Summary: The Book of Jonah is the story of a man whose greatest struggles were not with a big fish or a pagan city - they were battles within his own heart.
We are first introduced to Jonah the prophet in the Book of Second Kings.
"In the fifteenth year of Amaziah son of Joash king of Judah, Jeroboam son of Jehoash king of Israel became king in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years. 24 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD and did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit. 25 He was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo  Hamath to the Sea of the Arabah,  in accordance with the word of the LORD , the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher. 26 The LORD had seen how bitterly everyone in Israel, whether slave or free, was suffering; there was no one to help them. 27 And since the LORD had not said he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Jehoash." 2 Kings 14:23-27
Jonah was a prophet during the reign of King Jeroboam the second. He prophesied the restoration of the land of Israel to its ancient boundaries, a prophecy he lived to see come to pass. At the time, the Assyrians were oppressing Israel. The words
“bitterly” and “suffering” are poignant descriptions of the cruel and barbaric treatment handed out by the Assyrians. Rape, murder, torture, the plundering and burning of grain fields and buildings traumatized a whole nation. Jonah lived through this and it is most likely that his friends and family were victims. The wounds of grief and suffering went deep inside his heart. Who were the principle culprits? The Ninevites, citizens of Assyria’s capital city.
Then, the time came when the unthinkable happened.
"The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." Jonah 1:1-2
God asked Jonah to face his enemies, a prospect few people welcome. Jonah certainly didn’t. There is a saying that when people are confronted with unpleasantness the common response is either “fight or flight”. How did Jonah respond?
"But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD." Jonah 1:3
“Flight” was Jonah’s choice and what a flight it was! He ended up in the belly of a fish for 3 days and apart from the mercy of God he would have perished there.
In the Biblical account of Jonah’s life, there is nothing that indicates that fear of the Ninevites was the driving force behind his behaviour.
I remember a song about Jonah from the days of my childhood in Sunday school that contained the line, “he just obeyed a very foolish notion!” However, there is nothing in the Bible account to suggest Jonah was given to impulsiveness.
What then were the reasons for his reaction? Did his past experiences with the Ninevites affect him to the point that he lost perspective? Had the brutal attacks traumatized him? Are these the reasons he ran? We discover the answer to these questions in the Bible.