See Jonah Run: Comic Narrative in the Book of Jonah

Sabbath School commentary for discussion on September 18, 2021

Editor's note: this article first appeared in the Spectrum Journal (vol. 15, no. 5) in 1987 and appears here in its entirety.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Jonah, dove, a name for Israel, seems more to be a commentary by the author on Israel’s self perception in the world and towards other nations/Gentiles. Where Israel looked for divine comeuppance and judgement towards the wicked Gentile world, the author is saying that God seeks their redemption and restoration. His grace is not limited to a favored nation or people, but open equally to all.

This is one of the main running themes of the NT. Something that first century Judaism had a very difficult time with. It got Jesus executed, and had Paul on the run. It turns out that the book of Jonah was a piece of prophecy in multiple ways.




Another interesting observation from the Hebrew text:
In the Nineveh episode, the name of God (YHWH) is completely missing after 3:3 in contrast to chapters 1, 2, and 4. All scenes include God’s name, but not this one. He is just “God”. A subtle, but important storytelling strategy.

This whole Nineveh episode (cf. 3:5–10), in which the Nineveh people turn to God and He turns to them, excludes who this God is … As if the narrator wanted to tell us that they turn to God, but only in the form they know Him. He is not introduced as YHWH to them.

Contrary to the Nineveh people, the Gentile sailors prayed to YHWH (cf. 3:14). The narrator wants to tell us that there are those Gentiles who know more and those who don’t.

If people turn to whatever glimpse they sense about God, He will embrace them and give more light. That gives me hope for our world.


It sure does! It’s right in line with what 12 step groups teach, that people can turn to a higher power, the God of their own understanding, to be set free from addiction. God works with that and people’s lives are transformed, without calling him by the “right name,” or having all the “right knowledge.”

They still experience the gracious liberating power of God, because he cares, and he loves…regardless of our constructs.

Thanks for pointing that out, Kate!



Great view on a book we tend to hanndle like we all know it already ! What new insights ! Thank you !!

(oh yes, of course we here have an example for “conditional prophecy” also, so be satisfied with our view !!

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I’d like to add a couple of observations:
The story of Jonah states that the population of Ninevah was 120,000. Some think it was the largest city in world at the time and thus a very powerful city in the Assyrian Empire. The number 120 is associated with a special manifestation of the Holy Spirit (e.g., 2Chron 5:12; Acts 1:18) and, in the case of Jonah, God’s Spirit would be shown to work in a unique fashion.

Wikipedia tells us that the original meaning of the name Nineveh is unclear but may have referred to a patron goddess. The cuneiform for Ninâ(𒀏) is a fish within a house (cf. Aramaicnuna, “fish”). This may have simply intended “Place of Fish” or may have indicated a goddess associated with fish or the Tigris River.
Additionally, the word נון/נונאin Old Babylonian refers to the Anthiinae genus of fish, further indicating the possibility of an association between the name Nineveh and fish.
So, it appears that a prominent Ninevite god or goddess was related to fish.

In that part of the world at the time, the Assyrians were recognized as a rather bloodthirsty nation. (They would rise and conquer the northern kingdom of Israel a generation after Jonah.)
So, when God asked Jonah to become a missionary to Nineveh, one can imagine what went through Jonah’s mind - such a trip would be suicidal, sure death in perhaps an unpleasant way. Hence his decision to flee in the opposite direction.

But God is sovereign over His creation and had everything worked out in advance. The fact that a fish ‘delivered’ Jonah to Nineveh give him instant credibility among its citizens. And, by rescuing him from their fish god, Jonah’s God was proven more powerful. (God did much the same thing when He showed His superiority over the various Egyptian gods by His imposition of the plagues at the time of the Exodus.)
It was a brilliant method to protect Jonah (and probably saved his life) and perhaps the only way to collectively and instantly open the minds of the Ninevites to Jonah’s message.

It proves that God knows how to reach us where we are by even using the things or people we revere instead of Him.


To me, one of the most fascinating truths mentioned in the Bible in conjunction with the Jonah saga, and one which I believe directly applies to us, is only touched on by the SS lesson. I think this is so because we Christians are so preoccupied with our individual salvation we don’t give God’s plans for His coming kingdom on earth much, if any, thought.

I’m speaking of a quote of Jesus that was mentioned in passing in the Sabbath afternoon lesson. Jesus said, ‘The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they relented at the preaching of Jonah.’ (Matt 12:41).
The Greek word translated as ‘condemn’ (katakrino) can mean to act as a judge and thus pronounce judgment against someone (and set out consequent punishment), or, by one’s good example, to render another’s bad behaviour more evident and censurable. It seems to me the latter definition applies here to the Ninevites.

The Bible tells us that truth is established by two (or more) witnesses and God likes to have (a representative of both) heaven and earth in agreement about truth. So, that begs the question: at the end of this age, will you be prepared to act as an earthly witness and testify about your relationship with Christ if you are called upon during someone else’s judgment proceeding?

To go even further, as this age ends and the next one begins, consider that Jesus told His disciples that in the regeneration they will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt 19:28). Also, Paul scolded the Corinthian believers and told them to shape up because saints will judge men and angels (1Cor 6:1-3).

Have you ever wondered about this? It appears that God will choose certain believers to actually pass judgment not only upon other people, but also heavenly beings.

In several places the Bible mentions the characteristics of a fair judge. Of course, knowledge of the law is essential but is only one prerequisite. I wonder if any of us will measure up and be honoured by being given such an important position as the kingdom further unfolds.

Note: in rereading this comment, for clarity I think it important to mention an essential element of my theology: I do not believe in unending torment or incineration for those who have not come to a belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ during their lives in this age.
Thus, judging other human or heavenly beings will not include sentencing them to either of those punishments which, to me, are horrific and contradict the very nature, the agapé love of God. So whatever verdict is reached at the judgment can certainly entail chastisement but its basis and purpose will always be correction leading to ultimate reconciliation with God.

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