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Intro to Jonah

In my attempt to read the Bible in chronological order, both the Blue Letter Bible and the NIV chronological Bible have Jonah up next, in the midst of II Kings and II Chronicles. I recently did a bible study on Jonah, so I'm anxious to see what comes of this personal study.

I'll start by summarizing some of my various resource materials and their intro to Jonah.

Ryrie Study Bible

Author- Jonah

Date - 760 B.C. (Note: This falls under the reign of Jeroboam II in Israel {and Azariah/Uzziah in Judah for reference}.)

History or Allegory?

  • Allegory: Those who regard this as a fictional allegory say that it was written hundreds of years later (430 B.C.) to counter the exclusivity of Ezra and Nehemiah. Jonah is disobedient Israel. The gentiles are the sea. Babylon is the great fish. And the three days in the belly of the fish is the Babylonian captivity.
  • History:
    • Jesus treated it as fact (Matthew 12:39-41)
    • Not only a real person, but an accredited prophet II Kings 14:25

The Times:

  • During the reign of Jeroboam II
  • (My reading in II Kings: II Kings describes Jeroboam II as doing evil in the sight of the Lord; however, to avoid blotting out those tribes, He sent Jonah to guide Jeroboam II to the victories described in that passage.)
  • As such, Jeroboam II took back most territory north of Judah that had been part of David and Solomon's kingdom, but subsequently lost.
  • Ryrie also points out that the Assyrian record doesn't include these events, but they did swing to monotheism about that time following plagues and an eclipse of the sun as possible signs.

The theme, according to Ryrie, is a display of God's concern for the whole world.

NIV Chronological Study Bible

  • Explains that historians have a problem with the Book of Jonah because the Assyrian record doesn't reflect the events. Personally, I see a kingdom as brutal as Assyria falling away from God, just as Israel and Judah did at times. And I can see some ruler demanding the record be cleansed of that time when they worshipped another nation's God. Or multiple other explanations.
  • Amos is another prophet during this time.
  • NIV notes two themes
    • God's universal love for all nations
    • God sovereignty over all

Be Amazed, Warren Wiersbe Commentary

Wiersbe jumps right in, in his introduction to Jonah, on the same debate and evidence as Ryrie- Jonah is historical, not allegorical because he is described in II Kings 14 and by Jesus in both Matthew and Luke.

My reflection: In both Matthew and Luke, part of the passages is to proclaim that the men of Nineveh will be witnesses at the judgement against this generation because they men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah and those hearing Jesus did not.

That's powerful testimony. When some of the most cruel and most evil men in history can repent and be saved; but "good men" refuse to...that's a stark comparison.

Also, it's a clear answer to the skeptics' question about "Could Hitler be saved?" and the concern about the rumor that Ted Bundy repented on his death bed and was saved. It's possible. The men of Nineveh were so cruel and horrific in their dealings with everyone around them; and yet, God knew they could be redeemed. He wanted them to hear the message.

Ok, back to Wiersbe's intro to the book.

  • Amos and Hosea were Jonah's contemporaries. They both showed compassion for other nations; while Jonah does not.
  • The nation was prospering, gaining territory and winning victories; but not because they were walking with the Lord; but because God was trying to get them back on track and not wipe them away.
  • Back in Genesis 12:1-3, God told Abraham that Israel would bless all the nations of the world. So Jonah shouldn't have been surprised that God would send him to them.

Wiersbe describes the emphasis on God sovereignty, His love and mercy, and being a God of second chances.

"Obeying God's will brings blessings to us and to others through us; disobedience brings discipline."

The MacArthur Bible Commentary

Jonah means dove.

My reflection: I wonder if that is symbolic of the dove that that met Noah and brought proof of life, showing them that salvation was close at hand. Or if I'm reading too much into that.

The text does not specify the author, and so debate whether it is Jonah; but the information included seems to come from Jonah and his personal experience.

Other facts:

  • Jonah came from Gath-hepher, near Nazareth.
  • He was a prophet during the long, prosperous reign of Jeroboam II
  • He was just prior to Amos
  • The Pharisees were wrong when they said no prophet had arisen from Galilee, Jonah did.
  • An unverified Jewish traditions says that Jonah is the son of the widow of Zerephath, whom Elijah raised from the dead.
  • Syria and Assyria were weak, allowing Israel peace and prosperity and victory in gaining back land
  • Morally Israel was weakening and decaying
  • He also mentions the two plagues and solar eclipse as partially responsible to opening the people of Nineveh to Jonah's message.
  • Nineveh had been founded by Nimrod, grandson of Noah...(another Noah connection)

MacArthur also speaks of Israel's belief in their moral and spiritual superiority as being part of why Jonah's heart was so hard to the Assyrians. Part of what Jonah was supposed to be doing was showing that this evil, foreign nation could repent with one visit from a stranger; but Israel refused to repent even after multiple

Jonah is a picture of Israel, who was chosen and commissioned to be His witness, who rebelled against His will, but who has been miraculously preserved by God through centuries of exile and dispersion to finally preach His truth.

MacArthur Bible Commentary, page 1007

MacArthur concludes his introduction with the allegory/parable vs. history debate. He points to the grandiose and numerous miracles used by some as the evidence of it being a lesson, not a historical account. He counters this by pointing out it is an account of a historical, identifiable OT prophet and was treated as historical by Jesus

In Conclusion of the Introduction

From my own thinking, it's interesting that Jonah was so prideful when Israel wasn't pursing the Lord at all and was near the end of their time as a nation. As God's prophet to Israel, it seems like he would know better than anyone how serious a situation Israel was in after such a long string of evil kings, and even the "good ones" weren't clearing off the high places.

But Israel's pride and Assyrians cruelty may have played a huge role in his perspective.

As for the real or fiction debate; if course it's just opinion; but the strongest evidence to me is Jesus' prediction of the future when the men of Nineveh will bear witness against those who weren't moved by Jesus, when they repented by a reluctant prophet. That was a real thing Jesus said was going to happen. I don't think He would have framed it that way if it had been fictional characters in a parable.

Strap in. We're going for a swim!

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