Q: What is the historical context of Jonah? Where does he live?
A: Jonah lives in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. (See 2 Kings 14:25. The city of Gath-hepher is in Zebulun.) This is the divided part of the kingdom that never ceases in its rebellion against God and will ultimately be conquered and carried away into captivity in the future by Assyria according to God’s judgment.
Q: What might be the most distinctive feature about the book of Jonah? What does every other prophet in the Old Testament mention that Jonah does not?
A: Israel—Jonah never mentions Israel. This is the only prophet sent exclusively to a people group outside Israel, in this case Nineveh. This is a startling contrast in that here is a “heathen” people that are ready to repent at the first word from God, wherein the Northern Kingdom of Israel, who boasted of being God's chosen, continues to choose to NOT repent in spite of all the prophets and messengers sent to them. It is a shadow of the work of God to come in the general rejection of Christ by the Jews and His acceptance by the Gentiles. Equally fascinating, is that Nineveh is the capital of Assyria, who will be used of God in the future to exact judgment on Israel.
Q: What is significant about God’s use of the phrase “their wickedness has come up before Me”?
A: It means that Nineveh’s sin has become so great that it requires God’s direct attention for punishment, much along the lines of Sodom and Gomorrah. These are not people in need of a simple “correction” but are completely given over to their sin and pursuit of false gods.
Q: Why does Jonah select Tarshish as his destination?
A: Tarshish is located in Spain, at what would then be the very western edge of the known world, at the completely opposite end from Nineveh to the east. It’s the furthest point away from Nineveh he could possibly choose.
Q: What are the 2 things that Jonah does that no other prophet has ever done?
A: First, this is the only biblical instance of a prophet concealing a message entrusted to him; second is his absurd attempt to flee “from the presence of the Lord”. As we will learn in more detail later, he is not acting out of fear but disobedience and personal preference.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
― Psalm 139:7-10