What Is the Main Message of the Book of Jonah?

The Old Testament has some strange and interesting stories: a talking donkey and snake, men living 900 years, a man swallowed by a fish, and more. Today we’re going to concentrate on the incredible story of Jonah and the great fish to answer this question- what is the main message of the book of Jonah?

what is the main message of the book of jonah- whale breaching

Who Was Jonah?

Jonah is most likely the best known of the 12 minor prophets due to his amazing story. (Minor prophets aren’t less important; their books are merely shorter in length.)

He was a real man with traceable roots. His genealogy is stated in the first verse:

“The word of the Lord came to Jonah, son of Amittai.” Jonah1:1.

He is known as the “reluctant prophet”, a prophet who disobeyed God and ran away. In fact, his behavior in this story was very “un-prophet” like.

In addition to his genealogy, Jonah is mentioned as a prophet in 2 Kings 14:25.

Is the Book of Jonah Fiction?

In the New Testament, Jesus verifies Jonah’s story by using it to make a point to religious leaders who (insincerely) asked for yet another miraculous sign.

Some doubt Jonah’s story of living inside the belly of the fish for three days. But the God who created the universe and makes the wind and waves obey can certainly keep a man in the belly of a large fish- and command him to spit him out!

“I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” Jeremiah 32:27.

Jonah Disobeys God

The opening verses in the book of Jonah get right to the heart of the matter. God commands Jonah to go to Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian empire and “preach against it” because of the extreme wickedness of its people.

“But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.” Jonah1:3.

Jonah grew up hating the Assyrians. He wanted the people of Nineveh destroyed, not saved.

God commanded Jonah to travel east for several hundred miles, but Jonah rebels and went as far as possible in the opposite direction! He boards a ship bound for Tarshish (modern day Spain), thinking he could get away from God.

We might not go to the extremes that Jonah did, but we all stubbornly go our own way sometimes. We allow fear, busyness, and our sin nature dictate our actions and decisions.

Jonah Running from God

Jonah boards a ship, sails away and goes below; falling into a deep sleep. Apparently, his conscience wasn’t bothering him one bit!

God pursues Jonah by sending a great wind on the sea. A violent storm arose that terrified the sailors. They threw their cargo overboard and prayed to their gods.

The captain finds Jonah and awakens him with a request:

“Call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish.” Jonah 1:6.

God reveals to the sailors that Jonah caused the great storm, and they pepper him questions. They are terrified by his answers and as the seas become rougher, they ask him what they should do.

“Pick me up and throw me into the sea” (v12), Jonah replies. He knows it will calm the storm as it was his fault for refusing to obey God.

Reluctantly, the ship’s crew do as he asks, and the raging sea calms.

We too may turn and run from God, but He will patiently and relentlessly chase after us. He’ll never stop trying to bring us closer to Him and His purposes. 

Sometimes it takes a storm to make us realize how much God loves and cares for us.

Jonah and the Whale

God sends a big fish to swallow Jonah alive where he remains for three days and nights.

When Jonah realizes God has spared his life, he offers a prayer of thanksgiving from the belly of the great fish. (Jonah 2:2-9) The final words of his prayer are a declaration that only God brings salvation and Jonah promises to make good on his vows.

God gives Jonah a second chance:

“And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” Jonah 2:10.

(Notice that the fish obeyed quicker than Jonah…)

Jonah Goes to Ninevah

The prophet Jonah again hears from God:

“Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah 3:2

This time Jonah fulfills his mission and obeys God. He visited Nineveh for three days and preached repentance.

Miraculously, when Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he immediately repents and decrees the citizens of Nineveh to do the same. They believed God and repented immediately.

“When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.” Jonah 3:10

God’s grace and mercy caused Him to forgive the Ninevites, just as He forgave Jonah. But Jonah was angry with God.

“O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish.” Jonah 4:2

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Why Was Jonah Angry with God?

Jonah didn’t want God to spare these Gentiles. He thought God should keep His salvation only to the Jews. Surely the wicked and pagan nations did not deserve God’s forgiveness!

Didn’t Nineveh deserve God’s wrath and judgement??

Jonah was so angry he asks God to take his life. He sits sulking in the shade waiting to see what would happen to Nineveh.

God provides a vine and makes it grow up over Jonah, providing more shade and easing his discomfort from the hot sun.

But the next morning, God provides a worm which chews the vine, and it withers. God also causes a scorching wind which causes further discomfort to Jonah.

Again, Jonah wants to die. But God ends Jonah’s story with this question (a bit of a cliffhanger):

“Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?  You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” Jonah 4:9-11.

God uses the vine as an illustration. Jonah was angry about the withered vine, but not what could have happened to the people of Nineveh without the mercy and forgiveness of God.

The 120,000 people who “didn’t know their right hand from their left” most likely meant those who do not know “right from wrong” or any spiritual truth.

God’s mercy is for all people and went beyond the borders of Israel.

What is the Main Message of Jonah?

We probably all learned in Sunday school that the message of this story is the importance of obeying God and what happens when we disobey. While correct and an important point, it is not the main message.

There are other important truths as well.

God show His sovereignty by controlling the storm and the whale.

God uses others, like the prophets, to communicate His message.

We see His desire to give second chances and His patience in Jonah’s life.

But the main message of Jonah is one of salvation.

God desired salvation for the wicked people of Nineveh. It took a miracle- Jonah in the whale’s belly- to bring God’s message of repentance to them. But once they heard, they responded to the truth and believed.

This story also foreshadows the death and resurrection of Christ.

Mankind (Nineveh) rebels against God. God provides the miracle of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection for salvation (Jonah and the whale) and provides His grace and mercy to all who believe. (Nineveh repents and is saved.)

Jesus evens alludes to the story of Jonah as a metaphor for His part in the salvation plan of God:

“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Matthew 12:40.

God’s desire is for all people to turn from their sin and be saved; He wants no one to perish.

“He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9b.

God’s love and mercy extended to all people and went far beyond the borders of Israel. What a contrast to Jonah’s attitude of revenge!

Jonah admits the Lord is “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” Jonah 4:2.

He just wanted to put limits on who can receive God’s blessings.

Purpose of the Book of Jonah 

This story is not so much about Jonah and his character but about revealing God’s character to us.

We don’t know how this story ends or if Jonah has a change of heart.  But we do see the heart of God, one of endless mercy and love for all.

Jesus confirms this truth when He asks us to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Matthew 28:19a.

Peter also states, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right… All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” Acts 10:34,43.

And John reveals a magnificent vision in Revelation 7:9-

“There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.”

We can hope that Jonah’s answer to God’s last question would come from a newly humbled heart.

How would you respond? It’s good to reflect on our own character, fears, and motivations. Do we ever question how God can shower mercy on a vile criminal or your personal enemy? Have we ever wanted revenge?

God is more merciful and compassionate than we could ever imagine.

It is His desire that all people turn to Him, trust in Him, and be saved. Never underestimate the work of the Holy Spirit on even the hardest of hearts.

Blessings of grace and compassion,


All Scripture is taken from the NIV unless specified otherwise.

Photo Credit: Canva

2 thoughts on “What Is the Main Message of the Book of Jonah?”

  1. Amen . God’s love and mercy was extended to all of us even though we are not worthy before Him. God is so patient He doesn’t anyone to be perished.
    His love endures forever – Psalm 100

    May God use each of us and may we respond obediently to His command to go and preach the gospel to all nations for the salvation of lost souls. Praise and glory to His Name.

    Thank you for sharing and for all the thoughts about Jonah or the book of Jonah.

    God bless you , your blog ministry and your family abundantly 🙏❤️ .

    1. You have been so obedient to go where He has placed you to share the love of Christ. I thank Him for all the work you do. All for His glory! I loved rereading this story of Jonah, I learned so much even though I had written on it before. I love how His Word is new each time we read it 🙂

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