Jonah 2–4. God and Jonah.

Key Notes: Jonah speaks Scipture in prayer. When God repents. Loving your audience? God loved Assyrians and Jonah. Was Jesus three days in the heart of the earth?

Jonah prayed in the fish’s belly. The prayer was recorded afterward and reflects back on his experience. Although the prophet’s fish experience is unique, the experience of being at death's door, overwhelmed by events as if drowning, is not unique. Few of us have not had similar experiences of despair. David felt that way many times, as we read in the Psalms. Jonah's prayer is based on the Psalms.

2:1–2” Out of the belly of Sheol I cried and you heard my voice.”
             “Our of the depths I cry to Thee, O Lord.” Psa.130:1
             “…to my God I cried for help…and my cry reached His ears.” Psa.18:6

2:3  “You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas and the flood was all around me….all your waves and billows passed over me.”
             “All your waves and billows have passed over me.” Psa.42:7
             “You have put me in…the regions dark and deep”. Psa.88:6

2:4 “Then I said ‘ I am cast from your presence;'”
             “I said in my alarm ‘I am driven far from Your sight ’”. Psa.31:22

2:5 "The waters closed in over me, the deep was around about me; weeds were wrapped about my head.”
             “I have come into deep waters and the flood sweeps over me.” Psa.69:2
             “Waters closed over my head; I said ‘I am lost’”. Lam.3:54

2:6 “I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet You did bring up my life from the Pit.”
             ‘For you did not give me up to Sheol or let your godly one see the Pit.” Psa. 16:10
             “God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol.” Psa. 49:15
             “You have delivered my soul from death.” Psa. 56:13

2:7 “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord and my prayer came to Thee.”
            "Their soul fainted within them.” Psa. 107:5
            “When my soul is faint, you know my way.” Psa.142:3
             “…from His Temple He heard my voice.” Psa.18:6

2:8  “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their true loyalty.”
            “You hate those who pay regard to vain idols.” Psa.31:6

2:9  “I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to You. What I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord.”
“The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord.” Psa.37:39
“Deliverance belongs to the Lord.” Psa.3:8
“Offer to God the sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High.”
 “Let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving.” Psa. 107:22

The prophet’s words are full of the psalms. Other writers of psalms express these feelings.
“With my lips I declare all the ordinances of Thy mouth. “ Psa.119:13.
 “My tongue will sing of Thy word, for all Thy commandments are right.” Psa.119:172
“O Lord, open Thou my lips and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise.” Psa.51:15

2:10  The Lord spoke to the fish and it vomited Jonah up on dry land.
An ignominious exit--and entrance. We wonder what he looked like.

3:1–10 This time Jonah did as he was told. He went a day’s walk (20 miles) into a city that was estimated to be 60 miles across. It was probably a complex of city and villages. The remnants of the citadel of Ninevah are 7 miles in circumference.

4:1–11. Jonah’s witness to God's character—gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love—did not embarrass him or convert him to emulate his Maker. Imagine a prophet rebuking God for being merciful! God had to show Jonah that he cared more for his personal comfort—a shady plant-- than the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, not mention 120,000 little children and domestic animals. That has contemporary applications. We are left to wonder if Jonah ever changed his mind--and will we change ours.

There are several lessons to be learned from Jonah.

Jesus prophesied that Ninevah and the Queen of Sheba would rebuke His generation. They were pagans who responded—in one case to a threat from Jonah and the other to the attractiveness of Solomon. Jesus gave the Jews both threat and attractiveness and they responded to neither.

Did Jonah have “free will”? The story is a model case of God overwhelming an intelligently made disobedience. Jonah chose. He moved. God over-ruled. Check-mate. Jonah was coerced. He was not prepared to challenge God a second time.

He did not preach Good News. He pronounced the Wrath of God on Ninevah. “Yet forty days and Ninevah shall be overthrown.” It was an outcome he wanted passionately to see accomplished. All, from the greatest to the least, turned from doing evil and violence, and cried to God. Jesus confirms that their repentance was genuine. (Matt.12:41). Jonah was totally unsuccessful in his mission. With any other people, he would have been overjoyed to see repentance.

“And God repented of the evil which He had said He would do to them.” The word “repent” usually means to change one’s mind, realizing, on further knowledge, that the first decision was foolish. A better translation (NIV) is “He had compassion” (3:10) and He “relented” (4:2). God is not foolish and does not change His mind. He is “The Father of Lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (Jm.1:17). “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Heb.13:8). Ninevah repented and God relented.

Think of a school principal. There is a standard that the student must meet to graduate. If the student fails the course, the principal is obliged to block graduation. It the student repeats the course and meets graduation conditions,  it is the student who has changed,  not the principal. But the principal remains flexible, meeting the student’s need for special help, emotional support, even extra time. If the student takes advantage of the principal’s compassion, there is likely to be anger and dismissal of the student. There is a difference between the principal’s short-term accommodations and long-term goals.

Was God’s threat real? “Relent” suggests that the missile was aborted at the last moment.
Did God know that Ninevah would repent? Was He surprised? Certainly not.
Everything about the story indicates that God (and Jonah) knew what the outcome would be. God’s use of multiple means—prophet, storm, mariners, fish—was directed at getting Ninevah saved.

But people argue that God’s appeal to repentance does not always work. Paul’s essay on the apostasy of Israel is a case study. (Rom.9–11). Was God surprised by Israel’s failure? Moses predicted it more than a thousand years before. (Deut.28). Then how can God be angry? At some point we stop the questions and appeal to God’s mercy and justice. Rom.9:16–25

Loving your task and your audience is very important but not crucial. You may be “nothing” because your lack of love (ICor.13:1–4), but the work must get done. There are missionaries who do not love their people but God blesses the work anyway. If you think of converts as “notches on your gun stock” you may rightly be ridiculed but God’s work is still being done. Witnessing may be called “cultural imperialism” but it is God’s empire. Proselytizing is a dirty word, with great efforts to make it illegal, but God commands “Go ye”. Evangelize anyway! Only avoid "buying people" and other illicit forms of coercion.

God cares about people more than we do. Jonah thought he fled from the presence of the Lord, then was afraid he might have. In Jonah, God is immanent, close to His prophet, and close to human beings. He loved Jonah as well as the Ninevities. As in the case of Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10), God used multiple agencies to accomplish His will. Jonah unintentionally saved not only the Ninevites but the seamen.

Being a patriot can get in the way of your better judgment. Think hard about your relationship to your Country and modern Ninevites.

Jesus used Jonah to teach two further lessons. (Matt.12:38–39)
“As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so shall the Son of Man be three days in the heart of the earth.”
The second lesson is that Ninevah would rebuke Israel, because it repented and Israel did not.


The time, three days and three nights which Jesus prophesied for His interment raises a controversy. The traditional date of the death of Christ is Friday, April 26, 30AD. A glance at the time between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday shows that there two nights and parts of two days at best. That contradicts the prophecy. Some say we should not scruple over details but Muslims and other critics make use of the details to ridicule Christianity. Could our traditional calendar be incorrect?

(PS is Palm Sunday; C is Crucifixion, R is Resurrection.)


According to Ex.12:3–6 the Passover Lamb was set apart on the tenth of Nisan, and sacrificed on the 14th. The tenth of Nisan was Palm Sunday (PS), a unique event in which Jesus presented himself conspicuously to Jerusalem. He presented Himself as a King in fulfillment of Zech.9:9. Since Jesus was averse to making dramatic appearances (Matt.12:15–19), we look for a further explanation as well as the fulfilled prophecy. By presenting Himself as King, He could be  and was, charged with sedition against Rome and executed (C). He was thus King of Israel and at the same time the Passover Lamb setting Himself apart for sacrifice.

But what are the correct dates of His death and resurrection? In’73 a new computer-generated calendar of 1000BC to 1651AD was published. (“New and Full Moons; H.H. Goldstine; Am. Phil. Soc.’73). Dr. Goldstine was working at the Princeton Univ. Institute for Advanced Studies. His data makes the most plausible date for Passover, 14th Nisan, as Thursday, April 6, 30AD. (“The Day He Died”. R. Rusk; Christianity Today, Mar.29,’74, p.4).


In the Russian Synodal Translation [and many others], the Greek word paraskein is translated "Friday," but it literally means "the day of preparation" for the Sabbath. In the majority of new translations the word paraskein is translated simply as "the day of preparation."  Usually the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, but in the manuscripts of the Old Testament we learn that every Jewish holy day was considered Shabbat or Sabbath: Lev. 16:29–31; Lev. 23:2–8, 24. In Mk. 15:42 and Jn.’:14 we see that the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ took place on "the day of preparation" before Passover or Sabbath. In Jn.19:31 we read that it was not a usual Sabbath, but "that Sabbath was a special one," the greatest holy day of the Jews, Passover. And this special Sabbath was not seven days after the previous Sabbath, but "six days": Jn. 12:1. {Note by Bob Hosken.}

I believe that Jesus died on Thursday, based on the best fit of the prophecy of Jonah and Christ, and the new calendar.