Introductory Issues in Jonah
One of the most debated issues about JonahA rebellious prophet who fled from the Lord’s command, only to be delivered by a big and fish and bring about the repentance of Nineveh More has to do with whether the story is meant as history or as a parableA parable is a brief story with a setting, an action, and a result. A prominent aspect of Jesus’ teaching was telling parables to illustrate something about the kingdom, or reign, of God. More (such as Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son in LukeThe “beloved physician” and companion of Paul More 15). As one wit commented, a man surviving in a whale is the most believeable part of Jonah. Much more problematic is the idea that Nineveh ever repented. The story is a parable that is intended to teach the reader about what it means to worship a merciful God.
When people learn this story, they usually are taught that Jonah was in the belly of the whale. The Hebrew of the book of Jonah actually says he was in the belly of a “big fish.” The ancient people would not have known of the modern distinction between a fish and an aquatic mammal.
Relationship between God’s people and the nations
One important issue that the story of Jonah raises is how God’s people should regard the nations (those who were from a people other than the Hebrew people). At the time when Jonah was probably written (after the exile), there was strong pressure within the Judean population for the people to live separately from other nations. At that time, some within God’s people sent their foreign wives away. Jonah is a story that emphasizes that God loves even Nineveh, the wicked foreign city.