When we study Biblical history, we need to be careful about names. Many of the names are reused. For example, Joshua may refer not only to Joshua son of Nun – Moses’ successor as the leader of the nation, but also to Joshua of Beth Shemesh – to whose field the ark of the covenant returned when the Philistines returned it to Israel (1 Samuel 6:18), or Joshua the high-priest during the time of the prophets Haggai & Zechariah. When we study the kings of Israel and Judah, things get even more confusing. Israel had two kings named Jeroboam, for example, and at one point, Israel and Judah had separate kings both named Joash at the same time!
To make matters even worse, the name of one person can have multiple spellings, occasionally within the same verse!…
2 Kings 13:25
And Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz recaptured from the hand of Ben-Hadad, the son of Hazael, the cities which he had taken out of the hand of Jehoahaz his father by war. Three times Joash defeated him and recaptured the cities of Israel.
To reduce confusion, the Word often refers to a person by both his given name, and by the name of a parent as in…
2 Kings 14:23
In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, became king in Samaria, and reigned forty-one years.
The potential for confusion rises to a peak in this description of the reign of Jeroboam II…
2 Kings 14:23-27
23In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, became king in Samaria, and reigned forty-one years. 24And he did evil in the sight of the LORD; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin. 25He restored the territory of Israel from the entrance of Hamath to the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which He had spoken through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet who was from Gath Hepher. 26For the LORD saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter; and whether bond or free, there was no helper for Israel. 27And the LORD did not say that He would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven; but He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.
Forget a helper for Israel. Lord we need a helper just to sort out the confusion right here in this passage! Let’s take a deep breath, and delve into it…
First off, we see that the fathers of both Jeroboam II – King of Israel, and Amaziah – King of Judah, were named Joash (sometimes spelled Jehoash as we have just noted). Second, we see that Jeroboam II son of Joash, King of Israel became king in Samaria. This might add even more confusion if we didn’t know that Samaria was the name of the capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel at this time.
Also note in verse 24, that Jeroboam II (son of Joash) continued in the sinful heritage begun by Jeroboam I (the son of Solomon’s servant Nebat) who first led the nation into sin when it split into two after the death of Solomon. Remember from 1 Kings 12 that the first Jeroboam had been afraid that some of the citizens of the northern kingdom might defect to his rival Rehoboam in Judah during the annual feasts at the temple in Jerusalem, so he set up two calf idols, one in Bethel, and one in Dan, and suggested (strongly) that his people worship them.
1 Kings 12:28
Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!”
Fortunately for us, the name “Jonah son of Amittai” is used in the Word of God to mean just one person – the prophet whose book we are about to study. Hallelujah! In the Old Testament, outside the book which bears his name, we find only the single reference to the prophet in 2 Kings 14:25. Nothing at all is known of the prophet’s lineage. His father, Amittai, is mentioned only in relation to his son, Jonah.
For our purposes in our study of Jonah, the passage in 2 Kings is also important because it gives us a very rough idea of the time that Jonah prophesied. Jeroboam II reigned in Israel from 792-753BC, so Jonah’s prophecies regarding Jeroboam’s victories over the king of Syria mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25 must have been given by Jonah before 753BC. Assuming that Jonah was an adult of 20 years of age or more at the time he made these prophecies, Jonah couldn’t have been born any later than about 770BC. Given that, and assuming that Jonah had to be younger than about 75 years old to make the arduous journey to Nineveh, we can deduce that his trip must have taken place not later than about 695BC – a little over 80 years before the final destruction of Nineveh by an alliance of Medes, Persians, Babylonians, and Chaldeans around 612BC.
There’s no Biblical account of Jonah prophesying directly to Jeroboam, just the fact that his prophecies about him came true. So pinning down the earliest possible date for the book of Jonah is a little harder. Obviously Nineveh had to exist for Jonah to travel there, but that’s not much help. Nineveh and Babel were built by Noah’s great grandson – Nimrod – somewhere around 3000BC.
8Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one on the earth. 9He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD.” 10And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11From that land he went to Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, 12and Resen between Nineveh and Calah (that is the principal city).
Of course, we do know that Jonah prophesied to the nation of Israel which didn’t become a separate nation from Judah until the death of Solomon in 931BC. We can thus place the book not earlier than 931BC. That’s still a span of over 200 years, though, but if we assume that Jonah did prophesy during (rather than before) the time of Jereboam II (792-753BC), and must have been an adult over 20 and young enough to make the journey we can deduce that Jonah’s trip to Nineveh most likely took place sometime between about 775 and 700BC..
Nor can we determine Biblically who wrote the book of Jonah, but it’s a pretty good guess that it was written or dictated directly to a scribe by Jonah himself. One of the wonderful things about God’s Word – and a compelling affirmation of its Truth – is that the human authors weren’t shy about confessing their own shortcomings. For example, writing to Timothy, Paul declares…
1 Timothy 1:15
This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
And despite the fact that Moses, himself, tells us in Numbers 12:3 that… “the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth,” if we accept Moses as the author of the Pentateuch, we know from his own writings that Moses was subject to fits of anger – on one occasion even murdering a man. Moses even reports that God forbid him to enter with the people into the Promised Land for losing his temper and failing to obey God’s direction at Maribah.
We are also well acquainted with the fact that, although he is frequently called a “man after God’s own heart,” King David was – by his own admission – a murderer and an adulterer.
Similarly, Jonah’s story is not very flattering to him personally. If we assume that Jonah, himself, is its author, it makes the narrative all the more compelling, and affirming to his readers who already know that we are wretched sinners.
The name – Jonah – means “dove.” Certainly, the dove is most often a symbol of peace and purity. We also see the dove as a symbol of the embodiment of God’s Spirit in…
When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.
But the dove is also used as a symbol of silliness, fickleness, or unreliability as in…
Ephraim also is like a silly dove, without sense—
They call to Egypt,
They go to Assyria.
Jonah has been called, “The Reluctant Prophet,” but I propose to you, he might better be deemed “The Rebellious and Self-righteous Prophet.” Apart from the book which bears his name, little is known of him. We know from 2 Kings 14:25 that Jonah hailed from Gath Epher – a town in Galilee along the border between the inheritance of Zebulon, and the inheritance of Naphtali, just north of Nazareth.
Let’s delve into his story…
1Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”
Throughout the Old Testament, we see frequent use of the phrase “the word of the Lord came to…”
1God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
The word of the Lord came first to Abram (Genesis 15), when God first called him out of Ur of the Chaldeans. Later, we see the word coming to Samuel, Nathan, Gad, Solomon, Jehu, Elijah, Isaiah, David, Shemaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, Daniel, Haggai, and Zechariah. The prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, and Haggai all begin their prophecies with this phrase. There is no elaboration of exactly how the word of the Lord came to them (whether audibly, in a dream, or what), just that the word came to them.
The key with all of these instances of God speaking to prophets lies not in exactly how His word came to them, but rather whether or not the word has been fulfilled, or can reasonably be expected to come about. We need to be leery when people begin a sentence with “I have a word for you…,” or some similar phrase. It isn’t that we believe God no longer speaks to men. Heaven forefend! Yet we must heed Jesus’ warning…
For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
Certain prophets (e.g. Daniel) have a “track record” of fulfilled prophecies which lends confidence that their as yet unfulfilled prophecies will eventually be fulfilled. Thankfully, we in these latter days have the written Word of God readily available, and the ability to read it for ourselves, thus we can practice what John directs in discerning false and legitimate prophecies…
1 John 4: 1-3
1Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.
Note also, that it is the word of the Lord which came to these Old Testament prophets. Whenever we see Lord in all uppercase letters or in a small-caps font, we know that this is the English translation of God’s covenant name – יְהֹוָה Yĕhovah – by which God first introduced Himself to Moses…
13Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” 15Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The LORD [יְהֹוָה] God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’