you” (3:2). This entails a more exacting prescription of faith, which requires that Jonah believe that he can hear from God, not only in general terms, but in a very detailed manner—word for word.
The book of Jonah opens with the mysterious and distant, prophet-commissioning phrase, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah” (1:1), but it ends with the Lord speaking directly to Jonah in a very communicative manner (4:9-11), as in a dialog between close friends:
Then God said to Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.” Then the Lord said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”
Jonah 2:2 describes numerous communicative terms: and he said, “I called out of my distress to the Lord, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice.” Clearly the communication between God and Jonah becomes more distinct throughout the four chapters, in the development of God’s hearing, obedient, and speaking minister. The term “said” [amar] is used sixteen times in the NASB, initially in argumentative dialog between Jonah and the captain or crew during Jonah’s disobedience and natural crises (Jonah 1:6-12, 14). During Jonah’s time in the fish’s belly, the communication is between Jonah and God strictly, as it typically is when a believer is in serious trial (Jonah 2:2, 4). Upon Jonah’s resurrection, there are two main instances of the spoken word: Jonah’s mini-sermon, and the king’s proclamation to the people (Jonah 3:4, 7). The book finishes out with a detailed conversation between Jonah and God (Jonah 4:2, 4, 9-10).
In 3:3, Jonah obeys the spoken word of God [dabar] exactly, arising [qum] according to God’s recommission. Jonah cried out on the first day’s walk through the city, which is scaled to be three days’ walk (3:4). His eight-word sermon, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown,” is humorous in that the effect of “120,000 persons” and their animals are spared from destruction (4:11) based upon the supernatural working of God to move their hearts to repentance. Jonah barely needed to show up, in a sense, but yet, God required him to. In a course of irony, one wonders if the enormity and rarity of this outlandish string of events was done for the sake of Jonah’s conversion of faith or the Ninevites’. As the king of Nineveh exclaims, “Who knows…” (3:9). In essence, it was for both. God’s intensity permeated through Jonah’s spiritual maturity in that moment in an event which seemed to reflect God’s concentrated power upon the masses like light being beamed across the room through a very small projector.
An underlying question the evidence presented in chapter three seems to answer is: Jonah, do you hear from Me or not? Chapter three gives an account of what Jonah witnessed of God moving on the earth through his obedience to utter eight simple words (Jonah 3:4). Then the people of Nineveh believed in God, called a fast, and put on sackcloth—all of them (Jonah 3:5). This word of the Lord reached the Ninevite king who immediately rose from his throne, laid aside his robe, put on sackcloth and sat in ashes along with the people (Jonah 3:6). He then issued a proclamation to save the city from the destruction of the Lord, ordering a fast of food and water; beasts to be covered in sackcloth (!); and for men to “call on God earnestly” and to turn from wickedness and violence (Jonah 3:6-8). Humor is evident in the brevity of Jonah’s sermon, coupled with its outlandish effectiveness, making Jonah’s self-proclaimed righteousness from being Hebrew (1:9), though disobeying a direct word from the Lord (1:1-3), pale in comparison to the repentant evidence of the heathen to an indirect word from the Lord (3:5-9). In addition, one muses how the Ninevites could come up with such a vast amount of sackcloth (stored in a warehouse?) enough to cover even the beasts, which also kept the fast (Jonah 3:7-8). Regardless, the verdict, based on the overwhelming evidence of response, was that Jonah could indeed hear from God and preach very effectively.
On the tragic side of this comedy, Jonah was personally educated in God’s recompense (anger; ra’ah), and the people were concerned to turn from God’s anger (3:9), yet, it is not recorded that Jonah uttered a word beyond the aforementioned eight. If Jonah did not explain God’s wrath, yet the people respo