A young boy from down south attended Sunday school for the first with his grandparents who lived up north. He was so excited he couldn’t wait to tell grandma about the lesson. "My teacher taught us all about the whales," he announced. "You mean Jonah and the whale?" grandma asked. "No," he said, "Jacob and the whales." "I think it was Jonah," the grandmother gently corrected. "He was swallowed by a whale in the ocean." But this young man knew his lesson. "No, it was Jacob. He moved out into the desert and when he got thirsty, he dug some whales."
The story of Jonah and the whale is one of the most well-known in the Bible among kids of all ages. It’s said when Walt Disney adapted the story of Pinocchio for the silver screen, he was inspired more by the story of Jonah than the original author’s tale.
But the story of Jonah is meant to be far more than just a children’s fairy tale. With all of the remarkable events in the story, for all of its twists and turns, there is still more here than meets the eye. In this brief book, God reveals Himself to us, and speaks to us, if we are willing to hear what He has to say. Tonight I want to get an overview of this unique prophecy, beginning with Jonah 1:1.
Let’s begin with some background and context.
This book opens with the name of a prophet Jonah, son of Ammitai. It may surprise you to know this is not the first time the Bible mentions him. He first shows up in
2 Ki 14:25 He [King Jereboam II, king of Israel] restored the territory of Israel from the entrance of Hamath to the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which He had spoken through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet who was from Gath Hepher.
This gives us some important information about Jonah.
It tells us where he was from. Gath Hepher is believed to have been about 2 ½ miles NE of Nazareth, in the regions of Galilee, home to many Gentiles as well as Jews. Jonah was no stranger to the non-Jewish world of people.
It also gives us some idea of a timeframe for his ministry. The connection with the reign of King Jerboam II places Jonah’s ministry somewhere around 750-730 BC, making him a contemporary of the prophets Hosea and Amos. Early in Jonah’s ministry the Lord gives him a positive message which probably made Jonah a hero to his people. You can be sure Jonah’s first message is much easier to deliver than the one he later gives to the city of Nineveh.
Which brings up another important item of background information: the relationship between the nation of Israel and the nation of Assyria, whose capital happens to be Nineveh.
More than any other nation Assyria was responsible for the harassment and exploitation Israel and Judah suffered [for] more than a century. Assyria [kidnapped] much of Israel’s population into exile, in order to bring…people in to colonize its territories.
The Israelites see Assyria not only as their enemy, but God’s enemy. You can’t understand the book of Jonah without appreciating how the people of Israel hate the Assyrians.