Book of Jonah Summary

Main Idea

The book of Jonah is the account of a reluctant prophet called by a relentless God to proclaim repentance to a wicked city (Jonah 1:2) whom he hoped God would destroy (Jonah 4:1) but instead saw them repent from their evil ways and experience God’s grace and compassion (Jonah 3:10).

Explanation of Main Idea

As soon as Jonah receives the call to Nineveh, he boards a ship and heads the opposite direction toward Tarshish in order to “flee from the Lord” (Jonah 1:3). God moves to get his attention by sending a “violent storm” (Jonah 1:4), eventually resulting in Jonah being thrown overboard and swallowed by a “great fish” (Jonah 1:12-17). Praying inside the fish, Jonah seems to have a come to a point of desperation and declares that “salvation comes from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). God tells the fish to vomit Jonah out onto dry land and he again receives a call to “Go to the great city on Nineveh and proclaim to it the message (God had given him)” (Jonah 3:2).

He obeys this time and all goes well when the king of Nineveh issues a proclamation that everyone in the city is to “urgently call on God” and “give up their evil ways and violence” (Jonah 3:7-8). God, consistent with His character, does “not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened” (Jonah 3:10).

This does not sit well with Jonah who was extremely angry that God forgave such a wicked people (Jonah 4:1-3). God gives Jonah an object lesson. Jonah sits in the hot sun in order to watch and wait to see what will happen to the city (Jonah 4:5). God provides a vine to grow to provide shade for Jonah. One day later, God sends a worm to destroy the vine (Jonah 4:6-7). At this, Jonah wanted to die. God claims that Jonah’s concerns are misplaced; he’s more concerned about his own comfort than he is for the people of Nineveh (Jonah 4:10-11)


There’s a lot happening in this short book. God is concerned about the lost people of Nineveh; and He is also concerned about His misguided prophet. The purpose of the book of Jonah is to demonstrate the universality of God’s willingness to forgive anyone. The people of Assyria were wicked beyond imagination, yet God demonstrated His mercy and compassion when they repented.

The book of Jonah also displays God’s concern and relentless pursuit of His child Jonah. While God had a plan to work through Jonah, just as importantly, He also had a plan to work in him. From sending a violent storm, to causing a fish to vomit, to hearing a desperate prayer, to causing a vine to grow and then destroying the vine, God was directing circumstances to help Jonah grow in his love and concern for the lost.

Leading Themes

  • God’s Relentless Call

From the first verse to the last, we see God dealing with His prophet. God had a job for Jonah to do and it was inescapable. God went to great lengths to get Jonah where He wanted him. He used a storm, a fish, a vine, and a worm. When God calls, He provides the way even in spite of reluctance and resistance.

  • God’s Concern

God was concerned about the 120,000 people who did not know Him in the city of Nineveh (Jonah 4:11). He desires no one to perish but all to come to repentance (Ezek. 18:32). God’s charcter is one of mercy and compassion—and Jonah knows this (Jonah 4:2). Additionally, God was also concerned about the one man Jonah as evidenced by His relentless dealings with him throughout the book.

  • Prayer

Twenty-five percent of the book, one complete chapter (Jonah 2), is devoted to Jonah’s prayer. It is a prayer of desperation in which it seems like he feels he is close to death, crying out “I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple” (Jonah 2:4). This is the turning point in the story; after he is vomited out, he obeys the Lord.

  • Repentance is the key to restoration.

Unbelievably, the wicked people turn to God—the whole city (Jonah 3:5-10), Any heart can change! This is hope! It is through the revival-like turning to the Lord that disaster is averted. 

How Does This Relate To Us?

On many levels, this is a story for our day. Jonah’s reaction to his call could be similar to people who feel called today. God does not always call you to some thing or some place that you enjoy and are excited about. But He will work in your heart and get you there. Not only that, but He will move heaven and earth to fulfill your calling. Jonah also teaches us that it might be better to take the easy road. Jonah should have prayed in chapter one when he first received the call, “God, I don’t want to do this, but I’m willing to if you really want me to. Not my will, but Yours be done.” This would have saved him from near drowning and living inside a fish for three days, not to mention the misery of being disobedient. There is joy in selfless obedience.

The book of Jonah also relates to our contemporary world in that we can have hope that wicked people can change. The Ninevites, evil as they were, were not beyond the reach of God’s compassion and willingness to forgive. Whether it is ISIS terrorists, Chinese or Korean communists, North American child molesters, or corrupt government officials, they are just a prayer of repentance away from forgiveness and following God. Moreover, Jonah teaches us that there are those messengers sent by God to reach these people with evil ways.

Study Questions

Textual Questions

  1. Jot down everything the Lord did in chapter one.
  2. How is the Lord described in Jonah 2:1? What does this tell you about Jonah? About the Lord?
  3. How does the Lord describe the city of Nineveh in the following verses: Jonah 1:2, 3:2, and 4:11? What do you think it means?
  4. Compare Jonah 1:1-3 to Jonah 3:1-3. What has changed? Why?

Life Application Questions

  1. Jonah ran away from God’s call on his life. Can you relate to this? Have you ever “ran away from the Lord”?
  2. The Ninevites repented but Jonah got angry. What’s going on here? Describe the condition of Jonah’s heart. Why do you think he felt like this?
  3. Jonah 3:8 says “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” The Ninevites certainly clung to worthless idols, but Jonah did to. What idol do you think Jonah was clinging to? Do you have any idols that are keeping you from experiencing the grace of God?

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