Lessons From Jonah

The book of Jonah is about a prophet who tried to run away from God. What can we learn from how God dealt with this complicated prophet?

The book of Jonah is one of the Bible’s most unusual books. Unlike many of the other books, which focus on the message, the book of Jonah focuses on the prophet and his relationship with God.

Jonah’s name means “dove,” which sometimes symbolizes silliness (Hosea 7:11). When we think of how Jonah tried to run away from the “God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land,” it seems very silly (Jonah 1:9).

Living around the 8th century B.C., Jonah was a prophet during the time of King Jeroboam II of the northern kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 14:25). God sent Jonah to Nineveh, which was then the capital city of Assyria, to deliver a message of warning and repentance (Jonah 1:2; 3:2).

Jonah’s story is often one of the first Bible stories we tell our kids. It’s full of adventure and drama that excites the imagination of children. But its message is not just for children. The book of Jonah contains many important lessons for Christians today. 

What lessons can we learn from this prophet? 

To learn more about this book, read our article “The Book of Jonah.” 

Jonah lesson 1: God will not let us go

Typically, when we think of Jonah, one of the first lessons that comes to mind is that we can’t run away from God.

But let’s consider this from God’s perspective: Even when we’re stubborn and proud, God doesn’t give up on us. 

God’s great faithfulness and mercy are shown in His work with Jonah. It’s easy to think that God wouldn’t put up with the nonsense of human beings, because that would be our approach. We tend to be fickle, change our minds and give up on people easily. But God is not like us. He doesn’t change (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17). 

Many think of the God of the Old Testament as harsh and mean. But this is a totally false impression! One of the most consistent qualities of God is His faithfulness and mercy (Deuteronomy 7:9; Psalm 98:3). Despite ancient Israel’s unfaithfulness, God still remembered the covenant He made with them.

 Consider the following verses:

  • “It shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God’” (Hosea 1:10).
  • “What you have in your mind shall never be, when you say, ‘We will be like the Gentiles, like the families in other countries’” (Ezekiel 20:32).
  • “All Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26).
  • “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

God’s great faithfulness and mercy are shown in His work with Jonah. God could have easily struck him down or abandoned him for his willful disobedience, but He was patient with him to the very end. Even when Jonah was displeased with God, God continued to work with him, helping him understand His way of thinking (Jonah 4:8-11).

To learn more, read “God’s Priorities: The Weightier Matters of the Law.”

Jonah lesson 2: God’s purpose must and will be done

The story of Jonah is filled with irony. Consider these examples in the book: 

  • When the mariners cried out loudly to their gods, Jonah slept soundly (Jonah 1:5). 
  • When the mariners heard that Jonah followed Israel’s God, they were terrified, but Jonah was not (verses 9-10, 16). 
  • Jonah knew the storm was his fault, and he had put the lives of those on board at risk, yet the mariners tried to save him (verses 10-14). 
  • Nineveh repented quickly, while Jonah needed to be swallowed by a fish before repenting (Jonah 2:1; 3:6-9). 
  • Jonah wanted forgiveness for himself and received a second chance, but he did not want the same for Nineveh (Jonah 2:2; 3:1; 4:1-2).

Jonah’s life was full of irony because he put his own will and ideas ahead of God’s.  

However, God had a job for Jonah to do, and He wasn’t going to let Jonah’s stubbornness get in the way.

Nothing stops God from doing His will, not even our own stubbornness. He says, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure” (Isaiah 46:10).

God had a job for Jonah to do, and He wasn’t going to let Jonah’s stubbornness get in the way.Jonah resisted God’s will. What excuse did he give? He said it was because he knew God was “merciful” and “slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness” (Jonah 4:2). Jonah didn’t want God to pardon Assyria. He saw only the worst qualities of that nation. To him, the people of Assyria were nothing but the enemy of Israel (Isaiah 10:5-6).

Jonah would have preferred that God kill them instead of saving them. When the Ninevites were spared, it actually angered Jonah (Jonah 4:1).

Here we see a conflict of visions. Jonah’s vision did not align with God’s.

The Bible teaches us that God doesn’t usually do things the way we would. His ways and thoughts are far higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9).

The main lesson for Christians today is that we must align our will with God’s. We are to be “doers of the word” (James 1:22) and “complete in every good work to do His will” (Hebrews 13:21). 

Two of the ways we align our will with His are by studying His Word and obeying His 10 Commandments. To learn more about aligning ourselves with God’s will, read “How to Please God.” 

Jonah lesson 3: God always has the last word

In the last chapter of the book, God decided to teach Jonah a lesson. 

Jonah was angry that God had spared Nineveh and dramatically said he preferred to “die than to live” (Jonah 4:3). God then questioned the prophet: “Is it right for you to be angry?” (verse 4). After a plant Jonah was using for shelter withered away, God asked, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” (verses 6-9). Jonah answered that it was. 

Acknowledging Jonah’s pity on the plant, God then turned the tables and explained His point: “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?” (verses 10-11).

God was telling Jonah that people are more valuable than plants. 

The book ends with that question, but records no answer from Jonah. As far as we know, God had the last word. 

In the bigger picture of our world and its ways and ideas, God will have the last word. Ultimately, His purpose will be done. 

God has a far greater plan than just saving and preserving Nineveh for a few years. His ultimate plan is to extend the opportunity for repentance to everyone (2 Peter 3:9). 

The lesson Jonah needed to learn

Jonah needed to learn this lesson. He needed to learn that God has “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). The same mercy God extended to Jonah was also extended to Nineveh—and will be extended to all people, even people we may not like.  

The more we learn about this plan, the more we learn about the ultimate lesson of the book of Jonah—to reject our own ways of thinking and instead think like God. 

To learn more about God’s plan of salvation, download our booklet From Holidays to Holy Days: God’s Plan for You.

Topics Covered: People in the Bible, Bible Study

About the Author

Isaac Khalil

Isaac Khalil

Isaac Khalil is husband to his lovely wife, Natasha, and father to son, Eli and daughter, Abigal. He loves to spend time with family and friends doing various things like watching movies, playing chess, playing board games and going out. He enjoys studying biblical topics and discussing the Bible with his friends. He is also a news junkie and is constantly reading and sharing news connected with Bible prophecy.

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