Lessing, R. Reed & Andrew E. Steinmann. Prepare the Way of the Lord: An Introduction to the Old Testament. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2014. Chapter 32, “Jonah” pp. 487-496.
Lessing identifies Jonah as one of the Old Testament stories that a very large number of people would know, at least in part (Lessing 2014, 487). The events in the book are set in the mid 8th century B.C., However, there has been debate about the time of composition, if not the date of the events. The book is referred to in the 3rd century. There is a mention of a “Jonah ben Amittai” in 2 Kings, placing the person around the beginning of the 8th century. Lessing considers various data suggesting late composition and concludes that there is a good possibility of an early date being correct (Lessing 2014, 488).
Lessing observes there is no clear genre for the book. It doesn’t exactly fit any of the categories usually in use. The language seems to assume it will be understood as a factual account (Lessing 2014, 489). However, the book is full of irony, especially that of the prophet disobeying God and every other character being obedient. The book does essentially divide in half. The journey to Nineveh takes the first half, while Jonah’s work in Nineveh comprises the second portion (Lessing 2014, 490). Throughout the book, God is intent on relieving evil.
Lessing notes that Jonah’s time was a period of instability in Nineveh (Lessing 2014, 491). Assyria was weak and in disorder. Lessing notes that many of the historical oddities in Jonah can be easily explained, but that the text still makes striking claims of God’s activity.
Though Jonah is a very brief book, the text is regularly used in church readings. The important idea of divine repentance arises. This is the question of how God can change his mind (Lessing 2014, 493). The coming of God’s word to a prophet and to others is also prominent (Lessing 2014, 494). The overall message is that God gives grace to all who will hear his voice (Lessing 2014, 495). This, of course, is also the central message of the Bible.