Jonah falls into two major sections, each marked with the statement, “Now the word of Yahweh came to Jonah … saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, the great city, and call out against it” (1:1; 3:1, lsb). (This division has been recognized since the time of the Masoretes.) Each major subsection has three parallel subsections: Yhwh called Jonah and Jonah responded (1:1-3; 3:1-3), Jonah was with the Gentiles and told them of God (1:4-16; 3:4-10); Jonah responded to Yhwh’s provision of deliverance (1:17-2:10; 4:1-4). The second section of the book concludes with a final subsection, that does not stand in parallel, in which Yhwh responded to Jonah’s complaint (4:5-11).
The first three verses of Jonah identify the prophet and his commission from Yhwh. He was called to go to Nineveh and preach against its evil. He was told “Arise, go,” and Jonah arose and went—in the opposite direction. (Tarshish may have been located in what is today Spain). Yhwh told Jonah that the evil of Nineveh had come up “to my face” or “into my presence,” and Jonah’s response to this commission was to flee from the face or presence of Yhwh (1:2, 3).
In 1:4-16 the futility of fleeing from the presence of the omnipresent Yhwh is made clear. Yhwh hurled a storm upon the sea, and this resulted in the mariners hurling their cargo overboard. It also led them to cry out to their gods. Jonah, meanwhile, was in oblivious sleep. When Jonah was awakened and the lots identified him as the cause of the storm, he identified himself as one who feared Yhwh, “the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (1:9). The statement is full of irony. If Jonah feared Yhwh, why was he fleeing from his presence instead of carrying out his commission? If he knew that Yhwh is the God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land, why did he think it was possible to flee from the presence of God? More fundamentally, if God is the God of all creation, then he is the God of all mankind—and Jonah should not have sought to avoid taking God’s message to the Gentiles. When the sailors asked Jonah what must be done to calm the sea, Jonah did not respond, “I must repent”—even though the book reveals that Jonah did know that repentance would result in God relenting from judgment (4:2). Instead, Jonah called for his own death; he would rather die than take God’s message to the Gentiles (1:12; cf. 4:3). The pagan sailors showed themselves more righteous than the prophet Jonah. They first sought to save his life by rowing him to safety (1:13). Then they asked Yhwh not to kill them because of Jonah or to judge them for throwing him overboard to what they (and he) thought was certain death (1:15). In the end, these Gentile sailors came to fear Yhwh—what Jonah claimed for himself but did not demonstrate.
The next section of the book recounts Yhwh’s salvation of Jonah and his response (1:17-2:10). Yhwh appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah. Evidently, Jonah had expected to drown when he was thrown overboard, and he understood that Yhwh had miraculously saved him. While in the belly of the fish, Jonah prays this psalm. Some might question the ability of the prophet to compose a psalm while in the belly of a fish, but the wording of the psalm is largely drawn from the book of Psalms. In other words, this is a Scripture saturated person praying God’s words back to him. And yet, something is wrong with this prayer. It is all about Jonah’s physical deliverance and his thanksgiving for physical deliverance. There is no mention of his sin or of repentance. Furthermore, Jonah’s characterization of events is not entirely accurate. He said, “I am driven away from your sight” (2:4), but chapter 1 tells us that he was running from God’s presence. He also claimed, “you cast me into the deep” (2:3), when it seems that Jonah’s repentance could have averted that from happening. There is also an irony in Jonah’s statement, “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay.” Chapter 1 closes with the Gentile sailors sacrificing to Yhwh and making vows to him. Jonah, by contrast, had not repented of his sin, and he will quarrel with God to the end of the book. Jonah was correct that “Salvation belongs to Yhwh.” The book is clear that God saves the undeserving; those in need of salvation do not save themselves. Nonetheless, Yhwh’s command for the fish to vomit Jonah out may be an indication of what Yhwh thought of this self-righteous prayer.
Jonah 3:1-3 once again identifies the prophet and his commission. This time Jonah obeys. Furthermore, Nineveh is described as “a great city to God” (3:3, esv, mg). Though Gentiles, these people have significance to Israel’s God, who is God over all people.
In Jonah 3:4-10, Jonah’s message and the response of those in Nineveh is recounted. Jonah declared a message of judgment: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (3:4). Israel often rejected the prophets’ messages, but “the people of Nineveh believed God” and responded with repentance (3:5). The king of Nineveh raised the possibility that if they repented, God might relent and not destroy the city. That is precisely how God responded.
Jonah then responded to the deliverance Yhwh provided (4:1-4). Unlike chapter 2, where Jonah extoled his deliverance, Yhwh’s relenting toward Nineveh “was a great evil to Jonah” (lsb). Thus, ironically, Jonah was less concerned about Nineveh repenting of its evil; it is a greater evil to him that Yhwh relented. Jonah revealed why he fled to Tarshish: it was precisely because he knew the character of God as revealed in God’s great statement to Moses of his glory (4:2; cf. Ex. 34:6). Once again, Jonah sought death over life because he was angry about God showing grace to Nineveh. Yhwh responded to Jonah with a probing question: “Do you well to be angry?”
Jonah 4:5-11 concludes the book. Jonah made a booth and waited to see what would happen to Nineveh. Perhaps he thought that Nineveh would lapse back into sin and come under judgment. In any event, just as God had appointed a great fish to save Jonah, so here he appointed a plant to save Jonah from “his evil,” or his “discomfort” (4:6; see esv mg). Once again, Jonah was “exceedingly glad” for his own deliverance. Then God appointed the destruction of the plant along with a “scorching east wind” and a hot sun. And once again, Jonah sought death from God. God then brought the object lesson home by again asking Jonah if he did well to be angry. When Jonah justified his anger, God pointed out how foolish it was for Jonah to be angry over the destruction of the plant and not be sympathetic to the great number of people for whom God had shown compassion. The book closes here without any reference to Jonah’s response because it is calling every reader to examine himself.
 Lessing, CC, 30; Youngblood, ZECOT, 38; Timmer, TOTC, 42; cf. Tully Reading the Prophets as Christian Scripture.
 Goldingay, BCOT, 375.
 Youngblood, ZECOT; 38-39; Timmer, TOTC, 45-46; cf. Lessing, CC, 34; Tully, Reading the Prophets as Christian Scripture, 300.
 Hoyt, EEC, 349-50.
 Timmer, A Gracious and Compassionate God: Mission, Salvation and Spirituality in the Book of Jonah, NSBT, 70-71.
 Timmer, NSBT, 71.
 Timmer, NSBT, 81.
 Timmer, NSBT, 81-82; Tully, Reading the Prophets as Christian Scripture, 303.
 Tully, Reading the Prophets as Christian Scripture, 303.
 Timmer, NSBT, 87-88; Tully, Reading the Prophets as Christian Scripture, 303.
 Hoyt, EEC, 381; Tully, Reading the Prophets as Christian Scripture, 303.
 Timmer, NSBT, 126-27.