The Story of Jonah

The story of Jonah spending three days in the belly of a whale is one that many of us remember from our early days in Sunday school. But what else should we know about Jonah so we can better understand our God and this story? Learn more below.

The Name
Jonah’s name translates into “dove.” In the Bible, a dove is often used to represent the spirit of God. We see doves referenced in this way multiple times, such as after Jesus was baptized and with Noah at the end of the flood, as well as in verses such as Isaiah 38:14 and Ezekiel 7:16 to depict the suffering of those who had fallen away from God.

Who Wrote It?
The author of the book of Jonah is unknown; it’s not thought to be Jonah himself.

What Do We Know About Jonah?
The Bible gives us no personal details about Jonah, especially when compared to prophets such as Moses whose occupation and families are recorded in great detail. We know only two facts about Jonah: he lived during the reign of Jeroboam II (about 790-750 BCE) and his father was Amittai.

Jonah is the only prophet to whom Jesus compared Himself. In Matthew 12:40, Jesus says, “For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.”

The Difference
The Bible is full of prophets who argue with God. Abraham pleaded for God not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and Moses refused God multiple times when He ordered him to go to Pharaoh. Moses even fought God again when he asked Him to spare the Israelites. But we don’t see any of this behavior from Jonah; rather than arguing, he just runs away. He doesn’t communicate with God at all until he’s in the belly of the whale.

Was it a Whale?
Although no one can prove exactly what swallowed Jonah, the history and translation is very interesting! In 2012, historian Dr. Bill Cooper pointed out that the then-common Greek word used for the fish was “ketos.” Homer, Aristophanes, and a multitude of other ancient authors and historians mentioned the ketos in their work, and ancient visual art identifies the ketos a dog-headed sea monster. We may never know if it was a whale or extinct sea monster that swallowed Jonah!

All in God’s Hands
Throughout the book of Jonah, we watch God demonstrate His power; He’s in complete control. In Jonah 2:10, we even see that He ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach. He commands everything in creation, from the storm on the boat to the whale, to carry out His plan.

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