Lesson 4 of5
In Progress

Introductory Issues in Jonah

Historical questions

One of the most debated issues about Jonah has to do with whether the story is meant as history or as a parable (such as Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son in Luke 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.

The fish/whale

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.