1. “Son of Amittai”; a prophet of Jehovah from Gath-hepher (2Ki 14:25), a border city in the territory of Zebulun. (Jos 19:10, 13) In fulfillment of Jehovah’s word spoken through Jonah, Israel’s King Jeroboam II succeeded in restoring “the boundary of Israel from the entering in of Hamath clear to the sea of the Arabah [the Salt Sea].” (2Ki 14:23-25; compare De 3:17.) So it appears that Jonah served as a prophet to the ten-tribe kingdom sometime during the reign of Jeroboam II. He is evidently the same person Jehovah commissioned to proclaim judgment against Nineveh (Jon 1:1, 2) and, therefore, also the writer of the book bearing his name.
Instead of following through on his assignment to preach to the Ninevites, Jonah decided to run away from it. At the seaport of Joppa, he secured passage on a ship bound for Tarshish (generally associated with Spain) over 3,500 km (2,200 mi) W of Nineveh.—Jon 1:1-3; 4:2.
After boarding the decked vessel, Jonah fell fast asleep in its “innermost parts.” Meanwhile, the mariners, faced with a divinely sent tempestuous wind that threatened to wreck the ship, cried to their gods for aid and cast articles overboard to lighten the vessel. The ship captain awakened Jonah, urging him also to call on his “god.” Finally the mariners cast lots to determine on whose account the storm had arisen. Evidently Jehovah then caused the lot to single out Jonah. Upon being questioned, Jonah confessed to having been unfaithful to his commission. Not wanting others to perish on his account, he requested that he be thrown into the sea. When all efforts to get back to land failed, the mariners did to Jonah according to his word, and the sea stopped its raging.—Jon 1:4-15.
As Jonah sank beneath the waters, seaweed wound around his head. Finally his drowning sensation ceased, and he found himself inside a large fish. Jonah prayed to Jehovah, glorifying him as Savior and promising to pay what he had vowed. On the third day the prophet was vomited out onto dry land.—Jon 1:17–2:10.
Is it reasonable to believe that the Ninevites would repent in sackcloth at the warning of Jonah?
Commissioned a second time to go to Nineveh, he undertook the long journey there. “Finally Jonah started to enter into the city the walking distance of one day, and he kept proclaiming and saying: ‘Only forty days more, and Nineveh will be overthrown.’” (Jon 3:1-4) Whether Jonah knew Assyrian or was miraculously endowed with ability to speak that language is not revealed in the Bible. He may even have spoken Hebrew, his proclamation later being interpreted by one(s) knowing the language. If spoken in Hebrew, Jonah’s words could have aroused great curiosity, with many wondering just what this stranger was saying.
Some critics think it incredible that the Ninevites, including the king, responded to Jonah’s preaching. (Jon 3:5-9) In this regard the remarks of commentator C. F. Keil are of interest: “The powerful impression made upon the Ninevites by Jonah’s preaching, so that the whole city repented in sackcloth and ashes, is quite intelligible, if we simply bear in mind the great susceptibility of Oriental races to emotion, the awe of one Supreme Being which is peculiar to all the heathen religions of Asia, and the great esteem in which soothsaying and oracles were held in Assyria from the very earliest times . . . ; and if we also take into calculation the circumstance that the appearance of a foreigner, who, without any conceivable personal interest, and with the most fearless boldness, disclosed to the great royal city its godless ways, and announced its destruction within a very short period with the confidence so characteristic of the God-sent prophets, could not fail to make a powerful impression upon the minds of the people, which would be all the stronger if the report of the miraculous working of the prophets of Israel had penetrated to Nineveh.”—Commentary on the Old Testament, 1973, Vol. X, Jonah 3:9, pp. 407, 408.
After 40 days had passed and still nothing had happened to Nineveh, Jonah was highly displeased that Jehovah had not brought calamity upon the city. He even prayed for God to take away his life. But Jehovah answered Jonah with the question: “Have you rightly become hot with anger?” (Jon 3:10–4:4) The prophet subsequently left the city and, later, erected a booth for himself. There, to the E of Nineveh, Jonah watched to see what would befall the city.—Jon 4:5.
When a bottle-gourd plant miraculously grew to provide shade for Jonah, the prophet was very pleased. But his rejoicing was short-lived. The next day, early in the morning, a worm injured the plant, causing it to dry up. Deprived of its shade, Jonah was subjected to a parching east wind and the hot sun beating down upon his head. Again, he asked to die.—Jon 4:6-8.
By means of this bottle-gourd plant Jonah was taught a lesson in mercy. He felt sorry for the bottle-gourd plant, probably wondering why it had to die. Yet Jonah had neither planted nor cared for it. On the other hand, being the Creator and Sustainer of life, Jehovah had much more reason to feel sorry for Nineveh. The value of its inhabitants and that of the cattle was far greater than that of one bottle-gourd plant. Therefore, Jehovah asked Jonah: “For my part, ought I not to feel sorry for Nineveh the great city, in which there exist more than one hundred and twenty thousand men who do not at all know the difference between their right hand and their left, besides many domestic animals?” (Jon 4:9-11) That Jonah must have got the point is indicated by the candid portrayal of his own experiences.
It may be that sometime later Jonah met at least one of the persons who had been aboard the ship from Joppa, possibly at the temple in Jerusalem, and learned from him about the vows made by the mariners after the storm abated.—Jon 1:16; compare Jon 2:4, 9; see JONAH, BOOK OF; NINEVEH.
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