- God's commission and Jonah's refusal (1:1 - 17)
- Jonah's repentance and deliverance (2:1-10)
- Jonah's obedience and Nineveh's repentance (3:1 - 10)
- Jonah's anger and God's explanation (4:1 - 11)
Authorship, date, and background The authorship of this book is not plainly stated, but there is no good reason to suppose that it was not Jonah. The use of the third person is no problem since the same approach appears in the Pentateuch of Moses as well as profane literature including the writings of Julius Caesar. Jonah was the son of Amittai (whose name means "dove"), and according to 2 Kings 14:25 he lived in Gath-hepher, which was near Nazareth, in the eighth century B.C. Hosea and Amos were contemporaries and Jeroboam II was king. The book is about Nineveh, which was the capital city of the Assyrian empire which existed for three centuries. It was a militaristic monarchy cordially detested by the surrounding nations and guilty of depraved and brutal conduct. God was to use it to punish Samaria, but this nation itself was to disappear from the face of the earth at a later time. Nineveh's insolence and pride were an offense to God, whose judgment was to be visited upon the country unless it repented. God ordered Jonah to preach the necessity of repentance to Nineveh with the promise of sudden judgment if the nation failed to respond.
Liberal scholars have always denied that Jonah is history; rather, they argue that it is a fiction, not fact. They do so because they do not generally accept the supernatural, not the least of which is the great fish that swallowed Jonah, who is a type of Christ, who spent three days and the three nights in the earth. Moreover, the plan that grew and protected Jonah from the heat and the worm which destroyed the plant are unacceptable to those who deny the miraculous. For conservatives, these facts present no problem.
Characteristics and content Jonah receives his prophetic call from God to minister to the people of Nineveh. He is a disobedient prophet who seeks to flee from God's presence by taking a sea voyage in the opposite direction from Nineveh. The omnipresence of God is manifested, for Jonah discovers he cannot flee from the divine presence. Following the episode of the three days and nights in the fish's belly, Jonah repents, is restored, and is recommissioned to take the same message to the same people as God had originally called him to do. He goes to Nineveh and a citywide revival occurs, reaching to the monarch himself. Jonah is unhappy about the success of his crusade and manifests anger with God. God reproves the prophet by making clear that he cares for all men everywhere and that whoever repents of sin will find mercy from the true God. The repentance of Nineveh leads to the survival of the nation for another century and is suggestive of the same need among the nations today and the same promise of forgiveness by God to those who will repent.
Amos, like so many of other prophets, paints a brighter and more hopeful picture toward the end of his diatribe (see 9:11 - 15). Amos' first prophecy of judgment was fulfilled shortly and thereafter Samaria disappeared from history. And to this day Amos' glorious promise of Israel's return to the land has not yet taken place. But it will - in the latter days.