The story of Jonah is undoubtedly one of the most famous Bible stories. This familiarity, as well as the sensational nature of the story, could possibly obscure the fact that Jonah is a theologically rich and important book of scripture. All efforts to expositionally engage with this text must diligently teach and apply the richness of these theological themes. This article will highlight several of the theological themes found in Jonah and demonstrate why preaching this short book will be a doctrinally edifying gift to the church.
Throughout the narrative of Jonah, it is quite clear that God is an active participant in the story. It is God who desires for the Ninevites to hear about Him, calls Jonah, gives him the assignment, and makes sure he ultimately gets there despite Jonah’s protests and rebellion. God’s sovereignty and control are clearly displayed as He interacts with nature as well. The raising of a great storm, the guidance of the great fish, and the giving and removing of Jonah’s shade tree are all obvious demonstrations of God’s sovereignty and power. Psalm 115:3 reminds us that “our God is in the heavens and He does whatever He pleases.” God’s being in control of a world that is seemingly chaotic and out of control is a comforting doctrine to God’s people.
Another great theme running through the book of Jonah is God’s saving nature. His desire to save the Ninevites is seen as he approaches His prophet with the assignment and message to take to them. But throughout the story, we see other instances of this saving nature. The sailors onboard the ship with Jonah after he decides to run from God are saved from the storm. Jonah, after being given ample time to think through his disobedience, is delivered from the great fish. And while their repentance is short-lived, the Ninevites themselves here the message God wanted them to hear and responded in repentance saving them from His judgment. When these examples are connected with the fact that Jonah is the only minor prophet to not be given a message to deliver to Israel but strictly to those outside (Nineveh), it becomes clear that Jonah communicates to God’s people God’s global missionary redemption plan.
Practically, we see the theme of consistent living in the lives of those who belong to God. Jonah knew and believed right things about God but didn’t want to do right things in response. This allows Jonah to be a very useful pastoral text preached in the life of a body of believers. A false dichotomy often drifts into preaching of either right theology or practical application. Jonah is a great example that it is essential for God’s people to possess both as drawn out from the texts of scripture.
Finally, the book of Jonah allows the preacher/teacher of God’s Word the privilege of demonstrating the truthfulness of scripture…even stories that seem beyond belief. This is done as faithful exposition of the text will look to Jonah’s role in the broader canon of scripture. The clearest example of this is in Matthew’s gospel (12:39–41) where Jesus Himself uses the story of Jonah as a true historical event that pointed to the reality of His own bodily resurrection. Jesus’ affirmation of the historicity of this event gives the teacher and student of holy scripture confidence in the truthfulness, trustworthiness, and inerrancy of God’s word.
Ryan Polk is Associate Pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Norman, Oklahoma.