The book of Jonah is not very long and can easily be read through at the one time. Many people ridicule it because it contains the account of him being swallowed by a great fish. While the incident was unusual, those who believe in God should have no difficulty in accepting it. Further, we should also believe it because Jesus taught his disciples that it took place.
The book has several messages for us. It informs us that every religion is not the same in God's estimation. The religion of Nineveh, with all its intricate rituals, could not provide salvation from sin for its inhabitants. In order for them to experience salvation they would to hear about the grace of the God of Israel. Therefore the book speaks today against contemporary inter-faith ideas that argue that all religions lead to God.
Further, the book of Jonah has a great deal to say about the power of God in salvation. Nineveh was totally opposed to the true God, yet in a very short time, through the preaching of an eccentric-looking prophet, the Lord brought salvation on a city-wide scale to a pagan community. What happened in Nineveh is not only an encouragement for us to believe in the power of the gospel, it is an example of a spiritual revival. There are many Ninevehs in Britain today, and God can change each of them.
Third, the book of Jonah can be read as a character study of a perverse servant of the Lord. Jonah would have failed his pastoral theology examination in Bible College. He did everything he should not have done: disobedience to God’s mission, determination to hinder God’s mercy, and disapproval of God’s message are the features of his character. Yet God used him. If God is determined to use a preacher, not even the preacher’s flaws prevent him being used. This is not to condone Jonah’s response, but it is to say that human sinfulness does not hinder the power of God.
A fourth way of reading the book is to note the various ways it highlights the providence of God in the life of Jonah. Things repeatedly fall into place at exactly the right time. God even over-rules Jonah’s disobedience several times for the advance of his purposes.
As we make our way through this intriguing book, we should remember these four aspects of what it says.