JONAH (Heb. yônâh, dove). 1. A prophet of Israel. He was the son of Amittai and came from the town of Gath Hepher in the tribe of Zebulun (2Kgs.14.25). He predicted the restoration of the land of Israel to its ancient boundaries through the efforts of Jeroboam II. The exact words of the prophet are not given, nor are we told the specific time when the prophecy was uttered; but we may be certain that it was pronounced sometime before the conquests of Jeroboam, either about the start of Jeroboam’s reign or toward the close of the preceding reign. Jeroboam ruled for a period of forty years (790-750 b.c.). When he ascended the throne, he found the kingdom weak because ever since the time of Jehu, his great-grandfather, the people had been forced to pay continual tribute to Assyria. He became the most powerful of all the monarchs who ever sat on the throne of Samaria, capturing Hamath and Damascus and restoring to Israel all the territory it used to have from Hamath to the Dead Sea. The prophet Hosea also prophesied in the time of Jeroboam, but it must have been only toward the very close of his reign, as his prophetic activity extended to the time of Hezekiah, sixty years later.
The identity of the prophet with the prophet of the Book of Jonah cannot reasonably be doubted. Jonah.1.1 reads, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai.” It is extremely unlikely that there were two prophets with the same name. While the author of the Book of Jonah does not identify himself, the likelihood is that he is the same as the book bearing his name. It is sometimes objected that he writes in the third person; but this is true of the OT prophets in general. In all probability the book was written not long after the events took place, in the latter part of Jeroboam’s reign.
The spirit and teaching of the Book of Jonah rank with the highest of the OT prophetical books. Not as much can be said for the prophet himself, who ranks low in the catalog of OT prophets. He was a proud, self-centered egotist: willful, pouting, jealous, bloodthirsty; a good patriot and lover of Israel, without proper respect for God or love for his enemies.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
See Jonah; Jonas.
(yonah, "dove"; ’Ionas):
(1) According to 2Ki 14:25, Jonah, the son of Amittai, of Gath-hepher, a prophet and servant of Yahweh, predicted the restoration of the land of Israel to its ancient boundaries through the efforts of Jeroboam II. The prophet lived and labored either in the early part of the reign of Jeroboam (790-750 BC), or during the preceding generation. He may with great probability be placed at 800-780 BC. His early ministry must have made him popular in Israel; for he prophesied of victory and expansion of territory. His native village of Gath-hepher was located in the territory of Zebulun (Jos 19:13).
(2) According to the book bearing his name, Jonah the son of Amittai received a command to preach to Nineveh; but he fled in the opposite direction to escape from the task of proclaiming Yahweh’s message to the great heathen city; was arrested by a storm, and at his own request was hurled into the sea, where he was swallowed by a great fish, remaining alive in the belly of the fish for three days. When on his release from the body of the fish the command to go to Nineveh was renewed, Jonah obeyed and announced the overthrow of the wicked city. When the men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of the prophet, God repented of the evil He had threatened to bring upon them. Jonah was grieved that the oppressing city should be spared, and waited in the vicinity to see what would be the final outcome. An intense patriot, Jonah wished for the destruction of the people that threatened to swallow up Israel. He thought that Yahweh was too merciful to the heathen oppressors. By the lesson of the gourd he was taught the value of the heathen in the sight of Yahweh.
It is the fashion now in scholarly circles to treat the Book of Jonah as fiction. The story is said to be an allegory or a parable or a symbolic narrative. Why then did the author fasten upon a true and worthy prophet of Yahweh the stigma of rebellion and narrowness? On theory that the narrative is an allegory, J. Kennedy well says that "the man who wrote it was guilty of a gratuitous insult to the memory of a prophet, and could not have been inspired by the prophet’s Master thus to dishonor a faithful servant."
(3) our Lord referred on two different occasions to the sign of Jonah the prophet (Mt 12:38-41; Lu 11:29-32; Mt 16:4). He speaks of Jonah’s experience in the belly of the fish as parallel with His own approaching entombment for three days, and cites the repentance of the Ninevites as a rebuke to the unbelieving men of his own generation. Our Lord thus speaks both of the physical miracle of the preservation of Jonah in the body of the fish and of the moral miracle of the repentance of the Ninevites, and without the slightest hint that He regarded the story as an allegory.