Biblical People

Biblical People: Jonah (1)

Jonah is the best known of the Bible’s so-called minor prophets. He runs away from God and spends three days in the belly of a large fish. There he has plenty of time to think about his disobedience to God. 

When the fish spits him onto the shore, God speaks to Jonah again. “Go to Nineveh. Once you arrive, I’ll give you a message for the people.”

This time Jonah obeys, but he doesn’t have a good attitude.

We don’t know if Jonah says exactly what God tells him to or if he paraphrases it to fit his lack of interest. But what he says is both succinct and blunt. “In forty days, Nineveh will be destroyed.”

He doesn’t provide correction or offer a hopeful alternative. He states the outcome as fact, providing no instruction for the people to repent. We may wonder how much Jonah cares about the people he preaches to. Or if he even wants them to repent.

He doesn’t. 

We later learn that Jonah longs to see the destruction of Nineveh. This is because Nineveh is the capital (or principal city) of Assyria, a longtime enemy of Judah and Israel. Surely Jonah and all his people would have cheered to see Assyria fall. They would see this as God’s vindication, rescuing them from their adversaries.

It’s no wonder Jonah puts little effort into his message.

Despite this, the people of Nineveh believe God will do as Jonah said. They fast. They humble themselves in the hope God may relent and offer them compassion. 

Forty days come and forty days go, with Nineveh avoiding the destruction God had planned.

Yet Jonah isn’t pleased that the people of Nineveh responded to his message and lived. Instead, our story ends with him complaining to God about his grace. This is the last we hear of Jonah. 

When God tells us to do something, do we obey or run away? When we obey God’s instructions, do we have a good attitude? 

[Read Jonah’s story in the book of Jonah. Discover more in Luke 11:29–32.]

Learn more about Jonah in the devotional Bible study Return to Me: 40 Prophetic Teachings about Unfaithfulness, Punishment, and Hope from the Minor Prophets.

Learn about more biblical characters in Old Testament Sinners and Saints, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover. Get your copy today.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 1,000-page website to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.

By Peter DeHaan

Peter writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and make a faith that matters. Learn more at