- Locate the passage
Jonah 1:3. This is the introduction to the book of Jonah.
Historical Narrative. The entire book of Jonah-4 chapters and 48 verses-is an extended example of historical narrative.
- Determine the structure of the passage
The structure of the passage is three-fold. First, in verse 1, one finds a common prophetic formula,“…the word of the LORD came…” Verse 2 is the second structural aspect. It addresses Jonah’s God-given assignment: to arise, go and call out against Nineveh. Verse 3 gives the reader the third structural element. It focuses on Jonah’s disregard for the LORD’S command and his subsequent flight towards Tarshish.
- Exegete the passage
Verse 1 identifies Jonah as the recipient of divine revelation. Literally, the word “was” to Jonah. Jonah is further identified as the son of Amittai. A reference to Jonah in 2 Kings 14:25 informs one that Jonah prophesied in the days of Jereboam II and was from the village of Gath-hepher, located 2-3 miles from Nazareth. Later, in the New Testament, Jesus referred to the “sign” of Jonah in Matthew 12:38-41. Jonah’s ministry may be dated in the mid-8th century B.C. (760).
Verse 2 includes three Qal imperative verb forms (arise, go and call) which underscore the specific assignment given to Jonah with reference to Nineveh. Nineveh is referred to as a “great city,” a designation repeated in 3:2, 3:3 and 4:11. It was the capitol city Assyria. The Assyrian empire was a regular threat to Israel and ultimately overthrew the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C. The evil of Nineveh (see Nahum 3:1-4) is depicted as having “come up before” the LORD. The idea behind the Hebrew phrase is that of a stench rising up from the earth to the nostrils of the Almighty enthroned in heaven.
Verse 3 details Jonah’s lack of compliance with the clear command of the LORD. After beginning with the adversative, “but,” the verse utilizes a number of Qal imperfect verbs to highlight Jonah’s active efforts to avoid his assignment from the LORD. He rose (Qal imperfect) to flee (Qal infinitive construct) towards (heh) Tarshish from the presence (literally “from the faces”) of the LORD (Yahweh). Jonah was attempting to go as far as possible in a westerly direction. Nineveh was some 500 miles east of Palestine. The remainder of the verse informs the reader that Jonah went down (Qal imperfect) to Joppa, the seaport nearest to him, and reached (Qal imperfect) a ship going to Tarshish. Having paid the fare, he went down into it. Note the repetition of the word “down.” He was intent on going to Tarshish and away from the presence of the Lord. Note also the repetition of the phrase, “…from the presence of the LORD.”
- Let the structure of the text drive the sermon
There are three key elements in the structure of Jonah 1:1-3
- The reception of revelation (verse 1)
The word of the LORD came to Jonah, a prophet of God and a historical person.
- The clear assignment (verse 2)
Jonah was to deliver a message from God denouncing the evil of Nineveh.
- The refusal of the assignment (verse 3)
Jonah’s attempted flight away from the assigned field of service demonstrated this refusal.
Note: This passage can be used as an introductory sermon for a series of sermons on Jonah.
Of course, the motivation/rationale for Jonah’s refusal of his prophetic assignment should be addressed. Jonah 4:2 sheds light on this issue and could be referenced in the introductory sermon.