The Account of Jonah

Discovery for Teachers

The Account of Jonah


Jonah 1:1 through 4:11

“And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.” (Jonah 3:10)


Jonah’s ministry took place during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C.). He may have been one of the young prophets of the school mentioned in 2 Kings 2:3. It was Jonah who prophesied that King Jeroboam II would be successful in expanding Israel’s borders back to where they were in the days of King Solomon. (See 2 Kings 14:23-25.) Israel was prosperous and largely peaceful at this time.

Nineveh was a very large city, the largest of this era. In the last verse of the book, God asked a rhetorical question of Jonah, “And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” This verse indicates the size of Nineveh. The city had 120,000 young children, which means that most likely the population of the city proper was nearly one million. It was the capitol of the Assyrian Empire, which was the most dreaded enemy of Israel at the time.

The Assyrians were feared because of their cruelty. They often impaled live victims on poles, and killed babies and small children so they would not have to be cared for. One hundred years later, the prophet Nahum said that Nineveh was guilty of “evil plots against God” (Nahum 1:9), exploitation of the helpless (Nahum 2:12), cruelty in war (Nahum 2:12-13), idolatry, prostitution, and witchcraft (Nahum 3:4).

As a prophet of Jehovah, Jonah knew that God’s judgment would come upon Israel if the people followed the ungodly example of Jeroboam. He may have guessed that the Assyrians would be the vehicle for that judgment. No doubt he loved the people of his own nation as much as he was repulsed by the cruelty of the idolatrous Assyrians.

Some historians believe that the third-person style of writing used in the Book of Jonah indicated that it was recorded after Nineveh’s repentance. After Jonah realized his mistake of being angry with God, perhaps he went back and recorded the account.

Casting lots is referred to several times in the Bible. This act was much like drawing straws and was intended to ascertain the will or direction of the gods. At times, Israelites also cast lots as a method of finding God’s will. The sailors Jonah traveled with cast lots to discover the offender who had caused the storm that was putting their lives in danger. God used the lot to point out Jonah’s guilt.

The Book of Jonah is a great illustration of God’s mercy and desire that no one perish. The response of the people of Nineveh is remarkable because members of every social stratum chose to repent.


  1. We know that Ninevah was the largest city of its era. What problems are inherent to evangelizing a large city?

    In Jonah’s case, just spreading the word was a challenge. There was no mass media to help him, although word of mouth, no doubt, worked effectively. The greater metropolitan area of Nineveh was approximately sixty miles. Jonah spent three days walking through it.

    Today, many evangelistic methods are available, and dispersal of information and travel are fast. However, challenges and problems still exist when evangelizing. Ask your students to mention some of these problems. Their answers may include getting people to pay attention, touching people’s hearts rather than just their minds so they will respond, etc. One-on-one witnessing continues to be one of the most effective methods of spreading the Gospel. Your students may have some witnessing experiences to share.

  2. In what ways is God’s mercy evidenced throughout the story of Jonah?

    When Jonah refused to follow God’s command and boarded a ship to Tarshish, God could have just capsized the ship and destroyed Jonah and all those on board. Instead, He gave Jonah a chance to revisit his decision.

    God had mercy on the heathen sailors by allowing them to discern the guilty person and also to witness God’s power to instantly calm the storm.

    Mercy was granted to Jonah when he cried out from the belly of the fish.

    Although God had every intention of destroying the city of Nineveh, His mercy was extended when the Ninevites repented of their sins. Chapter 3 ends with this statement, “God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.”

  3. In Jonah 2:9, Jonah refers to a vow he made. What do you think that vow may have been?

    We are not told what specific vow Jonah made. As a prophet of God, he should have been dedicated to doing God’s bidding. In essence, that could have been the vow between him and God, an unequivocal commitment to do what God wanted. By boarding the ship to Tarshish, Jonah was running from God and the work God had for him to do.

    This could be an opportunity to discuss caution regarding vows. God is watching to see if we will follow through on what we vow; therefore, we should exercise extreme care when considering a vow. Consecration is different than a vow because it is a willingness to do whatever God asks without making a commitment to do a certain action.

  4. How did the king of Nineveh and his people respond to Jonah’s message?

    When the king and the inhabitants of Nineveh heard of God’s plan for judgment, they immediately removed their cloaks and put on sackcloth, sat in ashes, fasted, and wept before God, repenting of their evil ways. It is interesting to note that this was a heathen nation, but there seemed to be no question in the Ninevites’ minds that judgment was coming. Even though they worshiped other gods, they immediately embraced Jonah’s message and repented.

    Ask your class what the signs of true repentance might be today. Those signs will probably not include sackcloth or sitting in ashes. Your students’ answers may include an abhorrence for sins committed, tears of sorrow, a crying out to God for forgiveness, etc.

  5. What six circumstances did God orchestrate in the Book of Jonah?

    1) A mighty storm jostled Jonah’s ship on the way to Tarshish.

    2) A great fish swallowed Jonah just as he was thrown over the side of the ship.

    3) At the appointed time, the fish spewed Jonah out onto dry land.

    4) A vine covered Jonah and shaded him.

    5) A worm ate the vine.

    6) A scorching wind blew on Jonah.

    Ask your students to describe times in their lives when God orchestrated special circumstances in order to show mercy or direct them.

  6. Why was Jonah angry about the forgiveness God showed to the Ninevites?

    Jonah had lost sight of his purpose. The Jews were not interested in sharing God’s message with the Gentiles. Nineveh was a heathen and foreign city, located in Assyria — a nation that had been the Children of Israel’s enemy for many years. Jonah did not feel that the Ninevites were worthy of God’s salvation.

    Ask your students what this indicates about Jonah’s spirit. (He was angry inside.) Can Christians harbor resentment instead of granting forgiveness? (We will not receive God’s forgiveness unless we forgive others.)

  7. God’s charge to Jonah was also directed to the Children of Israel, and is directed to us today. What is that charge?

    The Children of Israel were charged to be God’s messengers to those who were lost and dying and did not know about Him. This is exactly what we, as Christians, are expected to do today. We are to spread the Gospel to those around us.

    In Jonah’s time, there may have been some prejudice and hatred toward the Assyrians. Today, also, people can hold hatred and prejudices. Discuss with your class the importance of reaching out to those of other nationalities, ethnicities, cultures, classes, etc. You might ask them to suggest ways to overcome these hindrances or to give personal examples.

  8. How can we avoid being a “Jonah” today?

    When God bids us to do something for Him, we must do it without murmuring or complaining. If we choose to go our own way, God, in His mercy, may choose to stop us, but the circumstances will not be pleasant. It is so much better to be willing to follow His leading from the start.


God’s mercy is displayed throughout the Book of Jonah. He wants both Jews and Gentiles to know of His grace and redemption. Let us determine to follow His leading in our lives!