My childhood introduction to the book of Jonah came while sitting in front of a felt-covered board. The account of a disobedient prophet being swallowed whole by a gigantic fish can have quite an impression on a child when presented with illustrative pictures. What was it like inside the fish? How did it smell? How far was Jonah launched into the air when the fish spewed him out onto dry land? These were only a few of the questions that remained well after the Bible lesson had ended. Sadly, for many Christians, there is little else that can be recalled from one of the most fascinating prophetic narratives in Scripture.
A few years into my first pastorate, I developed a greater appreciation for Jonah. This wonderful book colorfully displays the grace and mercy of God. Jonah is far more than a little “whale tale.” It’s a compact narrative revealing God’s heart toward a sinful city and a self-centered prophet. There is so much that can be gained from an in-depth study of this book. In fact, the Hebrew contained in Jonah’s prayer (chapter 2) is particularly fascinating for those willing to dive deep into the text. While Jonah may only consist of four brief chapters, its prophetic depth goes well beyond a stormy sea.
In this article, I’ll discuss a few helpful resources to aid a faithful and enriching study of Jonah. There is a good bit of material written on this little book. However, the material provided below can help busy preachers desiring to preach a sermon (or better yet, sermon series) based on Jonah.
Seeing what’s there: Exegetical Commentaries.
Exegetical commentaries can be an invaluable resource for sermon preparation. These technical commentaries take more effort to work through. However, the benefits of careful study can be profound. If you are going to buy only one resource to study Jonah, make it an exegetical commentary.
- Stewart, Douglas. Hosea-Jonah. WBC. Dallas: Word, 1987.
This is a solid and fairly accessible exegetical commentary. Taking the time to read through this resource may seem a little tedious for those unfamiliar with exegetical commentaries. However, the details and insights gained from this work would be near impossible to glean apart from a high degree of skill in Biblical Hebrew.
- Shepherd, Michael B. A Commentary of the Book of the Twelve. Kregel Exegetical Library. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2018.
The Kregel Exegetical Library provides a good blend of exegetical insight with theological application. The section on Jonah in this volume is a little brief for an exegetical commentary. However, sometimes quality is better than quantity.
Seeing how it fits together: Expository Commentaries
- Alexander, T. D., David Baker and B. Waltke. Obadiah, Jonah, Micah. TOTC. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2008.
This commentary provides a good balance between pastoral, devotional, and textual insights that contribute to a clear understanding of the text. One would be well advised to acquire this volume after a good exegetical commentary.
- Allen, Leslie. The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah. NICOT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976.
This commentary provides a thorough and technical analysis of Jonah. The work also contains a helpful extended introduction for those unfamiliar with the literary genre and historical context of Jonah. The content of this introduction makes this work an excellent investment for those planning to preach a sermon series.
Seeing how it’s preached: A Homiletical Commentary.
Resist the temptation to crack open a homiletical commentary until the final stages of sermon preparation. These types of commentaries are basically sermons in written form. However, they can be a good source of interesting illustrations, catchy titles, or unique phrases to supplement your work.
- Redmond, Eric C., Bill Curtis, and Ken Fentress. Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary: Exalting Jesus in Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk. Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2016.
This work is a compact homiletical commentary. This volume clearly organizes the material in Jonah. Each section identifies the main idea, an outline that reflects the structure of the text, and questions geared toward application.
A few bonus resources.
- Keller, Timothy. The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy. New York: Viking, 2018.
This book is not a commentary. Nevertheless, Keller’s perspective will reveal much of the rich heart of grace that runs through this Old Testament book. Consider reading this book well in advance of a sermon series. Keller provides a captivating perspective on Jonah from a reformed perspective. He writes with popular readers in mind.
- Timmer, Daniel C. A Gracious and Compassionate God: Mission, salvation and spirituality in the book of Jonah. New Studies in Biblical Theology 26. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.
This volume is part introduction, part commentary, and part biblical theology. It’s a technical work that would be good to study well in advance of a sermon series. Be aware that the work is also written with an emphasis on reformed theology. However, the detail and analysis of the text and themes contained in Jonah will only enrich your study of the text.
J. Dace Clifton is the Pastor of First Baptist Church in Hico, Texas, a Ph.D. candidate at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, an adjunct professor at Arlington Baptist University, and a regular contributor to Daily Pastor.