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This Man Was Swallowed by a Fish

Updated on November 1, 2015


Jonah. It is one of the stories of the Bible that is very popular in Sunday school and in Christianity in general. There are movies and books based on this story. There is a lot more to the story then what is taught in the Sunday school. To figure out what the book of Jonah is all about we must first find the historical-cultural background of the book of Jonah.

Jonah and the Whale & Daniel and the Lions - Beginners Bible

Historical-Cultural Background

In the book of Jonah, Jonah was called by God to “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me” (Jonah 1:1-2, NKJV). Nineveh was first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 10:11 “From that land he went to Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, 12 and Resen between Nineveh and Calah (that is the principal city)” (NKJV). It was built by Nimrod (Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures). The city of Nineveh is located in the Assyrian empire and “east of the Tigris, opposite the modern Mosul” (Jamieson, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible). The population of Nineveh had an “upwards of one hundred and twenty thousand when Jonah preached” (Swanson, New Nave's). Within the Bible there are a few terms to describe the city of Nineveh and these terms are “…Full of joy and carelessness, full of lies and robbery, and full of witchcraft” (Torrey, The New Topical Text Book: A Scriptural Text Book for the Use of Ministers, Teachers, and All Christian Workers). These descriptions are displayed a lot in the book of Jonah as Jonah is trying to show the people of Nineveh who God is and His love for them.

Another important city in the book of Jonah is Joppa. When the Lord had called Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh and he did not want to obey the Lord, so he “arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3, NKJV). The city of Joppa is located “in the territory of Dan, on the coast of the Mediterranean” (Negev, The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land). The city of Joppa was important in the book of Jonah because if Jonah had not gone to Joppa and found that ship that was going to Tarshish, he may have not been able to warn Nineveh of what the Lord would do to them if they did not turn from their wicked ways.

The third important city in the book of Jonah is a city called Tarshish. Tarshish is located “… the farthest west at the greatest distance from Nineveh in the east” (Jamieson, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible). Tarshish “was rich in such metals as silver (Je. 10:9), iron, tin, lead (Ezk. 27:12), which were exported to places like Joppa and Tyre (Ezk. 27). (Wood, pg. 1153). Also during this time “The major power in the middle East at that time was Assyria, whose capital was Nineveh” (Dockery, Holman Concise Bible Commentary: Simple, Straightforward Commentary on Every Book of the Bible).

The main individual in the book of Jonah was named Jonah. Jonah was a Hebrew man as it states in Jonah 1:9 “So he said to them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” (NKJV). The meaning of his name Jonah is from the New Bible Dictionary, Third Edition is a “Hebrew personal name, meaning ‘dove’” (Wood pg. 603). Recordings of Jonah’s life show that there was only a father in his life and his father was named Amittai. Also by looking at Jonah’s family tree he did not have any brother or sisters. Jonah “was the most popular prophet of his day due to his consistently optimistic forecasts regarding the military successes of Jeroboam II” (Smith, The Minor Prophets). So knowing this information Jonah was the right man for God to use to complete His will.

Image is from the People’s Bible Encyclopedia
Image is from the People’s Bible Encyclopedia | Source

Historical Occasion

I feel that there is one main occasion in the book on Jonah. The occasion is that the people of Nineveh were sinful and that if they did not turn away from their wicked ways that God would destroy their city. There are three main groups of people involved in the occasion. These three main groups of people are Jonah, God and the people of Nineveh. Knowing who these three main groups are can help me figure out the occasion.

Jonah was a man who was a prophet and he was one of the best during his time. In looking at the time of when Jonah wrote this I would say it had to be around the golden age of the Northern Kingdom [since he lived and was preaching the gospel around that time]” (Richards, pg. 471). I feel that Jonah wrote this book of the Bible after he returned from Nineveh. I feel that there were many circumstances that he was in. One circumstance was that he may have still been angry at God for not punishing the people of Nineveh. Also, he could not believe the way that God had worked to change the hearts of the people of Nineveh.

I would consider the people reading the book of Jonah the audience. I feel that this book was written for people who lived after the people of Nineveh such as the Babylon’s or other wicked nations. I feel that the readers lived where the people in that particular city felt that God’s presence was not there or a city of people who did not believe in God at all. I feel that it was what was going on during the readers’ lives that caused Jonah to write what God told him to write. Without God telling him to write Jonah probably would not have gone to Nineveh. Another reason that Jonah wrote this book was that Jonah wanted to help others to see their wicked ways and to see who God was in their lives. One factor that played an important role in the situation during this time was that Nineveh, which was in the Assyrian Empire “was great in size, great in power and great in military prowess. There were around five times as many people living there as lived in Jerusalem. A more impressive city could not be found” (Mackrell, pgs. 18-19).

The other people who were involved in the book of Jonah are God and the people of Nineveh. There were many relationships developed between the third party and the author and the audience. The relationship between Jonah and God was that at first Jonah and God had a strained relationship because Jonah was running away from God when God had commanded him to do something. Throughout the book their relationship became stronger. The relationship between Jonah and the people of Nineveh was the same relationship between the people of the audience of the book of Jonah and the people of Nineveh. I am saying this for a few reasons. One reason is that the people of Nineveh were wicked, but so were the audience and so was Jonah. The three are all wicked because they all sin and rebel against God. They all disobey His commands and reject His love. The relationship between Jonah, the audience and the people of Nineveh are all the same. God loves them all and He will forgive them of their sins. Even though they may turn their backs on Him, He will not do the same to them.

Image is of “The Ministry of Jonah About the Time of Jeroboam”
Image is of “The Ministry of Jonah About the Time of Jeroboam” | Source

Author's Purpose

I feel that within the book Jonah there are many author purposes. One of these purposes is sacrificing everything that you desire and give it all to God. An example of this is in Jonah 1:16 “Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows” (NKJV). Sacrifice is also mentioned Jonah 2:9 “But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD” (NKJV).In Jonah 2:9 Jonah anticipated that he would be delivered by the fish. Jonah also knew that no matter how many times he messed up God’s will, will be done. This is because the words “I will sacrifice… sacrifice…thanksgiving mean that “In the believing anticipation of sure deliverance, he offers thanksgivings already” (Jamieson, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible). The word sacrifice is mentioned about twice in the book of Jonah, but the concept is mentioned a lot more. A way that the word the concept of sacrificing is displayed in the book of Jonah is in Jonah 3:7-9:

"7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?" (NKJV).

In this particular passage of Jonah even the people of Nineveh sacrificed to God. Not to do this to praise God, but it the people of Nineveh did this so that God would not put His anger and wrath on them. Another author’s purpose was forgiveness. Forgiveness is displayed in two main ways in the book of Jonah. One way is that forgiveness is shown is when Jonah is swallowed by the fish. God forgives Jonah when he repents in Jonah 2:2-10 and I feel that sometimes that this is what God is looking for. He does not ask anything more of those of Nineveh and after Jonah asked God for his forgives than God’s will, will be done. God displays this grace and mercy about Himself in Jonah 4:10-11 “10 But the Lord said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?” (NKJV). These two verses show not that only God gives mercy and grace to those who do not deserve it, but He also helps those who do not know of Him.

The Holy Bible - Book 32 - Jonah - KJV Dramatized Audio

Selected Word Studies

This selected word study will be from Jonah 4:2 which says “I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (NASB). The words in this verse that I will be doing the word study on are gracious, compassionate, and lovingkindness. The word gracious translated from English to Hebrew is “חַנּוּן(Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries: Updated Edition). There are a few meaning for the word gracious. One of these meanings is in “to be kindly disposed or to show favor and mercy to someone, usually by a person of superior position and power to a person of inferior position and power.” (Achtemeier, pg. 358). Another meaning of the word gracious is to be “marked by kindly courtesy” (Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Thesaurus).

The word gracious is cross-references in a few books of the Bible. One example of this cross reference is in Exodus 4:6 “Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth;” (NASB). Another example of the word gracious in the Bible is in Psalm 103:8 -9“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive with is, Nor will He keep His anger forever” (NASB). God’s grace and mercy is also referred in “Jonah here has before his mind Ex 34:6; as Joel (Joe 2:13) in his turn quotes from Jonah” (Jamieson, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible).

The word compassionate in Hebrew is “רַחוּם[which means] merciful” (Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries: Updated Edition). The meaning of the word compassionate is “having or showing compassion” (Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary). Another meaning of the word compassionate is “kindhearted, responsive, softhearted, sympathetic, warm, warmhearted” (Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Thesaurus).

Compassionate has many cross-references in the Bible. One of these cross-references is in Deuteronomy 4:31 “For the Lord your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them” (NASB). Another cross-reference is in Psalm 116:5 “Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; Yes, our God is compassionate” (NASB). A third cross-reference of the word compassionate is in Joel 2:13 “And rend your heart and not your garments. Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness; And relenting of evil” (NASB). A final cross-reference of the word compassionate is in Nehemiah 9:17 “…But You are a God of forgiveness, Gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; And You did not forsake them” (NASB).

The word lovingkindness in Hebrew is “חֶסֶד[which means] goodness” (Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries: Updated Edition). The definition of the word lovingkindness is “steadfast love” (Day, Collins Thesaurus of the Bible).

Lovingkindness has many cross-references within the Bible. One cross-reference is in Psalm 5:7 “But as for me, by Your abundant lovingkindness I will enter Your house, At Your holy temple I will bow in reverence for You” (NASB). Another cross-reference is in Nehemiah 1:5 “ I said, beseech You, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments” (NASB). A third cross-reference of lovingkindness is in 2 Chronicles 6:14 “ He said, O LORD, the God of Israel, there is no god like You in heaven or on earth, keep covenant and showing lovingkindness to Your servants who walk before You will all their heart” (NASB). A final cross-reference is in Ezra 3:11 “They sang, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, saying ‘For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever…” (NASB).

Now that I have given a breakdown of the words gracious, compassionate and lovingkindness I cannot compare and contrast them all. First I would like to start off with comparing and contrasting the words gracious and compassionate. The difference between the words gracious and compassionate is that gracious is being kind to someone who does not deserve it and being compassionate is not getting what we deserve. In fact the words gracious and compassionate are total opposites.

Next I would like to compare gracious and lovingkindness. The contrast between gracious and lovingkindness is that lovingkindness is the love of God that keeps giving and giving. Gracious and lovingkindness are more similar because God’s love which is lovingkindness is a gracious love because His love is something that we do not deserve.

Finally I would like to compare compassionate and lovingkindness. Compassionate and lovingkindness are opposites. This is because if God’s love is compassionate than we would not get it because we simply do not deserve it. Since, God’s love is not a compassionate love, but it is a gracious love than we receive it.


In doing this project on Jonah I have learned a lot. I have learned that there is more about Jonah than what it just presented in the text. I have learned about whom Jonah was and what God’s specific calling for him was. This has been very interesting for me to do and it has also let me ponder and express my personal opinion on certain things in the book of Jonah. I hope that I may get a chance to do this again.

Works Cited

Achtemeier, Paul J., Publishers Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature. Harper's Bible Dictionary. 1st ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985.

Barnes, Charles. Images from The People’s Bible Encyclopedia: Biographical, Geographical, Historical, and Doctrinal. Chicago, IL: The People’s Publication Society, 1912; 2009.

Day, Colin A. Collins Thesaurus of the Bible. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009.

Dockery, David S. Holman Concise Bible Commentary: Simple, Straightforward Commentary on Every Book of the Bible. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998.

Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset and David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.

Mackrell, Paul. Opening Up Jonah. Leominster: Day One Publications, 2007.

Merriam-Webster, Inc. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. Eleventh ed. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003.

Merriam-Webster, Inc. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Thesaurus. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1996.

Negev, Avraham. The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land. 3rd ed. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1990.

New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

Richards, Lawrence O. The Bible Readers Companion. electronic ed. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1991.

Richards, Larry and Lawrence O. Richards. The Teacher's Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1987.

Smith, James E. The Minor Prophets. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1994.

Swanson, James and Orville Nave. New Nave's. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1994.

Thomas, Robert L. New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition. Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998.

Torrey, R.A. The New Topical Text Book: A Scriptural Text Book for the Use of Ministers, Teachers, and All Christian Workers. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001.

Walvoord, John F., Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.

Wood, D. R. W. and I. Howard Marshall. New Bible Dictionary. 3rd ed. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.


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