For the next two weeks I’m going to take you on a guided journey through the book of Jonah, it’s one of my favorites and we can indeed learn much from this little obscure book. But before we begin there is a matter I should clarify. It has been a long debated whether Jonah is a parable or actual history. Here are both sides and my opinion.
Those who think Jonah is a parable usually argue these points. First, Jonah is different than other prophets because he doesn’t say a lot. Second, there are extraordinary events in it like the fish, the repentance of the entire city of Nineveh, and the growth of the plant at the end. None of these would happen in real life. Third, there are exaggerations present as well. Repentance of animals (3:7-8), and saying that the size of Nineveh is 3 days walk (3:3). Now if it really is a parable, Jonah would represent disobedient Israel failing to take the God’s Word to the nations, which is represented by Nineveh. Jonah running away would represent Israel’s failure to take God to the nations. The fish which swallowed Jonah would represent Babylon and the exile. Jonah’s prayer for deliverance represents Israel’s return from exile. Lastly, Jonah’s anger would be Israel’s anger at God’s patience toward the Gentiles. Now viewing this as a parable has problems. Parables are normally short. Parables are normally simple. Parables are normally accompanied with an explanation. Jonah does not represent the normal parable.
Those who think Jonah is a historical account (me) argue like this. It really happened, it was a historical event. Jonah 1:1 is very similar to other prophetic books. If it’s a parable did Amittai not really exist? Did the Word of the Lord never come to Jonah? Jonah is also identified (2 Kings 14:23-28), further proving he was a real person. What about the Animals repentance in 3:7-8? This was just a call for ALL of Nineveh to repent; obviously no animals can do so. What about Jonah’s comment that it takes 3 days journey through Nineveh? Perhaps it is a parallel to 3 days in the fish, or Jonah could be referring to the amount of time it took to preach his message throughout all Nineveh. Or “greater Nineveh” could include the outlying areas as well. How could a whole city, especially one as large as Nineveh repent? “With God all things are possible.” (Luke 18:27) There was an eclipse in 763 BC, and great plagues in 759 BC and 756 BC that God could have used to focus the Ninevites to repentance. Lastly, Jesus refers to Jonah. Was he merely referring to a story that was popular in Jewish culture? No. Jesus spoke of the real historical account of Jonah as a sign of His own death and resurrection. If it didn’t really happen, would it be legitimate for Jesus still to use it as a sign? All the other examples in Matthew 12 are true events, why not this one?
This is why I think Jonah is history, and not a parable.