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The meaning of Jonah in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)

jo'-na (yonah, "dove"; 'Ionas):

(1) According to II Kings 14:25, Jonah, the son of Amittai, of Gath-hepher, a prophet and servant of Yahweh, predicted the restoration of the land of Israel to its ancient boundaries through the efforts of Jeroboam II. The prophet lived and labored either in the early part of the reign of Jeroboam (790-750 BC), or during the preceding generation. He may with great probability be placed at 800-780 BC. His early ministry must have made him popular in Israel; for he prophesied of victory and expansion of territory. His native village of Gath-hepher was located in the territory of Zebulun (Joshua 19:13).

(2) According to the book bearing his name, Jonah the son of Amittai received a command to preach to Nineveh; but he fled in the opposite direction to escape from the task of proclaiming Yahweh's message to the great heathen city; was arrested by a storm, and at his own request was hurled into the sea, where he was swallowed by a great fish, remaining alive in the belly of the fish for three days. When on his release from the body of the fish the command to go to Nineveh was renewed, Jonah obeyed and announced the overthrow of the wicked city. When the men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of the prophet, God repented of the evil He had threatened to bring upon them. Jonah was grieved that the oppressing city should be spared, and waited in the vicinity to see what would be the final outcome. An intense patriot, Jonah wished for the destruction of the people that threatened to swallow up Israel. He thought that Yahweh was too merciful to the heathen oppressors. By the lesson of the gourd he was taught the value of the heathen in the sight of Yahweh.

It is the fashion now in scholarly circles to treat the Book of Jonah as fiction. The story is said to be an allegory or a parable or a symbolic narrative. Why then did the author fasten upon a true and worthy prophet of Yahweh the stigma of rebellion and narrowness? On theory that the narrative is an allegory, J. Kennedy well says that "the man who wrote it was guilty of a gratuitous insult to the memory of a prophet, and could not have been inspired by the prophet's Master thus to dishonor a faithful servant."

(3) our Lord referred on two different occasions to the sign of Jonah the prophet (Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32; Matthew 16:4). He speaks of Jonah's experience in the belly of the fish as parallel with His own approaching entombment for three days, and cites the repentance of the Ninevites as a rebuke to the unbelieving men of his own generation. Our Lord thus speaks both of the physical miracle of the preservation of Jonah in the body of the fish and of the moral miracle of the repentance of the Ninevites, and without the slightest hint that He regarded the story as an allegory.

John Richard Sampey


See more on the meaning of Jonah in the Bible:
Jonah {Easton's Bible Dictionary}
Jonah {Hitchcock's Bible Name}

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