Jonah is an interesting book. While it's probably the most well known, it's not likely the most contemplated of the Old Testament prophets. Most people know the story because of the great fish. They've either rejected the narrative on account that they simply won't accept that God is a God of miracles, or they love the story because of the fish. But Johan is not a story about a fish. It's a story about a prophet of God and a great number of people who do not know God. Jonah is a story about a complex man who struggles with his service to God, especially as it relates to his enemies. At times Jonah is angry and in rebellion. At other times he praises the God of his salvation. He struggles to serve God who desires to save Israel's enemies. Jonah, it seems, has forgotten that all the world will be blessed through God's people. (Genesis 12:1-3).
Take a few moments and read the four chapters of the Book of Jonah. Here are some points to consider.
1. Many people argue whether Jonah was a real guy. They see this as a fictional narrative. Maybe it's the story of the fish or maybe it's due to the literary quality. In any case, we do find biblical evidence to believe that Jonah was a real guy and this was a real account. We see that Jonah was serving as God's mouthpiece in the land of Israel (2 Kings 14:25). Unlike the other prophets in the Bible, we don't have those sermons recorded. The only sermon we have was preached in Nineveh. Jonah said, "yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" We also find that Jesus treated the story and the sign of Jonah has a real thing. (See Matthew 12, Matthew 16, and Luke 11). In fairness, some argue that Jesus could be arguing the point of a parable like we might say a person is a prodigal son. However, I don't agree with this argument given the context in which Jesus uses the sign of Jonah.
2. There is a remarkable literary quality found within the book of Jonah. Look how word "arise" is used throughout the narrative. (Sometimes it's only translated as go, but notice the "get up and take action" feel. Even as the sailors yell at Jonah, we are reminded of Jonah's initial call.). Look at the places were God "appointed" a storm and a fish. Look at the word "great." A great city, a great storm, a great fish, but God is greater than these great things. How about "to provide"? That proves interesting too. Or notice how Jonah "went down" into the belly of the boat before being carried back to his mission in the belly of a great fish. This is a rich book with a tremendous literary quality.
3. Also amazing is the complexity of Jonah. He is filled with a range of emotions. He flees. He's angry. He's thankful God saved him from drowning. Jonah says he'll be faithful in chapter 2 only to be reluctant and a grumbler in chapter 3. Then he's downright angry in chapter 4. He is a complex man.
4. And finally, notice how this book brings the reader in. It's a story that demands the audience respond. The twists and turns shock us. Jonah is called to go to Nineveh and he gets up and runs. The city repents after a call that doesn't even include the word 'repent' or God. It's simply a fact that the city will be destroyed and the people respond in amazing ways. And then Jonah is angry at God. When the book leaves us hanging on a question, it is really a question for the reader. At the time, that reader may have seen Nineveh as his or her mortal enemy. Today, we probably ought to think about this question in that context. When Jesus says "love your enemy" we should think about who that person is. Then we should realize that God cares about this enemy and may call us to be his agent to take a message of salvation to said enemy.
Jonah can be read in no time and should be read a few times. It's rich and has a transformative quality it we take it to heart. I highly encourage you read and enjoy the book of Jonah.