Anyone who has been a Christian for a while has most likely heard a sermon from the book of Jonah. The two events that most people remember about Jonah are the minor prophet’s disobedience and him being swallowed up by a big fish. Unfortunately, many preachers make the mistake of only focusing on these two details and miss out on an abundance of other important lessons that ought to be considered. The book of Jonah is more than just a story about a big fish, it is a book filled with a richness and a depth that showcases the splendor of God.
First, the big fish is not the main point of Jonah. Of course, in the minds of many, Jonah will always be synonymous with the big fish. However, Jonah being swallowed up by the fish was just one means that God was using to sanctify this rebellious prophet. The main theme seen throughout the entire book is God’s compassion. This is proven by God sparing the mariners, Jonah, and Nineveh in chapters one through three respectively, while also being patient with Jonah in chapter four. God’s grace is on full display throughout Jonah’s story.
Second, Jonah is more relatable than one might think. When some preachers talk about Jonah’s shortcomings, they only mention his disobedience when he runs away from God. The problem is that they are forgetting about some other major character flaws, such as Jonah’s self-righteousness and nationalism, which broadens his scope of relatability. These flaws come to light in chapter four, after God relented His judgment on Nineveh, Jonah became very angry with God. This anger came from the fact that Nineveh was a grave threat to Jonah’s homeland. Jonah getting angry with God for showing mercy on one of his home country’s enemies reveals his self-righteousness and nationalism. God included all of these details in regards to Jonah’s failures for a reason. By only choosing to mention Jonah’s disobedience and ignoring his other foibles, prevents one from identifying with the other facets of Jonah’s sinfulness.
Finally, Jonah does not have a fairytale ending. This is the other misconception regarding the book of Jonah. When most people think of the end of Jonah, they might remember Nineveh repenting through Jonah’s preaching. Although that is true, it is also incomplete. The Bible does say that Nineveh, “turned from their evil way” (Jon 3:10); however, there is no record of Nineveh actually covenanting with God. The last chapter of Jonah also has a counterintuitive ending. The book of Jonah essentially ends with God patiently asking Jonah a question that was meant to correct his sinful attitude; this is far from a fairytale ending.
As a result of many people missing the point of the big fish, only pointing out one of Jonah’s sins, or assuming Jonah’s story ends on a high note proves that Jonah is one of the most misunderstood books in the Bible. When churches only teach Jonah in the children’s ministry or only preach on Jonah’s rebellion, God’s people are missing out on other rich truths found throughout the entire book. The book of Jonah is not about a big fish; it is about the compassion of an almighty God.
When I first became a Christian, I was taught the importance of reading my Bible everyday. Like many first time Bible readers, I had no clue where to start, so I played Bible roulette with my Schofield and landed in 1 Samuel. After reading just a few verses of places I never heard of and names that I could not pronounce, I gave up and went to the New Testament to start reading The Gospel of John. At that time, the Old Testament was incredibly intimidating to me. I also thought since Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection occurred in the New Testament, the Old Testament was not as important. However, God in his kindness enabled me to learn that a clear understanding of the Old Testament is essential to understanding the New Testament.
First, the storyline of the Bible can not be understood without the Old Testament. By storyline of the Bible, I am referring to the historical redemptive paradigm. It is commonly defined as: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and New Creation. These are key events that occurred throughout Scripture. Two of these events (Creation and Fall) take place in the Old Testament. Creation teaches that God is the all-powerful creator of everything and considered it all to be good, including mankind. However, the Fall teaches that since man disobeyed God, man’s punishment is eternal separation from God. Without knowing these events that take place in the Old Testament, the good news of Redemption and New Creation found in the New Testament, makes no sense.
Second, many of the New Testament characters emphasized the importance of the Old Testament. The Apostle Peter said, "Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you" (1 Pt 1:12). That is to say, the prophets in the Old Testament were writing for future generations, not only for a specific time in history. The Apostle Paul said, "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." (Rom 15:4). Paul also said, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Tm 3:16). It is clear that all of the aforementioned characters strongly believed that the Old Testament was vitally important for the Church.
Finally, the Old Testament highlights our need for a savior. In Genesis, after the Fall, God made a special promise to Abraham, that through him all Nations of the earth would be blessed. That was the start of God choosing a special people for Himself. This special people became known as Israel. Israel was God’s chosen people and their job was to be a Light to the Nations. Unfortunately, Israel failed and was unable to live up to God’s standards. However, where Israel failed, Jesus Christ succeeded. What becomes evidently clear throughout Scripture is that the Old Testament is a long, diverse story ultimately pointing to mankind’s need to be rescued.
Properly understanding the significance and beauty of the Old Testament is absolutely vital to understand the New Testament. The storyline of Scripture, the New Testament authors, and mankind’s continual failure, all validate the incredible importance of the Old Testament. Perhaps the most convincing argument was spoken by none other than Jesus Christ, "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me." (Jn 5:39). Jesus clearly said that all of the Old Testament points to Him.