You will find and introduction and outline here.
A prayer to use as you read:
A prayer of John Calvin:
May the Lord grant that we may engage in the heavenly contemplation of the mysteries of God’s heavenly wisdom with ever increasing devotion to God’s glory and our edification. Amen.
I. God’s first call to Jonah
A 1:1-3 Jonah’s commission and an attempt to flee: Even though Jonah is never called a prophet, the text begins with a typical prophetic phrase, “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah…”. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. Recall that Assyria was one of the empires that ruled the ancient Near East in the eight and seventh century BCE. Assyria destroyed the Northern Kingdom (Israel) in 722 BCE and forced the Southern Kingdom (Judah) to become a vassal state. (2 Kings 17:5-6;16:7-18).
Tarshish may have been in southern Spain or perhaps the southeaster coast of Turkey. Either way, Jonah runs away from Nineveh. Neither Tarshish nor Jopa were under Hebrew control. One travels to Nineveh by land and Jonah flees by sea. Also notice the language in verse 3, “He went down”. Jonah is, of course, just beginning his travel “down” both physically and spiritually.
B 1:4-16 The moral: one cannot flee from God: God is the God of all creation, not just Judah and so God causes a great storm. The sailors are afraid but Jonah is asleep. Is he not afraid or is he clueless? Notice Jonah has “gone down” to sleep. Christian readers may recall the story of Jesus asleep in the storm in Matt 8 and Luke 8. Consider how these stories are the same and how they are different. Casting lots was a standard way ancient people tried to discover the will of the gods. Notice how Jonah and the sailors are contrasted in these verses. Why would Jonah tell the sailors to throw him into the sea? Is death preferable to going to Nineveh? The sailors try hard not to have to throw Jonah into the sea but eventually they do. Notice that now the sailors are praying and sacrifice to God rather than to their gods. These heathen sailors are more pious than Jonah! Notice the use of the word “provided” in verse 17. This word will occur three more times in this short book and indicates divine action. Jonah, in one of the Bible’s most familiar stories is swallowed by a fish and stays there for three days and three nights. The number “three” is often used in miraculous events. Recall Elijah stretching himself over a child to revive him (1 Kings 17:21); Daniel’s three friends (Dan 3) and so on. Also three days signifies a significant stretch of time. For Christians these three days recall the three days Jesus spends in the tomb.
C. 2:1-11 Jonah, in the fish, prays and is saved: Why do you think it took three days before Jonah prayed to God? Jonah’s prayer, a psalm may not have been original to the text but added later but symbolically it fits well with the text. Notice it is a psalm of thanksgiving rather than lament or a prayer for salvation. “the deep” is a reference to what we might call the netherworld. Sheol was where the dead resided. God speaks to the fish, rather than to Jonah! Jonah’s decent has ended.
II. God’s second call to Jonah
A. 3:1-4 Jonah’s mission and its completion: Chapter 3 begins like chapter 1. Jonah has a second chance and he obeys. Excavations tell us that Nineveh was about three miles long and a mile and a half wide. The point of the text (three days’ walk across) is not about size as much as it is about importance and type. Nineveh was a great and wicked city, like Babylon and Rome were in later texts. Forty days is a symbolic number, recall other times “40” is used in scripture.
Does the text give us any clues about how Jonah delivered his message? Jonah only goes about 1/3 of the way into Nineveh and he fails to use the prophetic “Thus says the Lord”. As Crawford writes, “The report of Jonah’s message, which differs from the original message in 1:2, is remarkably laconic. No prophetic passion or energy seeps out of Jonah; he walks into the city and speaks his message. Jonah may now be obedient, but his is still reluctant.” (Crawford, 658)
B. 3:5-10 The repentance of Nineveh and God’s forgiveness: God’s message is received and Nineveh responds dramatically. The pagan people of Nineveh are more responsive to God than God’s messenger Jonah. Sackcloth and fasting are signs of repentance and mourning. Jonah is extraordinarily successful, everyone from the king to the animals fast and wear sackcloth. Notice here that the king follows the lead of his subjects. The king acts more like a prophet than Jonah. God listens to the people (and animals?) on Nineveh and God changes God’s mind- mercy is extended rather than justice.
C. 4:1-11 Jonah’s prayer/complaint, and the moral he learns from God: Jonah is not relieved that Nineveh listened to him and was spared. Rather Jonah is angry.How dare God spare those people from punishment! Why do you think Jonah asks to die?
God does not kill Jonah but asks “Is it right for you to be angry?” God does not give up on Jonah, just as God did not give up on Nineveh. Why do you think Jonah makes a booth and watches to “see what would become of the city”?
God gives Jonah shade and Jonah is happy. Then the next day takes it away and Jonah again asks to die. The book ends with a question from God. “…should I not be concerned about Nineveh…?
Read More About It:
Here are several good sources to aid your reading of Jonah..
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Crawford, Sidnie White, “Jonah” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
Trible, Phyllis, “Jonah” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Vol 7, Keck, Leander E. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press) 2001.
Zakovitch, Yair “Jonah” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version.Coogan, Michael D.; Brettler, Marc Z.; Perkins, Pheme; Newsom, Carol A. (2010-01-20) Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.