•   “The book poses a piercing question: How do you respond to God’s grace?

Jonah was an eighth-century BC prophet who grew up and ministered in the northern kingdom of Israel (cf. 2 Kings 14:25). But during this period, the nation continued to move further and further away from serving God. (NIVZSB)

•   Jonah’s contemporaries, the prophets Amos and Hosea, were called to confront the sins of Israel. However, Jonah was called by the Lord to preach to the wicked Assyrian city of Nineveh, located NE of Israel, ‘because its wickedness (had) come up before (Him)” (Jonah 1:2b).

•   Assyria was the cruelest, most violent and brutal empire of ancient times, and continued to threaten the Jewish northern kingdom throughout the lifetime of Jonah. In 722 BC it finally invaded and destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and its capital, Samaria. It was to these people that the Lord sent Jonah to warn of impending divine judgment. ( Tim K).

•   But Jonah’s response was to disobey God. He turned left instead of right, boarding a ship headed for Tarshish in the other direction. The Lord sent a life-threatening storm, with Jonah ending up overboard (cf. Jonah 1:15).

•   The Lord then provided a great fish to swallow Jonah and keep him alive for three days and three nights. The Lord commanded the fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land after Jonah acknowledged that salvation comes from the Lord (cf. Jonah 1:17; 2:9-10). The Lord recommissioned Jonah to go to Nineveh and proclaim the same message: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (cf. Jonah 3:4). This time he obeyed the Lord.

•   Astonishingly, the Ninevites’ believed the message, and there was widespread repentance (cf. Jonah 3:5-9).

•   “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened” (Jonah 3:10).

•   Jonah 4:1-3: “But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

•   Here we have the reason for Jonah’s initial disobedience. He knew that the Lord is gracious and merciful and Jonah didn’t want the enemies of God’s people to experience this grace and mercy.

•   But the forty days had not yet lapsed, so Jonah sat down east of Nineveh and waited to see if God’s initial response is just a temporary reprieve from judgment. God then provided a leafy plant to shade Jonah from the harsh sun, much to Jonah’s delight. But the next day, God provided a worm to wither the plant, and a scorching east wind which made Jonah grow faint. Jonah once again wanted to die (cf. Jonah 4:3,8).

•   Jonah 4:9: “But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

•   “It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

•   Jonah 4:10-11: “But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”  (even the cattle ‘repent’ in sackcloth; cf. Jonah 2:8!).

•   Jonah was concerned about a temporary plant, for which he could take no credit, but the Lord was concerned about a great city that was spiritually lost. (Chipman)


1.  GOD:

a.  Perhaps you have heard it said: ‘The God of the OT is a God of wrath; the God of the NT is a God of grace!’ Not so, says Jonah, who quotes the Lord ‘s confession recorded in Exodus 34:6 (cf. Exodus 32:12): the Lord is ‘a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity’.

b.  And Jonah had experienced God’s grace when God saved him from drowning in the midst of his disobedience, for that is exactly what grace is: God’s unmerited favour towards the sinner! Or as one writer puts it: ‘ Grace is a de-earned gift!’ (Croteau).

c.  But Jonah experiences not only God’s saving grace, but also His sustaining grace when God graciously provides a plant as shade to shield Jonah from the blazing sun in the midst of his anger towards God and the Ninevites.

d.  We also see the Lord’s grace displayed in Jonah’s divinely initiated mission to travel to the wicked Ninevites to mercifully warn them of God’s impeding judgment. And, of course, we see the Lord’s grace clearly displayed in His response to their repentance, relenting from sending judgment. Truly the Lord is ‘a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster’!

e.  Herein lies encouragement for all sinners. Sometimes you may feel that you or another has done something so bad that it is unforgivable. Not so, says the God of Jonah. If God could graciously forgive the likes of the wicked Ninevites, He can graciously forgive you thanks to the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ; He died to pay the penalty for your sin, to satisfy God’s justice so you can be saved (cf. Romans 3:25-26)!

2.  JONAH:

a.  Some commentators have labelled Jonah the ‘prodigal prophet’:

At the beginning, Jonah plays the "prodigal son" of Jesus’ famous parable (Luke 15:11-24), who runs from his father. At the end, however, Jonah is like the "older brother" (Luke 15:25-32), who obeys his father but berates him for his grace to a repentant sinner. (Tim K)

b.  Jonah clearly experiences God’s grace, as we have seen, but he fails to extend it to others. “The book poses a piercing question: What happens when God makes friends with your enemies?” (Chipman)

Implicitly we readers are asked: Are you like Jonah? As believers, you have experienced the Lord’s amazing grace in your lives - His saving grace, and His daily sustaining grace - but do you grumble, like Jonah, when your enemies experience that same grace? Or, at best, are you selective when it comes to being gracious towards others? Do you preach grace, but relate to others in terms of their works, viewing some as unworthy of salvation?

c.  Remember Jesus’ Parable of the Unmerciful Servant who was forgiven an enormous unpayable debt by his gracious master only to then withhold forgiveness from a fellow -servant for a comparatively insignificant debt (cf. Matthew 18:23ff.). His master’s response: ‘Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ (Matthew 18:33). The same can be said of God’s grace towards us!

d.  Are you, like Jonah and the plant, more concerned about your physical comfort (i.e. material blessings) than the eternal destiny of those perishing in their sins?

e.  The Book of Jonah raises uncomfortable questions for believers. Are we any better than Jonah? Thankfully the Lord is a gracious God who gives us, like Jonah, second chances!

3.  JESUS:

a.  In the NT, Jesus refers to Jonah in his teaching. In the context, the hostile religious leaders ask Jesus for a sign to prove his Messianic credentials:

Matthew 12:39–41: 39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead on the third day is the ultimate sign to validate his Messianic credentials (Matthew 12:40). (FSB)

b.  So, according to Jesus, the message of Jonah functions as a warning to those who are religious, but not right with God. If the Ninevites repented at the mere preaching of Jonah, how much more readily should we believe the message of the One who who is far greater than Jonah, the Lord Jesus Christ who was raised from the dead? If you reject His message, your guilt will be all the greater; the testimony of the Ninevites will condemn you on Judgment Day!

Jesus’ message: “Repent and believe the Gospel!” Why? The Lord is ‘a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity’.