The twelve prophetic books from Hosea to Malachi are an often-overlooked portion of Scripture. Although these books are sometimes called the “Minor Prophets”, they are minor only in the sense of them being relatively shorter than the books of the “Major Prophets” such as Isaiah and Jeremiah. The books of the “Minor Prophets” are an important part of God’s Word, and the things in them which were “written aforetime were written for our learning” (cf. Romans 15:4).
Over the course of this year, we will be reviewing each book of the “Minor Prophets”. In the month of May, we turn to the book of Jonah. While many of the other “Minor Prophets” were called to speak to Israel / Judah, Jonah was unique in that he was commanded by God to go speak to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire (Jonah 1:2). Jonah prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:23-25), king over the northern kingdom of Israel during the “Divided Kingdom” era. This would place his prophetic work around 780 B.C., or about 60 years before Israel fell in 722 B.C. to the Assyrian empire. During Jonah’s time, the Assyrian empire was growing as a threat to Israel, which might explain why Jonah initially refused to preach to Nineveh.
OUTLINE OF JONAH – “The Man Who Ran”
Jonah Chapter 1 – Jonah Runs Away From God. In this chapter, God commanded Jonah to go preach to Nineveh, but Jonah ran away in literally the opposite direction to Joppa, to board a ship to Tarshish, likely in modern day Spain (Jonah 1:1-3). Because of Jonah’s disobedience, the LORD sent out a great storm that nearly sank the ship, and Jonah was thrown overboard.
Jonah Chapter 2 – Jonah Runs To God. Although Jonah was thrown overboard, the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah (Jonah 1:17). While in the belly of the great fish, Jonah “runs to God” by crying out to the LORD because of his affliction and promised to “pay that which he had vowed” (Jonah 2:9).
Jonah Chapter 3 – Jonah Runs With God. Jonah obeys the LORD, and “runs with Him”. He goes to Nineveh and declares to them – “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). The people of Nineveh responded to on this message of impending doom by fasting and donning sackcloth and sitting in ashes.
Jonah Chapter 4 – Jonah Runs Ahead Of God. Although Nineveh has repented, Jonah “throws a temper tantrum” and “runs ahead of God”, for he had expected the LORD to destroy Nineveh (Jonah 4:1-3). Nevertheless, the LORD is patient with Jonah, and explains to him that Nineveh had more than 120,000 people who could not “discern between their right hand and their left” (Jonah 4:11). In other words, they had not known the error of their ways, and should thus have been given the opportunity to learn from the preaching of Jonah and repent.
LEARNING POINTS FROM JONAH
“Running away from God” – do we run away from God when we do not do the things commanded of us? God expects us to go tell the world that salvation is found only through His Son, Jesus Christ. When we refuse to share the gospel with someone because he has tattoos, or smokes, or curses, or gambles, or simply because he has a different skin colour – are we not like Jonah, who ran away from God?
“Running to God” – one of the reasons suffering is beneficial for us is because it can remind us to run to God, to draw closer to Him. Suffering should not cause us to curse God (cf. Job 1:20-22), but should move us to pray fervently and plead with God. The “effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).
“Running with God” – what a comforting thought to know that we can run alongside our Lord throughout our days on this earth! We run alongside him when we comply with His revealed will, when we “transform our lives by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:1-2). No matter the problems we face, as long as we do His will, the Lord has said that “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee, so that we may boldly say ‘the Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me’” (Hebrews 13:5-6).
“Running ahead of God” – do we sometimes wonder why God spares the wicked, and allows the righteous to suffer? Do we wonder if God will truly spare the most wicked and heinous criminals that are baptized for the forgiveness of their sins? God has stated that He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). He is desirous “for all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Let us not “pre-judge” others by denying them a chance to hear the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Brethren, I hope that this overview of the book of Jonah was profitable for you, and that it will inspire you to study it in greater detail.