Author: Jonah is probably the most famous, or perhaps infamous, of the minor prophets. While the book that bears his name is certainly about him and his prophecies, there is some question as to whether he actually wrote it. Tradition holds that Jonah is the author of the book but some see similarities between Jonah and the writings about Elijah and Elisha and believe that they may have similar authors.
Date: Jonah ministered around the same time as the prophet Elisha, spanning a time between 800-750 BC although he may have began his ministry as early as 820 BC. (The 820 BC date is used in our timeline, making Jonah the first of the prophets. Depending on when the events of this book actually took place, Amos, Joel, or even Hosea may have prophesied before Jonah.)
This is was during a good time in the northern kingdom under Jeroboam II. The kingdom was at the peak of its power, having restored its borders to its former boundaries. Nevertheless, Assyria loomed as a threat even while the Israelites enjoyed a time of good fortune. By 722 BC, the Assyrians would destroy the northern kingdom, hence Jonah reluctance to go to the capital of the nation, Nineveh.
Message: The repentance of Nineveh is quite a serious matter and no one questions the importance of the message nor the truth of the account. The story of Jonah and the whale (or big fish or whatever one may choose to call it) is a seemingly miraculous account. Those who discount miracles in the Bible will quickly look for some other interpretation rather than the literal meaning.
Jesus gives another meaning to the story of Jonah but his use of the account would tend to back up the story as literal and not figurative or an allegory. When the people ask for a sign, Jesus responds by saying that they will receive none other than “the sign of Jonah.” The idea behind this would be that Jonah foreshadows Christ as he spends three days in the belly of a whale and Christ would spend three days in the grave.
Literary Features: The book of Jonah reads much differently from the other minor prophets. While they contain prophecies directed specifically at a people group, Jonah is a story about a group of people who repented because they listened to the Lord’s prophet. The actual prophecy that Jonah speaks (or at least what is recorded) is very short – “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.”