KEY VERSE FOR MEMORIZATION
“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.
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!