The Book of Jonah


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The Book of Jonah

  • Author: Jonah
  • When: c. 840-760 B.C.E.


Jonah Flees the Presence of Jehovah

1 Now the word of Jehovah came to Jonah[1] the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of Jehovah. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of Jehovah.

Jehovah Causes a Powerful Storm

But Jehovah hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship where he lay down and fell fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, why are you sleeping? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will think of us, that we may not perish.”

Jonah is Cause of the Problem

And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account we have this calamity.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account it is that we have this calamity. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear Jehovah, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of Jehovah, because he had told them.

11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, to make the sea calm down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will calm down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” 13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them.

Jonah Cast into the Stormy Sea

14 Therefore they called out to Jehovah, “O Jehovah, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Jehovah, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared Jehovah exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to Jehovah and made vows.

A Huge Fish Swallows Jonah

17  [2]And Jehovah appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.


Jonah’s Prayer

2 Then Jonah prayed to Jehovah his God from the belly of the fish, and he said,

“I called out to Jehovah, out of my distress,
    and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
    and you heard my voice.
For you cast me into the deep,
    into the heart of the seas,
    and the flood engulfed me;
all your waves and your billows
    passed over me.
And I said, ‘I am driven away
    from your sight;
how shall I look again
    upon your holy temple?’[3]
The waters engulfed me to take my soul;
    the deep[4] closed in on me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
at the bottoms of the mountains.
I went down to the land
    whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
    O Jehovah my God.
When my soul was fainting away,
    I remembered Jehovah,
and my prayer came to you,
    into your holy temple.
Those who are devoted to the worthless idols
    forsake their source of loyal love.
But I with the voice of thanksgiving
    will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
    Salvation is from Jehovah!”

10 And Jehovah spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.


Jonah Obeys God and Goes to Nineveh

3 Then the word of Jehovah came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to her the message that I tell you.” So Jonah got up and went to Nineveh in accord with the word of Jehovah. Now Nineveh herself proved to be a city great to God,[5] with a walking distance of three days. And Jonah began to go into the city a journey of one day, and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 

The People of Nineveh Repent

And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let them be covered with sackcloth, both man and beast; and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and feel regret[6] and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

10 When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God felt regret over[7] the calamity which he had declared he would do to them, and he did not do it.


Jonah’s Anger and Jehovah’s Compassion

But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry. And he prayed to Jehovah and said, “O Jehovah, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. Therefore now, O Jehovah, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And Jehovah said, Is it right for you to be so angry?

Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. Now Jehovah God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God sent a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked his soul to die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, even to the point of death.” 10 When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. 11 And should not I have compassion on Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than one hundred and twenty thousand men who do not know their right hand from their left, as well as many animals?”

[1] Meaning Dove

[2] MT LXX VG begin chap. 2 here.

[3] LXX “yet I shall again look upon your holy temple”

[4] LXX VG “an abyss”

[5] Or an exceedingly great city

[6] The Hebrew word (נִחוּם nichum or נִחֻם nichum) has the sense of feel regret over. It can be translated as “be sorry,” “grieved,” “repent,” “regret,” “be comforted, “compassion,” “comfort,” “reconsider,” and “change one’s mind.” It can pertain to a change of attitude or intention. God is perfect and therefore does not make mistakes in his dealings with his creation. However, he can have a change of attitude or intention regarding how humans react to his warnings. God can go from the Creator of humans to that of a destroyer of them because of their unrepentant wickedness and failure to heed his warnings. On the other hand, if they repent and turn from their wicked ways, the Father can be compassionate and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love. He will “reconsider” the calamity that he may have intended. (Genesis 6:6; Exodus 32:14; Joel 2:13) This is not really God changing his mind per se but rather his altering circumstances once persons with free will brought those altered circumstances about so God could carry out his will and purposes. Second, draw comfort in the fact that we can be sure that God will never change his standards of love and justice regardless of what created beings do with their free will. Nevertheless, just as any of us might change our mind about someone who has altered the way they treat us, God does change in the way that he deals with humans to the evolving circumstances, situations, and conditions. There are also times when God has changed his commands, laws, and instructions according to his people’s situation and needs. We should not be astonished by this because God has foreknowledge, and he is well aware of conditions that will come where he will have to change or alter circumstances. The English word “regret” means ‘to feel sorry and sad about something previously done or said that now appears wrong, mistaken, or hurtful to others.’ The Hebrew word (nacham here translated as “regretted” relates to a change of attitude or intention. The Hebrew could not be used to suggest that God felt that he had made a mistake in creating man.

[7] See vs. 9 fn.

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