Continuing through the Old Testament Minor Prophets, we come to the short – but packed – story of Jonah. Outside of this little book, the prophet Jonah appears in the Bible only twice. The first is an obscure reference in 2 Kings 14:25
The only other reference to Jonah is in the New Testament (Matthew 12:38-42; 16:1-4; Luke 11:29-32). In response to being asked for a sign from heaven, Jesus tells the religious leaders that the only other sign he would give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah. And what sign was that?
“For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.” (Matthew 12:40)
There are a couple of things to point out before we dig into this book.
- Nineveh (where Jonah was sent to preach) was the last capital of the Assyrian empire. The last (and greatest) age of the empire ran from 745 B.C. to 606 B.C. when Assyria was defeated and the Babylonian empire took over.
- Based on the reference in 2 Kings, Jonah probably lived at some point between 800 B.C. and 750 B.C., during the next-to-last period of Assyria’s dominance.
- Using Jonah as a reference, Jesus mentioned both Jonah’s encounter in the huge fish and the repentance of the Ninevites as historical fact and paralleled them with his own ministry and death in Israel.
It is common to hear Jonah’s story used as an example of what’s wrong with the Bible. Really – who could believe a story like that? It’s obviously an allegory or fable, right?
Wrong. We may not know a lot about Jonah, but God gave us enough information to track him down to a 50-year time period. Jesus used this story as if it were historical fact, and his immediate listeners did not correct him, leading us to believe that they thought it to be accurate and true as well.
With that in mind, let’s dig right into chapter 1 in the next post.