Theme: God’s Compassion on Israel’s Assyrian Enemies; Key Verse: Jonah 4:11

Jonah Bible Walk

Theme: Theme—God’s Compassion on Gentile nations

March, 2008, Revised April, 2008


  • God’s Compassion on Gentile nations. Jonah took Yahweh’s message to the Assyrians at Nineveh. That message was that Yahweh is ruler of all peoples and wants them to turn to him in faith. Jonah’s written message was for Israel; God was using Jonah’s experience to teach Israel that his love, compassion, and grace are also for Gentiles, and as a reminder that Israel was a priest or missionary nation to the world. Compare Genesis 12:3 (Israel a blessing to all) and Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6 (Messiah the light to the nations).

Key Verse

  • Jonah 4:11
    • “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”


  • Jonah the prophet (Jonah 1:1; Matthew 12:39-41 and 16:4; Luke 11:29-32)
  • Jonah was sent by Yahweh (LORD, 1:1) to warn Nineveh that she must repent or be judged, and Jonah did not want God to show grace to the Assyrians. Jonah probably lived before or during the reign of Jereboam II of Israel (793-753 BC), in view of his prophecy, recorded in 2 Kings 14:25, that Israel would expand under Jereboam II (793-753). Jonah was from Gath-Hepher in  Zebulun in northern Israel. Gath-Hepher was 3 miles northeast of Nazareth and between Mount Carmel and the Sea of Galilee. We know nothing about Jonah after his mission trip to Nineveh. Jesus verified Jonah and his mission to Nineveh in Matthew 12:41, Matthew 16:4, and Luke11:32.


  • Jonah most likely served the Lord during reign of the Assyrian king Adad-Nirari III (810–783 b.c.) or during the reign of Assurdan III (771–754). If during Adad-Nirari, that king worshipped Nebo, and the worship of Nebo was more “monotheistic” than that of the previous kings. If Jonah served during Assurdan, then three striking events might have “softened” the people up for Jonah’s message: 765 BC, a plague in Nineveh; June 15, 763, a total eclipse of the sun; and in 759, another plague hit the city.
  • Assyria has three distinct kingdoms or periods: These are called the Old (20th to 15th centuries BC), the Middle (15th to 10th centuries BC), and the Neo-Assyrian (911–612 BC) kingdoms. The Neo-Assyrian period was from Adad-Nirari II in 911 BC, to the fall of Nineveh in 612 BC.  During the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III (ruled 745–727 BC) Assyria became very strong. We might conclude that the repentance of Nineveh may have played a part in this.
  • There was conflict between Assyria and the Northern Kingdom before Jonah’s day. King Ahab (871-851) had joined into an alliance with twelve kings to oppose Assyria.
  • The king of Israel during Jonah’s ministry was Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:23-29). He ruled for 41 years, from 793-753. This was a time in Israel of prosperity and stability, yet it was also a time of great injustice, immorality, and idolatry (Amos 1:1; 7:9, 10, 11; Hosea 1:1; and 2 Kings 13:13; 14:16, 23-29). Jeroboam II expanded Israel’s power. He conquered Syria, Moab, and Ammon, and because of his increased power he came into conflict with Assyria.
    • He was the fourteenth king of Israel and the son of Jehoash. He ruled Israel from about 793-753 BC, 41 years. 
    • He continued to lead the northern tribes into idolatry, drunkenness, commercial prosperity, oppression, and general immorality.
    • Jeroboam ended his father’s wars, and he defeated Syria to the extent that Israel was no longer subservient to Syria.
    • He restored the earlier northern and southern boarders of Israel, and recovered the cities of Damascus and Hamath.
    • The Lord pronounced judgment against Jeroboam and Israel for their idolatry.

Key People and places

  • Jonah the prophet (1:1)
  • Nineveh (1:2) was the capital of the Assyrian Empire.
    • Nineveh was on the eastern bank of the Tigres, near what is today the city of Mosul, Iraq. It was an ancient city that was thought to be impregnable. Nimrod (Genesis 10:8-10) founded the city. The great Assyrian king, Sargon (2350 BC), had a palace there. Sargon II (721–705 BC) made it one of the capitals. Sennacherib (705–681 BC.) made it his capital and the main city of Assyria (2 Kings 19:36-37; Isaiah 37:37-38). Nahum prophesied its destruction (Nahum 1:1, 2:8-10). The city was long doubted until A.H. Layard and H. Rassam discovered Nineveh in 1845–1854. Archaeologists have excavated the city. Most of it was excavated a long time ago. They found the library of Ashurbanipal which contained many creation and flood texts, along with economic, political, and other texts.
    • Nineveh was occupied as far back as before 3100 BC. Among the many great finds were Sargon’s palace and a cuneiform library. Many smaller cities made up the Nineveh metropolitan complex. The district was 30 to 60 miles across.
    • 5.2.3.   In Sennnacherib’s day (about 700 BC) the city wall was 40-50 feet high and ran 2 ½ miles along the Tigris River and 8 miles around the inner city. He created parks, a garden, zoo, and an aqueduct. The city had 15 gates. Sennacherib has a 71 room palace that has been excavated. King Hezekiah paid tribute to Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:15).
    • In 614 BC, under Nabopolassar of Babylon and Cyaxares of Media destroyed Ashur and Calah, and in August, 612 they destroyed Nineveh. Nineveh was left to animals for grazing just as the prophets predicted (Nahum 2:10, 13 and Zephaniah 2:13-15).
    • References include Ronald F. Youngblood, F. F. Bruce, R. K. Harrison and Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1995; and Gleason Leonard Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 3rd. ed.]. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998, c1994).
  • Tarshish (1:3) was a city in the western Mediterranean. It is thought to be in southern Spain near Gibraltar. The Phoenicians traded with Tarshish (2 Chronicles 9:21; Psalm 72:10). Tarshish was the great grandson of Noah (Noah, Japheth, Javan, Tarshish. Genesis 10:1-4).
  • Joppa (1:3) was a city 35 miles northwest of Jerusalem. It was the only seaport with a natural harbor between Egypt and Acco. Joppa was Jerusalem’s seaport. It was important for shipping in the Old and New Testament times. Timber for Solomon’s temple came from Lebanon through Joppa and on to Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 2:16). Peter received his sheet vision while he was in Joppa (Acts 9:36 and 43;10:9-16). Today it is part of Tel Aviv.

Key Words and Phrases

  • Lot (1:7)
  • Hebrew (1:9)
  • LORD and LORD God of heaven (1:1,3,9,10,14,16,17, and more)
  • Great Fish (1:17; 2:1, 10) 1419
  • Those who regard vain idols (2:8)
  • Believed in God (in Elohim בֵּֽאלֹהִ֑ים) (Jonah 3:5).
  • God relented (4:10) Relents  5162 נָחַם  nahcam .
  • Gracious 2587 חַנּוּן channun (4:2), Compassionate 7349 רַחוּם rachum (4:2, 11),  Slow to anger 750 and 639 אֶ֤רֶךְ אַפַּ֙יִם֙    (4:2),  Lovingkindness 2617 חֶסֶד, chesed (4:2); Compare Exodus 34:6. These are well known attributes of God.

Overview Outline

  • Disobedience and discipline, Jonah 1-2
  • Service and compassion, Jonah 3-4

Chapter Titles

  • Jonah 1, Jonah disobeys, Yahweh disciplines
  • Jonah 2, Jonah prays, Yahweh delivers
  • Jonah 3, Jonah preaches, Nineveh repents and God does not judge
  • Jonah 4, Jonah complains, God explains his compassion

Trace the Theme

  • Theme—God’s Compassion on Gentile Nations. Yahweh demonstrated his grace and compassion. He told Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach. Jonah disobeyed and instead went west. Yahweh disciplined Jonah with the storm and fish (1). During the discipline Jonah realized his sin and confessed to God (2). Yahweh delivered Jonah from the fish and Jonah went to Nineveh and preached God’s message. The people believed in God, so God called off his judgment (3). Jonah became angry at this and complained to Yahweh. Yahweh explained his compassion through the plant, worm, east wind, and sun (4).
  • Jonah 1
    • Jonah disobeys, Yahweh disciplines. Yahweh wanted to present himself to the powerful and dominant power, Assyria, through the people of Nineveh, the main city in Assyria. Yahweh chose Jonah to do his work (1:1-2). Jonah decided he did not want to go to Nineveh and so got a ticket to Tarshish in the west. He was trying to escape God’s will (1:3). Yahweh sent a storm that threatened the lives of all aboard, but Jonah slept—likely trying to escape Yahweh’s nudging his conscience (1:4-5). The sailors experience God’s power (1:4-5) and did not want to experience his wrath (1:14). The captain told Jonah to get up and pray to his god. At this point the captain and the sailors thought no more of Jonah’s God than of any other god (1:6). The sailors cast lots to determine what to do. The lot identified Jonah as the culprit (1:7). Note Proverbs 16:33 that says God directs the outcome of the lot for those he is working with. The name Yahweh sets Jonah apart. Yaweh is Israel’s God and Israel is his people. Yahweh is used 21 times in 26 verses. Early on the sailors ask Jonah to pray to his God (1:6, elohim). Jonah has been the reluctant witness and the sailors learned that he was a Hebrew and Yahweh was his God. This was Jonah’s testimony. (1:9-12). Jonah recognized divine discipline tells them to throw him into the sea (1:13) The sailors are honorable and try to save his life, but soon realize they cannot. They now pray to Yahweh, which is an advancement on their understanding of God, and finally throw Jonah goes into the sea (1:14-15). The sailors feared Yahweh greatly. Jonah was a witness to them without wanting to. How much did Jonah tell them? We do not have all the details, but apparently he told them enough to trust Israel’s God. In verse 17 Yahweh intervened for his will and for Jonah’s safety and spiritual recovery. Yahweh planned ahead. He did not give up on Jonah. He appointed the great fish. Appoint is manah (4487 מָנָה)in the piel stem. The word means to count or reckon in the qal and in the piel to appoint or ordain. It was a miracle that the fish swallowed Jonah and that he survived. There are many attempts at natural explanations, but this was a divine miracle. Note key ideas in chapter 1: free will of Jonah, disobedience, Yahweh, lot, Hebrew, divine discipline, fear Yahweh, Yahweh’s sovereignty over creation, and miracles.
      • Lot (1:7) 1486  גֹּורָל gowral. Something, usually a stone, used to make decisions. It was dropped, fell from, or thrown. When God wanted a lot thrown he determined the decision (Proverbs 16:33). The lot is mentioned 70 times in the Old Testament and 8 times in the New Testament. Lots served to prevent favoritism by man in determining God’s will. Lots were used to choose the scapegoat to be sent into the wilderness (Leviticus 16:8-10), to divide the land (Joshua 14:2 and Numbers 26:55), to choose temple servers (1 Chronicles 24:1-5), for temple gate keepers (1 Chronicles 26:1, 12-13), for temple musicians (1 Chronicles 25:8-9), and even by the pagan seaman to find who was guilty (Jonah 1:7). Lots died out as God’s revelation (Bible) became for complete. Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, served in the temple by the lot (Luke 1:9). The soldiers divided Jesus clothes by lot when they crucified him (Matthew 27:35). Matthias was added to the eleven apostles by lot (Acts 1:26).
      • Hebrew (1:9) 5680 עִבְרִי `briy עִבְרִי  This is the name of the people beginning with Abraham and going through Isaac and Jacob. They were the people of Yahweh. Abraham was the first Hebrew. It was first used in Genesis 14:3. The people also became known as Israelites after God gave the name Israel (probably means God fights) to Jacob Genesis 32:28. In Hebrew tradition it means from beyond the river (Joshua 24:2-3).
      • LORD and LORD God of heaven (1:1,3,9,10,14,16,17, and more) 3068 יהוה, Yahweh and  yahweh elohim shamayim. The name Yahweh sets Jonah apart. Yaweh is Israel’s God and Israel is his people. God’s name is used 21 times in 26 verses. Early on the sailors ask Jonah to pray to his God (1:6, elohim). Soon after the sailors pray to Yahweh (1:14,15). Jonah has been the reluctant witness and the sailors learned of Yahweh (1:10).
      • Great Fish (1:17; 2:1, 10) 1419   גָּדֹול gadol, common adjective for great, large in size, number, intensity, sound, age, power, and 1709 דָּאג, דָּג  dag or dawg common word for fish. It was a miracle that the fish swallowed Jonah and that he survived. There are many attempts at natural explanations, but this was a divine miracle.
  • Jonah 2
    • Jonah prays, Yahweh delivers. Verses 1-2 are a summary of Chapter 2. Jonah prayed to Yahweh out of desperation. Yahweh his God is the only way out (2:1). He recognized that Yahweh was bringing divine discipline and that Yahweh was his only hope (2:3-4). Just as we often resist the Lord as long as we can, Jonah did the same. Jonah is in the digestive system of the fish along with water and weeds. He was barred from dry land (2:5-6). He would not admit his sin until he was on the edge of unconsciousness (2:7). At that point he prayed. His prayer reached Yahweh. It included the recognition that those who disobey Yahweh are centering their lives on empty (7723 שָׁוְא shaweh, empty, nothingness) idols and forsaking hesed (lovingkindness, loyalty, graciousness) that Yahweh has showered upon them. Jonah had put things—empty idols—before Yahweh. Verse 8 was his confession of sin (2:8). He now choses to do Yahweh’s will and knows that any deliverance is from him (9). The chapter ends with Yahweh commanding the fish to spit Jonah out onto dry land. Yahweh is omnipotent and sovereign. Only he could deliver Jonah from a terrible death. He even controls fish (10). Key ideas in this chapter include divine discipline, resistance to confession, prayer, confession of sin, the folly of disobedience, the choice of emptiness of life or Yahweh’s lovingkindness, Yahweh’s attributes, the source of deliverance out of trouble, and obedience to God.
  • Jonah 3
    • Jonah preaches, Nineveh repents and God does not judge. . Jonah gets a second chance. This is an expression of God’s grace (3:1-2). Jonah has learned to obey Yahweh, but he did not like it (3:3 and 4:1-3). We often are just like Jonah. What message did Jonah preach? Yahweh gave him the message as Jonah traveled and preached (3:2). Nineveh was to turn (3:8, 10. 7725 שׁוּב shub, to turn back, return. Qal imperfect jussive) from wicked ways and violence (1:2; 3:8,10). Jonah took three days to walk and preach at many different parts of the city (3:3-4). The administrative district of Nineveh was from 30 to 60 miles across. Furthermore, with a population of 120,000 infants (4:11), the adult population would be much greater. Jonah had a large job to accomplish. What happened? The people believed in God, called a fast, and mourned because of the coming divine judgment (3:5). Were they saved in the eternal life sense? The text does not say. The majority of the city appear to have believed in Israel’s God, Yahweh, and become possessors of eternal life. The narrative seems to indicate this. If not, why did God go to the “trouble” of sending Jonah to Nineveh, unless Yahweh was just teaching Israel about His compassion and their missionary status.  Regardless, the  Ninevites did have a moral change of mind under the threat of judgment. Whatever happened, we know that the results did not carry beyond the next generation or so. God provided his message to these Assyrians and showed compassion to them and they responded to his word. Apparently the Assyrians of Nineveh were ready for God’s word and God delivered it to them. The governor (king) heard what Jonah was preaching and also mourned the coming judgment. He even proclaimed that each person and each beast—the entire city—should mourn and call on God (Elohim) for help to turn from their wickedness and violence (3:6-8). What was Elohim’s response? He relented and withdrew his punishment (3:10). Relent in verses 9 and 10 (5162 נָחַם nacham in the niphal imperfect plus vav consecutive, 3 common plural) has meanings to repent, be sorry, and to console oneself. Since the people turned from their sin, God held off the judgment. God did not change. He continued to act according to his character. The Ninevites did what he asked. If you will look at Scripture that says God changed his mind, it does not mean that he changes. It simply means that when mankind changes toward God, he then does what is appropriate. Here he did not judge Nineveh because they repented. About a generation after Jonah, Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom (722 BC), Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem (701 BC) during Hezekiah’s reign, and Nineveh fell to the Babylonians and Medes (612 BC). Key ideas in chapter 3 are divine guidance in Jonah’s message, faith in God by pagan people, repentance, and God’s graciousness in withholding judgment.
      • Believed in God in Jonah 3:5 is the Hebrew word אָמַן, aman Strong’s 539, in the hiphil imperfect with waw consecutive (narrative describing the event in the sequence). Aman means in the Qal to support or nourish; in the niphal to be made firm, established; in the hiphil to stand firm, and in the hiphil with the preposition beth to trust in, believe in (as we have in Jonah 3:5).  What the Ninevites believed is not defined in the text. They may have believed in the one Elohim, the God of Israel, Yahweh. Jonah was sent by Yahweh (1:1 and 3:1), and Yahweh was the source of his message to the people of Nineveh. Clearly they believed God’s message that Jonah preached. They believed, trusted in God. It would appear that Yahweh Elohim granted the Ninevites forgiveness and life. If so, the conversion to Yahweh lasted only a generation or so. Apparently they had no teaching to support their faith. Or, this could mean they simply believed in Elohim in the sense that he was going to judge them and they had better change. We can go to other Scripture to help us. The phrase “and Abraham believed in Yahweh” (Genesis 15:6) also has the preposition beth, but the object is Yahweh. In Genesis the verb is a hiphil perfect with waw consecutive. The object is clear in the Abraham passage, though the full content of what Abraham believed is not specified except that he believed in Yahweh (the revealed God who created, redeems, and keeps his word) who had promised him the land, nation, and universal blessing in Genesis 12:1-3. Yahweh responded to Abraham’s faith by declaring Abraham righteous. Paul quotes this in Romans 4:3 and uses it to show that God justifies and credits righteousness through faith in him.
        • The verb amen אָמַן in the hiphil stem with the preposition Beth plus the object of believed, as in Jonah 3:5, can be found in Genesis 15:6 (believed God), Exodus 14:31 (believed in Yahweh), Numbers 14:11 (believe in me=Yahweh), Jonah 3:5 (believed in God), Exodus 19:9 (believe in you=Moses), 1 Samuel 27:12 (believed David), Jeremiah 12:6 (do not believe them), Micah 7:5 (do not trust in a neighbor).
  • Jonah 4
    • Jonah complains, God explains his compassion. In this chapter Jonah recognizes Yahweh’s graciousness to pagan peoples. Yahweh wants all people throughout the world to believe him and obey him. Israel was the vehicle to spread God’s revelation during Jonah’s time (the dispensation of Israel). We, now in the church (dispensation of the church), are God’s vehicle to spread God’s revelation. He is righteous and holy, yet he is also compassionate and gracious. Yahweh’s compassion and graciousness toward the people of Nineveh made Jonah angry (1-2). Jonah was self righteous, disobedient, and very self centered. He went into volitional(Ephesians 4:17-20) and emotional revolt. His lack of orientation to Yahweh became evident when he asked to die rather than live and see Yahweh’s graciousness and compassion toward Nineveh (4:3). Jonah ignored Yahweh. He was angry, self centered, and hoping Yahweh would judge Nineveh. His attitude was” kill Nineveh or kill me.” He had no compassion on the city (4:4-5). In verses 6-11, Yahweh teaches Jonah about his own sovereignty and compassion. Jonah benefited from Yahweh’s compassion and grace when the LORD provided the shade plant. Jonah had a selfish compassion for the vine. Why could the LORD not have compassion on a large city of many people and animals? Jonah only thought of himself. Yahweh had compassion on people and animals of Nineveh. Jonah only had compassion on himself. Key ideas in Chapter 4 include the out of control believer (volitional and emotional revolt), self-centered believer, God’s compassion and grace, and divine discipline.

Key Doctrines

  • Human volition, Jonah 1,2,3,4 (Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Isaiah 1:16-20; Acts 17:26-27; Romans 1:18-32)
  • Mental attitude Jonah 1,2,3,4 (Proverbs 23:7; Romans 14:14; Galatians 6:3; 2 Corinthians 10:5).
  • God’s will, Jonah 1,3,4 (Galatians 5:13-16; Ephesians 5:1-2; Hebrews 10:22-25).
  • Divine Guidance, Jonah 1,2,3  (2 Timothy 3:16-17, Hebrews 4:12; Acts 10:19-22, Jude 3-4; 1 Corinthians 9:16-17, Galatians 5:18, Jude 3)
  • Divine discipline, Jonah 1,2,4 (Revelation 3:19-20; Hebrews 12:5-11; 1 John 5:16).
  • Believer confession of sin, Jonah 1,2 (Psalm 32:1-5; 51:1-9; Jonah 2:7-9; John 13:7-12; 1 Corinthians 11:27-32; 1 John 19).
  • Ministry or service to God, Jonah 1,3 (Isaiah 6:6; Jonah 3:1-5; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; Ephesians 4:12; 1 Peter 4:10-11).
  • Spiritual revolt—volitional and emotional by a believer, Jonah 1,4 (2 Corinthians 6:12; Romans 16:18).
  • God’s attributes, Jonah 1,2,3,4 (Exodus 34:5-7; Psalm 111:4; 135:6; Isaiah 42:8; Jonah 4:2; John 1:14; Hebrews 1:3, 12).
  • God controls all creation, 1,2,3,4 (Psalm 2; Daniel 4.25; 5.21; Acts 17.24-31; Romans 8:28; Matthew 24-25; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
  • Faith in the revealed biblical God, Yahweh Elohim, Jonah 3
  • Obedience and disobedience to God, Jonah 1,4

So what? Take Home Lessons for Us

  • Do I think biblically or do I think worldly? The basis for my thinking determines my relationship and fellowship with God and his will, what I do, and whether I have contentment and happiness or discouragement, discontent, and unhappiness. Jonah thought worldly—from his fallen nature—and we see what it got him in each chapter of this book. Biblical worldview or kosmic worldview?
  • Do I watch for God’s guidance and do I obey that which I am sure is God’s will for me? When I disobey God’s direct command, I am in danger of divine discipline, and the discipline can be quite severe.
  • What do I understand and apply about God—Yahweh Elohim? He is the only God. His character is unique. He is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness. He not only disciplines, he also forgives and blesses. Jonah experienced God’s guidance, God’s discipline, God’s forgiveness and restoration, God’s anger, God’s compassion, and God’s explanations.
  • Do I watch for what God is teaching me, not only in good times and hard times, but when I think that I might be under divine discipline? Maybe I am missing the obvious lessons. Sadly, Jonah seemed to miss what God was teaching him.
  • Am I careful that I do not revolt against God based on my emotion and my bad choices? Emotion is very powerful. Emotion can provide the energy needed to serve. But emotion can be driven by God and his word or by the world, the flesh, and Satan’s forces. Emotion wrongly driven can have disastrous consequences.
  • Do I give up on God and myself after I fail God?  He wants to bring me back into fellowship with himself and back into his service. Jonah is a clear example. When I give up on God and myself I am being self-centered and thinking worldly. God will let me know when he is done with me.
  • Am I sinfully proud and do I withhold God’s grace from those whom I dislike or fear? Jonah did not want to go and proclaim God’s message to the Assyrians because he wanted God to judge the Assyrians.
  • Do I care about what God care’s about or what is more is important to me? God cares about people, about his revelation to mankind—the Bible, about his will, and that we please him. Jonah cared more about his own shade from the plant, than God blessing the residents of Nineveh.
  • Do I to watch and observe God working in my life and ministries? God may accomplish his mission through me in spite of my failures, weaknesses, disobedience, and unbelief. Am I ready to pick up and continue with my service for him after I have failed? According to Jonah, this is what God wants of us.
  • How is my attitude when I serve God? Am I happy to please him, even if I may not like what I am doing? Am I resentful about serving him?