Imagine with me for a moment. You are minding your own business when suddenly the word of the Lord comes to you and you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has called you to go to Pakistan and Afghanistan, to Taliban headquarters. God has called you to go and preach against it because God has taken note of its wickedness. How would you feel about the assignment God has handed you? Would you be scared? Would you be ecstatic knowing that our enemy, the Taliban, is going to be destroyed by God? Would you accept the assignment with enthusiasm or would you run for the hills? I don’t mean to stress you out. You probably don’t need to get too worked up wondering if God is calling you to do such a thing, but history shows that God did call a man named Jonah to do just what I’ve described for you. He didn’t call Jonah to make a trip to Taliban headquarters, but he called him to go to the most brutal and wicked city on the planet.
Before we get into Jonah’s story let’s talk about the background of the book. Jonah prophesied in the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-758 B.C.) That means that Jonah, Hosea, and Amos all prophesied about the same time.
The very first verse of Jonah gives us a little information about Jonah. In Jonah 1:1 we read, 1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: (Jonah 1:1 NIV) Jonah’s father’s name was Amittai, in Hebrew, “Amittai” means, “My truth.” Jonah, in Hebrew, means, “Dove.” We can find out more background information on Jonah by taking a look at 2 Kings 14:23-25. Read along with me.
23 In the fifteenth year of Amaziah son of Joash king of Judah, Jeroboam son of Jehoash king of Israel became king in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years. 24 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD and did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit. 25 He was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Sea of the Arabah, in accordance with the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher. (2 Kings 14:23-25 NIV)
Jeroboam II expanded the borders of Israel “according to the word of the Lord… spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher.” Jonah was from Gath Hepher which was near Nazareth, not too far from the Sea of Galilee. He prophesied that God was going to enlarge Israel’s borders and that is exactly what happened under Jeroboam’s watch.
God’s next assignment was quite different than delivering the wonderful news of the expansion of the national borders. God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Nineveh was an ancient city located on the eastern bank of the Tigris River. If you were to go to Mosul, Iraq today you would be right across the river from the ruins of the ancient city of Nineveh. Read more