Jonah (or Dove) is not at all like his name; today we would call him a "Grumpy old man". In fact he hardly prophesies at all and his Book is largely, again unusually, biographical.

One of the 'Minor Prophets', he was born in Gath-Hepher, a village near Nazareth and lived in the 8th Century BC. He is mostly known for his mission to Nineveh but he was involved in domestic politics (2 Kings 14:25). When "The Word of the Lord came to Jonah" (the classical phrase introducing a prophet) instead of going to Nineveh as he was told, he set out for Tarshish, once thought to be either on the Indian coast or another name for Carthage but almost certainly the most Westerly Phoenician port, in Spain between the two mouths of the Guadalquivir (Jonah 1:1-3). The Lord whipped up a storm and the sailors prayed to their gods and took emergency action but Jonah slept below. The crew knew he was running away from The Lord but they cast lots to divine the cause of their calamity and Jonah was chosen. He said that once he was thrown overboard the sea would be calm; and so it was (Jonah 1:4-17).

Jonah was swallowed by a "great fish", usually thought of as a whale. This forced him to contemplate the goodness of the Lord and it brought him to pray (Jonah 1:17; 2:1-10). There is a fascinating article in the Princeton Theological Review (October 1927) which describes incidents in 1758 and 1771 when men were swallowed by a whale and spewed up. There is a much more detailed account of Francis Fox in 1891 where a man was discovered alive when a whale was being flayed.

The Word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. He went to Nineveh and told the people to repent within forty days and, to his great irritation, they did what they were told, repenting, putting on sackcloth and sitting in ashes, including the king who declared a fast for the duration. As a result, God changed His mind (Jonah 3:1-10).

Jonah was very angry because God had wasted his time: "I knew", he said, "That you were merciful and that is why I fled to Tarshish". Jonah, in a typical bout of self pity, wished he was dead but The Lord questioned his anger (Jonah 4:1-4). He went out of Nineveh to see what would happen but it was hot so The Lord caused a great bush to grow up and shelter him and Jonah was very happy but the next day a worm attacked the bush so it withered. God caused a hot wind to blow and, again, Jonah wanted to die (Jonah 4:5-8). Again, The Lord questioned Jonah's anger and Jonah said he was angry enough to die; and so The Lord, with devastating logic, says that if Jonah can be so worked up about the bush which he didn't grow himself, why should not The Lord be worried about all the people of Nineveh?

This Book throws up some interesting issues on prophecy: Jonas is a reluctant, disobedient, resentful, Prophet; but he is still a Prophet.

Partly taken from:

Hughes & Partridge: Through the Bible Every Day Character by Character, CWR.

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