Fausset's Bible Dictionary


("dove".) (Gen_8:8-9, seeking rest in vain, fleeing from Noah and the ark; so Jonah). Parentage, date. Son of Amittai of Gath Hepher in Zebulun (2Ki_14:25-27, compare 2Ki_13:4-7). Jeroboam II "restored the coast from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain, according to the word of the Lord God of Israel which He spoke by the hand of His servant Jonah" etc.  "For the Lord saw the affliction of Israel, that it was very bitter; for there was not any shut up, nor any left, nor any (i.e., none married or single, else confined or at large, as a) helper for Israel." Israel was at its lowest extremity, i.e early in Joash's reign, when Jehovah (probably by Jonah) promised deliverance from Syria, which was actually given first under Joash, in answer to Jehoahaz' prayer, then completely under Jeroboam II. Thus, Jonah was among the earliest of the prophets who wrote, and close upon Elisha who died in Joash's reign, having just before death foretold Syria's defeat thrice (2Ki_13:14-21).

Hosea and Amos prophesied in the latter part of the 41 years' reign of Jeroboam II. The events recorded in the book of Jonah were probably late in his life. The book begins with "And," implying that it continues his prophetic work begun before; it was written probably about Hosea's and Amos' time. Hosea (Hos_6:2) saw the prophetical meaning of Jonah's entombment: "after two days will He revive us, in the third day He will raise us up;" primarily Israel, in a short period (Luk_13:32-33) to be revived from its national deadness, antitypically Messiah, raised on the third day (Joh_2:19; 1Co_15:4); as Israel's political resurrection typifies the general resurrection, of which Christ's resurrection is the firstfruits (Isa_26:19; Eze_37:1-14; 1Co_15:22-23; Dan_12:2). The mention of Nineveh's being "an exceeding great city" implies it was written before the Assyrian inroads had made them know too well its greatness.

PERSONAL REALITY. The pagan fable of Hercules springing into a sea monster's jaws and being three days in its belly, when saving Hesione (Diodor. Sic. 4:42), is rather a corruption of the story of Jonah than vice versa, if there be any connection. Jerome says, near Joppa lay rocks represented as those to which Andromeda was bound when exposed to the sea monster. The Phoenicians probably carried the story of Jonah to Greece. Our Lord's testimony proves the personal existence, miraculous fate, and prophetical office of Jonah. "The sign of the prophet Jonah, for as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights (both eases count the day from, and that to, which the reckoning is) in the heart of the earth" (Mat_12:39-41).

Jonah's being in the fish's belly Christ makes a "sign," i.e. a real miracle typifying the like event in His own history, and assumes the prophet's execution of his commission to Nineveh; "the men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold a greater than Jonah is here." The miracle is justified by the crisis then in the development of the kingdom of God, when Israel by impenitence was about to fall before Assyria, and God's principle of righteous government needed to be exhibited in sparing Nineveh through the preaching of Jonah, spared himself after living entombment. The great Antitype too needed such a vivid type.

CANONICITY, DESIGN. It seemed strange to Kimchi that this book is in the canon, as its only prophecy concerns Nineveh, a pagan city, and does not mention Israel, of whom all the other prophets prophesy. The strangeness is an argument for the inspiration of the sacred canon; but the solution is, Israel is tacitly reproved. A pagan city repents at a strange prophet's first preaching, whereas Israel, God's elect, repented not, though admonished by their own prophets at all seasons. An anticipatory dawn of the "light to lighten the Gentiles," Jonah was a parable in himself: a prophet of God, yet a runaway from God; drowned, yet alive; a preacher of repentance, yet one that repines at repentance resulting from his preaching. God's pity and patience form a wonderful contrast to man's self will and hard hearted pettiness. His name, meaning "dove," symbolizes mourning love, his feeling toward his people, either given prophetically or assumed by him as a watchword of his feeling. His truthfullness (son of Amirtai, i.e. truth) appears in his so faithfully recording his own perversity and punishment.

His patriotic zeal against his people's adversaries, like that of James and John, was in a wrong spirit (Luk_9:51-56). He felt repugnance to deliver the Lord's warning to Nineveh ("cry against it," Jon_1:2), whose destruction he desired, not their repentance. Jonah was sent when he had been long a prophet, and had been privileged to announce from God the restoration of Israel's coasts. God's goodness had not led them to repent (2Ki_13:6; 2Ki_14:24). Amos (Amo_5:27) had foretold that Israel for apostasy should be carried "captive beyond Damascus," i.e. beyond that enemy from which Jeroboam II had just delivered them, according to the prophecy of Jonah, and that they should be "afflicted from the entering in of Hamath unto the river of the wilderness" (the southern bound of Moab, then forming Israel's boundary), i.e. the very bounds restored by Jeroboam II, for "the river of the arabah" or "wilderness" flowed into the S. end of "the sea of the plain" or Dead Sea (2Ki_14:25; Amo_6:14).

Hosea too (Hos_9:3) had foretold their eating unclean things in Assyria. Instinctively Jonah shrank from delivering a message which might eventuate in Nineveh being spared, the city by which Israel was to suffer. Pul or Ivalush III (Rawlinson, Herodotus) was then king. (See ASSYRIA), and by Pal the first weakening of Israel afterward took place. "Jonah sought the honour of the son (Israel), and sought not the honour of the Father" (God) (Kimchi, from rabbinical tradition). Jonah is the only case of a prophet hiding his prophetical message; the reluctance at first was common to many of them (Isa_6:5; Jer_1:6; Jer_1:17; Exo_4:10). His desire was that Nineveh's sudden overthrow, like Sodom's, might produce the effect which his words failed to produce, to rouse Israel from impenitence.

HISTORY. Jonah embarked at Joppa for the far off Tartessus of Spain or Tarshish in Cilicia; compare as to the folly of the attempt Psa_139:7-10; Gen_3:8-10; Jer_23:24. However, "from the presence of the Lord" (Jon_1:3) means not from His universal presence, which Jonah ought to have known is impossible, but from ministering in His immediate presence in the Holy Land. The storm, the strange sleep (of self hardening, weariness, and God forgetfulness; contrast Mar_4:37-39, spiritually with Eph_5:14), the lot casting, and detection of Jonah and casting into and consequent calming of the sea, followed.

TYPICAL SIGNIFICANCE. Jonah reflected' Israel's backsliding and consequent punishment; type of Messiah who bears our imputed guilt and its punishment; compare Psa_42:7; Psa_69:1-2; Joh_11:50. God spares the prayerful penitent: (1) the pagan sailors, (2) Jonah, (3) Nineveh. He sank to the "bottom" of the sea first, and felt "the seaweed wrapped about his head" (Jon_2:5-6), then the God-prepared great fish (the dog fish, Bochart; in any view a miracle is needed, the rest is conjecture). The prophet's experiences adapted him, by sympathy, for fulfilling his office to his hearers. God's infinite resources in mercy, as well as judgment, appear in Jonah's devourer becoming his preserver. Jonah was a type to Nineveh and Israel of death following sin, and of resurrection on repentance; preeminently of Christ's death for sin and resurrection by the Spirit of God (Mat_12:40). Jonah in his thanksgiving notices that his chief punishment consisted in the very thing which his flight had aimed at, being "cast out of God's sight" (Jon_1:3; Jon_2:4; Jon_2:8; Jer_2:13; Jer_17:13).

Hezekiah's hymn is based on it (Isa_38:17; Jon_2:6). Jehovah's next message (more definite and awful than the former) was faithfully delivered by Jonah: "yet 40 days and Nineveh shall be destroyed." Jonah, himself a living exemplification of judgment and mercy, was "a sign (an embodied significant lesson) unto the Ninevites" (Luk_11:30). Guilty Jonah, saved from his living tomb, gave a ray of hope to guilty Nineveh. To the Pharisees who, not satisfied with His many signs, still demanded "a sign (Messiah coming gloriously) from heaven," Christ gave a sign "out of the belly of hell" (Jon_2:2), i.e. the unseen region beneath. Christ's death, entombment three days without corruption, and resurrection, is the grand proof of His Messiahship and of His power and will to save, just as Jonah's message derived its weight with the Ninevites from his past entombment and restoration. Forty is the number indicative of judgment for sin, as Israel's 40 years in the wilderness. God granted to Nineveh, however, a double mercy: (1) that the people repented immediately after threatening, (2) that pardon immediately followed repentance.

Their deep reverence for their gods (as appears from their inscriptions), as well as Jonah's deliverance (which was known to them, Luk_11:30), and probably his previous prophecy which had been fulfilled, of Israel's deliverance under Jeroboam II from Syria with which Nineveh had been long warring, all made them ready to heed his message. By general acclamation they proclaimed a fast, which the king confirmed, enjoining all to "cry mightily unto God, turning from every evil way" in hope that "God would turn from His fierce anger." "So God repented of the evil He had said He would do, and did it not." Jonah's anger and its correction. Jonah was "exceedingly displeased" (Jonah 4). Not merely at his word not coming to pass; for it would have been inhuman if Jonah had preferred the destruction of 600,000 rather than his prophecy should be set aside through God's mercy triumphing over judgment; God would then have severely chastised, not merely expostulated gently with him. Moreover, Jonah in apologizing for his vexation does not mention, as its cause, the failure of his prediction, but solely God's slowness to anger.

The end of his commission had not failed, namely, leading Nineveh to repentance. If Nineveh had been the prominent object with him he would have rejoiced at the result. But Jonah regarded Nineveh's destruction by God's judgment as likely to startle Israel out of its apostate security, heightened by its prosperity under Jeroboam II. Moreover, Nineveh was the foretold (Hos_9:3; Hos_11:5; Hos_11:11; Amo_5:27) executioner of God's coming judgment on Israel. Nineveh's destruction, in Jonah's view, meant Israel's safety. But God's plan was by pagan Nineveh's example to teach the covenant people Israel how inexcusable is their impenitence; Israel must, if she continue impenitent, go down, and pagan Assyria rise over her. Hope to the penitent however sunken, condemnation to the impenitent however elevated in privileges, are the lessons our Lord draws from Nineveh (Mat_12:41). Jonah still stayed near the city, possibly expecting some judgment still to fall. To teach him what he knew not, the largeness of God's mercy and its reasonableness, God made a "(See GOURD" (used on trellises in the East shading arbours) to grow over the booth which Jonah raised.

"Grief," not selfish anger, was Jonah's feeling (Jon_4:6). Some little external comfort will turn away a simple minded man from his grief, so Jonah was "exceeding glad." A small worm at the root was enough to destroy the large gourd, so with our greatest earthly joys (Psa_30:7). Jonah was "grieved even unto death" (Hebrew); contrast the Antitype (Mat_26:38). Jonah was making himself rather like Cain (compare Jon_4:9 with Gen_4:6; Jam_1:20). Jonah's grief was owing to his own inherent sin, Christ's owing to our imputed sin. Still Jonah's sorrow even to death was that of one desiring his country's repentance and salvation, and bitterly disappointed as if there was no hope: like Elijah (1Ki_19:4).

God's pathetic and condescendingly touching appeal winds up the book; God's tender accents are the last that reach the ear, the abruptness of the close making them the more impressive "thou hast had pity on the gourd for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night and perished in a night; and should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six score thousand persons (120,000 children under four, Deu_1:39) that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand (giving a total, if the children be a fifth, of 600,000 population), and also much cattle?" God saw the root of faith in Jonah, therefore corrected his perverse self will by an appropriate discipline.

Jonah's figurative gourd, Israel's preservation through Nineveh's destruction, though not selfish, was self-willed. It sought a good aim, reckless of the death of 600,000 men, and without making God's will the foremost consideration. The book is narrative throughout, except the thanksgiving hymn (Jonah 2). Some Aramaean expressions naturally occur in the language of one who lived in Zebulun bordering toward Syria, and who had communications with Assyria. The purity of the language implies the antiquity of the book. None but Jonah could have written or dictated details so unique, known only to himself. The so-called "tomb of Jonah," Nebbi Junus (prophet Jonah), took its name probably from its being the site of a Christian church named after him, Jerome preserves the older tradition of the tomb being in his native village of Gath Hepher.


Taken from: Fausset's Bible Dictionary by Andrew Robert Fausset (1821-1910)