Jonah -Synopsis

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me." But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.


The book is given the title of Jonah (Yonah, יונח) being the principal character of this autobiographical account of this prophet.

The big idea of the book of Jonah

Mercy triumphs over judgment.

For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:10-13 (NKJV)

Note that although Jesus used Jonah as a figure or type of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, it was Jonah being a sign to others that Jesus spoke much of, in that his preaching to the Ninevites led them to repent and come into God's blessing, after Jonah himself is raised up.

Where this book fits in to the Bible

Jonah is in the Old Testament and is considered a minor prophet.

Authority of the book

Much rubbish has been written about the book of Jonah by evil and self seeking people. The Devil will, where he can, destroy the confidence of the weak by undermining their belief in the authenticity of Scripture. However, these arguments can easily be destroyed, the latter being a much stronger argument than the former:

  1. The Jews incorporated the book into the Canon and never disputed it: the Holy Spirit kept the Canon intact, even after evil men crept in and attempted to corrupt it. 

  2. Jesus uses the life of Jonah to illustrate his messages in Matthew 12:39, Matthew 16:4, and Luke 11:29. Nothing stronger than this need be offered – Jesus did not quote fable,s but Scripture to illustrate his points. 

Who wrote the book

The book is autobiographical in character and there is no need to dispute this. Most agree it was written by Jonah, the son of Amittai, who is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25, but there is no indication in Scripture of this.

Why was it written

Too many people focus on the fish and only one prophecy mentioned although it is numbered with the Minor Prophets: "Yet in forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown". However, this small book contains a number of miracles, and foreshadows the history of the Jews and is a type (or allegory) which Jesus applies to himself. This book was written for three purposes.

  1. To show Jews the grace God has for gentiles, showing His inherit patience and the truth he indeed wants all men to be saved[1], therefore does not destroy any without giving them a chance to be saved. Nineveh (built by Nimrod, hence had a history of disinterest in God), a desperately wicked and cruel city without morals or limits, was saved due to their repentance (Jonah 3:10) for about 150 years. After this they returned to their formal evil ways due and rejected of the Lord God Most High. However, even here, God sent prophets (Nahum and Zephaniah (2:13-15)) to forewarned them of the utter and everlasting destruction. They did not repent a second time and the city was destroyed. 

  2. Jonah gives the principles of God’s governance: His Sovereignty, His judgements and His grace and mercy. One cannot escape God, He is sovereign, hence the book begins with the command "Arise, go to Nineveh". Like Jonah, men and women spend most of their waking hours attempting to refute God’s command – the most common method being to refuse his presence. But even the heathen crew on the boat were not stupid enough to dismiss the Lord, i.e. Yahweh (Jonah 1:9,10). God’s governance extends beyond his chosen people – he has a love for the gentiles which none can subvert, not even Jonah.  However, the Holy God must exercise judgement on sin – Nineveh, like all un-believers will be destroyed in due time unless they repent. The salvation of Nineveh was due to God’s mercy, as Jonah plaintively points out to God in Chapter 4 verse 2. 

  3. The book describes Jonah as two types: The type of Jesus Christ, especially his death and resurrection, which Jesus alludes to in the gospels, and the type of the Jewish nation. Indeed it is ironic that the book of Jonah is read on the Day of Atonement. Jonah like the nation of Israel was to bear witness to the gentiles but due her pride of being elect of God has refused to do so. Eventually she will cry out and be saved from the darkness she is in and she will go to the gentiles as evidence by John’s account of the Revelation, chapter seven. Jesus gives the real reason why Jonah is read on the Day of Atonement, but the blind Jews still do not understand. 

When was it written

Jonah lived in the time of Jeroboam II (793-753[2]), king of Israel (2 Kings 14) which places the time of the events, and if Jonah was the author, the time it was written. In general it must have been written between 8th to the 3rd centuries BC, since the 12 Minor Prophets were in existence at this time.

Where was it written

There are no scriptural indicators of where it was written or who the author was.

To whom was the book written

The Jewish nature of the book suggests it was written for the Jews, however, given its allusion to the character of God it is written to all people.

Of what or whom it speaks[3]

It primarily speaks of Jonah and a small portion of his life when he attempted to thwart God’s command to speak to the Ninevites. It is a book of contrasts consisting of the unexpectedly large: the enormity of the task for Jonah, the magnitude of the repentance (Nineveh including the king repented), the size of the fish; the contrast between the Ninevites and Jonah who was foolishness enough to believe he could run from God along his stupid and ridiculous behaviour once Nineveh had repented. The latter suggested he believed only Jews had the right to be saved. Other contrasts including the storm and the calm after Jonah is tossed into the sea, the terrified men on the boat in the storm and Jonah asleep, the actions of the crew of the boat compared with Jonah, especially in regard to their attitude towards Yahweh.

Essentially the book speaks of grace – grace towards Jonah, the Jews and the Gentiles. The episode taught Jonah compassion.

Divisions of the book


By Chapter – of which there are four.

  1. Jonah is commissioned, he disobeys and suffers the consequences 
  2. Jonah pleads with God from the bowels of the fish in prayer and is delivered. 
  3. Jonah is re-commissioned, he obeys and Nineveh repents. 
  4. Jonah is foolish to believe only Jews should have salvation, and is corrected by God. 

By episode – of which there are eight

  1. Overarching episode: Jonah learns what grace really is 4:5-11
  2. Jonah is thankful 1:17 – 2:10
  3. Jonah is angry 4:1-4
  4. Jonah deals with the pagan sailors 1:4-16
  5. Jonah deals with the pagan Ninevites 3:3-10
  6. Jonah is told by God to go and he disobeys 1:1-3
  7. Jonah is told by God to and he obeys 3:1-3
Principal or Key Verses

Chapter 1 verse 17: use by Jesus as an illustration of death and resurrection – see table below.

Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Chapter 1 verse 9: do you fear the Lord God Most High?

And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.

Chapters 4
Verses 48
Words 1321 (1320)
Book 32 nd
Tanakh 5 th division of the 13 th book (Minor Prophets)

Note that KJV renders Jonah’s name as Jonas in the New Testament.

Main ideas

Overall the book is historical in content but also a prophecy.

God is sovereign: it is not your ancestry that choses your salvation: it is God through your repentance and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Pharisees were most disturbed when Jesus reiterated this truth.

For the Christian Jonah shows the futility of disobeying God. God raised up Jonah for a particular job, and running from him was fraught with difficulty – one cannot subvert God’s sovereignty with impunity.

God will judge those that disobey. Nineveh was to be destroyed – their stench of their evilness had reached God and disturbed him but they were given the opportunity to repent. In later years the city was utterly destroyed after the next generation (some 150 years later) forgot God and returned to their wicked evil ways. God deals with the wickedness of individual such as Jonah and also deals with populations such as Nineveh. However, God is not quick to destroy people, giving every opportunity for repentance. Unlike Sodom and Gomorra, this city repented, for a while at least, from the king downward.

God shows mercy to both Nineveh and also Jonah, and in the latter case, twice although he was pitiless, proud and arrogant but chosen of God to do a good work. The book also demonstrates that God’s grace and mercy is not limited to the children of Israel, but has been extended to the gentile, something neither Jonah nor the Jews as a whole have grasped even today. Nineveh was one of the first, but through Jesus Christ, all can be saved.  Here we see although righteousness is demanded, mercy is first prescribed.  Jonah wanted to see righteousness but not mercy, hence one element of the episode was Jonah being taught compassion.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. John 3:17 (KJV)

The episode demonstrates God communicating with man, and in this case, an individual. There is a tendency in this modern age to forget that God does want to deal with man as an individual. Even in the ridiculous situation Jonah had put himself, God chose to educate him with a simple lesson and then he spoke to Jonah to ensure he understood the message. The book unfortunately does not elaborate whether Jonah learnt the lesson.

Jonah’s main issue was he could not understand that God had grace for people other than Jews. As a prophet he would have seen the grace of God poured out upon his own people – Jonah was to see that this could also happen to the gentiles. This also pointed to the fact that Israel itself existed because of the grace of God – this Jonah had to learn.

Jonah appeared to have a problem with proclaiming a prophecy that Nineveh would fall unless they turned from their wicked ways based on their response to the prophecy. Prophets liked to see God act immediately, giving authenticity to their position and authority, extended from God. Pride perhaps had the greatest effect upon Jonah’s heart at this stage. God does not act, so is Jonah still a prophet? Indeed he was because a prophet proclaims the word of God, not merely the future, and the people in this case responded, as they should have. The consequence of not obeying could have been used by Jonah as an authenticator of Jonah as a prophet, but Nineveh repenting indicated the graciousness of God.

The lesson is that unless the heart is kept close to God, self will turn the conscience away from God. A man or women governed by self cannot serve God – Jonah in his natural state was incapable of bearing the simple message of God, although he was a prophet and had the authority of God as one. His conscience condemned him and he ran. Jonah’s problem was the selfishness of wanting all the grace and excluding others, in particular non-Jews.

Repentance requires the death of the old self, and the resurrection of the new man, which Nicodemas had much trouble comprehending (John chapter 3). The allegory within Jonah indicates this – the disobeying Jonah is "buried" for three days and nights and on delivery, begins a new journey of obedience: repentance and new birth is demonstrated by obedience. However, Jonah like any Christian clearly has much to learn, and in this case compassion.

Bible versus that mention Jonah (Note that the KJV uses Jonas in the New Testament)

2 Kings 14:25

He restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, which [was] of Gathhepher.

Matthew 12:39-40

(NKJV) But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.

Matthew 16:4

A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.

Luke 11:29-32

(NKJV) And while the crowds were thickly gathered together, He began to say, "This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.


[1].  1 Timothy 2:3,4 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

[2].  Note that I do not dispute these dates, nor hold to their accuracy. Some give the dates of Jeroboam II as 790-749 such as Halley, while John Bright (4th Edition) gives 786-746 and Thiele is purported to give 782-753, which the uses. These are in stark contrast to F Nolen Jones (1993) who gives 825-784, which Easton also uses, although this may be a quote from Jones. Those quoted are from Knight G & Edwards, J (2004) Nelson’s Bible Handbook, Thomas Nelson, USA. These anomalies may not be solvable, but this author intends, God willing, to revisit the issue of the chronology of the Kings of Israel.

[3].  "If in this book you choose to look
Five things observe with care
Of whom it speaks,
To whom it speaks
Why and When and Where"

[4].  KJV


NIV =The Holy Bible, New International Version Original work copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by
International Bible Society.
NKJV=The Holy Bible, New King James Version Original work copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by
Thomas Nelson, Inc.
KJV=The Holy Bible, King James Version. This book is not copy protected.

David L Simon (December 2008)
Edited July 2009, June 2011
\MinorProphets\Jonah - Synopsis