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Relationship to Old Testament. Jonah is one of the "Minor Prophets" of the Old Testament. The relationship of Jonah to the Old Testament as a whole, and to the other minor prophets in particular, is discussed at Old Testament: Organization.
Story. Jonah relates four episodes, each in its own separate chapter:
- Chapter 1: Jonah flees from the Lord. Jonah cannot escape the Lord's justice and suffers symbolic death. Jonah disobeys the command to preach to Ninevah and instead flees toward Tarshish. A mighty storm arises, lots are cast, and Jonah explains that he is trying to escape the Lord's command to preach. The mariners cast Jonah overboard, and the storm ceases.
- Chapter 2: Jonah’s Psalm. Salvation from death comes from the Lord. After three days in the belly of a fish, Jonah prays. The fish then vomits Jonah out upon dry ground.
- Chapter 3: Jonah preaches and Ninevah repents. Jonah preaches, and Ninevah is also saved following its repentance. Jonah obeys the repeated command to preach in Ninevah, the people repent in sackcloth, and God sees their repentance and turns away destruction.
- Chapter 4: Jonah's gourd. The Lord teaches that he cares for all people. Jonah is angry that Ninevah’s is saved. A gourd grows in a day to provide Jonah with shade, in another single day a worm kills the gourd in a day, the sun beats Jonah. Jonah is angry at the death of the gourd, and the Lord teaches Jonah that he desires to spare a large city more than a plant.
Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Jonah include:
- Justice and mercy. Jonah is about justice and mercy, with a symbolic foreshadowing of Christ’s death and resurrection. In the first pair of episodes Jonah refuses to warn the people of Ninevah that they must repent. He then learns that disobedience leads to a death from which he can be delivered only by the Lord. In the second pair of episodes he does finally preach to Ninevah, but he is angry when the city qualifies through repentance for the same mercy that he had previously received. He is then taught of the Lord’s concern and mercy for all people, even non-Israelites.
This heading should be brief and explain facts about the historical setting that will help a reader to understand the book. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →
A broader treatment of the history of ancient Israel, including Jonah, is found at Old Testament: Historical Overview.
This heading is for more detailed discussions of all or part of a passage. Discussion may include the meaning of a particular word, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout the passage, insights to be developed in the future, and other items. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →
- It has been noted that Obadiah prophesied the destruction of Edom; Amos, the Northern Kingdom of Israel; Zephaniah, the Southern Kingdom of Judah; Ezekiel, Egypt; Nahum, Assyria; Jeremiah, Babylon; and Daniel the rise and fall of several world powers including Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, followed by the eventual setting up of the kingdom of God.
On Jonah as a narrative
Among the prophetic books of the Old Testament, the Book of Jonah is certainly unique: it is a narrative, rather than a collection of specific prophecies (likely the reason there are baby board-books of Jonah but not of, say, Habakkuk and Nahum). The narrative character of the text certainly suggests that it be read differently from other prophetic books: this book is subject to the logic of narrative (explicitly an art form), rather than the logic of the prophetic word (explicitly bound to the event of the prophet's declaration). This is as much as to say that the Book of Jonah opens more directly onto the reader (as a narrative) than it does onto the hearer (as would a prophetic book). In other words, as a narrative, the Book of Jonah is a prophetic word contextualized, written into a text, and so it lends itself quite immediately (in the literal sense) to readers at any distance of time. As a narrative, the Book of Jonah occurs primarily as a text, rather than derivatively as a text (as the prophetic books apparently do--apparently: Nephi seems to offer an argument against this distinction in 2 Ne 25:1ff).
Moreover, the third-person-ness of a narrative allows the author to explore Jonah's refusal to preach to Ninevah in a way that could only be guessed at by the reader of a first-person prophetic account. The narrator here words things very carefully, weaving together themes that open up the meanings of Jonah's few, rather pithy statements. In other words, the narrative structure of the prophetic book allows the reader to explore the context in which the few, short prophetic words arise. The book allows one to think through the meaning of the prophetic word, but--and here is the catch--in a rather ironic setting. The Book of Jonah, in order to put on display the nature of the prophetic task, presents the prophet's words in the context of his refusal to preach: Jonah demonstrates the nature of the prophetic task by refusing it, by narratively fleeing from it. In the end, only such an incredibly complex narrative could put on display the meaning of the prophetic task.
Complete outline and page map
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- • Jonah disobeys the command to preach to Ninevah and instead flees toward Tarshish (1:1-3)
- • the Lord sends a mighty storm, the mariners are afraid, and each calls upon his own god, but Jonah is asleep (1:4-6)
- • lots are cast, the lot falls upon Jonah, Jonah explains that he fears the Lord God of heaven, and the mariners are exceedingly afraid (1:7-10)
- • the mariners cannot reach shore, they cast Jonah overboard, the storm ceases, and the mariners fear the Lord exceedingly (1:11-16)
- • Jonah prays after three days in the belly of a fish (1:17-2:1)
- • First Verse:
- • Second Verse:
- • Conclusion: salvation is of the Lord (2:8-9)
- • the Lord has the fish vomit Jonah out upon dry ground (2:10)
- • Jonah obeys the repeated command to preach in Ninevah (3:1-4)
- • the people repent in sackcloth (3:5-9)
- • God sees their repentance and turns away destruction (3:10)
- a. The Lord is merciful and kind (4:2)
- a. The Lord desires to spare a large city more than a plant (4:10-11)
Points to ponder
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This heading is for listing links and print resources, including those cited in the notes. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →
- Amplified • The Amplified Bible, 1987 update
- NASB • New American Standard Bible, 1995 update
- NIV • New International Version
- RSV • Revised Standard Version
- Jonah 1:17 - Matthew 12:38–41; Luke 11:29–32 (Christ references Jonah)
Joseph Smith Translation
The Joseph Smith Translation made changes to only two verses in Jonah:
- Wayment, Thomas A., ed. The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the Old Testament, p. 218. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2009. (ISBN 1606411314) BX8630.A2 2009
- Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "Jonah: One Should Not Flee from His Responsibilities." In Old Testament: First Kings to Malachi (Institute Manual), vol. 2, third ed. (PDF version), ch. 9, p. 97-100. Salt Lake City, Utah: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003.
- See the articles at these essays on Jonah in The Journal of Scriptural Reasoning, v. 3(1), June 2003.
Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves, such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word. In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources are preferable to footnotes.
- Wayment, The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the Old Testament, p. 218.