Introduction to Jonah
Jonah is well established historically. He hails from Gath-hepher, a hilltop village near Nazareth, up in Zebulon’s tribal territory. Does any prophet arise from Galilee? Jonah was one. He appeared as prophet during the reign of Jeroboam II, somewhere between 780 and 750 BC. His ministry intertwines with that of Amos, and he succeeds in many ways Elisha as a statesman prophet.
We see the hand of God building and crushing human political aspirations and accomplishments, sometimes using His servants directly, sometimes less so. That He both raises up, then punishes kingdoms and empires is often difficult to understand, and we have at best a series of snapshots and some educated guesses how these things work. We know God has revealed His wrath on wanton violence and greed in governments, but still uses those governments in His plans.
Once the Davidic Kingdom was split, the Lord raised up Assyria, among others, to reduce the land holdings of both Judah and Israel. Early in his ministry, Jonah received the call to prophesy in Nineveh. It was more than simple racism against Gentiles, but patriotism to resist the call, since it would prolong the stability of his people’s greatest foe. His mission successful, he understood from God the temporary holiness of Nineveh would reduce their lust for conquest, allowing both Judah and Israel to reclaim most of their former territories (2 Kings 14:23ff). However, this led to Jeroboam’s false impression Jehovah favored his reign as it was. When Amos came later and declared it not so, Jeroboam was not ready to hear. We should not assume Jonah had failed to say the same things to his king and the ruling class as a whole. Eventually the effects of Jonah’s ministry wore off in Nineveh, and the Assyrian empire rose to violence again, and returned to crush the Northern Kingdom.