The Context of Jonah

I recently had the privilege of taking a seminary class taught by the man who wrote the commentary for the book of Jonah in the ESV Study Bible. Dr. Futato was passionate about the book of Jonah and extremely knowledgeable, and as a result, I’ve come to embrace this book as my favorite book of the prophets.

The book of Jonah is a literary masterpiece. It’s simple but sophisticated. The book is easy to understand, and yet it’s rich and profound. A child can read it and understand it, and an adult can get more and more out of it each time he or she reads it.

The key verse of the book of Jonah is Jonah 4:11: “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”

The key word for the entire book is compassion. Although the Assyrians were evil and rejected God, he still had compassion on them and a desire to see them saved from their sin. He sent Jonah to give them a message that they were to be destroyed. Jonah, however, did not share God’s compassion for the Ninevites. When God gave him his message for Nineveh, Jonah turned and ran the other way. When Jonah finally did deliver his message and they repented, he was angry with God for having compassion. The book concludes with a powerful lesson on compassion.

The following is the structure of the book, which is divided into 2 main sections:

Section 1 (Jonah 1:1-2:10)
1:1-3 Jonah’s commission and flight
1:4-16 Jonah and the pagan sailors
1:17-2:10 Jonah’s grateful prayer

Section 2 (Jonah 3:1-4:11)
3:1-3a Jonah’s re-commission and compliance
3:3b-10 Jonah and the pagan Ninevites
4:1-4 Jonah’s angry prayer
4:5-11 Jonah’s lesson on compassion

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